Market liberalism and the foreclosure of politics

I just came across a stunning quote by Larry Summers, economic and policy doyen of the Democratic establishment, reflecting on the rise of inequality in America. It’s from The Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, pg 363:

“One of the reasons that inequality has probably gone up in our society is that people are being treated closer to the way that they’re supposed to be treated.” 

I’ve rarely seen such a pure expression of the post-democratic tendency within market liberalism: a project to overcome the distorting constraints of social democracy and ‘treat people how they’re supposed to be treated’.

There’s a fascinating insight a few pages later from Alan Krueger, a friend and former graduate student of Summers, concerning the genesis of this ethos of ‘truthfulness’ through markets. From pg 368:

“Larry felt that it didn’t make sense that while he was being paid well by Harvard, some other professors were being paid in his ballpark. After all, he was Larry Summers, and who the hell were the rest of them? He began to study structures, like unions, that compressed wage distinctions in ways that went against the market. Of course, some of those compressions are meant to soften the blow of such distinctions, mindful of a complex array of factors, many uneconomic, that go into who gets paid what. But that’s part of the point. Larry believes that the goal is to make everything more brutally ‘truthful’—in terms of the market being basically right in how it values people and trying to make it more so—and that process shouldn’t be tampered with unless there is overwhelming, indisputable evidence that the market is not working. After a few decades, Larry has gotten very good at undercutting arguments for any government intervention into free markets. “If you’re the policymaker, you need to show overwhelming evidence that a market is not functioning, in a profound and disastrous way, to merit an intervention. The default is to go back to the first principle, of market efficiency, and to let matters mostly continue as they’ve been.”