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Fixing Old Markets With New Markets: the Origins and Practice of Neoliberalism

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Philip Mirowski is the Carl Koch Professor of Economics and the History and Philosophy of Science University of Notre Dame. Professor Mirowski’s latest book is Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown

The interview was conducted by Nathan Tankus, a student and research assistant at the University of Ottawa. He is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Fields Institute

NT: Your new book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, is not the first work you have produced that discusses Neoliberalism. In the Postscript to the book you edited entitled “The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective” you state that:

[O]ur own guiding heuristic has been that Neoliberalism has not existed in the past as a settled or fixed state, but is better understood as a transnational movement requiring time and substantial effort in order to attain the modicum of coherence and power it has achieved today. It was not a conspiracy; rather, it was an intricately structured long-term philosophical and political project, or in our terminology, a “thought collective”.

Given this context, could you explain what the salient features of Neoliberalism are? In particular it would be helpful if you explained about why “traditional” approaches to intellectual history are inadequate for understanding Neoliberalism.

PM: Standard history of economics has been mired in the primacy of the individual author/intellectual for quite some time now. There, one tends to become attached to some particular intellectual hero, reads everything they wrote, and hence seeks to channel ‘their’ ideas to a general audience. Maybe one consults a few of their allies or opponents to add a dash of ‘context’. This, perhaps inadvertently, has resulted in deep misunderstanding of how economics has developed over the last century or more.

Ideas generally don’t incubate like that. Traditions in the history and sociology of science [my current disciplinary home] have developed a number of methods and devices in order to highlight the elaborate social character of intellectual disciplines, and display the complex trajectories of validation of knowledge. The landmarks there are many, but the one I lean upon in Never Let a Serious Crisis go to Waste is the concept of a ‘thought collective’ that dates back to the work of Ludwik Fleck.*

Whatever one thinks of the specifics, that framework has permitted me to write a history of Neoliberalism which comes to terms with some of its more slippery aspects. In the first instance, it nurtures appreciation for the fact that Neoliberalism is both a set of philosophical doctrines – and not, as some would have it, a narrow few abstract propositions in economics—and a flexible ongoing political project. The doctrines and the details of the project change through time, as do the roster of protagonists, but still maintain a coherence and stability that justifies treating the movement as an historical collective. Next, it insists that Neoliberalism cannot be reduced to the writings of the few standout neoliberals that readers of this blog may have heard of – Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Gary Becker – primarily because their individual tenets conflict, some with each other, and some with some other less famous comrades. Fleck points us towards the fact that thought collectives are held together, in part, by formal social structures; in the case of the Neoliberals, it started out as the Mont Pèlerin Society [MPS] in 1947, but by the 1980s it was extended to a connected ring of think tanks around the world, from the Institute for Economic Affairs to the American Enterprise Institute to Heritage and Cato to the Atlas Foundation and beyond. As early as 1956, the Volker Fund maintained a list of 1,841 affiliated individuals; the corresponding number easily exceeds the tens of thousands today. Clearly the thought collective harbors strong impressions of who is in and who is out.

Perhaps more importantly, the ‘thought collective’ approach has helped me grapple with one of the most nettlesome aspects of Neoliberalism: How can one write an intellectual history of a bunch of anti-intellectual intellectuals? Some readers may have encountered Hayek’s sneers about those whom he dubs ‘second-hand dealers in ideas’; but that is just symptomatic of a more general stance towards knowledge which sets the Neoliberals apart from almost every other thought collective in recent history. As I explain in Chapter 2, the MPS became a society of ‘rationalists’ who ended up promoting ignorance as a virtue for the larger population. Others have also documented this straddle in their think tank perimeter, such as Tom Medvetz in his Think Tanks in America. It seems we are not in Kansas anymore (apologies to Tom Frank).

Thus, to write a history of Neoliberalism in the current crisis, Fleck counsels one must connect their various epistemic attitudes to the content of their doctrines. In the case of modern Neoliberalism, this has been made manifest in their shared conviction that The Market knows more than any human being, however wise or well-schooled. Planning is doomed; socialism is a pipe dream. The political project of Neoliberalism is not laissez-faire; rather, it is to use state power to get the populace to prostrate themselves before the only dependable source of Truth and Wisdom in human civilization—viz., something they call “The Market”. The more discombobulated the average citizen can be rendered, the quicker they will get with the program

NT: Given this context, what are the salient features of Neoliberalism that have generally been preserved over time? What are the origins of the Neoliberal Thought Collective and how has it changed?

PM:The origins were surprisingly transnational, given the mistaken widespread impression that Neoliberalism is predominantly an American fascination. It began with some tentative meetings of the Colloque Walter Lippmann in Paris in the 1930s, and became consolidated with the Mont Pèlerin Society in the 1940s. I try and demonstrate in the book that it has grown ever more cosmopolitan over time, although my own deficiencies in foreign languages and non-Western history thwarts my realization of that ambition. Throughout the decades, the thought collective has maintained a productive tension between its American-flavored Chicago wing and its continental Austrian/Ordo tendency.

Although some on the left have suggested that the thought collective displays no substantial continuity across time and space, in the book I attempt to summarize some of its more enduring attributes. One telltale complex encompasses some of the things Michel Foucault first drew our attention to, such as the image of ideal human life as becoming the ultimate entrepreneur of your own flexible self, but one where the putative Self as captain of your own fate deliquesces into a moral and intellectual vacuum. This explains why Neoliberals are so contemptuous of Isaiah Berlin’s ‘positive freedom’, since there can be no enduring Self that demands fealty: you need to be an infinitely pliable entity in order to adequately respond to the demands of the marketplace. Various technologies like Facebook serve to teach the masses how to maintain the outward appearances of this empty self.

Because the book is focused on the crisis, I devote far more effort to enumerating and summarizing the Neoliberal approach to political economy. It starts from the premise (contrary to their public PR) that they reject classical liberalism, because they don’t believe in a traditional circumscribed sphere for the state separate from that of The Market. Instead they are constructivists, redefining and building a strong state to institute and maintain the kinds of markets they think will not come about on their own. For the collective, the most propitious time to make such bold interventions is during a crisis, when they are mobilized to define ‘exceptions’ to previous rules. Their prescription for apparent market failures is always more new-fangled markets. Hence, as they have often explicitly written, they are not ‘conservatives’ in any meaningful sense of the term. They often vent their distrust of democratic structures, hoping to reconcile them with their interventions by portraying voting itself as a kind of hobbled marketplace. Democracy therefore needs to be contained and neutralized by a strong state.

For Neoliberals, The Market is the only ultimate arbiter of Truth. Their problem is that most people still resist this fundamental tenet, because they persist in believing in quaint notions of justice, including the notion that rewards should be proportionate to effort, or else hoping sustenance be apportioned according to basic needs. Because The Market is smarter than anyone, the poor need to capitulate to whatever The Market currently bequeaths them. The rich, of course, have no problem with their lot. This unequal distribution of wealth is a necessary structural feature of capitalism. Market discipline should also extend to corporations; the Neoliberals have long proselytized for the extension of market-like incentives within corporate boundaries. Outsourcing and outsized CEO recompense are direct corollaries. Gargantuan firms are not a serious problem, since they merely are a reflection of fleeting market success; antitrust should be jettisoned, and there is no long-term problem of Too Big to Fail.

The Neoliberals have changed over time primarily by sloughing off progressively more of their classical liberal heritage. It began with Chicago rejecting the very idea of corporate power as a problem for capitalism in the 1950s; it continued with rejection of the prior Austrian tendency to distrust the destabilizing potential of the finance sector. (Gold bugs and 100% money cranks no longer get much respect from the Neoliberals.) They have abandoned all classical liberal aspirations to improve the lot of the working classes through education; rather, they now seek to undermine all public education by subjecting every credentialing process to the marketplace of ideas. They dismiss the classical liberal suspicions concerning intellectual property, since inventing new property rights is an effective way to defeat their opponents. Finally, the thought collective has managed to string along their useful fellow-travelers, the true libertarians, without once admitting that they share little more in common than some vain posturing over freedom.

NT: Speaking of offering “more new-fangled markets”, you tell the story in the book of auction theorists who sold Paulson and company on the idea that they could design an auction facility that would “fix” the “toxic assets” problem. Could you summarize what happened here and how it is a perfect example of Neoliberal responses to crisis?

PM: That narrative was based on some historical work done jointly with Eddie Nik-Khah. One story concerning the crisis current amongst economists is that microeconomics played a role in ‘fixing the banks’, and that the repair was carried out by auction theorists.** Readers will have to consult the book for the serpentine plot; but for our purposes here, it is enough to state that, in the initial stages of the crisis, certain American economists offered the services of their proprietary firms to create boutique auctions to price the ‘toxic assets’ in the flagging banking sector, and thus rescue the banks from failure; when the Federal Reserve quickly decided that the services on offer were dubious, to say the least, the economists in question turned on the Fed and the government, and went on radio and TV to disparage the government’s handling of the crisis. In doing so, they aligned themselves explicitly with members of the Neoliberal thought collective who had been arguing all along that if we had just allowed ‘The Market’ to perform its magic, then there would be no need for emergency intervention (whereas, previously, when it looked like the auction designers would become subcontractors, they defended the need for emergency action). This incident illustrates many of the themes of the book: the role of the economics profession in wreaking havoc with the public’s understanding of what could or should be done in the face of the emergency; the resort to the neoliberal precept that the way to rectify market failure is by doubling down with more markets; the extent to which the supposed Fed ‘rescue’ and government bailout was privatized from the get-go; and the ways in which neoliberal tenets dovetail with neoclassical economists’ inclinations to use the crisis to profit and misrepresent their own culpability for the way things turned out.

The economics profession has sought to straddle the horns of a deep contradiction throughout the current crisis: they implore the public to Trust the Market to save them, but equally, to Trust the Economists to come to the rescue. Few face up to the fact that option one cannot be collapsed to option two.

NT: Who was Carl Schmitt, what was his exception, and why is it relevant to understanding Neoliberalism?

PM: Carl Schmitt was one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th Century; however, he is mostly treated as verboten in Anglo political theory due to his participation in the Nazi regime. We know that Hayek cited him, even though he also treats him as located beyond the pale. We also know many of the European figures in the postwar MPS were familiar with his ideas. I have been trying for some time now to get people to entertain the notion that Schmitt was a major influence on the development of neoliberal political economy, and further, upon the development of postwar social science. The topic is potentially huge, so let me suggest a few teasers.

First, there is Schmitt’s statement at the beginning of his Political Theology: “Sovereign is he who decides the exception.” One way to gloss this insight is that, if politics has a logic and a distinct sphere of social determination, it is not found in the ‘rule of law’ or in economic determinism, but rather, in who or what is able to assert the existence of a state of exception: that is, when a powerful leader must step in and override the rules by imposing a new order. The relevance of this principle for everyone from Paulson and Bernanke to faceless European bureaucrats throughout the history of the economic crisis should be obvious. But I would venture further, and suggest that the neoliberals have triumphed in the crisis partly because they have taken this precept on board in their own political theory. This is one meaning of the catchphrase, “never let a serious crisis go to waste”.

Second, as Renato Christi has pointed out, in the early 1920s liberalism had trouble coping with the ‘political’ as Schmitt understood it, but, incongruously, Schmitt also came to believe that liberalism provided one path to neutralize democracy, by rendering it internally unstable. This may seem paradoxical to Americans, but it was a widespread conviction in interwar Germanophone social science that only a strong state could preserve and foster a free market economy. The thought collective’s postwar efforts sought to square this circle in their revised version of liberalism. While they could not acknowledge its sources, this constituted an important inspiration for the development of Ordoliberalism, but also for MPS theorists like James Buchanan.

Third, there is another facet of Schmitt that I do not cover in the present book. Schmitt identified “the decision” as the uncaused cause of all effective politics, existing outside of science and the economy. This challenge was so very disturbing for Western social science, that it responded by inventing something called “decision theory”, which was supposed to tame the inscrutable through provision of a scientific basis for the predictable generic logic of the economy, and later, all of society. I find it striking that, although neoclassical economics as social physics dates back to the 1870s, there is no such animal as “choice theory” until after World War II, when the legacy of Continental thought had to be utterly repudiated by the new hegemonic power. It is no accident that neoclassical economics becomes the dominant orthodoxy in American economics right at this juncture.

NT: The politics of Climate Change are more widely known and discussed than many of the other issues you cover in this book. Yet your understanding of these other issues give you a view of the politics of Climate Change that I think is unique. In particular, how are the political responses to climate change a classic example of the Neoliberal response to crisis?

PM: It may seem odd to raise the issue of global warming in a book about the economic crisis, but I do it in order to suggest something that has escaped notice, namely, that the thought collective has developed a generic strategy to deal with really daunting crises that would seem to challenge its world view, and that this fact is easier to perceive in the case of global warming than it has been in the case of the global economic crisis. In pursuing this, I am suggesting that works like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and her more recent writings on global warming don’t adequately comprehend the logic of neoliberal political economy.

Neoliberals neutralize their opponents by mounting a full spectrum response to crises: a short-term easily mobilized response to stymie their opponents; a subsequent medium-term response which involves a strong state in instituting more new-fangled markets; and a long-term science fiction response (also involving the state) to present an upbeat optimistic version of neoliberal doctrine. The shorter-term responses buy time for the thought collective to mobilize their longer-term panaceas. The book describes the dynamic in greater detail, but here, let me just indicate that, in the case of the climate crisis, the short term response is global warming denialism; the medium-term response is to institute trading schemes for carbon emission permits and offsets; and the long term science fiction response is geoengineering, such as schemes to pump particulates into the stratosphere to supposedly block out the sun and mitigate the warming process—but not, significantly, to actually cut back on carbon emissions. What Klein and others get wrong is that neoliberals are not really ‘anti-science’ as such; rather, ploys such as denialism simply postpone political attempts by opponents to cut emissions until they can recruit and train a cadre of entrepreneurial neoliberal scientists, whereas meanwhile the situation gets so dire that their preferred ‘market’ solutions come to seem the last refuge for a desperate populace. It is significant that each of these ‘ideas’ were innovated in neoliberal think tanks.

The striking aspect of the history of the economic crisis is that the thought collective has resorted to the very same pattern of full-spectrum response to demands to restructure the financial sector after the crisis. The initial short-term response was crisis denialism, as documented in the book: banks did nothing wrong, it was all the fault of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the economics profession was not blind-sided, and so forth. The medium-term response comprised the market-based rescue of the banks. People attribute far too much agency to central banks as saviors, when the details of the rescue reveal that the privatization of balance sheet restructuring and outsourcing of asset management was the clear alternative to nationalization and breaking up the banks.*** The long term science-fiction solution is financial engineering: the doctrine that the only way The Market can transcend its problems is by entrepreneurial souls whipping up even more complex financial instruments to ameliorate the burden of the previously hobbled balance sheets. Robert Shiller’s Finance and the Good Society is one hymnal to such deliverance.

A greater comprehension of the full-spectrum politics of the neoliberal thought collective has many profound implications; the most obvious is that the Left possesses nothing even remotely approaching its sophistication, which explains why it gets so repeatedly outfoxed.

____

* A nice summary of his ideas can be consulted at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fleck/

** This argument has even recently been made in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2013/jul/12/geometry-banking-crisis-video .

*** See, for instance Neil Barofsky, Bailout (2012, pp.129-130). This also encompasses the auction theory scenario, mentioned above.

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37 comments

  1. allcoppedout

    Phillip Kitchener argued twenty years ago that the only non-arbitrary way to get the right science done was to get democratic agreement on what we should do. To some degree, I found the examples he used in setting up relevant bodies somewhat unwieldy and share Derrida’s concerns that democracy is an impossible but imaginable promise for the future.
    Kitcher, Phillip, 1993. The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    –––, 2001. Science, Truth, and Democracy, New York: Oxford University Press.
    –––, 2011. Science in a Democratic Society, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press.

    Fleck influenced Kuhn a lot and essentially science has long not seen itself as objective, certain, precise or even remotely as seen in common sense or through its portrayal by establishment ideologues. This is my first taste of Mirowski and I look forward to a long read. I fear though, I will not meet much new.

    Quite clearly, we should already have mobilised to full employment on a range of projects world-wide to cope with all kinds of ‘planet issues’ and establish safe, renewable energy, probably including its use in producing food, fertilizer and various hydrocarbon fuels.

    Whilst any debunking of neo-liberal-conservative nonsense is welcome, what we need are new ideas and practice on a democratic economics that does not become some dire state capitalism. Much as Kitchener argues on science, we need to get the right work done – and frankly we run up against many of the criticisms of his work in the general economic field. Our politics just aren’t up to it for a start and in the hands of the neos.

  2. Calgacus

    Carl Schmitt: Reading Mirowski’s uncomforting classification of neoliberals with Nazism= Carl Schmitt, and “after World War II, when the legacy of Continental thought had to be utterly repudiated by the new hegemonic power” I cannot but recall Herbert Marcuse’s striking end to his Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, after a fascinating, similar discussion:

    And he [Carl Schmitt] summarizes the entire process in the striking statement that on the day of Hitler’s ascent to power, “Hegel, so to speak, died”.

    But since every time these guys triumph so outwardly, they show their complete, inward deadness, sterility, my money is still on The Left, nakedcapitalism, Mirowski, Chomsky, Occupy Wall Street, Snowden, the legacy of Continental thought, Manning, Hegel, Marx, Reason, Truth, Justice, the American Way, Philosophy, Science. Who always bounce back stronger, as if nothing happened, after each final outfoxing by the collective whose sophistication it cannot remotely approach.

  3. craazyman

    faaaak Nathan you’re gonna grind your brain down to library dust with all this rhetorical verbiation, but if you can money at it (no pun intended) I wouldn’t criticize. that’s the real goal — making the money and getting the career credentials without losing your soul and burning in hell. It’s not easy when THE NATURAL MYSTIC is the subject of inquiry. Bob Marley did a good job with that. somebody might think the Russian Gulag and USSR were the best advertistements for free markets anybody could invent anywhere. That might have something to do with our current predicament. But humans being what they are, nothing is ever done half way, if you know what I mean. Usually you have to go over the cliff before you realize it was a cliff

  4. Synopticist

    That’s a brilliant piece.

    “A greater comprehension of the full-spectrum politics of the neoliberal thought collective has many profound implications; the most obvious is that the Left possesses nothing even remotely approaching its sophistication, which explains why it gets so repeatedly outfoxed.”

    This is profound insight into the global political realities. They’re not just richer, more ruthless and better organised than the left, they’re SMARTER too. I don’t know what we can do about that.

    1. sufferinsuccotash, stupor mundi

      Not “smarter”. They’ve just turned Clausewitz on his head. Politics is a continuation of warfare by other means. Carl Schmitt would have agreed with that, BTW. In this case the ultimate war aim is to protect income streams, the usual goal of any oligarchy.

    2. Genius McSmartypants

      Meh. A smart person knows the difference between a parsimonious explanation and a mystification.

      What is different about the Right is that they are cohesive in their warfare. Whereas in contrast liberals and anarchists are always fighting over who has the best technique for repressing and policing the socialists.

      Why is the Right so much more cohesive?

      Different incentives. They get paid to be; their conflicts are greased; they self-promote when they promote each other. It’s capitalism.

      In terms of war strategy, the Left’s is but to find those places where the Right can be pushed to fight primarily amongst themselves. It’s called the non-hegemonic position–you do what you can with it.

  5. Colinjames

    The left getting “outfoxed” every time is clearly and painfully obvious, to the extent that the “Left” even exists today. Maybe the title should be, “This Is Why We’re F*cked: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Neoliberal Douchebags But Were Unaware To Ask”. Or “It’s Not a Conspiracy: It’s a Mind Virus That Infected the World”. Good stuff. Smart guy, feels like a fresh take on what ails us. And that can only help.

  6. Publius

    An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living.
    Nicholas Chamfort

  7. animalogic

    This is a very useful interview and piece of work. It gives us an insight into the infinitely protean, infinitely im/amoral tactics/strategy of neoliberal “thought”.
    However, its worth remembering, beyond the apparent sophistication of neoliberalism there lies a very simple motivation: neoliberalism is both a sword and shield behind which a very small number of individuals seek to aggrandise all money and power. ALL ideas, all values.are means to this end. As if they really care whether a market is “free” or not: they care whether a market serves their needs or not. As if they think government is a problem or a solution: governments either serve their elite masters well or not
    Of course, there’s nothing really historically novel in an elite class seeking to feed off of a particular community/ country etc.
    If there’s a novel feature to this current oligarchy its that history rarely displays a ruling class quite so nihlistic and myopicly stupid.
    These are people who have no nationalistic consciousness, let alone loyalty. They are as cosmopolitian as their money. Thus, they’re quite happy to destroy any fundamental social institution its profitable to do so. Look at their assaults on public education in the US. Consider the manifest corruption of the financial sector. Their carefree assualts on social stability (in a recession !) via attacks on food stamps and other welfare provisions. Good god, look at the GOP’s toxic attitude to its own reason to exist– to govern. Their eviseration of goverment strikes one as nihilism on crack; as the Samson option as dance of death.

  8. Emma

    Neoliberalism is like a Smart Car – aside from its’ unassailable intake & exhaust, it is transportation of the chosen and depreciation for the rest.

    I’ll add a cute story to this excellent interview and address some of the comments later, but I have to go globalize the market this morning with some capital.

    TBC

  9. kevinearick

    Artificial Demand & Supply Campaign Trail

    and the starting gun is fired…

    Food without Thought: How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity”. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. November 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.

    “In the United States, HFCS is among the sweeteners that have primarily replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry.[12] Factors for this include governmental production quotas of domestic sugar, subsidies of U.S. corn, and an import tariff on foreign sugar, all of which combine to raise the price of sucrose to levels above those of the rest of the world, making HFCS cheaper for many sweetener applications”

    ———-

    “The answer lies in legislation known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which creates government-guaranteed demand that keeps corn prices high and generates massive farm profits. Removing the tax credit but keeping the RFS is like scraping a little frosting from the ethanol-boondoggle cake.

    The RFS mandates that at least 37 percent of the 2011-12 corn crop be converted to ethanol and blended with the gasoline that powers our cars…[As a result] the current price of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is about $6.50 per bushel—almost triple the pre-mandate level.”

    1. kevinearick

      “the main impediment to true equality of opportunity is that there is no substitute for intelligent parents or for an emotionally and culturally nurturing family.”

  10. Banger

    For the umpteenth time nothing we are facing has anything to do with economic theories but everything to do with power relations. These theories are interesting but they are used by oligarchs to misdirect us. For example, all markets are rigged by the powerful for their benefit. Sometimes this benefits most of us but at present that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    1. Nathan Tankus Post author

      Um, this part (there is another part forthcoming on neoclassical economics) is about political theory. Political theory is profoundly important to power relations. As should be obvious.

      1. allcoppedout

        Other disciplines reached the ideas of Fleck and Banger’s point on power long ago. What we can’t do is the real democracy bit, something economics leaves to markets fearing centralised control will be anything but democratic (or at least telling us this). In the meantime we put up with massive inequality that makes us ill (Richard Wilkinson), jobs we would rather be anywhere other than doing (LSE), a burning planet and so on.

        We could change these rules with a 20% GDP global project shared amongst nations or similar experiment. But we don’t even flesh out the thought experiment.

  11. casino implosion

    I’m fascinated by the idea of an esoteric inner-circle neoliberal philosophy that is far more all-encompassing than the handful of free-market economic precepts and dislike for government usually associated with the term.

    They really do see the Market as the only way to the long-sought goals of TRUTH and JUSTICE, not just as a good way to organise our economic effort.

  12. MaroonBulldog

    The “neoliberal thought collective” sounds to me like “the Borg”–in its original presentation as an autonomous collective. Makes me wonder if resistance is futile.

  13. Emma

    Resistance is not required. We just all need to get clever together MaroonBulldog.

    My take on the above is conveyed through:

    The Car

    Neoliberal theory provides insight into how our world operates but that’s as good as it gets, so it is like telling a story about a group of ZZ Top Sharp Dressed Eliminator men ie. car dealership chain CEOs in the executive suite smoking cigars, who turbocharge forced induction of their cunning plan to exploit and compress the little independent car dealership entrepreneurs.

    I like what French sociologist Loic Wacquant has to say: Neoliberalism is “the building of a particular kind of state and best defined not by its end but by its means. For it is not primarily an economic venture, as classical liberalism was: it is a political project of market-conforming state-crafting.

    So we see a committed cause to reshape society around an incredibly less than generous view of freedom and equality, capturing government and restricting the possibility of alternatives.

    The neoliberal car dealership chain CEO doesn’t give a toss if his massive nationwide chain completely demolishes every little matchbox-sized independent car dealership entrepreneur in the country as it only puts bumper-sized profits into his pockets.

    His idea of a market succeeds as intended, and it is Shitty Shitty Bang Bang for the rest of us, and indeed, many of us are Gone in 60 Seconds.

    It is free trade for Lotus Esprit eaters with less regulation. We want more choice of services and lower prices don’t we? Well, the long term cost is that our standard of living will drop and we are Always Crashing in the Same Car as we naively embrace their car infotainment: “I can see for miles every lovely spot near or far, You can reach them too in your car, Or you might be there now if you own a Jag already”. You see, if you already have the resources, you have a free pass to accumulate more valuable miles, don’t ya?

    Worryingly, there has been a shift in gears in the last couple of decades and neoliberalism has become an adept uncrashable convertible using its easily raised and extremely hard top for ‘top-down’ control to chase people through the streets like a Bullitt. It has been transformed into a full-time four-wheel drive system that functions across everything, can’t be switched off and relies on a form of neo-slave labor which runs over any union of beetles.

    Neoliberalism today simply has more clutches than a chainsaw or drill and this allows the driver to smoothly engage spin by controlling any slippage or friction dissenters might present.

    So now the neoliberalism robot has put a brake on us all leading to intense depression. It becomes even more difficult for people to adjust the pressure as the tread wear on us only increases, and this paves the way for key remote entry and monitoring with various surveillance systems.

    The robotization of neoliberalism in the last couple of decades has allowed it to drive through obstacles, taking a firm hand of the steering wheel to ignite durability.

    So what can be done to overhaul this project?
    What is the solution?

    We need to pull over immediately as there is an increasing lack of visibility to regain cruise control on the highway. A ‘bottom-line’ approach to protect against extreme ‘top-down’ control is the only way to go. We all need leverage media and really shout out signal warnings to minimize the danger ahead. We simply can’t remain in our seats, as otherwise, we are clearly going to end up in the scrapyard.

    A Noble man who may well be our Ultimate Aero, Joel Jackson CEO of Mobius, says we need to “rethink what a car can be in the emerging market context”. He got out of the passenger seat and pushed himself into the driver seat to create a solution in Africa where many people have little access to opportunities in employment, education or healthcare. He has built a “platform for mobility” to advance the socioeconomic standing of people in Africa.

    We need to replicate his thinking here in the US and “fahren fahren fahren” together with Kraftwerk and Good Vibrations…..We simply cannot end up making some half-baked Cannonball Run attempts with Dodge Chargers and Firebirds on the street as we’ll only be confronted with evil bullet-proof tanks-on-wheels, crushing us all for ever more.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      “Neoliberal theory provides insight into how our world operates, but that’s as good as it gets.”–may I suggest that “operates” and “gets” be rendered in the past tense?

      “The roboticization of neoliberalism in the last couple of decades” implies trouble for everyone, including neoliberal thinkers, as roboticization will continue, and continue to trend up. When markets are fully automated, and the machines trade with themselves, neoliberal theory will dispense with whatever need it had for actual human beings. Not that it ever conceived of them–it is a Platonic theory.

      1. Emma

        I think trouble is already upon us as many have got with the program haven’t they? “The market” seems to already know more than human beings and is taking us for a ride. We’re told time and time again (in a pseudo-orwellian way) to let the market do its’ thing, right? And because most have neither the inclination nor aptitude to work out the who/what/how/why, the rug is being pulled from under their feet as they go and simply wash their cars.
        The world was perhaps not conceived for humanity, nor man to be its’ master, so we are allowing ourselves to become swallowed up into a very dark tunnel crawling with robots and androids…

        1. MaroonBulldog

          “I think trouble is already upon us as many have got with the program, haven’t they?” Yes, it is and they have. But in my allegory, getting with the program is “assimilation to the Borg.” The Borg isn’t attractive, and it doesn’t try to seduce anyone. It merely announces, “resistance is futile” to make assimilation easier–for itself, not necessarily for the assimilated.

          I’m having trouble deciding which dystopian allegory gives the more apt warninng–”Brave New World”? or “The Matrix” without its happy ending?

  14. Bapoy

    Whatever you want to call it, here is a quick metric. 13.5% of US GDP is from imports. So it’s almost laughable to say we can sustain the population by printing and paying for imports.

    Given that the goal of the loony left is to handout cash to the population, who will be producing the goods and services that the population will consume?

    Does it matter how much money you have in circulation if nobody is working to deliver goods and services?

    Call it what you want, it’s not a coherent message that the left is lacking, it’s common sense. What you folks call the right is not much behind. The Neo word you use is meaningless, name calling is a sign of weakness.

    1. Hugh

      The joke is that we have been running trade deficits for decades. It is a cost of owning the world’s reserve currency. And yes, those imports are ultimately paid for by creating debt instruments/money. Hate to burst your bubble.

      Not sure if you are a stooge of the kleptocrats or a willing troll for them. But the last I saw those receiving trillions in handouts were not ordinary Americans, but the rich, the bankers, and Wall Street.

      I would remind you that the economy is not some natural process that operates independent of people. It is a social construct whose only reason for existence is providing us with the society we want. We have the knowledge and resources to provide all Americans with the basic needs for a good, meaningful, decent, and fair life. A commitment of all to provide for all. No handouts, no billionaires, just sharing and making sure that all are taken care of. You will no doubt call this wildly unrealistic, preferring your doomed dystopian “I’ve got mine, Jack, fuck everyone else” world. I do not know what twisted you up so much, but you are not just on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of humanity.

    2. MaroonBulldog

      “The Neo word you use has no meaning ….” May I suggest that you read Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong’s 2010 book, “The End of Influence” before you tell me that the neologism, “neoliberal,”–as they use it when and where they often do–has no meaning?

      The “Neo” word signifies a specific well-defined economic belief system–including a set of characteristic policy prescriptons –that, when put into practice, failed. Sort of like the Marxism-Leninism that failed in the Soviet Union.

      This post was about a book investigating the intellectual history of that belief system. Lest we overlook its errors, and history repeat itself.

    3. Yalt

      The argument presented here with such delicious irony–not in my wickedest moment would I have ever thought to open an argument with “loony left” that I was going to close with “name calling is a sign of weakness”–is a simple one, with ancient lineage:

      If we don’t have a mass of desperately poor people, who will feed us?

      1. Bapoy

        Right,

        The left doesn’t care about the poor people. If it did, it would support productivity, but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t because it’s all about, me, me, me, me getting something. The poor thingy just makes it look as if they care.

        Here is how to care about poor people. Invest money in a farm or factory and give things away to the poor. We’ll see how long it lasts. Or simply let people help people when they want to, and let people work to survive.

        Here is a tricky question – who is the bad one – A who earns his purchasing power by working and producing and allows 50 other people to eat – or – B that wants the government to take from A by force and hand over to B and produces nothing. Who is the bad guy Yalt?

  15. Hugh

    Neoliberalism is just the dumbed down version of the fusion of neoclassical economics with some corporatist libertarian flourishes made available to policymakers to confuse the rubes. Like its foundations, it is kleptocratic propaganda, variously hiding looting, defending wealth inequality, and promoting class war.

  16. Newtownian

    Great piece and makes me want to buy the book.

    “The shorter-term responses buy time for the thought collective to mobilize their longer-term panaceas. The book describes the dynamic in greater detail, but here, let me just indicate that, in the case of the climate crisis, the short term response is global warming denialism; the medium-term response is to institute trading schemes for carbon emission permits and offsets; and the long term science fiction response is geoengineering, such as schemes to pump particulates into the stratosphere to supposedly block out the sun and mitigate the warming process—but not, significantly, to actually cut back on carbon emissions. What Klein and others get wrong is that neoliberals are not really ‘anti-science’ as such; rather, ploys such as denialism simply postpone political attempts by opponents to cut emissions until they can recruit and train a cadre of entrepreneurial neoliberal scientists, whereas meanwhile the situation gets so dire that their preferred ‘market’ solutions come to seem the last refuge for a desperate populace. It is significant that each of these ‘ideas’ were innovated in neoliberal think tanks.”

    In regards to this the other technology not mentioned is nuclear – which while it isn’t economic, is trying again to get momentum via the academy to train up a new generation of scientists and engineers without whom it will remain fiction – and this is thanks in part to many soft neoliberals who believe in climate change but who don’t want to lose the option for infinite economic growth which they see renewable energy sources as inhibiting.

    The amusing thing here is the big central generators are now attacking the market place phenomenon of people installing their own PV because they are so sick of corporate gouging by the said big generators.

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