by Abdul Hussain
Update: Barbara Hammer has noticed and reported on the fact that as Bernie Sanders decided to participate in the US presidential race for the 2020 elections, he, and/or his affiliates, have decided to completely change the content on the “Open Borders: A Gimmick, Not a Solution” page to the point whereby an amendment had to be made to this article to point to an archived version of the article instead of the 2020 US Election-friendly version of the page. I sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused by exogent factors.
Neoliberalism: here’s a word you may not have heard a lot in the political realm in the 21st Century, unless you hang around in certain political circles, or are based in countries that use the term openly, and you may think to yourself that “neoliberalism” sounds like an angelic, flawless concept that would help benefit everyone in the long term, especially as it would help everyone become ambitious and willing to strive for work and wealth without any insurmountable problems.
Stop right there!
Before you make unchallenging, “blue-sky”, assumptions about how brilliant neoliberalism is and what it is, ask yourself “what is neoliberalism truly all about?” Well, let’s start with the definition of “neoliberalism”, right here.
Neoliberalism is defined as “a set of liberal (loosened, and relaxed set of rules, ranging from trading rules and regulations, to immigration quotas et cetera) societal and cultural and economic beliefs that are used to help facilitate and favour a free-market, capitalist society”. In other words, neoliberalism can sometimes be euphemistically be used as a term for corporatism, as essentially, this is what neoliberalism favours – large corporations and major businesses, usually at the expense of the proletarian or upper-middle and middle classes, especially if the those who do not benefit from neoliberal practices are those who have been adversity-stricken due to poor financial and bodily health and war.
Now that the basic meaning of neoliberalism is mentioned, we need to first understand the basics of what “liberalism”, and “liberal beliefs and values” are, and how they differ to neoliberalism. Liberal beliefs tend to focus on loosening, or introducing values that intend to favour liberty while factoring in human values in as fair a manner as possible, from a political perspective in theory, though economical liberalism is focused on free trade and loosening restrictions on markets, but on the other hand, neoliberal beliefs solely focus on loosening up economic beliefs, either directly, or via proxy, and in a usually more aggressive manner, at the expense of other forms of liberalism, by loosening up societal and cultural beliefs, and more directly, economic beliefs, to ensure that companies will be able to profit from in the long term, even if the average person loses out as a result of such a economical-political belief. Neoliberal beliefs thus tend to treat political, societal and cultural values in a similar fashion to how corporate assets and corporate people are treated – those who “succeed” in a neoliberal society are deemed to be “winners”, and those who are in a state of economic or financial disarray are deemed to be “losers”, and those who want the services and products that are provided have to be willing to pay up for said services like as if they are customers for a company.
Neoliberalism has many traits that make up this political economic belief, which include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:
- Austerity: this is where governments imposes measures to ensure that spending reductions and/or tax increases are implemented on citizens to ensure that government expenditure is not only decreased, but also, governmental income is increased. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of citizen-level priorities, as governments would be less willing to pour in monetary and non-monetary assets into improving the geographical/transport infrastructure, especially in financially deprived or run-down regions.
- Privatization: this is where governmental or public sector services or products are sold off, or run by private sector organizations, which have profit-and-loss-driven motives in mind, and that in turn would go against the interests of the average person and their needs
- Deregulation: that is, in self-explanatory terms, reducing or removing regulations and rules to ensure that organizations can be able to carry out activities/transactions/deals with as few restrictions as possible. Neoliberal proponents will see this in a way that allows freedom for corporations and organizations to compete more effectively, which in term, theoretically reduce prices and allow customers/consumers access to better services, but on the contrary, this will allow companies to become open to the idea of abusing its positions and in turn, allowing them to go against moral or ethical codes to the point of either handicapping the everyman, or in more extreme cases, oppressing the everyman to the point that self-respect, and financial standings for the everyman is at jeopardy.
- Free Trade: a trading viewpoint whereby there should be no restrictions on imports or exports, and other restrictions to trading agreements or plans are either partially lifted, or wholly removed to ensure that companies can become hyper-competitive and extremely profitable, but comes at a massive cost to the livelihoods of local citizens, especially when local citizens will be “priced out” of a job by those willing or de-facto forced to work for less, such as war-torn migrants who have no choice but to work for said wages or conditions, or foreign workers who already have lower average national salaries, not to mention poor conditions, and a destruction of national sovereignty in the process.
- Governmental Expenditure: this is reduced to allow private sector organizations to enter into markets or places whereby governmental involvement and/or investment would usually be prevalent, and this in turn would usually mean a more pro-corporate political landscape at the expense of the average citizen.
- Open Borders: another belief which is related to free trade as it is usually a part of the free trade concept, and the “open borders” policy is whereby countries are encouraged to allow in foreign people in as an unrestrictive a manner as humanly possible so that migrants can find work abroad as swiftly as possible, but as new arrivals are subject to fewer legal protections, this enables companies and employers to be more open to practices that would otherwise be illegal or immoral and unethical such as paying sub-minimal salaries, poorer working conditions, and a reduced willingness to adequately help out migrants to ensure that they live satisfactorily, regardless of whether proponents of mass migration campaign for migrants arrive to new countries in the supposed hope for a net-positive outcome.
- Deunionization: this is a phenomenon whereby labour/trade unions have their powers to represent the workers stripped to the point of futility, and trade/labour unions exist to ensure that the workers are satisfactorily paid for their labour and that they ensure that companies provide them with great working conditions and that companies do not exploit their staff. However, neoliberal advocates would usually complain about this in such a way that they feel that salaries are kept artificially high and reduce labour flexibility, and thus, reduces corporate flexibility, which in turns enables neoliberal beliefs, to the extent whereby it can actually be damaging for the livelihoods of civilians
With the basic traits of neoliberalism out of the way, one may ask themselves “how did neoliberalism really come into existence?”. The concept of “neoliberalism”, as mentioned earlier, came from liberalism and was morphed into a separately named economical-political belief system, but said system was often attributed to, and in some ways, inspired by Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, in which he states that “the invisible hand” should be able to govern the markets, and therefore, should be subject to minimal government intervention, in his famous write-up, The Wealth of Nations,
As for how neoliberalism’s fundamental beliefs are constructed, its beliefs can be found in Charles Gide’s work in the 1898 article for The Economic Journal, in which he promotes a “hedonistic world … in which free competition will reign absolutely”, in reference to an Italian economist, Maffeo Pantaleoni, and is echoed by none other than the Adam Smith Institute themselves, alongside American economist Milton Friedman, who supported deregulation and wanted cut back on governmental expenditure and involvement in economic matters, and Austrian-English economist, Friedrich August von Hayek, who “warned of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning” or in other words, governmental involvement in everyday decisions, especially when it aims to crush individualism, would lead to totalitarian control, which implies that governmental intervention is not seen as an ideal concept from Hayek’s perspective.
All of these viewpoints that constitute the Hayek-Friedman neoliberalism is chiefly prevalent today in 21st Century economics and politics, and is famously pushed into the mainstream via its aforementioned traits, especially austerity measures, and open borders, with weaponized mass migration and legally under-/unprotected migrant workforces playing a role in the “open borders” aspect of the modern-day definition of neoliberalism, and as hinted in the Race, Migration and Neoliberalism article by Sally Davison and George Shire, the reason why conversations surrounding neoliberalism and its effects can end up getting shut-down under the guise of “racism and white supremacy” is largely due to political histories surrounding race, and how certain political parties like the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) talk about work and workers without actually talking about the real drivers of pro-corporatist/neoliberal mass migration, and instead largely sensationalising the issues, by focusing on the migrants themselves, and perhaps their skin colour or race, thus emotionally hijacking the debate on neoliberalism, and this is exacerbated by destructive foreign policies, like the US wars in Iraq and the US’s dealings in Latin America, as noted in Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine (full book is here).
In terms of how neoliberalism and its traits affect countries, there are particular world events that are known to have been attributed to neoliberalism, such as, but not limited to:
- The global recession/financial meltdown of 2008: this led to governments, like the UK government to not only bail-out the offending institutions that enabled this to happen, but it only caused cutbacks in social security spending, and has led to a widening wealth gap, with the poorest suffering from reduced spending power and stagnant wages.
- The Yellow Vest (Gilets Jaunes) protests: French civilians were angered by Emmanuel Macron’s deepthroating of neoliberal policies, like privatisation, increased taxes, and increased civilian-level spending, and this has led to the Yellow Vest protests, with demands being put in place by the participants of the Yellow Vests protest (further reading), and spurring on protests elsewhere
- Latin America – the USA’s local “punching bag” for neoliberalism: From Augusto Pinochet and his pro-neoliberal minions to the rest of Latin America, the neoliberal policies have caused harm for its civilians and has caused local businesses to struggle to survive. It also has led to civilians wanting to leave the affected countries in search for a better life elsewhere, which is what neoliberalism does by proxy: the mass creation of migrants who did not choose to leave a country by self-inflicted choice, but rather, being forced to do so due to policies that lead to poverty,
The effects of neoliberalism have shown us how damaging the ideology has been towards the world, and more specifically, the sovereignty and well-being of countries, and thus, it has earned a reputation of harm, and one that is branded “savage capitalism”, for the aforementioned reasons, and thus, as the old saying goes, “everything that something touches turns to crap”, and that is basically what neoliberalism does, and as it involves displacing civilians to the point of civilians moving elsewhere, only to end up with a near-slave status, neoliberalism is nothing more than sexily dressed-up corporatism that resorts to emotional blackmail.