Trapped: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom
Part 2 The Lonely Robot
Part 2 takes a close look at the role American economist James Buchanan played in extending free market economic theory to human biology, politics and governments. The Impossibility Theorem is fundamental to Buchanan’s concept of “market democracy.” According to the Impossibility Theorem, collective will is impossible in a democracy because the desires of millions of individuals are too varied and complex. Buchanan maintained the only way to respond democratically to people’s wishes was to allow them to fully pursue their selfish self-interest in the marketplace.
Clinton Dismantles New Deal Welfare Programs
A direct result of Buchanan’s influence over Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton was massive cuts in taxes and social services, coupled with a repeal of corporate regulation. The most immediate result was a massive increase in inequality. Corporate elites became much, much richer – while nearly everyone else became much poorer. Ironically the gap between rich and poor would increase far more rapidly under liberal-leaning Blair and Clinton than under Thatcher and Reagan. Clinton will go down in history as the president who dismantled the welfare programs Roosevelt enacted under the New Deal.
Meanwhile overconfidence in computers and so called “behavioral economics” (free market theory) would result in government departments run by targets and incentive schemes. Sociopaths and economists quickly learned how to game the system by cheating on their targets.*
The Selfish Gene Hypothesis
Likewise biological scientists used free market and game theory to promote the Selfish Gene hypothesis. This theory conceptualized a simplistic view of human beings as machines that were controlled entirely by their genes. It held that genes, which were likened to on-board computers, compelled people to act selfishly to guarantee their genes’ survival.
This mechanistic view of human biology would lead to a profound change, led by psychiatrists and drug companies, in the way Brits and Americans viewed themselves. The new checklist diagnostic system the American Psychiatric Association (APA) launched in 1979 (see Part 1), coupled with the aggressive marketing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) would lead people to view themselves as machines – machines that needed to be fixed if they experienced unpleasant emotional states, such as worrying, conflict, insecurity or anxiety.
People Pop Pills to Cope with Deteriorating Social Conditions
Because these checklists deliberately ignored life circumstances that might cause unpleasant feelings, common reactions to life stresses became medicalized. This, in turn, led to an expectation that people would take pills to adjust to steadily worsening social conditions.**
The theoretical basis of behavioral economics began to unravel in the 1990s. The Selfish Gene hypothesis was abandoned when new genetic research revealed that cell’s ability to choose, based on environmental conditions, which parts of the DNA molecule become operational.
*More recent research shows that only two sectors of society are driven purely by self-interest: sociopaths and economists.
** For example, loss of good paying and secure jobs, loss of representation in a rigid and corrupt government and overall loss of control over our lives.
Free link to film: The Trap 2 The Lonely Robot [BBC]