Friday, April 8, 2016

The Virtue Complex




"Regardless of who leads it, professional-class liberalism seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself, and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program. 
"There have been many other virtue objects over the years, people and ideas whose surplus righteousness could be extracted for deployment elsewhere. The great virtue-rush of the 1990s, for example, was focused on children, then thought to be the last word in overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness. Who could be against kids? No one, of course, and so the race was on to justify in their name whatever your program happened to be. In the course of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village, for example, this favorite rationale of the day—think of the children!—was deployed to explain her husband’s draconian crime bill as well as more directly child-related causes such as charter schools.


"...While national leaders busied themselves with the macro-matters of privatizing and deregulating, microloans would bring the science of markets down to the individual. Merely by providing impoverished individuals with a tiny loan of fifty or a hundred dollars, it was thought, you could put them on the road to entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, you could make entire countries prosper, you could bring about economic development itself.

"What was most attractive about micro­lending was what it was not, what it made unnecessary: any sort of collective action by poor people coming together in governments or unions. The international development community now knew that such institutions had no real role in human prosperity. Instead, we were to understand poverty in the familiar terms of entrepreneurship and individual merit, as though the hard work of millions of single, unconnected people—plus cell phones, bank accounts, and a little capital—was what was required to remedy the Third World’s vast problems. Millions of people would sell one another baskets they had made, or coal they had dug out of the trash heap, and suddenly they were entrepreneurs, racing to the top. The key to development was not doing something to limit the grasp of Western banks, in other words; it was extending Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.

"Microlending is a perfect expression of Clintonism, since it brings together wealthy financial interests with rhetoric that sounds outrageously idealistic. Microlending permits all manner of networking, posturing, and profit taking among the lenders while doing nothing to change actual power relations—the ultimate win-win.


"...In 1997 [Hillary Clinton] cochaired a global Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C., replete with the usual Third World delegations. Hillary’s own remarks on that occasion were unremarkable, but those of the president of the Citi­corp Foundation were well worth remembering. Here is what he said to the assembled saviors of the Third World: “Everyone in this room is a banker, because everyone here is banking on self-employment to help alleviate poverty around the world.” At the closing session of the summit, bankers joined national leaders in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

...let’s be clear. What drives this market are the buyers. Like Walmart and Goldman Sachs locking arms with the State Department, what these virtue-consumers are doing is purchasing liberalism offsets, an ideological version of the carbon offsets that polluters sometimes buy in order to compensate for the smog they churn out." 
-Thomas Frank, Nor a Lender Be, Harper's 




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