Neoliberalism.

This post will necessarily be quite long, so I’m hiding most of it behind a break.  If you don’t like longer posts, you should skip this one.

In recent years, there’s been a curious rhetorical move developed by prominent neoliberals: the pretense that they don’t understand the term “neoliberal,” the pose that they literally don’t understand what the term means when leftist critics use it. I’ll be upfront: I think that this is a dodge, an act. I don’t believe that there’s a single neoliberal political mind that has ever actually been ignorant of how we mean the term when we use it. I think it’s a part of a neoliberal tactic to marginalize and silence leftist dissent, which I’ll get to later. Neoliberalism is no more vague, complicated, or ill-defined than any other conventional political ideologies, which are by nature shaggy beasts. But since I keep hearing this claim, I thought, hey, let’s define.

There are lots of consequences and complications that stem from its basic definition, as there are with any political ideology. But the fundamental meachanisms aren’t complicated. To put it simply,  neoliberalism is the pursuit of traditionally liberal ends through traditionally conservative means, with the important corollary that when faced with a conflict between those liberal ends and those conservative means, neoliberals will always choose the means. In practice, this means that neoliberals prefer redistributive economic justice, but only insofar as it is achieved through “market” mechanisms. So let’s posit that traditional leftists and neoliberals both want better living conditions for the working class. A traditional leftist pushes for worker organization and collective bargaining, which enables them to secure their own best interests, such as higher wages and better benefits. Additionally, traditional leftists push for legal protections in the workplace against predatory employers and in favor of fair, equitable, safe, and clean working conditions. In contrast, neoliberals hope to advance the conditions of those same workers by making conditions better for employers, by dismantling regulation, lowering tax burdens, and facilitating growth. Economic growth, then, will “raise all boats,” raising worker wages and allowing them to buy iPhones, soda, and sneakers. Both traditional leftists and neoliberals tend to favor redistributive social programs, although the correct degree of redistribution and the programs that achieve it are subject to contentious debate.

The essential point, of course, is that neoliberals supports establishment power– corporations, financiers, and the wealthy– while traditional leftism opposes it.

There are a few important realities to understand. First, neoliberalism is the West’s dominant policy platform, and has essentially been so for 30 years. Democrats and Republicans differ greatly on both social issues and on the necessity of redistributive social programs, and these are hugely important distinctions, but on the question of dismantling the regulatory state and worker protections, there’s been remarkable continuity since the Reaganite-Thatcherite turn. The reason for this success with elites is straightforward. Neoliberalism provides intellectual cover for economic policies that benefit the wealthiest and most powerful. The wealthiest and most powerful control our policy apparatus.

Despite this success with elites, neoliberalism has been a profound political failure. By that I mean that neoliberalism has failed to develop an enduring political consistency among voters. The ideology is very much one of the elite, political writers and thinkers and philosophers, people who work at think tanks, “wonks,” etc. It’s an affluent constituency. Indeed, this is one of the major intellectual failures of the ideology: it is made up almost exclusively of those who will never suffer due to the trade offs that it prefers. The political bloggers who advocate neoliberalism don’t work in factories (and may never have met anyone who does), so it is very easy for them to call for, say, dismantling work place safety protections. When your own workplace involves nothing more dangerous than a Macbook, such protections seem antiquated. When you never have to change in a workplace locker room, your interest in preserving labor laws that provide workers with a way to confront sexual assault or its threat is muted. When there is no chance of your boss insisting that you work hours you will not be compensated for, or be fired, you don’t see the need for unions. Etc.

Why has neoliberalism failed to resonate with those outside of the educated political elite? Because it turns out that people don’t want to be wards of the state. They want self-determination, meaningful work, and the confidence that comes from knowing you have power to secure your own interests. This is the failure of pity charity liberalism. Even in its purely theoretical form, neoliberalism has little to offer workers beyond the promise of higher monetary compensation. (You sometimes hear neoliberals say that full employment will give workers the ability to quit if their work life becomes untenable, but of course we have observed systematic exploitation of labor even in times of full employment.) Because  of this, neoliberals constantly advance a “currency exchange uber alles” mentality, a philosophy dependent on the notion that there are essentially no human goods other than economic goods. This is what compels neoliberals to look for “markets in everything,” to reduce every aspect of human welfare to monetary terms, and to insist that GDP and growth are the only meaningful metrics of human flourishing. But people want more, as well they should.

Consider a middle aged worker living in a factory town in the suburbs of Cincinnati. You were able to work at a local plant and provide more for your family than your own parents were able to provide for you. Thanks to a powerful union, the conditions at your plant were safe, mechanisms were in place to redress grievances, and you earned a living wage. The local community flourished. The neoliberal policy apparatus pushed to remove any structural incentive for corporations to keep the plant going. It closed. Now you are forced to consider shitty jobs with bad benefits, no chance of union representation, and no security of any kind. There are no pensions, only 401(k)s that are subject to the vicissitudes of the market. Your children are unable to find work. The local community has been devastated. For your town, the result has been nothing but bad. Yes, as the neoliberals constantly remind us, you can buy an iPhone if you can afford one. But these material goods do nothing to make you more feel more secure or fulfilled, and don’t help in a culture that (for good or ill) associates a meaningful life with meaningful work.

Neoliberals not only refuse to recognize the human tragedy of all of this, referring to it as “creative destruction” and the necessity of capitalism. (Note, again, that as they are employed at magazines, think tanks, and universities, and thus don’t live with the consequences of these changes, creative destruction is an entirely academic concept.) They not only refuse to define costs and benefits in any terms but monetary ones, and thus pointedly ignore your suffering. They actually insult you for thinking that the situation sucks. They call you fundamentally irrational, nativist, populist, and probably racist. Openly. This is the fundamental political dynamic of our time: working and middle class people have had their working conditions systematically destroyed, and in the face of this, neoliberal elites have reacted with callous disregard. This failure to respond to genuine need has opened up space for conservative ideologues to play on their insecurities and resentments, leading to a political nightmare that makes liberal governance impossible. I don’t excuse the ruinous decisions of those who have turned to the GOP out of feelings of desperation and anger, but you simply cannot understand the dominance of conservatism and the rise of the Tea Party without understanding the failure of neoliberal policy elites to respond to real economic devastation.

(Why can’t we get the appropriate Keynesian countercyclical response to the current depression? We don’t have a political constituency that can fight elite resistance to such a response.)

For all of these reasons, for conservatives neoliberals are the ultimate useful idiots: they support deregulation and attacks on workers’ rights, which also enjoy conservative support, while their redistributive preferences are easily defeated. Liberalism and leftism face long odds under the best of times: the rich and corporations get what they want by default. By lending their political efforts to both the conservative preference for laissez faire economics, which enjoys the support of reactionary power, and to the liberal preference for redistributive social programs, neoliberals essentially ensure that they will get the former and not the latter.

I find it totally uncontroversial to say that in recent decade efforts to deregulate, globalize, and attack the power of labor have been vastly more successful than efforts to expand the social welfare state. There is this notion of a neoliberal grand bargain, wherein corporations and the financial class get the continued dismantling of worker protections and the lower classes get more wealth redistributed to them. I wouldn’t support such a bargain anyway, as I believe in worker power and self-determination. But ultimately it’s irrelevant; what neoliberals have achieved is the widespread dismantling of worker protections without a proportionate expansion of the welfare state.

Consider PPACA. (Obamacare.) While a compromise, and not sufficient, it’s an incredibly important and necessary bill, and the record will show that I argued for it vociferously when it was under debate. But consider the conditions. You’re talking about a unique political moment, with a new party and president replacing a deeply unpopular president, where the president’s party controlled both houses of Congress and where the president had run on an explicit promise of passing health care reform. Despite all of that, a watered-down compromise bill passed by only the thinnest of margins. The law remains in considerable jeopardy, from both judicial and legislative threat. (Again, a problem with pity-charity liberalism: it ensures that the material conditions of the lower classes will be subject to the whims of a cyclical political system.) Is that, truly, the best that can be hoped for, when we have bargained away so much of the regulatory state? It amazes me, the plainly self-aggrandizing way in which neoliberals speak about their project, when you look at the acres of failure that the project has wrought.

This speaks to a simple reality: neoliberalism is immune to reality. Neoliberals have dominated the economic policy apparatus of the West for three decades. I could point out that the rise of neoliberalism in the early 80s tracks stagnant wages and spiraling inequality almost perfectly. Or just look at where we are. Look at the uncertainty, the loss, the human devastation. The US government, the leadership of the European Union, the IMF, the World Bank– each has unequivocally embraced the neoliberal platform. Our conditions are what they are. But the discourse remains one that assumes the superior seriousness of neoliberals. My alternative is driven by strong unions, powerful protections for workers, a robust regulatory regime, large-scale redistribution of wealth, nationalization of the banking system, socialized health care, and strict checks on the power of corporations and the wealthiest, up to and including tax rates that essentially cap the resources an individual can control. To suggest such an alternative does not invite just disagreement but contempt.

And that leads to my final point, which is that neoliberals argue with those on their left solely through an idiom of disrespect. This is not an intrinsic part of the ideology, but I suppose an enculturated artifact of those who are most prominent within neoliberal circles. I have argued with neoliberals for my entire adult life. I can count on two hands the number of times that my interlocutors engaged without snark, dismissal, or sarcasm. Consider, again, the pose that a neoliberal doesn’t know what neoliberalism is. Typically, this pretense is dropped as soon as they meet with an actual response, and they reveal that they never really cared in the first place. The typical neoliberal argues against both conservatives and leftists, but he reserves his contempt for the latter. We are not met just with derision but with the bullying insistence that there is no alternative. We are consigned to political nonexistence.

We are all of us living in the shadow of a terrible financial crisis, one which was unambiguously the fault of the wealthiest and one which has wrecked economic devastation on the bottom. To spend political capital complaining about interior decorator licensing in such a context is obscene. Now is the time to speak the clear truth, which is that for America to be the nation that we want, we have to make things for those at the top worse. They can afford it. Perhaps that’s the greatest sin of all of it: the notion that what’s good for the wealthiest is good for the poorest. If we derive any wisdom from this terrible crisis, let’s start by acknowledging the obvious: that different classes are in fact natural antagonists, that sometimes we need to support one against the other, and that when those on top have too much power and too much money, it has to be clawed back, by the people, in a way that some won’t like. No more lies about rising tides, but instead the reality of class conflict.

Are we going to get that? Probably not; the rich and powerful tend to get what they want, and they can ensure that the always have pet philosophers, ready to defend their interests with the pretense of humanitarianism. And so much the worse for us.

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139 replies
  1. 1
    David Koch says:

    Are we going to get that?

    Fuck you, Freddie. You’re the one who doesn’t get it.

    You’re on record saying you will help elect RMoney and the “marvelous” Ayn Ryan budget by voting against Black Metrosexual Abe Lincoln.

    So fuck you and your very own “pet philosophers”, Freddie. You have no cred.

  2. 2
    Tpants says:

    Well said, Freddie. I’ve always been angry with the tone of neoliberal commentators. It renders people I really want to agree with unreadable.

    Like when a woman complained that rising property values in her gentrifying DC neighborhood had forced her to sell her home because she couldn’t afford the higher property taxes, and Yglesias couldn’t see how this was anything but good for everybody involved. Blargh.

  3. 3
    Tpants says:

    Well said, Freddie. I’ve always been angry with the tone of neoliberal commentators. It renders people I really want to agree with unreadable.

    Like when a woman complained that rising property values in her gentrifying DC neighborhood had forced her to sell her home because she couldn’t afford the higher property taxes, and Yglesias couldn’t see how this was anything but good for everybody involved. Blargh.

  4. 4
    Baud says:

    @David Koch:

    You’re on record saying you will help elect RMoney and the “marvelous” Ayn Ryan budget by voting against Black Metrosexual Abe Lincoln.

    I missed that. Who is Freddie voting for?

    ETA: Regardless of who you’re voting for, Freddie, this post started by trying to differentiate between neoliberals and conservatives, but later on seemed to conflate the two. Maybe you think they aren’t any different, but I found it difficult to follow for that reason.

  5. 5
    Austin says:

    Well said. Neoliberals are elitists and love to measure their own lifestyles outside of monetary terms, but it’s a graceless “rising tide lifts all boats” for the rest. The Thomas Friedmans and Ezra Kleins should know better.

    Never really thought about it but now that you point it out, neoliberalism is a very comfortable place for writers and other media outlets outside of rude/hopeless blogs like this one. Wall St guys think you get it so they’ll let you hang, you could swing around to a Republican country club and laugh at the rubes if you could stand the racism – and most can and do, but you could also write the occasional “pulse of real America” and maintain a facade of credibility for all those parts. Also there’s the delight in jet setting around with all your bicultural foreign friends who went to elite Western schools. Image Doug J trying to make a living talking to all these groups. If you’re a neoliberal you could pass for sincere in most groups.

  6. 6
    soonerlater says:

    These days I pay more attention to who is saying stuff rather than what they are saying.

  7. 7
    francis says:

    neoliberals argue with those on their left solely through an idiom of disrespect

    Uh, Freddie, the disrespect is rather obviously mutual. You are a bad-faith-accusation machine. This post is no exception.

  8. 8
    eemom says:

    @David Koch:

    Will you marry me?

  9. 9
    Baud says:

    @eemom: Good catch, the guy’s got millions.

  10. 10
    David Koch says:

    @Baud: he hasn’t announced which “pet philosophers” he will vote for in “pretense of humanitarianism”, but he said he won’t vote for Gaybrahm Lincoln because Gaybrahm killed a mass murdering terrorist who was actively trying to blow-up jumbo jets because Abe didn’t read him his rights.

    Complete wankersim, straight outta da deluded, self-important LameO’sphere.

  11. 11
    Nick says:

    Silly outrage over OP’s vote/cred, it’s a great description of the problem even without naming names and hurting some feelings.

  12. 12
    Tappen says:

    Freddie, this is one of the best posts on the internet I’ve read in a while

  13. 13

    Having read your description of neoliberals, the only ones I can think of are the Village Punditariat, and I’m pretty sure they all vote Republican. I suppose there was a ‘neoliberal’ movement in higher levels during the Clinton period. In general I only, ONLY hear ‘We should protect workers by reducing regulation on industries’ sort of arguments from the Brooks/Broder crowd. Their entire purpose in life is to polish GOP turds, so calling them ‘neoliberal’ would sound odd to me.

  14. 14
    stinkbait says:

    it is what it is.

  15. 15
    eemom says:

    @Baud:

    He made his debut on this blog announcing grandiosely that he is not going to vote for the President, and that the reasons for this are many and splendored and will be revealed to us all in due time.

    Just as a little teaser, however, he did allow as how his epiphany began the first time he witnessed Lord Greenwald preaching on the Mount: how, yea, the very hairs on his head leapt to their feet at the presence of such Purity….and how it was THEN that the way of Righteousness was opened before him.

  16. 16
    Marcellus Shale, Public Dick says:

    i don’t see the huge division you see, because the country has pulled so far to the right. this is why the occupy movement has to stay “apolitical” in terms of the process or means. in neoliberal snark terms(sorry dude) the can uncover the market,they can develop the market, but they can’t bring the goods to the market, that requires process.

  17. 17
    Egg Berry says:

    This piece at Crooked Timber from 2011 seems to indicate that “neoliberalism” means two different things in U.S. English and British English.

  18. 18
    francis says:

    neoliberalism is the pursuit of traditionally liberal ends through traditionally conservative means

    So then why is every Republican president described as “neoliberal,” especially by the kind of people who read Verso paperbacks? Republican presidents are in pursuit of traditionally liberal ends? The word is a lot harder to define than you let on in this post.

  19. 19
    Baud says:

    @David Koch: @eemom:

    Thanks.

  20. 20
    eemom says:

    Ah, I see he’s brought some fellow disciples over with him again this time.

    Between that, and Cole showing up occasionally to shake his stick at the meanies like me, his self-important little ass generally manages to avoid being chewed up and spit out in 10 comments or less.

    I do miss toko-loko though. Was right out of a fairy tale how that child saw through the invisible clothes.

  21. 21
    BruceJ says:

    Shorter: Neoliberals are conservatives pretending to be liberals, AKA “the Glibertarian Left”, like Yglesias.

    He has this quaint faith that untrammeled free enterprise, like a rising tide, will raise all boats, blissfully unaware that an ever-growing majority will never be members of the yacht club.

    A rising tide may lift all boats for those fortunate enough to own one…but for most people, it’s just another way to drown.

  22. 22
    David Koch says:

    @eemom:

    marry me?

    Who doesn’t like a hawt greek wearing a toga.

  23. 23
    JGabriel says:

    __
    __
    Freddie deBoer @ Top:

    My alternative is driven by strong unions, powerful protections for workers, a robust regulatory regime, large-scale redistribution of wealth, nationalization of the banking system, socialized health care, and strict checks on the power of corporations and the wealthiest, up to and including tax rates that essentially cap the resources an individual can control.

    Yep, I’m pretty much with you on all of this. The only major point of difference would be nationalization of the banking system. From what I know, I’d prefer a much more heavily regulated system than we have now, but not necessarily nationalized, as that might be giving too much power and information to the state.

    That said, I think it might have been better in the aftermath of the 2008 banking breakdown to nationalize several institutions (I’m looking at you Citigroup and BOA); clean out the shareholders; and break those banks into smaller, more manageable entities with fewer conflicts of interest. In other words, I see bank nationalization as a temporary tool for responding to banking crises, ala Krugman, rather than a permanent solution.

    I’m not an expert, though, so I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

    We are all of us living in the shadow of a terrible financial crisis, one which was unambiguously the fault of the wealthiest and one which has wrecked economic devastation on the bottom.

    Nitpicky Editing Suggestion: I think the word you wanted here was wreaked, not wrecked.

    .

  24. 24
    jl says:

    When I think about neoliberals, I start with the simple idea that they do not know what they are doing, and are deluded confused people.

    They seem to think that neoclassical microeconomic theory is a successful empirical theory which has some kind of fixed relationship to what happens in the world. That is, all the totally and intentionally uninterpreted terms you see in an economics book refer to things in the external world in a sense that an ordinary sane person would recognize.

    That is not true, and neoliberal microeconomists know it is not true. In fact the textbooks brag that it is not true. Defining the theoretical terms in a way that makes the theory true in any situation you want to analyze is a bragging point of the theory; it is the Art, in the Art and Science of economics.

    They, along with a lot of ideological and confused economists tried to use it like a universal scientific theory of human life with empricial content to tell them things about how the real world is, how it ought to be, and how things could be made better, or more just, in some way.

    Mistaking a formal schema that is sold as a universal philospher’s stone that you can use to explain anything that human beings do, not matter what, for an empirical theory that can be used to reach any kind of operationally definable end for society will lead to confusion, frustration, and failure. And the last few decades can be argued to be a wonderful demonstration of that little maxim. The last five to ten years should lay any doubt to rest.

    The failure is just less painful for the employed pundit neoliberals, since their failure just results in getting paid good money while they squabble at conferences and over the blogs and media.

    Just MHO.

  25. 25
    max hats says:

    “Neoliberalism” already has an established meaning, and it ain’t this:

    neoliberalism is the pursuit of traditionally liberal ends through traditionally conservative means

    You’re looking at “liberalism” in the peculiar contemporary American definition of “being leftist.” But that is not how the term has been traditionally used, and it’s not how it’s used in the context of the really quite well-established phrase “neoliberalism.”

  26. 26
    JoyfulA says:

    @BruceJ:

    A rising tide may lift all boats for those fortunate enough to own one…but for most people, it’s just another way to drown.

    That is a wonderful, wonderful line. I plan to repeat it a lot.

  27. 27
    AA+ Bonds says:

    Not a bad post right here

  28. 28
    max hats says:

    Here:

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

    The term “neoliberalism” was coined in 1938 by the German scholar Alexander Rüstow at the Colloque Walter Lippmann.[4][5][6] The colloquium defined the concept of neoliberalism as “the priority of the price mechanism, the free enterprise, the system of competition and a strong and impartial state.”[7] To be “neoliberal” meant that “laissez-faire” liberalism is not enough and that – in the name of liberalism – a modern economic policy is required.[8] After the colloquium “neoliberalism” became a label for several academical approaches such as the Freiburg school, the Austrian School or the Chicago school of economics.[9]

    I simply cannot believe you wrote that entire blog post without even looking up to check on the actual definition of neoliberalism.

  29. 29
    Ben Wolf says:

    @Freddie deBoer

    It’s not just that neo-liberalism is conservative ideology disguised as economic science. Its core is derived from 19th Century ideas on industrial societies. Gold-standard era thinking is present throughout the entire framework and renders virtually every neo-liberal tenet obsolete when they aren’t dangerously wrong. I’ve been arguing for some time the reason we’re in such an economic and societal mess is due to the theological zealotry of the Chicago School and its associates.

  30. 30
    jl says:

    Also, I have to question some neoliberals’ common sense. For example, Yglesias proclaiming that he had repurposed his vocation to be a professed and confirmed neoliberal, who would spend the rest of his public career promoting incremental gimmicky neoliberal policies, since that obviously was to be the end of intellectual history of the modern developed nations.

    Just as the whole project was collapsing around our ears.

    If Yglesias reads this comment, I am sure he will point out some vulgar philosophical error in what I just typed, and I will hang my head in neoliberal shame.

  31. 31
    Keith G says:

    This thesis seems a bit ponderous and self-important. You make a large number of broad declarative statements and glittering generalities without any sources or data providing back up. So besides being ponderous, this is ultimately unhelpful.

    @Tappen:

    this is one of the best posts on the internet I’ve read in a while

    You need to get out more.

  32. 32
    Raven says:

    “this is ultimately unhelpful”

    I’ll vote for that!

  33. 33
    max hats says:

    Seriously, explain how establishing the World Trade Organization, something generally considered the epitome of neoliberalism, is “traditionally conservative” in any way. “Hmmm, this one thing I don’t like MUST THEREFORE be the same as this other thing I don’t like, because sometimes the same word appears. Hmmmmm.”

  34. 34
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @jl:

    If Yglesias reads this comment, I am sure he will point out some vulgar philosophical error in what I just typed

    Yglesias is a dipshit wannabe Wittgenstein hack; never listen to what he has to say about philosophy – instead read the things he claims to have read

    I have never been as hungry for continental flavor as when I want to cleanse my palate after choking down an Yglesias piece; I would rather read fifty Maoist ’68 panegyrics than one book of his

    You’re quite correct about the connection between that sort of Anglo-American thought and international debt crises – the perpetrators of the latter look to the perpetrators of the former for self-justification – and Yglesias has never met a courageous idea that he couldn’t dismiss through empty rhetoric

  35. 35
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Great post Freddie.

  36. 36
    eemom says:

    Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.
    (A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.) — Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, L’Art Poétique

    In those simple ancient words, the essence of modern bloggerdom.

  37. 37
    jpe says:

    wow, that’s dumb.

  38. 38
    Ben Wolf says:

    @Keith G:

    This thesis seems a bit ponderous and self-important. You make a large number of broad declarative statements and glittering generalities without any sources or data providing back up. So besides being ponderous, this is ultimately unhelpful.

    Then let’s get to specifics.

    1) The neo-liberal insistence on buying into the money multiplier myth has crippled our responses to demand shocks for decades.

    2) Neo-liberal doctrine does not include in its models money, debt or banks. It mistakenly assumes the private sector of a monetarily sovereign country is the government’s source for money, when in reality government is the private sector’s source of funds.

    3) Neo-liberal literature does not understand the difference between a currency issuer like the United States and a currency user like Greece, and that unlike Greece the U.S. cannot go broke.

    4) Neo-liberal scholarship has failed to recognize that unemployment only exists in an economy which uses money. As a result we get policies like austerity which inevitably work in a counterproductive manner.

    There are myriad other problems with neo-liberal economics, but it’s Sunday.

  39. 39
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Keith G:

    This thesis seems a bit ponderous and self-important. You make a large number of broad declarative statements and glittering generalities without any sources or data providing back up. So besides being ponderous, this is ultimately unhelpful.

    Wrong thread

  40. 40
    eemom says:

    Great post Freddie.

    My case. I restz it.

  41. 41
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    A good summary of the ways that neoliberalism arrays itself directly against democracy in any class-conscious polity – Freddie gave some good hints toward that above, of course

  42. 42
    AA+ Bonds says:

    These threads are also great for shaking the neoliberals out of the woodwork here and overall making conversation less confusing as those commenting can tell whose opinons are based on dogma and who, on the other hand, has read a newspaper article on Latin America at some point over the last thirty years or so

  43. 43
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @eemom: Can you just crawl off somewhere and die?

  44. 44
    AA+ Bonds says:

    Wait, I mean that fucking with trade balance and slashing benefits fixes the money supply through wizard magic, please hire me for the job of extorting policy out of the Greek middle class at gunpoint

    Am willing to call Greeks names while double-jobbing German bankers under the table. Serious offers only! No agents!

  45. 45
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    The thing that bothers me about where we are at (politically & socially) is that while the left has little problem negotiating with the right, many on the right believe that the left is pure “evil”, in both the literal and biblical sense, and that negotiating with evil just does not happen.

    How in the hell are you supposed to run a country when an increasing number of its citizens believe that another is evil and should be destroyed (figuratively by most, literally for some)? Really, how in the hell does a nation survive when things get that bad? The Republican party has created a monster that wants to consume our country, all in the name of saving it. Republicans proudly proclaim their love of America by denigrating its citizens.

    The scary part is that they consider this ‘saving the country’.

  46. 46
    eemom says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    Now fuckie, you KNOW the more intensely you long for something, the less likely it is to happen.

    You big old silly you.

  47. 47
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    Another aspect is that, due to widespread capture of finance, neoliberals are so caught up in anti-democratic fervor and ‘technocratic’ fantasy that they think shit like Americans Elect is a good idea

    Dissatisfied with the disaster wrought by 90% worldwide capture of policy, they strive for the utmost purity, for a populist cult dedicated to neoliberals as direct conduits between God and humanity

    Meanwhile, even Paul Krugman seems to be catching on to the bullshit he used to spread, although of course We Will See when Wall Street optimism returns to the press (assuming this isn’t the big one coming up in a few years here)

  48. 48
    lacp says:

    @AA+ Bonds: I haven’t seen that so far on this thread. The biggest objection to the post seems to be that its author isn’t going to vote for Barack Obama. Not sure what that has to do with the subject of the post, but that’s where we are.

  49. 49
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @lacp: Freddie has cooties.

  50. 50
    AA+ Bonds says:

    American liberals need to understand that liberal political parties have realigned to necessarily oppose liberal ideals about the rights of individuals – their survival is based on a new foundation

    You can vote for those parties but realize it is the absolute least you can do to achieve the results you want

  51. 51
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @lacp:

    To me the neoliberals are the people who feel not the least uneasy about the contradictions between the Democratic Party and the values they cherish (and more importantly, the results they desire)

    They may not have a clue what neoliberalism is but they are its lieutenants, and perhaps its best lieutenants

    They are not very good party members either, in my opinion, when unwilling to even discuss party realignment in an ostensibly anonymous forum or at least one that makes the identity of those involved more difficult to discover

  52. 52
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee: They would be happy if…

    The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

  53. 53
    AA+ Bonds says:

    After a few years of keeping up with the news, you just have to hear the Bundesbank statements on the Greek state today (apparently it doesn’t exist and we don’t need to worry about anything it says!) to understand where we are right now

    Seriously, calling a state “failed” because the left seems certain to command a multiparty coalition in the near future is . . . well . . . it’s expected coming out of the people with their heel on the ECB, but it is still really fucking bad news

  54. 54
    Keith G says:

    @Ben Wolf: Interesting bullet points.

    As an example of what I was getting at:

    3) Neo-liberal literature does not understand the difference between a currency issuer like the United States and a currency user like Greece, and that unlike Greece the U.S. cannot go broke

    The only folks I have encountered making a case such as above are solid conservatives – who btw probably know better, but are being deceptive.

    Dealing with Freddie’s words

    By that I mean that neoliberalism has failed to develop an enduring political consistency among voters.

    Maybe true, maybe not…what’s the data say?

  55. 55
    Linnaeus says:

    Good post – I think it accurately describes the core of neoliberalism and critiques it nicely.

  56. 56
    Ben Wolf says:

    @Keith G: It’s actually pretty simple. The U.S. is monetarily sovereign: it spends by simply altering the numbers in accounts and therefore cannot “run out” of money. Greece has ceded its monetary sovereignty to the ECB, meaning that it has no power to create whatever net financial assets are needed. The difference is why U.S. bonds are being sold for under 2.00% yield while Greece’s yields are bankrupting them. Our bond market is well aware the U.S. has no insolvency risk.

  57. 57
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Keith G:

    in 2010 at least, polls continued to claim a slim majority among respondents for the belief that FTAs hurt the United States

    Compare that with the guaranteed votes for these agreements from our legislators

    And really, that’s nothing, looking at numbers during the NAFTA debate compared to legislative support – I think at the very least the claim that no “enduring political consistency” has developed can be considered true (unless you count Congress as a “constituency”)

    I don’t think it’s really possible to develop that constituency among non-elites and I suspect Freddie doesn’t either but I don’t want to put words in people’s mouths

  58. 58
    max hats says:

    Wait a minute, I just realized you do have one actual point*. You spent all those paragraphs to say the groundbreaking truth, that modern conservatives espouse traditionally liberal (and thus, neoliberal) viewpoints on international trade. Holy fuck, how amazing.

    *mixed in with lots of attempts to lump American political moderates in with the neoliberals because both involve the word ‘liberal’ sometimes and both are sort of similar to conservatism sometimes.

  59. 59
    MonkeyBoy says:

    @jl:

    a lot of ideological and confused economists tried to use it like a universal scientific theory of human life with empricial content to tell them things about how the real world is

    I think the reason that a lot of people seen as “neoliberals” don’t regard themselves as followers of an ideology is that they just consider themselves as normal or “rational” people just following the theories of economics without realizing that the particular theories are slanted toward an ideology.

    I recently read “What money can’t buy : the moral limits of markets” by Michael J. Sandel a revered endowed professor at Harvard. I was amazed that he never examined the modern “market perspective” as an ideology with an agenda – he just tended to regard it as “rational” and his book mainly listed examples where its inroads into everyday life may have gone too far.

  60. 60
    Sullivan Hyde says:

    This is not a good definition of neoliberalism.

  61. 61
    Dave says:

    Great post Freddie. I was reminded of Stanley Fish doing this “golly what is this neoliberalism” schlick a few years back in the Times. neoliberals are universally loathsome people, and I hate, hate, hate, how neoliberalism has claimed the mantle of “the modern.” it is such a perversion of modernity that I’m quite certain historians will see the world order c.1980-20?? as some preposterous aberration.

  62. 62
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Sullivan Hyde:

    This is not a good definition of neoliberalism.

    I think it is a good outline of the ramifications for liberal party members of neoliberal capture of liberal parties

    That would seem to be the main concern of everyone here anyway but I’m sure we could also use a good discussion group on trade and monetary policy for sure

  63. 63
    Keith G says:

    @Ben Wolf: I know the definitions.

    What I said was that the only folks I have heard claiming “We might be Greece” are conservatives. Not saying non-conservatives have never made such a claim. I just feel if one wants to convince others of an important point, evidence could be helpful next time.

  64. 64
    AA+ Bonds says:

    I suppose a team discussion and critique of “Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism” would be a little outside the usual book groups here

    Although honestly Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism seems like the place to start for a lot of folks here to toughen their hides and hone their skills against an extant foe

  65. 65
    John Quiggin says:

    There’s a problem here in that “neoliberal” in the US means something different from what it means elsewhere, reflecting the different meanings of “liberal”.

    For example, Tony Blair is neoliberal in the US sense, Margaret Thatcher in the non-US sense – there are similarities between the two but also differences.

  66. 66
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @AA+ Bonds:

    They’re channeling Reagan; ‘If I keep digging I’ll find a pony!’

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Lincoln nailed it then and it hasn’t changed since. “The more things change, the more they remain the same”, as they say.

  67. 67
    Freddie deBoer says:

    May I reiterate that I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life and have absolutely no interest in doing so this year?

  68. 68
    Keith G says:

    @AA+ Bonds: That is a useful illustration and IIRC it rings true as a data point. Still, who do motivated voters go out and reward? Isn’t that the ultimate measure of an enduring political consistency among voters?

    Speaking of which, old school liberals, as your’s truly, have had some epic issues with developing an enduring political consistency among voters.

    Much to my dismay, neo-libs have had more success since the late 80s than have any other type of Dem. In fact, two of them have made it to the White House.

  69. 69
    jl says:

    @MonkeyBoy:

    Thanks for link to Sandel book. Looks interesting.

    I think anyone with an open mind who looks at international comparisons in health care systems, criminal justice or educational systems (the reforms in Finland in the equivalent of our K12, for example) has to at least wonder whether the US has gone down a very wrong and costly track. Costly both in wasted dollars and human welfare and potential. And social policy in the US has, I think, been driven more by neoliberal thinking than most other developed high income democracies.

    Applied to capital and financial markets, the rot certainly started here. And the consequences have been devsastating.

    Neoliberalism as applied to macroeconomics is a mess. The leading scholars, at least those who are sane and not deluding themselves (that omits in my view one Nobel Memorial Prize winner, Prescott) admit their theory cannot explain what has happened. They put it in terms that preserve their self respect. They admit that many ‘difficult research problems’ will be needed to be solved to get their machine up and running again. Whatever, I don’t care how they phrase it. Ohanian has a good review in Journal of Economic Perspectives which is now open to everyone, I think.

  70. 70
    David Koch says:

    @Freddie deBoer: Fuck you, crackpot.

    there’s only one way to stop Rmoney/Ayn Ryan, and it’s not by voting for 3rd party wanker.

  71. 71
    PaulJ says:

    The definition is much simpler than Freddies (although his isn’t wrong).

    Neo-liberalism is…

    Free-market capitalism.

    Supply-side economics.

    laissez-faire economics.

    99% of the world subscribes to neo-liberal economic policies.

    All losses are borne by the worker, all gains by the financial system and a handful of the wealthiest people in the world.

    Obama’s policies are neo-liberal, as were Bill Clinton’s (we don’t need a 3rd party, we need a 2nd one).

    It has been an abject failure since it became the economic “religion” of the world and that is the best definition of it – a religion.

    Mathematically-speaking neo-liberalism had/has no chance of succeeding because success would require violating the properties of closed systems (which can’t be done).

  72. 72
    Schlemizel says:

    Ya know, it stuns the hell out of me that some people here are totally incapable of accepting a difference of opinion even from people who largely agree with you. And if that is not lame enough they further compound the problem by starting off with the most offensive, infantile rant related to some earlier perceived offense.

    If you find an FP’er that offensive just skip them. But more than that if you are so incapable of accepting a range of opinions that are by-and-large looking for the same goals as you are how the hell do you deal with people you actually disagree with?

  73. 73
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Who are these neoliberals that you speak of? Can you give us some concrete examples. Do you consider the current administration to be neoliberal. Creative destruction is a term coined by Schumpeter. What is neo about him, he has been dead for more than 50 years.

  74. 74
    parsimon says:

    @Freddie deBoer:

    Thanks for clarifying. I’ll be honest, I think you’re undergoing undue criticism here: it’s a good and thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  75. 75
  76. 76
    chrismealy says:

    neoliberalism is the pursuit of traditionally liberal ends through traditionally conservative means, with the important corollary that when faced with a conflict between those liberal ends and those conservative means, neoliberals will always choose the means

    That’s so true I want to put it on a bumper sticker. I used to be one of those fuckers myself. People, don’t let your kids major in econ.

  77. 77
    maskling says:

    great post freddy. part of this neo-liberal dominance has to do with social proof. we are living in a new age of Conservative Conformity. i hate to link to slate but here:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_....._are_.html

    http://www.slate.com/articles/.....ingle.html

    you don’t go against the crowd. if you do, you must be a commy or something. if you are an old school labor democrat, you are probably a fool or corrupt, and don’t really exist. you are worthy of contempt and only contempt (source: KeithG and eemom). you don’t understand how the world REALLY works! the cult of the savvy is laughing at you.

    i will never forget being told by a group of conservative acquaintances that the money i was paying in union dues was cancelling out the higher wages i was making as a union member. and that my defined benefit pension fund, and my social security did not count because blah blah blah.

    amazing. if you are a labor democrat, you are not even given credit for being able to count your own money.

  78. 78
    David Koch says:

    This is why I won’t vote for Tom Barrett in Wisconsin. He’s a neoliberal!

    Vote Green, third party, or for a write-in in the Wisconsin recall. Teach Tom Barrett and the Democrats a lesson!

  79. 79
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Keith G:

    Still, who do motivated voters go out and reward? Isn’t that the ultimate measure of an enduring political consistency among voters?

    Generally it is the armed men ringing the arena that “reward” people with a non-bullet-to-the-head

    To be less cryptic, the neoliberal consensus is maintained by force, e.g., the threat of your children starving when you get thrown in jail for opposing the power structure

  80. 80
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Creative destruction is a term coined by Schumpeter. What is neo about him, he has been dead for more than 50 years.

    LOL

  81. 81
    AA+ Bonds says:

    New Criticism? More like OLD CRITICISM AM I RIGHT

  82. 82
    Keith G says:

    @maskling: Oh dude (if that applies), don’t be so melodramatic. I do not hold Freddie up for contempt. I assume he is a good human. I hope a fair reading of my comments show that I am concerned that he is making an important (but data free) argument in which he roundly criticizes an unidentified group of elites.

    If a thesis is worth typing, it is worth supporting. On the other hand, if this is just a beginning brainstorm, a rough treatment of an emerging idea, then indicate so.

  83. 83
    Chris says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    How in the hell are you supposed to run a country when an increasing number of its citizens believe that another is evil and should be destroyed (figuratively by most, literally for some)? Really, how in the hell does a nation survive when things get that bad? The Republican party has created a monster that wants to consume our country, all in the name of saving it. Republicans proudly proclaim their love of America by denigrating its citizens.

    I agree, although I wouldn’t put it exactly in these terms. I think the real divide for them is that they see America as their birthright and their heritage exclusively – the rest of us, whether it’s because of race, religion, heritage, or way of life, they simply do not consider legitimately American (as you saw with the “in his heart Obama is not an American” comment and a gajillion other little things like that). Which is what this argument comes down to. We, the people who are not Movement Conservatives, cannot sit down and have a discussion about what we want for America with people who don’t consider us American in the first place, and therefore don’t think we’re entitled to have a say in that at all.

    And no, I don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do with it; the last time the country was in this kind of condition, we had a civil war over it. Do I expect another civil war? No, but I certainly expect a hell of a mess.

  84. 84
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Keith G:

    he is making an important (but data free) argument in which he roundly criticizes an unidentified group of elites.

    From the comments here I can’t imagine what the responses would be like if he started naming names, and they were not the “right” names

    Well, I guess I can – because I get that response here a lot

  85. 85
    Keith G says:

    @AA+ Bonds: ah…well…

    No.

    I do hope you wrote that with humor

  86. 86
    jayackroyd says:

    @PaulJ:

    No. That’s exactly wrong. And one reason I don’t like “neoliberalism.”

    Liberals are capitalists. Liberals believe in free markets as, generally speaking, the most efficient way to allocate resources in a society.

    Liberals believe that the government’s role is to protect free markets from domination by powerful private interests–by monopolists, oligopolists and monosponists.

    The first liberal document was the Wealth of Nations–much of which is dedicated to describing all the different ways private enterprises attempt to circumvent market processes through collective action.

    Centrists believe in partnership between powerful private interests and the government, that nations should be ruled not by democratically elected government keeping markets competitive (or substituting for market solutions when those solutions are sub-optimal, as with infrastructure broadly defined, national defense, social insurance.), but by elite technocrats equally at home in the private sector as in the public sector. They believe our banking regulations should be written by and enforced by elite bankers, that our health care regulations should be written and enforced by elite health care provider executives, that our jobs programs should be run along the lights of the CEOs of large manufacturing corporations.

    In short, they believe in an oligarchy of elites. That’s not capitalism, not free markets, not competition. Not liberalism of any kind, traditional, establishment, movement or neo.

  87. 87
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @jayackroyd:

    But are you defining capitalism-as-material-reality and saying it is not “capitalism” because it does not conform to capitalism-as-idea, ditto with “liberalism”

    I think it is a question you should ask yourself

  88. 88
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Keith G:

    I agree that the distressing facts are spooky enough to force liberals to either reimagine their beliefs or to enter a place of pure denial

    The latter is not permanent so don’t worry :)

    But rest assured, if you organize collectively to oppose the system as it exists in its material aspects, you will be criminally prosecuted if they even bother with all that

  89. 89
    Kyle says:

    Bowel Movement Conservatives love America. They just hate two thirds of the people who live there.

  90. 90
    AA+ Bonds says:

    (That opposition is met with force or the threat of force pretty much a truism anyway given a functioning government – you would, after all, be breaking the law)

  91. 91
    David Koch says:

    I won’t vote for any Democrat until they bring back Howard Dean and make him Emperor for life of the party.

  92. 92
    jayackroyd says:

    neoliberalism is the pursuit of traditionally liberal ends through traditionally conservative means, with the important corollary that when faced with a conflict between those liberal ends and those conservative means, neoliberals will always choose the means

    No. This is false. Centrism has an ideological objective that is neither conservative or liberal. When the Democratic leadership dismantled Glass-Steagall, the objective was not a liberal objective–it wasn’t to prevent the banks from reacquiring the ability to gamble away depositors’ money. It was to do something else–to create a financial industry that would be able to engage in international competition.

    Citi wasn’t allowed to merge with Travelers in order to provide greater certainty or clearer information to consumers in a free market for financial services. In fact, permitting this merger was in direct opposition to the liberal objectives of preventing anti-competitive conditions to arise.

    When the democratic leadership called in the stakeholders in the healthcare industry into negotiations, their objective was not to provide a competitive market for health care services, which would have been a liberal objective. (Another liberal objective would have been to recognize that a competitive market is necessarily sub-optimal.) Instead they brought together the various oligopolists and made a deal–the oligopolists wouldn’t oppose the plan, and they’d be allowed to keep their pricing power, and the government would coerce participation by people who would not otherwise participate at the prices offered by the oligopolists.

    Their objective was satisfying the stakeholders while being able to claim that reform was taking place.

    This is a statement of liberal objectives:

    We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

    They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

    Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

  93. 93
    Keith G says:

    @David Koch: I kinda think the Doctor has moved on.

  94. 94
    Burnspbesq says:

    Just curious, Freddie: were you around before OHSA, ERISA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act? If you had been, you would be far less misinformed about the ability of liberal elites to make positive changes in the everyday lives of working people.

    People your age have no fucking clue how hard people my age, Raven’s age, and Linda Feathergill’s age had to work to make those legislative initiatives reality.

  95. 95
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Keith G: Doctor Who?

  96. 96
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Burnspbesq: FDB speaks for himself, he is hardly the voice of his generation. His brilliance (or lack thereof) is his own, don’t impugn an entire generation.

  97. 97
    b-psycho says:

    Careful with all that realizing that shit doesn’t change, Freddie. They’ll start calling you an EmoProg!

  98. 98
    jayackroyd says:

    @AA+ Bonds:

    Capitalists believe that capital, the means of production, should reside largely, indeed, almost entirely, in private hands. This is in contrast to socialists, who believe the state should own the means of production, or, feudalists who believe the aristocracy should own the means of production.

    Conservatives are capitalists who believe the state should largely refrain from intervening in the private sector–that the results of private sector actions are always the best possible outcome, and that intervention is counter productive.

    Liberals are capitalists who believe the state has an important role in making sure the society benefits everyone, creating opportunities for everyone to compete in free, competitive markets. They recognize that, unchecked, holders of capital accumulate power as the accumulate profits, and will use that in ways that undermine the capitalist enterprise–that will move it in the direction of aristocracy. They believe, for instance, that not just shareholders should be able to bargain collectively, but also wage earners–and that the role of the state is to prevent the formation of powerful private interests that restrict people’s freedom.

    Centrists are capitalists who believe that in the modern day economy, neither of these models work. They believe that because of globalization, the only way for a country to be competitive is by teaming with the oligopolists who have the ability to compete in world markets, helping them compete globally by lowering labor costs and keeping profit margins for the domestic customers of those companies. Without this private/public partnership, the nation will fall behind states that are willing to commit national resources to the most successful businesses. This is difficult, because in democratic societies people will vote against regimes that will make them worse off–but, sadly, they WILL be worse off, so it is the role of the globally successful meritocrats to work behind the scenes to do what must be done–eliminate the social insurance programs, convert public enterprises to profit-making private enterprise and otherwise get the country with the global program.

    Does that help? Do you see the centrist ideology is not the same as the liberal ideology, even though they are both capitalists?

  99. 99
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @jayackroyd:

    You’ve definitely told me what a bunch of people believe, so I return to my previous question: are you confusing ideology with reality?

  100. 100
    jayackroyd says:

    @Burnspbesq: It’s funny that you pick a list that includes Nixon’s initiatives.

    Neoliberals, as Freddie is defining them are not liberals. They oppose command and control regulation of the environment, and of things like pension programs. ERISA is something they’d like to eliminate, or at least water down.

  101. 101
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Burnspbesq:

    Just curious, Freddie: were you around before OHSA, ERISA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act? If you had been, you would be far less misinformed about the ability of liberal elites to make positive changes in the everyday lives of working people.

    To address a critique of neoliberalism, you’re reaching back to Nixon-era legislation?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  102. 102
    AA+ Bonds says:

    Burns – you are a convincing burns

  103. 103
    David Koch says:

    @b-psycho:

    Careful with all that realizing that shit doesn’t change

    That’s why I won’t vote for Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall!

    Time to teach the neoliberals like Barrett a lesson and vote Green!

  104. 104
    Dave says:

    @Burnspbesq: Fuck people your age.

  105. 105

    Neoliberals? Neoconservatives? Jacobins? They are all the same. And they are the ones running the show regardless of whom you vote for here in the good ol’ USA.

  106. 106
    Dave says:

    @jayackroyd: Conservatives do not believe that the state should stay out of markets. On the contrary, they think the state should support the market. I don’t know of any liberalism that identifies itself in the way you describe. The liberals you describe sound like idiots.

    Centrists you describe are, uh, neoliberals. Which is to say they want to liberalize one thing, markets, so they can have more money.

    When it comes to economics, liberalism, I’m sorry but this includes Keynes, is for total assholes. If you’re serious about a liberal modernity, you’re a socialist when it comes to economics.

  107. 107
    eemom says:

    @Burnspbesq:

    Just curious, Freddie: were you around before OHSA, ERISA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act?

    around before them? bwaahaaahaaahaaa. Freddie was barely out of middle school when the Bush administration started eviscerating those things.

  108. 108
    eemom says:

    @Dave:

    Don’t trust anyone over 30 — right, twerp?

  109. 109
    Corey says:

    This post is such a mess, Freddie. I’m sorry. You’ll get a lot of people agreeing with it because it fits their mood, though.

    I mean, you seek to define “neoliberalism”, define it in a decidedly substandard way, then continually expand the term so that it includes people you are jealous of on the internet.

  110. 110
    Corey says:

    @eemom: Do you add anything at all to the discussion here? Or do you just take massive shits in every comment thread?

  111. 111
    Dave says:

    @eemom: You’re a fucking idiot.

  112. 112
    Corey says:

    We are all of us living in the shadow of a terrible financial crisis, one which was unambiguously the fault of the wealthiest

    Hey Freddie, speaking of “political nonexistence”, you’re aware that there are many views about the financial crisis and it’s not at all “unambiguous” that it was the “fault” of the wealthiest, right?

  113. 113

    @jayackroyd:

    It’s funny that you pick a list that includes Nixon’s initiatives.

    Well, to be fair, Nixon was our last (domestically) Liberal President.

  114. 114
    lacp says:

    @Kyle: Live where? Their bowels or America?

  115. 115
    mclaren says:

    Said it before, will say it again. It ain’t “neo-” anything.

    It’s just old-fashioned 1880s-style Social Darwinism.

  116. 116
    MikeJake says:

    Great post, freddie. The neoliberal mindset runs rampant on the left. It’s like they all learned about comparative advantage in their one undergraduate economics course and concluded it was some sort of iron law, that if production ends up in a particular locale, then it must have ended up there because that was the most “efficient” result. That there are state actors utilizing mercantilist economic policies or that perverse incentives can lead to “inefficient” results (that nonetheless greatly benefit well-connected insiders) never seems to register, and the human cost is mainly handwaved away.

    One symptom of this mindset is the often vigorous defense of more open immigration policies on the left. Being a welcome shore for immigrants is arguably one of America’s firmest national values, but I believe it’s been perverted by the interests of business in securing cheap sources of labor, and the wealthy in their desire for servants. I don’t necessarily demonize people in places like Arizona for enacting the draconian laws they enact because I think they’re genuinely frustrated by the lack of will by the federal government to meaningfully regulate the flow. And while I don’t hate illegal immigrants, I can’t say I welcome their presence. Immigration became an American value because this country, early in its history, had a lot of potential that required manpower to harness; I don’t think migrant workers sneaking across the border to work for sub-minimum wages and forming no meaningful roots in the community is consonant with how most people perceive that value, and I really don’t know why the left defends that reality. Maybe it’s guilt over the effect our policies have had on Central America.

    Adam Curtis of the BBC had an interesting post on his blog a couple months ago called the Years of Stagnation and the Poodles of Power, about the Soviet Union in the 1970s up till its breakup. To the Russian youth of that time, it became clear that their leaders were hopelessly corrupt, so they withdrew from political life and concentrated their energies on punk and avant garde culture, only to wake up when the Soviet Union collapsed and our elites started whispering into the ears of the Russian leadership. One of the people they talk about is Eduard Limonov, who felt western ideas of democracy and capitalism were largely a sham, and who formed a party to speak out against the dismantling of the state by oligarchs. His party sought to unite supporters by appealing to their sense of nationalism. I bring this up because I truly wonder whether the staunchest supporters of neoliberalism hold any nationalist beliefs. Do they believe that being an American citizen should stand for something other than being a denizen of this particular geographic landmass? Or are we just labor units, valued insofar as our natural abilities can deliver desired services and lower cost of goods?

  117. 117
    joel hanes says:

    This entire thread is a demonstration of the perfect uselessness of the labels “liberal”, “conservative”, “centrist”, “neo-liberal” et. all.

    A substantial fraction of the commentary comprises people recounting their own definitions; from this, we can see that the definitions are quite different. Hence the terms are semantically useless, and hence the emptiness and acrimony, as people infer meanings that were never meant and light up the old flamethrowers.

    When bits of the discussion coalesces around something at a lower level of abstraction (Matt Yglesias and his opinions) the flammage dies down and many find themselves in agreement, or at least to disagree about something more concrete than the “real” meaning of some ill-defined collective label.

    I acknowledge that Freddie tried to define terms at the outset, but I think that the term is already in common use to mean two or three things other than the way he defines it.

    If Freddie wants to talk about Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Steny Hoyer, and Steve Israel, he should name them and use them as specific examples.

  118. 118
    RadioOne says:

    I think the term “neoliberal” is a straw man. It’s an attempt to conflate conservative Democrats like Harold Ford and Joe Lieberman with any and all other Democrat who disagrees with the left on a single issue.

  119. 119
    Nancy Irving says:

    Brilliant and original post.

    (Minor correction: “wrecked economic devastation” should be “wrought…” (past tense of “wreak,” not of “wreck.”)

  120. 120
    Dollared says:

    @jayackroyd: Nice, Jay. Appreciate your contributions here.

  121. 121

    Freddie you make good arguments but Imma quibble a bit with your basic definition of neoliberal, because some people use a much different definition and they are writing about very similar things as you are, so just fyi in case you didn’t know:

    Neoliberalism is the name of the political economic system which was developed in the early 20th century among folks like Hayek and such and put into major effect in the 80s by Reagan and Thatcher and which now dominates the globe.

    It uses the state to assist large and especially multinational corporations in pursuing profit by any means necessary, always advises choosing markets and increasing profit when they conflict with democratic values and decisions, and uses international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank to shepherd countries that aren’t already completely integrated into the Neoliberal economic system into that system. Maybe most importantly it advocates robust monetary policy that focuses exclusively on the interests of corporations and the ultrarich.

    You can see, I hope, how this is different enough from your definition to cause problems and confusion among people who are used to the first one, but similar enough that a lot of confusion could be sowed before things get sorted out.

    In general Philip Mirowski is an excellent resource on this stuff, esp. The Road from Mont Pelerin.

    Anyway, just thought I’d let you know in case you didn’t. I’ll say again I liked the piece.

  122. 122
    jonst says:

    @David Koch: Shorter Koch…there is only one way,my way.

  123. 123
    PaulJ says:

    Many of the so-called “liberals” posting here are living in some extreme state of cognitive dissonance. Not much different from the know-nothings on the right.

    Democrats are not liberals.

    Democrats are on board with NAFTA and free-trade.

    Democrats are on board with cutting spending to lower the deficit. For what purpose? Where do you think money comes from?

    Democrats are on board with cutting “entitlements”, including Social Security and Medicare.

    Democrats are on board with policies that funnel money to so-called “job creators”, businesses aka BIG business.
    Businesses don’t create jobs. Demand creates jobs. Money in the pockets of consumers creates demand. Demand requires both the willingness and the ability to spend.

    This administration is promoting policies that will remove spending from the pockets of those that would spend.

    Every policy supported by this administration has been in opposition to the best interests of the worker.

    Democrats supported a crappy healthcare bill, a monstrosity that included huge giveaways to Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

    Democrats have negotiated with themselves in promoting all of these policies.

    We don’t need a 3rd party we need a 2nd one.

  124. 124
    jayackroyd says:

    Which is to say they want to liberalize one thing, markets, so they can have more money.

    No, they don’t want to liberalize markets. They want to restrict them–to have government elites work with elite business leadership to create a self-sustaining, global collection of oligopolies run by oligarchs going in and out government service.

  125. 125
    PaulJ says:

    @jayackroyd:

    You’re confusing the hell out of me.

    Up-thread at about #86 you seem to completely disagree with me.

    Here we seem to be in complete agreement.

  126. 126
    jayackroyd says:

    @PaulJ:
    Centrists, the people freddie calls neoliberals, are capitalists don’t want to liberalize markets. They want to control them.

    Liberals support a government that prevents the emergence of monopoly and monopsony–that preserve open and competitive markets with accurate information, and collective bargaining available both to shareholders and wage earners.

  127. 127
    PaulJ says:

    @jayackroyd:
    Liberals support a government that prevents the emergence of monopoly and monopsony

    I agree, and the Democratic Party as currently constituted isn’t doing that.

    So how do we define the Democratic Party?

    The sucks less party?

  128. 128
    J R says:

    @jayackroyd: If you’re gonna Quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt, shouldn’t you credit him for those who won’t recognize the speech?

    Otherwise, Me Too!!

    I welcome their hate, partly because it makes them un-American!

  129. 129
    Dave says:

    @jayackroyd: If you say so, bub.

  130. 130
    MonkeyBoy says:

    Various “theories” be they scientific, pseudo-scientific (under which a bunch of economics falls), or theological serve two purposes:

    1) They let us reason about the world – to help understand and predict things.

    2) They let us rationalize positions that were arrived at by other means as in order to say it has independent justification.

    Say for example if I think an increase in inflation is bad because it will erode my personal wealth then my argument against increasing inflation may just be a rationalization using fancy sounding terminology.

    Much of current economic theory has been captured by a class that wants “reasons” for what they want to do anyway.

    If a theory is inconstant, like most theological ones are, then you can conclude anything or its opposite from it.

    If a theory is incomplete, like most economic ones are, then one can use it only for reasoning for situations where it is complete. However this doesn’t seem to stop people from using such theories to rationalize situations the theories can’t handle.

  131. 131
    El Cid says:

    The term “neoliberal” has been much more significantly related to its uses in countries other than the US, particularly Latin and South America, in which “liberal” was the equivalent of our “supply side” economics — “liberalized” trade versus “deregulated” trade, etc — in the economics and trade and non-intervention sense of the late 19th century.

    “Neo-liberal” was thus used to refer to the US-Western Europe-IMF-WB consensus recommended to the world during the 1980s and 1990s in which those nations were urged and/or forced to adopt deregulation, disinvestment of public resources, privatization, etc.

  132. 132
    Rusty says:

    Yeesh! These comments.

    Anyway, for those who might like to look more broadly at neoliberalism, I recommend Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, who was a practitioner, so to speak, of neoliberalism in the 3rd world. As bad as some effects have been in the 1st world, USA and Europe, they pale next to the devastating effects of neoliberalism in the 3rd world.

    Great post, Freddie. Keep defining stuff for us, because I for one, prefer not to rely on whatever Wikipedia definition that a commenter might lay down.

  133. 133

    […] takes a crack at defining neoliberalism (a rather easy endeavor, he avers): “Neoliberalism is no more […]

  134. 134
    ossicle says:

    As long as we’re just declaring our personal realities,

    – Bless you, Freddie!
    – You have plenty of cred.

    So, that cancels out Koch. Very satisfying.

  135. 135
    El Cid says:

    @Rusty: Some of us were using the term as it was used in those actual Latin American countries long before Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was published, because you don’t have to wait until a former insider tells the story.

    Most of the time you really can just listen to the locals.

  136. 136
    shep says:

    @max hats:

    …explain how establishing the World Trade Organization, something generally considered the epitome of neoliberalism, is “traditionally conservative” in any way.

    In the same way that the Nation Park System or the National Highway System are “traditionally conservative” (as in, before “conservatism” became the sociopathic monstrosity it is today).

    Actually, scratch that. The ideals and goals behind Nation Park System and the National Highway System are more much more economically liberal than those behind the WTO.

  137. 137
    jayackroyd says:

    @PaulJ:

    The current leadership of the Democratic party is indeed committed to this centrist, anti-New Deal vision. But the rank and file are not–in fact, rank and file Americans in general have internalized the New Deal as part of how we live (“keep the government out of my Medicare”).

    The question is how we empower the rank and file–and I figure we start by telling the truth about the goals of the leadership, and do all we can to hold them accountable.

  138. 138
    PaulJ says:

    @jayackroyd:
    Agreed. I’ve just come to the place where I no longer think politics is the means to change the system. Voting does not seem to make any difference.

    Re your comment at #86…

    “Conservatives are capitalists who believe the state should largely refrain from intervening in the private sector…

    …Liberals are capitalists who believe the state has an important role in making sure the society benefits everyone…

    Centrists are capitalists who believe that in the modern day economy, neither of these models work…”

    This is all fine but we have never tried Capitalism. Our version of what we call capitalism relies a great deal on public investment, what we also call Socialism.

    There also has never been a “free-market”. An oxymoron if there ever was one.

    Further, capitalism is a process that is unsustainable on it’s own. By arithmetic it can’t work unless there is sufficient deficit spending (money creation) or taxes high enough that wealth above a certain threshhold is clawed back and re-distributed.

    Otherwise, what you have is esentially two piles of money, held by consumers and producers, with the flow always going towards the producers. The producers always take more than they spend (profits) so that the end-game is that all of the money is in one pile, held by a relative few.

    We have just witnessed that process in action. Magic won’t fix it.

  139. 139
    darms says:

    @max hats: From your Wikipedia link –

    Neoliberalism is a contemporary political movement advocating economic liberalizations, free trade and open markets. Neoliberalism supports the privatization of state-owned enterprises, deregulation of markets, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modern society.

    Obviously, you didn’t read your own link.
    Freddie, thanks for an excellent post. For the first time I now understand what this neoliberal garbage is about although I’ve been reading of it for years.

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