What, if anything, is neoliberalism?

by John Quiggin on November 2, 2019

The comments thread on my WTO post raises the much-argued question of whether the term “neoliberalism” has any useful content, or whether it is simply an all-purpose pejorative to be applied to anything rightwing. O

In this 2002 post from the pre-Cambrian era of blogging, at a time when I aspired to write a book along the lines of Raymond Williams’ Keywords, I claim that neoliberalism is a meaningful and useful term, which isn’t to deny that it’s often used sloppily, like all political terms.

Some thoughts seventeen years later

First, this definition refers to the standard international use of the term, what I’ve susequently called “hard neoliberalism”, represented in the US by the Republican Party. I subsequently drew a distinction with “soft neoliberalism”, which corresponds to US usage where the term is typically applied to centrist Democrats like the Clintons. I’d also apply this to Blair’s New Labour, although, as stated in the post, there were points at which Blair and Brown drifted back in the direction of traditional social democracy.

Second, the discussion of how the right (in Europe and Australia) is shifting away from neoliberalism towards “the older and more fertile ground of law and order and xenophobia” seems as if it could have been written today. These processes take a long time to work themselves through.

As a corollary, the idea of Trump as a radical break with the past is unsustainable. There’s been a qualitative change with Trump and the various mini-Trumps, but the process was well underway before this new stage.

Finally, my characteristic overoptimism shows up in various places.

Neoliberalism and Failure: Some definitions

One obvious problem with my claim that neoliberalism has failed is that I haven’t provided a definition of either ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘failure’. Taking the second point first, there are several ways in which a political ideology may be a failure.

First, it may never attract sufficient support to have a serious influence on political outcomes. In this sense, ideologies like libertarianism and guild socialism may be regarded as failures.

Second, an ideology may be adopted and implemented, then discredited and discarded, or superseded by some new idea. This is the eventual fate of most political ideologies. Communism is the most recent example of a failure of this kind.

Third, an ideology may fail to deliver the promised outcomes. This is much more a matter of judgement, since promises are never delivered in full and failures are rarely complete.

It is important to remember that failure is never final. Democracy, for example, seemed like a failure until at least 1800. Although many democratic governments arose before that time, all had either collapsed in anarchy, given rise to demagogues who made themselves tyrants or decayed into oligarchy. The United States was the first country to establish a sustainable democracy, and there were plenty who opposed it there. Abraham Lincoln was not engaging in hyperbole when he said at Gettysburg that the outcome of the Civil War would determine whether government ‘of the people, by the people for the people’ could be sustained.

Now for a definition of neoliberalism. As the name implies, neoliberalism is a descendant of classical liberalism, defined by the fact that it is a reaction against social democracy, which also draws heavily on the liberal tradition. The US use of ‘liberal’ to mean ‘social democrat’ reflects the latter point.

Because it is primarily based on a critique of social democracy, neoliberalism places much more weight on economic freedom than on personal freedom or civil liberties, reversing the emphasis of classical liberalism. Indeed, it is fair to say that on matters of personal freedom, neoliberalism is basically agnostic, encompassing a range of views from repressive traditionalism to libertarianism.

In terms of economic policy, neoliberalism is constrained by the need to compete with the achievements of social democracy. Hence, it is inconsistent with the kind of dogmatic libertarianism that would leave the poor to starvation or private charity, and would leave education to parents. Neoliberalism seeks to cut back the role of the state as much as possible while maintaining public guarantees of access to basic health, education and income security.
The core of the neoliberal program is
(i) to remove the state altogether from ‘non-core’ functions such as the provision of infrastructure services
(ii) to minimise the state role in core functions (health, education, income security) through contracting out, voucher schemes and so on
(iii) to reject redistribution of income except insofar as it is implied by the provision of a basic ‘safety net’.

With this definition, a reasonably pure form of neoliberalism (except for some subsidies to favored businesses) is embodied in the program of the US Republican Party, and particularly the Contract with America proposed by Gingrich in 1994. The ACT Party in New Zealand also takes a fairly clear neoliberal stance, as do the more ideologically consistent elements of the British Conservative Party and the Australian Liberal Party.

My claim that neoliberalism has failed therefore uses several different meanings of the term ‘failure’. In Europe, apart from Britain, neoliberalism has mostly failed in sense (i). The EU is inherently social democratic in its structure and attempts by poltical groups in some Eastern European countries (notably the Czech Republic and Estonia) to pursue a free market line have failed in the light of the superior attractions of the EU. It is true that the European social democracies have given some ground, notably with respect to privatisation, but no genuinely neoliberal party has arisen or seems likely to. The political right has moved back to the older and more fertile ground of law and order and xenophobia.

In Britain, neoliberalism has failed in sense (ii). The Conservative party is hovering on the edge of extinction and, as I have arged previously, the ‘New Labour’ government has shifted steadily away from neoliberalism and towards a mildly modernised form of social democracy. The same is true in New Zealand, where the advocates of neoliberalism, once dominant, are now completely marginalised.

Although the Australian government started out with a clearly neoliberal framework it has gradually dropped it in favor of the kind of law and order/xenophobia/militarist position that characterises the traditional right. The repeated resort to ad hoc levies as fixes for industry-specific problems is indicative of a government that has lost its economic bearings. Moreover, the Liberals look like being in semi-permanent opposition in most of the states and the Howard government is unlikely to survive the end of the housing bubble (although given the quality of Federal Labor, anything could happen).

Finally, in the US, neoliberalism remains the dominant ideology but is increasingly failing in sense (iii). Three years ago, American pundits could seriously predict a never-ending economic boom. The combination of continued prosperity and ‘the end of welfare as we know it’ seemed to be on the verge of eliminating crime and unemployment. Now the most charitable assessment of US economic performance is ‘better than average’ and even this cannot be sustained of the current recession/stagnation drags on much longer. The basic problem is that, given high levels of inequality, very strong economic performance is required to match the levels of economic security and social services delivered under social democracy even with mediocre growth outcomes.

{ 88 comments }

1

Bill 11.02.19 at 6:13 pm

Three years ago, American pundits could seriously predict a never-ending economic boom. The combination of continued prosperity and ‘the end of welfare as we know it’ seemed to be on the verge of eliminating crime and unemployment.

Should that be a thirty instead of three?

Otherwise, thanks for the best definition of neoliberalism I’ve seen. Keep up the great writing, it’s stimulating great conversations among friends.

2

Hidari 11.02.19 at 6:43 pm

I think this is excellent. Despite what was claimed on the previous thread, I think neoliberalism has a fairly definite meaning, which is best summarised (as per the OP) in comparison with its intellectual ‘enemy’: social democracy (or democratic socialism).

A key way of looking at this is: ‘on whom does the burden of proof lie?’ (or, to put it another way, where do you put your Bayesian prior?)

For example. For the social democrat, and most Western European socialists/social democrats, private enterprise in terms of large corporations/companies which had some form of social benefit (or should have) were to be considered ‘guilty until proven innocent’. In other words, the burden of proof, so to speak, lay with the Right: they had to prove why private was better. If they couldn’t, the business/enterprise should remain in the public sphere.

The neoliberal revolution (Thatcherism, Reaganism) reversed that burden of proof. Suddenly, for them (and, soon, for us all), the burden of proof lay on the public sphere, not the private. Suddenly it was public enterprises, not private, that were ‘guilty until proven innocent’. And unless overwhelming bodies of evidence were produced that public was better for individual industries, then it was simply assumed that private was better, with the obvious political corollary:

If an industry could be privatised it must be privatised.

When it could not be privatised, for whatever reason, it must be forced into some form of collaboration with private industry (e.g. the notorious PPP), or ‘internal markets’ introduced (cf the BBC, the NHS).

Increasing inequality was not sought out, per se, but insofar as it followed from the marketisation of society, it was not to be fought against in any meaningful way.

The Golden Rules of neoliberalism were rarely stated openly, but informally one remembers phrases like ‘you can’t buck the markets’ and ‘there is no alternative’ (i.e. to the markets, and marketisation).

As I say, it’s bewildering that people pretend that neoliberalism doesn’t have a fairly clearly defined meaning, or even that ‘there’s no such thing as neoliberalism’ (a quote that went the rounds on social media a few months ago).

Equally obviously neoliberalism has almost completely failed to deliver on most of its promises, but, like Communism, that won’t stop the True Believers.

3

Mark Pontin 11.02.19 at 6:46 pm

JQ wrote: ‘The EU is inherently social democratic in its structure … It is true that the European social democracies have given some ground, notably with respect to privatisation, but no genuinely neoliberal party has arisen or seems likely to.’

Back in the real world, here’s a study from the LANCET, the medical journal —

‘The burden of disease in Greece, health loss, risk factors, and health financing, 2000–16: an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016’
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(18)30130-0/fulltext

To precis it very roughly, 50,000 or so Greeks died because of the EU’s imposition of its austerity policies on Greece. In other words, they died because Merkel in Germany and Hollande in France were unwilling to tell their electorates they were bailing out German and French banks, and so the bailout to those banks was carried out through the backdoor of Greece with 92-93 percent of those funds going straight to commercial financial institutions in Northern Europe and never touching the Greek economy.

Moreover, this was done at the same time that Mario Draghi at the ECB was initiating his policy of doing “whatever it takes” in terms of quantitative easing. The entire Greek debt would turn out to be less than a couple months of ECB money printing.

With blazing clarity, then, Greece tells us just what the EU is when the chips aren’t even down. Thereby, we come to the question at hand: What is neoliberalism?

The core of the neoliberal program is _not_ simply to “remove the state altogether from ‘non-core’ functions such as the provision of infrastructure services’ and ‘minimise the state role in core functions (health, education, income security) through contracting out, voucher schemes and so on’.

Rather, neoliberalism aims to promote the capability of capital to range globally and make a profit anywhere it can without such impediments as might be erected by national politicians and populations — impediments like policies of redistribution or the (re)nationalization of basic infrastructure. To this end, neoliberalism embeds and neutralizes the governments of nation-states within supranational institutions like the WTO, the IMF, GATT — and the EU.

_That_ is the core of the neoliberal program. And, again, its very clear that from its beginnings as the European Coal and Steel Community and the EEC, the EU was carefully designed by its founders to be a neoliberal organization — or an ordoliberal one, if we wish to split hairs, given that many of those responsible subscribed to the German flavor of neoliberalism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordoliberalism

‘Ordoliberalism is the German variant of social liberalism that emphasizes the need for the state to ensure that the free market produces results close to its theoretical potential. Ordoliberal ideals became the foundation of the creation of the post-World War II German social market economy and its attendant Wirtschaftswunder’ .

To conclude: the European Union is arguably _the_ most quintessentially neoliberal organization in the world today. Wolfgang Streek and Quinn Slobodian, among others, give authoritative accounts of all this and how it’s played out.

4

Brian Hanley 11.02.19 at 7:18 pm

I think that is the best discussion of neoliberalism I have read.

5

WLGR 11.02.19 at 9:12 pm

It’s bizarre that so many center-left to center-right liberal/conservative types (I’m partial to the term “alt-centrists”) still feel like they can get away with pretending that “neoliberalism” is some kind of meaningless weasel word in light of all the research that’s been published over the past 10-20 years or so into e.g. the Mont Pelerin Society. I mean Jesus, people, all those libraries’ worth of books and papers by Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe and Quinn Slobodian and Melinda Cooper and company are all out there waiting for you to read them! Some people whose ideological bent is closer to yours have even started reading that literature from an oppositional point of view, then reacted by starting to explicitly identify as neoliberals themselves!

I know, I know, reading anything longer than a Medium post is boring, but even so, it really shouldn’t be so damn difficult for those of us on the left to drag y’all kicking and screaming to a point where you’re able to figure this stuff out.

6

likbez 11.02.19 at 11:28 pm

(i) to remove the state altogether from ‘non-core’ functions such as the provision of infrastructure services

I respectfully disagree. My feeling is that neoliberals are statists “par excellence” and use the state to enforce the neoliberal ideology on population “from above”, using coercion, if necessary… Although they prefer soft methods (Wolin’s “inverted totalitarism” captures this difference)

Neoliberal revolutions are almost always revolutions from above (often using support of domestic or foreign intelligence agencies), a coup d’état either via internal fifth column (Simon Johnson’s “The Quiet Coup” model — like happened in the USA and GB ) or via external interference (color revolution model like in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Argentina, Brazil, etc)

In essence, neoliberalism can be viewed as “Trotskyism for the rich” with the same hegemonic drive toward global dominance (the “World Revolution” in Trotskyism terms) and substitution of Marxists slogan “proletarians of all countries unite” with more realistic and devious “Financial oligarchy of all countries unite.” Unfortunately for classic neoliberalism, the latter proved to be unsustainable, as contradictions between various groups of financial oligarchy are too great, and the quest for capturing the foreign markets pits them against each other.

After “Triumphal march of neoliberal over the globe” (which ended in 2000 with the rejection of neoliberal model in Russia) neoliberalism repositioned itself as a “secular religion” (only complete idiot after 2007 can believe in its key postulates and, in particular, neoclassic economics with all its mathiness). The capture of the university education and MSM, like for Bolsheviks before them, were two high priority tasks and they were essentially complete at the end of Clinton administration.

Like Bolsheviks before them, after coming to power, neoliberal junta quickly moves to capture key positions in government institutions, in case of the USA — Treasury, FED (Greenspan), the Department of State (neocons), and economic departments at universities (Friedman, Greg Mankiw, Summers, Bernanke, DeJong, Krugman, etc) , in a typical ruthless Trotskyites/Bolsheviks fashion.

While initially it strived just to completely eliminate New Deal regulations to get the economy boost and restore the power of financial oligarchy, later neoliberalism morphed into supported by the state “secular religion” (much like Marxism in the USSR) in which those who do not want to became “high priest of the cult (“soldies of of the Party” in USSR terms), or, at lease, pretend to believe in this ideology are ostracized, send to the periphery (the State Department), and (in universities) deprived of any funding. Much like was the case (in a more brutal form) under Bolshevism.

Summers advice to Warren about “insiders-outsiders” dichotomy clearly illustrates this policy ( https://bulletin.represent.us/elizabeth-warren-exposes-larry-summers-game-rigged/ )

Now classic neoliberalism tried to defend itself against the ascendance of “national neoliberalism” using dirty methods like Ukrainegate, using the full power of captured by them state institutions, including, but not limited to, intelligence agencies.

Please note that, historically, neoliberalism ascendance started with the coup in Chile, in which repressions were of the scale typical for a fascist regime, including mass killings of opponents. That’s where Friedman Chicago boys cut their teeth.

Also neocon scum (Cheney, Wolfowitz, and company) got in high level government positions only under Reagan and quickly switched the USA foreign policy in completely imperial direction, although the process started under Carter (Carter Doctrine, creation of political Islam to fight Soviets, etc.). The State Department remains a neocon viper nest since this period. And they recently managed to sting Trump (Taylor and Volker testimonies are nice examples here)

7

J-D 11.03.19 at 12:08 am

The comments thread on my WTO post raises the much-argued question of whether the term “neoliberalism” has any useful content, or whether it is simply an all-purpose pejorative to be applied to anything rightwing.

The first answer can be correct in some contexts and the second answer can be correct in other contexts.

Just as with any other word used in an effort to communicate semantic content, if a receiver of the communication is aware of the meaning intended by the sender, then communication can succeed. If the receiver of the communication is previously unfamiliar with the term, or is aware of it only as having a meaning different from the one intended by the sender, or is more motivated to dispute the ‘correct’ meaning of the term than to understand the sender’s meaning, then communication is hindered to the extent that the meaning of that term is important to the message as a whole. So, by explaining what you mean by ‘neoliberal’ you facilitate your communication with people who are more motivated to understand what you mean than to argue about the ‘correct’ usage of the term ‘neoliberal’.

On the other hand, pejoratives also have their uses. The word ‘Boo’ has no semantic content (just like the word ‘Hello’), but when the crowd yells ‘Boo’, communication of a kind takes place (just as it does when if we say ‘Hello’ to each other). Likewise, if you were to ask me why I screamed and I were to say ‘I stubbed my toe on that damned fascist footstool that some damned neoliberal fascist left in the walkway’, communication could take place.

Reverting to the first point, my main problem with your explanation of how you use the term ‘neoliberal’ is that your definition of ‘neoliberal’ depends on your definition of ‘classical liberal’, and you haven’t explained how you use the term ‘classical liberal’. Still, despite this limitation, having read your explanation I think I’m equipped to understand you to a greater extent than before.

Finally, my characteristic overoptimism shows up in various places.

I am confident that I would have picked up this

The Conservative party is hovering on the edge of extinction

as overoptimistic in 2002.

8

Cranky Observer 11.03.19 at 1:02 am

For me it is important to separate the European theory and practice of neoliberalism, which at one time at least was thoroughly studied and defined, with the US political management movement that took the same name. The US version used some, but not all, of the European theory, and added its own practices (without much theory to back them): discouragement of unions, strong discouragement of public teachers’ unions and ultimately of universal public education, acceptance of the Moynihan Report and the concept of unintended consequences of government actions combined with strong belief in their own ability to control events via non-governmental means with their own technocratic actions. These were the people trained by Charles Peters at the “Washington Monthly” magazine in the 1970s who went on to form the core of the Clinton and Obama administrations. That they insist so strongly today that they were not part of such a group and that there is no such set of actions is also, to me, telling.

9

Brian 11.03.19 at 2:53 am

Would you say that neoliberal ideas are rooted in, or related to Malthus?

10

Tim Worstall 11.03.19 at 10:10 am

Your ii) is pretty expansive as a definition. GP services in the NHS have always been contracted out. The Swedish education system is a pure voucher one. The Danish (and others) fire and ambulance services are run by Falck, a private corporation (partly owned by the people who own Lego which I think is fun). The French health care delivery system (ie, doctors, hospitals etc) is mostly to near all contracted out, it’s insurance which is state dominated.

We’d generally tend to think of all of those as not being very neoliberal.

11

Lee A. Arnold 11.03.19 at 10:46 am

John that is a definitive, comprehensive analysis. As a supplement, I have found four ways in which it is now used:

1. A specific intellectual movement: The name of an intellectual movement started early in the 20th Century by a loose group of certain intellectuals including Hayek who called themselves “neoliberals” and formed the Mont Pelerin Society to develop their ideas and then promote them to the public.

2. The resulting widespread political philosophy: Emerging in the 1970’s, the active promotion of state protection of the market system including efforts to diminish redistributive programs, which justified itself using Hayek’s ideas about the “knowledge problem” and “the road to serfdom.”

3. The resulting era of public policies: The historical era containing the enormous set of government policies to privatize government or marketize the provision of public goods and services, pushed along by rent-seeking private businesses using lobbyists and think tanks, starting with Thatcher-Reagan and continuing through Blair-Clinton, up to the present.

4. The imposition of local rules by global finance: The international financial system has emerged into a loose, rootless “superstate” that protects its interests in each geographic jurisdiction by any policy means that is available in that particular jurisdiction.

In every case, as you note, it applies to a downward reimposition of the market system.

12

John Quiggin 11.03.19 at 11:49 am

Mark Pontin @3 My assessment of the EU was an example of my characteristic overoptimism. I underestimated the strength of neoliberalism in the ECB and EC.

13

reason 11.03.19 at 12:15 pm

I think this article is important:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-inequality-inevitable/

To my knowledge it is the first that makes a reasonable fist of demonstrating that redistribution is not only necessary, it is sufficient to avoid increasing concentration of wealth.

14

Petter Sjölund 11.03.19 at 2:46 pm

Tim Worstall @10 Those things you mention are all prime example of neoliberal policies and privatisations implemented in the nineties, parts of the worldwide neoliberal trend.

If we “tend to think of all of those as not being very neoliberal” it is because the governments and parties that implemented these policies sometimes called themselves social democratic or even socialist, but that is really the explanation why such far-reaching changes could be made with so little resistance: the political majorities of every color, left and right, embraced the neoliberal project wholeheartedly.

Contrary to its reputation, my country, Sweden, is in many aspects more privatised than Chile. All of the old 20th century state monopolies are gone, and whatever few state-run functions still left are currently being dismantled by the social democratic government.

15

politicalfootball 11.03.19 at 2:57 pm

Hidari@2:

I think neoliberalism has a fairly definite meaning,

I tend to think so, and I’m okay with your definition, or that of Prof. Quiggin.

But many of the people who use that term would like to define it into meaninglessness. So we have likbez here, for instance, talking about Krugman and Friedman as both being neoliberals.

There’s a perfectly good word for the overlap between the worldviews of those two: capitalist. Anti-capitalists, however, like to use “neoliberalism” to blur the distinction between different types of capitalists.

16

nastywoman 11.03.19 at 4:04 pm

@12
”Mark Pontin @3 My assessment of the EU was an example of my characteristic overoptimism”.

It actually wasn’t –
As from 2001 on – the EU pulled the poorest European States – and especially Greece out of poverty.

AND let’s have Mark Pontin research some statistics about ‘the burden of disease in Greece, health loss, risk factors, and health financing’ B.E. –
(Before Euro) –
when Greece still was the poorest country in the EU – and – if they needed a hospital my Greek Cousins still came to Germany – because they didn’t trust their own.

And as my Greek Cousins like to tell:
”The reason why Greece in the years up to the collapse in 2008 didn’t build a ”social security net” -(like nearly all the other ”pretty social-democratic” European States already had built) – was ”the worst type of rapture capitalism a la US going wild” –
AND the ensuing ”CORRUPTION” and NOT something called: ”neoliberalism.”

AND so – EVERYTHING @3Mark Potin likes to blame on the EU –
my Greek Cousins -(as my Italian – and especially my Spanish Cousins) – like to blame it on ”Corrupt Americans Capitalists” – who – for example – inspired my Spanish Cousins to Housingbubble too.

And let me repeat that:

They don’t blame it on ”neoliberalism” or the EU – as it wasn’t the EU which pulled the (money) rug away – from the world wide ”Casino-Party-Bubble”.

That was entirely the ”US Casino” –
(and being partly American – I’m NOT proud of it)
AND I’m also not proud of it – that some clever American Economists – AFTER they had been so disgustingly and very obviously successful – in not only screwing up their own economy –
NO!! –
BUT also screwing up the EU – anywhoo managed – to invent this narrative of:
It’s all some ”austerity’s fault” or some… some ”neoliberalism”.

17

nastywoman 11.03.19 at 4:19 pm

AND @3 – Mark Pontin
the reason why after 2008 the German and the American Part of my family could help some Greek and Spanish relatives was – that the Americans were very experienced gamblers and had even made money with the collapse – while the Germans thankfully sat on such a lot of savings – that they – could make sure -(without charging any interest) – just like the EU – that a country like Greece wasn’t beaten back to the ”Drachmen Poor House” – some truly crazy American Economists suggested.

18

Tim Worstall 11.03.19 at 5:02 pm

“Tim Worstall @10 Those things you mention are all prime example of neoliberal policies and privatisations implemented in the nineties, parts of the worldwide neoliberal trend.”

Really? GPs being private businesses contracted to the NHS comes from 1948. Falck started taking over council services in 1926. French health care hasn’t changed in basic form since founding in 1945. Swedish schools I’ll grant you.

BTW, if I’m a neoliberal and the EU is determinedly social democratic – and those two management styles are in inevitable conflict – then is that a good enough reason for me to support Brexit? To avoid being tied into a management system I fundamentally disagree with?

If so, good, because that’s a reasonable summation of why I am pro-Brexit. And the hoped for dissolution of the EU itself.

19

Swami 11.03.19 at 5:07 pm

Your article is somewhat confusing, most likely because you are pivoting on two types of failure. You define neoliberalism in three separate ways and then define failure as how unpopular one of the three definition is currently in each country, except in the US, where you imply that it is still popular (in at least one major party according to one of your definitions) but subjectively not successful in outcomes.

As a side note, this is further complicated because others are using different definitions of neoliberalism, and a common refrain is that neoliberalism has been a prominent ideology globally for the past forty years or so, and has failed empirically. But back to your argument….

“Three years ago, American pundits could seriously predict a never-ending economic boom. The combination of continued prosperity and ‘the end of welfare as we know it’ seemed to be on the verge of eliminating crime and unemployment. Now the most charitable assessment of US economic performance is ‘better than average’ and even this cannot be sustained of the current recession/stagnation drags on much longer.”

I am not aware of any reasonable economist ever who predicts or has predicted a never ending economic boom. Certainly politicians (of every ideology) will peddle anything, but the success or failure of a real world ideology isn’t judged based upon the standards applied to political propaganda. Certainly crime rates, unemployment, economic growth rates, changes in CO2 and average standards of living are somewhat or in many cases substantially better in the US than in the average developed nation. It seems according to your own (confusing) definitions, that the US is both the MOST neoliberal, and either the best or better than average performing. And frankly, I have no idea what “recession” you are talking about.

“The basic problem is that, given high levels of inequality, very strong economic performance is required to match the levels of economic security and social services delivered under social democracy even with mediocre growth outcomes.”

Here you are now implying that neoliberalism fails even with above average economic results because it leads to higher inequality and higher levels of economic insecurity than non-neoliberalism. This is odd, considering that the ideology of neoliberalism clearly rejects equality of outcome and security blankets as reasonable goals. Indeed, neoliberals clearly believe that excessive equality of outcome and excessive safety nets lead to social pathologies, dependency, and undermine economic vitality and entrepreneurialism. In other words, you have now pivoted to a definition of an ideology which fails based upon success of the ideology according to the proponents.

It might be more honest to just write that you disagree with the goals of neoliberalism.

20

nastywoman 11.03.19 at 5:20 pm

AND @15
”So we have likbez here, for instance, talking about Krugman and Friedman as both being neoliberals”.

AND it get’s even more absurd when likbez writes:

Summers advice to Warren about “insiders-outsiders” dichotomy clearly illustrates this policy ( https://bulletin.represent.us/elizabeth-warren-exposes-larry-summers-game-rigged/ ) – AND then –
at the end – somehow? – connecting that advice to ”Trump” – as if Trump would be… in the Summers-Warren conversation the ”Warren character”???!

Some ”outsider” who needs to understand – that you need to be ”the insider”

Dear likbez that’s even more than ”all over the map” – that’s kind of:
”on noooo map at all anymore’

21

Jim Harrison 11.03.19 at 5:53 pm

Georges Batailles used to talk about the use of a word, not its lexical meaning but the job it performed for the writer. In the United States, at least, the use of the word neoliberal is to provide a way for a familiar kind of lefty to justify de facto support of Republicans by asserting that they are all of ’em the same anyhow. That’s how Hilary Clinton acquired her honorary membership in the Mont Pelerin society while running on the most progressive Democratic platform in decades. The Russian bots exploited this meme on an industrial scale.

Of course, neoliberalism has or can have a meaning as well as a use; and it’s certainly true that reliance on market mechanisms to address social problems had a vogue in the 90s. Horrors! Some of ’em worked reasonably well in particular cases, for example, cap and trade in dealing with acid rain. Thing is, though, even Bill Clinton, the dark prince of triangulation, pushed back against the government-is-always-the-problem line, which is why his efforts to increase the progressively of taxes and provide universal health care gave the American right the vapors. At the risk of saying something good about an American political party, seems to me we’d be in a much better place if Gore had beaten Bush or Clinton had beaten Trump.

The question I wish somebody in these parts would address is not the secret identity of neoliberalism and left center social democrats, but the inner kinship of reactionary populism and much of the Left. I don’t believe for a minute that the aid and comfort the Jill Steins and Glenn Greenwalds give to the Trumps and Putins is a mere marriage of convenience. Something deeper lies beneath the radical/reactionary popular front, the left Nietzscheans and the right Nietzscheans, a Schmittian yearning for a new mystical dispensation.

22

Donald 11.03.19 at 9:01 pm

Here is a good piece—

https://jacobinmag.com/2019/11/neoliberalism-term-meaning-democratic-party-jonathan-chait

For those of us who can actually remember political arguments made by Democrats in the 80’s and 90’s, it’s ridiculous to say that neoliberalism in the US never existed except as a term of abuse. People bragged about being a new type of sophisticated market loving Democrat in sharp contrast to old liberal dinosaurs like Tip O’Neill. Cranky Observer mentioned Charles Peters and the Washington Monthly. There was also The New Republic— remember the joke “ even the liberal New Republic” supports conservative policy X? The point was they took pleasure in being Third Way style neoliberals who were often hawkish on foreign policy and eager to question liberal Democratic pieties, to the point it became a cliche that Republicans would cite them. The New Republic and The Washington Monthly were neoliberal the way Commentary was neoconservative. ( There was also a period where you weren’t supposed to believe there were such people as neocons. It was supposed to be an antisemitic code word.)

I think the idea that neoliberalism never existed in the US except as a term of abuse from leftists first popped up in the 2016 Democratic primaries. I don’t have a cite— it’s just my recollection.

23

Donald 11.03.19 at 9:23 pm

I wondered if I could find it. Here is David Brooks arguing back in 2004 that criticism of neocons was really a manifestation of antisemitism.

https://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/06/opinion/the-era-of-distortion.html

Not quite the same as the criticism of neoliberalism as a concept, but there are similarities. Brooks denies that neocons have influence because according to him the term is applied to so many different people with varying views it only functions as an insult without any meaning ( except an antisemitic one). Aside from the antisemitic angle this sounds like the people denying that there is any meaning to the term neoliberalism when applied to Democrats.

24

Alan White 11.03.19 at 11:49 pm

Your post is an excellent exposition in my estimation, especially given the way use of the term roams all over the conceptual turf and sometimes into pure nonsense. This is why I tune into CT every day.

25

nikbez 11.04.19 at 5:04 am

I think this is a very important topic, and I would encourage others to contribute as much as possible and create an educational interesting discussion.

John Quiggin on November 2, 2019

One obvious problem with my claim that neoliberalism has failed is that I haven’t provided either ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘failure’. Taking the second point first, there are several ways in which a political ideology may be a failure.

First, it may never attract sufficient support to have a serious influence on political outcomes. In this sense, ideologies like libertarianism and guild socialism may be regarded as failures.

Second, an ideology may be adopted and implemented, then discredited and discarded, or superseded by some new idea. This is the eventual fate of most political ideologies. Communism is the most recent example of a failure of this kind.

Third, an ideology may fail to deliver the promised outcomes. This is much more a matter of judgment, since promises are never delivered in full and failures are rarely complete.

It is important to remember that failure is never final.

The last one is an important and valid observation. Humans are immensely flexible. I think the broadest measure of the failure of a particular social system (and connected ideology) might be the stagnation or even decline of the standard of living of the bottom 80% of the population.

The key promise of neoliberalism is that redistribution of wealth up will lift that standard of living of everybody (“a rising tide lifts all boats” meme.) It did not happen.

That means that broadly speaking neoliberalism in the USA is a failure. May be not a dismal failure (the collapse of the USSR was probably a positive achievement; although later it backfired as unhinged US elite proved to be pretty cannibalistic ) , but still a failure. See https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades

Hidari 11.02.19 at 6:43 pm

Equally obviously, neoliberalism has almost completely failed to deliver on most of its promises, but, like Communism, that won’t stop the True Believers.

Thank you! The analogy with Communism is very deep indeed, and exists on many levels. Dmitry Orlov touched it in his writings. Any system based on ideology is somewhat similar to theocracy and as such, carries the seeds of its own destruction within. As soon as the majority of the population rejects the ideology troubles start, although the social system can continue to exist for, say, half a century or more. So, in a way, 2007 created the 2016 Hillary fiasco: the population had sent the establishment neoliberal candidate to the dustbin of history.

Moreover, the neoliberal New Class looks very similar to Soviet Nomenklatura: to belong to this class it is not enough to have only money. It is more important to have a high-level position in the industry, education, media, sport, or government. As soon as you lose this position, you no longer belong to the New Class, even if you have millions in your bank account. To accomplish the soft-landing, you can create your own charity (Gates, Clintons), or to get some sinecure like to become a board member in an S&P500 corporation (Comey, Mueller) although the latter is still “downgrades your social statuts, etc.

IMHO, after 2007 the situation with Neoliberalism is broadly similar to the situation with the collapsing ideology in which Bolshevism found itself in 1945. The latter lasted almost 50 years after that, so we can probably assume that it takes from half a century to century for such a neo-theocratic social system to disintegrate.

Surprisingly after 2007 managed to counterattack in several countries (Brazil, Argentina). This phenomenon is discussed by by Colin Crouch in his short but influential book “The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism” (2011)

So it had shown the same of higher resilience as Bolshevism, and in the absence of viable alternatives it might even take longer to disintegrate. I suspect that much depends on the “peak/plato oil” phenomenon. Prices over $100 per barrel might speed up the collapse.

In a sense, the current NeoMcCartyism (Russophobia, Sinophobia) epidemic in the USA can partially be viewed as a yet another sign of the crisis of neoliberalism: a desperate attempt to patch the cracks in the neoliberal façade using scapegoating — creation of an external enemy to project the problems of the neoliberal society.

I would add another, pretty subjective measure of failure: the degradation of the elite. When you look at Hillary, Trump, Biden, Warren, Harris, etc, you instantly understand what I am talking about. They all look are the second-rate, if not the third rate politicians. Also, the Epstein case was pretty symbolic.

The main luck of neoliberalism is that after 1980th, the society experienced two technological revolutions at once: one in computing and the other in telecommunications (Internet and broadband communications). Dissolution and subsequent merciless plunder of xUSSR economic space a large part of which now is colonized by EU and the USA (Central European countries previously belonging to the Warsaw block, Baltic countries, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.) also helped to stem the slide of the standard of living in Western countries at least for a decade or two.

Another factor was the injection of Soviet block engineers (including programmers) in the USA and several other Western countries (Germany, UK, Scandinavian countries, Australia, Israel, and Canada). I suspect that the Israel techno boom can be explained by this lucky chance, although many later left Israel. Now the “Triumphal march of neoliberalism” is history, the USSR is history, and the situation looks pretty bleak: high inequality has well known destabilizing effects of the society.

Protests are coming. Whether those protests can be suppressed by the power of the national security state installed after 9/11 in the USA, remain to be seen.

26

Mark Pontin 11.04.19 at 5:09 am

Petter Sjölund wrote:
‘ …the governments and parties that implemented these policies sometimes called themselves social democratic or even socialist, but that is … why such far-reaching changes could be made with so little resistance: the political majorities of every color, left and right, embraced the neoliberal project wholeheartedly.’

Yes. This cannot be stressed enough.

27

faustusnotes 11.04.19 at 5:24 am

It’s worth remembering that a word can become a weasel word while still retaining its original meaning. “Fascism” played this role in the 1980s and 1990s, and escaped it when “neoliberal” came along. It doesn’t matter that “neoliberal” has a real meaning, because in common discourse (especially hereabouts) it simply means “Democrat I don’t like”.

Tim Worstall is right that GPs contract services to the NHS and that this has been true since the foundation of the NHS, but he’s stretching it to argue this is a sign that the NHS is privatized. GP contracts are much more like employment agreements than private sector tenders or contracts. A better example is Medicare in Australia, or the health insurance contracting system in Japan, both of which provide high quality medical care under universal health coverage systems to the population in a highly private-sector oriented framework. Both of these also predate the modern use of the term “neoliberal” – the Japanese system was established in 1961 I think, based on a model from before WW2, and the Australian system was first introduced in the 1970s but formalized in (I think) 1984. (Dates may be wrong because I can’t be bothered checking, but they’re definitely not from the neoliberal era).

28

nastywoman 11.04.19 at 6:44 am

– and about this term ”neoliberalism” – I never thought that much about it – as when I grew up it was all ”GREEN, GREEN, GREEN against ”the mainstream” and ”rapture capitalists” – and even against the”Reactionary-oldfashioned-social-democrats”.

And when my fellow Americans – started to confuse Bernies ”anti-mainstream” with the ”anti-mainstream” of an utmost ”capitalistic corrupt Clownstick” – just because it always was so… may I say ”fashionable”- to hate the own (US) government – the term ”neoliberalism” confused ”the whole deal” even more? – to the dimension that it seams to be impossible to give my homeland a payable health care system – because my fellow Americans just hate the idea – that ”teh gubernment” HAS to be involved in order to control and regulate such a Human Right -(and not some ”free market”) –

AND even if we would agree to call the ”privatisation-wut” of so many – ”social democratic” countries ”neoliberalism” – at least the governments of these countries never touched – essentially – their utmost important – and very ”civilised” –
(compared to the US) –
Health Care Systems.

29

Lee A. Arnold 11.04.19 at 11:12 am

Jim Harrison #21: “I wish somebody…would address…the inner kinship of reactionary populism and much of the Left.”

Certainly not all of the Left, but at least some of the Left (and certainly the most vocal part of the Left) share the following positions with reactionary populists:

1. Isolationism (but for different reasons than reactionary populists).
2. Misunderstanding of money.
3. Belief that the market system can work for everybody but at a smaller scale, if the big interests are kept out.
4. Strident belief in the correctness of their opinions. Argument by connotation and metaphor.

30

Hidari 11.04.19 at 11:22 am

Three more pieces on the philosophy which apparently does not exist, or, if it does exist, can’t be defined.

(Ideas associated with neoliberalism include) ‘…economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

(A neoliberal agenda) pushes ‘deregulation on economies around the world, (opens) national markets to trade and capital, and (demands) that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. ‘

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world

See also this.

https://monthlyreview.org/2019/05/01/absolute-capitalism/

The major ideological opponents of neoliberalism therefore (social democracy, democratic socialism) oppose all these things.

So instead of privatisation, nationalisation.
Instead of austerity, Keynesian ‘pump priming’ of the economy.
Instead of deregulation, regulation (of business).
Instead of a reduction of govt. spending, an increase in govt. spending.
Instead of Capital, unions.

And so on.

31

Hidari 11.04.19 at 12:45 pm

An obvious point is that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ neoliberal government, any more than there is a ‘pure’ social democratic government. All governments are mixtures of interest groups and of course, individuals, who may have different opinions and probably do. Also Govt.s ‘change tack’ over time.

Nonetheless we can say that certain governments tend towards one or other end of the ideological spectrum. The Labour Government of 1945 and FDR’s New Deal, are clearly on the ‘left’ hand side of the spectrum, and the Thatcher and Reagan government are on the Right (both of these are both clearly neoliberal, incidentally, in intent if not always in deed). Where one places other post-war governments is clearly to a certain extent in the eye of the beholder, but general trends are obvious.

Certain people on this very thread are very desirous for these obviously apparent trends not to be so apparent or so obvious, and for equally obvious conclusions not to be therefore drawn about where, say, the Clinton Presidency or the Tony Blair Government stand on this ‘left to right’ spectrum, and one has to ask why that is.

32

politicalfootball 11.04.19 at 4:15 pm

Certain people on this very thread are very desirous for these obviously apparent trends not to be so apparent or so obvious, and for equally obvious conclusions not to be therefore drawn about where, say, the Clinton Presidency or the Tony Blair Government stand on this ‘left to right’ spectrum, and one has to ask why that is.

I think certain people on this very thread desire to conflate Krugman and Mankiw, or FDR and Margaret Thatcher. I mean, yeah, they are all carbon-based lifeforms, and FDR and Margaret Thatcher were opponents of Communism. But it elides a lot of vital distinctions to criticize Elizabeth Warren for pursuing the same economic agenda as Ronald Reagan.

33

dikbez 11.04.19 at 5:01 pm

@ Bot 25.

I’m confused: Are you limkbez or nikbez today?

34

Marc 11.04.19 at 6:18 pm

Interesting work John, and very good. One aspect that you might wish to add is that neoliberalism is heavily focused on efficiency. The social democratic mode would be to provide public goods (say, parks or state universities) to all for free, or nominal user costs, and to fund with taxes. The neoliberal model is to largely switch to user fees, with a carefully tailored social safety net exception, and the typical claim is usually along the lines of “why should middle class people subsidize (activity X) by people with more money? This idea – that markets allocate resources “correctly”, with the addition of policy-by-spreadsheet for a safety net, has led to far more complex and less popular forms of government policy even in areas where programs are primarily government financed and driven.

35

Mark Pontin 11.04.19 at 6:40 pm

@ Hidari —

That Monthly Review link you provided is a good one.

https://monthlyreview.org/2019/05/01/absolute-capitalism/

It’s in line both with what I see when I look out at the real world and with Quinn Slobodian’s history (for those who don’t feel like ploughing through Slobodian’s book). Most of all, I know tech VCs who openly and consciously call themselves neoliberals and it agrees with their (self-)definition.

This passage is particularly on point —

“As Hayek argued in The Constitution of Liberty, the neoliberal state is an interventionist, not laissez-faire, state precisely because it becomes the embodiment of a rule-governed, market-dictated economic order and is concerned with perpetuating and extending that order to the whole of society. If the neoliberal state is noninterventionist in relation to the economic sphere, it is all the more interventionist in its application of commodity principles to all other aspects of life, such as education, insurance, communications, health care, and the environment.

“In this ideal, restructured neoliberal order, the state is the embodiment of the market and is supreme only insofar as it represents the law of value, which in Hayek’s terms is virtually synonymous with the “rule of law.” … What Hayek means by “the rule of law” … is to establish “rules of the game” that prevent any deviation from the logic of commodity exchange or capitalist competition, while extending these relations further into society, with the state as the ultimate guarantor of market supremacy.”

36

likbez 11.04.19 at 7:24 pm

Petter Sjölund 11.03.19 at 2:46 pm

why such far-reaching changes could be made with so little resistance: the political majorities of every color, left and right, embraced the neoliberal project wholeheartedly.’

Nothing really surprising here. It is yet another demonstration of the power of propaganda, the power of brainwashing. First capture, and then tight control of major MSM along with creation of a network of “think tanks” — reusing Bolsheviks idea of “professional revolutionaries” in a very innovative matter. And financial oligarchy, striving for revenge and dismantling of the New Deal regulation, financed those ventures pretty lavishly, which attracted certain type of talent, the whole class of political shysters (Milton Friedman is a nice example here)

See http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/

Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.

In other words, neoliberals as Trotskyites turn coats innovatively reused methods pioneered by Bolsheviks and national socialists.

Remember Reagan’s quip:

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

This is a very slick propaganda and it most probably did not originated from Reagan himself but from his speechwriters.

37

likbez 11.04.19 at 8:33 pm

Reverting to the first point, my main problem with your explanation of how you use the term ‘neoliberal’ is that your definition of ‘neoliberal’ depends on your definition of ‘classical liberal’, and you haven’t explained how you use the term ‘classical liberal’.

IMHO, neoliberalism has probably closer connection to Trotskyism then to the classic liberalism and Mont Pelerin Society can be renamed into “The Committee for the adaptation of Trotskyism for the needs of financial oligarchy”

Some commonalities (in no particular order, or importance):
— The brutal suppression of organized labor
— Rampant militarism as the method of controlling of the population; outsized role on intelligence agencies in the society; the regime of total surveillance; the conversion of the state into the national security state
— Scapegoating and victimization of Untermensch
— The mantle of inevitability (famous TINA statement of Margaret Thatcher )
— The concept of the “new class” as the driving force in history which is destined to guide the humanity forward ( with the replacement of “proletariat” with the “creative class”.) See also Rand positivism with its cult of entrepreneurs.
— The implicit rejection of the normal interpretation of the rule of the law for “The Masters of the Universe” and the idea of “neoliberal justice” (tough justice for Untermensch only).
— Messianic zeal and hate for the “old order”
— Rejection of the ideas of universal truth, adoption of variation of “a class truth” via postmodernism; neoliberals reject the idea that there are any universal and/or religious (for example Christian) moral values and the concept of truth.
— Implicit denial of the idea of “free press”. The press is converted into neoliberal propaganda machine and journalists, writers, etc are viewed as “the solders of the ideology” who should advance neoliberalism
— The use of university economics courses for the indoctrination
— Pervasive use of academic science and “think tanks” for brainwashing of the population.
— The idea of the Uniparty — a single party system, with the ruling party serves as the vanguard of the hegemonic neoliberal class (top 1%) and represents only its interests. Which was adapted in the USA to a two Party system to preserve the illusion of democracy.
— Economic fetishism, the deliberate conversion of the ideology into a secular religion, questioning postulates of which can lead to ostracism. Neoliberals see the market as a sacred element of human civilization. Like is the case with Marxism, “Neoliberal rationality” is heavily tilted toward viewing the people as “homo economicus”. (See Professor Wendy Brown discussion on the subject)
— Cult of GDP with GDP growth as the ultimate goal of any society. Measurement of GDP became “number racket” and is distorted for political gains. Like Marxism, neoliberalism reduces individuals to statistics contained within aggregate economic performance.
— Justification of the use of violence as the political tool. The idea of Permanent [neoliberal] revolution to bring to power the new hegemonic class in all countries of the globe despite the resistance of the population. Like Trotskyism, neoliberalism consider wars to impose a neoliberal society on weaker countries (which in modern times are countries without nuclear weapons) which cannot give a fair fight to Western armies as inherently just
— The idea of artificial creation of the “revolutionary situation” for overthrow of “unfriendly” regimes ( via color revolution methods); assigning similar roles to students and media in such a coup d’état.
— Reliance on international organizations to bully countries into submission (remember Communist International (aka Comintern) and its network of spies and Communist Parties all over the world).

38

WLGR 11.04.19 at 9:30 pm

Tim Worstall @ 18, if you haven’t encountered it already, you’d probably be interested in Quinn Slobodian’s research on neoliberal Euroskepticism, which focuses on precisely the issue you highlight: how certain sectors of the neoliberal movement have increasingly come to fear the EU (despite its own neoliberal institutional pedigree) as the possible institutional vector for a hypothetical future “social Europe,” where citizens of poorer EU countries like Greece or Poland or Romania would benefit from large Europewide social welfare programs financed by taxation of citizens in wealthier EU countries like Germany or the UK. What those of us on the left might see as a perfectly logical extension of the basic principle of redistributive social safety nets within individual nation-states, or even a mere half-measure toward the ultimate goal of a global redistributive social safety net, the neoliberal movement regards with abject horror, gravitating toward far-right nationalist political currents like Brexit (or Trump, AfD, Orban, Modi, Bolsonaro, etc.) as a necessary ideological countermeasure against the potential political appeal of leftist international solidarity.

39

nastywoman 11.04.19 at 10:36 pm

@33
”dikbez 11.04.19 at 5:01 pm
@ Bot 25.
I’m confused: Are you limkbez or nikbez today”?

I always make this mistake when I post under the handle of ”beznik…” as I have this autocorrect which always changes from into form…?
– and I don’t know why?

40

nastywoman 11.04.19 at 10:51 pm

@37
– is such a great confusion why the American people are so confused about all these ”ism” things – like when Jimmy Kimmel sends a TV-Crew out on Hollywood Blvd and asks somebody called biskwiz who said:

”Give me Liverty or Death”
and siskwiz says: ”Trentin Tarantini”!

41

Ogdenik Wernstrombez 11.04.19 at 11:52 pm

I was enjoying Hidari’s posts…until the last part of @30, which appears to go all binary. I hope that is just pointing out how we humans tend to oppose every detail about something/someone we have decided we are against, even to the extent that we mirror the inconsistencies of our chosen enemies.

My favorite falsehood is the, “We are for decreasing government spending, so you are for increasing government spending”. One reason: Those who espouse decreasing government spending always find a way to increase spending…that helps their cronies, while cutting spending on programs that help large numbers of people. Another reason: Being for adequate funding of a government program is one thing, and consequent increases in government spending may be required – but the increased spending is not the goal in and of itself, it may be a necessary step.

42

WLGR 11.05.19 at 12:27 am

Lefties have a lot of reasons to roll our eyes when liberals start talking about Putin and his horde of Rooskie bots comin’ to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids, but most pertinent to this specific conversation, the underlying concerns about social media manipulation, fake news, etc. would be far better addressed by redirecting their ire from Russia and onto… wait for it… neoliberalism!

Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much this whole conversation would benefit from grappling with Philip Mirowski’s argument about fake news as a culmination of neoliberal market-based epistemology: starting from the basic doctrine that markets are information processors more powerful than any human being or institution could ever hope to be, neoliberals like Hayek decided that the true origin point of the “road to serfdom” is the hubristic notion of a non-marketized Truth that people could hope to grasp for themselves without slaving themselves to the ongoing dictates of the market, which is why in neoliberal terms, this empowerment of hucksterish for-profit “fake news” grifters to freely manipulate people’s base instincts according to the algorithmic logic of social media platforms and targeted ad networks is actually a sublime act of political virtue and seriousness. It’s not the big bad Rooskies who are driving this stuff, it’s the neoliberalized/marketized logic of modern Western discourse itself, and the only reason it seems so jarring when we Westerners see the Russians doing it (e.g. Mirowski’s quote from Adam Curtis on Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov) is because they’re following our example in ways we haven’t already trained ourselves to accept as normal.

43

Faustusnotes 11.05.19 at 2:28 am

I can’t take anyone seriously once they start denying the Russian influence operation. That’s the same level of self deception as climate change denialism and you need to be taken just as seriously. The evidence is plain and obvious and if you ignore it at this stage there’s no point in even trying to debate it or present it to you – you’re simply being dishonest. This is why I refer to the us far left as Putin-fluffers. You’re completely out of touch with reality and willing to tell any lie or deny any fact to defend your ridiculous nihilistic politics.

John, your posts have become a hotbed of this kind of denialism. It’s like reading a post on climate change from 10 years ago. Except now we have qanon-adjacent likbez spewing conspiracy theories (that on the other thread are sliding towards anti Semitism) and spouting nonsense theories heavily leavened with bullshit and fake facts (while wlgr talks about “fake news” as a neoliberal invention, oh the irony!)

Truly CT has gone down the swannee recently.

44

Hidari 11.05.19 at 9:00 am

@35 and also @38

‘Rather than concentrating on national programs of monetarism, privatization, and union-busting, Quinn Slobodian focuses on the transnational dimension: the EU and the WTO. The protagonists of his story are people you have never heard of, second-generation students of the original Austro-German founders, trained as lawyers, not economists—men like Ernst-Joachim Mestmäker and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, who shaped the agenda in Brussels and helped to steer global trade policy….

Slobodian has underlined the profound conservatism of the first generation of neoliberals and their fundamental hostility to democracy. What he has exposed, furthermore, is their deep commitment to empire as a restraint on the nation state. Notably, in the case of Wilhelm Röpke, this was reinforced by deep-seated anti-black racism. Throughout the 1960s Röpke was active on behalf of South Africa and Rhodesia in defense of what he saw as the last bastions of white civilization in the developing world. As late as the 1980s, members of the Mont Pèlerin Society argued that the white minority in South Africa could best be defended by weighting the voting system by the proportion of taxes paid….

If racial hierarchy was one of the foundations of neoliberalism’s imagined global order, the other key constraint on the nation-state was the free flow of the factors of production. This is what made the restoration of capital mobility in the 1980s such a triumph. Following in the footsteps of the legal scholar and historian Samuel Moyn, one might remark that it was not by accident that the advent of radical capital mobility coincided with the advent of universal human rights. Both curtailed the sovereignty of nation states. Slobodian traces that intellectual and political association back to the 1940s, when Geneva school economists formulated the argument that an essential pillar of liberal freedom was the right of the wealthy to move their money across borders unimpeded by national government regulation. What they demanded, Slobodian quips, was the human right to capital flight….

By the 1990s it can hardly be denied that neoliberalism was the dominant mode of policy in the EU, OECD, GATT, and WTO…

…critiques can be radically illuminating by exposing the foundations of key concepts of modernity. But where do they lead? For Hayek this was not a question. The entire point was to silence policy debate. By focusing on broad questions of the economic constitution, rather than the details of economic processes, neoliberals sought to outlaw prying questions about how things actually worked. It was when you started asking for statistics and assembling spreadsheets that you took the first dangerous step toward politicizing “the economy.”…

An anti-Hayekian history of neoliberalism would be one that refuses neoliberalism’s deliberately elevated level of discourse and addresses itself instead to what neoliberalism’s airy talk of orders and constitutions seeks to obscure: namely, the engines both large and small through which social and economic reality is constantly made and remade, its tools of power and knowledge ranging from cost-of-living indicators to carbon budgets, diesel emission tests and school evaluations. ‘

I don’t have time to talk about this here, and it’s probably too dull, but there is a huge difference between the, so to speak, first generation of neoliberals, who were Europeans (frequently of aristocratic lineage…..Friedrich August von Hayek and Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises ) and brought up in a very notable Central European intellectual environment (Freud, Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx….Hayek et al hated Marx, but they had read and understood him) , who had a highly MittelEuropean concern for abstract theorising and qualitative data, and the ‘school’ of neoliberalism that emerged in the 1950s in the United States (Friedman, of course, but also the Chicago Boys). This latter group were rooted in Anglo-Saxon empiricism, logical positivism (not in its so to speak original form, but as interpreted by e.g. Ayer), and had a deep love of quantitative data, spreadsheets, equations, mathematical laws, and so on. They had little concern or interest in the history of economics, and while they ritually spat on portraits of Marx (and Hegel) every morning just to get themselves motivated in the morning, they didn’t read Marx, or indeed any non-English language writers. They paid lip service to the Austrian school but again, they didn’t really understand or care about what they were saying. They were concerned with making economics a natural science (which the Austrians were absolutely not), and were also concerned with making marketisation the so to speak ‘default mode’ of human cognition.

As Tooze hints, it is our current quotidian situation (in which the quantitative analysis of any given social phenomena in terms of ‘competition’…..’school league tables’ ‘university league tables’, consumerist assessment of products in terms of quantitative output (that one sees in, e.g. Which magazine), the increasing attempt to view Nature as a bankable (quantitative) resource which can be capitalised) really derives from this 1950s and 1960s approach to reality, as does the worship of the computer and the assumption that all social problems are essentially non-ideological, quantitative, and solvable by technocratic means, with (of course) the collaboration of the private sector (CF ‘New Labour’) .

And this is the world we all live in. In that sense, of course, we are all neoliberals now.

https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/neoliberalism-world-order-review-quinn-slobodian-globalists

45

Z 11.05.19 at 9:23 am

@John Quiggin The core of the neoliberal program is (i) (ii) (iii)

Hmmm. For a rather short (and perceptive) blog post, that would probably do, but I find the description a bit too simplistic in the way it describes the role of the state. It seems to me an important tenet of the neoliberal ideology is the arbiter (or auctioneer) role it gives the state and other political institutions with respect to markets. Markets are the locus of justice and efficiency, but political institutions have the essential task of organizing them and the competitions that takes place within them, supposedly at least. In practice, this translated in a central role of political power not only in privatizing and breaking state monopolies, but also in the creation, sometimes ex nihilo, of markets supervised by state or quasi-state agencies (shielded of electoral choices by regulatory or ideally constitutional provisions) whose role was to organize concurrence in domains classical liberal economic theory would consider natural monopolies or natural public properties (education, health service, energy distribution, infrastructure of transportation, telecommunication, postal and banking service etc.). In that sense, the economical management of the EU post-1992 by the European Commission is probably the actual political system closest to the pure ideology.

Another aspect that is but alluded to is the actual electoral basis of neoliberal political power, a topic discussed at length in the Brahmin left thesis of Piketty’s most recent book, though other people came there way earlier and though Atari democrats is from 1983.

As for the failure of neoliberalism, the crucial point in my mind is that both the ideological and actual social reality of neoliberalism (probably more or less the same thing) – that is to say the idea that competition in which the most efficient, educated, innovative come on top and in which the ensuing economic growth lifts all boats – dramatically lack a fundamental property: it cannot reproduce the conditions of its own social existence. The central problem is concrete and simple: those who came on top of the previous round of the competition essential to neoliberal philosophy have the means and opportunity to rig the next round. Add to that the fact that the original basic insights of classical liberal proved to be more empirically correct than their neoliberal update, in that natural public monopolies are indeed more efficiently managed by public monopolies, and you get a vicious circle in which the tax cuts, social welfare cuts and privatizations are paid by diminishing common goods, so that maintaining constant welfare (even for the educated and wealthy) requires more income (you may want to enroll your children in a private school, or to supplement your declining national health or pension plan with a private one etc.). Those who can do it consequently exert as much pressure as they can on the economical and political system so that their income increases, but this requires new tax cuts, social welfare cuts and privatizations.

Another much more elementary point is that neoliberalism, as a political philosophy, is characterized by its very relaxed attitude, to say the least, towards inequality. People born after 1995, whose entire life experience has been of increased and extreme inequalities, can hardly subscribe to such a view.

46

MisterMr 11.05.19 at 10:04 am

Political terms like “neoliberalism” make sense in opposition to other terms representing other political movements, because one political movement generally rises against another.

But in the case of neoliberalism there are two different opposing movements in two different times, so the term can have 2 different meanings.

The first meaning is in opposition to postwar new deal systems: “neoliberals” were people who tought that the state was excessively large and had to be pruned.
In this sense, Tatcher and Reagan were the most neoliberal, and other third wayists on the left like Clinton and Blair were soft neoliberals.
It should be noted that soft neoliberalism was actually very popular and not at all something imposed from the above, because for a variety of reasons many people including on the left tought that the old new deal system was going bad.

But more recently “neoliberalism” is opposed by a sort of neo nationalism, most obviously from right wing populists.
Said right wing populists are pissed off by the “cosmopolitan” aspect of neoliberalism, not by the fact that the state is reined in.
So the meaning of “neoliberalism” in this acception is redefined.

If we take the first meaning (reduced redistribution), we should come to the idea that Trump is more neoliberla than Obama (Trump cut taxes on the rich, Obama increased them).
If we take the second meaning Obama was clearly more cosmopolitan than Trump so Obama would be more neoliberal.

Other meanings are somehow attached to the term without a real justification, for example it is common to say that “austerity” is a neoliberal thing but, if you look at the USA, deficits post 1980 are generally higer than deficits before 1980 (“austerity” is a relative concept).

Also the “cosmopolitan” thing is dubious, most countries before WW2 were very protectionistic (Italy during fascism had autarky as an official policy), so compared to this “new deal” economy was already quite cosmopolitan and corresponded to a phase of strong cultural globalisation, however later globalisation increased even more so relative to the neoliberal (post 1980) period the new deal period looks more protectionistic, but in the great scheme of things it wasn’t really.

On the whole I think that modern days anti-neoliberals like Trump are closer to paleo-liberals (european sense), that is even less redistributionist, so even when they call themselves as anti-neoliberal they are even more neoliberal than the older bunch.

But this is because I thinbk that varius ideas of the current anti-neoliberals are BS, like the idea that immigration is bad for wages. People who really believe that immigration is bad for wages would likely disagree with me.

47

Hidari 11.05.19 at 1:34 pm

:45 ‘Another much more elementary point is that neoliberalism, as a political philosophy, is characterized by its very relaxed attitude, to say the least, towards inequality.’

Peter Mandelson: ‘ “we are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”‘.

Two problems there: first it ignores the idea that inequality in and of itself might be a bad idea (cf the book The Spirit Level), and also it turned out that the rich did not, in fact, pay their taxes (cf The Panama Papers).

48

nastywoman 11.05.19 at 1:37 pm

@
”I can’t take anyone seriously once they start denying the Russian influence operation. That’s the same level of self deception as climate change denialism and you need to be taken just as seriously”.

I wish there would be a lot more Climate Change Deniers here – that I could post a lot more comments fighting and ridiculing them – about our truly serious and existential (Human) Climate Crisis.

Instead – I have to post silly comments about silly comments – CT has improved a lot lately.

49

librl 11.05.19 at 4:22 pm

Hidari: “‘…economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.’”

Not a bad summary but notice for example that Reagan never reduced “government spending”, he blew up the deficit, and still we all agree he’s neoliberal. Likewise, the fact that Trump doesn’t follow textbook neoliberalism when it comes to trade policy doesn’t negate that he is overwhelmingly an economic neoliberal – a neoliberal without the liberalism, the worst kind.

Hidari: “Certain people on this very thread are very desirous for these obviously apparent trends not to be so apparent or so obvious, and for equally obvious conclusions not to be therefore drawn about where, say, the Clinton Presidency or the Tony Blair Government stand on this ‘left to right’ spectrum, and one has to ask why that is.”

Then there are certain people who try very hard to deny that Trumpism and related right-wing movements are neoliberal and that is what really should concern. All of these movements are overwhelmingly economic neoliberals (e. g. check out the labor deregulation under Orban and the FPÖ). What they take issue with are mostly the “liberal” aspects of neoliberalism, especially freedom of movement. Regarding trade policy, it should also be noted that many right wing hardliners are in favor of trade deregulation – consider the Brexiteer vision of the “greatest free trade zone ever”. Trump is somewhat different but mostly what he cannot stand is the idea (a “liberal” idea) that there should be binding rules that everybody, even the US, must follow. An idea of course that has always been more an ideal than reality.

50

Scott P. 11.05.19 at 4:23 pm

Truly CT has gone down the swannee recently.

QFT.

51

Orange Watch 11.05.19 at 5:15 pm

MisterMr@46:

Other meanings are somehow attached to the term without a real justification, for example it is common to say that “austerity” is a neoliberal thing but, if you look at the USA, deficits post 1980 are generally higer than deficits before 1980 (“austerity” is a relative concept).

As you say, “austerity” is a relative concept. Austerity has always been about eliminating “unnecessary” spending, not eliminating spending. If you hold out defense spending, tax freezes or cuts, corporate subsidies, and ever-increasing debt service as necessary (or even outright good), while deeming social welfare programs and their like as frivolous, inefficient, wasteful expenses better left to the private market, it makes perfect sense to see deficits rise despite “austerity”. This follows even more closely when you take for granted the assumption that whatever the “austere” government chose to do was absolutely necessary and would have needed done no matter what; at that point you can argue that austerity slowed deficit growth.

This sort of legerdemain is also how one can have so wide a range of political actors falling under the tent of neoliberalism; while some are active advocates of its goals and seek to reform government to embody ever-increasing market efficiency über alles, others seek to prevent rollback of existing neoliberal policy. E.g., Clinton ran on the most progressive major-party platform to date in 2016 (just as Obama ran on the previously-most-progressive one in 2008), but her platform was to the right of her primary opponent and included significant bulwarks meant to shore up market-based principles (as did Obama’s Presidency; e.g., in both cases there was explicit rejection of non-market-based health insurance, let alone healthcare). Damage control is a thing. When a movement installs itself in government, actively expanding its base and implementing its agenda is only half of how it tightens its grip on power; the other half is making sure the programs and policies it’s already effected can’t be undone, or if that isn’t possible, to limit how much of them are reversed. A python may be holding steady when its victim inhales and tries to expand its lungs, but it’s no less suffocating them than when it constricts on their exhale.

52

CaptFamous 11.05.19 at 6:00 pm

This is really fantastic. I don’t have much of a background in econ or politics, but from an OR perspective, neoliberalism has generally been a philosophy of undue optimism and oversimplification. Basically:

If an idea is good, it is always good, so hedging is bad

If the right people are in charge things will go well and those people shouldn’t be impeded

If the stated goal of an action is good then the outcome will be good.

It’s a philosophy for the wealthy that is underpinned by the reality that they will be able to cherry-pick the benefits of the ideas/people/actions in play, but the downsides will be absorbed by the poor, embodied pretty well by the VC industry.

53

CaptFamous 11.05.19 at 6:00 pm

In short, “Neoliberalism: It Looks Great On Paper!”

54

mpowell 11.05.19 at 9:02 pm

So much of the debate around these kinds of terms ends up being different forms of motte and bailey arguments. In that sense, they aren’t very useful. But it is really valuable if we can attempt to categorize different modes of thinking very broadly.

What I find really glaringly lacking from JQ’s definition of neoliberalism is any reference to the idea that markets, or regulated markets, are a better way of achieving favorable economic outcomes for the population as a whole than traditional social democratic policy. You can argue that this was always just a cover for redistributing income upwards, but as an intellectual movement, this was always part of the program. It’s the main distinction between neoliberalism as a concept and a pure Goldwater style conservatism.

As a parallel idea, I think a trouble that people on the left have with people in the center is that the people on the left have a hard time believing that people in the center truly embrace a balance of considerations in their political philosophy. So if I believe that the only way to make effective policy is to balance the fairness of safety nets and equal opportunity vs the efficiency of maintaining healthy incentives, it is impossible for some people to believe that it is possible for a centrist to actually value and care about both sets of considerations. This leads to a lot of accusations of bad faith and lumping together of different political beliefs.

55

RobinM 11.05.19 at 11:48 pm

And then there’s this:

https://tocqueville21.com/stephen-sawyer-director-and-founder-tocqueville-21/the-need-for-neodemocracy/

The authors: Stephen W. Sawyer is the founder and Director of Tocqueville 21 and Director of Publications of The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville, and Director of the Center for Critical Democracy at the American University of Paris. William Novak is the the Charles F. and Edith J. Clyne Professor of Law at the University Michigan and a member of the Tocqueville Review editorial board.

56

likbez 11.06.19 at 4:07 am

Z 11.05.19 at 9:23 am @45

It seems to me an important tenet of the neoliberal ideology is the arbiter (or auctioneer) role it gives the state and other political institutions with respect to markets. Markets are the locus of justice and efficiency, but political institutions have the essential task of organizing them and the competitions that takes place within them, supposedly at least.

In practice, this translated in a central role of political power not only in privatizing and breaking state monopolies, but also in the creation, sometimes ex nihilo, of markets supervised by state or quasi-state agencies (shielded of electoral choices by regulatory or ideally constitutional provisions) whose role was to organize concurrence in domains classical liberal economic theory would consider natural monopolies or natural public properties (education, health service, energy distribution, infrastructure of transportation, telecommunication, postal and banking service etc.)

What an excellent and deep observation ! Thank you ! This is the essence of the compromises with financial oligarchy made by failing social democratic parties. Neoliberalism is kind of Trotskyism for the rich in which the political power is used to shape the society “from above”. As Hayek remarked on his visit to Pinochet’s Chile – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”.

George Monblot observed that “Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket [of the financial oligarchy], but it rapidly became one.” ( The Guardian, Apr 15, 2016):

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

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

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

The free (as in absence of regulation for FIRE) market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers (10% vs 90%) – and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Trump. Now entrenched centers of “resistance” (and first of all CIA, the Justice Department, The Department of State and a part of Pentagon) are trying to reverse the situation. Failing to understand that they created Trump and each time will reproduce it in more and more dangerous variant.

Trumpism is the inevitable result of the gap between the utopian ideal of the free (for the FIRE sector only ) market and the dystopian reality for the majority of the population (“without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape” Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium”)

The situation in which the financial sector generates just 4% of employment, but accounts for more than 25% of corporate profits is unsustainable. It should be reversed and it will be reversed.

57

likbez 11.06.19 at 7:56 am

Faustusnotes 11.05.19 at 2:28 am

I can’t take anyone seriously once they start denying the Russian influence operation.

Even if we abstract from a distinct neo-McCarthyism smell of such a statement, you are completely out of touch with reality.

This is not about Russia, or Ukraine, or quid pro quo in supplying weapons to Ukraine (it is unclear why Liberasts (note the Russian term) think that it is a good thing; it does not change the balance of power in the region and they might ends in the hands of Ukrainian far right; kind of Christian Taliban ) .

This is about out of control intelligence agencies (and first of all CIA) as well as factions of neoliberals/neocons in the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and Pentagon who want to prevent any change of the USA imperial policies.

In other words, this is about well-being of a loyal (and well paid) imperial troops who want to preserve their franchise and money flows despite the obvious signs of weakening and/or disintegration of the US led global neoliberal empire (China, Russia, Iran and other “axis of resistance” states; frictions with EU, Brexit, etc ) by deposing the current “Emperor” and installing their own puppet. Kind of Praetorian Guard (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Praetorian-Guard) revolt in a modern incarnation.

58

steven t johnson 11.06.19 at 3:50 pm

The other thread is closed now, but the notion that Trump is a serious opponent to neoliberalism is rather exaggerated. Which means this isn’t too OT, in my opinion.

After the fulsome praise, it is embarrassing to insist on contradicting likbez on other issues. But Trump’s attempt to plant oppo on Biden abroad is the same thing that is alleged of the so-called dirty dossier. If the one is treasonous, so is the other. Or, as I say, they’re just dirty tricks, which is standard for a corrupt system both sides uphold. Further, as Lee Arnold observes, none of this analysis makes any sense unless one can explain why the Deep State would panic at Trump, even if that nonsense was a real thing.

It is most certainly not because Trump is reverting to the Hamiltonian program that was never carried out, or to the American system that was also not carried out until after the Civil War. Trump is not reverting to national economy a la List, because such a program would include infrastructure investment, directive planning, investment in citizen welfare, lower military spending, less support for finance as well as tariff protections.

Trump is just waging economic warfare, which may have fewer US soldiers killing people but is still warfare. As in Venezuela or Iran I think in many respects it is an even crueler form of warfare in that it directly targets the people. Any defense of Trump as being less violent takes words for deeds, and ignores anything but US casualties. The key notion, that Trump is somehow draining the swamp, is preposterous, starting with the folly of accepting such a meaningless phrase as sincere. There is no reasonable definition of swamp that doesn’t imply Trump is a swamp creature.

Further no analysis of these imbroglios are serious, unless they take into account “how much difference did they make?” Trump is president primarily because of the Electoral College and because the mass media gave him massive free publicity while still retailing ludicrous fake scandals about Clinton, including Benghazi. Any theory that sees the CIA as the anti-Trump forgets the Clinton took the heat for covering up how a falling out over arms deals with jihadis led to the clash in the first place. So far from helping Clinton the CIA hung her out to dry.

Additionally, the only two dirty tricks that might have made a difference were the Access Hollywood tape (not the Deep State at work!) and the Comey letter on reopening the emails investigation. Except the whole point to that was Comey preferred to go public right before the election rather than keep his alleged subordinates shut up. Here too the Deep State wasn’t pro-Clinton.

The military is also a part of the Deep State if there were one, but it was anti-Clinton, just like it has been for decades. As for demonizing John Brennan for the wrong reasons, Brennan has had a bipartisan career. But especially if you insist Brennan et al. are Democratic Party hacks, then that must mean Trump is just another Republican. And that contradicts every word about the Deep State and the swamp.

Lastly, the whole general approach that the president is the king is repellent. This is so even if you magically limit his imperium to foreign policy. Even in official monarchies, it was a moral/political principle that the kind took counsel. One who did not was commonly deemed a tyrant. A view of presidential power and treason that is more backward than sixteenth century monarchy is not desirable.

My opinions, of course.

59

Hidari 11.06.19 at 7:44 pm

@49 ‘Not a bad summary but notice for example that Reagan never reduced “government spending”, he blew up the deficit, and still we all agree he’s neoliberal. ‘

Yes I was aware of that when I wrote it. Perhaps I should have qualified. There’s government spending and government spending isn’t there? Generally speaking neoliberals (like their compatriots the neoconservatives) don’t mind public spending as long as it’s on the police and the army and the ‘security services’. When the Tories (e.g.) in the UK talk about cutting back on public spending, they don’t mean (generally) on the army or the highly subsidised ‘defence’ industries.

They mean on hospitals and schools.

Same with the Republicans.

In any case, in a two party dictatorship like the US we all know why the Republicans balloon the deficit. It’s so right wing Democrats will be ‘forced to’ cut back on (e.g.) unemployment benefits and Medicare in order to ‘balance the budget’ when they finally get into power.

In a managed democracy like that of the US, everyone has their part to play.

60

nastywoman 11.06.19 at 11:19 pm

@56
”The free (as in absence of regulation for FIRE) market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers (10% vs 90%)”

YES!

”The situation in which the financial sector generates just 4% of employment, but accounts for more than 25% of corporate profits is unsustainable. It should be reversed and it will be reversed”.

YES!
– and I was so happy to have found this two quotes here – I can agree with 100 percent but then something really strange happened – behind one of these quotes somebody suggested that ”and the losers, looking for revenge”, turned to exactly the type of person who represents 100 percent ”the free (as in absence of regulation for FIRE) market”?

How could that be?!

And then on top of it even quoting ”the person” -(Pope Francis) – who is about the utmost opposite of ”the type of person who represents 100 percent ”the free (as in absence of regulation for FIRE) market”?

How crazily confused can ”a person” be?

And is it true – that it is ALL teh Internets fault?
-(because you can find on teh Internet the craziest ”quotes” – even the one of Churchill where he says:”If you’re going through hell, keep going.”)

61

WLGR 11.07.19 at 12:38 am

Faustusnotes, since you bring it up, I think it’s potentially quite instructive to compare the Russiagate conspiracy theories that’ve come into vogue among the MSNBC demographic over the last few years with the QAnon conspiracy theories that’ve come into vogue among the 4chan demographic on a similar timeframe. In both cases, the kernels of truth are broad structural realities about the way our capitalist system operates — large global powers running influence operations in each other’s domestic politics, increasingly elaborate manipulation of public perception via new forms of mass media, or wealthy elites being sadistic monsters who traffic and exploit vulnerable women and girls for their own sick amusement — but in both cases, the conspiracy theorists’ ideological priors don’t allow them to accept that this is simply how the system works in general, so they craft a narrative in which the bad things are being done by only a specific, clearly demarcated cabalistic subset of the broader ruling class, thereby implicitly or explicitly letting the rest of the ruling class and the system in general off the hook. And since you also bring up anti-Semitism, both of those conspiracy theories also strongly resemble how that particular conspiracy theory operates as a lightning rod against the potential danger of a systemic anticapitalist critique: the problem with capitalism isn’t that capitalists are capitalists, the problem is that some of them are Jewish, and if we could only get rid of the Jewish capitalists, our remaining non-Jewish elites would be fine and dandy.

So yes, it’s extremely silly to try to argue that leftists are “denialists” about Russiagate, let alone pinning this argument to creepily sexualized/homophobic epithets like “Putin fluffer,” since the people on the left I’ve seen trying to dial down the tone of liberal Russiagate conspiracy theorism are generally pretty open that the specific conspiracies being theorized have more than their share of truth. What leftists are primarily interested in denying is that these forms of elite corruption, social media manipulation, geopolitical influence-peddling, and so on somehow automatically descend to a new and categorically lower plane of evil when carried out by a nefarious foreign Rooskie conspiracy, as opposed to our own benevolent Western neoliberal elite overlords.

62

likbez 11.07.19 at 3:11 am

steven t johnson 11.06.19 at 3:50 pm @58

…insist on contradicting likbez on other issues. But Trump’s attempt to plant oppo on Biden abroad is the same thing that is alleged of the so-called dirty dossier. If the one is treasonous, so is the other. Or, as I say, they’re just dirty tricks, which is standard for a corrupt system both sides uphold.

This simply is not the case and can’t be compared. Biden is up to ears in Ukraine mess. And not only corruption, although this is clearly the case and provable (for a Clinton-style neoliberal this is a kind of badge of honor ;-), but in the much more serious stuff, including his instigation of the civil war in Donbas region in order to weaken Russia. The latter is a war crime.

Further, as Lee Arnold observes, none of this analysis makes any sense unless one can explain why the Deep State would panic at Trump, even if that nonsense were a real thing.

True.

Trump is just waging economic warfare, which may have fewer US soldiers killing people but is still warfare. As in Venezuela or Iran, I think, in many respects it is an even crueler form of warfare in that it directly targets the people. Any defense of Trump as being less violent takes words for deeds, and ignores anything but US casualties. The key notion, that Trump is somehow draining the swamp, is preposterous, starting with the folly of accepting such a meaningless phrase as sincere. There is no reasonable definition of swamp that doesn’t imply Trump is a swamp creature.

I completely agree. I think that Trumpism can be defined as “national neoliberalism” — fully neoliberal policies domestically, but with an important change in foreign policy — instead of classic neoliberal globalization based on organizations like WTO, they want a different, more imperial type of globalization based mostly on bilateral treaties in which the USA can impose his will by the sheer economic might. Kind of British empire type of globalization.

Any theory that sees the CIA as the anti-Trump forgets the Clinton took the heat for covering up how a falling out over arms deals with jihadis led to the clash in the first place. So far, from helping Clinton the CIA hung her out to dry.
… … …
The military is also a part of the Deep State if there were one, but it was anti-Clinton, just like it has been for decades. As for demonizing John Brennan for the wrong reasons, Brennan has had a bipartisan career. But especially if you insist Brennan et al. are Democratic Party hacks, then that must mean Trump is just another Republican. And that contradicts every word about the Deep State and the swamp.

In no way, the CIA can be viewed as a monolithic organization. Factions within the CIA can fight with each other. The same is true for the FBI. Why Comey made this statement is completely unclear, but most probably there were some really incriminating information on Weiner laptop (which contained about 694,000 emails and a very strange “Insurance” folder ) that made it impossible not to reopen investigation due to the pressure from the other factions (for example, NY FBI office), which in case of Comey non-compliance could leak information to the press and finish Clinton; probably this was a “forced move” (Zugzwang) to prevent greater damage (see https://sputniknews.com/us/201808281067518732-comey-lied-clinton-emails-laptop/ )

My impression is that the military is also split. Compare Flynn with McMaster. The latter was a rabid neocon from the beginning to the very end. It looks like DIA hates Clinton neoliberals, including Obama, more than Trump, and that’s why some forces within the CIA and FBI decided to neutralize Flynn using dirty methods ( Lisa Page edited Flynn’s FBI 302 Report and then lied about that).

And powerful faction within DIA (and Pentagon in general), NSA and FBI definitely resent Brennan (and CIA in general: *https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2019/11/burn-cia-and-fbi-to-the-ground-start-over.html ), viewing him as inept careerist who was promoted despite his abysmal failures in KSA (where he served under Colonel Lang). He owns his promotion to Obama.

It is clear from Colonel Lang’s posts ( https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2018/11/clapper-and-brennan-are-felons-probably-yes.html ) and other posts of former DIA staffers in his blog:

Former CIA Director John Brennan has admitted to lying under oath to Congress on two occasions. He may well face further legal exposure.
… … …
Brennan in 2016 also reached out to foreign intelligence services, primarily British and Australian, to surveille and entrap Trump aides, as a way of circumventing rules preventing CIA monitoring of American citizens. And he may well have also reverse-targeted Americans, under the guise of monitoring foreign nationals, in order to build a case of so-called Trump collusion.
… … …
Finally, Brennan testified to Congress in May 2017 that he had not been earlier aware of the dossier or its contents before the election, although in August 2016 it is almost certain that he had briefed Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on it in a spirited effort to have Reid pressure the FBI to keep or expand its counterintelligence investigation of Trump during the critical final weeks of the election.

I think Brennan is a kind of a soldier of the neoliberal empire, who was loyal to Obama and serves as a conduit of Obama policies and Obama decision to unleash the Russiagate false flag operation (which was colored not only by Obama’s CIA past and his imperial presidency experience, but also by the desire to preserve his “legacy” and strong personal animosity to Trump.)

In no way Brennan should be viewed as an independent player. It looks like Obama is at the center of the Russiagate false flag operation and is a much more dangerous defender of the global neoliberal empire then Brennan.

What I would like to stress in this post is that the events connected with Nulandgate, Russiagate, Ukrainegate, and impeachment, are so complex that we probably can judge them objectively only a decade or more later. But like JFK assassination Russiagate (and Ukrainegate and impeachment are simply Russiagate 2.0) signifies finishing of one historical period (classic neoliberalism period in the USA), and opening of the other, which might be “national neoliberalism” period, or something completely different.

63

Donald 11.07.19 at 4:37 am

“ In a sense, the current NeoMcCartyism (Russophobia, Sinophobia) epidemic in the USA can partially be viewed as a yet another sign of the crisis of neoliberalism: a desperate attempt to patch the cracks in the neoliberal façade using scapegoating — creation of an external enemy to project the problems of the neoliberal society.

I would add another, pretty subjective measure of failure: the degradation of the elite. When you look at Hillary, Trump, Biden, Warren, Harris, etc, you instantly understand what I am talking about. They all look are the second-rate, if not the third rate politicians. Also, the Epstein case was pretty symbolic.”

I had decided to stay on the sidelines for the most part after making a few earlier comments, but I liked this summary, except I would give Warren more credit. She is flawed like most politicians, but she has made some of the right enemies within the Democratic Party.

On Trump and “ the Deep State”, there is no unified Deep State. There is a collection of Democratic and Republican politicians and think tanks funded by various corporations and governments and bureaucrats in the government agencies mostly all devoted to the Empire, but also willing to stab each other in the back to obtain power. They don’t necessarily agree on policy details. They don’t oppose Trump because Trump is antiwar. Trump isn’t antiwar. Or rather, he is antiwar for three minutes here and there and then he advocates for war crimes. He is a fairly major war criminal based on his policies in Yemen. But they don’t oppose him for that either or they would have been upset by Obama. They oppose Trump because he is incompetent, unpredictable and easily manipulated. And worst of all, he doesn’t play the game right, where we pretend we intervene out of noble humanitarian motives. This idiot actually say he wants to keep Syrian oil fields and Syria’s oil fields aren’t significant to anyone outside Syria.

But yes, scapegoating is a big thing with liberals now. It’s pathetic. Our policies are influenced in rather negative ways by various foreign countries, but would be embarrassed to go to the extremes one regularly sees from liberals talking about Russian influence. For the most part, if we have a horrible political culture nearly all the blame for that is homegrown.

64

Donald 11.07.19 at 4:40 am

Sigh. Various typos above. Here is one —

Our policies are influenced in rather negative ways by various foreign countries, but would be embarrassed to go to the extremes one regularly sees from liberals talking about Russian influence.

I meant to say I would be embarrassed to go to the extremes one regularly sees from liberals talking about Russian influence.

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librl 11.07.19 at 10:25 am

Donald 63 quoting: “the degradation of the elite. When you look at Hillary, Trump, Biden, Warren, Harris, etc, you instantly understand what I am talking about.”

This is a revealing type of argument. If our elite is “degraded”, compared to what standard? Nixon, Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl? Or do we have to go back further in time? When was that golden age when we still had an “elite” that deserved its name? And since when does a conservative-elitist critique of the leadership personnel count as left wing? Just asking.

“the current NeoMcCartyism (Russophobia, Sinophobia) epidemic in the USA”

If you knew anything about McCarthyism and the political climate of that time, you’d know how off this comparison is.

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Z 11.07.19 at 10:46 am

@likbez What an excellent and deep observation ! Thank you !

Thanks for the kind words, but there are too kind to me. Many, many people have identified this as an important trait right from the start (at least since Foucault’s lectures on the topic in the 80s). Wendy Brown or Romaric Godin are excellent recent references.

And still I don’t think that purely ideological and political characterizations of neoliberalism in terms of interaction between markets of individual agents and political institutions tell an intellectually satisfactory story.

A serious exploration would require a discussion of national variants to begin with, not only because of obvious historical contingencies (the history of neoliberalism cannot be the same in Italy, an important but peripheral actor of the European system, and in New Zealand or the US), but mainly because neoliberalism (as I believe all ideologies) reflect a deep pre-intellectual component displaying significant national variation. A serious discussion of neoliberalism in the US, for instance, cannot avoid an in depth discussion of the paradoxical role it played in conjunction with the social role of designated Others assigned to Black Americans by White Americans. Likewise, but in a very different way and for completely different reasons, a serious discussion of neoliberalism in the founder states of the EU cannot avoid an in depth discussion of the impact of the terminal decline of Catholicism in the western and easter peripheries of France or in Bavaria in the 1980s.

Additionally, as I constantly harp on on this site, neoliberalism and its opponents as political phenomenon makes no sense without an understanding of the new class structure make-up of advanced western democracies, class structure not in the materialist sense of ownership of means of production, but in the Condorcet/Weberian sense of educational achievements (to give three tiny but concrete examples the devolving of the abstractly alluring idea of competition supervised by state agencies into revolving-door crony capitalism reflects in large part the fact that the same graduates from the same schools, and often the same programs, managed from the start what were supposed to be both sides of an equation; the relative political apathy of the middle-class, in the literal sense not in the phony Fox news sense, towards neoliberal policies in the 1990s certainly reflects in large part the decoupling of the working class with lower intellectual trades, like teachers, nurses or journalists in that decade, just like surging American socialism (!) obviously reflects the real proximity that now prevails between New York bar tenders and Boston University graduates aiming for careers in humanitarian health).

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Lee A. Arnold 11.07.19 at 11:23 am

Marc #34: “…has led to far more complex and less popular forms of government policy…”

Your entire comment is why I think that the proper response of social democracy to neoliberalism is to argue that very simple state provision of a limited set of public goods and services is the most efficient.

The technical part of that argument can be based on the observation that institutions reduce transaction and transformation costs. This is a form of efficiency and is tantamount to growth. It applies to command institutions too.

Further I would argue that until wrangling over tax policy can be ended, the best way to invest to expand those sectors is to print the money, up until the cycle of money through taxation-and-expenditure is rebalanced, and control for inflation by financial repression using the standard methods.

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Lee A. Arnold 11.07.19 at 12:23 pm

Z #45: “The central problem is concrete and simple: those who came on top of the previous round of the competition essential to neoliberal philosophy have the means and opportunity to rig the next round. … Another much more elementary point is that neoliberalism, as a political philosophy, is characterized by its very relaxed attitude, to say the least, towards inequality.”

Your whole comment is great. I wish to point out that your two sentences quoted apply not only to neoliberalism but to capitalism and to most previous social systems. Actions by winners in the previous round account for the following reasons for inequality that now surface in economic discourse:

Market power, rent-seeking, trade, unions declining, labor deregulation, central bank policy, unequal education, minimum wage stagnation, high-end tax cuts, financial deregulation, weak anti-trust enforcement, extended patents, weak tax enforcement, socialization of financial losses, growth of the financial sector, rise in credit, …

to make a cursory list in no particular order. They ought to add tenure.

Another reputed source of inequality, immigrants taking jobs, is risible although of course it underlies some of the current populism.

Standard economists and conservatives in general appear to take the most basic source of inequality to be difference in human ability. This ignores common sense, as Adam Smith put it:

“The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour.” Wealth of Nations, chapter 2

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nastywoman 11.07.19 at 1:04 pm

– and about all of this silly back and fourth about ”Russia” or all kind of other ”Gates” can’t we finally settle on some let’s say ”Supra-national and very Sporty” attitude towards ”the game”.

As we have joined ”the game” to create so much envy in every American for (half price EU) Health Care – and thusly helping tremendously to get rid of the Clownstick – that no Russian ”Influencers” can tell us anymore:
”But dadadad – dada! – WE erected the US President”!

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Lee A. Arnold 11.07.19 at 1:05 pm

Likbez #62: “…civil war in Donbas region in order to weaken Russia…”

Donbas is part of Ukraine. Russia already seized Crimea in violation of international law.

Reading Wikipedia “War in Donbass” will bring everyone up to date.

Ukraine is complicated but you only have two ways to go here: in support of the democratic process, or for Russian expansion now proceeding further into eastern Ukraine.

Don’t bother responding with more Russophilic baloney about US imperialism.

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notGoodenough 11.07.19 at 1:13 pm

Thanks to John Quiggin for attempting to untie the Gordian knot…I don’t know how the fight between descriptive and prescriptive usages goes, but I think – at the bare minimum – it has been very useful for someone like myself (a complete neophyte in this area) to get an insight into the more vague terms commonly employed.

I’d also like to say I appreciate some of the other posts on this topic. Even if there may be some strong disagreement, having a working definition of what people mean makes for a good starting point in order to prevent talking past each other.

Cheers!

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Lee A. Arnold 11.07.19 at 1:57 pm

steven t johnson #58,

Note that the Congressional Republicans accuse a small pro-Clinton group of partisans in the FBI of ginning-up the Steele dossier as a pretext for the investigations. That is not so hard to imagine — a small anti-Clinton group in the NY FBI office may have leaked word of the Weiner-Abedin emails found on Hillary’s office system. (It’s meaningless, but all that the close election may have needed was another mention of the word “emails”.) I suppose that soon we will find out what the pro-Clinton FBI people did from the Horowitz investigation due by the end of November. But even if they are culpable, it wouldn’t make all the subsequent findings (e.g. in the Mueller Report) into poisoned fruit (although the GOP will surely try). And again it’s hard for me to imagine that the Steele dossier by itself would have convinced others in the intelligence community unless there is corroborating intel.

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Orange Watch 11.07.19 at 5:11 pm

Donald@63:

The tendency to scapegoat rather than make the case for one’s own merit is very deeply ingrained in our top-down liberal democratic systems; the Democratic establishment is unfortunately just getting back to core principles by shifting almost exclusively to this mode of discourse over the past decade. From Guy Debord’s 1988 Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle:

This perfect democracy creates for itself its own inconceivable enemy, terrorism. In effect, it wants to be judged by its enemies moreso than by its results. The history of terrorism is written by the State; it is therefore instructive. The spectator populations certainly cannot know everything about terrorism, but they can always know enough to be persuaded that compared to terrorism, anything else must seem to be more or less acceptable, and in any case more rational and democratic.

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Lupita 11.08.19 at 1:38 am

I suppose that great part of the problem with people who do not understand what neoliberalism is stems from not living in a political system where youtubers, rioters, the media and politicians use it and elections are actually won by candidates who run on anti-neoliberal platforms. Maybe I can shed some light on the term by explaining how it is used in Mexico where the neoliberal regime has been declared dead by President López Obrador and everybody, the overwhelming majority that voted for him and those who did not, understood what he meant.

López Obrador has defined neoliberalism as the politics of lackeys and thieves and of technocrats who wanted to substitute the market for the state. During 36 years, he has said, neoliberals followed recipes sent by foreigners, privatized the telecommunications and energy sectors, followed a development model of exporting cheap raw materials and importing expensive industrial goods (this economic program was known as globalization), did not increase wages, and lowered spending in education. There was also a dramatic increase in violence thanks to the war on drugs and mass emigration. That is, neoliberalism was a total disaster.

Of course, the Mexican neoliberal regime was just a peg in a global machinery, but that is pretty much how neoliberalism is understood at the local, third world, level.

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likbez 11.08.19 at 8:21 am

When trying to find a proper definition of neoliberalism, first of all we need to admit that we are discussing a yet another dead ideology:
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world

Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Also when we discussing the proper definition of neoliberalism we need to remember very questionable pedigree of its founders. For example, Hayek was as close to the intellectual prostitute of financial oligarchy as one can get:

After washing out at LSE, Hayek never held a permanent appointment that was not paid for by corporate sponsors. Even his conservative colleagues at the University of Chicago – the global epicentre of libertarian dissent in the 1950s – regarded Hayek as a reactionary mouthpiece, a “stock rightwing man” with a “stock rightwing sponsor”, as one put it. As late as 1972, a friend could visit Hayek, now in Salzburg, only to find an elderly man prostrate with self-pity, believing his life’s work was in vain. No one cared what he had written!

Which means that one of key components in the definition of neoliberalism should be that this ideology was the project launched and supported by financial oligarchy, who felt squeezed by the New Del regulations. And its main task was to justify the return to political power of the financial oligarchy.

The more Hayek’s idea expands, the more reactionary it gets, the more it hides behind its pretence of scientific neutrality – and the more it allows economics to link up with the major intellectual trend of the west since the 17th century. The rise of modern science generated a problem: if the world is universally obedient to natural laws, what does it mean to be human? Is a human being simply an object in the world, like any other? There appears to be no way to assimilate the subjective, interior human experience into nature as science conceives it – as something objective whose rules we discover by observation.
… … …
Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.
… … …
Surely there is a connection between their growing irrelevance and the election of Trump, a creature of pure whim, a man without the principles or conviction to make for a coherent self.

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likbez 11.08.19 at 8:29 am

Dani Rodrik on neoliberalism:
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/14/the-fatal-flaw-of-neoliberalism-its-bad-economics

Economists study a social reality that is unlike the physical universe. It is completely manmade, highly malleable and operates according to different rules across time and space. Economics advances not by settling on the right model or theory to answer such questions, but by improving our understanding of the diversity of causal relationships.

Neoliberalism and its customary remedies – always more markets, always less government – are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics. Good economists know that the correct answer to any question in economics is: it depends.

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MisterMr 11.08.19 at 12:12 pm

If we speak of neoliberal economic policies, instead than of neoliberal theories, I believe that there are two aspects that are underappreciated:

1) The age of neoliberalism happened more or less when the USA turned from net exporter to net importer (what Varoufakis called the “global plan” phase and the “global minotaur” phase). I think that probably there is some world cycle stuff going on.

2) It seems to me that new deal economies had strong structural elements pushing wages up (high welfare spending, strong unions, etc.), while in the neoliberal age those element disappeared and were replaced to an almost complete dependence of cyclical measures (deficit spending, interest rates) aimed at creating a permanent boom. When these policies fail we are in deep s-t. But I doubt it is possible to keep a capitalist system permanently in boom mode.
However the pumping up of deficit spending and lowering of the interest rates are also a consequence of neoliberalism and of the overreliance on cyclical instruments, IMHO.

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steven t johnson 11.08.19 at 4:36 pm

I have hesitated to comment because I can’t see any way possible to comment with length explanation.

likbez@62 acknowledges the elements of the supposed Deep State are divided. Any view of Trump as somehow a temporary, accidental opponent of the Deep State, some of whose issues are perhaps worthy of tactical support, a modern form of united front against the Deep State however rests on the view the Deep State is not divided. Admitting this means giving away even the most partial, limited, temporary toleration of any Trumpery for the simple reason, it’s the monolithic Deep State that would justify this. But insofar as it isn’t just the usual sausage-making part of the state, the foe “we” must all unite against simply doesn’t exist. The whole Deep State is an ideological diversion from the real enemies, I think. Substitutes for Marxism I find to be much less objective, precise, true, effective, whatever, than advertised. But there’s always a market for Marxkritik.

I would agree the ruling classes and their states must be divided. The system is decaying, and it is crazy, and there is no jury-rigging a common solution that can reverse the process, pacifying the intraclass conflicts. The only way out is a thorough-going renovation of society, which poses questions of class power no one here wishes to answer. The reconstruction of today’s world are not soluble by compromise, neither libertarian market supremacy nor social-democratic class collaboration nor cryptofascist mobilization for war.

Once again, domestic policy and foreign policy are merely two sides of a coin. The renaissance of a decaying planet requires a redivision of the world, which is to say, war. Note that a multi-polar world is one which is much safer for war, which is the ultimate goal, even if the proponents believe there are just opposing hegemony. All markets need security guards.

Now what any of this could possibly have to do with hypothetical desire of ruling class conspirators to copy Trotskyism is a mystery to me. There is a rather specific set of people called neoconservatives who really did have a background in Trotskyist politics in the US. But that has nothing to do with most of the world. As for the notion that Biden started the civil war in Ukraine? Nonsense. What really kick started that was the attack on Russian speakers launched as the first order of business. Killing a bunch of people in Odessa by setting a building on fire and trapping them inside was motivation too.

Lee Arnold@72 speaks of democratic process. and Russian expansion. Both are imaginary. The process in Ukraine is fascist. It’s true that the open fascists are not at the top, but then, this was true of Franco’s Spain, where the Falange party was not on top either. But only a swindler would deny Franco’s Spain was fascist.

The idea there was no rebellion against the fascists in Kyiv is preposterous on the face of it. Further, Kharkov nearly went with Donetsk and Lugansk, but the national government managed to keep control. There is no sane scenario where a Russian invasion doesn’t take Kharkov, which shows it wasn’t Russian invasion that started it. And, conclusively, incorporating Donetsk and Lugansk means ending the war in some fashion that leaves essential control to Moscow. Whatever military assistance Russia gives the rebels is about making sure they don’t go too the left in fighting the fascists and making sure there are no embarrassing wave of Russian-speaking refugees from Ukrainian fascism. Endless war is not incorporation. It just means Putin is a fool for thinking one side won’t eventually collapse. Lastly, as to Crimea, the simple truth is that the establishment of liberal democracies generally demands consolidation of the national territory, which generally demands redrawing boundaries and ethnic cleansing. The insistence that Ukrainian fascists have a “right” to make Russians in Crimea second-class citizens because of old maps is not becoming.

More directly on topic, the difficulties in defining neoliberalism usefully I think come from 1) an incoherent political spectrum centered on overly specific policies which will vary according to time and place and the vicissitudes of world economy and war, rather than on class 2) the lack of a sound analysis of what bourgeois democracy is 3) an economic analysis that omits economic history, leaving most of the discussion decontextualized.

1) Basically, the liberal state, the neoliberal state and a host of other variants share the view of freedom as the right to buy what you can afford, to sell what you own and to do whatever you want in the meantime. It is a vision centered on property as the essence of humanity. See Benjamin Constant. And this is true even for people who try to imagine a non-market sphere for other aspects of life. The most common form today is perhaps the notion of the family as a private haven, the center of civil (as opposed to political) society. But nobody escapes reality, this is purely ideological, an illusionary escape from class society. The more the family is a private haven, the more it is a private prison.

The problem with placing neoliberalism on a spectrum is that practically everyone whose opinion would be accepted as legitimate for expression, fundamentally shares this vision. Disagreements about the inevitable lapses from the ideal are inevitable, but will change. In the earliest days of capitalism, expropriating Church lands was liberalism, even if the Wars of Religion, the Dutch revolution and the English reformation are conveniently omitted as essential. A continental power like France or Russia needed more intervention in its economy to create a military than England or Japan. The superficial differences confuse how much overlap there is between neoliberalism and every other acceptable school.

2) Possession of property of course puts people in different places in social life. Neoliberalism and the old liberalism alike held that freedom and justice were a balance of classes, that the state would maintain. How interventionist the state must be, again would vary. But the legitimacy of any intervention is held to be based not just on whether it was meant to maintain the proper balance of classes, but upon whether it was done with consent. Today the usual phrase is the rule of law. But this is a claim the means justify the ends, which is moral imbecility. Unjust laws do not make for justice.

The real justification for the rule of law is as an ends in itself, as social order no matter what, where class freedoms are safe. The overlap between this commitment from neoliberalism and other arrangements should be obvious, not confusing, but it is what is is. Democracy is about equality of money. In political terms, the spectrum of capitalist forms of the political regime, runs from the libertarian/neoliberal ideal on the left (there is a reason libertarians reprint Constant and Mill, even Sidney!) to fascism on the right. Fascism is an essential alternative weapon in the greater struggle, where individuals sacrifice for the power of the nation, which means the ruling classes of the nation, in substance though not in person. The tolerable version of social democracy lie somewhere in the center, putting class collaboration and corporate freedom above the purest visions of freedom, which would be preposterous universe of small business owners and farmers and professionals. But the notion democracy means human rights is purely ideological, refuted by history. It means citizen rights, because, the rules are all.

3) The novel issues that provoked the emergence of a neoliberalism distinct from the other political philosophies are as much a product of economic history (change!) as the disappearance Court vs. Country as the axis of politics in England. I suggest that, while Slobodian may be correct that the loss of empire was hugely important to a group who devised some justifications for neoliberalism, in practice, the decline, then disappearance of the gold standard, the increasing importance of finance, the US hegemony over the world, the commitment to reversing the Great Compression, to restoring a more just balance (as they see it,) between capital and labor were important. In US domestic politics, the secular stagnation in real wages, despite the increased labor as wives entered the labor force, were the point. And it is by no means clear that there are any significant forces opposing this.

And this finishes (at long last,) back at Trump. Like his true predecessor Nixon, not Carter (sic!) Trump is not properly a neoliberal. He stands for the use of state power against opponents within the system, regardless of class. He stands for changing things so they can’t go back to the way they were. Nixon’s rehabilitation shows the difference between Watergate and now. If rich people were opposed to Trump, they’d stop buying advertising (or alternatively buying advertising, as they did for Fox,) until they were getting the politics they wanted.

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nastywoman 11.08.19 at 9:15 pm

I have hesitated to comment because I can’t see any way possible to comment with short explanation:

Lengthy efforts to structure nonsense are laughable.

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Lee A. Arnold 11.09.19 at 2:33 am

stephen t johnson #77: “Whatever military assistance Russia gives the rebels is about making sure they don’t go too the left in fighting the fascists and making sure there are no embarrassing wave of Russian-speaking refugees from Ukrainian fascism.”

Putin is really afraid of leftism among Russian Ukrainians, and the “embarrassment” of an exodus into Russia? Your whole paragraph stirs propagandistic bits of excuse-mongering into an illogical mash. Look, Ukraine is a long complicated discussion but a simple overview is that most of the country wants to ally with the EU and the eastern portion wants to ally with Russia. Yes, there is a lot of corruption. Yes, Euromaidan (pro-EU) was probably 1/3 far right. Yes, there are fascist parties. But the majority of the people want democracy and not fascism. Instead these poor people got Zelensky being extorted by yet another thug. (Vindman is correct, this is another disaster by Trump with longterm consequences for US foreign policy. While the US Republicans have also gone thug, saying it’s no big deal.) If the Steinmeier formula holds and there are free elections in Donbass and the majority votes for kicking out Putin, do you think Putin going to withdraw his Russian Army regulars? Accompanying the annexation of Crimea was Putin’s long letter to the international community justifying his action because there were “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites” who are committing “pogroms and terror”. This now appears to be mostly fiction (perhaps enhanced by Putin’s agent provocateurs). Indeed according to Haaretz the Jews in Ukraine including Crimea wrote Putin a letter to tell him to “get lost”. https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-the-jews-who-said-no-to-putin-1.5333547

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steven t johnson 11.09.19 at 4:44 pm

Lee Arnold@80 “Putin is really afraid of leftism among Russian Ukrainians, and the “embarrassment” of an exodus into Russia? ” Yes, Putin does not want wholesale expropriation of oligarchs, as he does not stand for that in Russia (selective prosecution sufficient to appear to be a defender of the people and serve as a stick—accompanied by carrots—to negotiate oligarch support. Also, Putin doesn’t even want to pay pensions, he certainly doesn’t want the embarrassment of refugees neglected, or worse, costing. This point rests on the premise Putin isn’t a right-winger, which is absurd.

“If the Steinmeier formula holds and there are free elections in Donbass and the majority votes for kicking out Putin, do you think Putin going to withdraw his Russian Army regulars?” https://www.rferl.org/a/what-is-the-steinmeier-formula-and-did-zelenskiy-just-capitulate-to-moscow-/30195593.html This source may not be right-wing enough for your tastes, of course. But for the rest of us, it suggests that an if centered on the Steinmeier formula is disingenuous in itself. It’s not even clear that Zelensky hasn’t rejected the Steinmeier formula! The problem with re-unifying the country is the fascist regime is quite hostile to what it sees as unUkrainian elements, namely Russian speakers. National purity are favorite fascist principles but none of the rest of us are required to accept them. Your belief that an election supervised by the fascist regime is free and fair is wrong, no matter what you imply. And frankly, the notion the OSCE is surely neutral is dubious too.

There was never any reliable evidence of any significant numbers of regulars moving into Donetsk and Lugansk, because no, media reports are not reliable when addressing official enemies. It is almost certain there are advisors and mercenaries, copying the US model, but they are not what is generally meant by an invasion. They have not stakes out a separate territory as the US territory did in Syria. There are military reasons for setting up a perimeter, for mission security if nothing else. In short, there is in fact quite simple reasons for thinking, yes, Putin would stop spending money on Donetsk and Lugansk, and save on weapons and withdraw his advisers.

Further, the casualties in the Russian Army’s officer corps by the way would end up being known to the Russian Army, and eventually everyone else concerned. But they’re not. Equally, the large numbers of regulars alleged would have been in the recent prisoner exchange, but they weren’t. Some of those as I recall had been arrested merely for subversion, not taken prisoner of war. Casualties of course are not the only costs to Putin, there also being the money and weapons. The thing is of course, these are all excellent reasons for Putin to withdraw. You are tacitly presuming the conclusion, that Putin is a crazed warmonger unable even to calculate self-interest. Substituting scorn for analysis is not becoming.

“Yes, there are fascist parties.” This is entirely misleading. There are fascist armed formations incorporated into the Ukrainian army, financed privately.

The notion that Kyiv is just democracy is a nice example of the overlap between what fancies itself to be liberalism-not-neo, or even left-liberalism and shamelessly overt neoliberalism. Zelensky is privatizing Ukrainian land. https://www.rferl.org/a/what-is-the-steinmeier-formula-and-did-zelenskiy-just-capitulate-to-moscow-/30195593.html I can’t actually read the article as it’s paywalled but it’s conservative enough to carry weight here.

There’s the bit about Haaretz, which is like the anti-socialists ginning up anti-semitism smears against Corbyn. I say the stylized swastika on the stage with the PM of Ukraine shows us more than an old letter. I have no idea how you can say the people murdered when a building was set on fire and democratic mob drove people back in, don’t somehow count as “pogroms and terror.” But you missed a trick in pointing out “Jewish” opposition to “Putin.” (The people in Donestsk and Lugansk are no one? Except maybe pre-corpses?) Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the primary funder/founder of the Azov battalion, definitely wants no part of “Putin.”

Most of this discussion is rarely about the left, but here arises a major marker distinguishing the left, which is anti-fascism. You’re pro-fascist.

nastywoman@79 was so stung the comment was actually intelligible. Unfortunately, asserting something which isn’t nonsense—unlike nastywoman’s usual incoherence—without a shred of argument is naked hostility, not an argument. The gored ox bellows loud!

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likbez 11.09.19 at 6:21 pm

Lee A. Arnold 11.09.19 at 2:33 am @80

But the majority of the people want democracy and not fascism

While I agree that Ukrainian events are very complex and I am far from being an expert in this area, I think the Ukrainian events can be understood better, if we view them via the prism of a typical Latin American color revolution with the corresponding role of CIA and other agencies. Below is my interpretation of this event using this framework.

This was a collective effort of the USA and several NATO allies (Germany, Poland, Sweden were the most active (Georgian snipers were used for the classic “shooting the protesters by government” false flag operation)

The majority of Ukrainian people protested not about democracy, but about their current miserable conditions. They wanted a higher standard of living because the standard of living in Ukraine was one of the lowest in Europe (only Moldova has lower, I think). And the promise of such a standard living served as a carrot, the powerful catalyst to drive them into the protest (especially students.) The minority like neo-fascist and football hooligans gangs (the driving force of clashes with government forces) were fighting for the establishment of a neo-fascist regime with the anti-Russian edge, or, at least, Baltics-style nationalist government with the suppression of Russian language as the key demand from Western Ukrainian nationalists. The effect was somewhat similar as if in Canada Quebec nationalists came to power and prohibited English language.

And to incite people living in miserable conditions for a social protest is a no-brainer, and 5 billion of dollars mentioned by Nuland for this operation definitely suffice in a country with average monthly income below $100 :-). Dropped standard of living and high unemployment is what people usually get under neoliberalism anyway, and Ukraine was a neoliberal showcase from 1991. Like was the case with all xUSSR countries IMF specialists (economic gangsters) converted it into an Oligarchic republic in the best Latin American style with a corresponding level of inequality. Not that people actively resisted — they were brainwashed and also allergic to any social-democratic program due to their Soviet past. They expected that a higher standard of living is coming with Neoliberalism, and it did, but only to upper 5-10% of population. In any case this was the period of Triumphal march of neoliberalism.

And those naïve (and already fleeced) people who believed of lofty Euromaydan slogans were royally fleeced again (standard of living dropped since February 2014 probably more than two times, while the currency depreciated ~ 300%). In any case, the main driver of protest was very effective 24×7 propaganda (“western standards of living tomorrow”) from controlled by the “opposition” (in reality controlled and supported by the West putschists ) TV channels, newspapers, and such. As well as a huge injection of money from the West — for many protesters, this was the only well paid daily job they can get and which they cherished. BTW do you know how much “western” cash was confiscated in the Batkivshchina Party headquarters( the main driver of EuroMaydan)? You probably never even heard about this incident.

Yanukovich was weak, was sitting between two chairs, and amazingly corrupt. Biden threated to confiscate his ill-gotten wealth if he attacks the protesters. So at this point, he was doomed. Also, several members of his party turned to be turncoats a very typical scenario for any color revolution — buying politicians (especially homosexuals) is what the intelligence services do in such cases. So this was a very easy operation.

And while the USA was the dominant player, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Israel (and even Georgia) were active as well. Nuland actually pissed Merkel with her “f*ck EU” speech. It was about who will lead the marionette government after Yanukovich was deposed. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/germans-not-amused-by-nuland-gaffe/2014/02/07/66885a02-900d-11e3-878e-d76656564a01_story.html

After Provisional Government came to power the USA gradually pushed the country into civil was (not that Western Ukrainian nationalists were against; they were drunk with the victory.) BTW it looks like Brennan was instrumental in this push: he visited Ukraine under a false name at the time. So we can assume that this was the plan and the Odessa event, Mariupol event, etc. were just stages of this plan. And those events naturally led to Donetsk uprising (Putin initial unrealistic promises and then backtracking on them due to the fear of the total isolation of Russia also played a role).

BTW like under Pinochet, all social democratic parties were instantly banned. Latin America style “deaths squads” were formed from neo-fascist elements and members of the football hooligans gangs and financed by oligarchs like Kolomoyski and Poroshenko, much like in Latin America. For example, the Odessa Massacre was the result of the preplanned operation of such a squad (transported to Odessa for a specific purpose of intimidation of the protesters) .

It is actually amazing how easily people in such a large country can be manipulated by foreign powers and pushed to commit actions detrimental to their own economic interests. In a way, Ukrainian event demonstrated the power of neoliberalism even in its current zombie stage.

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nastywoman 11.10.19 at 4:23 am

@81
”Unfortunately, asserting something which isn’t nonsense—unlike nastywoman’s usual incoherence—without a shred of argument is naked hostility, not an argument”.

but I already made my argument(s) so many times before – that the (no)system of Clownstick is ”crazy” – as you wrote yourself: ”the system is decaying, and it is crazy”.

So why are you trying so hard to ”structure” the ”crazy”??!
-(by even not laughing about the complete nonsense of a likbez)

84

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 4:38 am

as this:
@82
”It is actually amazing how easily people in such a large country – can be manipulated by foreign powers and pushed to commit actions detrimental to their own economic interests”.

– was obviously written about my homeland the US – and NOT about the Ukraine – as everybody – who has – as her or his favourite waiter -(an Ukrainian) know that the Ukraine (like the waiter who already moved to the EU) wants to become a part of the EU.

But then – still – Americans – laughable – discuss that it ‘aint so…?

85

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 4:47 am

as this: @82
”It is actually amazing how easily people in such a large country – can be manipulated by foreign powers and pushed to commit actions detrimental to their own economic interests”.

– as it was obviously written about my homeland the US and NOT about my favorite Ukrainian waiter – who already moved to the EU – because everybody in the EU knows how deperate the Ukraine wants to become a part of the EU – while only some (laughable) Americans – still discuss that it ‘aint so…?

86

nastywoman 11.10.19 at 4:59 am

ANd – the weirdest thing?
All the Real Russians that I know –
(and it’s quite a few – as we now have two very pretty Russian ”Sisters” in my family)
WANT to become a member
of
the EU
too.
And NOT because of ”neoliberalism” – NO!
Just because the EU offers:
Secure jobs paying living wages – long vacations – payable health care – and free education for their (our) kids.

Is that ”argument” enough?

87

Lee A. Arnold 11.10.19 at 1:46 pm

steven t johnson #81,

You respond with another mashup of questionable evidence, tenuous logic and self-contradiction. Including a link to an article you haven’t read, and which proves the opposite of your argument!

Stop grasping at straws, and try to keep it simple.

Your theory is that the Russian people in eastern Ukraine are under fascist attack and Putin stepped in justly to stem the tide.

In contrast, it appears that most official observers from the EU, UK and US (all of whom you must believe are really “pro-fascist”, including the remarkable career experts whose testimony we can now read in “Ukrainegate”) see Ukraine as a post-Soviet confusion wherein oligarchs control key industries and one of the main objectives for Putin is to put his own oligarchs in control of the development of the Ukrainian energy sector (among other things) and so he used Euromaidan as the pretext for a stealth invasion, while the rest of Ukraine wants a free democracy with links to European development and so just elected a Russian-speaking Jew (Zelensky) who is backed by other oligarchs and who was already very well-known among the public — including his being against the banning of the Russian language and against the banning of Russian artists — and has promised to do the right thing so we’ll see what happens next. Then Trump compromised the man in front of his own people. (Thus probably gave more political ammunition to the real fascists.)

Anyway, now that the International Court of Justice has just agreed (against Putin’s strenuous objections) to hear allegations against Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine will you accept their verdict, or is the Hague “pro-fascist” too?

88

Lee A. Arnold 11.10.19 at 2:38 pm

likbez #82,

Your analysis is partial (in both senses of the word) because you fail to include that both sides are playing this game. Russia is far from innocent in Kyiv. I hate to oversimplify but in a sense Ukraine appears to be in a proxy war between EU-US and Russia and this war uses ethnic divisions and economic oligarchs within the population (as in the Cold War). An extra kink is that some US citizens — e.g. Manafort, and it looks like Trump — have been working for Russian interests.

As I tried to point out in the other thread at
http://crookedtimber.org/2019/10/27/arrogance-destroyed-the-world-trade-organisation/#comment-768924
the only long-term peaceful solution is to support and encourage democracy however faulty and fleeting the elections are. There is no case in which a world dominated by dictators is going to avoid big (and nuclear) wars in the future.

Meanwhile “neoliberalism” in the Ukraine discussion is something of a distraction because it can only be fought peacefully in a proper democracy by which it will transition into something else.

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