In an effort to get away from the simply pejorative use of the term neoliberalism, which can be attached indiscriminately to various forms of anti-democratic or pro-corporate power, the more historicist approach to the concept highlights its fluidity and contingent development. However, this approach also risks lapsing into pure historical description, without critique or an account of how ideas translate into policies and strategies. Others apply a more sociological and critical method, which aims to examine which aspects of neoliberalism are at work amongst elites and governments today. This poses the question of precisely how much of neoliberalism has survived the global financial crisis, and through what means this survival has been achieved.
Definitions of neoliberalism across these literatures are various. But they tend to share four things:
- Victorian liberalism is viewed as an inspiration for neoliberalism, but not a model. Neoliberalism is an inventive, constructivist, modernizing force, which aims to produce a new social and political model, and not to recover an old one. Neoliberalism is not a conservative or nostalgic project.
- Following this, neoliberal policy targets institutions and activities which lie outside of the market, such as universities, households, public administrations and trade unions. This may be so as to bring them inside the market, through acts of privatization; or to reinvent them in a ‘market-like’ way; or simply to neutralize or disband them.
- To do this, the state must be an active force, and cannot simply rely on ‘market forces’. This is where the distinction from Victorian liberalism is greatest. Neoliberal states are required to produce and reproduce the rules of institutions and individual conduct, in ways that accord with a certain ethical and political vision.
- This ethical and political vision is dominated by an idea of competitive activity, that is, the production of inequality. Competition and inequality are valued positively under neoliberalism, as a non-socialist principle for society in general, through which value and scientific knowledge can best be pursued.
By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website
Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual lynchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean
Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.
The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.
That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.
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Much more wealth is leaving the world’s most impoverished continent than is entering it, according to new research into total financial flows into and out of Africa. The study finds that African countries receive $161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose $203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction, creating an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion.