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15 November 2012

The Future of an Illusion


"It's pure fantasy to think that there is a real difference between the 'amount of regulation' in the situation where the government is prepared to rescue the entire economy versus the situation where the government actively manages the economy. The difference, in terms of the 'amount of regulatory intervention,' is trivial at best. There are, however, huge differences as to who reaps the benefits. In this country, we privatize gains, but socialize losses. To be sure, there are enormous differences in the distribution of wealth, but not in the 'amount' of regulation. [...]

The mechanism can be described as naturalization and normalization — naturalization of the market and normalization of the resulting distributions of wealth. When we think that the market is functioning 'by itself,' that it is unregulated (as if that were possible), that it is not controlled by the human hand, the economic outcomes become more 'natural.' They appear to be the product of nature, or merit, the way things should be. 'We are not interfering,' we tell ourselves. 'We only put in place neutral rules that everyone has to follow.' It's as if we're just watching a race and seeing who is the strongest, the most able. And the one who wins, we perceive as more deserving. All the while, there are myriad hidden rules and regulatory mechanisms that we put in place that favor certain outcomes. By masking those regulations, by talking about that illusion of 'deregulation' and failing to recognize that in all cases we simply reregulate, we insulate the unequal distributions that follow, we do not subject them fully to critique. We normalize growing inequality — as evidenced by the sharp and constant increase in inequality in this country since the 1970s. [...]

These simplistic but tired Cold War ideologies have been extremely detrimental to political life in this country. For the past forty years, the false dichotomy and the
fabricated fear of government regulation is precisely what made it possible for political and socio-economic elites to reregulate the economy in such as way as to reap more social resources and wealth, and to magnify inequality."

- from "Punishment and the Natural Order: An Interview with 
Bernard E. Harcourt," in the summer 2012 edition of Cabinet 

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