Notes on Neoliberalism

George Monbiot’s recent article in The Guardian  is rhetorically tidy, but substantively distorted in important ways. Most irksome is the depiction of neoliberalism as an idea that was hatched, lay dormant, recovered, imposed, increasingly misapplied, and now failing. The effect is to try and have it both ways: the current situation is a direct effect of a bad idea and it is an inadvertent outcome of this idea’s subversion. The “solution” is that somehow the subversion was always in the cards, built into the logic of neoliberalism itself. But that is certainly not what Hayek imagined, and if it is so, then the opposite of neoliberalism (oligarchy) somehow remains neoliberalism—a non-sequitur that leaves us still without a proper name for the ruling ideology. This begs the question of why we need a complicated story to impose unity on empirical diversity when, in fact, a simpler explanation is available—what Dean Baker calls “the conservative nanny state.” There is nothing neoliberal about the old idea that competition is for the minnows but not for the pikes; on the contrary, if the pikes are exempt, you’ve violated the most basic axiom of neoliberal doctrine. But in Monbiot’s account, this violation is neoliberalism.

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