By Vladimir Ivlev
Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties).
– Stephen Metcalf, The Guardian
The term “neoliberalism” has made its journey from Hayek’s failed antithesis for Keynesian economics, to a political slur disregarded as leftist mania, and finally on the International Monetary Fund’s official watch-list. In looking how globalized capital, the stock market and instantaneous communication have affected the economic macrosystem one can leave behind any doubt that economic policy has no critical effect upon human development and culture. However, while the palpitations of the market resonating in unison with the human psyche is Marx’s dialectical materialism in its purest form, long gone are the days of inevitability and utopianism, something that the left should finally come to grips with.
What is neoliberalism? A doctrine, dictating economic, political, social and foreign policy. The list doesn’t end there of course; it is an aesthetic, a philosophy of human nature and a Utilitarian view of morality, which for the purposes of this political article are irrelevant. Meanwhile, let us examine the key tenets of the doctrine:
1) Economic Policy
Neoliberalism sees the market as a hive-mind consisting of consumers, worthless as individuals but collectively the most efficient supercomputer of value ever invented, fueled of course by perpetual competition. By removing state regulation from the equation, the market becomes autonomous, uncontrollable and treats its integral parts (us) with impunity. By applying state regulation in favor of the market, it becomes rabid, its every roar sunders the ground it stands upon ever more slightly, which for us of course is detrimental. Each subsequent ravine of debt calls for new austerity measures to sustain the leviathan, deepening the divide between the classes, since in times of need people need discipline not welfare. Budget for education is redistributed to business subsidies and bailing out banks, after all privatizing education will ensure higher standards for those who can afford it, win-win. Raise a couple hundred million dollars for charity and appearances and the cycle begins anew.
2) Political policy
No matter how many 2008s happen, the government’s loyalty to the market will never waver. Feeding the beast the remains of the less fortunate is preferable to it falling on our Malibu villas. Would you act differently? A paragon of virtue such as yourself would never sacrifice your integrity in the face of corruption. Unfortunately, “integrity” is not part of the job description. In fact, just to become successful in politics (or maintain any plausible power leverage for those of the Sanders and Corbyn type), integrity is counter-productive. Here is a convenient diagram of what is called the “Iron triangle”:
It is called the “Iron Triangle” because just like its Curtain counterpart, there is no way around it. It is the mindset and connections that get you to the top, not a law degree or idealism. If you’re given options to vote for representatives that are essentially cut from the same cloth, does your vote really matter?
3) Social Policy
Neoliberal social policy is the epitome of condescension. They are complimentary, have no effect on economic policy, keep paychecks fat and handshakes greasy but satisfy bleeding-hearts enough to induce complacency, all wrapped in a patronizing, environment-friendly, animal-liberating, counter-normative, patriarchy-smashing, all-inclusive package, presumably made by starving children in third world countries. It is the aesthetic of ethical capitalism that determines social policy, not principles. In comes the advent of social media. A panopticon is formed, all your actions and opinions are visible. You must always be at your best behavior. In order to accumulate cultural capital people become moral puritans, dehumanizing anyone who doesn’t tow the party line. An ideology meant for inclusivity becomes more exclusive than fundamentalism, with concrete self-serving easy to swallow moral justifications, unlike fundamentalism. Freedom of expression is under duress, as corporations like Google, Facebook and YouTube are encouraged by the moral puritans to silence anyone who disagrees with them. Little do these people know that appealing to authorities like that and encouraging them to exercise power can backfire in a major way. Echo-chambers, radicalization, polarization, lack of dialogue. The middle class disintegrates and the working-class is killing each other. Is the global elite affected? Mark Zuckerberg’s net-worth says no.
4) Foreign Policy
Neoliberal foreign policy is a continuation of its social policy. But with the global military-industrial complex involved. Does your country contain vast amounts of natural resources? Does your government dare to delude itself with notions of national sovereignty and cultural integrity? Do your ministers have the grit to impose protectionist measures upon trade? The neoliberal global agenda simply cannot allow this, it thirsts for assimilation. Secret rebel support, all-out warfare, ethnic cleansing, civilian casualties, military coups, religious fervor and countless terror attacks later you are presented with a zombie state such as Iraq and Libya. For countries that are not stricken with factionalism and turmoil, complementary social policies are given to keep up the appearance that the countless casualties before them died for an ideal. Nonetheless, in most cases the military reigns supreme while local industrial leaders gain hefty subsidies and investments for giving up their land and resources to the global market.
…and its Upheaval
It is so easy to assume that this system is run by some mysterious board-room globalists of certain race or gender, like some big conspiracy. Both the right and the left are guilty of this. But the beauty of neoliberalism is its decentralization. No one runs it. Or rather everyone is to blame at the same time. Elected officials have no money for campaigning on a large scale, and they must guarantee they will for re-election. They are owned by their donors. And these donors are subservient to market trends influenced by public consumerism. Each purchase, each caramel latte with a Starbucks Global sticker on it, every “organic” bowl of Quinoa from Colorado you ingest, every time you show “brand loyalty” your decision is added to the calculator. But unemployment keeps rising. Healthcare becomes unaffordable. Education standards keep falling. Poverty loops are expanded as income inequality deepens creating racial tensions that will keep increasing in heat. The job market becomes inaccessible as more and more labor is exported. Debt will keep increasing in crash after crash. Banks will get bail at everyone else’s expense. The market will keep demanding new access to natural resources, creating more zombie states like Iraq and Libya, together with terrorism. So how can we work against neoliberalism?
You can’t. It would have to be complete reform from the ground up. And any serious reform is almost impossible with the Iron Triangle in place. Incremental reform? Wait until someone else gets elected. And if your policy is particularly hostile to the market, special interests will put extra effort into replacing you. Localization? Let’s say there wasn’t such a thing as the federal structure. Let’s say that your little isolated hamlet won’t get outcompeted and bought off piece by piece. Let’s say that it is self-sustainable, independent from the national energy grid, water distribution, agricultural and educational standards. Every person making up that community is irreplaceable, thus it’s self-sustainable. Do you really expect every single person there to sacrifice modern luxury for an ideal? Same goes with secession. And you can forget about trade deals. If Brexit and Catalonia taught us anything, overlords cannot abide secession. Embargo after embargo later, your idyll starves and neoliberalism doesn’t seem so bad anymore. A violent coup? In a liberal democracy with a rigid military/police structure? Good luck with that. A workers’ general strike? Unions have been disappearing one by one since Reagan and Thatcher. There is no organization. Your socialist revolution is dead. Your alt-right nationalist racially-homogenous uprising is dead. As much I hate referencing Francis Fukuyama, he is right when he declared that history has ended.
What is left to be done
You cannot bring change by working against neoliberalism. The structure is simply too rigid. However, you can bring change by working through it. By engaging in it. By stirring the beast in the right direction. To its grave. Seeing as there are plenty of interested parties, whether right or left, authoritarian or libertarian, it is not unrealistic. To make this easy I will list the role of each political quadrant:
Authoritarian Left: There is no question, identitarian organizations like Antifa are neoliberal sleeper agents. They do not realize it, but by creating racial tensions, diverting attention from class issues, appealing to authority to silence opposition, fearmongering about the non-existent or overblown presence of fascism, segregating and dividing the working class into identity groups serves no one but their enemies: the “bourgeoisie”. And they’re doing a great job too. And I say, in the interest of neoliberalism’s downfall: keep doing that.
Authoritarian Right: As the antithesis to the woke Left’s blatant ideological clericalism, regrettably political groups like the alt-right has become the counterculture among millennials. However, this dynamic between Antifa and the Alt-right is essential in keeping the status quo from leaning too far towards one direction, as from personal experience most people who witness the ideological radicality and moral puritanism of each side will be pushed to the center or just become politically apathetic. Maintaining this dynamic will allow special interests to keep doing what they’re doing and politicians to appeal to the center in order to get elected.
Libertarian Right: Libertarian right’s primary concern is to deregulate the market and make people less and less dependent on the government. For most of them a minarchy is the perfect form of government, where the sole purpose of the state is to break down monopolies, maintain the military, police force, courts and the borders. Speaking hypothetically, within a neoliberal system it is far more likely for that to happen than its left-wing libertarian counterpart. A dismantled, minimized state allows for huge groups to organize. But that is if that ever happens.
Libertarian Left: Finally, this quadrant’s role would be to prepare the working class for automation and the mass unemployment it would bring. With special interests puppeteering the government, together with the will to outcompete and cut labor costs, automation is almost inevitable. As you are reading this article, its inception is already on its way. While perhaps in its infant stage, automation is already rapidly replacing the workforce at factories, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. Any call for a universal basic income should be fought against furiously, as it can only bring complacency and apathy. The impact should be as big as possible.
Of course, I hope someone can prove me wrong and global neoliberalism can be efficiently dealt without the bigger part of the population becoming unemployed. But in its current form, with the current information I have, there doesn’t seem to be any other alternative. More and more people seek change, with every global economic crisis, with every terror attack, with every censorship scandal their fury grows. But if this is truly the end of history, expect no catharsis.
One thought on “Neoliberalism and Its Upheaval”
Very nice post