Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy
a documentary by Richard Brouillette
Québec (Canada), HDCam (shot in 16mm), B&W, 2008, 160 minutes
With: Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet, Normand Baillargeon, Susan George, Omar Aktouf, Oncle Bernard, Michel Chossudovsky, François Denord, François Brune, Martin Masse, Jean-Luc Migué, Filip Palda and Donald J. Boudreaux
Drawing upon the thinking and analyses of renowned intellectuals, this documentary sketches a portrait of neo-liberal ideology and examines the various mechanisms used to impose its dictates throughout the world.
Neo-liberalism’s one-size-fits-all dogmas are well known: deregulation, reducing the role of the State, privatization, limiting inflation rather than unemployment, etc. In other words, depoliticizing the economy and putting it into the hands of the financial class. And these dogmas are gradually settling into our consciousness because they’re being broadcast across a vast and pervasive network of propaganda.
In fact, beginning with the founding in 1947 of the Mont Pèlerin Society, neo-liberal think tanks financed by multinational companies and big money have propagated neo-liberal ideas in universities, in the media, and in governments.
This ideology, convinced of its historical and scientific validity – as proven, in particular, by the fall of the Soviet Union – has intoxicated all governments, left and right alike. In fact, since the end of the Cold War, the rate of neo-liberal reforms has increased dramatically. Often imposed with force, either through the structural adjustment plans of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, under the pressure of financial markets and multinationals, or even by outright war, the neo-liberal doctrine has now reached every corner of the planet.
But behind the ideological smokescreen, behind the neat concepts of natural order and the harmony of interests in a free market, beyond the panacea of the "invisible hand," what is really going on?
Why This Title?
The word "snare" has Scandinavian and German roots and literally means "noose". Thus, "ensnare" expresses the ideas of both trap and string that lead to the notion of netting, or network. The neo-liberal Internationale is also made up of a vast, complex and inextricable network that makes its polymorphous voice heard simultaneously in all conceivable arenas: think tanks, educational systems, media, political parties, financial markets, intergovernmental organizations (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, World Trade Organization, etc.), transnationals, pension funds and other investment organizations (insurance companies, banks, mutual funds, etc.), partnership unions, etc. Each link in this vast chain relays said doctrine to another link or else directly to the public. The circulation of neo-liberal ideology through all possible modes of dissemination affords it a certain "monopoly on appearances" (as Guy Debord words it) that ensures its perpetuation and facilitates mass indoctrination. It has become inescapable.
By releasing this constant flow of propaganda, neo-liberal ideologists cater to the powerful. By denouncing the inefficiency of government and social programs, glorifying the efficiency and infallibility of markets, singing the praises of competition, social inequality and the right to private property – which they claim takes precedent over all other rights – they legitimize the reforms that keep the propertied class in power. Such reforms have been adopted in spades around the world since the early '80s and are still in progress, despite of a world economic crisis that demonstrates the now-literal bankruptcy of the neo-liberal system. In the West, such reforms have led nations to abandon entire segments of their economy. From the autonomy of central banks directed by unelected officials (who nevertheless set their State's monetary "policy") to the rampant privatization of public health, education, transportation, energy and natural resources, etc., everything has been done to take the citizens' control over their economic destiny out of their hands. And in developing countries, the situation is much worse. The IMF and World Bank, key links in the neo-liberal network, have, through their structural "adjustment" plans, implemented sets of reforms that have devastated entire countries, bleeding them dry. Most of humanity has thus helplessly witnessed the establishment of a new form of colonialism that, while feigning altruism, carries out phenomenal plundering. Praise be the virtues of free trade; on with the veritable extortion of the natural resources of huge territories and the subjugation of entire populations.
And this is how thought and democracy, encircled from all directions by propaganda and reform, have been ensnared by neo-liberalism.
A Film in Ten Chapters, Divided into Two Major Sections
Part One: Profile of Neo-Liberal Ideology
Chapter 1: Introduction
Ignacio Ramonet recalls two editorials he published in the mid-'90s in Le Monde diplomatique – "Régimes globalitaires" ("globalitarian" régimes) and "La pensée unique". These articles basically outlined the issues dealt with in the film.
Chapter 2: Origins
François Denord traces the origins of neo-liberal ideology. First, he describes the conditions of its gestation; he then goes on to talk about the two founding acts of the neo-liberal movement: the Colloque Walter Lippmann (1938) and the foundation of the Mont Pèlerin Society (1947), later the mother house of the neo-liberal Internationale.
Chapter 3: At the Core of the Neo-Liberal Network – Think Tanks
François Denord explains how the Mont Pèlerin Society grew into a number of associations and think tanks with the essential mandate of propagating neo-liberal ideology in the public sphere so it would be widely adopted. Noam Chomsky explains how think tanks emerged to swing public opinion back to the right, since, in the '60s, it had become increasingly antagonistic. Then, we go on to attend a student seminar organized by the Fraser Institute and the Montréal Economic Institute. Here, we hear Filip Palda explain what the limits of government must be, and Donald J. Boudreaux wax eloquent about how industrial capitalism has contributed to cleaning up the environment.
Chapter 4: Brief Liberal Anthology - Libertarianism and the Theory of Public Choice
Martin Masse explains his vision of libertarianism, a philosophy he wholeheartedly embraces which emphasizes individual liberty while advocating the extreme curtailing of State powers. Jean-Luc Migué in turn outlines the theory of public choice, which says that government policy-making is not motivated by collective interest but by the specific interests of various social factions. Masse and Migué trade off, denouncing the inefficiency of the State and the injustice generated by its coercive actions, while praising the right to private property and the efficiency of the free market.
Chapter 5: Critiques
Normand Baillargeon, Noam Chomsky, Susan George, Oncle Bernard and Omar Aktouf appear consecutively on screen to construct a critique of the classic liberal theories espoused by neo-liberals: Adam Smith's theory of "the invisible hand", David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantages, John Locke's concept of right of ownership, etc. Among other things, our commentators maintain that these 17th- and 18th-century theories derived their meaning in the economic context of that distant past, and can no longer be applied to contemporary economy.
Part Two: The Encirclement of Thought and Democracy by Neo-Liberalism
Chapter 6: Propaganda and Indoctrination – Education
Normand Baillargeon talks about shifts in education, which abandoned its role of preparing people for civic life and turned into a vocational training system serving private enterprise. Then, he recalls how government inaction in North America has allowed big business to enter schools, under the pretext of providing educational videos or pedagogical material, and to spread its propaganda to naive, captive audiences. Omar Aktouf then evokes the breakdown of meaning currently pervading society, and alludes to the corruption of teaching, now centered on the job market and turning students into the system's servant-replicators.
Chapter 7: Propaganda and Indoctrination – The Media
Normand Baillargeon recaps how the Creel Commission, at the origins of modern techniques of manufacturing public consent, has succeeded in imposing its world view, vocabulary, way of thinking, etc. François Brune explains how dominant ideology can impose itself as natural and self-evident. Finally, Ignacio Ramonet explains how media creates "truth" using the equation, "repetition equals proof".
Chapter 8: Neo-Liberalism or Neo-Colonialism? Strong-Arm Tactics of the Financial Markets
Noam Chomsky explains how financial markets constitute a "virtual parliament" that can dictate to the world's various governments which policies they must adopt. Oncle Bernard then describes the excesses of over-the-counter transactions, used by private banks to fly under the radar of State control. He then discusses derivative financial products, explaining that a fundamental feature of contemporary capitalism is sustaining risk in order to market it. Then Michel Chossudovsky gives us a visual explanation of how speculative attacks on currencies are carried out, using the example of the Korean won during the 1997 Asian crisis. He lets us know that speculators intentionally use such attacks to take possession of the besieged countries' entire economy.
Chapter 9: Neo-Liberalism or Neo-Colonialism? Strong-Arm Tactics of the Bretton Woods Institutions, or the Washington Consensus
Omar Aktouf describes six primary measures from the IMF's and World Bank's structural adjustment plans: State-expenditure reduction, privatization, currency devaluation, shifting of the national economy towards exports, "getting the prices right", as well as investment liberalization and reverse wage-parity. He explains the concrete, disastrous effects of these measures on the populations of developing countries. Susan George then explains how the World Trade Organization places itself above all laws and international conventions, dictating its own law and imposing economic deregulation, primarily to the benefit of transnationals.
Chapter 10: Neo-Liberalism or Neo-Colonialism? Strong-Arm Tactics of Military Humanism, or "War is Peace"
Michel Chossudovsky reviews the Dayton Accords, which put an end to the war in Bosnia. He explains how, in the appendices of these agreements, American military officials wrote the Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina themselves, and how, with no popular base, this Constitution imposed a colonial government by handing the reins of the economy over to foreigners. Noam Chomsky concludes, reminding us that contemporary "military humanism", with its supposedly altruistic and humanist missions of peace and liberation, actually conceals latter-day wars of conquest.
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