Wealth and the Invisibility of Human Life

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1801 ... April 9, 2019

Wealth and the Invisibility of Human Life

Judith Deutsch

Quinn Slobodian’s masterful exegesis, an old term befitting his subject, tells of the Ur group of thinkers who formulated the assumptions and prescriptions of global neoliberalism. He names this group the Geneva School as distinct from the Chicago School. He suggests that their early attentiveness to the global level came from Central Europe’s dependence on foreign trade and external markets unlike the United States at that time. The original source material suggests that they were motivated by considerable anxiety following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For them the empire was a supranational order of efficient and stable security. They saw chaos coming from demands for redistribution, preferential treatment, and self-determination by the ‘masses’.

In... his introduction, Slobodian corrects erroneous assumptions about neoliberal theory: they didn’t believe in self-regulating markets as autonomous entities; they did not see democracy and capitalism as synonymous and they did not see people as motivated only by economic rationality. The Geneva School sought to safeguard capitalism at the scale of the entire globe, to protect competition and capital against the threat of irrational human behavior. Neoliberalism arose after World War I at a time of crumbling empires when a number of intellectuals grappled with how to balance state power and economic interdependence.

The Geneva School solution was "double government": global jurisdiction for capital, with the nation state "encasing" capital from encroachment by particular interests. The League of Nations, founded after World War I and located in Geneva, had set about to reorder European states and their former imperial possessions.

They believed that the one determinant of global stability was the unimpeded flow of capital and that politics and economics needed to be distinct. For example, most Geneva School neoliberals opposed South African apartheid, and Friedrich Hayek was unambiguous in his public denunciation of apartheid, yet he had "even stronger words for attempts by international organizations to use sanctions and embargoes against South Africa." Fascism looked promising to some until it raised tariff walls. Hayek was opposed to criticizing Chile under Augusto Pinochet.

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