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A New Ideology

2017 September 27
by Ian Welsh

There is no reality which is not mediated by perception. This is not to say that there is no reality; the famous “I refute you thus,” kicking a rock, applies. It does not mean there are no natural laws, no physics, chemistry, or even truth—or Truth. It means that we decide what reality means through a thick lens of belief. This lens picks out what is important, obscures the unimportant, and distorts everything, and most people are hardly even aware that it exists.

Keynes once wrote that most politicians are slaves of some defunct economist, generally whose name they don’t even know. That we should regulate the world through markets is an idea which would have been absurd to virtually everyone three hundred years ago, even as the divine right of Kings is absurd to us today. That corporations should shield their owners from liability is an idea which was bitterly opposed by most capitalists two hundred years ago. That greed leads to better outcomes was laughable to virtually everyone, including Adam Smith, who thought it worked only in very specific circumstances and lamented that tradespeople were constantly in conspiracy against the public.

That goods, including food, should be primarily divided based on market success is another idea that most of the world, for most of history, has never held.

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What is oddest about our modern ideology is the same thing that is odd about virtually all ideologies: It contradicts itself. We do not have either free or competitive markets, and not one in a hundred free market ideologues could define a competitive market, nor would they want one if they could, as an actual competitive market reduces profits to nearly nothing. Free markets cannot exist without government coercion, yet we have come to assume that it is government which makes markets unfree, which is a half truth at best. It’s markets that make governments unfree when they buy government–and the first thing any good capitalist does upon winning a market is try to eliminate the free market, since an actual free market threatens a monopolist or oligopolist.

An ideology tells us what is thinkable and what is unthinkable, what is moral or immoral, ethical or unethical. Right or wrong. It either says that 90 percent taxation is right and good when imposed upon great wealth, or an unthinkable burden on “value” creators. It further defines value, for instance, privileging financial innovation which actually destroys genuine good production. It says that food that makes us sick is acceptable and that banning such food is unethical. It says that it is right and proper that men and women meet their needs by working for other people, without any ability to meet their own needs if the market deems them surplus beyond private or public charity. It says that land that lies fallow is not available for anyone to grow food, that pumping poison into water and food and air is acceptable, that rationing health care by who has the most money is the best way to organize health care. Or, it could say that healthcare is too important to allow people to buy their way to the front of the line.

People think that their individual decisions matter, but so much of what happens is dictated by social contexts. A man goes to war, or not, and that has little to do with him personally. A college student has a huge debt and that is because she is a Millennial, not a Baby Boomer. A generation has fantastic success, but that is because they are the GI Generation in America. These circumstances are not the results of individual decisions, even if it feels like it. Born 30 years earlier, the exact same people would have stagnated on farms. A generation raised in affluence undoes all the protections put on the economy by those who experienced the Great Depression, because they think they know better, really, and they never experienced the Great Depression or the Roaring ’20s.

One of the most important books of the past 200 years was a pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto. You should read it. Virtually every demand in the Communist Manifesto has been met by Western Democracies. Conservatives like Otto Van Bismark looked at it and said, “Oh, you want pensions? We can give you that if it means you don’t rebel and cut our heads off.”

A credible opposing ideology, a credible existential threat to the reigning ideology, creates a reaction. That reaction can be, well, reactionary, but it tends to blend towards that ideology. When the main ideological and material competition to Western Capitalist Democracy is a nasty form of Islam and Chinese Totalitarian State-run crony capitalism, that leads nowhere good, not least because they aren’t credible threats (no, Islamism is not going to conquer Europe, Japan, North America, or South America, sorry).

But an ideology organizes things. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Akkadians, the ancient Egyptians, if they wanted to do something, set up a new religion, with a new God. They were quite brazen about creating Gods, really. They ran the banks out of the churches, and indeed, ran some truly terrible usury, with interest rates as high as thirty to forty percent (which is why debt holidays were instituted, it didn’t take long before people owed more grain or silver than existed in the entire universe, with rates like that).

When we want to do something, we fiddle with market design, with little incentives here or there. We make bureaucratic rules, create new laws, set up secret courts and bureaucracies to run them, make small adjustments here or there to make sure things work out as we want. A little tax here or there, a subsidy here or there, a patent or IP law change, a law requiring millions of dollars before one can set up a bank, laws allowing corporations to monetize public research by universities, and all the right people make money and the wrong people don’t, and all is good in the world.

The fundamental idea of our current regime is one that most people have forgotten, because it is associated with Marx, and one must not even talk about the things Marx got right, because the USSR went bad. The fundamental idea to which I refer is that we are wage laborers. We work for other people, we don’t control the means of production. Absent a job, we live in poverty. Sure, there are some exceptions, but they are exceptions. We are impelled, as it were, by Marx’s whip of hunger. It took a lot of work to set up this system, as Polyani notes in his book The Great Transformation, but now that it has happened, it is invisible to us.

A new ideology that leads to prosperity should insist on changing this relation to the means of production. This doesn’t mean a Marxist proletarian “communist” paradise, but it does mean giving ordinary people back real economic power, which means the real ability to say “no” to wage labor, and freedom from needing to take the next job that comes along regardless of what it is. Not only will this lead to a different, much more fair division of goods created by society, it will lead to much better treatment of wage labor workers. The experience of the dotcom boom should be instructive in this regard: When you can walk out because you don’t need this job and it isn’t clear you can be replaced, bosses suddenly start treating you very, very well indeed.

I’ll talk about what that ideology looks like and what that society looks like, at a later date, certainly in my non-fiction book. It will be, not a consumer society, but a producer one, in which most people feel that they can make things, feel that they can provide for much of their own needs. Though many people sneer at the idea that technology matters, in actual fact, technological change makes possible new modes of production, along with new social arrangements. The assembly line and factory imply a type of social arrangement, the heavy plow implies a type of social arrangement, hunter-gatherer implies yet another. Within each of these technological tool kits, however, there are choices: Some hunter-gather bands are the sweetest, most kind, peaceful people you could ever want to meet. Others are high practitioners of torture and head-hunting. Central planning of the Soviet variety and industrial democracy of early to mid-twentieth century America are both within the possibilities of industrialization. Radios were originally used much like the early internet till the government used the excuse of the Titanic sinking to seize the airwaves from the early pioneers and sell them to large companies.

There are, ultimately, two dominant strategies: cooperate or compete. If you want widespread prosperity, the dominant strategy in your ideology must be cooperation, though competition has its place. And ultimately the difference between the right and the left is this: The right thinks you get more out of people by treating them badly, the left thinks you get more out of people by treating them well.

An ideology that believes in treating people well is a lot better to live under. And as a bonus, happy people are a lot more fun to be around. And societies with that ideology, all other things being equal, will tend to out-compete those who believe that fear, misery, and the whip are the best way to motivate people.

Finally, an ideology that succeeds is always universalist. It asserts, for example, that all people have certain rights and does not admit exceptions. This may bother the relativists, but a powerful ideology admits no doubt on core ethical concerns: Democracy is how everyone should rule themselves, no exceptions, or, everyone has a right to a trial and to see the evidence against them, or, anyone who doesn’t worship the True God is going to hell.

A powerful ideology is a scary thing. If your ideology isn’t strong enough, doesn’t create fervent enough belief that people are willing to die for it, then it won’t change the world. But if it does create that level of fervent belief, then it will be misused. The question is simple: Will this do more harm than good?

An ideology which leads to us killing a billion or more people with climate change, allow me to posit, is a bad ideology. At the end of its run, neoliberalism will kill more people than Marxist-Leninism did, and our grandchildren will consider it monstrous. Most of them will be no more able to understand how or why we submitted to it (or even believed in it) than we can understand how Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao came to power. Hyperbole? Not in the least, because the body count is going to be phenomenal.

When faced, then, with a monstrous ideology, our duty is to come up with a better one, an opposing one. Because ideology determines what we do. It is both the lens through which we see the world, and the motor that pushes us forward.

(Originally Published October 22, 2013. Back to the top as most current readers won’t have seen it, and it’s foundational.)

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44 Responses
  1. October 22, 2013


  2. bob mcmanus permalink
    October 22, 2013

    “Seduction* is the new opium of the masses.” Preliminary Materials Young Girl

    (seduction being the creation of desire in the other, ie, ideology)

    I am a tiqqun pomo post-Marxist kinda guy.

    Ideologies come from praxis, and must be appropriate to material conditions, so let’s look around and start revoltin’

    Deconstruction/destruction, distribution, dispersion, desertion-in-place.

    Sand in the gears, sabotage. Refuseniks. Just quit working. Disorganize.

    It will start, if it is to work, by looking like spontaneous anarchism.

    I think and read, but there are younger and better minds working on it.

  3. October 22, 2013


  4. Dan Kervick permalink
    October 23, 2013

    The part of the communist ideal and analysis that always appealed to me most is the key part about “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The rest of the business about dialectical materialism, the labor theory of value, the withering away of the state – meh.

    It doesn’t seem unjust to me that people have to work for their fair share of the social output. It’s only unjust that some people don’t have to work at all, and can pull down a comfortable income just by being invested as a part-owner in capital resources. And its unjust that other people are denied the opportunity to contribute their work, but are instead confined to unemployment and provided with a mere subsistence to keep them quiet, dependent and out of the picture as far as power, dignity and status go.

    The best way to boost the power of labor is to move to a system of 100% full employment underpinned by a public employment system in which the substantial labor burden of maintaining society is divided up as fairly as possible, according to people’s talents, likes and capabilities. If there is no impoverished buffer stock of unemployed, there will be no buyers’ market for workers.

    I don’t think there is any long-term socially viable system in which people are offered a comfortable share of the society’s output as a flat-out right corresponding to no matching labor obligation whatsoever. That will always lead to resentment among those who are working to produce that output.

    I’m not that gung-ho about the marvelous creativity of the self-seeking individual either. Individuals can indeed be very creative, but they do most of their best work in teams. Shakespeare did his best work as a jobbing playwright writing for a team of actors, many of whom were business partners in the Globe and other ventures, scraping for a living in London – in some cases by writing plays to entertain lazy aristocrats who lived on rents and most of whose names we don’t remember for having accomplished anything of significance, despite their marvelous stores of leisure, liberty and free income. Creativity comes more from struggle and necessity than from indolence and unencumbered self-direction.

  5. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    October 23, 2013

    @ Petro & Lambert Strether

    Would second yours and add magnificently and brilliantly written.

    @ Dan Kervick

    Good to see you commenting here. Marx has problems but they are mostly the result of propaganda and marketing devices, not of knowledge and economics. Economic value is the sole result of human endeavour, aka work; e.g. air is of vital importance but it is not (other than on the very periphery) an economic good, or finding and gathering involves work as well giving those things found and gathered an economic value. Marx was addressing an obvious weakness in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations where value was attributed to certain commodities used in coinage that was associated with (accountancy factor) all other commodities and incomes derived from productive factors. Throw Marx out and you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Political Marxism is a construct of the time and may not retain direct validity but nevertheless serves as one response to economic conditions, an exemplar from history retaining some utility yet.

    Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday (ISBN 978-1-846-14758-6) recounts his observations of still existing social and economic solutions and the dynamics entailed in their operation. Your noting Marx’s maxim – ‘From each … to each …’ seems to be the very earliest basis of anthropological (and economic) association. Note the changes he describes, needed to develop more complex social and economic forms required to control and direct more advanced and larger political and economic units.

    I would agree fully with the observation that a better form is needed to organize economic understanding, and that this form does not currently exist, and may never be produced; too much is invested now in neoclassical ideology to allow an ‘the Emperor has no clothes’, economic patches and fig leafs are the menu du jour and will obscure the ever growing cracks in the economic edifice. It is doubtful that a basic understanding of economic history will ever be produced, the world no longer speaks with each other, only at each other and no more so than in the academia of economics.

  6. October 23, 2013

    Wonderful. I particularly like the first paragraph. Lens of belief indeed.

  7. Celsius 233 permalink
    October 23, 2013

    @ Formerly T-Bear
    October 23, 2013
    …It is doubtful that a basic understanding of economic history will ever be produced, the world no longer speaks with each other, only at each other and no more so than in the academia of economics.
    Good stuff and the “at”, as opposed to the “to”, is hammer to nail.
    I see the slime rising from the soup, that was the oceans, as the restart of the new ideologies.
    We’re bound to our demise through unbounding ignorance and sloth/greed.

  8. Manofsteel11 permalink
    October 23, 2013

    This is very interesting.
    Indeed, good is better than evil, some production can be better than consumption, not destroying our environment is better than focus on short-term shareholder profits and free market interests and political freedom desires need to be balanced out.
    And yet, ideologies are rarely innocent self-emerging do-good tools, but rather are instruments of power and related (bloody) struggles. Trying to promote them under challenging realities may lend them as tools for people with other motives – be careful yours is not kidnapped by aggressive doers and overachievers, as so many have been during the course of history.

    While current technology and social needs may propel an epochal transformation of the magnitude seen during the industrial+scientific revolution, one must realize that conservative forces can and will exploit the same circumstances to galvanize their own version ideology. In fact, they have been doing so over recent years, as the data+newspaper headlines clearly show.

    Can one offer an ideological platform that truly promotes good for the long-term, mitigates the cost of change and keeps selfish humans at bay? Do texts about ideologies end up constructing or at least supporting desirable social realities? Do social realities emerge out of socio-economic, technological and other changes, while ideologies are marginally used to justify one course of action over the other? Can one articulate something so compelling that both ‘the people’ and ‘those in power’ will buy into it to the extent we will change our lives as a society and as individuals, or will we need more drastic catalysts?

    Hell, the heck with it, just try!

  9. David Kowalski permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Two points, it is widely known at least among the managerial class that treating people poorly is less productive in the aggregate (Theory x vs. Theory Y). However the psychological satisfaction of the hard line Theory X is widespread, not just for the bosses and elite but even for a large number of workers who are hurt by it.

    Second, is the comment my girl friend made while watching a documentary about Stalin, “What’s the difference between Stalin and a mass murderer. There isn’t any.” Well;, these ideologues are, as Ian pointed out, mass murderers and in many cases hired killers.

  10. October 23, 2013

    Great post, Ian. I look forward to the book.

    I put up a link at MNE here along with some thoughts this post provoked.

    Moribund ideologies often die hard. Neoliberalism is one such recalcitrant ideology since it is deeply embedded through years of propaganda by those who interests it serves and also entrenched institutionally. That doesn’t mean that it, too, will be superseded, event though it seems to have nine lives. Who would have thought it could survive the global financial crisis?

    But the notion that neoliberal capitalism masquerading as democracy is the final stages of human social, political and economic development and that we stand at “the end of history” (Fukuyama) is nonsense, as many have pointed out.

    What the next stage will look like is as yet unclear — probably because Western hegemony is on the wane and globalization is going to result in the interface of many non-Western inputs now demanding to be acknowledged. That is a positive development for cooperation over competition since the West is hyper-competitive and individualistic and other cultures are more communal and cooperative traditionally.

    As life scientist and operations type Roger Erickson has been saying for some time over at MNE, complex adaptive systems automatically create emergent problems as previously emergent problems are solved creatively through indirection (Mao’s “Let a hundred flowers bloom.”). Thus, the scale of emergent problems is continually increasing, and successfully adaptive organisms must meet these challenges by increasing return on coordination to stay ahead of extinction.

    While the solution to emergent problems may be unforeseeable, the method that nature uses to deal with emergence is well-known, and that is to create the conditions for flexible and creative response. It’s called agility.

    Organizational rigidity and fixity (ideology) work against this. Rather, flexibility, creativity, and experimentation are required, as well as the capacity to recognize what is working based on feedback and to amplify, leaving behind unsuccessful attempts as soon as they are recognized as such.

    In this sense, the requirement for solutions is ongoing in complex adaptive systems, which all biological systems are. There is no final solution, only appropriate and inappropriate methodology as dictated by changing context. There is no information out of context. Data taken out of context is meaningless. The challenge is get the context right and then be agile enough to adapt to changing context.

    Mental fixity and behavioral rigidity are obstacles to that, when what is needed is increase the degree of freedom in the engineering sense and that involves more complex forms of control. The levers and dials on a control panel that worked in the past will not necessarily work well in the present and future if adjustments are not made owing to changing circumstances.

    As Hegel observed in his philosophy of history, history is the record of increasing freedom (“history has a liberal bias”) but not merely “freedom from” coercion and constraint. There is also an increasing “freedom to” choose and to act, and increasing knowledge has also resulted in increasing degrees of control over events.

    Finally, there is also increasing “freedom for” self-actualization and self-determination. Democracy is freedom for self-determination, since ideally democracy is freely choosing individually but also in concert the law that one lives under in society.

    So the drive is evolutionary and the obstacles are largely self-created by putting obstacles in the way of the creative process individually and cooperatively in coordination with others.

  11. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Part of what I am saying is that we always are operating under ideologies. If you believe in the right to a trial: that’s ideological. If you believe we shouldn’t ration health care based on who has money, that’s ideology. If you believe women should be treated equaly to men/or differently: that’s ideology. The old joke about ideology is that everyone thinks the other guy has an ideology, but that they’re just pragmatists. To decide, say, to bail out banks in 2007/8 is a profoundly ideological decision (and one that someone who actually believed in competitive markets would not take, I might add, which is why people like much of the Zero Hedge crowd are so angry about it.

    There is no balance, there is just ideology. You may hodgepodge ideologies together, that’s normal: sometimes it might result in better results, often it creates monstrous hybrids, but it’s still ideology.

    Right now, because there is no ideology that really speaks fully to the best in us, we have a “the worst were full of fire and passion, the best had no resolve” situation.

    I also don’t believe that ideology necessarily reduces flexibility: what it does is tell people what parts of an equation are important. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. An FDR Liberal and a neoliberal do two very different things when shown the exact same problem.

  12. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    October 23, 2013

    What needs to be done and how to do it are pretty much known. How to get there is the hard part. H0w are enough people organized around a workable strategy and a workable set of tactics to effect the needed changes and methods already known.

  13. Dan Kervick permalink
    October 23, 2013

    I can’t agree with that Ian. Yes, people have deep fundamental values which are not based on their perceived conduciveness to the pursuit of of other even more fundamental values. But most of the things we value are not like that. We support our aims and decisions with some evidence that tries to tie the immediate consequences of our actions to the successful pursuit of consequences that are more important to us. And if the evidence shows that we are mistaken about that connection, most of us are prepared to modify our actions accordingly.

  14. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 23, 2013


    part of how we get there is creating an ideology that says we have to get there that enough people believe in, an ideology that says we have the ethical right to do what is necessary, and an ethical imperative to do it. I’m not obsessing over ideology because it is impractical, I am obsessing over it because it is extraordinarily practical.

    There’s dishwater “should” and there is “must and will”. There is also ideology that is so invisible that people just do what it says without even thinking about it, it’s just obvious to them that they should. Organizing society through jobs, for example, is now obvious ideology to us. It wasn’t one hundred years ago.

  15. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    October 23, 2013

    As with many of Ian’s better posts, my reaction is: thank you for distilling such a critical topic, so little discussed that I had almost forgotten about it, in such an engaging manner.

    This concept of (as Ian terms it) “ideology” is fascinating – it is very much like the objects outside Plato’s cave, completely unseen and yet the real cause of everything seen. And ideology truly is unseen, because it is layered, and the foundational layers (“axioms”) are scarcely perceived. That is, people barely perceive or acknowledge either the mere existence of foundational ideology, nor the overwhelming influence of that foundation on the other layers of belief.

    I actually prefer the term “religion” to “ideology”. The term “religion” sounds archaic, but that’s exactly why I like it — it puts emphasis on the continuity of human experience. People have this tendency to assume we modern people are so much smarter than those primitive religious types, but this is a dangerous fallacy. It is dangerous because it obscures the very existence and importance of ideology. We are “scientific”, are we not? We “know” what is true, because we are “empirical”? Of course we don’t — we know nothing, but we are too disinclined accept this, which prevents us from really examining what we think we know.

    I also prefer the term “religion” to “ideology” because I believe that religion is literally the foundation of so much of our ostensibly secular ideology. (Arch Druid Report had a really insightful series of posts on this topic recently, vis a vis the “civil religion of progress” being really a facade to Christianity.) I recognized this in myself as an adult — I found in myself almost all the forms of Christian belief, despite the fact that I thought I had rejected Christianity completely.

    This topic of a new ideology leads to so many questions — what would that ideology look like, how are ideologies created historically, how are they propagated? So much discuss. But this seems like *the* topic to keep an eye on in the years and decades to come, as our increasingly decrepit civilization falls apart.

  16. Minimax permalink
    October 23, 2013

    What the next stage will look like is as yet unclear — probably because Western hegemony is on the wane and globalization is going to result in the interface of many non-Western inputs now demanding to be acknowledged.

    I wouldn’t say that Western hegemony is on the wane, the “West”, (at this point, really just a euphemistic way of saying “the U.S.”) is, like Rome after the Punic Wars, reorganizing its system of control to have less of a “home”/”abroad” distinction, shoring itself up by asset-stripping the local authorities and concerns that lie within its sphere and transferring those assets to private “global” concerns whose property rights are primarily guaranteed by the imperial center’s power–“globalization”.

    I really don’t see how you can decry the former while implicitly lauding the latter.

  17. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Sorry for double-posting, I just wanted to add: I’m pretty sure that recycled Marxism is not what Ian had in mind by a new ideology (?). Of course any new ideology would borrow from past traditions, but …

    The notion that a new ideology’s rallying cry is going to be “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, is just horrible. It has this ominous totalitarian ring to it. First, “from each according to his abilities” — what, at gunpoint? That is not how you inspire creative genius. Second, “to each according to his need” — who decides? And again, “need” is not the language of creativity, it is the language of survival.

  18. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Smart analogy Minimax. But the Chinese are allowing less of that than you might think… they don’t intend to be a satrapy.

  19. October 23, 2013


    I think you nailed it with this essay. You struck a nerve and pierced a few commentators. That’s a good thing. Those who think they’ve got the whole damn thing figured out need a reality check. Life is a very disjointed and complicated journey. Getting it right is like threading a needle with one hand.

  20. Antifa permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Wonderfully written insights, Ian. Thank you. An Idea is like water to fish. Water is real, and what’s real can’t change. Until it does.

    Why, the very Idea that Ideas go out of style is quite a shocking Idea to many minds making headlines today.

    The Idea that neoliberal economics is the most advanced notion ever come up with is probably the chief pillar remaining to hold that mess of contradictions together. But it do keep a rollin’ along, don’t it, and all over the world, too, messing up everything, everywhere it goes. A vampire squid feeding virtually all wealth to less than 100,000 people.

    And this is considered the best Idea ever.

    Ah, for the days of the Vikings, when an honest day’s pillaging of someone else’s property and women was enough of labor for a working day. No need to spread religion or dogma or explain hard currency valuation to the natives you robbed. Just sack the place and go, with virgins over your shoulder.

    Alas, the modern style is to take all our Best Ideas along when we go a pillaging now, settle ourselves in and watch in shock and awe as our ideas ruin more lives and put an end to more people and prosperity than our weapons ever could. We measure success by the spread of our Best Ideas, not by the mess — I mean creative destruction — they leave behind.

    It’s hard to see economic ideas alone as the lens through which to find our way to a better state of our planet (and as a consequence, of our species). Economics is about “everything of value that people find or make,” right?

    But every single thing humans value or make comes from the earth, the air, the rain, and the sun. Our entire economic input is from our ecology, from our deepest mine to the tallest moutains, to the depths of the oceans, it is where our everything comes from. And we continue to rape it instead of manage it.

    Even the Vikings knew not to come back to the same village too often. We don’t know that.

    Thankfully, classical economics is now hitting hard ecological limits that will force it to recognize ecology as the ultimate input, and account for it’s condition to this and following generations. Hopefully. Maybe economics will just go further away from ecology to continue counting angels on the head of a pin, heedless of the natural sources of everything of value that humans find or make. Ignoring where everything comes from is bad science from the start. Time for that to change.

    But this Idea will take such a wholesale change of current worldviews that it will only happen when we’re forced to recognize, like fish, that the water around us has indeed changed, and that we are stuck in a new reality where the old Ideas don’t even work. We’re there, by the way. We’re living the change right now, whatever it turns out to be.

    If there is a first step out of the mess we are in, it has to be to set a proper aim, to decide on where and who we want to be when we can call ourselves successful managers of our one planet, our sole economic input. It seems that proper management of our biosphere is the right aim — running a living planet spinning through space, not a smog-choked ruin with dead oceans, wildfires and spreading deserts everywhere you turn.

    Why is running a living planet the right aim? Because everything humans value springs from that. Kill that and whom have you killed? That’s right.

    Now there’s an idea that might catch on — we have to live here for a long, long, time and for that to work we have to own and operate our hurtling home for the very long term. Not for this coming quarter. Not for Jamie Dimon or the Dow Jones average. Not for fiat money or hard currency or seashells or notched sticks. For our only economic input. For our very lives.

    The frogs have to make it, and the bees, and every species that contributes to life here has to make it if we are to make it. Time to grow up, clean our house, and run our zoo like it matters. Because it really does. It really does.

    Umm, who do I see about starting a new religion? Or does this have to be one of those kitchen-table start-ups you hear about?

  21. ECHOecho permalink
    October 24, 2013

    Isn’t “ideology” granting a bit too much to it (neoliberalism)? In particular, you say it is contradictory: internally inconsistent. Then, what, then is “ideology?” Oh, but (enter: my invented interlocutor), you say, “Well, of course, within all systems of thought, you can find the little or not-so-little internal contradictions.” Reply: Then what is it — if it fails in its ostensible purpose of providing an objective, workable set of criteria for human action and interaction — except an attempt on the part of its campaigners and sales-reps at persuading those around them–inviting their complicity in all of the things which they would have liked to do in any case, but for the accomplishment of which they appreciate a few dimwitted friends? And, I repeat back to you your observation: This goes for all ideology… Despairing of a set of objective criteria justifying some desired ends, we clothe the savage motives in pretty but ultimately incongruous garb. This way, we can take them to parties–and, you know, even advance their cause. It is nothing but a call for collusion, or sin by committee. So, you can keep your yet-to-be-articulated thing. But, now, the soon-to-be-birthed thing, maybe it will have the shrewdest of all internal contradictions; it will be the first one birthed in full-awareness of its awkwardness and logical impossibility; indeed, it will keep this as axiom number zero. And, so, it ought to be called “Irony.” No, this would take altogether too much courage–a fit of rebellion and panache only demonstrated by the greatest of men qua men (Caligula). Before that sort of fantastic thing could ever come to be, we will have to content ourselves with one far more humdrum: biology: A quantification of human needs will necessarily be undertaken and its codification shall be law, while its perpetual excuse will be its ideology. A likely name will be: “Justice.”

    So what? Well, a rebellion begins: “(You have committed) This thing, but no more; in fact, everything prior and future has been revoked in this one moment!” One soul who was willing to risk even its existence at the chance of voicing this cry inspires others who rush into the safety of a crowd to begin shouting slogans. But their goals are the same as they were yesterday. It is only now, with the force of numbers that they feel like they might be able to accomplish them. This is not to condemn or to congratulate their motives: only to point out that their language and slogans will simply be geared toward what they want to do–engineered to enlist help toward that end. And what are their goals? Well, some perfectly reasonable variants of a biological imperative, with all the nods to a fully flowered theory of altruism and group dynamics. The next regime is Biology, no? And, so, perhaps we ought to cheer, rather than sneer. But it is important to note that it is not necessarily an intellectually perfect thing–indeed, “we are all pragmatists.” Which is perhaps another way of saying: let’s do whatever it is that we want to do. And this is not rebellion, which is an act of negation or refusal. And the goal of rebellion–since it inherently risks everything–could hardly be biology.

    So, a question: When you adopt the pose of positivity, which you do whenever you invoke ideology, are you perhaps missing something? Something… is it a thing? The clarity of speech if not the honesty of the rebel is exchanged for a PR campaign.

    And–I don’t care –whatever you’re selling–I’m not buying.

    You know, we really don’t need some new way of articulating some sort of supposedly obvious decency– or enlist an army of minds to articulate the basic needs of a human being. If there are new and undiscovered human needs –and I’m sure there are — then, I’m sure we can count on the intellectual entrepreneurs of the world to begin hawking their fresh new wares. You just have to refuse immediately to consent to their violation. (It’s what you do…)

    And… this new ideology and its new era– it will really only be for survivors of the last, no? Woe to those survivors. You will know that you were not among those who stood up and issued the ultimatum to the trainwreck of the age: This, but no more. In fact, here is where I get off…

    I beg you: no more ideology. Just cries of rebellion– of an immediate and timely kind.

    Nuff preachin.

  22. b2020 permalink
    October 24, 2013

    A quibble:
    “The experience of the dot-com boom should be instructive in this regard: when you can walk out because you don’t need this job and it isn’t clear you can be replaced, bosses suddenly start treating you very very well indeed.”

    This is misleading. For one, even in dot-coms with people who were objectively and clearly irreplaceable, executive stupidity resulted in bad treatment “indeed”. Worse, even in dot-coms, even moreso elsewhere, executives are, rightly or wrongly, absolutely convinced that everybody except themselves and their near-peers are utterly replacable.

    I don’t have a solution. I do know that there is a continuum that includes optional labor all the way to self-exploitation, and that the key is not being able to walk away from your – e.g. life’s – work, but not having to do so. Intellectual “property” restrictions for “work for hire” are part of this – creation should be inalienable, and should only be subject to limited scope/time licensing – as is equity – if you do not own what you work on/for, you are always a serf. Taylorism and “efficiency” are strong driving forces to turn a nation of shop owners into a labor reserve of at will and/or minimum wage serfs. Any future society placing a premium on robustness, resilience, and maximizing the use of scare human “resources” has incentives to move away from JIT “efficiency”. But the war is about control – about power – not labor. The first battle is about inbred wealth and the accumulation (and compounding) of influence, resources, connections over generations. If – pace Keynes, and beyond the scarce labor society – we see labor as a privilege, a substantial part of which is to wield disporportionate resources for the benefit of the many, then this power to control such resources should be awared by merit, i.e. proven or at least suspected ability to deliver. The Manhattan Project or the Apollo program were, whatever the merits, awarded to Oppenheimer/Groves and von Braun by democratically elected representatives. So was the TVA. Incorporation and executives are the attempt of “market” corporatism to (pretend to) solve this problem. Democracy is in dire need of structural reform, but its track record – and its focus on the essence of power – is better than that of the “market”, and the failure of the Soviets was a failure of democratic accountability for power – the “ownership” and waste of productive resources including the laborers themselves was a consequence of that.

  23. October 24, 2013

    Ian Welsh sez: An ideology tells us what is thinkable and what is unthinkable, what is moral or immoral, ethical or unethical …

    All well and good, I suppose, and the essay provides interest with its many references to earlier thinkers, but I’m frustrated by how much text is used to say so little, really. If you were to define your principal terms a bit more fully, you would have to admit that how ideologies are formed and transmitted is quite complex and that they flow, like history, without much direction or guidance. An idea is cognition is perception is social instruction is memory is emotion is imagination is so many other things. Ideologies have all those components and more, and once reified, take on lives of their own that often render subscribers prisoners and/or crazy (and I mean crazy quite literally). Hence, the true believers and internal conflicts of logic that accompany any ideology. That we adopt so many ideologies unwittingly has been called deep culture: assumptions undergirding our society that channel perception and thought according to the specific culture and moment in which one finds oneself. One such aspect of deep culture is how with think in terms of either numbers or time, which varies dramatically across cultures and history. Viewing one’s assumptions (to which we’re all continuously forced to conform through social pressure, e.g., how to dress, what to drive, what to eat) from outside is notoriously difficult and does not automatically grant the ability to alter one’s ideology.

    Further, your bit about Marxist doctrine and who controls the means of production probably made sense before the digital age, but now that so much of our economic life is information-based (of one sort or another) instead of material and the means of production has/have been democratized, individuals have more power than ever to create, produce, and publish. But ironically, that does not confer much economic power because the big players are now using propaganda and crowdsourcing to remove any proletariat power that digital tools award. Same thing with weapons and state monopolies on the use of force. In addition, those tools are quietly being removed or placed solely under subscription services in the cloud that make end users into revenue streams or simply coopt the user, making the user the product. That’s why all the new tablet, smartphone, laptop and desktop computer designs move everything from HDs onto networks.

    None of this will last, though. The (unacknowledged) dominant ideology of the age, at least in the West — that we can live in our heads rather than our bodies and therefore create virtual realities according to whatever wish fulfillment we desire (incipient transhumanism if you will) — cannot last much longer. Could be months, years, or decades, but the natural world in which we live is in freefall and all the fiat money and technological innovation we can imagine won’t keep us fed, housed, clothed, and entertained.

  24. October 24, 2013

    I borked my URL above but fixed it this time. BTW, I got here by way of this comment:

  25. bob mcmanus permalink
    October 24, 2013

    I of course liked what ECHOecho said above a lot.

    When I said an ideology must match the material conditions I of course meant the end of Fordism, the end of modernism, and the end of mass communication. This is partly what tiqqun, TC, Hardt & Negri etc are getting at, you cannot impose a universalist egalitarian ideology on the twitter/facebook crowd, the only crowd that really counts in “The Coming Revolution.” They are not listening.

    They will do it themselves, I hope, but if we are to help the elders cannot do much more than what elders usually do…tweet them permissions and set them free.

    I will not try to inhibit them.

  26. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    October 27, 2013

    The Chambers dictionary shows ideology as:
    _Science of ideas,
    _Abstract speculation,
    _Visionary speculation,
    _A body of ideas, usu. political and/or economic, forming the basis of a national or sectarian policy
    _Way of thinking.

    Quite a load for one word to be carrying. Where are the synonyms when you need them to differentiate a specific intended use so as to not confound or confuse the casual reader with ambiguity. The Oxford Thesaurus has the synonyms for ideology:

    where Roget’s has three major categories:
    Pervading attitudes,
    System of belief,
    System of ideas.

    Ideology is broad enough to hide a good part of philosophy innit. This and subsequent posts read quite well, but lurking within is the question of which ‘ideology’ is it that is intended, the challenge is akin to verbally describing a finely cut diamond as it moves in light, the linear capabilities of language not keeping up with the dynamics presented.

    Would remark that it is disappointing that Dan Kervick cannot respond to civil comments addressed to his remarks. The NEP site Kervick writes for (ab)uses censorship for ideological purposes, perceived challenges to MMT orthodoxy have been treated as ad hominem attacks; a site well worth reading but commentators beware, past experiences have made that site a definite ‘fly-over territory’ as far as commenting there. It was informative that Kervick’s remarks went into an instantaneous Marxist lather when presented with the idea ideology, more the pavlovian foaming of a propagandist rather than an erudite response of intellect. So be it, that chance will not come again.

  27. John permalink
    November 1, 2013

    Very interesting post, I’m glad I came across it.

    You make an interesting point that relates to something I have been wondering about. You write:

    “And societies with that ideology [I think you mean a cooperative one], all other things being equal, will tend to out-compete those who believe that fear, misery and the whip are the best way to motivate people.”

    I wonder about that. I must preface the following remarks by saying that I have not intensively studied this, but why, for example, are co-operative enterprises not more prominent in the US economy? Are there reasons other than the more traditionally typical access to capital and entry barrier questions that make the co-operative model less competitive (which themselves raise nettlesome questions under a co-operative framework)?

    One issue that comes to mind is the free-rider problem. I don’t think there will be much question regarding whether there are free-riders. Who makes the decisions to identify possible free-riders? Who makes the decision to punish free-riders? How will that punishment take place (lower wages? how much lower, being fired, what type of process for firing)? Who will actually carry out punitive measures? Can the co-operative model do these things more efficiently from a product/service pricing perspective than the autocratic model? Though not empirically-based, my reaction is that the autocratic model can do this more efficiently (though efficiency and just decision-making are two different things).

    How about all that decision-making? Do the individuals in the co-operative enterprises want to engage in the time-consuming process of decision-making, will they care too? Or would the co-operative employees rather just want to put in their 8 hours and go home to coach baseball, help the kids with their school-work, etc.?

    I know there are a lot of successful co-ops out there, and I would like to see more (my personal favorite is New Belgium Brewing, whose Ranger IPA is mighty fine), and there is even a co-operative business association (, but I am still left to wonder why co-operative enterprises have not assumed a more important role in the US economy.

  28. Anthony permalink
    November 2, 2013

    Excellent discussion. I feel we have personnel visions but act more within societies norms. Enough people need to align to change things. That is brought on through voicing our thoughts.

    I also believe there is too little talk on this by current leaders.
    We have a general ideology we dont follow because of the old.

  29. November 5, 2013

    Will you mention race or gender in this book of yours? Do you even have publicly presentable opinions on these two crucial issues? How can any sort of consciously constructed new ideology that claims to help people ignore these two things? Here are two important pieces:

  30. Ian Welsh permalink
    November 5, 2013

    I have discussed gender in the past, I have less to say about race, but I have discussed it at length in a couple pieces. I tend to consider the status of both as contingent on power and production relationships as well as history (trivia, or not: the status of blacks is high in China because the blacks who do go to China tend to be rich or powerful).

    My book will have at least a chapter on the family, and the way I want to structure the economy will make women vastly better off, I’ll be sure to make that clear. As for race, well, a big part of what I want to see is Africa unfucked by the way we run the global economy. I think that’s something people of color might be able to get behind. I also believe, firmly, that an economy run the way I want is better for POCs, because it cuts out a ton of the gatekeeprs and thus reduces the effect of racism.

    Racism is beyond fucking stupid, that makes it hard to deal with on an intellectual level.

  31. Ian Welsh permalink*
    September 27, 2017

    Back to the top.

  32. Tom W Harris permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Google “realist left” – it’s an “Old Deal” approach that just might work.

  33. Steeleweed permalink
    September 27, 2017

    While “Deer Hunting With Jesus” put Joe Bageant in the public eye, it was his memoir, “Rainbow Pie” which spoke more directly to me and bears on the issue here. Joe grew up in rural West Virginia, within a largely self-sufficient community, what he called a “labor economy” rather than a “money economy”. Farmers produced most of what they needed and operated on very little cash. He saw his community driven from that life by regulations favoring Big Ag over small farmers, pressured into wage-slavery in support of WWII and post-war eventually , lured from “small-c conservative: production-oriented lives into eager consumerism.

    I am between the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, from an area that was at least 15 years behind the curve. Lacking personal exposure to the Great Depression, I did see its effect on people and society. It produced a very conservative outlook regarding financial issues and a very strong sense of community. The post-war boom was subdued, but followed by collapse of mining and timbering all over the West, leading to takeover of devastated small towns by ultra-wealthy as vacation homes and eventually real-estate bubbles.

    The mostly-self-sufficient life endured for several thousand years, so I’d call it a pretty successful model. When global warming and the resulting political and social chaos finally makes the global supply chain and cheap-energy lifestyle untenable, that simpler life is the only viable option. What is disturbing, is that by the time it happens, there will be few who are experienced in maintaining the more people-friendly, environment-friendly life.

  34. alyosha permalink
    September 27, 2017

    I learned sometime ago that whoever controls the stories a culture hears and believes, controls the culture. Ideology is what’s behind the stories.

    Stories are the easily digested bits of ideology, boiled down, simplified, the contradictions omitted or masked, so that even children can understand them. Stories clothe the ideology.

  35. Duder permalink
    September 27, 2017

    A big part of how we get a new ideology is by identifying and proposing a corresponding historical subject.

    Central to the effectiveness of the communist manifesto was its ability to propose a new historical figure in the proletariat. The manifesto identifies this subject and proposes a historical mission, as an anti-theological, revolutionary figure, able to remake the historical destiny (end) of humanity. Call it a new God, whatever, but this discursive feat is not simply a matter of getting everyone to believe in it. For the 19th century communists it was a question of imbuing new and imaginative historical significance into the present human condition. And then working to make such an imagination reality.

    I fear that the contemporary left, whose historical imagination ends and begins with nostalgia for the 20th century social welfare state, is not up to the monumental task it claims as destiny.

  36. shubttsadiq permalink
    September 27, 2017

    A new ideology. A new ideology. Blah, blah, blah. The fuck are you even talking about, you asshole.

    “I’m an intellectual, I AM an intellectual.”

    UGH. Stop talking.

  37. BC Nurse Prof permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Ian: You have defined ideology, but how is it that humans can generate an ideolgy and live by it, denying facts and other ideologies?

    A new theory about this is gaining traction. I have run across this and found it fascinating. How could two different genetic mutations that each result in maladaptive evolutionary fitness, when found together result in tremendous evolutionary success?

    Have a look at this YouTube video of Ajit Varki presenting this theory at a CARTA symposium earlier this year in San Diego (20 minutes).

  38. EmilianoZ permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Ian Welsh: If your ideology isn’t strong enough, doesn’t create fervent enough belief that people will die for it, then it won’t change the world.

    Neoliberalism has without a doubt changed the world. Will people die for neoliberalism? Maybe a handful of libertarians. Sure many people will die for money. Is it the same thing as dying for neoliberalism?

    I dont think neoliberalism is generating that much to-die-for enthusiasm. The strongest, most effective part of the neoliberal ideology is the TINA part. Even people who dont care much about the free markets think there is no alternative.

    Neoliberalism seems to be a minimal ideology. It’s really just a fig leave for the looting of the nation by the rich.

    Emmanuel Todd thinks the age of ideology is over. For him ideology is what replaced religion mostly in the 19th and 1st half of the 20th century. He cites 2 factors that for him killed ideologies in the postwar era.
    1) Ideologies were about building a utopia here on earth. In the postwar era, the conditions of life became pretty comfortable for most people in the West. In other words the utopia had materialized, the dreams were no longer necessary.
    2) Mass alphabetization had made the rise of ideologies possible in the 19th century. Nearly everybody had a primary education. But it’s only in the postwar era that mass higher education occurred. According to Todd, that killed ideologies too. I’m not sure why. Does he think people with a university degree have too much critical thinking to believe in a utopia?

    Now conditions of life have become wretched for many people again. But have we become too cynical for a new ideology?

  39. Hugh permalink
    September 30, 2017

    I have no problem investigating foreign interference in our politics. How about startng with Israel?

  40. Hugh permalink
    September 30, 2017

    “What is oddest about our modern ideology is the same thing that is odd about virtually all ideologies: it contradicts itself.”

    I am constantly gobsmacked by the contradictions spewed by our elites. A lot of it is hypocrisy, a lot of it is class interest, and the rest is just incoherence. Take the looming tax reform debate. First, it isn’t about reform. It’s about cutting taxes on the rich, but being sold as tax cuts for the middle class. Only problem is for most of the middle class tax decreases are cancelled out by eliminating traditional tax deductions. Taxes in the lowest taxable income bracket could go up. Meanwhile the highest, Donald Trump-level, tax bracket will decrease, but that’s not even close to the biggest gimmes for the rich. Proposed decreases in the estate tax could save rich heirs, like Trump’s kids, hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars.

    Then there is the decrease in corporate taxes to the tune of a couple trillion over ten years. Guess who owns the corporations. If you said the rich and top 10%, you win. So this is just another way to siphon money off to the rich. I’m sure you are as surprised and shocked at this as I am. Not. This is especially crazy for two reasons. The first is that the people pushing these tax decreases for the rich are exactly the same people who rail against increasing the national debt. Their only rationale is vague assurances that somehow all the growf these tax cuts for the rich and corporations will stimulate will make the math all work out, despite some 40 years of experience to the contrary. The second is that the rich and corporations are already sitting on mountains of cash, which they are not investing in the US or American jobs, but which they are using to finance stock buybacks to pump up share prices, gamble on Wall Street, and in those instances where they do build plants and create jobs, it is in China and the Pacific Rim. How will more of the same change any of that? It won’t, but I suppose to sell the con, that’s what they need to say.

  41. V. Arnold permalink
    September 30, 2017

    BC Nurse Prof
    September 27, 2017

    Enjoyed your link immensely.
    Especially the concluding remarks quoting Danny’s understanding of our self destructive nature; the cartoon was excellent.

  42. V. Arnold permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Addendum: Without getting lost in the weeds; it does seem apparent, even obvious, that not all humans are so self destructive/maladaptive as we…

  43. Hugh permalink
    September 30, 2017

    My Israel comment belonged in a different thread. Sorry.

  44. October 1, 2017

    The alt-right believes you get more out of some people by treating them well, others by treating them badly, and it’s silly to believe the same rules of thumb apply to all.

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