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Posts tagged "neoliberalism"

“The profound error made by those who have announced the ‘death of liberalism’ is to confuse ideological representation accompanying the implementation of neoliberal policies with the practical normativity that specifically characterises neoliberalism. As a result, the relative discredit surrounding the ideology of laissez-faire today in no way prevents neoliberalism from prevailing more than ever as a normative system possessed of a certain efficiency - that is, the capacity to direct from within the actual practice of governments, enterprises and, in addition to them, millions of people who are not necessarily conscious of the fact. For this is the crux of the matter: how is it that, despite the utterly catastrophic consequences in which neoliberal policies have resulted, they are increasingly operative, to the extent of pushing states and societies into ever graver political crises and social regression? How is it that such policies have been developed and radicalised for more than thirty years without encountering sufficient resistance to check them?

The answer is not, and cannot be, confined to the ‘negative’ aspects of neoliberal policies - that is, the programmed destruction of regulations and institutions. Neoliberalism is not merely destructive of rules, institutions and rights. It is also productive of certain kinds of social relations, certain ways of living, certain subjectivities. In other words, at stake in neoliberalism is nothing more, nor less, than the form of our existence - the way in which we are led to conduct ourselves, to relate to others and to ourselves. Neoliberalism defines a certain existential norm in western societies and, far beyond them, in all those societies that follow them on the path of ‘modernity’. This norm enjoins everyone to live in a world of generalised competition; it calls upon wage-earning classes and populations to engage in economic struggle against one another; it aligns social relations with the model of the market; it promotes the justification of ever greater inequalities; it even transforms the individual, now called on to conceive and conduct him- or herself as an enterprise. For more than a third of a century, this existential norm has presided over public policy, governed global economic relations, transformed society, and reshaped subjectivity…

The thesis defended in this book is precisely that neoliberalism, far from being an ideology or an economic policy, is firstly and fundamentally a rationality, and as such tends to structure and organise not only the action of rulers, but also the conduct of the ruled. The principal characteristic of neoliberal rationality is the generalisation of competition as a behavioural norm of the enterprise as a model of subjectivation…

Neoliberalism is a rationality of contemporary capitalism, freed of its archive references and fully acknowledged as a historical construct and general norm of existence … Neoliberalism can be defined as the set of discourses, practices and apparatuses that determine a new mode of government of human beings in accordance with the universal principle of competition.”

 Pierre Dardot & Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, Verso, London & New York, 2013, pp. 2-4

The ‘politics of envy’ is a cliche of Thatcherite ‘meritocratic’ ideology. Mrs Thatcher, in a 1975 speech debunking the post-war consensus, attributed a saying to the Mid-West: “Don’t cut down the tall poppies. Let them rather grow tall.” If this doesn’t sound very much like a Mid-West homily, it is because it is derived from Herodotus. But the idea that this encompasses a folksy wisdom, a ‘common sense’ if you will, is important to Thatcherite and neoliberal ideology. It means, don’t cut down those who excel out of envy; encourage them, fertilise them, let them excel all the more. The idea is that people who succeed in markets deserve their success: their success is ‘meritocratic’. In this, she was not innovating: she merely gave fresh expression to an old conservative trope, present in Nietzsche as much as Rand. But its staying power as a free market fable is acc0unted for by its political uses.

The more sophisticated ideologists of neoliberalism, such as Hayek, recognised the danger in attributing merit to market outcomes: it was a thinly veiled social Darwinism that distorted the real justification for free markets, that being their superior productive capacity. But reactionaries like Thatcher understood that people do care about social justice, and are not enthralled by GDP figures. She thus took the logical step of binding the argument for free markets to a mawkish, simplistic morality fable, in which egalitarianism is a conspiracy against excellence. And to this day, Tory ideologues such as Jenkins, when in need of a quick social justice fix,alight on the old chestnut about the ‘politics of envy’.

 the politics of envy - 
The riots bothered me a great deal, on two counts. First, nothing really has changed. Some kids at the bottom of the ladder are deeply alienated, they’ve taken the message of Thatcherism and Blairism and the coalition: what you have to do is hustle. Because nobody’s going to help you. And they’ve got no organised political voice, no organised black voice and no sympathetic voice on the left. That kind of anger, coupled with no political expression, leads to riots. It always has. The second point is: where does this find expression in going into a store and stealing trainers? This is the point at which consumerism, which is the cutting edge of neoliberalism, has got to them too. Consumerism puts everyone into a single channel. You’re not doing well, but you’re still free to consume. We’re all equal in the eyes of the market.
How then, are we to interpret the current mess? Does this crisis signal, for example, the end of free market neoliberalism as a dominant economic model for capitalist development? The answer depends on what is meant by the word neoliberalism. My view is that it refers to a class project that coalesced in the crisis of the 1970s. Masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatisation, the free market and free trade, it legitimized draconian policies designed to restore and consolidate capitalist class power. The project has been successful, judging by the incredible centralisation of wealth and power observable in all those countries that took the neoliberal road. And there is no evidence that it is dead.
David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital (via pragmatica)
In Chicago , for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substances. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics here, as in Haiti and wherever the International Monetary Fund has sway.

Adolph Reed in the Village Voice, 1998

In appointing LA Police Chief William Bratton to investigate UCPD police brutality and Berkeley law school’s Dean Christopher Edley to “to lead an examination of police policies in handling student protests at all 10 UC campuses” (LA Times), Mark Yudof travesties the independent thought and autonomy that students and faculty are now calling for. Bratton has made his career as an advocate of less physically violent police tactics that control and diminish public space in precisely neoliberal terms. The last thing the UC system needs right now is advice on how to make UCPD even more like a contemporary municipal police force. Similarly, Dean Christopher Edley is one of Yudof’s closest companions, best known for his end-run against the expansion of online classes in the face of faculty governance policies. A commission run by Edley is the opposite of an independent commission. Everyone who signed the petitions of outrage against the police violence at Davis and Berkeley ought to mobilize against this. (I hope the owners of the petitions can use any emails attached to the petition process to re-contact literally everybody.)

There is one thing that is good about Yudof’s move: it makes in the most public of circumstances the same move that he has made throughout his career as a privatizer of public goods. Yudof has done to the UC at every level and in detail the same thing he is doing now: passing off as reform what is actually vulgar cronyism on behalf of the 1%. Now this will be visible to everybody, even far outside the UC — if we make it so.

The unequal distribution of global wealth by individuals (not countries) should give us pause. Even the Wall Street Journal is impressed:

Here’s another stat that the Occupy Wall Streeters can hoist on their placards: The world’s millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth.

How do we know? Because Credit Suisse has just published the second edition of its Global Wealth Report, in which they calculate the distribution of the world’s total wealth.

As readers can see above, the figures for mid-2011 indicate that 29.7 million adults, about 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, own more than one third of global household wealth. Of this group, they estimate that 85,000 individuals are worth more than $50 million, 29,000 are worth more than $100 million, and 2,700 have assets above $500 million. Compare this to the bottom of the pyramid: 3.054 billion people, 67.6 percent of the world’s population, with assets of less than $10,000, who own a mere 3.3 percent of the world’s wealth. Add another billion people with assets between $10,000 and $100,000 and we have 91.2 percent of the world’s population that owns something on the order of 17.8 percent of total world wealth.

Clearly, global capitalism has enriched a tiny minority while leaving the vast majority at the bottom of the global wealth pyramid.


"The age of cheap food is over," predicts Knuckman, noting that this can’t be such a bad thing for US citizens. "Most Americans eat too much, anyway."

For his fellow Americans, who spend 13 percent of their disposable income on food, the price hike may be an annoyance. But for the world’s poor, who are forced to spend 70 percent of their meager budgets on food, it’s life-threatening.

So capitalism is looting the public sphere. Services that citizens have for a hundred or more years considered to be public goods and not to be exploited for the profit of a few – health care, care of the elderly, education, unemployment benefit, old-age pensions, fresh water, sewers, waste disposal, roads and footpaths, urban and rural planning, the postal service, the telephone service, the police, and so on – are subject to systematic and sustained pressure aimed at breaking the link between the citizen and the service. No longer should we think of these things as ‘ours’, except in the sense that we can say a bank is ours. These things are provided to us as goods and services by companies which exercise their right to make a profit out of them – out of us really, out of our pain, our parent’s old age, our children’s childhood, our money troubles, our environment. Citizens are to be redefined as consumers of services. The sole function of the state is to regulate the activities of companies so that monopolies do not develop.

The police function as the guarantor of profit. The police are ‘ours’ only in the way the taxman is ours. The police thus find themselves increasingly (for it was ever thus) with their backs to the corporate wall facing a disinherited citizenry for whom the state is a hostile force. This makes the police political for it is a mistake to think that the looting of the public sphere by corporations and individuals is not political. Of course, nobody on the corporation side wants to call it that. They want it to be understood as common sense. The state is ‘broken’, they say, or it has ‘failed’. Only profit-making companies can do the job efficiently and give good value for money to the consumer. What they really mean is ‘We’re going to take the money and run’. When you’re down and out, feeling low, check your credit rating.

When Hayek insists welfare is the road is to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place. “According to them, any intervention of the state in economic life,” a prominentconservative economist once observed of the early neoliberals, “would be likely to lead, and even lead inevitably to a completely collectivist Society, Gestapo and gas chamber included.” Thus we are hectored into silence, and by the very people who purport to leave us most alone.

Thanks in no small part to that silence, we have passed through the looking glass. Large-scale, speculative risk, undertaken by already grossly overcompensated bankers, is nowofficially part of the framework, in the form of too-big-to-fail guarantees made, implicitly and explicitly, by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the “libertarian” right moves to take the risks of unemployment, disease, and, yes, accidents of birth, and devolve them entirely onto the responsibility of the individual. It is not just sad; it is repugnant.”

(via gonzodave)

The neoliberal presumption of perfect information and a level playing field for competition appears as either innocently utopian or a deliberate obfuscation of processes that will lead to the concentration of wealth and, therefore, the restoration of class power.
I want to make it clear that the economy known as “late capitalism” in the 80s and 90s was not really much more benign than the economy we now call “neoliberalism.” Either/both emerged from the dual turn from Fordism and Keynesianism, that is, from the metaphoric social contracts that had protected industrial labor as well as the citizenry in general from the worst excesses of capitalism. But in the 80s and 90s, accounts of late capitalism were closely tied up with “globalization,” and while globalization was certainly understood to have its down sides (labor outsourcing, unemployment, and deindustrialization at the sending end; extreme labor exploitation at the receiving end, etc.), there was also a fairly influential set of arguments about the ways in which other aspects of globalization (flows of technology, information, media, etc.) could be seen as positive and liberating (see especially Appadurai 1990). Globalization remains real and indeed as multi-layered and multi-valent as ever (see Hannerz 1996; Inda and Rosaldo 2002; Tsing 2005). But neoliberalism is now embedded in a different, and more consistently dark, set of stories, to which we now turn.
Sherry Ortner cited in Late Capitalist Timepass