Neoliberalism, Part the First

I think this election is turning out to be an inchoate plebiscite on neoliberalism.

What is “neoliberalism” you ask?

It is a political economic belief system that deifies “the market”. Planetary prosperity will rise and fall with “the market”. If this phrase – “the market will decide” – does not raise your hackles, you have digested some neoliberal ideology yourself. Because “the market” is a transcendental source of wisdom, neoliberalism demonizes government as too big, too inefficient, too likely to “distort” the pure signals sent to us by the market and too likely to make the markets less “free”. It follows then that the best path to prosperity for all is too keep government small and make “the market” bigger. We should cut taxes (starve the government) and privatize governmental functions (give “the market” greater sway). Any social entity that impedes the free flow of capital (unions) or is not viewed as enabling to entreprenuers (the social safety net) is viewed as retarding our common progress to market utopia.

The spawn of economists like Frederich Hayek and Milton Friedman, neoliberalism’s early adopters were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They lowered taxes, “deregulated” markets, weakened unions, assured the global flow of capital, stepped away from any concern about full employment and attenuated the social safety net for the poorest citizens. The social and economic policies they inspired have resulted in the hollowing out of the middle class and near catastrophic levels of economic inequality. Friedman and Hayek devotees aside, neoliberalism as a planetary force is neither a single school of economic thought nor is it a coherent ideology. Rather, its has slowly become “common sense”. It is a tissue of internally inconsistent myths and notions which can be ascribed to in bits and pieces by people of all political persuasions (i.e., Bill Kristol and Bill Clinton).

Here in America, the canards of neoliberalism have been tilled into our native soil of racism, sexism, xenophobia and know-nothingism. The result is the rich loam of political and economic confusion in which Donald Trump is growing. Central to the rhetorical misdirection of neoliberalism is the use and misuse of the word “free”. More to follow.

(Other brief summaries of neoliberalism are available here, here and the first two chapters here.)

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *