Has neoliberalism been oversold?

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been the two global institutions most associated with pushing neoliberal policies onto developing countries since the 1980s, but a recent (2016) article posted to the IMF’s Financial Development newsletter points out that neoliberal policies have caused problems in several countries, suggesting that neoliberalism hasn’t been universally successful.

In this post I summarise the article, which should be a useful criticism of neoliberalism for students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level sociology.

Increasing neoliberalisation

The article starts off by defining neoliberalism as having two main aspects: increasing competition and an increased role of the state and then reminds us that policies designed to achieve these two things have been introduced in many countries since the 1980s:

Criticisms of Neoliberal policies

The report notes three problems:

  1. There is a ‘broad group’ of countries where increased growth doesn’t seem to have brought about any other improvements!
  2. Neoliberal policies increase inequality and the costs of this are prominent
  3. Increasing inequality hurts sustained economic growth

Benefits depend on the type of investment

Opening up developing countries to capital flows (liberalising!) seems to have had mixed benefits, depending on how liberalisation has taken place.

Where more investment is tangible, such as money being spent on infrastructure and people skills, there are broader benefits.

However, when it’s just speculative capital coming in (hot ‘debt’ money) this just seems to lead to pump but then a financial crises, and then no more growth.

Austerity policies don’t necessarily work

The report notes that governments with good track records of debt are better off maintaining a welfare state during periods of financial crisis – cutting welfare has adverse affects on spending, which harms a countries economic prospects – it’s better for states in some cases to ‘suck up the debt’.

The combination of huge capital inflows and austerity = more inequality

The report notes that the two together create a vicious loop which creates more inequality which in turn harms longer term growth of a country.

Conclusions

The report doesn’t dismiss liberalisation, but does note that some degree of state regulation could work in many countries – as was the case in Chile – often hailed as a great victory for neoliberalisation, but in fact that State did play something of a regulatory role!

Beyond Neoliberalism

In this TED talk, Dr Johannes Meier argues that Neoliberalism has become and orthodoxy, but now it has reached its expiration date…

This material should be of interest as a balanced critique of neoliberalism, which should be especially relevant to students studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

The current economic orthodoxy is one neoliberalism, the belief in free markets and unregulated trade, but this orthodoxy is reaching its expiration date.

Keynesianism used to be the dominant orthodoxy, but it started to switch in the late 1940s with Hayek’s neoliberal ideas, and by the 1980s neoliberalism was the norm, such that most people today have grown up with it.

However, today (2019 is the date of the talk) there are more and more signs that this orthodoxy is under threat – as neoliberalism is no longer productive, and Meier asks the question ‘what should business leaders do about this’?

What are the core philosophical beliefs of neoliberalism?

  1. Homo-economics – individual people are economically rational and they strive to maximise their own utility
  2. The right to compete is the backbone of liberty
  3. The success of a nation is the sum of utlitiels, measured in GDP
  4. The role of govenrment is to make sure that free-markets are protected, but not over regulated

Neoliberalism has been successful over the last 50 years

We have seen huge increases in GDP growth rates, increasing incomes, more employment, billions of people being lifted out of extreme policies and millions of millionnaires created.

Neoliberal ideas have extended beyond markets to labour, education and health policies for example – all of these areas are influenced by market based thinking (especially education, if you’re studying A-level sociology!)

Neoliberal ideas are also entrenched in the world of business and most governments in Western countries.

Three Criticisms of Neoliberalism

Meier draws on the tale of Hans Christian Anderson to suggest there are three flaws to neoliberalism that advocates of it dare not mention, but are obvious to a child!

Neoliberalism is an ‘Emperor with No Clothes’

The Rising Tide isn’t leading to Economic Justice

According to neoliberalism, freeing markets leads to enormous wealth creation and rising wealth overall will lift all boats – so that everyone gets richer, with more and more people being lifted out of poverty.

However, income inequality has also increased such that the top 8% of income earners now earn more than half of all income.

Wealth is worse – 1% own more than half of the world’s weath.

Where consumption is concerned – the richest billion consume 75%, and the poorest billion only consume 1% of our resources.

We thus have wealth and income divides which lead to economic and political tensions. Those who feel left behind no longer trust the narratives of the elites who have established neoliberal policies (and been the main beneficiaries of those policies).

Those who have not benefited from neoliberalism – the ones with no wealth, low incomes, no education or health care, are criticising neoliberalism with increasing vigour.

The tragedy of our commons and our Horizons

We are facing an existential crisis of tipping points where the climate is concerned.

It clearly isn’t true that if the developing nations embrace neoliberalism that they are going to develop as effectively as developing nations – because the planet cannot cope with the levels of resource extraction and consumption that would require to incorporate 8 billion people!

Human relationships are about more than transactional efficiency

Neoliberalism tends to turn relationships into transactions – and the imperative is then to make those relations more efficient.

We see this in the spread of automoation and AI – replacing humans with more efficient machines.

However, human relations are about more than efficiency. And if people think they have found the equation for friendship on Facebook or love on Tinder, thy are missing the essence of humanity.

More and more people are demanding that work be meaningful and that there is space for humanity, rather than it just being all about efficiency.

How do we survive beyond neoliberalism?

Meier proposes three basic rules business leaders should follow if they wish to survive the transition to beyond neoliberalism, which basically involved focusing on the ‘basics of good business’.

Listen to diverse voices

This may sound obvious but business leaders tend to exist in a bubble. This involves thinking beyond traditional metrics such as revenue growth as these don’t provide purpose or deeper meanings.

We need new narratives of belonging beyond homo economics

Reduce the fragility of the system

We have the warning signs – such as climate change. We need to focus on making businesses resilient and genuinly sustainable.

Here he seems to be criticising the fossil fuel industry and suggests a move to renewables is what we need.

Avoid polarisation

Neoliberalism is too focused on the individual.

The system has emphasised individuals getting to a kind of certain wealth or income level, then they are safe to have a nice job and life, leaving too many behind in poverty

Personal individual development is seen as the opposite of community – the idea that we progress our careers at the expense of our families is toxic. Humans thrive better in community and solidarity.

Ee need to take a much broader view of public goods – he suggests we need much more state and business co-operation in providing public goods

In conclusion…

Part of the difficulty with moving beyond neoliberalism is that we don’t know what will take over – there will probably be many different alternatives – hence why general principles for surviving change are required.

It will take courage to let go of our existing business models, but it is futile to cling to the old ones.

Neoliberalism: A Short Introduction

Neoliberalism has been one of the most influential political ideas of the last century, and it has been especially influential in shaping global policies of international development since the 1980s.

Below is a useful four minute video on 10 things you should know about Neoliberalism, as summarised by Ravi K. Roy, co-author of Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction.

This material should be especially relevant to A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level Sociology.

Neoliberalism and globalisation are contested terms

There couldn’t be two more conflated and confused ideas in both academia and public discourse.

Generally people see neoliberalism as the set of ideas behind globalisation, which is seen as the process.

An assault on big government

Neoliberalism is often seen as a ‘return to the market’ paradigm, a reaction against big welfare state government.

Where does the term come from?

We can trace the term back to post World War 1, maybe the 1930s, when there was an idea to straddle socialism and market liberalism.

Post World War 2 the term is used to refer to more of a pure market approach.

There are a variety of neoliberalisms!

It’s a very varied term, inspired by lots of intellectual traditions and with many different applications under different leaders.

No one calls themselves a neoliberal!

No one who has ever been identified with neoliberal policies has ever called themselves a neoliberal.

But it’s very clear that in the late 1980s and into the 1990s that politicians in power in the UK, America, Canada and Australia were all ‘neoliberals’

Neoliberalism and Internationalism

Neoliberals tend to look to international institutions such as the United Nations to extend their project.

NB – he doesn’t mention the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, but personally I would think these have been more central to pushing a neoliberal agenda globally than the United Nations?!?

Neoliberalism and Nationalism

There are some neoliberals who believe in the idea of a single Europe. There are other neoliberals, like Margaret Thatcher who did not believe in the idea of a single Europe.

We are all neoliberals now

Both Thatcher and Reagan wanted to reduce the welfare state, but Bill Clinton reduced the welfare state far more than either of them would ever have imagined!

Neoliberalism as a practical policy package

The authors of the book have framed the practical polices of neoliberalism as a DLP package:

  • Deregulation
  • Liberalisation
  • Privatisation

Neoliberalism and Postmodernism

Neoliberalism has blurred the boundaries between the economy and the state, so that we now live in a more global form of capitalism where financialisation is at the heart of everything.

Postmodernism (or the new postmodern phase of neoliberalism?) is more about the blurring of the boundary between private and public life.

Find out more…

You might like to read the entire book: Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

Neoliberalism is a core theory of development within the global development module.

Neoliberalism also comes up in the education topic: as outlined in this post: neoliberal education policy.

Evaluating the New Right’s Perspective on Education

results have improved since marketisation, but at the expense of teaching the test and widening class inequalities.

In this post I provide four pieces of evidence students can use to evaluate the New Right’s perspective on education, particularly their claim that Marketisation policies since 1988 have raised standards for all pupils.

Item A: GCSE Pass Rates

Probably the strongest piece of supporting evidence for the New Right’s policies on education is that they have worked to improve GCSE results nearly every year for the last 30 years:

The latest reports focusing on the long term trend are a bit dated, such as this one from The Guardian, but it clearly shows a long term improvement in grades at GCSE:

Despite recent dips in top grades, this 2013 report from Full Fact, which also focuses on the long term trend in results since 1988 points out that:

  • The pass rate for grades A*-C has increased by almost two-thirds from 42.5% in 1988 to 68.1% in 2013.
  • A*/A grades have almost trebled from 8.6% in 1988 to 21.3% in 2013.

However, the report also recognizes that some of this is due to grade inflation as this increase in performance is not mirrored by English and Welsh students in international tests, such as PISA BELOW.

Item B: PISA international league tables

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/)

The PISA league tables demonstrate how the neoliberal/ New Right idea of ranking educational achievement has gone global – Since the year 2000 we now have International Education League Tables.

Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. In 2012, some economies also participated in the optional assessments of Problem Solving and Financial Literacy.

Students take a test that lasts 2 hours. The tests are a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. A total of about 390 minutes of test items are covered.  Students take different combinations of different tests.

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

The students and their school principals also answer questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.

The UK currently ranks 23rd for English and Maths.

Item C: Stephen Ball (2003)

argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support.

Ball refers Middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. For example, they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect and analyse information about GCSE results, and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

Ball also talked of the school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general, the schools with more middle class students have better results. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market.

Item D: Sue Palmer – The Problems of Tests, Targets And Education

Sue Palmer Is usually introduced in Families and Households module. She argues that technological and social changes have made modern childhood ‘toxic’, and testing in education (because of league tables and The New Right) is part of this problem. Sue Palmer writes…..

‘As long as league tables exist, in a risk averse society most people daren’t ignore them. Primary schools at the top of the league (which, by a strange coincidence, tend to be in the wealthiest areas) have a reputation to maintain; those at the bottom have to try to claw a little higher. The status of all interested adults (teachers, governors, parents) depends on how their Year Sixes perform in national tests.

So from four years of age, our children now live in the shadow of SATs. ‘No time for play in the reception class now,’ one teacher told me ruefully. ‘As soon as they arrive, it’s fast forward to the Key Stage One test.’ The curriculum is dominated by the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, broken down into a series of discrete‘learning objectives’ – closely matched to ‘assessment criteria’ – to be ticked off as children progress through the school.

There are ‘voluntary’ SATs for each year group, so children’s progress (and teachers’ competence in coaching their pupils) can be checked every summer. Then, in Year Six, come several months of concentrated exam practice, ‘booster classes’ during the Easter holidays for those who might not scrape the required mark, and sleepless nights for 11-year-olds terrified of ‘letting themselves down’ on the day.

Not surprisingly, this regime leaves far less time for creative but unquantifiable experiences, like art, drama and music, which through the millennia have nurtured children’s imaginations and contributed incalculably to their emotional and social development. Less time also for the active, hands-on learning children need if they’re genuinely to understand the concepts underpinning the tests.

Last year researchers found that the conceptual understanding of today’s 11-year-olds lags two to three years behind their counterparts in 1990. While performance on pencil-and-paper tests of has soared over this period, children are apparently less likely to understand the principles they’ve been trained to tick boxes about.

Research published recently by the independent Alexander Review of primary education shows that – on tests other than those for which children are coached – there have been only modest improvements in mathematics, and little change in literacy standards. And in last month’s PIRLS survey of international achievement in literacy, England had actually gone backwards, slumping from 3rd to 19th place.

Related Posts

This topic is part of the ‘perspectives on education’ topic and ‘education policies’, links to both can be found on the education home page.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

What is Neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is the idea that less government interference in the free market is the central goal of politics.

Neoliberals believe in a ‘small government’ which limits itself to enhancing the economic freedoms of businesses and entrepreneurs. The state should limit itself to the protection of private property and basic law enforcement.

Neoliberalism is most closely associated with Thomas Hayek and Milton Friedman, and the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Milton Friedman.png

Neoliberals advocate three main policies to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society: privatization, deregulation and low taxation.

Some examples of Neoliberal Policies include:

  • Lowering taxes on income, especially high income earners. When Thatcher came to power in 1997 she reduced income tax on the very highest earners from 83% to 60%.
  • Lowering Corporation tax – The government reduced the main corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to just 21% in 2014.
  • Privatising public services – Privatisation began under the Thatcher government of 1979 and continues today (2017). Britain’s rail, energy and water industries all used to be run by the state, but now they are run by private companies. Education and Health services are also being ‘privatised by stealth’, as more and more aspects of these services are contracted out to and run by private sector companies.
  • Reducing the number of rules and regulations which constrain businesses: This involves national and local governments monitoring private businesses less: by reducing the number of ‘health and safety standards’ businesses need to conform to and doing fewer health and safety and environmental health inspections for example.

deregulation UK.jpg
The ‘Red Tape Challenge’ offers some good examples of deregulation…

Further Background on Neoliberal Thought 

Neoliberalism emerged in the 1950s as a reaction against ‘Keynesianism’ – the idea that nation states should play a significant role in managing free market capitalism through high taxation in order to provide public services such as unemployment benefit, free health care and education (‘the welfare state’).

Keynsianism itself was a development of the earlier doctrine of ‘Liberalism’ which believed that individual freedom was the central goal of politics. Obviously the question of what kind of society allows for the most or best freedom is open to debate, but by the 1950s a consensus had emerged that ‘liberty’ was best guaranteed if the state provided a high degree of regulation of the economy and investment in social welfare.

Neoliberals such as Friedman believed that this ‘Keynesian’ model of organising the economy was inefficient, one of the reasons being that it restricts the freedoms of successful economic actors to reinvest their money as they see fit, because the state takes it away from them through taxes and gives it to the less successful, which in turn can create a perverse situation in which society punishes success and rewards laziness.

Evaluations of Neoliberalism

Arguments for neoliberalism

  • What right does the state have to tax money earnt through individual effort, innovation and risk?
  • Neoliberals argue that the private sector run services more efficiently than the state sector.
  • The argument for deregulation is that red-tape stifles business.

There are many critical voices of neoliberalism, mainly from the left and from within the green movement. Some of the main criticisms can be summarised as follows:

  • Cutting taxes on the rich has resulted in greater inequality and a lower standard of public services, especially for the poor.
  • Privatisation of public services has resulted in a massive transfer of wealth from the majority to the rich –
  • Deregulation has made society less safe and stable – critics blame deregulation of the finance sector for the 2007 financial crash and the deregulation of health and safety legislation as being linked to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Critical Points

It can be difficult to evaluate the impact of neoliberalism because the term is so broad, and there is actually quite a lot of disagreement over what it actually means.

Even if we just focus on the policy aspect of neoliberalism – and try to evaluate the impact of lowering taxation, privatisation and deregulation, you would almost certainly need to break these down and look evaluate the impact of each aspect separately, and maybe even subdivide each aspect further to evaluate properly.

Selected Sources used to write this post…

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

http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch37-thatcher.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/29/short-history-of-privatisation

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/29/short-history-of-privatisation

http://www.slobodaiprosperitet.tv/en/node/847

https://fee.org/articles/what-is-neoliberalism-anyway/

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20150326105407/https://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/themehome/rtc-results-2/

Stephen Hawking Against Neoliberalism!

Stephen Hawking this week accused the Conservative government of damaging the NHS by slashing funding, weakening the health service though privatization, demoralizing staff by curbing pay and cutting social care support.

Neoliberal policy harming health.jpg

Hawking blamed a raft of policies pursued since 2010 by the coalition and then the Conservatives for enfeebling the NHS and leaving it unable to cope with the demands being placed on it.

“The crisis in the NHS has been caused by political decisions,” he said. “The political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on the junior doctors and removal of the student nurses’ bursary.

Hawking also accused the Tories of ‘cherry picking evidence’ to back up their views that funding cuts were not damaging the NHS…

“When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others, to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture…One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people not to trust science, at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever, given the challenges we face as a human race.”

Comments/ Application to Sociology

I thought the news item above was worth summarizing as it’s such a great example a critique of neoliberal social policy – Hawking basically picks up on all the three main aspects of neoliberal policy – deregulation, funding cuts and privatization.

The matter of ‘trust’ is also a very central concept in any sociology of the risk society – Hawking is saying that you can trust scientific research as long as you’re objective about it and take into account all of the data and (appropriately reviewed) studies on the topic in-hand – not enough people are saying this clearly enough, and I think it’s important as it’s a useful antidote to post-truth politics.

As to the credibility of science being undermined when politicians cherry-pick data, this is less likely to happen if more scientists like Hawking get involved in social policy discourse. I mean: who do you trust more: The health minister Jeremy Hunt telling you the NHS is doing great based on studies B, F, AND M, or someone like Hawking telling you that, yes studies B,F, and M tell suggest the NHS is doing OK, but if we also take into account studies A through Z, on balance the neoliberalism is screwing our public health services?

Sources 

The Guardian: Stephen Hawking blames Tory politicians for damaging NHS

 

Grenfell Tower – Profits before Safety?

This truly horrific, and avoidable tragedy seems to be a perfect illustration of the downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

Grenfell Tower neoliberalism
The official death toll for the Grenfell Tower is currently 79 people, although the actual number might be considerably higher.

NB – This isn’t just me saying this, below is an approximate quote by Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in a speech given on 24th June:

‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a ‘direct consequence of Tory attitudes towards social housing… they think they are second class citizens, and thus they got second class fire safety standards. It is also a direct consequence of outsourcing and of deregulation” (video from The Independent).

Five things which suggest Kensington Council put profits before safety…

I’ve taken the  five pieces of evidence from a recent article in The Week : ‘The Grenfell Inferno: were profits put before safety’? (NB – as far as I can tell, this is only in the print copy of The Week, 24th June, Issue 1130).

One – The council ignored repeated warnings by Grenfell residents

Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned KCTMO that the building was unsafe:

  • rubbish blocking hallways was going uncollected
  • emergency lighting was inadequate
  • there was no fire escape (save the main stairs)
  • fire extinguishers weren’t being tested
  • repeated power surges had led to electrical appliances catching fire previously.
  • It was also claimed that on the night of the fire, the fire alarms failed.

The council’s response was to actually threaten one of those bringing up the issue of fire safety with legal action:

grenfell fire safety.png

Two – The council made a conscious choice to cut costs on social housing

The council had the money to make the Tower safe, but it chose not to spend it.

Amelia Gentlemen in The Guardian suggests that, in the context of the vast wealth in the borough, there is a strong suspicion that council officials ‘see social housing tenants, many of them immigrants, as a nuisance, occupying valuable land that could be sold off to developers at a vast profit’. 

Three – The council outsourced the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower to a firm called Rydon, which has a track record of putting profits before safety.

Rydon, which made a pre-tax profit of £14 million last year, won the contract over the councils ‘preferred contractor’ by undercutting them, despite the fact that another council, Sutton council, had recently cancelled a five year repairs contract with Rydon becaue its performance fell short of requirements.

Rydon Cladding.jpg

Rydon subcontracted out the Grenfell work to nine different companies, which raised ‘serious concerns about the quality of supervision and accountability’.

So it was Rydon that was the firm who would have agreed to install the non fire-proof cladding, rather than going for the fire-proof panels for an extra £5000.

Four – Deregulation has meant that landlords have managed to avoid acting on fire safety advice. 

Retrofitting sprinklers (which would have cost £200 000) was one of the recommendations made after a fire at Lakanal House in south London in 2009 killed nine people, but lawmakers decided not to make this mandatory – they left it up to landlords and councils to do so on a voluntary basis, and few did.

deregulation Grenfell
The Cabinet Office boasts how deregulation has reduced the rigor of fire safety inspections

Five – The incapable response by the council to the disaster

Despite an amazing voluntary response by the public, the ‘council was no where to be seen’ – even 24 hours after the fire, there was no centralised co-ordination from the council, no point of information about missing persons, and some residents were still sleeping rough 4 days later.

All of this suggests that the council see social housing tenants as second class citizens. 

Grenfell protests kensington.jpg

NB – the poor treatment is continuing several days later….According to The Guardian around 30 households were subsequently told by the council that they would have to move out their Holiday Inn accommodation because of previous bookings; some families have been asked to move several times.

The relevance of all of this to A-level sociology….

As I mentioned above, this tragedy can be used to illustrate downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

It’s also a useful reminder that poor people in rich (unequal) societies can be treated appallingly, suggesting that inequality is the main barrier to further social development in so called ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom.

I also think Bauman’s concept of ‘flawed consumers’ can be applied here – Bauman has long commented that capitalism produces ‘surplus people’ – those without the means to consume, and many of the Grenfell residents fit this category – and because they perform no useful function in a capitalist system (because they can’t buy that many things and keep profit flowing) these people are treated with contempt, as this case study clearly demonstrates.

As a final note, a harsh question I’d like people to consider is simply this – how many people in the U.K. genuinely believe that the state should guarantee a decent standard of housing for everyone, even if that means spending a few billion extra pounds at the national level, which in turn would mean an increasing in taxes?

Clearly the Kensington council leader, and probably most of the Tory party, think the state should provide no or minimal help to the poor in the form of social housing, that’s one of the main strands of neoliberal thought, but how many of those people cheering for Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury really believe the state should pay more towards social housing, especially if that means your council tax bill going up?

I have this uncomfortable feeling that while it’s easy to come together and hate the Tories, if you probed public opinion a little deeper, there probably wouldn’t be that much support for increased spending on social welfare, or that much commitment to giving serious thought about how to implement policies to make capitalism work better for the poor, let alone how to replace it with a post-capitalist order.

 

 

Why Did Labour Gain Seats in the 2017 General Election?

In the recent June 2017 General Election, Labour won more votes than it did in 2001, 2005, 2010 or 2015, proving almost all the forecasts and commentators wrong.According to this Guardian article there are three main reasons for this…

It motivated young people to get out and vote.

A lot’s been made of the historically high turnout by 18-24 year olds…. It looks like in key constituencies – from Harrow West to Canterbury (a seat that has been Conservative since 1918) – the youth vote was vital. Labour showed it cared about young people by promising to scrap tuition fees, an essential move to stop the marketisation of higher education, and it proposed a house-building programme that would mean many more could get on the property ladder.

This is in stark contrast to the two other major parties – the Lib Dems in 2010 under Nick Clegg lied to them, and the Conservatives have attacked them – cutting housing benefits for 18- to 21-year-olds, excluding under-25s from the minimum wage rise and slashing the education maintenance allowance. At this election, Theresa May offered nothing to young people in her manifesto. Their message was: put up with your lot. Under the Tories, young people have been taken for granted and sneered at as too lazy to vote.

The NUS reported a 72% turnout by young people, and there is a definite thread in the media attributing the swing towards Labour as down to this.

However, this is contested by Jack Sommors in this article who suggests that it was middle-aged people who swung the election result away from the Tories.

‘Lord Ashcroft’s final poll, which interviewed 14,000 people from Wednesday to Friday last week, found people aged 35 to 44 swung to Labour – 50% voted for them while just 30% voted for the Tories. This is compared to 36% of them voting Labour and 26% backing the Tories just two years ago’.

A further two reasons which might explain the swing, let’s say among the younger half of the voting population, rather than just the very youngest are:

Labour offered localised politics, not a marketing approach

Labour rejected the marketing approach to politics in favour of a strong, localised grassroots campaign… this was not simply an election May lost; it was one in which Corbyn’s Labour triumphed. Labour proposed collectivism over individualism and a politics that people could be part of.

Labour offered a genuine alternative to neoliberalism…

Labour offered a positive agenda to an electorate that’s been told its only choice is to swallow the bitter pill of neoliberalism – offering a decisive alternative to Tory austerity in the shape of a manifesto packed with policies directly challenging what has become the economic status quo in the UK. Labour no longer accepted the Tory agenda of cuts (a form of economics long ago abandoned in the US and across Europe): it offered investment in public services, pledged not to raise taxes for 95% of the population, talked about a shift to a more peaceful foreign policy, promised to take our rail, water and energy industries out of shareholders’ hands and rebalance power in the UK.

So how is this relevant to A-level Sociology…?

  • In terms of values…It seems to show a widespread rejection of neoliberal ideas among the youth, and possibly evidence that neoliberal policies really have damaged most people’s young people’s (and working class people’s) life chances, and this result is a rejection of this.
  • In terms of the media… It’s a reminder that the mainstream media doesn’t reflect public opinion accurately- just a thin sliver of the right wing elite. It also suggests that the mainstream media is losing its power to shape public opinion and behavior, given the negative portrayals of Corbyn in the mainstream. .

Value-Freedom and explaining election results…

The above article is written with a clearly left-leaning bias. Students may like to reflect on whether it’s actually possible to explain the dramatic voter swing towards Labour objectively, and how you might go about getting valid and representative data on why people voted like they did, given that there are so many possible variables feeding into the outcome of this election?!

Sources

Young people voted because labour didn’t sneer at them. It’s that simple

General Election 2017: Young turn out ‘remarkable’

The US bombing of Afghanistan – A $16 million distraction from the harms of neoliberal policies at home?

America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…

In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.

In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.

The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.

But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?

Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…

Noam Chomsky recently claimed that the Trump administration would need some kind of scapegoat or distraction to disguise the fact that their neoliberal policies are clearly in favour of big business and against the interests of the ordinary working class American, whose side Trump claimed to be on during the election campaign.

One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.

There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.

So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.

Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity

This is a brief summary of Jason Read’s: A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity (2009)

Introduction

Neoliberalism represents a fundamental shift in ideology – firstly, it is not generated from the state, but from the quotidian experience of buying and selling commodities from the market, which is then extended across other social spaces, “the marketplace of ideas,” to become an image of society. Secondly, it is an ideology that refers not only to the political realm, to an ideal of the state, but to the entirety of human existence. It claims to present not an ideal, but a reality.

 

A critical examination of neoliberalism must address this transformation of its discursive deployment, as a new understanding of human nature and social existence rather than a political program.

 

Homo Economicus: The Subject of Neoliberalism

 

Foucault – the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism – according to Foucault neoliberalism extends the process of making economic activity a general matrix of social and political relations; the sphere of economics expands, and more and more things are understood through a simple means-ends, cost-benefit analysis.

 

 

Another difference between liberalism and neoliberalism is that neoliberalism takes as its focus not exchange but competition. Competition necessitates a constant intervention on the part of the state, not on the market, but on the conditions of the market.

 

Foucault also takes the neoliberal ideal to be a new regime of truth, and a new way in which people are made subjects: homo economicus is fundamentally different subject, structured by different motivations and governed by different principles, than homo juridicus, or the legal subject of the state. Neoliberalism constitutes a new mode of “governmentality,” a manner, or a mentality, in which people are governed and govern themselves.

 

The operative terms of this governmentality are no longer rights and laws but interest, investment and competition.

 

As a mode of governmentality, neoliberalism operates on interests, desires, and aspirations rather than through rights and obligations; neoliberal governmentality follows a general trajectory of intensification. This trajectory follows a fundamental paradox; as power becomes less restrictive, less corporeal, it also becomes more intense, saturating the field of actions, and possible actions.

 

Neoliberalism has created individualised individuals, companies of one – the needs of Corporations to be free from expensive commitments and to have ever greater numbers of ‘flexible satellites’ has resulted in workers not seeing themselves as existing in solidarity, but as individuals who need to invest in their future, through constantly updating their skills.

 

The worker has become “human capital”. Salary or wages become the revenue that is earned on an initial investment, an investment in one’s skills or abilities – As Foucault writes summarizing this point of view: “Homo economicus is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself.”

 

As Thomas Lemke argues, neoliberalism is a political project that attempts to create a social reality that it suggests already exists, stating that competition is the basis of social relations while fostering those same relations.

 

Foucault offers us a different interpretation of the relationship between labour and capital. Marx saw labour as being exploited by capital in the process of production, whereas neoliberals redefine the two terms and the relation between them: the capitalist is redefined as an entrepreneur, and labour becomes human capital – capital emerges from labour.

 

(However, for Foucault) As Christian Laval argues, in neoliberalism all actions are seen to conform to the fundamental economic ideas of self-interest, of greatest benefit for least possible cost. This extends to all areas of society – It is not the structure of the economy that is extended across society but the subject of economic thinking, its implicit anthropology.

 

Towards a criticism of neoliberalism

 

Marx tended to see labour as being turned into a cog in the machine, and this was the major way labour ended up working for capital. However, Marx raised the possibility in the Grundrisse, that other human potentialities might be subsumed under capital – and this is where we are at now….

 

Capital no longer simply exploits labour, understood as the physical capacity to transform objects, but puts to work the capacities to create and communicate that traverse social relations. This subsumption involves not only the formation of what Marx referred to as a specifically capitalist mode of production, but also the incorporation of all subjective potential, the capacity to communicate, to feel, to create, to think, into productive powers for capital.

 

For Negri… as production moves from the closed space of the factory to become distributed across all of social space, encompassing all spheres of cultural and social existence, neoliberalism presents an image of society as a market, effacing production altogether and neoliberal power works by dispersing bodies and individuals through privatization and isolation.

 

To put the problem in Foucault’s terms, what has disappeared in neoliberalism is the tactical polyvalence of discourse; everything is framed in terms of interests, freedoms and risks. As Wendy Brown argues, one can survey the quotidian effects or practices of governmentality in the manner in which individualized/market based solutions appear in lieu of collective political solutions: gated communities for concerns about security and safety; bottled water for concerns about water purity; and private schools (or vouchers) for failing public schools, all of which offer the opportunity for individuals to opt out rather than address political problems. Privatization is not just neoliberalism’s strategy for dealing with the public sector, what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession, but a consistent element of its particular form of governmentality, its ethos, everything becomes privatized, institutions, structures, issues, and problems that used to constitute the public.24 It is privatization all the way down.

 

As Foucault argues, neoliberalism operates less on actions, directly curtailing them, then on the condition and effects of actions, on the sense of possibility…. Competing ideas must address this!