Thursday, June 14, 2012

The invisible hand and the invisible funding of the Institute of Public Affairs ....

(Above: the invisible hand at work in a 1920 serial, with bonus light bondage. The pond always delivers).

The indefatigable, relentless, prolific Chris Berg is at it again, using that den of socialist iniquity, the ABC, to promote all that's dear to the IPA in Happy birthday to free market liberalism.

For reasons known only to himself and his column, Berg decrees that a 1962 book The Calculus of Consent by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, is the font of all things 'modern free market liberalism', and as it was published in 1962, free market liberalism is now fifty years old. Roll out the fireworks and the clam bake.

Forget your Adam Smith and his invisible hand, forget your Hayek, if you're up for the game, Calculus of Consent wins because it's dense and mathematical.

Say no more. We always need dense mathematicians to make sense of the world, and provide plot lines and jokes for The Big Bang Theory.

It turns out, somewhat handily, that James M. Buchanan is a professor at George Mason university, a public institution founded in Virginia by land grants from a couple of cities. Gordon Tullock cut his teeth by joining the government-funded US military, before joining the US government funded Foreign Service, and eventually also settled in George Mason.

The pair are as fine an example of the role of government in education and university life as might be found south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Never mind, if we can be crude, the moral that Berg draws from their work is the usual one. Government dangerous, bad, and in need of constraint and limitation and reduction, free market liberalism and choice generally good, if not downright amazing.

No doubt the anonymous invisible hands of the sponsors of the IPA retired to bed with a smile on their faces knowing that the invisible hand is in safe hands ... as Berg builds to this thundering conclusion:

...we shouldn't underestimate how much Buchanan and Tullock's book influenced the political contest.

Even the most populist supporter of small government uses language and insights gained from public choice – the understanding, implicit or explicit, that the question isn't whether society has problems, but whether we can really rely on the strange institution of government to solve them.

Say what? Strange institution of government?

Well there's probably a fair argument that government has built some pretty bizarre structures over the years, including Stonehenge, the pyramids, the sphinx, the gardens of Babylon, and Machu Picchu atop the Andes. At least some of that has to do with the way that witch doctors and priests managed to give government strange ideas.

But if we're talking strange, why is it Berg never manages to mention some of the stranger manifestations of free market liberalism?

Like the way Woolies and Coles are currently building themselves into a grotesque duopoly in the Australian scene, with a finger in pies which range way beyond food, into grog, hotels, poker machines, insurance, and anything else they can get their oligarchical fingers on. They've fucked over the farmers in their quest for profit, and now they're full steam ahead in the fucking over of other sections of the community, and never mind the problem gamblers ...

If we're going to go anarchist, how about we go Kevin Carson?

From Smith to Ricardo and Mill, classical liberalism was a revolutionary doctrine that attacked the privileges of the great landlords and the mercantile interests. Today, we see vulgar libertarians perverting ‘free market’ rhetoric to defend the contemporary institution that most closely resembles, in terms of power and privilege, the landed oligarchies and mercantilists of the Old Regime: the giant corporation. (here).

Indeed. And by golly the IPA, with a splendid flourish of waffle, does the job well.

It reminded the pond of a recent book by Steve Coll, Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power (you can grab an excerpt here).

Bill McKibben used the book to denounce Exxon in his review The Ultimate Corporation for The New York Review of Books (sorry, behind the paywall).

On the evidence, and since we now know that corporations are people too, thanks to the Mittster and the US Supreme court, with feelings and a right to free speech and the splashing of the cash, Exxon has in the past acted like a sociopath, and yet there's no way to give it a classic Texan execution (without appeal).

McKibben pays particular attention to the way Exxon - which has by size the world's twenty-first largest economy - assisted in the fucking over of the citizens of Chad in its pursuit of oil via corrupt dictatorship, before settling into a study of how Exxon spread disinformation about climate science, using phoney petitions and funding denialists.

What makes all this not just tragic but galling is that Exxon employed some of the planet's best earth scientists - they, and the company, knew full well that the earth was warming. Exxon, after all, was moving to acquire drilling rights in the Artic precisely because, with more than a third of its summer ice now melted, it was becoming possible to imagine widespread oil operations there. "Don't believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn't think that climate change is real," a former manager involved with the internal scientific review told Coll. "They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.

Exxon has slowly begun to change its message, while fighting a rear-guard action to preserve its core business against renewables and alternative technologies, but credit where credit is due. For a decade and more, it has successfully lobbied not just the Chinese government but the US government to avoid taking any action which might be effective.

It is, in essence, a strange kind of government:

Eexon's executives, as anecdote after anecdote in Steve Coll's book makes clear, enjoy easy access to every president. Its confident CEO is "a peer of the White House's rotating occupants" who can usually count on the administration to see things as he does. In fact, the president is often more pliable than the CEO, who often goes his own way,

aligned ... with America, but ... not always in synch; he was more akin to the president of France, or the chancellor of Germany ... His was a private empire.

Now that's a strange form of government, but don't expect it to turn up anytime soon in Berg's ramblings. The result, in terms of climate science, according to McKibben:

Exxon, above all others, has poisoned the well from which it will continue to profitably drill.

As for the IPA? Who knows where it gets its money, but there are plenty of guesses:

Thanks to research done by Australia’s climate organisations and Sourcewatch, we can shine a light on some of the corporations using the services of the IPA. These include Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, BHP Billiton, Western Mining, Caltex, Esso Australia (a subsidiary of Exxon), Shell, Woodside Petroleum, Murray Irrigation Ltd. Telstra, Clough engineering, Visy, News Ltd. and fifteen major companies in the electricity industry. (here)

Did the pond see Exxon in that list? (while not overlooking the myrmidon Murdochians)

Will some dense mathematician please explain the difference between strange government and strange private empires that fund strange lobbyists dressed up as an institute?

(Below: could it be that the invisible hand is actually the ...)


  1. Another in a long line of great posts, Dorothy.

    Of course the corporately-funded IPA are just one of the voices that Mark Scott has opened the ABC up to, as he proudly proclaimed to the world in his recent speech, along with the likes of Peter Reith, Kevin Donnelly and the many loony religious perps that can't keep from wanting to be published in The Drum.

    It's all about the sacred "journalistic balance": on the one hand there are well-researched pieces based on logical structural arguements; on the other hand are the pieces written by squawking loons with contain mainly ad hom attacks and arguments based on spurious prepositions.

    Please keep up the great writing. Your blog is so often the sunshine on a gloomy FUD-filled day for me.

  2. Say Dorothy...I see Christopher Pearson is featured on the Australian Church Lobbywebsite in support of marriage inequality.

  3. See site is about a particularly vile outfit that helped to spread the "gospel" of the "free market" to both Central and South America. The goons involved in those murders were given very strong "moral" and practical by Opus Dei, and other right-wing "catholics", including the grotesque John Paul II.
    As of course does/did Naomi Kein in her truth telling book The Shock Doctrine.

    The goons involved in the SOA murders were given very strong "moral" and practical support by Opus Dei and all sorts of right-wing christians including the monstrous pope John Paul II. Regarding the dreadful dark truth about this "saintly" pope I would suggest the book by Richard Yallop titled The Power and the (gory) Glory : Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II's Vatican.

    I mention Opus Dei because in one way or another the IPA has both direct and indirect links with it.


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