A succinct critique of neoliberalism/globalism

Part of the globalizers' propaganda war is to deny that the term "neoliberalism" has any historical, political, or economic content, to reduce it to a mere curse word used by lefties. In the past, the best rebuttal I had to that was the maddeningly jargon-filled writing of Philip Mirowski, an economics professor at Notre Dame. Today, I found a book review of a book that purports to be not only a history of neoliberalism, but a fairly clear and readable explanation of its goals.

The book is

Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, by Quinn Slobodian

The review, The Market Police, which stands by itself, is by J.W. Mason, an author I have tagged as reliable and anti-neoliberal. Mr. Mason touches the same bases as Dr. Mirowski. He explains how devious, contradictory, and secretive the neoliberal program is. He explains how it can be traced directly back to the fears created in the ruling class by the rise of genuine participatory democracy in the wake of WW1 and the dissolution of empires.

Slobodian is right to identify a consistent position from the 1920s down to the present that a sovereign, democratic state cannot be relied on to defend the concentrated power and privilege of private property...the neoliberals offered a reinvigorated defense of property rights and a prioritization of law and procedure over consciously chosen outcomes....It is not wrong to say these arguments served the interests of the wealthy...But the project was also broader than that. One of Slobodian’s great insights is that the neoliberal program was not simply a move in the distributional fight, but rather about establishing a social order in which distribution was not a political question at all. For money and markets to be the central organizing principle of society, they have to appear natural—beyond the reach of politics.

What is new to me in this is the role ascribed to globalization, which is much deeper than simply looking for cheap labor and tax havens overseas

Globalism in this story is the creation of property rights that, precisely because they span multiple sovereignties, cannot be touched by one government without inviting conflict with another...The only force strong enough to restrain government, it seemed clear, was other governments. National politics must be enmeshed and tied down in a web of border-crossing economic relations. 

Globalism in this story is not only, or even primarily, an extension of contacts between people, trade, production. Rather, it is the creation of a set of property rights that, precisely because they span multiple sovereignties, cannot be touched by one government without inviting conflict with another. In this sense it is positively desirable for property claims to cross national borders. Foreign investment, regardless of its value or otherwise for financing production, performs a political function that domestic investment cannot.

Mason restates the paradox of Mirowski:

Anonymity is key: once there is a decision-maker, their decisions are open to challenge and require some source of political legitimacy...One might even call this the neoliberal paradox. State power is needed to enforce market relations and property rights, but when it rests on democratic politics, it can easily turn into a vehicle for a broader program of economic planning. So the site of power must be anonymized, hidden from politics—as in the opaque jurisdictional mazes of Europe.

From this point of view, the essential thing about the single European currency is not whatever dubious practical advantages come from having prices across the continent measured in the same units. Rather, it is the creation of the European Central Bank as an ostensibly technical decision-maker, more insulated from democratic politics than any national authority could be.

So, I highly recommend the book review, and I will be looking for the book itself.

With the concept of "rights that span multiple soveriegnties" in hand, I now understand what drives me crazy about computer software, computer networks, and the Amazon monopoly: all of them completely bypass the existing democratic political arrangements. The sofware people invented the "click through" license and pushed for the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. From a user's POV, the software on one single PC is "enmeshed and tied down". That is because whenever something breaks, all the apps involved, on down to the OS, point fingers at each other; and there is no central authority to sort it out.

The computer network people simply do not care about borders or laws, except insofar as a political entity is capable of enforcing those laws on the net itself. Look at Uber and Airbnb completly flouting the laws of multiple jurisdictions. Of course, Amazon is the classic example of using the computer network to dodge sales tax and create an every-growing conglomerated monopoly, as ruthless as Standard Oil, that is already too big to be regulated. Mission accomplished, neoliberals. All Hail Emperor Jeff.

Another thought that struck me after reading the review is the congenital resistance to publicity of, as it labelled, "The Neoliberal Project". While they work feverishly to deny politicians the right to regulate money and banking, they pretend there is no ideology. This attitude of denial was on display in the Matt Stewart article, which I now see as yet another attempt to hide the 0.01% project to get democracy out of economic policy - in Stewart's case, by blaming all our troubles on professionals (doctors, etc) who just want to live in a nice suburb. Pay no attention to those neoliberals behind the curtain.

As other connections strike me, I may add further comments.

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arendt's picture

This one is in The New Republic (another faux left operation):

World's apart

The good news, I guess, is that the book is getting some publicity.

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arendt's picture

This one by Deidre McCloskey, a U of Chicago economist who used to be Daniel McCloskey. Whatever gender, this person was always examining the rhetoric behind the science.

The review is titled Marcing Ordos - a typically pun-ishing title (Marching Orders) that does immediately get into the weeds of economic theory.

Enjoy.

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The Aspie Corner's picture

through the Supreme Court, there is no recourse for workers in the United States. Congratulations, Libertarians/AnCaps, you fuckers got exactly what you wanted.

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Modern education is little more than toeing the line for the capitalist pigs.

The Aspie Corner's picture

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Modern education is little more than toeing the line for the capitalist pigs.

Alligator Ed's picture

@The Aspie Corner But those aware of this--the 0.01% don't care about this news because only 3% of the population even thinks about the social distortions necessary to maintain the greed-based system with which we are afflicted.

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arendt's picture

@Alligator Ed

I had not seen any attempt to quantify what percentage of the population actually has some political awareness, as opposed to eating the slop dished out by the corporate media

Do you have a cite for the 3%? Or do you know how this number was calculated/opinion polled?

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Alligator Ed's picture

@arendt In my youTube travels, I have noted that conservative channels (even excluding pompous, Bombastus Theorphrastus Jones) have multiples of "progressive" or truly "liberal" (as opposed to psuedoliberals) channels. Admittedly multiple subscriberships can belong to a single viewer. But then look at the entertainment and do-it-yourself YouTube channels which have millions of subscribers--and you and I have never heard of these people. These non-political subscriber ships vastly outnumber the political ones with which I observe. Perhaps this unofficial survey is representative of the broader population. Perhaps not but it is the metric I used to gauge political interest and "right-left" political orientation.

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lotlizard's picture

national governments and electorates — could be, not reactionary, but emancipatory.

One thing’s sure: if the Left won’t do it, the Right will.

In Germany, the latest Emnid poll shows the Social Democrats and the right-wing populist AfD tied at 17 percent. A historic low for the SPD and historic high for the AfD.

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arendt's picture

@lotlizard

A sovereignty-stealing super-national ruling body that is not answerable to anyone. The ECB runs policy, and the only thing the ECB cares about is profit. Hence their decisions to basically kill Greece and loot the corpse. Government by bankers. This is what we can expect.

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hecate's picture

@lotlizard That those most braying in their defense are so often actual Nazis—AfD, UKIP, the Le Pen klan, etc.—pretty much clinches that they are buggywhip relicts hugged to the bosom only by atavist retrovert stoneheart smoothbrains.

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ggersh's picture

Politicians in the usa only care about money(bribes)
raised thru campaign fundraising, actual governing
is left to the lobbyists, hence no need to state
neoliberalism as an ideology as they would be stating
corruption is that ideology.

Did I state that correctly?

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The US markets will be closed tomorrow in honor of George H. W. Bush.

We should have a memorial day for the truth, which we have allowed to be led down the blind alley of our willful delusions, and strangled.

Lord have mercy on us.

arendt's picture

@ggersh

They want their lobbyists to hand over all the powers of government to international business forums, like the WTO and GATT.

The job of the lobbyists is to destroy government by the people of the nation, and replace it by government by international bankers.

I hate to say it, but the old rightwing ravings about "world government" don't sound so stupid.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@arendt

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

The problem with the right wing is that they see government as leftwing and evil. They don't recognize that today's government is a sock puppet of the corporations. So the corpos get to loot our country while the right blames the looting on "socialism". The corps must have a hard time not laughing out loud at the stupidity of the right.

As the slow motion coup d'etat goes on, the left is forced to admit that (today's) government is the problem. What gets dropped on the floor is that today's government is completely different than the democracy we had fifty years ago.

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lotlizard's picture

@arendt  
The only form of Dutch referendum allowed up to now wasn’t even binding.

Isn’t it just too embarrassing when We the People can go on record as disagreeing, even in a non-binding way, with something the elite wants to force down our throats.

The Dutch “Senate” just voted to scrap ballot initiatives . . .
http://www.krapuul.nl/politiek-blog/2702555/eerste-kamer-akkoord-met-int...

. . . after the lower house already passed the law to scrap them in February.
https://nltimes.nl/2018/02/21/dutch-government-scrap-referendums-without...

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arendt's picture

This review, from a website called "Crooked Timber" discusses how Slobodian takes a unique approach, diverging from the standard take of Karl Polyani.

Slobodian’s book aims both to provide a crisp account of what neo-liberalism is, and to correct Polanyi. Many modern accounts of neo-liberalism begin, consciously or unconsciously, from a Polanyian understanding of the world. In The Great Transformation, Polanyi argues that the great upheavals of his age can in large part be attributed to `disembedded’ markets, which managed in turn to separate themselves from society, and to begin to devour it, replacing social bonds with atomized relations. This, in turn, gave rise to a counter-reaction from society – Polanyi’s famous ‘double movement,’ which had both malign and benign manifestations. This way of thinking is naturally attractive for people wanting to understand what is happening today in the way of globalization – both the turn towards more or less nasty forms of nationalist demagogy, and the possibilities of escaping both them and the all devouring market. For more on all of this, see here see here.

Slobodian thinks that this is mistaken. In his account, markets have not become disembedded from national societies and states so much as they have become re-embedded in international institutions. Neo-liberalism as manifested in the thought of Hayek and his European followers is the political project of looking to recreate state structures outside the grasp of democratic and non-democratic states. Far from thinking that markets are natural, neo-liberals accept that they are “products of the political construction of institutions to encase them.” (p.7) Instead of a double movement, we have a ‘double world’ of imperium, political rule exercised through nation states, and dominium, the world of economics and business, and a deliberate political effort to insulate the latter inside its own steel-hard casing against the depredations of the former. Neo-liberals then, look to an `interdependent’ world and a single global economy as a realm that should be held inviolate from national states, and the demands their people put upon them. This, as they came to realize over time, requires them to build their own quasi-constitutional structures at the international level, in order to fend off the persistent efforts of national states to shape and control competitive forces and economic flows that are better left alone.

The narrative contains the idea that international institutions are fending off nation state attempts to regulate money or to promote development (which is, to neoliberalism, an attempt to subvert the investment market).

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detroitmechworks's picture

again and again in modern articles. I'll be reading something historical, and I'll see an almost exact parallel in the modern day, and shake my head in horror.

Whenever Empires try to solidify their waning power they immediately run to the state religion. In this case it's Capitalism, and all opposing texts and other ideologies are to be discredited and destroyed... Of course, all bad things are due to the "Will of the People" so no-one can be blamed, just like it used to be the "Will of God". The dogma becomes rigid, and blasphemy and control over thought itself becomes priority.

Just an observation. Thanks for the info and the stuff to think about.

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks @detroitmechworks

The minute Christianity got power, it started persecuting its perceived enemies. They burned books, libraries, and scholars. They encouraged obscurantism and fanaticism.

Capitalism got power the minute the old Soviet Union folded. They had no competition, nobody to force them to pretend they liked labor unions, that they cared about public education or public health or public infrastrucure, that they weren't screaming racists.

In 25 years, the church of financial/market fundamentalism has made every horror story the Communists told about Capitalism into a historical fact. We are nothing but a military. Our country looks like the third world: enclaves of fabulous wealth surrounded by ghettos of unemployed, desperate people.

Yes. Your analogy holds very true.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@arendt claiming that markets have a "wisdom" of their own and left to market forces alone, the "proper" economic decisions will be rendered. What happens to infrastructure when it is privatized? Will this lower the tax burden? No. Will privatization increase access? No, it will do the opposite. Will society gain from privatized infrastructure? Yet another rhetorical question, which in this board need not be answered.

This essay, like almost all of yours has so many nuggets that I feel like a one-armed prospector digging for gold. Research into your many links, including relevant past essays, proved to be a stimulating intellectual exercise. Thank you.

Understanding a problem is the key to solving the problem. But in these days of concentrated wealth and power, only the emergence of a powerful, charismatic figure, not opposed to using force, is needed to change the existing order.

Is Trump that man? Although he seems to be on that track, he is not yet pursuing it. Most certainly however, Medusa would unhesitatingly unleash her Blue Shirts to do the deed contemplated but not yet completed.

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arendt's picture

@Alligator Ed

It is the core of neoliberalism that the markets must mediate ALL transactions in society, that the government must be kept out of "meddling" in the market.

Well 2008 sure blew up that meme. Not only did the almost completely unregulated markets make a massive mistake. The neolibs demanded and got a bailout equal to almost one year's GDP of the USA. Even a second-grader could see the fairy tale about the sancity and omnipotence of markets was a complete fraud. That was what triggered the current wave of populisms of all stripes.

Yet, as Philip Mirowski documents in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, 2008 did not stopp or even slow the neoliberal takeover of everything.

To me, the election of the clown-like Trump, the disastrous muddle of Brexit, the Rothschild banker Macron, and the disastrous immigration policy of Merkel resembled the airplanes that flew into the WTC and Pentagon on 911. They didn't bring down the structures, but they set them on fire and made an excuse for the towers collapsing later. I think that Trump's ruining the State Department, the EPA, the Dept. of Education, etc represents the thermite (documented at 911 by the Truthers) cutting the structural support of democracy. IMHO, the Deep State is preparing some event that will collapse democracies in the West across the board. They will substitute globalist bureaucracies for disgraced/helpless national governments.

Whether Trump is in on this, or just a patsy is irrelevant to the plan and the result. Nevertheless, I personally think Trump is a patsy. He has the perfect profile. The Chrisitanists will turn on a dime when TSHTF. The fake liberals/neoliberals have made a career of despising him. All someone needs to do is photoshop a picture of him brandishing the Mannlicher-Carcano and make sure he shows up at the book depository on schedule.

I think the failure mode will be some kind of computer virus that messes with both the banking/credit card payment system and with the utilities (electricity, water supply,etc.). This "emergency" will justify some version of martial law. When the dust settles, you won't own your own money, the banks will. You won't have free speech because the mask of "fake news" will have been dropped, and internet martial law will be in place - complete with roundups of "thought criminals" like those of us here who dare to think for themselves.

At this point, I do not have a lot of hope. The neoliberal planning is strategic. It has multiple layers and fallbacks. Their agents are dispersed throughout governments and international bodies. They create the scenarios. They control the media message. The population, even the activists, are reduced to the role of spectators. We can cheer and boo and wear funny hats. Maybe we can behave like hooligans and beat up/publicly shame the objects of our hatred. (Another BIG step downwards in our social behavior, IMHO.) But the neoliberal conspiracy, and its interlinked military arm, the neocons, have over the past four decades, removed any genuine patriots' hands from the levers of power and replaced them with hacks, fanatics, grifters, and sabotuers.

BTW, thanks for taking the trouble to read the links. I do try to make my writing more than just my own words. I appreciate your "swamp" metaphor, and the construction of a personality to go with it. I may quote HA, but I am always writing as "me". I can't sustain the consistency and creativity of a persona. My hat is off to you.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@arendt Your writing along with many others is why I keep coming back to c99. I certainly learn more here than anywhere else.

Your futuristic scenario unfortunately looms larger every day.

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