Praxis: Breaking Free From Neoliberalism

Gustavo Gutierrez, the author of Theology of Liberation, said:

But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order. (Emphasis, the author's)

The failure of neoliberalism and its prominent purveyors is its insistence on ignoring the obvious, that it is impossible to reform an unjust system of economics by utilizing the economic, cultural, and social apparatus that is itself the cause of that injustice.

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From the Roots to the Fruits

The only possibility of changing the system of oppression is to understand it from the ground up, its roots and its fruits. Systems, whether mechanical, technical, social, or economic, are never best understood by their designers in love with their ideas, but by their end users, those on the bleeding edge of the systemic limitations.

When Gutierrez wrote his classic work on liberation theology, he cut through the centuries-old fallacies of western Christian social theology that demanded the Church advocate for the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the imprisoned. The fallacy was not in the demand, for it is clearly the calling in the Christian faith to do these actions; rather, the fallacy was in its implementation, its practice. For in the system, gifts were made to the poor, work was done, but generation after generation saw the needs continue to grow -- there would always be the need, unless the system itself was radically changed. This was the fallacy.

With this understanding, liberation theologians and followers recognized and embraced political change and revolution. It required total engagement in the political life and culture of oppressed people. This hand-to-hand engagement became the most credible form of theology in oppressed communities. It was referred to as praxis.

The Fallacy of Neoliberalism

In many ways, the fallacy of neoliberalism is similar to that which Gutierrez faced. It has sought to work within a capitalist-corporatist system that calls for public "investment" in the poor while maintaining the apparatus that creates the multi-generational poverty from which there is no escape, the corporate profit apparatus.

A case in point is the much-ballyhooed Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is most widely known. The ACA sought to improve the statistics of health coverage by demanding everyone be signed up. But, for what? They signed up to spend more money than they had in order to obtain coverage that was nowhere near complete enough to avoid financial catastrophe should a serious illness occur. They were given subsidies (the government "investments") to help pay for the insurance, if they qualified.

It did not radically change the system of profiteering from the poor and middle classes; it simply subsidized their premiums while the deliverers of health care and the pharmaceutical companies could continue to rake in the government funds now funneled through the hands of the poor.

This is just one example of the failure of neoliberalism, the failure to recognize and to reform the culprit. Examples are everywhere, whether in international geopolitics, mass incarceration in the U.S., income inequality, or in higher education funding. 

The Trap

Liberals are stuck in this oppressive mindset. They hold to the belief that the government should help people who cannot afford the basics of food, health care, housing and education, but their obeisance to corporatist determinations of what is reasonable profit and taxation persists.

Failing to recognize their complicity in sustaining the profit apparatus, and indeed, at times throwing more money at it, they simply fan the flames of injustice toward those on the bottom rungs of society. If they seek at all to improve the plights of the poor, they do it through trying to eke out funds from a tight-fisted conservative Congress who plays the "special interests" card to the pleasure of moderate and conservative Americans in order to deny funding, while liberals zip up their lips for fear of losing support and campaign financing from the very corporations who are responsible for the apparatus to start with.

Liberals are trapped in the game they helped create when they turned to the corporate world in the first place for solutions to social and economic problems.

Voters who prefer the liberal rhetoric to the conservative have failed to recognize the complicity of their chosen political party and find themselves championing the ones they see as the lesser of two evils, based on rhetoric and not necessarily record.

Escape through praxis

So, how do Americans escape from the trap of neoliberalism and liberal elitism? The answer is to be found in praxis.

It starts with the recognition of the meaning of "liberty and justice for all." 

It is not a matter of bigger handouts and boosting the plight of the poor through tax credits and "sliding scale" subsidies. Rather, it starts by flipping the apparatus currently owned by the corporatists.

It starts with providing a guaranteed basic income that lifts people out of poverty, housing that is affordable within that guaranteed income structure, health care that is free as well as excellent and timely in delivery, education that is guaranteed to all, regardless of ability to pay, and the guarantee of jobs and job training, when needed.

Most importantly, it starts with the poor having the greater voice in determining the policies that affect them.  This is what praxis brings.

These are not "special interests" in the sense of being over and above common interests. These are interests of a just society, a society that values equality for all, not just equal access to these things, but equal delivery.

To escape the trap of neoliberalism, regard for corporate profits must be set aside in favor of a sustainable and just economy for people at all levels of economic status.  

It might mean higher taxes on corporations. It may also mean greater controls over the exportation of jobs. It may mean cutting way back in defense spending. It may mean punishing unbalanced profiteering by pharmaceutical companies. 

It may mean a lot of things.

But, what it MUST mean is embracing the principles of economic justice, knowing that the poor are victimized by the unjust corporatist apparatus, and recognizing that equality requires delivering on the equality principles. 

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