Way back in 1651 philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan summed up our nature with the Latin proverb Homohominilupus ‘Man is a wolf to his fellow man’.
From this thought tradition – now reinforced through much of media and advertising – we absorb the notion that humans are essentially selfish – competitive and materialistic.
Yet with this dim view of our nature how can we possibly make society work?
The dominant narrative has the answer: Just put self-interest to work.
So by the end of the 1980s the notion of a ‘free market’ driven by calculated self-interest had risen to economic gospel.
Influenced by 20th-century economists—led for example by F.A. Hayek and then Milton Friedman and his ‘Chicago School’—we’ve come to see the ‘free market’ untethered from human meddling as an almost infallible law.
It’s what Ronald Reagan called the ‘magic’ of the “marketplace efficiently sorting out winners and losers for the benefit of all.
With help from a handful of billionaire families this free-market ideology took hold.
Since the 1970s their funding has spread the idea of government-as-problem and market-as-solution through policy think tanks – the media – higher education and far-right political organizing.
The mindset steadily drove into private hands what had long been public goods—from the airwaves to schools to prisons—while simultaneously decimating government’s role in protecting public welfare.