How Neoliberalism Is Normalising Hostility

Yves here. Even though this post paints with very bright colors, I imagine most readers will agree with the argument it makes about the destructive social impact of neoliberalism.

Some additional points to consider:

Neoliberalism puts markets above all else. In this paradigm, you are supposed to uproot yourself if work dries up where you live or if there are better opportunities elsewhere. The needs of your family or extended family are treated as secondary. And your community? Fuggedaboudit. And this attitude has also led to what is arguably the most corrosive practice, of companies treating employees like tissue paper, to be trashed after use.

Companies have increasingly adopted a transactional posture towards customers. This shift happened on Wall Street as a result of deregulation in the 1980s (Rule 415; if anyone cares, I’ll elaborate in comments). The reduced orientation towards treating customers well as a sound business practice, and merely going through the form is particularly pronounced at the retail level. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to go through ridiculous hoops merely to get a vendor to live up to its agreement, and even though I am plenty tenacious, I don’t always prevail. It didn’t used to be anywhere near this bad. And this is corrosive. Not only are customers effectively treated as if they can be abused, the people in the support ops wind up being on the receiving end of well deserved anger…even though they aren’t the proper target. The phone reps are almost certainly not told that they are perpetrating an abuse (which then leads to the question of who in the organization has set up the scripts and training with lies in them) but for certain types of repeat cases, they have to know their employer is up to no good. I am sure this is the case at Cigna, where at least twice a year, I have a problem with a claim, the service rep says it should have been paid and puts it in to be reprocessed…and I typically have to rinse and repeat and get stroopy about it, meaning the later reps can see the pattern of deliberate non-payment of a valid claim and continue to act as if they can do something about it.

By Couze Venn, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Theory in the Media & Communications Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Associate Research Fellow at Johannesburg University. His recent book is After Capital, Sage, 2018. Originally published at openDemocracy

From working conditions to welfare policies, from immigration to the internet – this zero sum game of winners and losers benefits only the far right.

Image: Homeless man with commuters walking past, Waterloo Station, London. Credit: Jessica Mulley/Flickr, CC 2.0.

The hostile environment is not just about the Windrush generation in the UK, or the harassment of migrants at the Mexican border in the USA, or the unwelcoming treatment of refugees trying to reach Europe. It has become ubiquitous and widespread. We encounter it in many aspects of daily life. In worsening conditions at work such as zero-hour ‘contracts’. In obstacles to accessing social and health services due to cutbacks, making people’s lives more precarious. Online threats and trolling are other signs of this normalisation of hostility.

The normalisation of hostile environments signals a worrying and global shift in values of tolerance, empathy, compassion, hospitality and responsibility for the vulnerable. It’s a normalisation that was criticised recently in the UK by UN Poverty Rapporteur Philip Alston, who described how “punitive, mean-spirited, often callous” government welfare policies were contributing to an “increasingly hostile and unwelcoming society”.

There’s a pattern to hostile environments that harks back to the 1930s and 40s. As we know, at the time, those targeted were considered as the enemy within, to be subject to expulsion, exclusion and indeed, genocide, as happened to Jews and other so-called ‘inferior races’. In more recent time, the iterations of this discourse of the alien other who must be expelled or eliminated to save the ‘pure’ or ‘good race’ or ethnicity and reconstitute the broken community have found traction in Europe, the USA, Rwanda, India, parts of the Middle East. In its wake, refugees have become asylum seekers, migrants are labelled illegal or criminal, cultural differences become alien cultures, non-binary women and men are misgendered, and at the extreme, those targeted for violence become vermin. It marks a shift in political culture that inscribes elements of fascism.

Why has this atmosphere of hostility become the default position in politics? What have been the triggers and what are the stakes in this great moving rightwards shift? One may be tempted to identify the change in mood and attitudes with recent events like the election of Trump in the USA. But the far right has been on the rise in Europe, the UK and the US for some years, as seen in movements like the Tea Party, UKIP, or the National Front in France. They have been given a boost by the flood of refugees generated by wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, parts of Africa, as well as by the spread of fundamentalist religious creeds that have an affinity with forms of fascism.

Why? Two related sets of developments that from the 1970s have gradually altered the political terrain. Economically, globalisation emerged as an integral part of a transnational corporate strategy aimed at securing advantageous conditions for the consolidation of global capital at a time of risky structural changes in the global economy. And politically, neoliberalism took hold when the crises of the 1970s started to undermine the postwar consensus in the Keynesian mixed economy and the role of the welfare state.

Globalisation saw the systematic deployment of outsourcing production in countries offering cheap labour, minimised corporate tax burdens and other incentives for transnational corporations, and the invention of the trade in derivatives (financial mechanisms intended to leverage the value of assets and repackaged debts). They contributed to the 2008 crash. The general public were made to bail out the banks through increased taxation and the establishment of policies across social services that produce hostile environments for claimants seeking state support.

As Ha Joon Chang has shown, by the 1990s, financial capitalism had become the dominant power, prioritising the interest of shareholders, and incentivising managers through share ownership and bonuses schemes. The disruptions due to this recomposition of capital have been a global squeeze on income, the creation of a new precariat, and the debt society. People who feel insecure, abandoned to forces outside their control become easy prey to demagogues and prophets of deceit who promise the return of good times, provided enemies and outsiders who wreck things are expelled.

Meanwhile, neoliberal political economy gradually became the new orthodoxy, increasing its impact through right wing thinktanks and government advisors and spreading its influence in academia and economic thought. Its initial success in terms of growth and prosperity in the 1990s and turn of the century consolidated its hold over the economy until the crash of 2008.

What is important here is the radical shift in values and attitudes that recall utilitarian values in the 19th Century. In particular, it is reflected in the neoliberal hostility towards the poor, the weak, the destitute, the ‘ losers’, expressed in its denial or abnegation of responsibility for their plight or welfare, and its project of dismantling the welfare or providential state.

This pervasive atmosphere of hostility is the real triumph of neoliberal political economy. Not the economy – privatisation, monetisation, deregulation, generalised competition, and structural adjustments are immanent tendencies in globalised capitalism anyway. But neoliberal political economy reanimates attitudes and values that legitimate the consolidation of power over others, evidenced for example in the creation of an indebted population who must play by the dominant rules of the game in order to survive. It promotes new servitudes, operating on a planetary scale. What is rejected are ideas of common interest and a common humanity that support the principle of collective responsibility for fellow humans, and that radical liberal philosophers like John Stuart Mill defended. They were the values, along with the principles of fundamental human rights, that informed major reforms, and inspired socialism. The establishment of the welfare or providential state, and programmes of redistribution, enshrined in Beveridge or New Deals, draw from these same principles and values.

Neoliberalism has promoted a self-centeredness that pushes Adam Smith-style individualism to an extreme, turning selfishness into a virtue, as Ayn Rand has done. It is a closed ontology since it does not admit the other, the stranger, into the circle of those towards whom we have a duty of responsibility and care. It thus completes capitalism as a zero-sum game of winners and ‘losers’. Apart from the alt-right in the USA, we find its exemplary advocates amongst leading Brexiteers in the UK, backed by dark money. It is not the social democratic compromise of capitalism with a human face that could support the welfare state. Seen in this context, there is an essential affinity between alt-right, neoliberal political economy and neo- fascisms, punctuated by aggressivity, intolerance, exclusion, expulsion and generalised hostility.

There are other important stakes at this point in the history of humanity and the planet. We tend to forget that support for fundamental human rights, like equality, liberty, freedom from oppressive power, has long been motivated by the same kind of concern to defend the vulnerable, the poor, the destitute, the oppressed from the injustices arising from unequal relations of power. We forget too that these rights have been hard won through generations of emancipatory struggles against many forms of oppressions.

Yet, it is sad to see many institutions and organisations tolerate intolerance out of confusion about the principles at stake and for fear of provoking hostile reactions from those who claim rights that in effect disadvantage some already vulnerable groups. Failure to defend the oppressed anywhere and assert our common humanity is the slippery slope towards a Hobbesian state and great suffering for the many.

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83 comments

  1. Matthew G. Saroff

    Rule 415?

    I quick Google reveals it to be “Shelf Registration” which allows companies to time their stock offerings.

    Could you explain how this applies here?

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I happened to be at Goldman, in the underwriting department (stock and bonds) when Rule 415 was approved by the SEC. Goldman was blindsided.

      Before that, stock and bond offerings were time consuming and the lead manager on the deal played a critical role. The result was that the senior execs at the companies spent a lot of time with the employees at the lead manager and by business standards, they developed bona fide relationships Goldman, for instance, would do a lot of free work in the form of finance studies to help cement those relationships. I worked on several during my time in corporate finance.

      When Rule 415 was passed, the big bond issuers (banks and utilities) quickly filed “shelf registrations” which allowed them to issue bonds on a bid basis. Mind you, bond issuance was already a not very attractive business, with thin margins. As former Goldman chairman Gus Levy said, “In bonds you eat like a bird and shit like an elephant.”

      With Rule 415, power quickly shifted from the underwriting department (investment banking) to the deal lawyers and the trading floor. And due to the higher risk of not being able to pre-sell the offering, the companies didn’t get better prices on the underwriting (gross margins). They did get greater price certainty, but again, over time, it wasn’t clear that their efforts to market time put them ahead either.

      The historical greater profitability and prestige of investment banking had served as a check on Wall Street behavior, which was criminal only at the margins in the early 1980s. Reputation mattered in investment banking. With reputation mattering less than raw trading power, there was less reason to care about good conduct.

      Reply
      1. sanxi

        Consider. The left remains overwhelmingly hostile to the single greatest expression of democratic will in modern times. Its leading lights and many of its elected representatives have pursued a relentless campaign to undermine the desire for self-determination —  both by attacking the capacities of ordinary voters and in recoiling from the idea of self-determination. Lincoln would say “liberty” & “Union”. For, sure right now we have neither.

        Reply
      2. sanxi

        Consider. The left remains overwhelmingly hostile to the single greatest expression of democratic will in modern times.[6] Its leading lights and many of its elected representatives have pursued a relentless campaign to undermine the idea of self-rule — both by attacking the capacities of ordinary voters and in recoiling from the idea of self-determination

        Reply
        1. flora

          The left remains overwhelmingly hostile to the single greatest expression of democratic will in modern times.

          I think the ‘left’ has fallen victim to believing the neoliberals usage of democratic terms means what the left assumes they mean, when they do not. The neoliberals use democratic terms only as a lure to disarm demcratic (small ‘d’) proponents and sucker them into voting for things the anti-democrates, aka the neoliberals, are just waiting to pounce on. imo.

          [Neoliberals] have adopted the language of conservatism, and have successfully hijacked the Republican Party in the process, but they are not conservative in the traditional sense. Most people would not support the movement’s extreme libertarian vision if its adherents didn’t couch it in appeals to a benign personal freedom.

          The final prescription of Buchanan’s career was “constitutional revolution”—a rewriting of the rulebook to unleash free-market fundamentalism and prevent majorities of voters from ever being able to effect change. This revolution would turn the Constitution’s checks and balances into locks and bolts, and can be heard in present-day calls by Republican governors and legislators for a convention of the states to amend the Constitution.
          https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/nancy-maclean/

          Reply
  2. Karen

    Each of us must do everything we can to lead by contrary example–showing greater compassion, greater care & responsibility for those who are disenfranchised from our modern systems. Just as we must lead by example in reducing our carbon footprints, within the practical constraints that each of us faces in our daily lives.

    That’s not a substitute for official action or drastic change in our policy frameworks–but as a spur to it. Leading by example, shaming the “powers that be” with the power of grassroots change–isn’t that how all great movements started?

    It may not be enough, it may not work. But regardless, it is an essential first step, and allows each of us to feel that we’ve done everything we can.

    Reply
    1. sanxi

      As, emperor Franz said to Mozart “too many notes”. Distill your words to their essence. Now is the time for clarity.

      Reply
  3. Sam Adams

    I would be interested in your expanded analysis of rule 415 changes and the rise of hostility. I recall and internalized the law and theory from school lessons from the 80s in Corp finance and securities regs. It’s been a long time trying to unlearn them.

    Reply
    1. flora

      I’m interested in an expanded analysis, too. Details and specifics are the way to push back, I think. Neoliberals built this current financial world one legal detail at a time, where each detail became a platform to build the next legal detail.

      Reply
      1. sanxi

        No, it didn’t. ‘Morning in America’, was insidious. Why? Regun [sic], told those with ‘means’, or with the same such, that not only were the poor ripping off the rich but most importantly that the poor hated the rich, as in those the that had means and method of production had a right to be self righteous as in selfish and self centered. Once that meme was in play like all memes it went virtual. This inch by inch stiff is nonsense, they are only details of our demise, or current stare of affairs if you prefer, I don’t prefer. Now is not the time for the faint of heart. No, Trump is just another symptom not the cause of just how far we are forlorn.

        Reply
        1. flora

          I tried to follow your comment’s reasoning but got lost. (Too many notes.) Please restate using a more direct and linear format of terms and terms’ usage. Thanks.

          Reply
  4. bassmule

    TL;DR: This is what happens when an entire society decides that it should be structured as a market. The whole idea of ethics becomes obsolete. Whatever it is that you want to have or want to do, the only question is whether you have the money to afford it. If you do, life is without limits. If you don’t…well, what’s your problem?

    Reply
    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Or, perhaps neoliberalism is simply unfettered, or naked, capitalism?

      “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” – John Maynard Keynes

      Reply
      1. Robert McGregor

        Hey Wobbly, Great take on the name, “Naked Capitalism!” I haven’t heard how Yves came up with the name, “Naked Capitalism” for this blog, but isn’t that a perfect description of Neoliberalism? Great Keynes quotation also!

        Reply
        1. JEHR

          Or the naked could refer to all the revelations of how capitalism really works, i.e., transparency of money and how it works for profit-making.

          Reply
          1. WobblyTelomeres

            I don’t know. Your interpretation is at least as good as mine, that is for sure.

            Me, I suffer with the vision of a bunch of fat short naked bankers laughing holding hands and frolicking around Bohemian Grove.

            Makes me want to do bad things.

            Like, swap out their Gulfstreams for ragged out rental Cessna 152s.

            Reply
  5. juliania

    What is herein described is not progress. I put it down to two cardinal rulings by our not-supreme court: 1) Corporations are persons, and 2) Money is speech. Both are fallacies.

    Reply
    1. Robert McGregor

      If you are a Neoliberal elite, you naturally want to glorify corporations and money as much as possible . . . Corporations are “persons,” and Money is “speech.” Why stop there? How about, “Corporations are GODS, and money is TRUTH?”

      Reply
    2. Sufferin' Succotash

      Category errors. It was I believe Justice Byron White in his dissenting opinion in the Buckley v. Valeo case in 1976 who said that money is not speech, money is money. Speech is speech. Any sensible revisiting of that decision and all the campaign finance rulings since should start with those premises. That could happen sometime in the second half of the present century.

      Reply
  6. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Recently, I realized that a very dear friend of mind, is very high on the ASD spectrum. Although he is bright in many areas, he has the social understanding of someone between the ages of say 10 and 15. I pay him to do small tasks, and he’s always coming by he house to see if I have any work for him and applying for jobs stocking groceries, cleaning up, etc.

    It brought home to me something that psychologists and sociologists emphasize over and over again. It might be a cliche, but women “are” and men “do.” As long as men have a “purpose,” they feel valued, not only within but by their spouses, their partners and their parents and offspring.

    The most horrible collateral damage of neoliberalism, far beyond the “normalisation of hostility,” and perhaps ranking up with the greatest carnage ever wrought by the most evil dictator in history, is that neoliberalism, by its very essence, strips men of their purpose. Many dictators in history realized this truism, and however misguided, gave the men over whom they had influence, a purpose.

    In the U.S., the skyrocketing rates of men who feel they have no purpose is demonstrated by declining life expectancy, rising rates of male suicide, opiod and meth addiction, domestic abuse, and economic blight in large swathes of the country,

    I think FDR with the New Deal understood that if you give man a purpose, no matter how menial or marginal, not only they, but the nation itself, will thrive.

    And the subtext of the article above is that the “normalisation of hostility” does indeed give men a purpose, no matter what side of which divide they fall on.

    I write this as a layman but I would love to have those more expert than me chime in on the effects that macro policies have on the individual that reverberate upon society at large,

    Reply
    1. Robert McGregor

      Heelbiter, I love your take. Capitalism is the “Profit Paradigm,” and while within that paradigm, profits are supreme. So you eliminate jobs if profits increase. But this is self-defeating if jobs and purpose are supreme for human happiness–at least for men. My 91 year-old father still continues his paying career even though he has no need for profits. There are many with work that brings plenty of profits, but they find the work meaningless, so they are unhappy (think Corporate defense law, and general financialization)

      Reply
      1. Pookah Harvey

        Anthropologist David Graeber has written a book–Bullsh#t Jobs. It is an extension of an article he wrote for Strike emag. From article:

        This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told ‘but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?’

        If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc.)—and particularly its financial avatars—but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3–4 hour days.

        Video of Graeber describing different classes of BS jobs.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NE8Hyu8MYzU

        Reply
        1. nothing but the truth

          blackmail, especially by well paid govt employees, is rarely appreciated by the public.

          MTA personell expense is more than its (substantial) revenue. The tolls on the bridges go to MTA.

          Unions are just another interest group. They may have a function, but lately they have taken to rent extraction in the govt sector with a vengeance. Follow the money – they seem to be less and less interested in the pvt sector min wage worker.

          Reply
          1. redleg

            Graeber points out in his book that the first example people think of when out comes to BS Jobs are government sector, where the majority of them are actually employed by private sector. He then devotes a chapter to examples and statistics that back up his claim in addition to the examples noted in the rest of the book.
            It’s a must-read.

            Reply
          2. redleg

            In addition to the above, in the book he singles out ticket takers in particular and demonstrates that 1) those jobs are not BS, and 2) taking tickets is not the main task these people perform.

            Pretty much every thing you mention, as both general concepts and particular examples, are discussed in detail in his book.

            Reply
  7. Chris

    I carry care packages in my work vehicle to give to people who need them. Packaged food, tylenol, fluids, gloves, clean socks, tooth brush, and sanitary pads. I go into a lot of rough areas so I give them out when I can. They’re usually appreciated. And I give cash to the people begging on corners too. I don’t feel threatened and I’m not worried about my safety.

    But today was different. The weather was awful and the people begging at an intersection I was stopped at were rushing cars and threatening the drivers. I feel like things are changing.

    Reply
  8. shinola

    From the wikipedia entry on the movie “Wall Street” (1987):

    “…the film has come to be seen as the archetypal portrayal of 1980s success, with Douglas’ character declaring that “greed is good.” It has also proven influential in inspiring people to work on Wall Street, with Sheen, Douglas, and Stone commenting over the years how people still approach them and say that they became stockbrokers because of their respective characters in the film.”

    I’ve long considered this movie to mark the point where what is now called neoliberalism became mainstream. “Greed is good” became an inspiration rather than an ironic warning.

    Reply
    1. Lobsterman

      In one scene of that movie, Charlie Sheen is lead out of his brokerage in chains, sobbing.

      You gotta respect anyone working that hard to miss the point.

      Reply
      1. Off The Street

        Some missed the significance of that chains scene while they digested the message about the Hal Holbrook character, still ‘chained’ to the desk. (scare quotes intended) That was an early whistle-past-the-graveyard indicator and cautionary tale pointing out his cardinal sin of missing out and not getting out early enough.

        Who knows what corners could be cut by younger, impressionable viewers? Combine that message with that other little 1987 crash event on Wall Street with abrupt layoffs and other carnage, and influence a generation.

        Reply
  9. Judith

    The article in today’s Links “10 reasons the Gilets Jaunes are the real deal” is I think a useful companion piece to this article.

    From the article:

    “The fundamental reason the Gilets Jaunes differs from any colour revolution or indeed any major revolution of the 20th century is precisely the manner in which this alternative diversity functions. The Gilets are making their own meanings within their own spaces of appearance: ‘where they are seen by others as others are seen by them’ (Arendt 1958). And they are making it through discussion.

    Furthermore, these meanings are under their control and are held in common by the Gilets whatever their other differences. As the writer says “We’re all different with different ideas, but we have a common goal, We’re a lot then in a big family we fight but we meet every week”. This sociality creates meanings as an outcome of communal being-ness in common[10] and these meanings remain under the control of the Gilets who made them. Differences, for instance over seeking election to the EU parliament, are simply tolerated.

    Diversity of response and opinion is seen as a strength, not a weakness. There is no ideological template applicable to every context.[11] Instead, as an anonymous ex-French Intel guy said last week on Le Media, one roundabout is full of young people, another full of black bloc, another full of older people and they are all talking with each other. Through this sociality and commonality, meaning is produced and then held communally because participants inside varied and infinite contexts (spaces of appearance) and repeated actions of sociality act these meanings in common. Focus is centred on their common interest i.e. the impossibility of existing in today’s France. Everything else is fluff.

    Every week these participant meanings are sustained, built upon and maintained through more actions of sociality, more discussion and more actions. Communal meanings held and actioned in this way produce social power; because actioned meaning in common is precisely what social power is!”

    Reply
    1. ChristopherJ

      The world will not sit by and watch them win (ie the French elites will not cede to their demands). Too much at stake, Judith.

      The flics are being ordered to shoot their own (peacefully, protesting) people and to ignore the violence of right wing groups (some of which are being financed by powerful interests). How long they can keep doing the thuggish bit for the rich remains to be seen, but the GJs cannot win or they provide a template for us all.

      They are essentially outlawing peaceful protest, making such gatherings a criminal offense.

      And, we are all sitting on our own hands and watching it all unfold. Few of us can see that we have a lot of skin in the game here.

      Reply
  10. voteforno6

    I recently watched the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It’s odd, in that the deep, dark secret revealed about Mr. Rogers is…he really was that nice of a person. This stands out, particularly in this day and age.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Mr. Rogers’ message will resonate long after those TV and media pundits are long gone, the ones asserting that he was all but undermining western civilization or similar hysterics. Think of him as representing a type of polar opposite of that recent ‘no money in curing sick people’ theme.

      Golden Rule 1: Do unto others… :)
      Golden Rule as revised: who takes the gold makes the rules :(

      Reply
    2. Arizona Slim

      Pittsburgh native here. And, as a young adult with a bicycle and a nagging sense of curiosity, I heard something that was absolutely fascinating:

      Mr. Rogers lives on Beechwood Boulevard in Squirrel Hill!

      So, I decided to embark on a mission: Find his house!

      For several years, I rode up and down Beechwood, trying to locate the place. I never did.

      Many years after I left Pittsburgh, I came across this article:

      https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/7/26/17616380/fred-rogers-documentary-2018-mister-rogers-neighborhood

      There, in that article, was the information I had been missing while I was pedaling along Beechwood Boulevard. I just plumb wasn’t on the right stretch of street. Oh, well.

      Reply
      1. Unna

        Saw the Mr. Rogers documentary the other night from a hotel room while we were traveling. Don’t otherwise have a TV. The documentary was wonderful. Fred Rogers was the real thing.

        Reply
    1. Barry

      Agreed. Along with

      – Dark Money by Jane Mayer

      – Various articles by Philip Mirowski about Neoliberalism’s moral/ideological framework, e.g. “This is Water or is it the Neoliberal Thought Collective”

      (I’ve gotten part-way through Mirowski’s The Road from Mount Pelerin, but while it is full of the scholarly history of the neoliberal movement, it is not the best place to get to the summation of his understanding of what neoliberals are about.)

      Reply
        1. rfdawn

          Yes, fascinating to read how far back the globalist attack on national democracy goes. Also, depressing to close that book and realize how far it has succeeded.

          Reply
      1. ChristopherJ

        Thank you, Barry. Accords with my own experience reading economics at ANU in the 80s.

        Instead of studying the history of economic thought, no, we needed strong maths to do the statistics units, and were compelled to study computer science, accounting and law.

        So, I graduated as an economist, but had little knowledge of politics or history and had been fed lie after lie, particularly on how money works.

        So, he is right, economists will not be leading the charge against neoliberalism. Most of them do not understand the concept at all

        Reply
  11. David H.

    “harassment of migrants at the Mexican border in the USA, or the unwelcoming treatment of refugees trying to reach Europe.”

    Reference the above quote, maybe the neoliberals don’t realize that not everyone wants more immigration. Why do some folks consider “Mass Immigration is good” as the standard default? And everyone else who does not agree gets labeled as a racist or any one of the various names liberals use to “shame” folks who disagree with them.

    Reply
    1. Watt4Bob

      … maybe the neoliberals don’t realize that not everyone wants more immigration.

      And

      Why do some folks consider “Mass Immigration is good” as the standard default?

      Neoliberals want more immigration to provide low-cost workers for the corporations they own, and invest in.

      Neoliberals mostly don’t own up to supporting more immigration because they know it’s not popular with the working class whose wages are pushed ever downward by competition with low-cost immigrant labor.

      Neoliberals use every trick imaginable to blame ‘liberals‘ for the problems caused by the immigration issue by blaming them for lack of control over immigration, and the ‘liberals’ for their part make this easy by complaining loudly about the way immigrants are treated, but doing nothing to stop the flow of low-cost labor, because by-and-large, their political $upporters profit from that low-cost labor.

      I’m going to stop here to explain an important piece of the puzzle, there are no conservatives, and there are no liberals any more. Both words have lost all usefulness other than in name-calling when neoliberal pols point fingers at each other and fling insults meant to confuse us into thinking they care about us.

      I think you need to consider asking neoliberals why they shipped our jobs to China, why they hate organized labor, why they allow so much criminal activity by Wall $treet bankers, why they impose dictatorial rulers on other countries and bomb them to rubble if they don’t cooperate. and why they are making voting more and more difficult here at home while they loudly proclaim they are making the world safe for democracy.

      The republicans and democrats both cooperate in all this neoliberal garbage, and all the while insist that we accept the fairy-tale that they are offering us two different plans.

      They are not offering us different choices, both parties are force-feeding us the plan that neoliberals invented, and paid for, and as an extra added bonus, they are feeding us a line of bull about where and how this plan originated.

      This plan originated in the blind, hysterical impulses of the very rich to become even richer, and the willingness to do anything to accomplish that goal, even if it means burning the world, and all of us to a cinder.

      Reply
      1. Alfred

        Yes, indeed. All of the neoliberals I know call themselves “conservatives.” But “liberal” as an epithet is losing its sting. Last night at a dinner party, one of the self-styled “conservative” guests referred to Nancy Pelosi as a “liberal communist.” So much for civility at table. The neoliberal project backed by such “conservatives” would be ludicrous, or I’d settle for just sad, if it wasn’t so downright evil.

        Reply
        1. Cripes

          Alfred:
          Surely you are aware that attending dinner parties is very Risky Behavior that puts you in proximity to Ayn Randians and the ethically challenged.

          Reply
        2. redleg

          Most of the neoliberals I know are fiscal conservative “blue no matter who” Dems who are currently obsessed with “RUSSIA!!!!!!!” and punching left.

          Reply
    2. Temporarily Sane

      Harassing immigrants at the border is pretty vile and extremely shortsighted. Talk about punching down. If you are angry about the negative impacts of immigration take it out on the people and organizations that make living in the countries immigrants come from so miserable that people feel they have no choice but to take their chances doing menial work in the wealthy northern countries. Start with the IMF/World Bank and architects of “free trade” deals.

      Have you considered that people would rather stay and earn a decent living in their home countries rather than risking life and limb, and putting up with a litany of abuse and indignities, sneaking into the United States to do low paid work with few if any legal protections?

      The lack of empathy on display in our society for the plight of others never ceases to dismay me.

      Reply
      1. Cal2

        Therefore refusing entry to all illegals from these countries would force a change in their government. Rather than being able to export 1/5th of their working age males, and receive tens of billions per month in remunerations, Mexico and other countries would face internal revolts that would topple their bad governments.

        Edward Abbey, the great environmentalist said

        “Poverty, injustice, over breeding, overpopulation, suffering, oppression, military rule, squalor, torture, terror, massacre: these ancient evils feed and breed on one another in synergistic symbiosis. To break the cycles of pain at least two new forces are required: social equity – and birth control. Population control. Our Hispanic neighbors are groping toward this discovery. If we truly wish to help them we must stop meddling in their domestic troubles and permit them to carry out the social, political, and moral revolution which is both necessary and inevitable.”

        “…if we must meddle, as we have always done, let us meddle for a change in a constructive way. Stop every campesino at our southern border, give him a handgun, a good rifle, and a case of ammunition, and send him home. He will know what to do with our gifts and good wishes. The people know who their enemies are. “

        Reply
        1. Joe Well

          Rather than being able to export 1/5th of their working age males, and receive tens of billions per month in remunerations, Mexico

          The United States is experiencing net-negative undocumented Mexican immigration (more are leaving than are coming in).

          As to your argument for illegally denying asylum to refugees, let me rephrase it in historical terms you might understand better: “If the Germans aren’t allowed out of Germany, they’ll have to stand up to the Nazis…”

          I love the NC commentariat, and I love that people are not genuflecting to mainstream identitarian orthodoxies and are following the money. But some commenters are crossing the line into being plain old anti-immigrant.

          Reply
      2. Skip Intro

        if immigrants weren’t treated badly by cops, employers, and many of their neighbors, they would be less desperate for work, even worse, they might make common cause with the locals whose wages they undermine.
        So not only does neoliberalism openly want globalized wage pressure and free flow of ‘human capital’, it also benefits from hostility between wage slaves.
        Divide et Impera

        Reply
  12. Alex

    I’ve had relatively little experience of interacting with customer service in the US but my experience was very much positive. If this is the crappified version of what it used to be I’m really impressed.
    In Russia, on the other hand, I would say that markets and liberalism have led to significant improvement of customer service over the last couple of decades.

    Reply
  13. Another Scott

    The increasingly transactional nature of business cuts the other way too. Companies routinely expect their suppliers, including small businesses, to jump through hoop after hoop. Gone is Net 30, replaced by Net 45, 60, 90 or 120; all to squeeze extra interest by not paying. Some procurement departments are now viewed as profit centers

    Reply
    1. Cal2

      A hospital called a friend the other day and offered him a 25% discount on their fees if he paid for an operation with a credit card ahead of time, versus billing the patient after negotiating the patient responsibility with the insurance company and then billing the patient.

      They will eventually get the same amount of money, is the time value of it worth 25%?

      Reply
    2. Andrew Thomas

      Absolutely true, Scott. And it was done for precisely the purpose of making the accounts payable departments profit centers. It started about 30 years ago, when short term interest rates were much higher and profits to be made larger.

      Reply
  14. Barry

    When you have a lot of property (i.e. when you are an Individual), the only thing scarier than all the envious greedy people out there are envious greedy people banding together.

    The whole neoliberal project is about fighting off the threat of collectivism, and you do that by dividing everyone against everyone else.

    Individualism is an essential component of their belief system because it both justifies them not having to be responsible for the well-being of society and it seeks to convince the masses that they are all on their own.
    Hostility is a feature, not a side-effect of the neoliberal project.

    Reply
    1. Monty

      Yes. The myth of the individual denies the role of fate in our fortunes. There are very few who get what they truly deserve and even less who could go it alone.

      The way I see it; I could just as easily been ‘the other’ and they could have been me. I just got lucky, and I keep that in mind when I interact with others.

      Reply
      1. Cripes

        Ah, yes, the Just World Fallacy, Hippie Karma, Horatio Alger, self-made men born on Third Base and Social Darwinism appear together on this week’s episode of American Hells Kitchen’s Bachelor Island Idol Bake Off.

        As always, may the worst win.

        Reply
    2. notabanker

      I watched the first 5 minutes of the Marianne Williamson TED talk yesterday after reading about her in the comments here and this is why I turned it off. Lots of inspired passionate talk of how America has overcome social injustice since it’s inception, but the ultimate goal is still this self realization of the American dream.

      It all seemed a rather twisted version of the same neolib outcomes.

      Reply
  15. freedomny

    I’ve noticed this normalization of bad behavior in my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances. Those that are neoliberal and pro-capitalism are almost always the first to be cruel to other people. Not only that, if you point it out to them, they really don’t get what the issue is. Some of their behavior and actions that would have been frowned upon years ago, are now considered OK….

    The process seems to have sped up after 2008, at least from my perspective.

    Reply
  16. Aloha

    I too see so many negative attitudes and angry people in the last couple of decades. Being a green lib. I tried very hard to raise my children with the same values but seem to have failed miserably. They are now in their early 40’s and have such neoliberal views that I don’t even recognize them anymore and haven’t seen them for years. I am an old woman with MS and I live in a rural part of HI on the BI and they live in CA. I am terrified of having to move into a retirement home and so I will probably skip it. (not that I could afford it if I wanted to)
    A couple of days ago the US Army was dropping “harmless” bombs nearby in target practice for hours. It really shook me up. The only way that I could calm myself down was to watch some old reruns of Mr. Rogers!! Above comment from Voteforno6 I’m with you!!!

    Reply
    1. Avalon Sparks

      I’m sorry to hear that about your children. I see that happening quite a bit lately in my circle, a few young people I know just dropping deliberately out of their parents lives. Narcissistic approach in this ME, ME, ME generation. It makes me sad for the parents. Hugs x0x0

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I am so sorry about your children. But I recall reading that as much as parents try to instill values, children are at least as much influenced by their peers and school authority figures when growing up, and you can’t do much about that.

      Reply
      1. Olivier

        And isn’t that the best argument for home schooling? When the culture is sick and depraved you must implement your own Benedict Option, even if you are not a religious person, and that starts with home schooling if you have children.

        Reply
  17. Susan the Other

    “Failure to protect the oppressed” is the beginning of the end. For one thing a high level of hostility within society makes it ever harder to manufacture consent. We are witnessing this trend. It was identity politics, the darling of Hillary, that gave the election to Trump. And look over there! It’s Nancy Pelosi advocating “Charity” – (that’s so obscene). Don’t tell her now, but charity is a voluntary thing. It is not policy. Oh, but I forgot, she’s a master legislator who has been busy passing laws since the 80s so she knows all about this stuff. And she was there at the beginning. What a fine job, Nancy. Now, just so you know, charity is not in your wheelhouse… charity is spontaneous giving and I’m sorry to disillusion you but you can’t legislate that. But not to worry. La dee da, la dee da.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      On charity. Another member of the commentariat posted this a while back, and I snipped it for future use:

      “I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion if not society, than that of trying to make charity do the work of justice.”
      — William Jewett Tucker

      How deeply ironic that Tucker was the 9th president of Dartmouth College, the same institution that spawned Tim Geitner.

      I’m thinking of getting a whole bunch of stickers printed up with that quote, and putting them up around campus.

      Reply
  18. Inode_buddha

    I would say it is not so much normalising hostility, as it is inviting the spirit of conflict and contention. From this naturally arises hostility. It is the spirit of the devil,- “My will and not thine be done”. It is a large part of what is destroying society, by first destroying individuals and families.

    Reply
  19. Govt Sachs

    Neoliberalism, the 40+yr. global economic policy, is an ideology founded by libertarian economist and Austrian aristocrat, Friedrich von Hayek and promoted by libertarians Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, the Koch brothers and others.

    Since the 2008 financial crash, it’s been thoroughly discredited as a viable economic policy. During this zombie decade of rudderless leadership, only MMT (modern monetary theory) has entered the economic arena with sage advise, how about economics sans ideology?

    “A lot of money in the system is, indeed, bank credit, but this is only because our government is eternally running an austerity program, constraining net issuance of its own currency, and thereby increasing demand for bank credit.

    Austerity is, in short, a policy to subsidize the financial sector by creating [artificial] currency shortages.”

    In the US, both political parties today are dominated by this failed libertarian radical right, fueled mostly by the Koch donor network. Their idea of liberty actually depends on economic inequality. It’s their “human right”.

    “Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch and its executive director for 12 years, doesn’t hide his contempt for the idea of economic equality as one of the key human rights.

    Neier is so opposed to the idea of economic equality that he even equates the very idea of economic equality and justice with oppression—economic rights to him are a violation of human rights, rather than essential human rights, thereby completely inverting traditional left thinking.

    Here’s what Neier wrote in his memoir, Taking Liberties:

    “The concept of economic and social rights is profoundly undemocratic… Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights.”

    Neier here is aping free-market libertarian mandarins like Friedrich von Hayek, or Hayek’s libertarian forefathers like William Graham Sumner, the robber baron mandarin and notorious laissez-faire Social Darwinist.

    As with Neier, William Graham Sumner argued that liberty has an inverse relationship to economic equality; according to Sumner, the more economic equality, the less liberty; whereas the greater the inequality in a society, the more liberty its individuals enjoy.

    It’s the fundamental equation underlying all libertarian ideology and politics—a robber baron’s ideology at heart.”

    Reply
  20. The Rev Kev

    Over the years it has been commented on locally how Aussies are hardening up as a people and I too blame neoliberalism for this. To think that I would live to see some of the worst practices of the 19th century hauled out of history’s trash can and buffed up again for use in the 21st century is disgusting. You cannot run a society on Social Darwinism as in the long term it is both fragile and unsustainable and yet we are in the middle of a world where our elites think that this is the way to go. That is what neoliberalism is at heart – Social Darwinism. When I think of the waste of people’s lives and talents by consigning huge sections of the population to the dumpster it is not only tragic but self-destructive as well. You cannot treat people as trash without reducing your own humanity as well. Something of you dies in you when you adopt these hard attitudes and make no mistake, there is always a price to pay – always. In spite of all the surveillance, all the technology, all the grifting, all the power plays and the like neoliberalism will pass but it will have left behind a colossal amount of damage to both our world and the people that live in it.

    Reply
    1. Big River Bandido

      Neoliberalism = Social Darwinism indeed.

      In our oh-so-modern, global “economy”, there are a handful of hunters.

      All the rest of us are prey.

      Reply
  21. VietnamVet

    The 1980s counter revolt was the intentional re-layering of the 18th century global economic aristocracy over the top of western democracies. All the contradictions and conflicts in the West arise from this. The elite ruled the world and did what they wanted. Society withered and the little people died earlier. I think the turning point was the NATO Coup in Ukraine. This forced Russia and China together. This is now a multi-polar world. The disasters of a World War or a 8.9 ft sea rise this century which is “physically plausible” together with overpopulation and resource depletion assure the end of civilization if humans do not learn how to cooperate. The first step is peace. Next are reversing deregulation and privatization in the West. Then, global public education and healthcare.

    Reply
  22. c_heale

    IMO we are facing human extinction due to climate change and destruction of other lifeforms. Neoliberalism is the precursor to a autocratic neofeudalistic society, which I’m pretty sure is coming. Whether this kind of society is flexible enough (and I doubt it – since autocratic societies aren’t usually flexible) to survive major crop failures around the world, and the consequential chaos, is yet to be decided.

    But the Mayan Empire, and the Cambodian Civilization around Angkor Wat didn’t survive environmental change and their civilizations were far less dependent on technology than ours is.

    Reply
  23. stevelaudig

    Limiting liability via limited liability corporations is a grant immunity and results in impunity. Limiting liability or these grants of immunity are the ‘greatest’ as in largest, not the best subsidies, those making the legal order have on offer and yet the consequences of this are, apparently, invisible to scholars as I’ve not been able to discover any literature on it but perhaps I am looking in the wrong places.

    Reply

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