Miranda: O brave new world that has such people in it!
Prospero: 'Tis new, to thee.
The Tempest Act 5, scene 1
In my reading today I came across this relatively good description of Neoliberalism in economics excerpted below, and its implications for society. The name for this school is often confusing to some, because it is a school of the right, more akin to political neoconservatism than anything commonly known as liberal.
Here is the schoolbook definition of neoliberalism in economics:
"Neoliberalism is a label for economic liberalizations, free trade, and open markets. Neoliberalism supports privatization of state-owned enterprises, deregulation of markets, and promotion of the private sector's role in society. In the 1980s, much of neoliberal theory was incorporated into mainstream economics."I have to reiterate my own perspective that economics is not a physical science with rules generally tested by replicable experimentation on the macro level, but is at most a 'social science' that attempts to approximate a complex human reality, like sociology.
Microeconomics 'works' because it is less dependent on the human element, and involves itself with mechanical processes and pricing functions. By 'economics' I am discussing what is called macroeconomics, or the economics not of a discreet process or set of processes called a 'business' but of a broad economy with enormous sets of variables and processes that are far too complex to represent well mathematically. They most often trim and crush reality to fit some compactly useful model, as in the manner of Nassim Taleb's Procrustean Bed.
When it ventures into the realm of public policy discussions, economics often resembles a belief system very much like a religion. It is easily twisted to serve the desires and actions of its acolytes while conferring an aura of logic. But there is almost always some 'leap of faith' made that spans the enormous gulf between the model, its assumptions, and reality.
Economics is only as good as its assumptions, which may in fact be terribly distorted with each step towards a more general application from a simple a priori observation that sounds self-evident at first. Economics is a veritable cornucopia of non sequiturs encased in obscurantist terminology.
People are reasoning, therefore in their actions they act reasonably. And in the mass of financial transactions that is the market, these rational actors and their actions impute a natural rationality to the market that makes it efficient. Therefore the law of supply and demand and the perfect clearing price of the market, which are central tenets of market efficiency, are not to be interfered with by outside forces, like regulation and government.
And what makes this believable is that this can be true, if people are as good and perfectly wise and uniform in their actions as angels; but they are not, not a one of them, but especially those who are drawn to making their money from money, and especially from speculation in the markets. This type of activity attracts people from the tails of human behaviour, like most sources of wealth and power.
This assertion of natural market efficiency sounds good, especially when it is delivered by academics in nice suits with lots of degrees and titles, backed by a multimillion dollar PR campaign that contains well crafted, thinly disguised appeals to more visceral emotions.
But it is a theory that is easily shown to be founded in fantasy to anyone who has driven on a crowded multi-lane highway in rush hour.
And a corollary to this is that the system grades or objectively and perfectly evaluates people on their merits. If one suffers some misfortune or fails to rise 'to the top' of the heap, then this is an objective judgement on them and their value, their character, their worthiness as a human being. And some would say that this speaks to their status as a fully valued member of that society, to have rights and to vote, to receive food and vital medical attention, and to have families and to procreate.
Because the system is perfectly efficient and rewards the best, the most successful are sanctified by it. I am wealthy, therefore I am among the elect, whether it is marked by an aristocratic title or an enormous bank account. I am above all the rest, and this proves my value, and provides all the things which are stuffed into my hollowed being.
One can certainly and legitimately use economics, among other things, to support their particular policy arguments to estimate effects. But the listeners should accept this with plenty of skepticism, because the proofs are largely based on statistics, or statistically based models, that are filled with often unspoken assumptions, questionable estimates, and too often critical omissions, both conscious or inadvertent.
But to take an economic model out of its place, and put it above the discussion as policy maker in the manner of a computing machine which spits out the ultimate solutions, to capitalize 'Market' as a type of god on earth, to put that false idol as an unfettered decision-making machine above the individuals of a society and the rule of law, is inhuman, and a tyranny of the anti-human.
Economics is a tool, in some implementations better than others, but overall not a particularly reliable one. It is better in 'explaining' than predicting; its explanations are more often rationalizations founded in its malleability and lack of rigor.
The elevation of macroeconomics today reminds one of the perversions of the discoveries in biology that led to the theories of eugenics and the race worship, the mythology of the blood that motivated much of the social thinking and many serious political movements at the beginnings of the twentieth century. It was when the intelligentsia and the professions, the doctors and lawyers, threw in their lot with the financial and industrial elite that European society began to quickly fall apart.
"I believe that if a canvass of the entire civilized world were put to the vote in this matter, the proposition that it is desirable that the better sort of people should intermarry and have plentiful children, and that the inferior sort of people should abstain from multiplication, would be carried by an overwhelming majority...People forget that a whole range of intellectuals and popular thinkers, from George Bernard Shaw to H.G. Wells and a large measure of the economic, professional and political aristocracy of the day, embraced the notion of the natural superiority of certain human types, and the scientific necessity of encouraging their proliferation, and the dominance of the untermensch as not only their right but their obligation.
Indeed, Mr. Galton has drawn up certain definite proposals. He has suggested that "noble families" should collect "fine specimens of humanity" around them, employing these fine specimens in menial occupations of a light and comfortable sort, that will leave a sufficient portion of their energies free for the multiplication of their superior type."
Source: H.G. Wells, Mankind in the Making
The medical profession disgraced itself, amongst the first of those in Germany, with their willingness and devotion to implement euthanasia based on these 'scientific principles.' And the elite in the West broadly looked at this movement with quiet compliance and even admiration for the will to make these 'hard decisions.' It was only when the definition of the master race became increasingly narrow and their methods madly brutal that they recoiled in horror. But by then it was too late, although many adherents to the basic principles remained sympathetic in England and America.
And one might look at these people from the past with revulsion and wonder, but the self-proclaimed ruling class of the West is doing the same thing today, largely by financial means for now. Their rhetoric and reasoning is filled with it, a sense of the obligation of their natural superiority. And if they steal from you, it is a privilege. And if a little of their spoils trickles down, you should be grateful.
There are plenty of believers in the ascendancy of a new master class, as long as they think they are a part of it. You may see them and their ideas on display this week from Brussels and Berlin, to Tampa and Jackson Hole. And they are not members of learning organizations, but protectors and promoters of the status quo.
"There is a lack of critical assessment of the past. But you have to understand that the current ruling elite is actually the old ruling elite. So they are incapable of a self-critical approach to the past."If one wishes to have an oligarchy or even a dictatorship based on power and unscrupulous behaviour in which the 'superior,' as one may choose to define them, use the weak as servants and prey, then decide to do so and say it, and hope the people will support it.
But it seems particularly hypocritical and cheap to set up a god of economic science which is elevated to speak these same words as an inspired dictum from above, but which is in reality a false idol carrying the calculated whisperings of its high priests, and then expect the people to bow to it forever without any eventual reaction.
The Tyranny of Neoliberalism
Unapologetic in its implementation of austerity measures that cause massive amounts of human hardship and suffering, neoliberal capitalism consolidates class power on the backs of young people, workers, and others marginalized by class, race, and ethnicity. Neoliberal capitalism appears to no longer need the legitimacy garnered through its false claim to democratic ideals such as free speech, individual liberty, or justice—however tepid these appeals have always been. (cf. Glenn Greenwald - Jesse)
In the absence of alternative social visions to market-driven values and the increasing separation of global corporate power from national politics, neoliberalism has wrested itself free of any regulatory controls while at the same time removing economics from any consideration of social costs, ethics, or social responsibility. Such a disposition is evident in the fact that neoliberalism's only imperatives are profits and growing investments in global power structures unmoored from any form of accountable, democratic governance.
The devastating fallout of neoliberal capitalism's reorganization of society, the destruction of communities and impoverishment of individuals and families, now becomes its most embraced mode of expression as it is championed, ironically, as the only viable route to economic stability.
In this widely accepted, yet dystopian world view, collective misfortune is no longer interpreted as a sign of failing governance or the tawdry willingness of politicians to serve corporate interests, but attributed to the character flaws of individuals and defined chiefly as a matter of personal responsibility. In fact, government-provided social protections are viewed as pathological. Matters of life and death are removed from traditional modes of democratic governance and made subject to the sovereignty of the market. (Don't feed the 'losers' or the undesirables - isolate and then euthanise them, indirectly at first - Jesse)
In this new age of biocapital, or what Eric Cazdyn calls "bioeconomics," "all ideals are at the mercy of a larger economic logic" —one that unapologetically generates policies that "trample over millions of people if necessary." Neoliberalism's defining ideologies, values, and policies harness all institutions, social practices, and modes of thought to the demands of corporations and the needs of the warfare state. They are as narrowly self-serving as they are destructive. (The individuals, even in their millions, must die if not for the good of the state or the race, then for the good of the market and corporate profits. - Jesse)
As collective responsibility is privatized, politics loses its social and democratic character, and the formative culture necessary for the production of engaged critical agents is gravely undermined. An utterly reduced form of agency is now embodied in the figure of the isolated automaton, who is driven by self-interest and eschews any responsibility for the other.
As Stuart J. Murray points out, neoliberalism's totalizing discourse of privatization, commodification, deregulation, and hyper-individualism "co-opts and eviscerates the language of the common good." The ascendancy of neoliberal ideology also manifests in an ongoing assault on democratic public spheres, public goods, and any viable notion of equality and social justice.
As corporate power is consolidated into fewer and fewer hands, ideological and structural reforms are implemented to transfer wealth and income into the hands of a ruling financial and corporate elite. This concentration of power is all the more alarming since both Canada and the United States have experienced unprecedented growth in wealth concentration and income inequality since the 1970s.
Henry Giroux, Days of Rage: The Quebec Student Protest Movement