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Neoliberalism is alive and kicking. You ainít seen nothiní yet!

By Rob Stewart - posted Thursday, 20 December 2018


Despite emerging acknowledgement of the miserable failure of neoliberalism, at least in some circles, it will carry on as a dominant force in western ideology and policy formation.

Neoliberalism is an abomination of a term. For a start there is nothing “new” or “liberal” about neoliberalism. It is a chimera or a chameleon, changing all the time, depending on the situation, morphing but not new. It is about much more than economics. It is an ideological belief system built around elitism and a perceived “natural order” of things in which the 1% or the 0.1% should own everything because they thoroughly and richly deserve it (just don’t look at the rules of the game).

Systems of tyranny have risen and fallen for thousands of years as Walter Scheidel points out in his book The Great Leveller. He shows that the rising stars of power and elitism are always eventually overthrown by the masses, diseases, costs of war or starvation. Power never remains supreme and eternal but each new possessing class thinks it’s going to be different – they’re going to hang on to their obscene unearned wealth and power and keep the masses at bay.

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Modern day militarisation of police forces and invasive surveillance state and internet privacy and security laws might just keep the oligarchs in place a little longer, by enabling the crushing of those who are even thinking of speaking out a little and throwing them into jail for being imminent threats to society.

We’ve seen how new technology and oppressive laws helped crush the Arab Spring. Similar oppression was used to crush the Occupy Movement after toleration of it as a “cute kind of gimmick” ran out.

Forty years into the neoliberal project and it has certainly worked to benefit the 0.1% or the 0.0000001%, with Oxfam reporting that in 2016 the 8 wealthiest individuals on the planet had as much as the bottom 50% of humanity combined – around 3,700,000,000 people. No problem of inequality there!

Neoliberalism is a kind or perverted Darwinism. Its façade is one of “freedom” and “rugged individualism”, Adam Smith’s abused and mis-quoted “invisible hand”, “efficiency”, the “dead hand” of the state and so on.  But neoliberalism in practice is a very different beast.

There is a wealth of literature and evidence deep and wide on many aspects of neoliberalism. How its fanciful, juvenile high principles and ideological constructs are often jettisoned in staggering hypocritical back flips and necessary “exceptions” to the rules when there’s a quid or two more to be trousered by the 1%, or some banks to be saved so they can pursue even more greed.

Champions of neoliberalism want it for everyone else, but not themselves – they cry out for cruel to be kind welfare cuts, austerity, poverty wages, contracting out, deregulation and privatisation and some unbelievably stupid economic policies like contractionary fiscal expansion. Didn’t anyone learn anything from the Great Depression? Was Keynes real or just a fictional character?

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There is no need to complicate or confuse myth with fact in our post-Orwellian, alternative fact new world order. Government can only stuff things up, so get it out of the way. As Ronald Reagan said, “government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.” To ensure this is the case the plutocracy has been doing everything it can to ensure elected governments are as incompetent and dysfunctional as possible – that the democratic process results in kakistocracy.

Governments everywhere are compliant with their masters demands for policies of endless tax cuts and corporate welfare for the rich, either deliberately unfunded or partially funded by slashing social welfare and public program funding for everyone else.

Key economic instruments of neoliberalism include privatisation, deregulation, corporatisation and globalisation. If people express anger and outrage after some asset or service is privatised the usual next “go to” step for neoliberals is that the old system was unsustainable, and unaffordable (witness increases in higher education charges and tertiary funding cuts). The argument is it would have ended up being even worse if the asset or service had been kept in public hands.

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About the Author

Rob Stewart is a retired economist and former senior executive in the Australian public service, with experience primarily in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (AusAID), and the Treasury and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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