Lambert here: This is an interesting, broad-gauge piece. I don’t know about “Neo-Illiberalism” as a neologism; it’s not euphonious. Just spitballing here, but perhaps “geo-fascism” or “globo-fascism” might do better. Perhaps debt + the platforms (both global, by the way) provide a functional replacement for the beatdowns of the “mass-based party of committed nationalist militants.” Scholars and students of fascism please comment!
By Reijer Hendrikse, a postdoctoral researcher based at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. Originally published at Open Democracy.
As the coronavirus and its political combatants hold the world hostage, it is pertinent to scrutinize the (geo) political and economic context within which the pandemic has emerged. Many analyses view neoliberalism as the culprit, having given rise to a dismantling and marketization of public services such as healthcare for which we are now paying the price. The virus confirms the bankruptcy of neoliberal capitalism, based upon global production networks of western corporations and Chinese factories, allowing the virus to spread across the globe. Alas, neoliberalism is in trouble once again, perhaps terminally ill.
That said, the death of neoliberalism has been pronounced before, not least in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis, from which it however quickly resurfaced stronger than before. Moreover, western neoliberalism has witnessed a significant mutation over the last years, not least to better accommodate the changing logics of global capitalism.
The coronavirus offers an opening to change the world for the better, not least by undoing decades of neoliberalization to give vital professions in health care and education the appreciation they deserve. Unfortunately, as detailed in Naomi Klein’s 'The Shock Doctrine', crises also offer ample opportunity for the established order to realize ambitions which are inconceivable in normal times. The global political economy before the outbreak of corona was defined by the rise of a global billionaire class, tech platforms, and illiberal(izing) nationalist politics, having jointly propelled a novel wave of (geo) political-economic restructuring which I have called neo-illiberalism. What will be the effects of coronavirus on this new status quo?
The New Normal
Alongside the 2008 financial crisis, the votes for Brexit and Trump have often been described as ruptures to the neoliberal status quo. But as in the wake of 2008, the aftermath of 2016 also brought about more of the same: more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, more environmental and financial deregulation, more cuts in public services i.e. more policies of neoliberal signature. That said, the politics peddling the same neoliberal policies has substantially changed. Where preceding waves of neoliberalization have been variably executed by centrist parties, seeing the center right commit itself to progressive politics in exchange for center-left support for economic neoliberalization, since 2016 a new alliance has emerged between center and far right, seeing the latter mainstream as center-right parties such as the US Republicans and UK Conservatives have steadily radicalized themselves, thereby forsaking their erstwhile commitment to what Tariq Ali has called ‘the extreme center’. Notwithstanding the fact that center-right parties co-produced the neoliberal world order, they have since come to reinvent themselves as nationalist challengers to the ‘globalist’ status quo, which they habitually present as leftist.
Where preceding waves of neoliberalization resulted in the limitation of democratic control over economic policymaking, the present nationalist wave captained by Donald Trump and his copycats is defined by efforts of political illiberalization, brazenly seeking to undo the institutional setup of liberal-democratic checks and balances, seeing legislative and judicial branches of government subjected to a power-hungry executive. Wider societal counter-powers are also under attack, from academia and media to NGOs, along with attacks on a range of constitutional basic and/or fundamental rights constraining the illiberal exercise of absolute power. While this development heralds the end of progressive neoliberalism, political illiberalization ultimately still protects the encasement of global capitalism, the core aim of the neoliberal project.
The rise of neo-illiberalism might be compared to a virus, whereby western liberal democracies increasingly come to resemble illiberal democracies and (competitive) authoritarian regimes elsewhere. Where illiberalizing regimes in Hungary and Poland are infecting the neoliberal European Union (EU) as a whole, not least because of center-right political cover offered by the European Peoples Party (EPP), neo-illiberalism constitutes a fundamentally global phenomenon. For example, Brazil and India have recently embraced political illiberalization without rejecting neoliberal economics, whereas illiberal China and Russia have equally tightened their authoritarian rule. Amongst others, what unites these and other regimes is the mobilization of divisive nationalisms, seeing variegated ‘strongmen’ adapt state constitutions to their will, typically bulldozering pluralist political space whilst shielding the respective neoliberal interfaces between national economy and global capitalism.
To grasp the rise of neo-illiberalism we need to go back to the turn of the millennium, a time in which the various developments culminating in the neo-illiberal synthesis were put in motion. Next to the terrorist attacks on US soil which ignited the gradual mainstreaming of far-right narratives, the year 2001 is characterized by the entry of illiberal China into the neoliberal World Trade Organization (WTO). Meeting in serene Doha following the riots of Seattle, China’s WTO entrance heralded a larger geographical shift captured by the famous BRIC acronym (Brazil, Russia, India, China) coined that year by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill. O’Neill foresaw stronger economic growth in the non-west, and called upon western leaders to incorporate leading non-western states into key governance platforms, which was realized later that decade by elevating the Group of Twenty (G20) as the world’s leading forum on global governance.
Alongside the search for new markets and cheap labor, the 2000s were characterized by the ascent of the financial offshore world – a legal realm comprised of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions where corporations and the rich stash their cash and property – which became global capitalism’s central operating system by the turn of the millennium. Since then, offshore money from Russia and elsewhere flooded into cities like London, igniting a spending spree on real estate, football clubs, media conglomerates, and political influence. Amongst others things, the offshore world enabled spectacular corporate fraud, such as that which led to the collapse of US energy giant Enron, whose accounting gimmicks were copy-pasted by western banks, setting the stage for the financial crisis later that decade.
The final key development traced back to the turn of the millennium is the birth of digital platforms. Invented by Google as what Susanna Zuboff calls ‘an automated architecture functioning as a one-way mirror’, surveillance capitalism has since grown into a worldwide machine dedicated to behavioral observation, manipulation and modification, steadily enmeshing itself with the core logics of capital accumulation. Crucially, digitization accelerated the aforementioned trends: not only has digitization fueled global capital flight into offshore anonymity, it also augmented the mainstreaming of far-right narratives via YouTube and Facebook algorithms. Much like the invisible offshore world, the rise of surveillance capitalism largely went unnoticed, assisted by anti-terrorism legislation like the 2001 Patriot Act enabling far-reaching surveillance.
Growing up under the radar of the war on terror and financial turmoil, the first decade of the twenty-first century saw the birth of a fundamentally global, offshore, digitized and financialized hyper capitalism. Descriptions like shadow banks, phantom investments and dark money do not do justice to their role as fundamental building blocks of the new world. Amongst others factors, the offshore world was the ground zero of the financial crisis, where banks kept their toxic investments. This new world is the ‘home’ of trillion-dollar tech companies, who with other (shell) companies form an integrated web of corporate structures whose chief ultimate owners constitute a global billionaire class of approximately two thousand individuals and families. As such, this is also the world where neoliberal technocracy is increasingly fused with oligarchy. Due to the spectacular growth of income and wealth inequality worldwide, oligarchic enmeshment of the superrich and state power does not only define elites in Russia or the Gulf, but increasingly defines western states such as the US, where multibillionaire activists like the Koch brothers have effectively taken over the Republican Party.
Next to the economic recovery, the 2010s were defined by the increasing coalescence of financial and technology sectors. Within a development model labeled The Wall Street Consensus by political economist Daniela Gabor, an adaption of the neoliberal Washington Consensus within the framework of the G20, banks and financial institutions worldwide have come to embrace financial technology (fintech), driven by an insatiable hunger for personal data as raw materials for financialized surveillance capitalism. Crucially, where Silicon Valley long enjoyed a global tech monopoly, the 2010s saw the arrival of Chinese bigtech vying for global dominance. The western financial lobby has voiced its fears of Chinese platforms like Alibaba and Tencent, which they describe as all American bigtechs ‘rolled into one’ operating under tight control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These fears are not unfounded: where Facebook encountered many difficulties in building a global cryptocurrency, the Chinese central bank has developed its own alternative, and the CCP has recently ordered China’s banks and tech platforms to adopt it. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg: the American state has to play a more active role ‘otherwise our financial leadership is not guaranteed’.
Whilst the rest of the world has steadily bought into Chinese technology, the other BRICs have embraced (parts of) China’s digital strategy. For example, where a small minority of India’s 1.4 billion population had a bank account in 2014, this number has since risen beyond a billion. That said, these bank accounts are coupled to biometric personal data, and critics identify this policy as part of Narenda Modi’s political agenda to transform India into a Hindu nationalist surveillance state. Taken together, around the time the coronavirus made the first news headlines, the New York Times identified three competing visions on the future of surveillance capitalism: where the Chinese are ‘moving fast and breaking things’ without any regard for privacy and citizen rights, and the EU tries to make a moral point around privacy and consent, with the US caught in the middle.
Although ‘moving fast and breaking things’ is a good description for Xi Jinping’s China, it should be remembered that this philosophy has long guided Silicon Valley, where asking for forgiveness trumps begging for permission. The disruption of established industries, practices and processes defines platforms like Uber, operating without any regard for the law or basic decency. With the rise of western neo-illiberalism, moreover, this philosophy has also entered into government. Brexit, for example, is best understood as a process of continuous disruption of established political practices and procedures, from shunning press conferences to unlawfully closing down parliament. As The Economist noted: ‘The Tories’ disruptive strategies would not be out of place in Silicon Valley’.
Where rampant digitization has disrupted a range of established industries since the turn of the millennium, and set its sights on incumbent finance in the wake of the financial crisis, the 2010s are marked by tech’s infiltration of established politics. Where Facebook and Google place their own employees in US political campaigns ever since the rise of Barack Obama, an entire ecosystem of techno-metapolitical players has since grown up around these platforms: next to dedicated bots and troll farms there now exists a media network dedicated to mainstream far-right narratives, of which Breitbart News – financed by US billionaire Robert Mercer, captained by the identitarian demagogue Steve Bannon – is the most prominent. The adoption of far-right narratives by established media, whether global corporate players like NewsCorp or national public broadcasters, brought right-wing culture wars into the established arena of mass-mediated politics.
Other crucial players in this ecosystem are data analytics firms, like Cambridge Analytica (CA), again featuring Mercer and Bannon, as well as Palantir Technologies owned by US tech billionaire Peter Thiel. Where CA founder Alexander Nix was schooled at the elitist Eton College alongside David Cameron and Boris Johnson, Thiel not only enjoys the ear of Trump as advisor, but also those of Mark Zuckerberg as Facebook board member, where he kept the company from fact checking political advertisements. Where US journalist Jane Mayer speaks of ‘the Fox News White House’ to highlight the close relationship between Trump and the world’s second most powerful media magnate, in the digital age the world’s first Twitter presidency might equally be labeled the Facebook White House to emphasize the ways in which Trump has become a digitally mass-mediated virus enabled by the world’s most powerful media magnate. As argued by Trump’s digital campaign manager: ‘without Facebook we wouldn’t have won’.
The global rise of neo-illiberalism is covered with the fingerprints of tech firms: where WhatsApp-mediated memes helped Jair Bolsonaro assume power in Brazil, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte was an early adopter of Facebook’s political capabilities. Once in power, moreover, these ‘strongmen’ act like disruptive tech CEOs whilst demolishing liberal democracy, and embrace surveillance tools to anchor their rule: in India, for example, encrypted WhatsApp was recently found to be hacked, allowing Modi to track his political opponents. But although Israeli spyware and Russian hackers play an important role in the cross-border spread of neo-illiberal politics, to fully grasp the political possibilities of the digital age we need to redirect our gaze to Beijing, where digital technology is paramount in the exercise of social control.
In combining economic neoliberalization with illiberal political control since the late 1970s, the CCP has been one of the world’s neo-illiberal vanguards. Experts describe the governing ideology of the CCP as a curious combination of nationalism and Leninism, following China’s ideological rejection of both the French and Russian revolutions, which according to Wang Hui shaped up after the Cultural Revolution and was settled on Tiananmen Square. Crucially, the rejection of ‘two major emancipation movements – socialism and liberalism’ – is exactly what the western far right is after. In other words, what emerges under neo-illiberalism is a global ideological convergence. Just consider this: at the height of the so-called European ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, which accelerated the mainstreaming of far-right narratives across the west, neo-illiberal China also saw the emergence of its own Alt-Right lingo for ‘libtards’ or ‘regressive liberals’, with derogatory terms like baizuo (白左) i.e. ‘white left’ popping up across the blogosphere.
Since 2016, this cocktail of nationalism and Leninism has put its mark on the west, with nationalist projects like America First! and Brexit being guided by self-proclaimed Leninists, like Bannon or Boris Johnson’ advisor Dominic Cummings. Enabled by far-right culture wars informed by another communist – Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci – these disruptive Leninists have set their eyes on breaking down liberal democracy and the rule of law. To do so, they pretend to represent ‘the will of the people’, and relentlessly discredit the core infrastructure of liberal democracy, framing its key institutions as ‘enemies of the people’, ‘saboteurs’, and ‘traitors’. In the words of Bannon, the identitarian toyboy of the billionaire class: ‘Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment’.
Where economist Branko Milanovic foresees a global clash between two ideal type political operating systems in the twenty-first century – liberal capitalism captained by the US, versus political capitalism championed by China – in reality the two have already substantially converged. Reduced to its core, where China and the non-western world opened up economically in the image of the US and the west in the closing decades of the twentieth century, today you can tentatively argue that the US and the wider west are politically closing up in the image of China. The new synthesis is neo-illiberalism, which speaks to what Thomas Piketty views as ‘merchant nativism’ i.e. the marriage between neoliberalism and identitarian nationalism. Besides emphasizing a process of reglobalization rather than deglobalization, the rise of neo-illiberalism also suggests that the center of capitalist gravity has shifted: where parts of the traditional periphery have steadily assumed characteristics of traditional core countries, the west has witnessed a reverse process of what the late Immanuel Wallerstein calls semi-peripheralization. In the words of Martin Wolf: ‘as western economies have become more Latin American in their distribution of incomes, their politics have also become more Latin American’.
Where historian Neill Ferguson once spoke of ‘Chimerica’ to emphasize the co-dependent relationship between the world’s two superpowers, today we can identify the contours of what you might call 'Alibamazonia': a twenty-first century imperial federation of techno-nationalist states, i.e. a global alliance between nationalist ‘strongmen’ and digital platforms. The relationship is symbiotic, as the rollout of digital surveillance requires the rollback of liberal democracy by design, which in turn strengthens illiberal political rule. In the words of Susanna Zuboff: ‘surveillance capitalism takes an even more expansive turn toward domination than its neoliberal source code would predict … Though still sounding like Hayek, and even Smith, its antidemocratic collectivist ambitions reveal it as an insatiable child devouring its aging fathers’. Indeed, digitization and surveillance not only disrupt Smithian competitive markets, but also Lockean notions of private property, and ultimately threaten to undo all liberal guarantees of individual freedom.
Besides heralding a territorial shift from west to east, amongst others symbolized by the United Nations’ (UN) recent contract with China’s WeChat (Tencent) to streamline its digital communication, neo-illiberalism also heralds a fundamental reconstitution between national and global scales, respectively understood as public and private spaces, whereby decades of neoliberalization transformed the former in the image of the latter, whilst the latter has witnessed an extraterritorial shift into digital and offshore domains, giving rise to private capitalist power of vast proportions, eating away at national states and international state systems. This is the most banal explanation for the western rise of neo-illiberalism: where decades of neoliberalism effectively put up the west for sale, neo-illiberalism heralds the moment when neoliberalism’s ultimate winners seek to buy up and privatize government itself: ‘neoliberalism’s final frontier’.
Although coronavirus might be the final death knell to neoliberalism, it should be remembered that neoliberalism is a highly mutable ideology – well equipped to utilize its own failure for its advancement. Put differently, if neoliberalism is dying, we are looking at a slow-motion demise: where some identified its imminent death after the dotcom crash at the turn of the millennium, neoliberalism certainly lost its self-explanatory aura after the financial crisis of 2008. Accordingly, although still carried forward by a centrist consensus, western neoliberalism became more authoritarian. And where 2016 saw the centrist consensus collapse, seeing neoliberalism’s core economic project carried on by a decisive illiberal politics, the question is whether today’s coronavirus will bring an end to the economic project. For example, the key pillars of that project, such as global capital mobility and central bank independence, are still standing. Furthermore, although non-neoliberal policies might well be enacted to stem the virus, like introducing capital controls, these might be temporary measures to save the project in the long run.
That said, if coronavirus proves to be the final death knell to neoliberalism, which even the Financial Times alludes to, it still might prove a blessing for core features of neo-illiberalism. For example, where the virus is regarded as an indictment of neoliberal globalization, it nonetheless fuels the rollback of liberal democracy and rollout of digital surveillance. Indeed, for the world’s faux Leninists and tech billionaires the virus is the ultimate disruptive event to be exploited. Where the US Republicans have used the pandemic to legislate neoliberal tax breaks and deregulation, as part of a rescue package that trumps the 2008 financial bailout, we should not underestimate the extent to which Trump might exploit the pandemic for his own benefit, not least to escape the prospect of electoral loss and prosecution. Many ‘strongmen’ are embracing the virus to anchor their rule, not least Victor Orbán cynically exploiting the virus to accelerate Hungary’s transformation from liberal democracy towards illiberal dictatorship, with the EU once again looking the other way, thereby confirming its own neo-illiberal corrosion.
Where many countries have yet to setup mass testing capabilities to track the virus and create viable paths out of societal lockdowns, a whole range of states have watered down privacy legislation to digitally track the virus, including left coalition governments like Spain. In this sense, the virus has led to a reboot of neoliberalism’s famous TINA mantra – there is no alternative – because who cares about far-reaching surveillance when lives are at stake? As argued by Jamie Bartlett, ‘the looming dystopia to fear is a shell democracy run by smart machines and a new elite of ‘progressive’ but authoritarian technocrats’.
Mimicking core features of China’s fin-tech-state integration, Apple and Google have joined forces to allow governments to track the virus, whereas the US government has promised to rollout a digital dollar and wallet as part of its coronavirus rescue package. Indeed, the virus is a financial bonanza for tech companies, not least Thiel’s Palantir having signed a contract with the British National Health Service (NHS) to optimize data management. In one of his first acts to tackle the virus, Dominic Cummings invited all bigtechs to Downing Street. As noted in Wired magazine: ‘for Cummings it's big tech versus bad virus’. Palantir is currently in talks with governments across Europe.
Across the globe, the virus is spurring the development of digital apps, using locational data and facial recognition technologies to track population health and whereabouts. In India, Modi’s henchmen are forcing citizens to take hourly selfies to track the virus through their whereabouts, and non-compliance will result in enforced mass quarantine, where catching the virus seems all but certain. In so doing, coronavirus threatens to deepen the ugly face of neo-illiberalism, defined by mass incarceration programs, from Uighurs in China’s Xijiang to refugees indefinitely locked up along the Mediterranean and the US-Mexican border. And whilst the pandemic has yet to reach the world’s favelas and slums, threatening the lives of the most vulnerable, lax responses to the virus in the developed world characterized by defunded health care systems are making neoliberalism’s implicit social Darwinist inclinations shockingly explicit.
As the rise of neo-illiberalism signals profound geopolitical and economic shifts, the pandemic might well be utilized to rewire the world’s legacy operating systems. Are we moving towards a financial reset, which was due in 2008 but was postponed via monetary gymnastics? Will China liquidate its massive holding of US treasuries? Will the world’s superpowers ramp up the threat of war or will they compromise, or are we already looking at the contours of a new settlement? Furthermore, with the world economy falling off a cliff, and the worst still to come, many small-and-medium-sized enterprises are facing bankruptcy, whilst Amazon and a handful other bigtechs are massively expanding their businesses. What will the post-corona world look like? Will capitalism survive?
While we anticipate what might be coming, one of the biggest societal disruptions is the loss of conventional social exchange, of physical closeness and contact, as we are all locked up in our homes, forcing into digital interfaces, continuously leaking data into the expanding machine of surveillance capitalism. Although there momentarily is no alternative, we’d better make sure we seize the moment: the disruptive virus offers an incredible prospect for societal reprogramming, for better and for worse. Lest we forget that this crisis is not merely biological – it is deeply political.
Meaty stuff to digest on a Sunday. But very interesting. As to the ‘name’, I would suggest crypto-neoliberalism.
One key take for me from the events of the last few months is that its increasingly clear that when centrist/neoliberals are forced to make a choice between the far nationalistic right and the populist left or Greens, they will pick the former every time. It’s that simple.
I think its an interesting idea that political movements are being shaped by the techno-nationalism. Its certainly true that Tencent and Alibaba and Amazon and FB/Google have a lot in common, and will see their own futures as mutually enmeshed with nationalist right wing political movements. In China its very hard to see where Tencent ends and the CPP begins – if Biden wins I think we’ll see a similar enmeshing accelerate in the US (Trump being too slow to realise that he needed those companies as his friends). In a smaller scale, the same thing is happening in countries like South Korea. Europe is at a crossroads, simply because it doesn’t have those big data companies, so will face the prospect of keeping them at arms length, or becoming enmeshed in their tentacles, and so becoming a battleground for a sort of Huawai/Amazon battle.
I wonder if we are seeing a new schism developing between the large nations becoming variants of techno-nationalisms, with mid sized countries from South Korea to New Zealand to Norway to Canada and Chile, all trying to stay out of the fray, and perhaps co-operating in a sort of Hanseatic league of smaller States trying to maintain some degree of progressiveness.
PK: your last sentence is very interesting. I see those countries you mentioned as not yet being “cryto-neoliberalist.” I would like to think that they would co-operate in order “to maintain some degree of progressiveness.” However, our (Canada’s) proximity to the US makes it highly unlikely to last. Everything is so uncertain what with viruses running amok and climate change marching onward. Who knows what is next?
There is an optimum size. It’s not big and it’s not small. It’s somewhere in between. Gotta have something to do with the maximum maintainable human synergy – aka politics. Evolution seeks a central place to mutate, so for the sake of control, the wizards of our new crypto-neoliberalism might want to do a massive project to issue citizenship rights to the entire world. Digitally of course. For one thing, without individual human rights there can be no local or regional sovereignty. And there will never be a global sovereignty until human rights are guaranteed – traditionally by democracy but we have seen that it has it’s limits. But because there is a watershed whereby politics (sovereignty) always follows money it would be smart to look to the actual source of “money” which is… people. Whichever way they are grouped. A smart crypto neoliberal, smarter than Zuckerberg, would first shuffle the world’s nations, then shuffle all their citizens, and then, blindfolded, reach into the mix and pull out a name. Repeat until all the names are revealed – and each one is randomly put in a group to be called their “peer group” or stg. like that. And all groups are organizations of global peers with equal rights. And while that is being chopped up, a global system of civil/environmental justice can be established… gee this is sounding like a big project… maybe we should just stick with nations and give the smaller ones handicaps. This is making me tired.
Open uncontrollable boarders are a neoliberal goal partly for labor arbitrage, but also to reduce the power, by reducing its existence, of a nation-state to interfere with the creation and domination of powerful international organizations like the IMF, or those agreements like NAFTA. A new kind of economic colonization as ultimately it is being done by non-nation-states. An economic Westphalia done in reverse.
How about klepto-neoliberalism. In fact I think neoliberalism has accomplished about everything it can, so it’s straight back to medieval times, with climate chaos leaving us as a failed world, thus we get the dark ages. Unless of course people/citizens decided to take action. As far as the post, ah, you just can’t write like that. If he was a postdoc in my lab that never would have seen the light of day. I have no idea who the intended audience is, perhaps economists? The only thing missing was string theory. Historically, I do not believe that the history of neoliberalism rolled that way. It didn’t get better bigger & stronger after 2008 not based on any risk analysis I’ve read – everything become deeply destabilizing. Look kids in this country before the pandemic didn’t have enough food now many don’t have any short of begging and handouts. The guy confuses nationalism vs. Nationalist because he’s working his argument backward. Obtuse and sensational at the same time. While I’m at it, the only problem with democracy is there’s not enough of it. Fascism? Where? China? The EU? Nah.
Yes to all of the above.
Besides possessing even amplifying all the off-putting qualities of the term ‘Neoliberalism’ — its smeared meanings and usages, its inherent oxymoronity, its ill-coinage — the term ‘Neo-Illiberalism’ is quite unnecessary given that Neoliberalism is anything but dead. I believe the aftermath of the pandemic shows most uncomfortable promise of a great new age of Neoliberalism. As currently configured the ‘pandemic’ policies in the US will result in obliterating small and medium business, in widespread mortgage foreclosures, in personal bankruptcies, in evictions and homelessness, and in a permanent loss of jobs with resulting high levels of unemployment. The ruins will be grabbed up and consolidated by the large Cartels, banks, and financial corporations.
The rest of this post interweaves dozens of themes and sub-themes without a coherence I can perceive. The “key development” … “the birth of digital platforms” sounds cool — but what is a digital platform when you strip away the ‘cool’? It is marketing and media outlet. Are the “behavioral observation, manipulation and modification” really so novel or so much more effective? Is it more effective than the techniques of the Church practiced through early education and socially enforced worship? Does it really lead to more sales, or the formation of opinion any more effectively than radio or public speeches? Are the impacts of the ‘digital platform’ really as great and effective as Goggle and Facebook claim in their advertising sales literature?
Mass surveillance was well underway long before the pandemic. I don’t believe the pandemic offers any better excuse for extending mass surveillance than the excuses already used. The Internet and our phone systems offer ample hidden means to extend mass surveillance that need no excuses since no one notices them. The post riffs on about “rampant digitization” and “data analytics firms” as if they were critical tools of Neoliberalism. We live under the watchful eyes of government panopticons, created to maintain control over the Populace. But these panopticons are neither necessary for spreading Neoliberalism nor inherently Neoliberal in their uses. The panopticons are enabled by digitization but they are hardly necessary to control a population. The Gestapo was adequately served by neighbors, even family members informing on each other.
Neoliberalism is alive and well and flourishing. Neoliberalism is an ideology created for the Big Money by a large well-funded thought collective. It is designed to include multiple layers and contradictions. The “key development” was not the development of digital platforms — the “key development” was the sale of Government to Big Money. This purchase enabled the re-monopolization and consolidation of US Business, the Globalization of production, the complete enthrallment of Labor, purchase of Education, Science, and the Media — including the Internet highways.
“ One key take for me from the events of the last few months is that its increasingly clear that when centrist/neoliberals are forced to make a choice between the far nationalistic right and the populist left or Greens, they will pick the former every time”
That has been true since 23 March 1933, when the German center decided it would rather back the most vile, violent, radical Right rather than compromise with a moderate democratic Left. That’s the day that every single political party in Germany at the national level, except the Social Democrats and the (banned & illegal, and therefore absent from the vote) Communists decided it would be a good idea to give The Mustache the power to legislate by decree.
The Centrists backed Nixon, Reagan, & Shrub, the Trumps of their respective times, all manifestly unfit to govern.
And that’s how we got where we are.
As far as the name goes, I’ve got to pipe up from the peanut gallery and say, ‘neoliberalism’ has never been a good handle. After these many years, the average person is not familiar with it. It implies ‘some kind of liberal’ and it implies ‘no-harm-no-foul’. At this point progressives know it means Bad Stuff but nobody else does. We have gone from bad to worse by labeling ‘centrism’ as a bogeyman too, while most people find it a harmless descriptor of reasonable people whose views are neither leftist nor rightist. So it is no good as a better descriptor than ‘neoliberal’.
The enemy, across the whole spectrum, is corruption. Call the DNC brand of it something which the average person/voter can grasp.
‘Illiberalism’ is nothing new, but it is a useful term employed as it is here, in describing the drive toward globalized fascism. Fascism has been described as “the iron hoop that keeps the capitalist barrel from falling apart,” and the steady steps of regimes to circumscribe resistance today, paves the road towards crushing opposition tomorrow.
That may be one definition, but clearly it doesn’t work that way as in operate and to implement. Hitler and Mussolini didn’t have skin heads doing the heave lifting they had all unions buying into the master plan. And there was a master plan. Japan relied on a national code of conduct based on the Bushidō Way and a real hatred of the Chinese.
Yup, you can’t really argue with the substance of this. But the usual Open Democracy blindspot is visible for all onlookers to see, even if the author is apparently oblivious to it (although given the fancy footwork they need to employ to avoid it, you have to wonder if they aren’t all-too-well aware of it, but don’t want to risk disclosure and the resultant amplification).
Which is: somehow or other (and I really aren’t sure how the non-authoritarian left ended up being enmeshed and embroiled with the authoritarian left on this) the left as a whole has become synonymous with being some sort of Lockdown Taliban. Only the purest, hardline-ist, longest, unwavering-ist, toughest most lockdown-ey lockdown ev-ah is to be considered.
And it gets worse, folks. Having participated in the politicising of COVID-19 across national boundaries, demonising dissenting approaches such as Sweden’s and turning the rag bag of current-knowledge and scientific theories into weaponisable collateral to be factionalised and then acquired by and deployed by the right and the left in an ideological turf war, the left has collectively painted itself into an ideological corner from which it has no path to walk back from.
Proffering a policy response that is little more than lockdowns as far as the eye can see is hardly likely to have voters flocking to political parties which have hitched themselves to this wagon.
Or, they can try to wriggle their way out of this “There Is No Alternative” humanity-under-house-arrest position without obviously surrendering to the opposing stand-off with humanity-as-a-lab-experiment contrarians.
More likely, though, is the left will get bogged down, as it is continuing to do, in a war of attrition. Yes, the Lockdown Fetish left can wave shrouds at the “gramps will just have to jolly well take his chances if we are to be free” right. Neither is any better than the other. Neither is going to make a breakthrough in popular opinion.
Honestly, I’ve been involved in the left side of politics for ages. Ending up, apparently in perpetuity, as having set itself up for this sort of can’t-win self-imposed rigid positioning is as depressing as it is familiar.
Sounds like you are saying that the left has become intellectually stale and consumed with petty quarrels. Hard to disagree and I also think the obsession with, say, insisting that Sweden is wrong and that the lockdown consensus is right is an example of this. We are in a whole new situation with the novel coronavirus and therefore experimentation is necessary without reproach.
Yup, it’s just like the border conversation – no solution on offer, just critique with no dissent allowed. I keep thinking the cognitive dissonance will kick in at some point. But for now at least the “solution” is just to keep narrowing the scope of acceptable discourse.
What I find truly hilarious (and sad) is the faith in voting/democracy with the consternation about voters continuing to vote “incorrectly.”
Sorry to be the lone dissent on this, but the lockdown being turned into a “political weapon:” that is s curious way of looking at the situation. If it is a weapon, who is it being used against? (And by the left? Where is this left that is using the lockdown to attack its enemies?) I guess I don’t understand that part of it and perhaps I am completely ignorant of the situation. But it seems to me the lockdown is more the result of public health decisions, not some attempt to weaponize the situation and get even with anyone’s enemies.
I do think the pandemic response has been politicized though, but it seems to me politicization is being generated by those who encouraged fascist militias to carry assault rifles to lockdown protests at state houses, like in Wisconsin and Michigan. The politicization seems far stronger to me from people like Chris Christie, who want to force open the economy and claim everyone should just accept mass deaths (which will definitely include those we can consider our loved ones).
And maybe the pandemic response has also been politicized a little by some economists, who seem to think that because they know how to read a spreadsheet they can do this public health thing themselves far better than any old clutch of medical doctors.
The left are using the COVID-19 to bash the right (“you want to end lockdowns and kill people!”) and the right are using COVID-19 to bash the left (“you want to continue the lockdowns and kill people’s livelihoods and freedoms so life isn’t worth living!”).
The public — who are the voters, after all — are merely caught in the crossfire.
In the absence of political credibility and media credibility, public opinion will simply bypass both estates and make their own minds up. This is a societal lose-lose-lose. Neither the left nor the right look like they are capable of leading opinion or providing good governance. The media goes through the motions of ridiculing either the left or the right but ends up merely looking ridiculous itself.
This is the stuff of failed states.
The ultimate loser in this scenario is always the left. While the right may be deranged, the left is not only deranged, it’s deranged in a internal dissent-riven, factionalist and screeching banshee sort of a way. The right, which is merely deranged in an internally-consistent and unified way looks the least-worst by comparison.
This sounds more like bothsiderism. Where is the left “using COVID-19 to bash the right?” Do you mean some Twitter thing? Because if it is, this is definitely a case of “the right are doing something bad so therefore the left must be doing something too,” i.e. bothsiderism, which I would consider a mirage.
Like I mentioned above, the right is showcasing fascist militias in state houses, and their national politicians are calling for everyone to accept mass deaths so the economy can get back to growth. And what is the left doing, by your description it sounds like they are just getting behind the non-partisan public health response: the lockdown and social distancing. I mean, is there really more to it than that? I am trying to consider your argument carefully, but I’m not seeing the logic of it.
And besides, what do you mean, “the public” is caught in the crossfire? I would consider myself a leftist, am I not a member of “the public?” And as a member of the public I find the right is a palpable threat in this situation. A threat to me, my family, and my community. And as a member of the public I too find the lockdown hard, oppressive, and worrying, but not such a deadly threat. The lockdown is pretty much the only tool we have (and is not some scheme concocted by the left), and still simply do not see how this is some weapon being used to attack the right on any level that actually matters.
So the difference between the left/right “political responses” here: I don’t think those things are equivalent. And whether “the left is the ultimate loser”, you haven’t made clear what they should be doing that they aren’t already (should they have armed militias intimidating elected politicians and calling for mass death too?). You seemed to mention they should be “more open to options,” but you didn’t actually make a good case that they aren’t (again, is this some twitter thing? Because that is just the kind of mirage this looks like). I have simply not hear any leftists do anything by accept policies put forward by medical specialists.
Yes it is a Twitter thing. Or a comments section on websites thing. That’s where politics happens these days.
Have a read of those or pick some random websites of your own choosing. Then come back and try to tell me the left isn’t using COVID-19 to ding the right and vice versa.
And yes, it is bothsidesism. Because both sides are being as bad as the other.
Just because you don’t like it (and I don’t like it either) doesn’t unfortunately mean it’s not true.
No, it is an illusion of centrism (and face it: the Twitters is very much a factory of illusions): following the advice of public health specialists simply isn’t partisan “weaponization”. In fact, I would say the politicking involved here, which includes insisting that listening to medical experts in equivalent to armed fascists marching through state houses, is particularly egregious. As if centrists agree with those fascists and “mass deaths” are called for… at least that’s the only conclusion I can come to after such “bothersider” mystification. And that is exactly what this is, mystification of what is really happening. And when that is the case, one can only ask who really wins here? I think you’re right, it isn’t “the left,” and I would also say it isn’t the public alt large either.
If you — as you are doing — declare chunks of public debate, forums for discourse and particular places where arguments range as somehow beyond the pale and thus unworthy of being investigated and analysed, it’s beholden on you to say where, exactly, are “permissible” and “authentic” or otherwise unsullied outlets which you’re seeking to legitimise.
Of course, the Twitter mob and the Twitter echo chamber are scurrilous and often extreme outpourings of not-necessarily widely held views. And I certainly don’t read the comments section of, say, the Daily Mail (or the Guardian, for that matter) in a quest for balanced or reasoned debate. Or particularly high-quality contributions.
Nevertheless, that’s public opinion for you. That’s where it is, that’s what it looks like and that’s what it’s saying. You do have to be very — very — discerning and understand where the views are being aired, what the cohorts of the contributors are composed of in terms of class, wealth and backgrounds. But if you’re not capable of doing that, then I have to say that politics isn’t really for you.
And you’re also straying into elitism. You’re, in effect, saying that people who post on or read Twitter (and similar) are hapless, hopeless and ignorant victims of either endogenous or exogenous mystification — a phenomena that they are as powerless over as they are lacking awareness that they are being held inescapably in its thrall. Whereas, implied, you and other similarly enlightened souls are immune to this Siren call and, because of your superior discernment, you can safely ignore anything anyone says who has fallen foul of these nefarious forces.
Which is of course, choosing my words carefully, a load of old rubbish.
I can’t leave, finally, without mentioning your reference to “following the advice of public health specialists”. I have been for decades aghast and appalled at how clear-cut unarguable public health advice on obesity and alcohol consumption have been used as weapons in the class war. The demonization of the overweight or drunken working class when compared to a context of tolerance and even approval of overconsumption by a 1%-er in a fancy restaurant or the habitual knocking back of a nightly bottle of wine by a middle-class couple shows that to deny that class and income are enablers of unhealthy patterns of living isn’t viable.
Similarly, refusing, as you’re doing, to entertain any enquiring of who is criticising whom for doing (or not doing) what, along with a context of when and why they are complying (or not) with what you think they should (or shouldn’t) be doing on one very selective public health policy approach (when you have for decades not said a peep about other public health policy compliance rates) certainly gives me something to think about.
“Fascist militias in state house”? Sorry: they’re not the ones imposing martial law, effectively placing most of Western Civilization under house arrest.
As mentioned in the following article at Naked Capitalism:
Should we assume 93% of Americans are now considered “Left”? Regardless of how much some people want to yell at each other on Twitter or the internet in general, this really is about life and death. For some people, simply leaving their homes can be a death sentence. Maybe they don’t feel suicidal, yet.
Ideology does not conform with sanity or common sense, but some people would have you to think different; facts also should agree with the approved ideology or else they are wrong. The authoritarians, left and right, have doing this for a few years now.
I bet some well paid consultants are figuring out how to label the 93% as liberal moochers or something.
And by the left? Where is this left that is using the lockdown to attack its enemies?
Yes, can someone please tell me what the hell constitutes the left? It is incredibly frusturating to read broad critiques of “the left” in a world when everyone from Nancy Pelosi to George Soros to Bernie Sanders to Tony Blair to Xi Jinping fall under the heading of “the left”
That is deliberate. The American left is mainly the DSA, the Greens with some other bits. Bernie Sanders could be considered part of its rightwing. As the left was slowly destroyed starting with the American Communist Party, then rolling rightward, what was acceptably leftist or even liberal was gradually constricted. Now Senator Sanders is labeled a socialist, which is a lie, but he labeled as such to smear his proposals as communism.
Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and G. H W. Bush would all be, or at perceived to be, to moderate or even leftist. (Pardon me, I might be dying of laughter.)
In American politics, until a few years ago, there was no left since its remnants was crushed by President Clinton.
The Democratic Party is now at best center-right and getting more so. It is a conservative party much like the old Republic Party of the 1960s without a spine, more pro-war, more authoritarian and comfortable using and being part of the police state and much more corrupt.
The Republican Party is something new for the United States. It has a spine, it’s fanatically pro- wealth, and insane. Otherwise, it is much like the Democratic Party.
The differences in social issues are like the shell of a hermit crab. As soon as the money is threatened they are discarded with the right soothing lies to quiet the true believers.
A similar, but I guess less violent, process happened in Europe.
Clive, I beg to differ. Your own guy, at question time asked Borris “How on earth did we get here?” Well, how did we? The post explains nothing. Your comments are all outcomes / conclusions but not the mechanics of how it happened. I say with all due respect. Having two incompetents as leaders is a start but not by far the whole answer.
Yes, if you can successfully pull off the line of attack you’re suggesting the left tries to pull off against the right, then you’re definitely on to something.
But if this approach doesn’t work (and it isn’t — read it and weep; I certainly do) how long do you want the left to keep going with it? Yes, sometimes persistence pays off and repetition eventually yields results. However, sometimes it doesn’t and it is just flogging a dead horse.
How much longer should I give it? And if public perception is that your line of criticism is only another variation on coulda-woulda-shoulda and England Derangement Syndrome, when does what sounds like broken record’ing get to be simply annoying people rather than converting them?
Put as simply as I can, is it worth my asking if the left seriously wants to govern or does it just want to whinge?
An impressive description of world-historical developments. But there are some important, I would say crucial, elements missing in this account. Here are a few of them:
1. What alternative would the author advocate? Is it a return to the “extreme center”? Though the “center-left” is identified as “co-producers” of this world with the “center-right,” it is the latter, along with the various international representatives of “Illiberalism” (China, Russia, Bolsonaro, etc.) that get almost all of the criticism. I gather that the author is not advocating socialism. So… what is the preferred model? Or, worded differently, where is the *resistance* to this next stage of neoliberalism to come from? The Obama or Clinton wings of the Democratic party? The “adults” on the Council on Foreign Relations? A more authentic “mixed” economy or Social Democracy? I can’t tell – which keeps me from knowing how to interpret this.
2. Along those lines, completely missing from the framing of this article is the degree to which the “illiberal” states of China, Russia, Iran, and others are attempting to *resist* being swallowed up by US-led neoliberal globalization, and that an important part of what is going on reflects this struggle between the old unipolar hegemon and the rest of the world. This article collapses important distinctions between the US/West and the non-West in their historical relation to neoliberal globalization. For most NC readers this is probably obvious in the case of Russia, at least. Whatever we think of Putin’s “authoritarianism,” it does *not* stand in the same relationship to global capitalism as that of Trump.
3. Similarly, while there is a lot here about the dangers of the Surveillance State (and rightly so), I don’t see much about how this might relate to global geopolitical conflict and the military-industrial-intelligence complex. For example, I don’t see anything about the US military bases that surround China, Russia, Iran, etc., the steady expansion of NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union, the role of US intelligence in the return of fascism to Brazil, the destruction of lesser states that had the audacity to resist being absorbed by Western Neoliberal advance (Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc.). Yeah, Steve Bannon is a right-wing s**t. But he didn’t do any of this — he is just the political beneficiary.
There are several other missing elements in this story, but I’d settle for a discussion of these.
My criticism of this piece – and others like it – is that it conflates Trump, Boris, Putin Xi, Orban, Bolsonaro, etc all together as ‘illiberals” and does a dis-service to real analysis. They should not be grouped together as if ‘all of a kind’. They each emerged in particular and historically contingent contexts. The only group that this sort of analysis would seem to lend support to is the self same ‘liberal democrats’ or ‘centrists’ – those in Tariq Ali’s ‘extreme centre’ – who have led us to …Trump, Boris, Putin, Xi, Orban etc and the present illiberal world situation in the first place!
The article reads like a paean or eulogy for something called ‘liberal democracy’. Lets reframe that as ‘capitalist democracy’: ‘liberal (capitalist) markets’ married to ‘democracy’ (with liberal values such as free press, rule of law, civil society etc as a parallel characteristic, assumed by some to be central to the mix) but ‘liberal markets’ and ‘democracy’ are the central features. The happy marriage of ‘liberal market capitalism’ and ‘democracy’, was, according to Wolfgang Streeck, in all the history of capitalism, but a brief marriage of two opposing forces during the post-war period (the ‘trente glorieuses’) (Streeck, W, “How Will Capitalism End”, Verso 2016). Under ‘capitalism’ capitalists desire that the market is the final arbiter in distributional conflicts, whereas in ‘democracies’ the citizenry desire that electoral politics is. In the ultimate ‘hard choices’ they are opposed and mutually exclusive. In Streeck’s view we are living through the aftermath of democracy’s total capitulation to capitalism.
The brief period in which liberal democracy reigned was both historically and geographically contingent. It applied in the main only to Western Europe and North America; other parts of the globe may have paid lip service to it, others didn’t have a chance: SE Asia, South America, Africa.. (In this sense it was much like Christianity in the Medieval period, a hegemonic philosophy that was honored more in the breach than in the observance). For in the post WW2 period Western ‘‘liberal democracies’ garnered unto themselves the lions share of the resources of the developing and third worlds while preaching liberal democracy to all – but mostly importantly to their own populaces. This required them then to distribute some of the pickings to their population in the form of pensions, standards of living, health service etc, which all began to be withdrawn once the advertising of the ‘hegemonic philosophy’ to the Communist populations wasn’t required after 1989.
The main point I’d like to make is that the promotion of liberal democracy around the globe manufactures weak states that are easy to intervene in by outside (hegemonic) forces, hence the only protection against it is bound to be illiberal. Indeed ‘liberal democracy’ can be seen as a cloak for imperialism – justifying it at home (as Christianity once did) and effecting penetration abroad.
Xi, Putin have to used certain types of authoritarianism to buttress their states from the assaults of the ‘liberal democracies’ – which began long, long before Trump. And yet China and Russia are far more liberal (on several measures) today than they were under the USSR and Mao. If authoritarianism is advancing in these countries today it is because of the increasing hybrid assault they are facing from the now illiberal West. If authoritarianism is advancing in the West it is to quell opposition to neoliberal capitalism at home and ‘hold the fort’ for capitalists. Orban might be seen as reaching for tools that preserve Hungary from the ingression of …first “Western values” followed closely by Western oligarchs (and Western oligopolies) advancing through liberal social values followed more importantly by liberal financial and economic ‘values’ (concepts), which siphon wealth and control away.
The actions of Xi, Putin, that is required to stave off the predations of the Western ‘liberal-democracies’ has dented the ability of the West to have its way, is a real threat to the imperialism abroad that under-wrote ‘liberal democracy’ during the brief period when capitalism and democracy appeared to co-habit happily. Easy extraction abroad is less viable, greater authoritarianism is required at home and abroad to allow capitalists to have their way and face down the threat abroad and the contradictions at home (inequality, demonstration effect of ‘China model” aka that there is no definitive ‘model’ of development). Democracy is easily ditched while the shibboleths remain. Hence Trump, Boris, Bolsinaro etc.
I ‘m suggesting that conflating Turmp, Xi, Putin, Orban’s etc ‘illiberalism’ is lazy and ahistorical analysis.
Thank you for an interesting read. Shoshana Zuboff’s name is written “Suzanna” two times.
The King is dead. Long live the King!
You seem to leave out how the virus will change “personal rights”. Rights for businesses to disobey govt orders. In Michigan, it is rising to a collision between the right to disobey the law in the name of freedom versus govt acting to protect its citizens. So that what we will have at the end is businesses being able to operate outside the law while individuals will have their rights stripped.
One example, which has been fought repeatedly in the past, is the right for businesses to serve who they want. Michigan businesses are saying they don’t have to follow rules put in place due to COVID. Then, citizens are saying they don’t have to follow those rules if they don’t want to. So businesses don’t have to serve minorities if they don’t want to. Doctors don’t have to care for/accept patients that may not be able to afford a premium price & premium services. Where will it stop?
During a pandemic the rules for staying alive and staying healthy are not put into law or made legal–that is the difference.
They have been made legal alright. By decree and proclamation. End? People are angry and it goes way beyond Covid-19. It’s never going to end.
The virus is a bright light is casting in bold relief the deficiencies of society: the replacement of minimum wage workers with prisoners, the loss of healthcare for the unemployed, the forfeiture of education to inadequate broadband, the replacement of humanism with AI…but above all, the absence of true statesmen.
…but above all, the absence of true statesmen.
imo, there is no lack of solutions available, only your statement.
Not without the will and consent of the governed. But I mean that in a positive way. Protect the people.
The Koch bro’s & their ilk fancy themselves as Libertarian which is, essentially, plutocratic social Darwinism. Ya know, that “Because markets / Go die” thing.
Now the the tech. billionaires present themselves as benign saviors of humanity. They propose that a Public Private Partnership for a total surveillance state is the way to go. (See ‘The Intercept’ article “New Screen Deal” in yesterday’s Links – a must read). PPP’s are an essential “feature” of fascism. It appears to me that this is the direction the US is headed.
(Neo-illiberalism is kinda awkward sounding)
I think much of this discussion will be upended by climate change and the ongoing collapse of our high-tech, high-manufacturing, high-consumption societies. The surveillance dystopia in particular, although looking fearsome at the moment, is especially fragile: in order for mass digital surveillance like that to be possible it is not enough for governments and a handful of corps to have big computers, rather the surveillance technology must be ubiquitous and woven into the fabric of everyone’s life. That means, inter alia, cranking out hundreds of millions of smartphones, home appliances and sundry digital gadgets every year, distributing them, keeping them powered and networked etc etc. Will we retain that capacity? Highly doubtful IMO, although I won’t attempt to predict a timeline.
Yay Private Companies ruling the world!!! Woohoooo
Sorry to rant, but this post lit my short fuse when it started talking, out of the blue, about national crypto currencies. That’s a total oxymoron. All mixed up with offshoring and secret capital stashed away on Pirate Island – they tossed in almost a nonsequitir: national crypto currency. No. It is not crypto. It is digital. Digital currency and Crypto currency are light years apart. They have nothing in common. Except that certain people are interested in stripping democracy and nations of their sovereignty to control their money. With an article like this the death of sovereignty is sneaking in the back door. And money – its actual value – cannot be separated from sovereignty. Unless there is a greater sovereignty to include it. And that requires a lot of work because if it is not accomplished “neoliberalism” will eat up the planet, all its resources, starve anybody who gets in their way, and jet off to Mars.
And the red herring about financialized surveillance is crypto-speak. Taking away our privacy and human rights. Right. Well, the underlying reality which we might not notice, is our national democratic sovereignty. I am not happy with the casual insouciance of this post.
I have to say that I was rather disappointed (though not totally surprised given the source) that the role of the Democratic Party establishment in supporting the move to neo-illiberalism via its dedication to its Wall Street and Big tech clients and total antipathy to any minor move to the left within the Party. This has served as an enabler to the Republican right in their move into Neo-fascism and away from any semblance of participative democracy in this country.
This screed is just a mess. Neo-liberalism has always been a thoroughly authoritarian doctrine; it’s initial laboratory was Pinochet’s Chile. And ‘”liberal democracy” has always been a contradiction in terms,- (what’s the name of Japan’s perennial ruling party?) Electoral systems, if that”s the minimal criterion of “democracy,” have been increasingly hollowed out of what little popular efficacy they once had after 40 years of neo-liberal ascendancy. CF. Colin Crouch’s “post-democracy” or Sheldon Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism”. So the screed just combines nostalgia for nothing, for what never was, with sub-Foucaultian paranoia, in the name of the vanity of being an academic intellectual. There’s no mention of the global debt load, 320% of global gdp, which had reached its limits even before Covid-19, and which will collapse in the aftermath of the Covid-19 induced depression. That would be the real start of any serious analysis, as the coming terrain of future contention, rather than imagining that the masters of the universe could continue their predatory reign in the absence of any sustainable basis for it.
This post suffers from both their and our cognitive dissonance and corporate propaganda. But this graph posted at Automatic Earth is clear:
The failed nations of USA, UK, Canada and Sweden haven’t controlled the Wuhan coronavirus. They are identified in the center in red. These neo-liberal governments won’t spend money to hire contact tracers, provide universal testing and quarantine the infected in safe secure facilities. Instead they’ve come up with herd immunity, freedom and other nonsense to gloss over the fact that the excess deaths are of absolutely no concern to the ruling aristocracy.
The cure is to restore democracy. Halt the pandemic. Rebuild sustainable societies, infrastructure and nations. This will be difficult unless the truth is recognized that the reigning elite’s ideology of profit over anything else is destructive and quite deadly.
Its a fascinating graph, and no doubt tells a complex story. Some examples really stand out – Greece, for example, supposedly the worst run country in Europe, is a success story with Covid so far – mostly, it seems, because they acted very quickly.
When you look at countries like Sweden and Canada there, its hard not to think that the problem is not incompetence, but a feeling of superiority resulting in a belief that other peoples hard earned lessons don’t apply to them. Or put another way, terminal smugness.
I came late to this post, but I’ll grant it’s one of your best.
This is a pivotal event in a pivotal time and the only certainty now is the outcome cannot be known. Can we get a win?
Not sure if the illiberal moniker will stick but the idea is right,
This is not your dad’s ‘ol neoliberalism. Our well-worn political categories–and alliances–of the past half century have lost their explanatory power and we’re in a new and unfamiliar place.
Why did the economic model of neoliberalism never have a long term future?
It’s the underlying neoclassical economics that’s the problem.
The economics of globalisation has always had an Achilles’ heel.
In the US, the 1920s roared with debt based consumption and speculation until it all tipped over into the debt deflation of the Great Depression. No one realised the problems that were building up in the economy as they used an economics that doesn’t look at private debt, neoclassical economics.
Not considering private debt is the Achilles’ heel of neoclassical economics.
The new scientific economics of globalisation was basically 1920s neoclassical economics with some complex maths on top, and it’s still got all those old problems.
Policymakers run the economy on debt until you get a financial crisis.
Can you see when the UK started to use neoclassical economics?
What happened in 1979?
The UK eliminated corset controls on banking in 1979 and the banks invaded the mortgage market and this is where the problem starts.
The transfer of existing assets, like real estate, doesn’t add to GDP so debt rises faster than GDP
Before 1980 – banks lending into the right places that result in GDP growth (business and industry, creating new products and services in the economy)
Debt grows with GDP
After 1980 – banks lending into the wrong places that don’t result in GDP growth (real estate and financial speculation)
Debt rises faster than GDP
2008 – Minsky Moment, the financial crisis where debt has over whelmed the economy
After 2008 – Balance sheet recession and the economy struggles as debt repayments to banks destroy money. We are making the repayments on the debt we built up from 1980 – 2008.
Japan has been like this sine 1991.
Debt repayments to banks destroy money and this drags the economy down.
The economics might be rubbish, but I like the ideology.
The rich deserve to be rich because they have earned their money.
I inherited my money, but never mind.
Those at the top have got there through their own hard work, drive and ambition.
I love it; it makes me feel so good about myself.
Don’t mention my inheritance, which does make it a lot easier.
Seeing the rise and rise of surveillance capitalism and it’s convergence with governance systems has made me focus my next choice of country on amount of anonymity and individual choice above all else. I will be choosing this country either in three or 12 months – Any suggestions on frontrunners?
Anonymity and choice doesn’t have to be institutional, it can also be incidental, either is fine.
A lot of undergrowth to plow through in that interesting piece. But did I miss the part where it is pointed out that the Dementedcrats are and have long been the piano players and the towel boys in that global neo-liberal whorehouse?