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Neo-liberalism and impoverishment

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Thursday, 5 August 2010


This paper is about reasons why neo-liberalism creates the impoverishment of many people with severe disabilities, through reducing government services. I look to define general aspects of neo-liberalism and I further analyse their market approach analysing its possible impoverishment of many people with severe disabilities.

Neo-liberalism is a political economic theory and practice that emerged in the 1960s, and has increased in prominence at the policy level since the 1980s. The neo-liberal approach rejects social democratic doctrines. Neo-liberalism focuses politically on the establishment of a stable medium of exchange, the reduction of localised rules, regulations and barriers to commerce, and the privatisation of state run enterprises.

This contemporary dominant economic ideology of most western countries is referred to as neo-liberalism because it is a modern version of the classical liberalism that initially arose in the 18th century. Moreover, neo-liberalism claims to be a political system designed to highlight both the political limitations of the market economy in the nation-state, and the economic efficiency and effectiveness of the market economy when it is freed to operate on a global scale.

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However, Raymond Plant, in his 2010 article published in the UK titled “The Neoliberal State”, argued that in 2010, while the neoliberal financial regime may have crumbled, the political agenda to defer authority to the market remains the same.

This highlights the persistent inequalities that exist in the ideology and theory of classical liberalism and today’s form of neo-liberal economics. Neo-liberalism and classical liberalism identify themselves with the position that, as the economy expands, everybody will share in its prosperity. Neo-liberal economists believe social progress is merely a by-product of economic growth. As Kotz in his 2003 article titled “Neoliberalism and the US economic expansion of the '90s” puts it:

Contemporary neoliberalism has become fully dominant among mainstream thinkers in the United States and Britain. This new conventional wisdom holds that the many economic and social problems of the decades following the Second World War resulted from government meddling in the economy. The rediscovered “free market economy” is, we are told, the route to optimum efficiency, rapid economic growth and innovation, and rising prosperity for all who are willing to work hard and take advantage of available opportunities.

Kotz argues further that neo-liberal economics is capable of affecting nearly every facet of social life. For example, over the past 25 years neo-liberal reforms have affected not only the economic lives of individuals, but have had a direct impact on the social lives of many people.

Since its inception world-wide, neo-liberalism has only further widened the gap between rich and poor and created insecurities within the nature of work. Neo-liberal politics has brought about a poor quality and inflexible source of public services by reducing, restructuring and reforming government and its link to public services.

Advocates of neo-liberalism say it aims to achieve progress by combining the operation of a free market with measures of social justice, in particular focused around the concept of meritocracy, which will, at least in theory, also contribute to economic growth.

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Katha Pollit in her 1995 article titled: “Subject to debate (equal opportunity vs. equal results” announces the political motivation behind the neoliberal political actions to enforce a new form of meritocracy. That is, to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of a market driven economy, neo-liberals have introduced what it theoretically announces to be a global form of meritocracy. Anthony Giddens, the renowned political academic, argues that this form of equity is flawed, creating deep inequalities of outcome that threaten social cohesion. Roy Hattersley of the British Labour Party believes that meritocracy only offers shifting patterns of inequality, unfairly exalting the rich, while condemning the poor to false hopes of individualised social mobility.

Meritocracy is defined by government policies promoting the principles of merit. The actions pursued by advocates of meritocracy are fundamental to the belief that people get out of the system what they put into it based on what they deserve according to market based principles. It is a political vision for the future based on merit, and opposed to the traditionally conservative theories of the aristocracy. However, Michael Young a world renowned writer on the subject has argued that “meritocracy is even worse than aristocracy because it attempts to acquire plus points because it connotes power and privilege as merited rather than born with”. He further argues that meritocracy is detrimental to those with disabilities. Young in his 1998 article titled: “Meritocracy revisited: assessing the social implications of meritocracy” puts it like this:

… showing how sad, and fragile, a meritocratic society could be. If the rich and powerful were encouraged by the general culture to believe that they fully deserved all they had, how arrogant they could become, and, if they were convinced it was all for the common good, how ruthless in pursuing their own advantage.

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Peter Gibilisco would like to thank Dr Tim Marjoribanks and Dr Bruce Wearne for their assistance and dedicates this paper to the ones who have supported him in so many ways - his attendant carers Catherine Maclou and Suzette Kelaart.



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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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