Neoliberalism is this ugly, pervasive ideology that hums away in the background of our political and economic lives. I first learnt about neoliberalism from reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” (2007) which is a must read for anybody who feels remotely connected to the forces shaping our world. The book prompted me to think about how neoliberalism plays out in the arena of American politics. And it is with frustrated recognition that I have come to understand that it is rarely identified, discussed, or questioned.
Neoliberalism for the most part is represented as something that might only be of interest to economists. It is also portrayed as something removed from political criticism because of a presumption that suggests there is no alternative (TINA). We therefore exist within this politico-economic system that is taken for granted.
The infiltration is so deep that none of our political leaders refer to it either. What is equally discerning is that as the the ruling ideology it is largely unknown by the majority of people. I am incensed to think that this ideology that permeates everything we seem to stand for is not open to wider discussion. If that is the case there never is going to be any hope for change.
Neoliberalism can be defined by everything that promotes the market: privatization, deregulation, mobilizing capital, making cuts to social welfare, and perceiving people as human capital. Things that diminish the market like government services, regulation, restructuring capital, and thinking of people holistically is discouraged. But this is not a market as understood under classical liberalism. It is not an idealistic free, dynamic, and unrestricted market. It is a market that is controlled by those with the power, money, and resources.
Neoliberalism thrives by inducing crises or taking advantage of existing ones, and it is very good at exploiting these crises to its benefit. Each crisis makes the working class a little worse off and makes the wealthy much better off. The 2016 Oklahoma budget crisis is a case in point. Over the past few years there have been a series of budget crises that are getting progressively worse, where the working class and poor have been harmed the most and the higher income earners and wealthy have been harmed the least. When the bubble eventually bursts, which is the intention, the state as we know it will have to be dismantled and that’s when all the privatization and deregulation will begin.
Neoliberalism also runs on the false belief that markets are self-sufficient and are the best guarantee of human welfare. This flies in the face of much evidence to the contrary. Klein points this out in her book, with example after example from around the world. In the forty-five year history of neoliberalism both economic and political inequality have accelerated after each downturn and after each crisis.
On a global scale neoliberalism has as its goal the creation of the neoliberal state. Under this model, nation states will become obsolete. The neoliberal state will incorporate potentially all the states via free trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) where corporations hold the reins. People will have even less status in the neoliberal state as corporations become increasingly favored over humans under the the law.
With the national election approaching it is important to consider where our politicians stand on the neoliberal measuring scale. I think this election is more about ideology than political parties and neoliberalism. Though it is not spoken about overtly by the candidates, I believe it is what is driving the election process. And the intuition of the some of the people that something is not right in our current politico-economic system, even though it goes unnamed, is starting to make them feel more invested in the election outcome.
I will be talking about our political candidates and neoliberalism in the next post.