The Movement to Replace Neoliberalism Is on the Ascendency – Where Should It Go Next?

By Laurie Laybourn-Langton, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Previously, he has worked for Lord Skidelsky at the House of Lords, INET at Oxford, LSE, and Purpose. Originally published at openDemocracy

Ten years after the crash, the movement to replace neoliberalism is in the ascendency. Well organised campaigns cover everything from the promotion of pluralism in economic curricula to the application of new economic principles in local communities. Academics and campaigners, who prior to the crash were lone voices in the wind, have been joined by a growing chorus of economists and commentators acknowledging that neoliberalism is not working. Importantly, these now include those in mainstream institutions that have become synonymous with the status quo, such as the IMF and OECD. Meanwhile, bottom up movements, surfing a heady mix of social media and dissatisfaction with orthodox economic ideas, are beginning to score political victories across the world.

This is because neoliberalism – the broad set of political-economic ideas and policies which have dominated public life over the last 40 years – has failed, in both theory and in practice. It is in the wake of the global financial crisis that these failures have plumbed new depths. Financial instability looms over economies shackled by insufficient investment. Living standards stagnate and work becomes ever more insecure, shattering the implicit bargain of the entire endeavour. The human costs of this experiment have been enormous, with psychological and non-communicable ill-health becoming the hallmark of a system that cares for little but profit. Inequality, itself linked to ill-health, has grown to levels unseen since the nineteenth century, leading to large power imbalances throughout society. Socio-economic mobility has been further stalled by the erosion of the public realm, from universities to the legal system. Most pressingly, neoliberalism continues to rely on a growth model that is destroying the biophysical preconditions upon which it relies, increasing the chance of collapse in the climate and other natural systems.

Major Changes in Economic Ideas Have Happened Before

Despite this, neoliberalism remains the dominant perspective of most commentary and policy-making in the UK, countries around the world, and the global economic systems through which they linked. But its dominance may be illusory. Rapid changes in ideas have occurred at key junctures in the past. Over the last hundred years, Western political economy has broadly experienced two major periods of breakdown and transition from one political-economic paradigm to another: after the Great Depression and into the post-war consensus of welfare states and the Bretton Woods financial order; and after the crises of the 1970s and into the free market policies of neoliberalism that we live under to this day.

Across each period, the process of a shift to a new sets of ideas can be split into three components:

  1. its intellectual and academic underpinning, particularly within economics;
  2. the policies and narratives through which it was expressed in the wider public domain; and
  3. the political processes – notably elections of governments – which enabled it to be implemented and entrenched.

When considering these components today, it appears the conditions are now apparent for another shift. Across the first, intellectual component, the failure to predict, understand and react to the financial crisis fractured confidence in key pillars of the orthodoxy. This included, for example, the ‘efficient market hypothesis’, which, by asserting that assets could not be consistently mispriced, led generations of economists to shamefully underestimate systemic risk in the financial system. Theoretical failures have been compounded by the inadequacy of policy prescriptions. Most notably, fiscal consolidation and monetary policies have not generated growth or reduced public deficits at the speed anticipated, and so have failed on their own terms. Indeed, elements of the economics profession have consistently found themselves unable to adequately explain a multitude of economic phenomena, ranging from stalling productivity to the impact of quantitative easing. Moreover, orthodox economics has little concern for the major crises of our time, from rising levels of inequality to global environmental change.

New Economic Ideas Are Proliferating, but a Major Shift Is Still not Apparent

In response, a plethora of alternative economic insights have grown up, many of them building on schools that have always contested neoclassical or neoliberal orthodoxies, such as institutional and post-Keynesian economics. Some have emerged in response to particular failings of the orthodoxy, such as behavioural economics and its focus on more accurate modelling of human behaviour. Others pursue a deeper re-conceptualisation of the economy, including complexity economics, which applies complexity science in modelling the economy as a system in constant change, as opposed to equilibrium. However, economics is still dominated by orthodox neoclassical or neoliberal approaches.

While this is a function of the political dominance of these ideas, it also reflects institutional inertias within the discipline. Prestigious journals predominantly publish articles that adhere to the mainstream view, limiting the profile of alternative approaches. In turn, non-mainstream academics can become marginalised, further reducing their ability to publish work at the highest level. Meanwhile, economic curricula at secondary schools and universities remain grounded in the mainstream and so new generations of economists are largely moulded in the image of previous generations.

While these dynamics have attenuated the flow of new economic ideas into the second component of a shift – the development and adoption of counter-narratives and policy proposals – these have nonetheless emerged and built much credence in recent months. Few credible commentators and policymakers now defend the status quo, falling instead along of a continuum of voices calling for reform. Even think tanks who, only a couple of years ago, were staunch supporters of key tenets of neoliberalism now find themselves arguing for change. This became starkly apparent in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto, which claimed that the party now “… rejected the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and instead embrace[d] the mainstream view that recognises the good that government can do”.

It is unclear how serious this view is, or how long it will last, but it suggests that a critique of neoliberalism is starting to embed itself into thinking across the political spectrum. Indeed, throughout the West, most government and opposition parties now found their rhetoric on a critique of the status quo. The results differ widely, of course, from the accelerated dismantling of what remains of the New Deal under Donald Trump, to the nationalisation policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. And so we see that the third component of a shift – the embedding of a new political-economic paradigm through the election of a supportive government – is not yet apparent.

Change Is Driven by an Ecosystem of Influential Organisations and Individuals

How does a paradigmatic shift come about? Change of this scale is conditional on events that erode confidence in the status quo and heighten the legitimacy of alternative ideas. But it is also a function of the preparedness of those movements espousing an alternative. The conditions for change may come by chance, but the change is won by those most prepared to capitalise on crisis. Those seeking a shift away from the post-war consensus knew this and developed an ecosystem of influence to increase the chance that their ideas would win the day if and when crisis came.

This movement started by focussing on academic ideas, founding the Mont Pèlerin Society to provide a safe space for academics to play out their opposition to a catch-all ‘collectivism’. Members were united in their conclusion that an increased role for the state in economic and social management was incompatible with individual freedom. Around this assertion, they eventually built a coherent narrative and policy proposals that were prosecuted by a well-resourced ecosystem of institutions and networks mobilised to influence public debate and political processes. At its heart was a new breed of ‘knowledge professional’ located within the modern ‘think tank’, politically partisan and focussed on strategic influence as well as policy development. Journalists then provided the means by which neoliberal ideas could enter a wider circulation. This was an avowedly elite theory of change, lavishly funded by economic interests that were set to gain from the ideas being espoused.

By the early 1970s, the neoliberal counter-orthodoxy had organised into a transatlantic network of economists, think tanks and journalists. This network and its ideas increasingly populated political parties and government institutions, creating the intellectual conditions for change and ensuring that the neoliberal movement was prepared to capitalise on crisis. When this crisis came, neoliberal ideas entered government, first under the chaotic Labour and Democrat administrations of the late seventies, and later with the election of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. After triumphing in key battles against the commanding institutions of the post-war consensus and New Deal, these administrations scored the ultimate victory when centre-left parties adopted major elements of neoliberalism so that even changes of government could no longer halt the march of its ideas.

Now Is the Time for the New Economics Movement to Shift to the Next Gear

If today the conditions for another shift are apparent, how well prepared is the ecosystem seeking that change? This was the question Michael Jacobs and I sought to answer in a recent report that assessed, from a strategic perspective, the movement seeking a shift in economic ideas in the UK. Our main findings were positive. This movement is growing and we think it now covers most of the major functions required to shift the paradigm – from academic groups and think tanks, through communications websites and supportive networks, to funders and political figures. Each year, this movement becomes more influential and is full with talent stretching across generations.

We think there is now broad intellectual convergence across groups around a shared critique of the failings of neoliberalism and the need for a new paradigm. There is slightly looser convergence on the overall goals or values of a new paradigm, largely centring on equity, sustainability and democratisation. However, outside of one or two notable efforts, we have not seen common narratives or policy solutions emerge. Our conclusion is that this results from material barriers to progress, rather than profound differences between groups. These barriers cover three areas:

  • the lack of a fully developed intellectual foundation;
  • the fact that most organisations are non-mainstream actors, or ‘outsiders’, with ‘insider’ or establishment activity still relatively thin; and
  • the absence of coordination and strategic direction covering a critical mass of the ecosystem, including for communications and media outreach, and funding and resource allocation.

In response, we’ve recommended the creation of a platform, or informal coordinating body, to serve the movement by providing a forum for the development of strategic coordination. This could help formalise those networks already emerging within mainstream organisations and provide a safe space to link them to non-mainstream groups in a shared endeavour, collaborating with the brilliant work of other facilitating groups. Such spaces should also exist in countries outside the UK and between countries, as globalisation and environmental change mean this movement will have to be more international than the analogous movements of the past. The challenge should excite us, as the time to accelerate efforts is now.

Younger Generations Must Be Given the Chance to Lead

But too often it feels like change is not happening fast enough. Members of the millennial generation look around and see the chaos of a British government mired in scandal, presiding over a collapse in our international influence at a time when nations need to work closer together than ever before. They wonder what kind of world they will inherit. While the progress described above is heartening – and Britain does sit at the heart of an increasingly global movement – frustration still abounds. A notable, recent example was the INET conference in Edinburgh this October. Held at a time when the ten year anniversaries of the crash have begun, the conference did little to recognise the political moment in which we find ourselves. Moreover, it felt like a chance was missed to facilitate strategic discussions between groups from across the world, and it was remarkable that there was an absence of shared spaces for people to meet and talk. Many came away from the conference feeling disappointed, doubting whether much new economic thinking has been done, or whether it would make a difference at this crucial time.

There are many reasons for this, and they echo throughout the movement as a whole. Firstly, there is a lack of diversity. This ranges from a large gender disparity, through the representation of cultures and nations, to a lack of intellectual pluralism. It has been heartening to see INET and others make some efforts to increase the participation of women, but change must come quicker and be of sufficient force to overcome large structural barriers. We see the same with the representation of people across the income distribution. Younger generations must also be given more power and opportunities, both to act and to learn. It will be they who have to inherit the world neoliberalism made, or unmade. And across all of these areas, we can no longer afford to follow a ‘common room theory of change’ – that if you win the intellectual argument, you change the world. This has not and will never be the case, as the Koch brothers and the other heirs to Mont Pèlerin so ably prove.

In the case of INET, the Young Scholars Initiative’s Festival for New Economic Thinking, organised before the INET conference proper, provided an exciting shared space that brought together a community to celebrate and plan. In doing so, it allowed a younger generation to appreciate the progress that has been made and to build for the future. This future does not look bright and time is running out. But, as we found across the movement in the UK, the millennial generation, and those below it, are facing the challenge with ambition and excitement.

In an oft quoted remark, Milton Friedman, a key part of the neoliberal ecosystem of influence, once described its basic function as being to “develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable”. We do not yet have a critical mass of those alternatives and a common narrative around which to bind them. More shared spaces and coordination are needed to accelerate the process by which we reach this point. And while those spaces should be populated by all ages, the torch must be passed to a younger generation. It is they who will one day make the impossible inevitable.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Something tells me that this is far, far too late a movement. The doubling down of bets made by the world’s financial powers since the financial crisis of 2008 has made this movement moot. Total world debts, for example, has now run past $200 trillion and is increasing. A world debt jubilee would do little good, even if possible, as the same system is still in place and would quickly rack up the debts again.
    Reform will only happen now when there is absolutely no other choice and the new economic model would likely resemble a salvage operation. Its mode of operation would be something along the lines of triage to see what can be saved and what has to be let go. I know this sounds pessimistic but we have all seen this movie before – in places like Argentina and Russia – and I am afraid that all too soon it will be time to batten down the hatches. Yeah, I know, not a cheerful prognosis.

    1. Christopher Dale Rogers

      Rev Kev,

      Your prognosis, as far as it goes, like much else we read, just focuses on the economics, which, when we look at it forensically, really is enough to give us all nightmares for the remainder of our lives. However, & regardless of the financial crisis that never really went away, we must look at the real crisis that is to befall us, namely the ecological calamity unfolding around us all, and of which, many seem oblivious.

      For example, I’m rightly alarmed as a Brit that none of our major political groupings, among them even the Green Party, are issuing warnings about the ecological disaster we contribute each second of the day. Instead, all we have are discussion’s about GDP growth, or lack thereof, rather than massive re-distribution and mitigating against the reckless environmental destruction already undertaken. Of course, Brexit takes up plenty of space in the MSM, as it does on this site, but to me, this is all but now a side show, distracting us from the actuality around us, namely a degrading environment that shortly will be unable to support the human species, never mind a multitude of other species so important for our own survival.

      When our elected officials, the global elite and world community start discussing this and acting upon it as a matter of urgency, I may pick up my ears, for now, I just despair and worry for my child’s future and that of other children globally.

      1. The Rev Kev

        You know what the real problem is? Just as the ecological disasters start to really kick in, our present financial setup will ensure that we will not have anywhere near the amount of resources need to mitigate the worst of the effects. Certainly not a financial system based around the ever increasing use of non-renewable resources and I do not mean just oil.
        At this stage a sustainable circular economy ( would be the way to go but instead we are doubling down on an infinite growth model which has produced the financial model that we use. In other words we’re boned!

        1. Christopher Dale Rogers

          Rev Kev,

          Very much my sentiment too, indeed, much of the hysteria we are witnessing in the MSM, be it Russia, Brexit or any other issue that may interfere with the Elite plundering rollercoaster, seems more like a distraction. For example, Macron in France has had his economic settlement for the year, one that pushes the neoliberal agenda, namely taking from the poor & giving to the rich, all under the auspices of the Stability & Growth Pact, EMU & ever closer union detailed in the Lisbon Treaty. The UK Budget of this week again does exactly the same, as does the tax changes Trump wants to implement – never a mention of the environment, and always an emphasis on GDP growth, rather than re-distribution & mitigation to head off the coming disaster.

          Further, its actually been 10 years now since the onset of the GFC, and as Dimon stated to his child at the time, we can expect a financial crisis every seven years, and the Global Stock indices don’t give me any comfort presently – indeed, and as far as Minsky instructs, the general calm we are witnessing now is indicative of a massive storm ahead – will have to take this one up with Steve Keen.

          However, just a walk to the beach where I’m based gives all the indications of a ecological disaster of epic proportions, with our beaches covered in washed up human debris, mostly plastic – after a typhoon you can’t see any sand its that bad, and this is in the Far East.

          1. sharonsj

            What I wonder is, if there is another massive economic storm worst than the last one, if that will be enough to wake up the deluded masses? I can no longer watch the mainstream media without wanting to put my foot through the screen. But are there enough like me to actually take part in a real revolution?

        2. templar555510

          Our thinking in Newtonian; that is to say linear. We’ve had a quantum revolution which has displaced Newton, but you’d never know it because our thinking as a race hasn’t caught up in any field be it science, economics or anything else. So unless and until such a shift occurs we will keep pressing buttons that doom us until we don’t . Will it be too late by then ? No-one knows, but in the meantime let’s keep focussed on the bigger picture because so much of the smaller picture is simply a distraction.

      2. Ptolemy Philopater

        “When our elected officials, the global elite and world community start discussing this and acting upon it as a matter of urgency, I may pick up my ears, for now, I just despair and worry for my child’s future and that of other children globally.”

        The fact is that they will never discuss this. The whole point of neo-liberalism is to write off the “rest” of humanity. Only the elites matter, and they believe they can weather the storm in their gated communities and bunkers with their advanced technologies and the rest of the world can go to hell. “Because markets…go die.” Apre moi le deluge”

        These are profoundly pathological human beings, whom Donald Trump is the epitome. “Oh, isn’t this the best chocolate cake ever” as he reigns down destruction on a foreign land. Their narcissism is so complete as to be impregnable. They are not subject to ideas or science. It is $$$$ that matters and the power that it gives them to be oblivious to all else, except the gourmet meals and the palaces that they luxuriate in.

        They are not subject to persuasion. The only solution is the lamp post. They hold the levers of power and until they are wrested from their cold dead hands, there will be no solution. But of course by then it will be too late.

            1. Oregoncharles

              No, Lenin didn’t. He led a counter-revolution against the democrats who had overthrown the Czar.

        1. Ptolemy Philopater

          “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” John F. Kennedy.

          Do you now understand why John F. Kennedy had to die and why the documents relating to that assassination are still not being released?

          Our elites believe they have amassed enough power to make both peaceful and violent revolution impossible, by organizing the low information and ignorant among us. Have you watched television lately? Dunning Kroeger syndrome anyone?

        2. animalogic

          You are right Ptolemy (& the Rev & Tony). Ultimately the lamp posts will come have to come into play.
          The Elites will, under pressure of the next crisis, AT BEST, attempt a FDR (lite) response. Spurious reform that offers crumbs from the table & sparkly promises of future betterment.
          Given the titanic levels of fraudulent wealth in the system, it may be possible Elites turn on each other. Perhaps public servants, especially police & military may become sufficiently disillusioned as to, at least, fail to comply with orders (Like the Cossacks during the protests in Petersburg).
          However, to take advantage of such circumstances, working people will need:
          1. An existing coherent political/economic philosophy supported by a dedicated minority (including but also beyond Academics & bits of the professional classes).
          2. An existing political organisation, structured ready for rapid growth and exploitation of circumstances.
          3. And finally & most importantly, a militant segment of working people, willing to make any sacrifice to further the goals of economic, environmental & political justice.

          1. Gunther Behn

            Everyone feels in their bones that the present is unsustainable; that something horrific is coming. We see it in the dystopian imagery of fiction and film; we see previews in Lybia and Syria and Yemen, in the faces of refugees floating in the Mediterranean.

            The elites already see themselves as exalted, irreplaceable, separate, and literally do not care what happens to the rest of humanity — of us. ‘Ordinary’ people in the Western democracies will not cope well with the social and cultural disintegration that will result from the next phase of GFC.

            It’s possible, though, the next collapse may not be as close as everyone thinks. The impending rollout of new technologies may give the global economy another round of equity investment frenzy that delays the inevitable for some period of time.

            While that goes on, climate breakdown will continue. The status quo, with its drift towards greater inequality and more open authoritarianism, continues. That is liable to succeed well in America, where the largest sections of the population just want Change to Stop and for “things to be more like they were”. The elites depend on this continuing as long as possible.

            At some point, when an Irma or Alma or Katrina happens twice or more a year; when ‘people’ feel they can admit to themselves and each other that things are serious — when water and food become more expensive, then rationed; when they react to the understanding of how they’ve been lied to and led, they may encounter a police state which no longer feels the need to remain unobtrusive. That repression will last as long as it lasts.

            Ultimately, it will end in some variation on the future belongs to the strongest. A Hobbseian future; the dictatorship of [fill in the blank] — and the -ism used to describe it will scarcely matter. Human culture had such promise; we had our opportunity to regulate and provide for ourselves, and the worst aspects of our nature appear to have won.

      3. Plenue

        The environment is what really makes things so dire. In another world I would say that sooner or later the tide would turn (it might not be a pretty turn; might involve literally burning down Wall Street and putting heads on sticks), but eventually something would give and we would shift to less insane and inhumane system.

        But this time we’re barreling towards global environmental catastrophe. We don’t have time, not even a couple decades, for a gradual shift. It’s probably too late already for industrial civilization as we know it.

    2. tony

      There will be another crisis, and it will be another strike against the neoliberal consensus. In a crisis people pick up the ideas that are going around. We need to prepare for the next crisis, and not let it go to waste.

      1. Christopher Dale Rogers


        Its usually said that our Masters/Regulators take their pointers from the last crisis, and as such, usually miss all pointers leader to the next crisis.

        That said, and sticking to the tone of the OP, what they are detailing has been discussed extensively previously within the Heterodox Economic Movement, which is namely to emulate what the neoliberal did, basically the ‘from little acorns big oak trees grow’ principle. However, I think they are far too optimistic in their projections, specifically with regards pushback from those we are trying replace.

        By way of example, the UK Labour Party, specifically its Parliamentary MPs, are on the whole associated with Tony Blair and the neoliberal economic policies he pursued, which were also undertaken by his Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Where we are within Labour now, is we have a massive struggle between the majority of the membership, approx. 85% of 600K full members, to overturn the Blair ascendency within the Party – the struggle is massive and begins at the very most local level, to the choosing of MPs and the leadership of the Party itself & the Party’s National Executive Committee, which is similar to the the DNC. We are fighting right now, we have a Party Review being undertaken & an unrepentant neoliberal, neoconservative Atlanticist Right doing everything thing to thwart the democratisation of the Party, a democratisation that would ensure our economics team led by McDonnell adopts many of the policies advocated by the Heterodox economists – Brexit, at least within the Labour Movement, is part of this struggle.

        So, and even given a massive upsurge in a desire for fundamental change, particularly within one of the main UK governing Parties, we really are against the wall, specifically with continued attacks from the UK establishment, most of the MSM, and, believe it or not, a majority of the PLP itself. So, this I’m afraid to say is at a minimum a 10 year project, not withstanding spreading a new consensus across society itself, beginning with Universities, Think Tanks & the media, which again is very much a neoliberal/neoconservative bastion here in Britain.

    3. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Yeah maybe for you Old-Timers lol

      What about us Milennials toiling away in the Service Sector?

    4. Synoia

      Could you please split this into:

      Sovereign denominated debt
      Government debt to Sovereigns
      Debt of non-sovereigns

      The one can better assess the real nature of the $200 Billion.

  2. FelicityT

    I’m always suspicious of change coming from those who have acquired some bit of success under the existing system. Even a marginal insider status poses the risk that they will be unwilling to go far enough, radical enough. So I’m not sure existing think tanks — taking them over or getting them to see the light — is the answer.

    I think we can use the anti-intellectualism and anti-expert cultures that have risen up over the years to our advantage in this case. One thing we’ve got to do is knock economics off its pedestal. It’s certainly not a science, it seems to largely be philosophy with some math added. It can be useful, but its limitations must be clearly acknowledged if we wish to utilize it successfully.

    By removing the sense of authority that comes with the ‘science’ label we can approach the issue with simple, easy to understand language that does not rely on jargon and technical language or theories which do nothing but obfuscate the true nature of things and make individuals more likely to tune out or see it as too complex for them to engage in.

    We’ve also got to avoid labels and shorthand wherever possible. I completely understand the desire for such tools in discussions, saving time and seemingly making arguments more concise. The problem with those labels is that they make it more easy for the listener/reader to import their own misunderstandings or biases onto the whole thing. By clearly spelling out policies and the ideas behind them they become more difficult to be discounted by the general public.

    Going back to my first point, I think we need to be engaging and mobilizing those with little status (as seen by the dominant ideology), those who the system has clearly failed, thrown away, seen as damaged. I recognize that historically many revolutions have been driven by the relatively privileged, at least in leadership positions, but I fear that the dominant ideology can much too easily co-opt these individuals today and easily defeat radical change.

    This provides another reason for speaking in clear language absent of jargon or an academic nature. It may be the relatively privileged who craft an initial framework given that they are most likely to have the time and resources available to do so, but it must be made accessible so that those less privileged can take it up and expand on it, instilling it with further realism that may be missing given the different life experiences of the relatively privileged.

    I also believe we need to be more willing to work outside the system of politics. The democratic mechanisms to ensure a peaceful exchange of power have largely been corrupted and removed. It can only seem that they have not if one does not acknowledge the fact that we have a one-party system operating with two different names. Not only that, but they control the mass media at all levels. It would be nice to argue that we simply organize and get candidates elected and go from there, but even if it is possible, the time period required may be too great given the problems we face.

    It also requires far fewer individuals to disrupt the existing strutures of power and its mechanisms for control than it does to seize those structures. A tool that has been used against our brothers and sisters around the world (though its coming to our own shores more and more now) is the ‘Shock Doctrine,’ using crises — real or created — to enact radical change. We need to be willing to use more benign forms of such tactics to disrupt the entrenched systems opening up opportunities to engage in much needed radical change. We also need to not be so fearful of the consequences of doing so. Such radical changes are largely outside the control of any single group and we should be under no illusions otherwise.

    Enacting radical change will not be easy. It will be costly, for some that cost may be their lives. But we already pay those same prices by allowing the status quo to continue. Maybe under the status quo it is less likely to be you paying the price, but the price is still paid.

    1. FelicityT

      I want to expand on the bit regarding working outside the system since I think, upon reflection, that may be the least clear and most easily understood.

      The military is not composed solely of foot soldiers, a military organized that way is likely if not guaranteed to fail. The same goes for activism. You may be unable — for various reasons — to engage in “front line” disruptions or other tactics. That is OK. But those who do engage put themselves at risk, their families at risk, and you can support them in their fight, in our collective battle to end injustice. That may be something as simple as providing goods for community aid banks to support those who have lost their jobs or families whose provider has been imprisoned or killed by the state.

      By signalling that there is support available you empower others to take up the cause, you become a key member in our quest for a better world.

      1. beth

        I agree with your ideas. I also believe that we have to come up with terminology that the masses understand. I have been grappling with the term ‘rents’. The econ definition is so polar opposite from the definition of that the average person understands the term to mean that it prevents understanding. The neoliberals do have short clear phrases that the general population understands. We need the same.

        1. FelicityT

          Yes, and in attempting to find better terminology I think there can be a desire to find and use more “polite” and less “crude” terms that may be a mistake in many instances. Take a related term to your ‘rents’ example: rentier. I prefer the term parasite, it’s not the most sophisticated but it’s a commonly understood concept and it can evoke powerful mental imagery.

          I touched on another related concept the other day, we — those of us who wish to see radical change — often lack compelling narratives that encompass a wide range of issues. To put it simply we lack an effective political religion. This type of ideology I believe is much more in line with the belief systems which governed and held together our communities in our hunter-gatherer days. The way we compartmentalize in the present often leaves us more divided, less connected — to each other, to our non-human kin, to our environment — and less able to craft meaningful stories about our world and our place within it.

          1. knowbuddhau

            If I may be so bold as to suggest, the concept you’re describing, quite ably I might add, is called “mythology.” AFAIK that term fell out of favor after the French Revolution. These days, we’re all modern and scientific, see, so we don’t use mythology, nor has it any influence any more: we use ideology. All nice and (supposedly) cleansed of any emotions or superstitions, right?

            All snark aside, I really do think it’s been a disaster. IMNSHO, the worst modern conceit is the pretense that we organic beings, who’ve been living as upright apes for millions of years, and demonstrably cultural beings for hundreds of thousands, nevertheless now organize society solely based on the power of ideas.

            A belief, OTOH, is an idea plus an emotion. How gauche, right? Cool, calm, dispassionate, and above all, rational, is the order of the day. But if that’s true, then how come massive projects, like Keystone XL or DAPL, can be approved, then rejected, then re-approved almost overnight? Did the science change that fast, or something else?

            Obviously that’s not how humans really work. We don’t base our actions on ideas, on absolutely objective information, alone. It’s not at all how our psychophysiology functions. I looked deeply into this as a research psych grad student.

            Every thought we have is a combination of a sensation and/or a perception with an emotion. You can have either or both of the former, but you don’t get jack without any energy, and that all comes from our emotional brain, the core, not the cortex.

            I must grant that the effort, to ground human affairs in empiricism and facts, in ideas, was a necessary turn away from astrology, alchemy, scholasticism, and a host of other non-rational methods. But we’ve thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Denying the role beliefs play in motivating our actions effectively lobotomizes us.

            I want to relate two ideas to the political religion you’re calling for. The first is that of the Noble Lie, especially as used by neocons. The second is that of a modern understanding of the need for a functioning mythology.

            First, I understand “religion” to mean an organized effort to further the interests of an organization or establishment and (or?) its members. Like you, I think, I see it as a function, not one or more specific, historical institutions.

            We’re not alone in this. from Wikipedia:

            Noble lie

            In politics, a noble lie is a myth or untruth, often, but not invariably, of a religious nature, knowingly propagated by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda. The noble lie is a concept originated by Plato as described in the Republic.

            In religion, a pious fiction is a narrative that is presented as true by the author, but is considered by others to be fictional albeit produced with an altruistic motivation. The term is sometimes used pejoratively to suggest that the author of the narrative was deliberately misleading readers for selfish or deceitful reasons. The term is often used in religious contexts, sometimes referring to passages in religious texts.

            So the idea, that a society needs a narrative that is based on a shared belief, is quite old. What’s ours?

            Seriously, now, what’s our shared myth? What are we doing here? Where did we come from? Where are we going?

            Leo Strauss is often associated with the neocons, but according to his defenders, it’s a case of misappropriation. Must say, they sure do have a thing for propaganda of mythic proportions. I mean, what was it that jacked the US and its coalition to war in Iraq: actual nukes, or myths about nukes?

            And speaking of American myths, how ’bout the myth of American Exceptionalism? What an utter catastrophe it’s been, here at home and all over the world. Is that ours, though? No, I dare say, most of us here at NC reject it.

            So what is our shared world view? Can you say it in just a few words (unlike me, evidently)? Can you picture it, or paint it, or video it? What’s a good metaphor for it?

            If you’re having difficulty, you’re not alone. FelicityT is absolutely right, then. So how do we get, not just a political religion, which is a sociological function only, not the Big Picture itself, but a mythology?

            For starters, you can’t fake it. Those who’ve relied so completely on propaganda and deception, on lies most ignoble, have made truth their worst enemy. Their effort, to control the narrative, is thus going exponential. Has it gone critical? Is there a natural limit?

            The worlds neoliberalism’s lies imply are absurd. And the truth of the world they see most worthy of creation, is a living hell for the rest of us: you either successfully engage a market that’s not designed for you, entirely at your own risk, or, as Lambert has so aptly, put it, “Go die.” So of course they can’t tell us the truth. (Do they really think their lies are noble? Tbh, I’d rather face manipulative psychopaths than true believers.)

            Faking it has been the whole problem. We need a genuine narrative, from our own time, space, and place, that makes sense of the tremendous mystery that is being aware of being aware of [sic] becoming this stupendous multiverse; an understanding of being human and proper roles of becoming human in society; that organizes, propounds, and defends our interests; and guides us through the inevitable, constant, and quite grave challenges of birth, maturation, procreation (if that’s your thing), old age, and death.

            Mythologies fail when the images no longer evoke reactions, real physical responses. When they no longer move people. And I don’t mean the artificial movement of compliance with coercion, which is all you can get from propaganda.

            And historically, mythologies have been very specific to time and place, what’s called a cosmogenetic zone. Again IMNSHO, that’s why importing a Bronze Age mythos from the Levant, which was never supposed to be universal, and imposing it by force on the rest of the world, has been an absolute disaster. You can’t fly with borrowed plumage.

            Global climate change bounds this whole discussion like never before. Problem is, with the whole world as the cosmogenetic zone, who or what speaks to all of us in such a way that we all move together? Is that even possible?

            And since we can’t fake it, that raises another problem: if I could tell you how to do it, it wouldn’t be genuine. It’s a product more of art than science. I suspect, though, that the elements are laying around, unrecognized. It’s up to us, especially those of us prone to thinking metaphorically, to give it voice and form.

            It’s got to be up to date scientifically. It’s got to put us in the quantum world. But what does being human in the quantum world, with string theory’s implied multiverse, even mean? It’s been 90 years since the Copenhagen Interpretation, when Bohr won the debate with Einstein. But it really doesn’t look like we have another 90 to figure it out. No pressure. ;-)

            Pretty sure about one thing: no more absolute self/other divide. That’s just flat out impossible, when you get right down to it. And I even have an experimentum crucis for it, one that’ll disprove my hypothesis: show me. Even Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, is not absolutely other than you and me. It shaped the galaxy that shaped the solar system that shapes us. Since we’re all arising from the same quantum foam, the self/other divide can only be relative, not absolute. That means, no more exclusive claims to divinity, or to being the exclusive gatekeepers thereunto. IOW, we’re all worthy. The implications for empathy, altruism, and beyond, are radically transformative. Hard to exploit, or even hate, people when you know you are them.

            I think it’s like the poet, A. E. Housman, said, when asked to define poetry: we’ll know it when we see it. Artists, come forward!

            1. tony

              Perhaps the American myth is “We are stronger than others”. It does seem like that to me. However, the US has several nations with their own myths. Black America has it’s powerful myths with images of slavery, oppression, segregation, murder by police, and a long fight for justice and equality in society.

              The religious conservatives still have some myths. Liberals have some myths, and we have seen their emotional commitment to them during the Trump era. I just think the US is too large and diverse, both geographically and otherwise to form a singular nation. It could buy unity with the almost endless riches provided by natural resource bounty, but even that is running out.

              About your last point, I constantly sacrifice parts of myself, mostly ideas and behaviours. In the martial art I practice, you should love your enemy and strike with love. It is based on the Christian traditions, and because love is stronger than hate, so it breaks a bone a lot easier.

            2. FelicityT

              Thanks for taking the time to write this out. Many interesting things to think about.

              I don’t have much to add other than that this was likely last tried on any scale during the ’60s. And what the dominant ideology/group did – using mass media and popular culture — was turn the entire thing into a joke. The filthy hippies, the laughable “new-age” concepts, flower children, etc etc. They will attempt to do precisely the same thing again should we actuallly gain any momentum.

              I find the simplest way to tap into a basic feeling — of mystery and the unknown and that which is greater than — that you mention is a simple exercise:

              Picture the Earth, what is it ‘in’?
              Picture a galaxy, what is it ‘in’?
              Picture the entire universe, what is it ‘in’?

              The first two are generally quite easy, we’ve got numerous pictures and renderings for our brain to call up — the blackness surrounding earth with maybe the moon or a small planet in the background; the colorful rendering of a galaxy, again surrounded by blackness with maybe other galaxies shining dimly in the background. The third one not so much.

        2. norm de plume

          ‘The neoliberals do have short clear phrases that the general population understands. We need the same’

          We could start by by simply taking back those short sharp phrases they stole from the rest of us – ‘reform’ and the ‘free market’ would do for starters.

        3. Jamie

          I worked in a library for many years and was astonished when I began hearing, about 8 or 10 years ago, students giving tours telling the prospects and their parents that the library “rents” books and other necessary things to student patrons… the fist time I heard it I thought it was because it was a foreign student giving the tour who just didn’t know English that well. I interrupted to make sure the parents understood that library loans were not charged. But after a while I began to realize this was not a fluke and it is not only foreign students who speak this way. Somehow (I have no idea how) an entire generation seems to have been raised with the idea that rent is the natural and normal way of things. Sharing and loaning without financial obligation seems a foreign concept to them, apparently. Either that or the colloquial word ‘rent’ has changed in meaning so much over the years that it is no longer intelligible to someone my age.

          As for economic ‘rents’, well I agree that speaking plainly and being understood is the most important thing, not clinging to favorite terminology, but the concept of economic rent is rather complex and the word ‘rent’ is a good word to cover that concept. I don’t think there is a simple way to say it other than your are being ripped off. Which we have been saying for decades and most people, I think, know quite well enough. I think that using the word openly and teaching people what it means (not using the language against us, but showing us how to use it for ourselves) must also be a part of any revolutionary strategy. Otherwise, we remain vulnerable to a simple change in leadership with no underlying change in political and social structure, because we have to trust the “straight talkers” who actually understand the matter at a deeper level. That, to my mind, is not very revolutionary.

          1. Rod

            -we’re all worthy. The implications for empathy, altruism, and beyond, are radically transformative. Hard to exploit, or even hate, people when you know you are them.”

            that is the seed for a better world

            if it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead–crises is an opportunity—representative democracy…

            here’s one I don’t hear so much anymore–if you want it done right do it yourself (like the servers/servants at St Mary’s kitchen on thanksgiving day)

            every day everyday people are working on it-hard-without a formal platform. If given even a partial platform action will occur. Three quick examples;
            a) Senator Sander’s presidential race
            b) Veterans Stand 4 Standing Rock
            c) Occupy Wall$treet

            that day some 1600 yrs ago when the Rhine froze over creating a solid platform, the Roman Empire changed forever…

    2. Enrique

      “By removing the sense of authority that comes with the ‘science’ label we can approach the issue with simple, easy to understand language that does not rely on jargon and technical language or theories which do nothing but obfuscate the true nature of things and make individuals more likely to tune out or see it as too complex for them to engage in.:

      Ding ding ding ding.

      We have a winner, I think.

      Whenever I read a piece like this article I think “yes, but…..”

      And the “but” would inevitably involve some version of “would anyone outside the ivory tower even understand 1/10th of it?”

      If you can’t take that 1/10th and push it pretty close to 10/10ths it’s never going to work or catch on. Full stop.

      Also the whole issue of practicality. The “solution” (whatever it is) is always thought of on a top-down basis by these academics. But then you get into how something needs to be implemented or developed and at this point the Gorgon of the political process rears its ugly head.

      I’d never pretend to know what the solution is to any problem. But I think a theoretical framework allowing for bottom-up (i.e. sans University type) development of same is what would likely catch on. In any sphere.

    3. Normal

      ..philosophy with some math added…

      To me, neoliberalism is not even that sophisticated. It eschews math, instead relying on verbal reasoning and natural reasoning. Since Tversky and Kahneman, this kind of thinking should have gone the way of the dodo. It does, however, attract those who do not have math skills – including the majority of congress and the courts.

      My key takeaway from Mises is that the only thing that matters is self-consistency – to the point that facts and measurements cannot topple the theories.

    4. Code Name D

      By removing the sense of authority that comes with the ‘science’ label we can approach the issue with simple, easy to understand language that does not rely on jargon and technical language or theories which do nothing but obfuscate the true nature of things and make individuals more likely to tune out or see it as too complex for them to engage in.

      I must disagree here. It’s the abuse of the scientific method and academic rigor that needs to be addressed here. If Steve Keen is to be believed here, then many of the cornerstone principles at the foundation of the efficient market hypotheses had already been discredited in the 18th and 19th century. Neo-liberalism never had sound academic foundations. (Of course this makes it seem unlikely that an academic revolt now could possibly lead to any meaningful change.)

      What needs to happen is to stop giving bad academics and pseudoscientific inquiries a free pass, just because they labeled themselves as economist. This way we don’t end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and can retain the benefits of a better understanding of economic systems that may yet prove to be powerful tools for social engineering.

      1. FelicityT

        I’d like to outline part of where I’m coming from on this but will likely not completely address your points. I’d need more time to contemplate and flesh them out (and might do so later).

        I see the sciences as falling on a continuum, from least to most likely be influenced by outside ideologies, biases, and straying from the mainstream idea of what science is, the scientific method, etc.

        On one end you might have something like Geology, where excluding the few that might wish to use it to support an idea of a 5,000 year old earth, finds itself largely immune to current ideological inclinations. Though certainly recent history of it (such as Wagener’s continental drift) shows it can be prone to it’s own internal blind spots and biases.

        On the other end is where I would place things like Economics and Psychology. These are likely to be influenced greatly by current mainstream thought patterns, and there is often great incentive for individuals to do so (which i think you touch on in your comment).

        Towards the middle I would place something like Biology and Ecology. These fields can have some of the firm foundations of Geology but are also susceptible to having interpretations influenced by mainstream current and historical thought patterns. For example while not fully endorsing the religion-inspired great chain of being — the idea that there is a hierarchy with humans on top and every other being below — it is still ultimately reflected in interpretations of other beings behavior and abilities and capacity for experience.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Economics is largely political ideology decorated with math. Always has been.

          I happen to think the basic (really basic) market model is useful, an example of applied feedback theory. But most of what we have today, aside from some specialties, has little to do with it. And treating markets as some sort of religious icon is a fundamental misunderstanding (to be polite about it) – if you want a very direct word, it’s propaganda.

          For an example, the ideology of “free trade” pretends to be based on Ricardo’s theory of relative advantage (?term?); but it also calls for “free trade” in capital, which directly violates the theory, which is predicated on capital not moving much. It’s an outright scam.

          1. FelicityT

            I always prefer the direct, better to be blunt, honest and crystal clear at the risk of being disliked by some.

            Economics is certainly so far to one end of the science continuum that it’s essentially fallen off the edge. And even that may be too generous a description, the fact that it is even considered for inclusion an indication of how deep rooted the propaganda has become.

            1. Code Name D

              Science is about generating testable models of the observable world. Nothing more. A large part of economics is the distribution of resources – something that is observable. So, when you claim tax cuts cause economic growth, this is claim that science can falsify. It is academic rigor that insures the science is done correct. It is not a perfect process, but it one that tends to self-correction as we learn more of a phenomenon and build better models.

              The problem is that much of economics today is the result of poor academics, largely the result the privatization of our university system. Knowledge is advanced by profits generated from “scientific knowledge” which is owned by any given corporation. But this isn’t science, just an elaborate system of trial and error where the results are never shared with other scientists/corporations or the public. This is why I argue that the main problem is the abuse of science and academia.

              Consider the pleuritic movement in the universities. Instead of just studying the efficient market hypotheses, students are demanding the right to study all economic theories, even the discredited ones. (How do we know that socialism has been discredited, and what is the evidence to lead to that conclusion?) Students are insisting we go back and re-examine those conclusions from the past. As Carl Sagan once said, the only sacred truth in science is that there is no such thing as a sacred truth.

              1. nonsense factory

                On this:
                “So, when you claim tax cuts cause economic growth, this is claim that science can falsify. It is academic rigor that insures the science is done correct.”

                The problem here is (1) gross oversimplification and (2) biased measurements.

                Taking the latter first, how does one define “economic growth”? There are many different yardsticks one could apply, and the choice is more about politics than ‘scientific rigor’ (for example, counting the number of billionaires in each country). The false claim of (particularly neoclassical) economists is that their measure of economic growth is as scientifically accurate as a physicist’s measure of mass, velocity, etc. There are simply too many ways to look at it – average standard of living? Mean standard of living? Etc. Ultimately, it becomes a value judgement, not an objective scientific measure.

                The former issue, gross oversimplification, can be seen by looking at studies of ecosystems. An analogous question to tax cuts and economic growth might be, say, the supply of nutrients to a lake and its effect on biological productivity. Too little nutrients and you have starvation conditions; too many and you have algal blooms and oxygen gets used up (so all the fish die). The tendency towards gross oversimplification in economics (tax cuts good!) is simply a propaganda tactic championed by dishonest charlatans – “take a complex topic, simplify it to the point a small child can understand it, then repeat, repeat, repeat.” That, in a nutshell, is the basis of the neoclassical economic theory that champions of neoliberalism rely so heavily on in their public marketing efforts.

          2. nonsense factory

            Great point:
            “For an example, the ideology of “free trade” pretends to be based on Ricardo’s theory of relative advantage (?term?); but it also calls for “free trade” in capital, which directly violates the theory, which is predicated on capital not moving much. It’s an outright scam.”

            Yet despite the promoters of neoliberal free trade having this pointed out to them over and over again, that capital mobility has to be blocked for comparative advantage to make any sense, they just ignore the criticism and keep trotting it out. Paul Krugman comes to mind, as does Thomas Friedman, as villains of this type. Their reward is in the millions, so a few plutocrats can make their billions.

            1. Oregoncharles

              Credit where it’s due: that point comes from Herman Daly, the environmental economist. He’s extremely important in a number of ways, even beside that one.

              His work is the inspiration for CASSE, the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy: Highly relevant to NC, so I promote it on here every once in a while. Daly was one of the first to take seriously the fact that the earth is a sphere, and so far one of the last, too, among economists.l

      2. nonclassical

        ..profuse usage of “neoliberalism” terminology requires historical documentation (definition problem):’

        “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

        The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

        In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book Bureaucracy, The Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

        When the term re-appeared in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet’s economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan.

        The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.”

    5. Ptolemy Philopater

      People simply need to stop serving the rich, drop out of the money system. Organize support systems outside of the establishment. Tune in turn on and drop out. What happens to the wealthy when their money can no longer buy lackeys? They are powerless without their servants. Only when the masses develop the fortitude to endure starvation and certain death will the overlords be overthrown. Unfortunately that only happens once starvation and mass murder are already upon us. Ask the Africans among us, they already know.

      1. FelicityT

        Yes, such sacrifices are often (though not always) harder to convince individuals to make the more comfortable they currently are. It is big part of why I’m suspicious and skeptical of change being driven by those with some success and status in the current system (they see themselves as having more — even if it is just trinkets and illusions — to lose) and why any successful change is likely to come by embracing and empowering those many thrown away and seen as failures by the current system.

      2. perpetualWAR

        This: “tune in, turn on, drop out,” just will not be embraced by the masses. We are too utterly brainwashed. People think they NEED the useless stuff they buy.

        My physical therapist told me to buy something my body “requires” from Amazon. I told her, “I don’t buy anything from Amazon. If I can’t get it locally, I go without.” She looked at me visibly stunned.

        The dogs continue to eat the crap dog food.

        1. jrs

          If we are going to endure starvation and certain death anyway, I’m not convinced it would be better to do so passively by “just dropping out” as opposed to active resistance (like the labor movement, of course people in the labor movement were willing to endure homelessness and privation and murder at points, but it wasn’t passive). Because it’s hard to drop out when the powers that be sell not just the baubles but control all the necessities of life (short of some nationwide commune movement and I don’t see it), we need them not just for baubles but for access to all the necessities of life.

      3. sharonsj

        I live in a rural area and I can attest to the fact that the underground market is alive and well. Nobody here has the income required to pay bills and taxes, so they all scramble to find other ways. Plus many people out here have gardens. I try to buy local as well. But it’s never enough. The answer is to get rid of established local politicians, and that requires a dedicated community of activists.

    6. Summer

      “One thing we’ve got to do is knock economics off its pedestal. It’s certainly not a science, it seems to largely be philosophy with some math added. It can be useful, but its limitations must be clearly acknowledged if we wish to utilize it successfully….”

      I see the global economic order operating more like a religion with some math thrown in. Philosophy operates more in the intellectual realm, religion more in “how does this apply to my moral systems of belief’ and “the way or world I live.”

      I think of the entire “TINA” concept and I’m reminded of a type of monotheism.

      The neoliberal politicians understand this and, no matter the policy they are proposing, end their speeches with a variation of “God Bless America.” (Insert your own country or translate to other languages as necessary).

      I’m saying it is a form of religion (developed out of economic theory) that is to be battled, not a philosophy.

      1. FelicityT

        You’re the second commenter to highlight that bit and while Normal doesn’t explicitly use the word ‘religion’ it would seem that it is along those lines as well. And I think you (and you too Normal, provided I’m not putting words in your mouth) may be correct — religion was the better term to use to illustrate the point I intended to make.

        I mention religion — specifically political religion — in a thread further up from this one so I don’t want readers to get the wrong impression. Many of the desires and concepts of a religion can be useful and necessary, it is those which claim to be infallible and not open to change which are problematic and dangerous. Putting it this way, that description does seem to fit the current ruling ideology quite well.

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          “I mention religion — specifically political religion”

          I took it to mean that human beings have wiring that responds to myth and ritual. It’s in our nature to look for meaning beyond experimental fact and mathematics. Maybe that’s a consequence of being aware of our own mortality. Whatever it is, powerful social movements usually have some of those elements of myth and ritual.

          1. FelicityT

            Well said.

            I don’t think I explained my meaning well enough so this clarification was much needed. In fact it appears that I did precisely what I was criticising in my original post — using jargon and shorthand in place of more clear and accessible language.

            It is an excellent example and reminder of my own imperfection. And our collective imperfection is precisely why we can never fully abandon such myths and rituals. The certainty offered by some modern secular belief systems is no better and no less dangerous than the certainty offered by some religions.

            We need to learn from the mistakes of both and from their successes as well as we constantly craft — sometimes together, sometimes in solitude — meaning and attempt to understand our world and our place within it better than the day before.

          2. mucho

            I would agree, though I would also argue that it’s in our human nature to look for this meaning within science, philosophy and mathematics itself. They are just other tools we use to cope with the human condition… though more succesful in prediction. Our condition leads us to ask metaphysical questions and to look for the affirmation of certain and necessary patterns, even though these are usually not supported by our (experimental) observations.

        2. Normal

          I don’t think much about religion. I was specifically commenting on the cognitive errors that I see in economics. It is fair to say, though, that religion takes advantage of many of the same cognitive errors.

          1. jrs

            Religion is not just cognitive errors, not just a compelling narrative, that itself is intellectualizing it and alienating it from it’s context. Yes it has those, but it also exists in a real world social context, in going to church regularly with fellow believers etc..

  3. david

    “……lavishly funded by economic interests that were set to gain from the ideas being espoused.”

    So the message – the dog food isn’t being eaten. Then take once again, selective facts and subjective interpretation of the selective facts to yield the desired rationalizations for the next leg of the looting and then promote it within the echo chamber. The formula no matter what is the point in time.

    Economics is a profession?

      1. Oregoncharles

        The ecological economist Herman Daly pointed out, years ago, that economics had sold itself to the highest bidder – in 19th Century Britain, that was the merchant class, who were then rising vs. the landed aristocracy.

        One result was that they treated natural resources, aka the real world, as an afterthought, just part of “capital.” Only two “production factors,” not 3 or more. Unfortunately, Marx did the same; it’s one major source of our environmental disaster.

    1. Class trumps identity

      Key quote that is: lavishly funded as well as keenly pushed, one might add.

      Why is the author arguing that diversity has anything to do with this? Neoliberalism and the social welfare state were pushed by socio-economic interests, not by the identity. Identity has been a way for neoliberals to divert attention from the fact that people with the same socio-economic position independent of identity have more in common that people within the identity.

      As of now with unions almost killed and those left corrupt and/or neoliberals themselves (like the Swedish Trade Union Confederacy who is promoting the TTIP & TISA deals) won’t move the needle. Will the hipsters that attended Occupy Wall Street and got bogged down by their own voting system of waving fingers up and down be able to take the fight? Because, rest assured with the militarization of the police in US & EU, there will be violence.

      Also, appealing to facebookified youth whose engagement levelnand action plan is to “like” on facebook, seems like a dead-end to me.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Yes, the bit about women bothered me. However, having said that, at the last INET I attended, a very prominent figure in Norway (had held multiple government positions) commented that in his country, men would have insisted that women be included on the panels or they would have refused to participate. So in some societies, economic egalitarianism and gender egalitarianism are strongly held values. But the US shows that they can be severed.

        1. Beans Baby

          In my world, TPTB just put women who will hold the status quo in positions of power and then claim allegiance to respecting diversity. It is worse than having the power structure full of the faces of the establishment- the policies are the same, but the veil of diversity makes it more difficult for many to see the obvious.

        2. berit

          Sounds good, politically and legally correct. But as far as I have any knowledge of politics in my country – Norway – we women have had to take the fight for gender equality on ourselves. When push comes to shove men are not always supportive in competitive environments, but reforming laws helped, pushed by politically organized women in the social-democratic Labour party. Likestillingsloven (Law of Gender Equality) from 1978-79 rules that both genders shall be represented by a minimum of 40 percent in public bodies and committees above a certain size, and explicit rules also for smaller committees and company boards have advanced opportunities for women and greater gender equality in our society to the point were some men now want the law to be scrapped…

  4. Dan Lynch

    Neoliberalism is working great for the ruling elites so there is no reason to believe that it will be replaced in a peaceful, democratic manner.
    Whether neoliberalism works for the 99% is irrelevant unless you live in a true democracy — Iceland, perhaps?
    Of course all empires eventually fail. We cannot predict the exact time or the exact cause of the failure. It may fail due to war, due to plague, or due to some natural or un-natural catastrophe like climate change. When it does fail, most likely it will be replaced by a right wing military junta.
    This article is representative of what is wrong with much of today’s “left” — they assume that we live in a democracy and that we can change things by having a civil debate about ideas and then going to the ballot box and voting on those ideas. Well, we in the U.S. are not allowed to vote for ideas, only for candidates who are chosen in rigged primaries that ensure that they are no threat to the establishment.

    1. Eureka Springs

      Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

      Additionally it appears the post author suggests establishing some sort of non-neoliberal approach in yet another anti-democratic manner. Now whom would want to do that, but those whose salary and or ego depends upon maintaining a top-down pecking order?

      I don’t know, maybe the people (including, perhaps especially ‘the left’) wouldn’t want a truly democratic form of governance, but everyone should quit pretending it’s anything close to what we have now. In fact I don’t think most can or have even tried to imagine it. Establishing it would require an entirely new Constitution, imo. If we don’t pen and pass a new one, The Kochs and their ilk will.

    2. Steeeve

      A few edits to the second paragraph, from the perspective of the folks who control and benefit from the current system?

      This is because neoliberalism – the broad set of political-economic ideas and policies which have dominated public life over the last 40 years – has [failed] succeeded for us, in both theory and in practice. It is in the wake of the global financial crisis that these [failures] successes have [plumbed new depths] reached new heights. Financial instability looms over some economies shackled by insufficient investment, so we move on to better opportunities. Living standards stagnate and work becomes ever more insecure for the workers, [shattering] helping us reap the benefits implicit in the bargain of the entire endeavour. The human costs of this experiment have been enormous, with psychological and non-communicable ill-health becoming the hallmark – for most people, but not for us – of a system that cares for little but profit. Inequality, itself linked to [ill-health] better health for us, has grown to levels unseen since the nineteenth century, leading to large power imbalances throughout society – sweet!. Socio-economic mobility has been further stalled by the erosion of the public realm, from universities to the legal system – helping perpetuate our control of the system. Most pressingly, neoliberalism continues to rely on a growth model that is destroying the biophysical preconditions upon which it relies, increasing the chance of collapse in the climate and other natural systems. But this isn’t really even beginning to affect us!

      1. norm de plume

        Yes, too many analyses and proposals for change suffer from imagining that ‘we are all in this together’ and from not identifying the 1% and their servants as the opponent, if not the enemy, in a life and death struggle.

        I should add that there are members of that class who are trying to

      2. norm de plume

        Yes, too many analyses and proposals for change suffer from imagining that ‘we are all in this together’ and from not identifying the 1% and their servants as the opponent, if not the enemy, in a life and death struggle.

        I should add that there are members of that class who are doing their bit to try and level the playing field a little, perhaps sensing nearby lamp-posts or pitchforks, or simply because they are decent people who inherited a sinecure in the ownership class. There is a local multi-millionaire here who is sponsoring a direct democracy initiative which focusses on funding movements to have citizen juries or people’s panels set up at local council and state govt level, with ‘randomly selected’ members, which have no legislative power but which ‘advise’ official decision making bodies and make their findings public.

        Such people though are hen’s teeth, and I do feel efforts like this seem partial, inadequate, too little and late.

  5. Pelham

    I regret that this needed change in economic thinking is so often presented as a generational thing, which I think runs something of the same risk of distraction posed by identity politics. Many in the boomer generation, after all, prominently campaigned for fundamental change, including economic democracy. And there’s nothing the least bit new about socialism in its many forms.

    However, there’s much merit in the overarching drive for a fundamental, all-encompassing shift from neoliberalism. In fact, the lack of such big ideas on the left leaves the field open for the very worst elements of the right with its always big ideas to seize the imagination of the masses left behind by neoliberalism, as we’re beginning to see.

  6. financial matters

    I think this article strikes all the right notes on the current situation.

    “”the financial crisis fractured confidence in key pillars of the orthodoxy””

    I see this as what exposed the problems with neoliberalism and the current Libya/Syria fiasco as what exposed the problems with neoconservatism.

    Moving forward I’d like to see progressives focus on jobs, education and health care and less on military adventurism.

    I think single payer health care would be a good focus for anti neoliberalism and that becoming a responsible member of the Sochi agreements by fighting ISIS/etc rather than supporting them for use in various regime change activities would be a good anti neoconservative focus.

  7. Donna

    Well this is a depressing commenting thread. I certainly understand and accept the validity of this point of view. But since this is a holiday weekend, here’s a bit of positive spin. This is an interview at Truthout with one of the members of DSA on their wins in the November 2016 election. On a global scale this accomplishment I realize is insignificant. Hope and Change became a death threat from Obama. But how do you progress or even try without a little bit of optimism.

    1. Christopher Dale Rogers


      I don’t think posters are being sanguine about the realities facing many who are actually battling for meaningful change, be it in the USA, France, Germany, the UK & numerous other nation-states – a demand for change is in the air, however, where this change will come from is difficult to discern because of two factors, namely the Left-Right split itself (neoliberals/neoconservatives now deemed ‘Moderates’ or ‘Centerists’ by the MSM) & the ability of the neoliberal/centerists to game the system in their favour.

      By way of example, in the UK Labour Party the membership at the grass roots are unable presently to actually select who they wish to represent them as MPs during any election process – we used to be able to do this, but Kinnock/Tony Blair changed the Rules, meaning, its virtually impossible to get rid of the neoliberal Rot that inhabits most of the Labour Party ranks at Westminster. Essentially, our elected Leader is detested by the majority of his own MPs, much like Trump is detested by most of Congress – this in a supposed democratic socialist Party. And by the way, the Left in the UK is now highly organised & highly active, and still our Elected Representatives within our own Party at the centre do not support our Leader – this was detailed in a BBC Two Documentary shown on UK TV earlier this week, which actually was commissioned to show the demise of Corbyn at the Election – we shocked them, but we did not win, we still have a Tory government & a majority of our own MPs who are openly hostile to their elected leader.

      1. DJG

        Christopher Dale Rogers: I think that Donna is pointing to the possibility of making important changes through political movements, campaigns of various kinds, and even through electoral politics, which is indeed corrupt. But in the U S of A, elections and electoral politics have always been corrupt. Just do a search for the Jefferson campaign of 1800 and see how he was treated.

        On this thread, there is an assumption that things may get violent. My byword these days is a proverb that may be Malay or Filipino: When the buffalo fight, the grass gets trampled. If you are indeed English, you know that your elites have been more than willing to make the common people suffer–perhaps even more so than our rapacious elites here in the U S of A.

        I have been to a number of political meetings lately in Illinois, where I live. I am used to seeing elections in Illinois turn into messes. I have voted for many wonderful candidates who were defeated. Yet the struggle goes on. And we may be able to pull off a Velvet Revolution yet. We just have to have a greater sense of our own power and of the ways of kicking down the rotten structure.

        1. Christopher Dale Rogers


          I’m not English, I’m Welsh, Wales being one of the 4 constituent countries that make up the United Kingdom, but well versed on our Elites and the Atlanticists that continually jump on US coat tails.

      2. financial matters

        “”our elected Leader is detested by the majority of his own MPs, much like Trump is detested by most of Congress””

        I would suggest that in the US, Trump was elected by an anti neo/lib neo/con population mainly focused on jobs and being anti war and that congress for the most part represents the neo/lib neo/con component.

        Not that I wouldn’t prefer Corbyn to Trump.

    2. oliverks

      I believe change is coming, and I too am positive about it. I don’t think the world is lost.

      The two tenets put forward by Laurie Laybourn-Langton, which I have changed slightly here are:
      1) Reduction of inequality
      2) Environmentally sustainable development

      These two footholds or ideas I do think are resonating with more and more people. Occupy did so much with the phrasing of the 99% vs the 1%. While the movement was crushed, that terminology changed mainstream thinking.

      The idea of battling global warming is mainstream, but the tools, laws, and infrastructure are sorely lagging behind.

      I might add a third idea to Laybourn-Langton list. I think fiscal policy may become viewed as a much more important tool. You have MMT proponents and the new Keynesian’s who all believe the fiscal policy has become so stunted as to be depriving economies of needed long term investment. Obama did manage to push some light stimulus through in the 2009, which would have been impossible a few years earlier as an example. This idea is not orthodoxy yet, but I suspect the next crisis might force the world to change, as monetary policy would seem to be at the end of the road right now.

      1. Jamie

        “Sustainable development” was coined by the IMF and World Bank people to deflect and distort the basic message of ecological economics, i.e. that we need to stop “developing” everything and let some natural capital stay in the ground (or the ocean or the biosphere or wherever). I’m sure you are not using it that way, but it always sounds a little like an oxymoron to me when I encounter it. And it’s a measure of how much the voices of the World Bank have been amplified, and how much the voices of the ecological economists have been subdued, that it has become a common way to refer to sustainability.

        It’s a bit like passing environmental laws that allow polluting by purchase of a permit. They intend to allow development (i.e. the consumption of natural capital) but by linking it to the word ‘sustainable’ they pretend they are properly concerned and “doing the right thing”. Environmental sustainability != sustainable development. “Sustainable development” pretends you can have your cake and eat it too.

        1. oliverks

          We need to allow development, it is part of the human spirit, and it punishes the weakest if you don’t allow it. For example, housing in the UK is pretty horrible for those at the bottom of the ladder.

          As much as people hate the idea, we need to harvest resources from the environment. You have to accept humans need food, warmth, and shelter. That takes resources to accomplish. But societies need to provide more than these basic needs by now.

          We need to look towards how we balance the needs of society today, with the needs of society in the future. That’s not an easy task, and a miscalculation could have catastrophic effects, but it is our responsibility to find a reasonable path forward.

          1. HotFlash

            We need to allow development, it is part of the human spirit, and it punishes the weakest if you don’t allow it.

            Hmm, that sounds to me as if we need to have banquets for rich people so that the poors can have crumbs.

            1. oliverks

              OK so lets say we have a country with 100 families and 100 houses. Over time the country grows, and now we have 200 families, but only 100 houses.

              Who do you think is going to be living in the 100 houses?

              As populations grow, we need to continue development, or the poor will end up living in worse and worse conditions.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                Which means that if populations don’t grow any more, we will not need to continue development any more.

                If organized humankind can stop population and consumption growth all over the world, then “nature” will not have to step in to do it for us. If we don’t do it the easy way, then “nature” will step in and do it the Scanner way.

  8. TG

    Yes, well said as usual.

    However, one notes that “neoliberalism” is not a set of ideas per se. Neoliberalism is rather a mindset, a process, of selling out to wealthy patrons and saying whatever they want said, predictive power and logical consistency and historical evidence be damned. It is kept in place by the exercise of brute power. It changes what it calls itself to suite the intellectual fashions of the day, to camouflage itself as a caddisfly larvae covers itself with sticks and pebbles. It will not be displaced by mere ideas or movements, but only if the patronage networks supporting it dry up.

    And as others have suggested, it may be too late. A global population explosion, aided and abetted by the almost total censoring of all things demographic, looks now almost certain to cement in place an economy where there are too many people and not enough to go around, and a technology that is both starved of real investment capital and in the zone of diminishing returns will not be able to snap us out of it. We will return to the libertarian paradise of the dark ages, where there was a handful of feudal lords, and an army of landless peasants who had no choice but to labor for subsistence wages or starve. Under such conditions the few lording it over the many becomes automatic – because supply and demand – and the need for intellectual whores like Milton Friedman etc. will fade away.

  9. John Wright

    Per historian Walter Scheidel:

    “Violent shocks are the only factors capable of significantly reducing resource inequality (for a while)

    ‘Violence: Mass mobilization wars, Transformative revolutions, State collapse”

    “Demographic contraction: Pandemics”

    “Other factors are exotic or ineffective (abolition of slavery, migration, financial crises)”


    If historian Scheidel’s understanding is correct, the reformation of the world by changes in economic understanding will come to nought.

    Stable systems, like the USA’s cobbled together financial system, tend to increase inequality.

    I suspect that ecological collapse may be a 5th factor that Scheidel does not mention, perhaps because there are few examples (Mayan collapse after long drought, Easter Island deforestation).

    But now the world may be looking at a WW ecological collapse of an extent never seen.

    I believe the profession of economics will have little impact on future events as it is a tool of the elite who provide the salaries of most economists.

  10. David

    Three different things here, I think. One is economic theory, the second is what economic policies we want to pursue, and the third is how to get them implemented.
    Back in the boring days of the 50s and 60s, economists were rather like engineers, and spoke in language people could understand about how the economy actually worked. They explained that, just as a balloon inflates when you pump air into it, and deflates when you take it out, so does the economy. A combination of physics-envy by economists from the 1970s onwards, and the contemporaneous opportunity caused by the oil-price shock and inflation to destroy the post-war consensus, resulted in the present mad situation., which in that limited sense suggests that generational issues are involved. But we don’t need a new theory of how the economy works, because we know how it works. If you doubt that, just look at the (predictable and predicted) results of austerity. After that, it’s a question of what policies you want to pursue and for what purposes, which is a political and not a technical question. Finally, there’s the matter of implementation. Sensible and redistributive economic policies came about essentially because of fear: fear of social collapse and revolution between the Wars, the need to mobilise for World War 2, and the fear of the attraction of the Communist system afterwards. The system will not revert to something sensible unless elites get afraid again. On that, I think we have to say that there may be some progress but the evidence is inconclusive

  11. DJG

    This comment is important from within the article:
    “In turn, non-mainstream academics can become marginalised, further reducing their ability to publish work at the highest level. Meanwhile, economic curricula at secondary schools and universities remain grounded in the mainstream and so new generations of economists are largely moulded in the image of previous generations.”

    As someone in the biz, I know that one of the textbooks in use in the U S of A is by Mankiw, which may as well be a throwback to feudalism. I’m not encouraging you to be helicopter parents, because the teachers and professors with whom I work have had more than enough of helicoptering, but it may be worth your asking which book is in use: These days, many high schools encourage students to take an econ course. Would you let your high school use fundamentalist Christian textbooks with Noah riding a dinosaur? Why not check to see which creaky econ book is being forced on your scions?

    1. David

      The point about “previous generations” is wrong, of course, and explains some of the confusion of the article. Textbooks of the 1960s did not suffer from these problems of unreality. What we now think of as the “mainstream” is actually very recent.

      1. Grebo

        The current mainstream’s dominance is recent, but it is a resurgence from decades in the wilderness after the Great Depression, which it caused.
        Its roots are in the 1880s when it was commissioned by the Robber Barons to counter the unwelcome turn that classical economics had taken with Marx, Mill and George.

        1. JBird

          When studying political economy/philosophy/science with some exceptions it is all all the writers that came before, and including, Karl Marx that are helpful. Most of the major writers since the middle of the Second World War go from limited to complete BS, and I don’t mean that I disagree with them. There are plenty of people I disagree with but I respect their ideas. No, these people mainly contruct economic and social air castles and then insist that reality must match the castles or reality itself is wrong, not the castles. Massive amounts of money is spent to make us not believe what we see with our own eyes.

      2. Oregoncharles

        Yes, the 60s were when I took Economics, and I don’t recognize the field as it is. Hmmm – I should ask a couple of classmates who are economists what they think of it.

        Ironically, Samuelson’s son, whom I went to high school with, is a neoliberal pundit.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    This post begins by asserting Neoliberalism failed “in both theory and in practice” and yet “neoliberalism remains the dominant perspective of most commentary and policy-making … countries around the world.” … “How does a paradigmatic shift come about?”

    As soon as I spotted the word “paradigm” in this post I immediately discounted the rest of it. The post offers up economic schools to contest Neoliberalism: institutional — post-Keynesian economics — behavioral economics — complexity economics. I don’t spot any potential winners here.

    I did spot a fundamental and disturbing misunderstanding of Neoliberalism further down: “… an increased role for the state in economic and social management was incompatible with individual freedom.” Square that with the government bailout of our failed financial sector — propping up the same bad actors — followed by the government’s Quantitative Easing policies. Regardless of what they say Neoliberals are not libertarians.

    The post closes with a plea for diversity and more power and opportunity to the younger generation and near the very bottom: “… we can no longer afford to follow a ‘common room theory of change’ – that if you win the intellectual argument, you change the world.” Finally something to hint at a potential for optimism — however slight.

    “Many came away from the conference [INET] feeling disappointed, doubting whether much new economic thinking has been done, or whether it would make a difference at this crucial time.” Based on this post I can only agree with that sentiment.

    1. Grebo

      As soon as I spotted the word “paradigm” in this post I immediately discounted the rest of it.

      Oh dear. How would you have reacted if it used the words “world-view” or “mindset” or “weltanschauung” or “ideology” instead. Just because stupid managers misuse a word doesn’t mean it has no proper use.

      INET, being a Soros front, seems to be a co-opting effort. I think this became apparent to many who attended their conference so its influence will wane.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe my comment indicates I read well past the occurrence of the word “paradigm” and gave what was written its due. I have a particular enmity toward the word “paradigm”. I don’t agree with Kuhn’s analysis of scientific revolutions and I strongly dislike the widespread adoption of the word “paradigm” to suggest something as revolutionary as Kuhn’s notions of cataclysmic changes in scientific dogma. I believe science and other fields change in much more complex ways than that. Currently, I am attracted to the idea of scienfific thought collectives which inspired Mirowski’s views on the ascendance of Neoliberalism. [However I must confess I haven’t read the sources Mirowski refers to.]

        I was working as a programmer/software engineer when the object-oriented people came out with their new “paradigms”. After that I had to listen to the word over and over in mindless sales and marketing literature for every shiny new tool or process my management latched onto.

        As for the other words you listed — I believe “world-view: is a translation for “Weltanschauung” both of which smack of Hegel’s Weltgeist with helpings of warmed over Marxism and a bit too much Metaphysics. On the other hand “mind-set” strikes me as bland and colorless.

        Sorry if I sound agitated. I am broiling over the Neoliberal effort to end net neutrality and reading this post didn’t help much. I kept thinking of Mark Twain’s quip.

        I didn’t realize INET was a Soros tool but it makes sense.

  13. Oregoncharles

    Yesterday I mentioned Transition Towns as a movement that could help with the transition of Brexit, and today here it is, the second link in the article:

    Am I psychic, or what? What: the whole movement is intended to make communities more durable – “resilient” – in hard times, and Brexit will involve those. In particular, it builds self-reliance – “autarky.” It’s an answer to globalization and its ills.

  14. Oregoncharles

    (Before reading the comments, so please pardon duplications)
    ” the chaos of a British government mired in scandal, presiding over a collapse in our international influence at a time when nations need to work closer together than ever before.”

    Ironically, this might be a silver lining to Brexit, however poorly it’s being done. While the EU embodies some important progress, such as the precautionary principle and a bill of human rights, sadly lacking in British law, it also embodies neoliberal economic doctrine. Indeed, its stagnation since the Great Financial Collapse is among the strongest proofs against neoliberal policies. In order for Britain to become a hotbed of new economic ideas, it would need precisely the independence it’s moving toward – albeit badly. The continued influence of neoliberalism may be one reason the Tories have proven so incompetent: they’re deeply conflicted – as, indeed, Labor would be.

    Sovereignty will come at a high price (if it comes – I suspect a plan to cancel Brexit after making a mess of it, if you can call that a plan), but it would open doors. Maybe the lack of “trade agreements” will prove to be a silver lining. Remember that the Left generally opposes them, as they’ve become the strong right arm of neoliberalism.

    OTOH, I think he’s implying that the alternatives are far from ready for prime time.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Neoliberalism is built into EU treaties and it’s undemocratic structure.

      Corbyn’s changes would be more difficult, if not impossible, within the EU.

  15. Altandmain

    The general public doesn’t even know what neoliberalism is. It is pseudoscience invented for the rich to rationalise a transformation back to feudalism and the destruction of the New Deal.

    Behind these supposedly objective neoliberal and libertarian think tanks, you will fund billionaires and other rich people trying to worsen inequality.

    The other issue is that the rich are not going to be letting go if neoliberalism. From their perspective, it has worked very well. The culture of the quarterly corporate profit is not going to care about the implications of global warming.

    Personally I like Michael Hudson’s ideas about the economy, but the question is how to get the public to understand how badly they have been screwed over by the rich.

    There are other barriers. The top 10% or the so called professional class has thrown its lot with the ultra rich as well. They are likely to oppose any changes too.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      You hit on one of the problems with posts like this. Neoliberalism is NOT an economic theory. Responding to its arguments with economic theories is a losing proposition.

      1. templar555510

        How I agree with you Jeremy . I am so tired of the idea that there is an ‘ economic ‘ solution to this blindness. There isn’t. And by focusing on one it actually strengthens the neoliberal system . And it is systemic of that much I am sure, but this system embraces every aspect of our contemporary life because it is all pervasive . I am reminded of the prisoners in Stalin’s Gulags who somehow managed to keep hold of little scraps of the Gospels which they clung to as light in there all pervading darkness. We live everywhere now in such a prison and so must cling to whatever scraps of truth come our way like comments like yours on this blog.

    2. financial matters

      I agree that neoliberalism is a vague term for the general public. I think it’s useful to break it down into 3 parts.

      Deregulation, Privatization and Cutting Back Social Services.

      Each of these can resonate well with the public.

      Deregulation: there is too much red tape
      Privatization: private industry is more efficient than the govt
      Austerity: we can’t pay for all these nice social benefits

      Counters: we need rules to protect the vulnerable, (and they need to be enforced),
      it’s good to have the govt involved in such things as water distribution, transportation, etc, we can pay for medical care, pensions etc, it’s a matter of priorities

      1. skippy

        The main points of neo-liberalism include:

        THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.

        CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.

        DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminsh profits, including protecting the environmentand safety on the job.

        PRIVATIZATION. 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. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had 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 — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

        1. Jim

          A slightly different interpretation of neoliberalism.

          The Rule of the Market: “Free” Markets do not occur naturally. The political goal of neoliberals is not to destroy the state, but to take control of it, and to redefine its structure and power. Neoliberals recognize they need a strong and powerful state to create and maintain the freedom of corporations.

          Cutting Public Expenditures for social services: Using the state to redefine the structure and power of the state.

          Deregulation: Using the state to redefine the structure and power of the state.

          Privatization: Using the state to redefine the structure and power of the state.

          Eliminating the concept of the public good: Using the state to redefine its structure and power in order to create a completely market friendly culture. Neoliberals understood that they must seize power and use all the tools of government to get the government to impose the ideal market on a recalcitrant populace.

          1. skippy

            The corner stone of it all rests on rational agent models [ideological preference] wrt price establishing truth ™.

            disheveled… too rub salt into that gaping intellectual wound is game theory e.g. anti social musings from sociopaths, but hay, the maths are elegant…. barf~~~~

        2. Jamie

          Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.

          The first time I ever heard the term ‘privatization’ was in reference to the breakup of Ma Bell, the former U.S. telephone monopoly. You’re absolutely right that the main effect is concentrating wealth, but that was also the beginning of the crapification of everything, which I think I will call the main “side-effect”.

        3. nonclassical

          “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

          Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.”

  16. Jim

    A fundamental assertion about neoliberalism in this article is inaccurate.

    “Members were united in their conclusion that an increased role for the state in economic and social management was incompatible with individual freedom.”

    Neoliberalism has always involved strong governmental power in economic and social management. In fact, the political goal of neoliberals is not been to weaken the state but to take control of it and then to use the powers of that same state to create a broader market-friendly culture. Neoliberals have completely succeeded in imposing, through the instrument of a powerful state, a general philosophy supportive of only markets.

    Under neoliberalism the power of the state has continually increased not decreased, just ask the powerful bureaucratic leadership embedded within our contemporary military establishment and the intelligence communities.

    1. Grebo

      I think you’re both right. Neoliberals use the state for their ends but refuse to use it for ours, claiming that our concerns will be taken care of by the market (which they will use the state to create, ssh).
      It was certainly MPS member’s view that “collectivism” was incompatible with individual freedom. Unfortunately what they meant by “collectivism” includes what we mean by “democracy”, and what they meant by “freedom” is what we call “exploitation”.

  17. Paul Hirschman

    Nearly 80 years ago, Karl Polanyi pointed out that the so-called “self-regulating market,” a feature of human life thought to be “the state of nature” and thus outside ordinary politics, no where emerged in human history without the conscious use of state-managed violence. From the enclosures in England to current neoliberal “privatization” plans, state violence everywhere stands guard to ensure that all human beings live according to their so-called nature. That any thinking person could not see the contradiction here is the sign that we are dealing with class ideology. There is no new insight here…it’s meat and potatoes left-wing thinking, and has been so for generations. The fight here is not about economics; it’s about class power, as it always has been. Every heard of Karl Marx? The young generation needs to re-learn what the Old Moor had to say about the class engine of world history, and adapt it to current conditions. Lenin was wrong for all the right reasons. Maybe we can get it right this time around.

      1. Jessica

        Imitating other peoples’ attempted solutions fails.
        Find one’s own solutions (which includes learning from others’ experiences) can succeed.
        When I look way back on the 60s, the role of corporate musicians in pointing us toward consumerism and away from challenging power seems malign to me in a way that I did not notice then. Even though we collectively had a significant role in selecting which musicians would become multimillionaires.

        1. Paul Hirschman

          Bismarck famously told his fellow conservatives in the 1880s that if you want to defang the Social Democrats, just give workers social insurance. This the logic of our New Deal, which did a great job defanging radical voices in the US. Millions of working class families gained hope through State programs like free college, homeownership, social insurance, forty-hour work week, unemployment insurance–all of which were tremendous accomplishments of the Left. But the larger reality, unfortunately, is that these victories came at the cost of sapping Americans’ energy, focus, and solidarity to fight for still greater control over their world (read the dreaded “consumerism” plague). Not to mention our national blindness when it comes to military/foreign affairs. While these victories were being won, the Right used its economic “rents” from industry/FIRE to build the substantial reactionary edifice that took over the country in the 1980s. These economic “rents” are the pillars of reactionary politics, and, sadly, they are also at the heart of New Deal programs. My question is how can anyone expect reactionaries to give up these rents without a nasty fight–you know, the kind that goes on in the streets? New economic theories are all well and good, but they can just be ignored as long as these rents are paid. (Michael Hudson is right about so much along these lines, but his name isn’t on any cereal boxes yet.) The mistake of current reactionaries is that they’re getting greedy and are scoffing at Bismarck’s wisdom. (But new types of repression are now available that weren’t in Bismarck’s day, so maybe they can get away with it all.) Professors will not lead the charge. Revolutionaries will. (Of course I don’t claim to be one, but that doesn’t keep me from seeing the need for them.) How do you see us ordinary folks getting control of these all important rents? (Leninists did it, and then lost the game when the Party simply took control of the rents for itself.)

          1. Jim

            Your comments at 4:24P.M. yesterday and 8:51 today leads me to believe
            you may be skeptical of a traditional social democratic strategy for changing American society.

            Taken the catastrophe of Leninism, and the apparent lack of self-confidence in the contemporary American Left to suggest anything other than then a repeat of the always failing electoral struggle to take over the terminally corrupt Democratic Party, what do you see as alternatives?

            I used to have some hope in a more modern bottom up movement similar to what happened with the Populist movement of the 1880s-1890s where people who actually worked the land created the cooperatives of the Farmers Alliance and an ingenious subtreasury plan. This grass roots movement of hundreds of thousands of farmers emerged out of a powerful institutional base of cooperatives exchanges, lectures, a reform press, wagon parades, mass rallies and picnics etc–in other words a genuine type of counter-culture which seemed to give that movement enough self-confidence to transcend traditional political thinking and real institutions (cooperatives and proposed subtreasuries in a multiplicity of rural counties) to potentially have real democratic control from the bottom.

            But now what?

            1. Paul Hirschman

              Despite the valiant efforts of people like Yves Smith, elites in the West are not likely to be anything but serious obstacles to creating a healthy world society. In the sixties, Paul Sweezy thought the center of serious thinking and feeling about post-capitalist society would have to come from Africa, Asia, Latin America. He was right then–how much more does his insight apply now!. There is no other place where there are enough people with the potential to imagine, organize and fight for an alternative to mindless, self-destructive, capital accumulation. We Western lefties can help, but leadership will not come from here. From the here and now, I just don’t see any serious ideas or popular sentiment about how to take the trillions in unearned rent in the world economy and use them to move humanity away from the suicidal path it is on.

              The West produced welfare capitalism, which has seen its day. Perhaps Humanity is finally at a point where there really is no non-capitalist part of the planet left, which means everyone alive is being educated in the ways of mindless capital accumulation. Now it’s up to the billions of folks outside the West to imagine, organize and fight for a world in which productive capacity is used to satisfy genuine human needs and desires. If I’m still around, I’ll do whatever I can to help, as I’m sure everyone who reads this blog will do. Western history has to become part of World History, and the sooner it happens the better, for everyone.

              We could benefit from an economics movement that thrives on the potential of people who have so little to lose and so much to gain from getting beyond mere capital accumulation. If the “periphery” cannot become the “core,” then Latin America, Africa, South and East Asia, will just become consumers of Humanity’s self-immolation. I think those folks know how stupid it would be for them to go down that path. The capitalist crucible of Asia, Africa, and Latin America will produce the minds and souls needed to imagine and do what a delirious West cannot possibly accomplish. The fact that this outcome is far from certain, and one that would produce only cynical mirth in (either) Cambridge, Wall Street, and Brussels, should not indicate anything to us other than that the West cannot imagine any other than TINA. Two billion people who live only to feed mindless accumulation are not as likely to accept TINA as we Westerners are.

  18. gerry

    Reading about economics ideas in the 90’s, I saw that many ideas necessary for a well-functioning economy were known in the 1930’s. It seems that the ideas are there but the institutions are not. I think that property rights are key. The right came up with Law and Economics. The left needs to work on novel and well-elaborated property rights that promote communitarian sustainable values. To my mind, that is where the work needs to happen.

    1. JBird

      The ideas, laws, institutions, social and political organizations, all the reforms from the 30s to the 60s have been attacked, and often eliminated, using money connections, and influences of much, but not conservative individuals and institutions. It has been a continuous effort of over eight decades.

      So the left and even some of the conservatives, created all this, only to be defeated by an often secretive, often very conservative even reactionary people using the state and federal governments, hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars ( the exact amount cannot be known because of clandestine even illegal methods of concealment) as well as police, FBI, CIA, and others.

      Many would think this is crazy talk. I wish it was.

  19. norm de plume

    ‘How does a paradigmatic shift come about?’

    Visiting my ailing uncle Jack I asked him when he gave up smoking. He said ‘when the ambulance arrived’

  20. David

    MMT in explaining the realities of how monetary systems work in this day and age is a good starting point for the paradigm shift and provides an intellectual underpinning for economic policies for the future I would think…

  21. Jessica

    Economics directly serves the top levels of wealth and power.
    When those holding power on behalf of elites change direction, economics follows, not visa versa.
    Although there are many sincere individual economists, to talk as though economics as a whole is a sincere pursuit of truth or of benefit to humanity as a whole is to participate in a propaganda exercise, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

  22. Tuan

    The revolution in economic thinking is already here, it’s called Modern Monetary Theory. Just Google it, and start learning macro economics PROPERLY, and how the monetary system ACTUALLY works in reality as compared to the neo-liberal fairy lala land of the last 33 years.

    And yes, you will have to do the hard lift yourself, because the current orthodox neo-liberal economists that infest the corridors of economics departments at universities don’t have a clue themselves.

  23. Schofield

    The really weird thing going on today is the failure of the Neoliberals/Libertarians realizing their Hayekian and Misesian economic and monetary theory has been substantially reduced to garbage by China which has achieved its current position of the world’s top economy in purchasing power parity terms by pursuing a mixture of Keynesian and Lernerian economic and monetary theory:-

    “NotProgressive” Comment. 30th April 2010. :-

  24. Sound of the Suburbs

    Let’s learn from our mistakes.

    Why did globalisation go so wrong, what’s missing from neo-liberalism’s, neoclassical economics?

    1) The effect of debt on the economy. Leading to Japan 1989, US 2008, Irish and Spanish real estate collapses, Greece’s collapse with austerity and the new normal of secular stagnation.

    Today’s neo-classical economics was around in the 1920s and it had exactly the same problem. Debt based consumption and speculation led to the roaring 20s and the debt deflation of the Great Depression.
    The build up to 1929 and 2008.

    2) The difference between “earned” and “unearned” income. Leading to parasitical rentier economies, now spotted by one of today’s Nobel Prize winning economists “Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might” Angus Deaton.

    A flawed model of global, free trade that doesn’t consider the minimum wage is set by the cost of living. Western labour is priced out of global labour markets by the high cost of living in the West exacerbated by rentier activity.

    3) Bank credit should be directed into productive investment in business and industry, not blowing asset bubbles (e.g. real estate) and other financial speculation.

    The new experts are:

    Steve Keen – Minsky moments and affects of debt on the economy

    Richard Koo – After the Minsky Moment, studied 1929, Japan 1989 and 2008.

    Richard Werner – Money and debt, bank credit and how it must be allocated for economic success, studying Japan around 1989

    Michael Hudson – The history of economics, the difference between earned and unearned income

    In brief.

    They resurrected really bad 1920s neoclassical economics that has the same flaws it’s always had.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Recognising it was just a rehash of the 1920s, Keynesian demand side ideas should pull things back in the right direction until we can come up with something new.

      Countries should follow their own ideas and the best will make themselves apparent.

  25. Scott

    What I am working on is a vision easily grasped as the aim. Find myself as counter revolutionary in the sense that the aim is Post WWII world that continued for the White conforming world till the ’70s.
    Economics of the US contributing to strength were dependent on Glass Steagall & as long as that is made null & void instability reigns.
    We had a fairly good system that included Unions.
    Finite image of the US Treasury must be destroyed & reasons to trust Wall Street must be recreated.

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