Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems
One of the most interesting pieces I read recently was by George Monbiot in The Guardian about Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems
It opened with the line :
Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism.
The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.
I was intrigued and have since conducted an experiment talking to people about some of its facets like private prisons, charter schools and generally privatisation of state assets and functions they all disliked. I then asked if they had heard of Neoliberalism and got the above mentioned shrug.
The main points of Neoliberalism include :
THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating private enterprise from any bonds by the government no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights. Total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services.
CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
PRIVATISATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water, which mainly has the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves. (CorpWatch)
Under the reign of the poster boys/girl of Neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and in New Zealand Roger Douglas the recipes of the secret cult were implemented:
Massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Neoliberalism might not have been conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one.
The most hideous aspect of Neoliberalism is that it allows the rich to persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. (Monbiot)
Neoliberalism takes us back to the deserving poor of the Victorian age with one difference. Then it meant the distinction between the drunkards and lazy poor and the poor fallen on hard times without their fault. Only the later were deserving of our charity. Now it means that market forces have created the divide and the poor are deserving of their lot, full stop.
Neoliberalism – the great deception
Why is it that most have never heard of Neoliberalism as an ideology when we all suffer under it ?
The answer must lie in the fact that the prophets and beneficiaries of this ideology in cahoots with the mainstream corporate media are acting by stealth. They know that the vast majority – the 99% – would reject the neoliberal dogma if given a chance. Put to a vote every aspect would be rejected like the part privatisation of the New Zealand electricity companies was rejected in a referendum, which in turn was duly ignored by the Neoliberals in power.
Neoliberalism had never any democratic legitimacy anywhere.
If neoliberalism was not introduced by stealth and deception it was forced on the people by the barrel of the gun as in Chile under Pinochet or Russia under Yeltsin. The best account of how Neoliberalism spread across the globe we find in one of Naomi Klein‘s groundbreaking Books Shock Doctrine. “Klein may well have revealed the master narrative of our time. And because the pattern she exposes could govern our future as well, The Shock Doctrine could turn out to be among the most important books of the decade.”– William S. Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle
The tactic of the Neoliberals is to use any great shock, which has stunned the people and made them disorientated and defenceless. Be it manmade events like an armed coup or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Christchurch earthquake to push through an agenda people would never accept under normal circumstances. In the later case it was the school system. New Orleans pushed through the privatisation of their schools and in Christchurch it is the creation of mega monster schools the communities do not want. The neoliberal motto is : We must not let a good crisis go to waste.
Neoliberalism has not only caused great damage to the fabric of society but also left millions of casualties in it’s wake. We can compare the numbers of the victims in the name of other ideologies like Fascism under Hitler (6 million Jews not to mention the victims of WWII), Communism under Stalin (20 million perished in the gulag) or under Mao (30 million in the great famine). The victims of Neoliberalism are likely to outnumber those of the most destructive ideologies of the 20th century. In Chile thousands of opponents were murdered by the Pinochet regime or in Argentina were dropped from helicopters into the sea by the Generals. In Russia after the introduction of Neoliberalism life expectancy dropped like a stone. In India it created a tsunami of farmer suicides. In Africa millions of AIDS sufferers perished denied affordable treatment. And the list goes on.
Information is Shock Resistance – Arm Yourself !
First we have to understand that Neoliberalism is just a believe system like a religious cult, which is not susceptible to any empirical evidence. From the very beginning when it’s policies were introduced we were told that There is No Alternative. This always drives me mad as Neoliberalism is a man made economic theory/doctrine and as such there is always an alternative. It is not a law of nature as the tide or evolution as much as the prophets like to portray it as such. For instance Neoliberalism famously claims that by making the rich ever richer their wealth will somehow “trickle down” to the rest of us like water, which follows the law of nature called gravity. Again the pretence of a law of nature. Wealth is however not like water trickling down. The evidence over the last 30 years proves the opposite. Under Neoliberalism wealth behaves rather like cream rising to the top. The rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.
Anybody not blind and with half a brain looking at the evidence will conclude that as an economic theory Neoliberalism has utterly failed. Anybody still holding on to it at least since the global financial crisis of 2007/8 must be just one of the beneficiaries enriching himself at the expense of the rest of us. The foremost American thinker Noam Chomsky stated that it is not new and it is not liberal equating it with propaganda masking “old-fashioned” class war and imperialism. Also listen to him on today’s Nine to Noon RNZ program.
In other words Neoliberalism is a believe system, which it’s proponents have immunised against all evidence to it’s failings. If reality does not match expectation or promise this is never accepted as evidence against the ideology. Instead we are told that the reason for the different reality is that we have not gone out hard enough to get the promised result. The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. The rich have to get even richer for the trickle-down-effect to finally kick in. Like medieval medicine where the standard treatment for any ailment was bleeding. And if that did not work even more bleeding.
Next we have to recognise Neoliberalism where ever we see it.
Selling state assets for the benefit of rich investors mostly from overseas. Privatising schools as in charter schools not for the sake of the children as all evidence points to them doing a poorer job but for the financial benefit of the operators. Anti-union legislation. Competition among state schools down to the poaching of sporting talent. Allowing farming and industry to pollute our rivers to make most of them un-swimmable. Deregulation of school tuck shops, which were for an all to brief period required to serve healthy food in the face of an obesity crisis. Refusing to tax fizzy sugar drinks. Refusing to introduce health standards for rental accommodation despite rising hospitalisation of sick and asthmatic children from damp and cold houses. John Key flogging the apocalyptic horse of so called “free” trade agreements like TPPA, which are anything but free and destructive to our health and safety and the environment just to allow international corporations to extort more profits. The resistance to rail and public transport. I could go on forever.
After we armed ourselves with the knowledge we shall name the Beast and shout “NEOLIBERALISM” from the roof tops where ever we see it. And there is plenty of shouting to do so people can finally connect the dots and see the evil dogma behind all the little policy mosaic stones forming the big picture.
I have been an activist in a few campaigns. Some more successful (MMP) than others like the Economic Myth Busters website for the 1999 APEC conference in Auckland and my fight against a toll road up to the Court of Appeal. I have no regrets other than not having named the Beast and shouting Neoliberalism at every turn.
PS : I agree with Monbiot’s excellent article with reservations about the last paragraph.
“What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.”
After Capitalism, Communism, Neoliberalism we do not need another -ism another system or ideology where we look at the textbook or manual of how the economy and society should work. All we need are evidence based policies, which can be changed if they don’t work in practice. Lets try an holistic approach with trial and error and common sense and most of all flexibility. Lets resist the urge to replace one system or ideology with just another.
Our guidance should not come from a book like the Bible, the Koran, Karl Marx’ Das Kapital or of Keynes’ and Friedman’s textbooks but from empirical evidence and evidence alone.