[EVENT | September 20] Neoliberalism’s World Order

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 5:18am in

Join Adam Tooze, Quinn Slobodian, and Atossa Araxia Abrahamian for a special discussion on neoliberalism, globalization, and the future of democracy.

Book launch for ‘Wrong Way: How Privatisation & Economic Reform Backfired’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/08/2018 - 11:33am in

Book launch for Wrong Way: How Privatisation & Economic Reform Backfired, edited by Damien Cahill and Phillip Toner

Since the 1980s, successive waves of ‘economic reform’ have radically changed the Australian economy. We have seen privatisation, deregulation, marketisation, and the contracting out of government services such as transport and education. For three decades, there has been a virtual consensus among the major political parties, policy makers and commentators as to the desirability of the neoliberal approach.

Today, however, the benefits of economic reform are increasingly being questioned, including by former advocates. Alongside growing voter disenchantment, new voices of dissent argue that instead of free markets, economic reform has led to unaccountable oligopolies, increased prices, reduced productivity and a degraded sense of the public good.

In Wrong Way, Australia’s leading economists and public intellectuals do a cost-benefit analysis of the key economic reforms, including child care, aged care, housing, banking, prisons, universities and the NBN. Have these reforms for the Australian community and its economy been worthwhile? Have they given us a better society, as promised?

Where: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, Sydney

When: Friday 21st September, 6pm for 6.30pm

RSVP: here or phone 02 9660 2333



The post Book launch for ‘Wrong Way: How Privatisation & Economic Reform Backfired’ appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Did Neoliberalism and Austerity Cause Brexit? Yes.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/08/2018 - 10:26pm in

While the Brexit process is underway and UK politicians are tearing themselves apart over this overwhelmingly and multidimensionally complicated  issue, an economics professor from Warwick University Thiemo Fetzer provides ample and comprehensive evidence that the austerity-induced withdrawal of the welfare state brought about by the Conservative-led … Continue reading →

The Slipperiness of Neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/08/2018 - 6:00am in

“Neoliberalism is a slippery concept, meaning different things to different people” (p. 1). Simon Springer, Kean Birch and Julie MacLeavy’s excellently-edited volume The Handbook of Neoliberalism starts its mission with this nailing definition. Neoliberalism has become one of the concepts that one cannot avoid mentioning it in analysing recent development in social sciences. It is safe to argue that, neoliberalism is now a term that is overly used even in partly overlapping and partly contradictory ways, as James Ferguson argues. There is not any easy way of defining what neoliberalism is. Is it a state form, or a policy, or a version of governmentality, or an ideology? Or simply, is it an epistemology? Perhaps, because of this nuisance, no scholar has attempted to provide an overview of this powerful but amorphous concept in a volume that engages with multiple registers in which the concept has evolved. However, as the editors of this volume argue, neoliberalism is in need of unpacking because it serves as a way of understanding the transformation of society with new political, economic and social arrangements that emphasise market relations, re-tasking the role of state, and individual responsibility in the last few decades (p. 2). This volume represents the first attempt that contributes to the existing knowledge with an interdisciplinary and global perspective by advancing established and emergent debates around the concept.

Springer, Birch and MacLeavy’s volume successfully collects fifty-three contributions plus one introductory chapter written by sixty-eight contributors from a variety of disciplines. The book is organised around seven intertwined themes: Origins, Political Implications, Social Tensions, Knowledge Productions, Spaces, Nature and Environments, and Aftermaths. The book is aimed at mostly academic circles, especially scholars and students. Hopefully, the reader of this review will understand the fact that it is an almost impossible task to compile all fundamental arguments, approaches that are adopted, topics, countries, cases that the volume analyses and then to critically engage with every one of them in a book review; in which case the volume consists of fifty-four chapters written by sixty-eight contributors within seven themes, especially on a nebulous concept like neoliberalism. Notwithstanding the fact that the editors have already suggested to readers not to read this volume cover to cover, instead the purpose is to read the most striking bits and then to chart a unique path across chapters to provoke new ideas to come up with. Perhaps, this idea serves the fundamental purpose of a handbook.

In this review, I will first give an overview and critical assessment of seven themes, instead of chapters, and then I will critically evaluate the volume as a whole. The first theme is constructed around the origins of neoliberalism. This section investigates how the concept of neoliberalism came to define an epistemology across a diverse range of economic matrices, social contexts, policy environments, and institutional settings (p. 4). Chapters in this section focus on neoliberalism as an ideology, its engagement with the Chicago School and Mont Pelerin Society, the emergence of a transnational capitalist class and the development of capitalist internationalism, the diversity of approaches to theorising neoliberalism, neoliberalism as a discourse and as an hegemony, poststructuralist political economy and governmentality, the ability of neoliberalism to go beyond dull academic arguments, and neoliberalism as a multifaceted social fact. This section successfully incorporates eight chapters in explaining and analysing the origins and the emergence of neoliberalism as a concept. It is particularly explicit in the way the chapters in this section historically dismantle neoliberalism in its epistemological, transnational, theoretical, hegemonic, discursive, geographical, varied but undifferentiated, conceptual and even semantic contexts. The section as a whole provides fascinating knowledge on the origins of neoliberalism and it is noteworthy in theory. A minor criticism could be made about the fact that the section overwhelmingly focuses on the Western origins of neoliberalism. The section on its own reads neoliberalism as a Western phenomenon. However, it is equally crucial to focus on the non-Western origins of neoliberalism as it is not plausible to argue that the emergence of neoliberalism as a global phenomenon is merely a Western project that is imposed on the non-West. Neoliberalism also has origins in the non-West.

The second section is based on the theme political implications. This section examines the impact of neoliberal economic policies on the political arena. Eight chapters, in this section, focus on authoritarian neoliberalism and state-directed coercion, citizenship, development, free-trade and the limits of democracy, neoliberalism as a form of violence, bio-politics, hegemonic and neoliberal structures of power, and resilience. The second section is highly satisfactory in its ability to incorporate multifaceted political impacts of neoliberalism into a variety of concepts like coercive state apparatuses, sovereignty and the nation-state, everyday life, freedom, othering and the state of exception, neoliberal capitalist subjectivity, surveillance and media convergence, and sustainability in a historical context. This section skillfully covers various political implications derived from neoliberalisation. The lack of engagement with the neoliberalisation of international law and legislation could be the only quibble.

Social tensions are the theme of the third section. In this section, the editors acknowledge the fact that it leads to a false dichotomy to separate the social from the political. However, they argue that trying to tease out societal strains as distinct from political effects provides a useful organisation (p. 6). This section on social tensions consists of eight chapters that provide insights from race, gender, sexuality, health, welfare, class, commons, and social reproduction. It is safe to argue that this section is a noteworthy contribution to the knowledge of the neoliberalisation of the social where it engages with neoliberalisation on the one hand; racism, immigration, vulnerability, heteronormativity, homonormativity, climate change, austerity, workfare, regulations, labour markets, trade unions, actuality, and the social economy on the other. This section exquisitely provides various aspects of the social and explores how they have become a subject of neoliberal transformation. An analysis of the convergence between neoliberalism and religion, and neoliberalism and arts/culture could have served the purpose of this section too. Despite this little criticism, this section succeeds the editors’ goal.

The editors of this volume dedicated the fourth section to the implications of neoliberalism to knowledge productions and neoliberalism as a particular epistemological order. The section mostly focuses on the neoliberalisation of education and pedagogy. There are eight chapters in this section exploring the implications of human capital theory to education, pedagogies of neoliberalism, financial economics and business schools, knowledge dissemination and policy transfer, science and innovation, performativity, the spatio-temporality and institutional dimension of knowledge and theory, and the production of ignorance. This section successfully analyses how neoliberalism has transformed the way knowledge is produced and reproduced by combining concepts like entrepreneurship, governmentality, pedagogy, market-centred order, corporate monopoly, mobile neoliberal policy, consent and coercion, radical reconnection, power, subject formation, fiscal restraint, austerity and the housing crisis. This section beautifully combines various aspects of the neoliberalisation of education, pedagogy, and knowledge production and dissemination.

The theme of ‘spaces’ represents the fifth theme of this volume. In the fifth section, the editors highlight the material implications of neoliberalism and how human geography has played a crucial role in articulating the critiques of neoliberalism. Seven chapters are combined in a way that the spatial patterns of neoliberalism are explored with topics around urbanisation, rural development, regulation and state-theoretical variegated capitalism, peripheries, geopolitics, transboundary mobility, and housing. The section performs perfectly in incorporating neoliberalisation into the spatial dimensions by highlighting concepts like urban neoliberalism and its ideological, geographical, and historical origins, the precariousness of labour, the plundering of agriculture, the food crisis, the austerity state, finance-dominated accumulation, resistance, peripheralisation, geoeconomics, whiteness, boundaries, and neoliberal governmentality. It is safe to argue that this section provides highly-rich material for those who research the spatial dimension of neoliberalisation.

The sixth section draws attention to the theme of ‘natures and environments’. The neoliberalisation of nature and the environment has recently come under scrutiny as “we are living through a geological era best described as the ‘Anthropocene’ – that is, an era shaped by human action, especially human industrial development” (p. 9). Seven chapters in this section focus on re-regulation framework, emissions trading, the political economy of energy, the neoliberalisation of water, the neoliberalisation of agriculture, bio-economy, and extractive industries. The sixth section thrivingly blends neoliberal doctrine with the Anthropocene through concepts around economic development, corporate voluntarism, climate change, the geography of privatism, privatisation, corporatisation, financialisation, marketisation, food regimes, agroecology, biobanking, and resource sovereignty. Undoubtedly, this section is noteworthy in the way that it engages with the neoliberalisation of nature and the environment.

Finally, the last section focuses on the ‘aftermaths’ of neoliberalism. This section seeks ways for an exit from orthodox political economic ideas towards more heterodox and alternative frameworks (p. 10). Seven chapters in this section focus on the crisis of neoliberalism, regulated deregulation, the reformulation of neoliberalism, post-neoliberalism, zombie neoliberalism, the latent energy for change, the utility of researching neoliberalism. Concepts and topics around historical prospects, electric power industry, local bus services, mortgage securitisation, resistance, neoliberal gothic and neurotic neoliberalism are perfectly articulated in a way that the section analyses what comes next after neoliberalism. In the final chapter of this section, Mark Purcell questions the very purpose of this volume and points out that Left scholars who are interested in neoliberalism are suffering from a serious illness, an obsession with negating neoliberalism (p. 613). However, “[w]hen we fixate on neoliberalism, on injustice, on inequality, on exploitation, on enclosure, he argues, we ignore justice, equality, free activity, and the common” (p. 11). Therefore, “we don’t need a Handbook of Neoliberalism”, instead “we need a Handbook of Care, a Handbook of Democracy, a Handbook of the Common” (p. 618). The editors seem to agree with Purcell and they highlight the fact that neoliberalism has already become a dominant discourse. Although it takes the reader by surprise to conclude a book that represents a major contribution to the literature of neoliberalism, it is equally fundamental to reconsider our engagement with this concept in academic works.

All in all, The Handbook of Neoliberalism is a cornerstone book in the study of this ‘slippery’ concept. In the beginning of this review, I addressed the difficulties of reviewing a book that contains seven themes, fifty-four chapters, and sixty-eight contributors. However, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is obviously a harder task to edit this volume and Springer, Birch and MacLeavy excellently succeed in this by incorporating every single contribution into the theme and the concept, and then assemble every one of them in a way that they read as a single piece. Despite some minor quibbles, there is a great deal to admire in this ambitious edited volume.

The Handbook of Neoliberalism will certainly serve as a primary resource for students and scholars from a variety of disciplines.

This review originally appeared in Capital & Class

The post The Slipperiness of Neoliberalism appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Neoliberalism Drives Climate Breakdown, Not Human Nature

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/08/2018 - 6:00am in

Attempts by the New York Times to blame humanity as a whole for climate change let the real culprits off the hook. Many zoos have an exhibit like this: a wall with a hatch, and under the hatch words like “Do you want to see the most dangerous animal in the world?”. Of course everyone does, and before they open the hatch they speculate as to what the animal behind the hatch will be. A lion? A crocodile? However, when you open the hatch there is a mirror, and you see yourself staring back. You are the most dangerous animal in the world. Of course this is nonsense. Not everyone who opens that hatch and sees themselves looking back is equally dangerous. We are not all equally responsible for destruction of the world’s ecosystems. Some humans who open the hatch probably are responsible for a great deal of destruction. Other are not. Many people bear the brunt of someone else’s destruction.

Taking Stock of Neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/08/2018 - 6:00am in

In a famous passage in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, the following exchange takes place between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:

`I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

`But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all’ (Carroll, 1871: Ch. 6).

This passage raises a profound philosophical question: to what extent is the meaning of language controlled by its users rather than dependant on the meaning of the words used, independent of the wishes of its user? In other words, are we the master of language, or is it to master us? On the one hand, language is a social creation: it was clearly not discovered ready-made to be put-to-use by humans. On the other hand, all humans are inevitably born into some form of linguistic community which informs our basic conceptual categories and, in turn, how we understand the world.

Humpty Dumpty’s intervention in this debate suggests that individuals are masters of how language is used. In turn, it is possible for him to use words in a manner which is indifferent to their commonly accepted meanings. Since Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, in particular, scholars have tended to reject such a logic of ‘private language’ (1953: §243-315) in favour of a more social conception of language in which words acquire their meanings from how they are employed by communities of language users. Hence, we have dictionaries.

Conversely, Humpty Dumpty’s articulation highlights a practical problem arising in contemporary neoliberalism studies: the multitude of meanings and nuances attributed to the concept of ‘neoliberalism’, depending on who is using it and in what context. Utilisation of the term has proliferated rapidly in the last five years or so, migrating from the far corners of critical political economy to colonise disciplines as diverse as cultural studies, anthropology, science and technology studies, and critical public health studies. In addition, its use has become increasingly common in both the popular media and political debate, particularly since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2007/08 (e.g. Hamilton, 2018). This burgeoning literature is now exploring the complex relations between neoliberalism and phenomena from ‘cities to citizenship, sexuality to subjectivity, and development to discourse to name but a few’ (Springer 2012: 135).

Scholarly analysis of neoliberalism is now characterised by myriad conceptual approaches, primarily differentiated according to their methodological commitments, as well as their particular understandings of power and processes of social and economic transformation. In this respect, Kean Birch has identified no less than seven distinct approaches to understanding neoliberalism: 1) a Foucauldian approach, which understands neoliberalism as a historically specific form of governmentality; 2) a Marxist approach, which focuses on neoliberalism as a hegemonic or class-based project benefitting capital at the expense of labour; 3) an ideational analysis, which views neoliberalism as the product of normative neoliberal doctrines expounded by think-tanks and intellectuals, including Hayek, Friedman, Becker and Buchanan; 4) a history and philosophy of economics approach, which examines neoliberalism through detailed analysis of the evolution of particular strands of liberal economic thought and the organisational forms developed to proselytise them; 5) an institutional approach, which takes institutions as the key variables which determine the form that neoliberalism has taken in different locales; 6) a regulation theory approach, which views neoliberalism as the institutional ensemble which cohered after the economic crisis of the 1970s and which, over time, came to facilitate capital accumulation up to the ‘Great Recession’ from 2008 to the present; 7) a geographical approach, which understands neoliberalism as an always emerging and contested process, and focuses on its inherent unevenness and variegation.

Despite their shared use of the term ‘neoliberalism’, however, there is little commonality among these competing approaches in how the concept is deployed. Beyond examining the increasing salience of markets since the late twentieth century, and the ideas of a select intellectual coterie who, from the mid-twentieth century, sought to ‘rescue’ capitalism from the rise of economic planning through a critique of both collectivism and laissez-faire, the internal diversity of neoliberal studies has led to the concept becoming an ‘oft-invoked but ill-defined concept’ (Mudge, 2008: 703). Notwithstanding its original deployment by those seeking to shape state power to impose a competitive market order, it is nowadays used almost exclusively by its critics. Consequently, there is a tendency for neoliberalism to be used as a signifier for the bête noir of individual authors or, as Jamie Peck (2011: 14) notes, ‘neoliberalism seems often to be used as a sort of stand in term for the political-economic zeitgeist, as a no-more-than approximate proxy for a specific analysis of the mechanisms or relations of social power, domination, exploitation, or alienation’.

In turn, the proliferation of the term to cover a diverse variety of phenomena is that it has become increasingly reified and left undefined in scholarly analysis, thereby occluding more than it reveals. Conceptualisations of the effects of neoliberalism have, in many cases, become so totalising and monolithic that it has progressively been imbued with its own causal properties – ‘that is, it becomes the “it” which does the explaining, rather than the political phenomenon that needs to be explained’ (Phelan, 2007: 328). Thus, Boas and Gans-Morse (2009: 138-9) are right in arguing that ‘neoliberalism is often left undefined in empirical research, even by those who employ it as a key independent or dependent variable … the term is effectively used in many different ways, such that its appearance in any given article offers little clues as to what it actually means’. In the absence of an inherent, inalienable meaning accepted by all scholars of neoliberalism, an astonishing array of diverse, often contradictory phenomena have thus come to be classified as ‘neoliberal’.

For some, such as Bill Dunn (also here), the implication is that the term should be discarded, while others (e.g. Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho) posit that the concept needs to be specified more tightly. Yet, others still (e.g. Kean Birch and Will Davies) demonstrate that the very nature of neoliberalism renders such a task inherently problematic. While Peck (2010: 31) argues that neoliberalism needs ‘to be more than a placeholder term … [t]he word must have content’, he simultaneously recognises that ‘crisply unambiguous, essentialist definitions of neoliberalism have proved to be incredibly elusive’ (Peck, 2011: 8). For Peck, this difficulty is deeply embedded within the constitutive features of neoliberalism itself, which they view as characterised by ongoing and highly variegated processes of market construction, which in turn generate feedback loops and contradictions, prompting further responses by policy makers and elites, thus rendering neoliberalism effectively indeterminate as a political project. Indeed, the foregrounding of variation, difference and a critique of ‘master narratives’ of neoliberalism has been a feature of recent scholarship (e.g., Ong, 2006). However, this often leaves unspecified the core around which variation occurs.

While it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a high degree of incommensurability between these different understandings of neoliberalism, more noteworthy is that there has been little direct engagement between them. It is in this context that my colleagues, Damien Cahill, Melinda Cooper, Martijn Konings, and I are proud to have edited the recently-published SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism. Spread across forty-eight chapters and 720 pages, the book is a weighty tome to say the least! Indeed, upon hearing how thick the Handbook is, a student asked whether I had considered a particular marketing strategy: offering the opportunity to carry the volume for short periods as an alternative to gym membership. While this particular objective is not yet in the pipeline, we hope that the Handbook may productively represent the diversity of scholarly perspectives on this proliferating concept and present the ‘state of the art’ of research within the field as a means to understand better the meaning, practice, and influence of neoliberalism.

More specifically, one of the central goals of the book as a whole, if not to bring the myriad perspectives on the concept into dialogue, is at least to present them side-by-side and allow readers to reflect upon the variegated approaches to understanding neoliberalism. With so many different takes on the meaning, practice and influence of neoliberalism, it is a germane moment for critics to take heed of Bruno Latour’s (2004: 231) call to think critically about critique by doing ‘what every good military officer, at regular periods, would do: retest the linkages between the new threats he or she has to face and the equipment and training he or she should have in order to meet them.’ That is, in order to offer the most effective challenge possible to neoliberalism, it is time to take stock of our conceptual arsenal to ensure that it operates as we assume and does what we intend it to do. We thus aim not to present a particular interpretation of neoliberalism, but rather to reflect the breadth of contemporary scholarship on this contested concept. Through the inclusion of a diversity of perspectives on the phenomenon from across the social sciences, the Handbook seeks to take a step back and avoid adopting the term ceteris paribus, instead intending to stimulate deliberation over its properties, applicability and ongoing epistemological utility.

Of course, my co-editors and I each have our own distinct understanding of the nature of neoliberalism and our positions within the aforementioned debates. However, criticisms of the concept notwithstanding, we also continue to view neoliberalism as a useful descriptor of real-world phenomena. While no concept can hope to capture the full complexity of actual social processes, the strength of the term ‘neoliberalism’ is that it effectively identifies a new set of ideas that rose to prominence across the capitalist world from the 1970s onwards. It also serves as a means to comprehend a particular set of institutional transformations over the same period, which can be rendered at least partially legible through an engagement with neoliberal ideas.

In this respect, consideration of the myriad class, ideological and public policy dimensions of neoliberalism remains especially pertinent in the contemporary context as a means to conceptualise transformations in democracy and potential challenges to the global political economic status quo. The publication of the Handbook comes at a time of transition and uncertainty in the global political economy. With the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections and bellicose, xenophobic agenda of his regime, the ‘no’ vote that led to Brexit and the rise of far-right movements around the world – from France, Italy, and Greece to Austria, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines – there is a palpable sense that we are now definitively departing the ‘great moderation’ of the neoliberal era to enter new and uncharted waters. For anyone who has followed the intellectual convulsions of the past few years, this experience has something of the déjà vu about it. After all, many critical thinkers responded to the global financial crisis of 2007 by sounding the death knell of neoliberalism. Remarkably, most of these pall-bearers seemed to assume that the anti-capitalist left would be the chief beneficiary of neoliberalism’s demise. Over the last few years, this assumption has slowly come undone, and nowhere more painfully than in Greece, where Syriza – one of the most capable and pragmatic of far-left movements in the face of neoliberal austerity – was brutally defeated by the Troika. While not wanting to write off the future or discount the organisational powers of the left in years to come, events in the current conjuncture suggest that the far-right – not the far-left – has thus far most clearly benefited from the global crisis of neoliberal capitalism.

The response of the Troika to the sovereign debt crisis of the European peripheries has generated a burgeoning literature on the relationship between neoliberalism and democracy, as many question whether there might be some elective affinity between neoliberalism and authoritarian rule (Ayers and Saad-Filho, 2015; Biebricher, 2015; Brown, 2015). Historians of neoliberalism would perhaps want to remind us that the lesson should have been obvious from the start. After all, the incompatibility between political freedom and neoliberalism was made abundantly clear in the Chilean coup of 1973, which brought General Pinochet to power with the help of Friedman’s Chicago boys, and has been rehearsed many times over in the global South and former Soviet Union, where endless rounds of structural adjustment have divested the state of any power to represent or redistribute. Economic freedom and so-called ‘state failure’ have long been partners in crime; and the so-called failed state is more often than not a purely authoritarian, police state. When asked to comment on the seeming contradiction between the dictatorial powers of General Pinochet and the neoliberal rhetoric of freedom, Friedrich von Hayek (1981) proffered the opinion that ‘it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way’ and ‘it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism’ before concluding that ‘a liberal dictator’ was preferable to a ‘democratic government lacking liberalism’.

Hayek’s reflections cast an interesting light on early neoliberal debates at the Mont Pèlerin Society which, after all, was born out of a critique of fascist ‘totalitarianism’ and its’ supposed twin, welfare state capitalism. Is authoritarianism only problematic when it overrides the rules of the free market order, as the Nazis did when they abandoned the gold standard regime of classical liberalism? And what can we expect of the far-right movements that are on the rise across Europe, North America and Turkey, movements which seem to oscillate between neoliberal and protectionist authoritarianism? In the contemporary context, where resilient neoliberal regimes appear to coincide with the resurgence of far-right movements across the globe, such questions are especially pertinent once again.

Yet, rather than implying that neoliberalism may be largely equated with authoritarianism (e.g. Couldry, 2010: 47), the individual contributions to the Handbook collectively draw attention to the complex dynamics between these two phenomena. For instance, João Rodrigues’ detailed comparison of the political economic contributions of Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek presents these authors as representing a tradition of neoliberal theorists largely positing the supplementation of market coordination in place of democratic procedures. In contrast, the contributions of Brigitte Young on the relevance of ordoliberalism and Virginia school neoliberalism to explaining the political economic crisis in Europe, and Erik Swyngedouw on the post-politicisation of climate change governance, each evaluate whether neoliberalism may also be compatible with a restriction of democracy. They consider how such hindrances may by articulated through the configuration of largely undemocratic decision-making procedures and institutions ranging from constitutional amendments to technocratic management, problem-fixing governance structures and populist discursive regimes. Thus, rather than positing ‘neoliberalism’ as a cohesive phenomenon characterised by uniform political propositions and stable spatial and temporal effects, any critical examination must first recognise its multiplicity of forms – both in theory and in practice – in order to engage in penetrating critiques of its specific theoretical tenets and normative implications (Peck, 2011).

Such reflections on the inherent complexity of neoliberalism also have political implications beyond those associated with academic deliberation. For the past four decades, neoliberalism has promulgated a radical restructuring and reorganisation of the economy, politics, society, culture and the environment. Within this context, as Owen Worth’s contribution illustrates, the materialisation and promulgation of myriad social movements across the political spectrum – ranging from ‘anti-globalisation’ and ‘Occupy’ to the re-emergence of the far-right and Trumpism – constitute an important field within which to identify the thinking behind the action. For Antonio Gramsci (1971: 365), questions of theory and practice are raised particularly when the ‘movement of historical transformation is at its most rapid.’ The point of such questioning, according to this line of thought, is to make the ‘political forces unleashed’ more ‘efficient and expansive’, while concomitantly making the ‘theoretical programmes’ more realistically justified. Following this line of reasoning, the chapters comprising the Handbook also collectively contribute insights to analysing and responding to changes in the neoliberal era, both within and beyond this status quo.

More specifically, the variegated and multifarious accounts of neoliberalism presented in the Handbook demonstrate that this phenomenon cannot be reduced to a collection of policies, which would imply that the transformations wrought over the last four decades could be reversed or transcended through implementation of alternative policy initiatives and programs alone. While necessary, the capacity for such initiatives to engender fundamental change are limited by the political channels open to opponents of neoliberalism and the ability of coalition forces to utilise them. This is particularly so in light of the extensive transformations in production and reproduction processes, the state, ideology and society propagated during the neoliberal era (Fine and Saad-Filho, 2016).

Consider, for instance, the demonstrations that took place in Seattle in 1999. Myriad trade unionists, indigenous groups, environmentalists, farmers, women’s organisations and faith-based groupings marched in a bid to halt the World Trade Organisation talks. This, in turn, gave rise to the ‘alter-globalisation’ movement in the early twenty-first century. Despite garnering impressive levels of attention to and public action against the uneven effects of globalisation and its enabling institutions, the movement largely failed to articulate collective resistance transcending multiple spatial scales and gradually faded away following its role in inaugurating demonstrations against the Iraq War in 2003. This was primarily due to the persistence of extant antagonisms amongst its constitutive activists and organisations across lines of national and social oppression, in conjunction with its inability to construct a cohesive global political economic program or suite of collective demands (Prashad, 2013). Assessment of the potential effectiveness of such resistance measures and their contemporary manifestations thus requires consideration of their organisational character, in conjunction with analysis of how the systemic operation of neoliberalism has wrought transformations in class relations, ideology and institutions and processes of economic, social and cultural reproduction.

Following the GFC, the renewal of diverse forms of resistance to neoliberalism – from socialist, anarchist, feminist, environmentalist and anti-racist organisations to far-right nationalist and populist movements – suggests that consideration of such factors is timely once again. In this context, the contributions to the Handbook demonstrate how progressive corrosion of the ideological foundations of neoliberalism, its persistent political economic contradictions and rigidity of its underlying regulatory institutions have produced a complex state of affairs in which the system is resistant to change, yet increasingly vulnerable to myriad political challenges. On one hand, Erik Swyngedouw’s account details the ‘post-political’ framing of climate change under the neoliberal mode of governmentality. This has sought to foreclose politicisation and evacuate dissent over market-based socio-economic organisation of the issue through a regime of environmental governance centred on consensus and technocratic management. Such an example reflects the broader trend toward depoliticisation under neoliberalism. In many cases, the scope and ambition to express collective objectives and dissenting opinions, and thereby construct programs seeking to transcend the status quo, have been systematically hindered by transformations in institutions, structures of political representation and processes of socio-economic (re)production over the past four decades (Wilson and Swyngedouw, 2014).

On the other hand, as detailed in the chapters by Simon Springer, Owen Worth and David Bailey, the effects of these same neoliberal developments have simultaneously stoked new forms of dissent and calls for emancipatory struggle. This has particularly been so as the efficacy of markets to secure a range of socio-ecological objectives and widening gap between rich and poor have received increasing scrutiny in light of the GFC and pervasive imposition of austerity measures (McNally, 2011). Progressive movements such as Occupy, the Spanish indignados and the myriad groups driving the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia have sought to openly challenge the material and ideological foundations of neoliberalism – as embodied in the slogan ‘we are the 99%’, which has come to symbolise an emerging global challenge to the excesses of neoliberalism. As present, however, such struggles have yet to extend beyond defensive actions to pose a more comprehensive alternative to neoliberalism. Concurrently, the material changes wrought over the last four decades and growing crisis in their legitimacy have also produced conditions ripe for the cultivation of populism. Reactionary sentiments of nationalism, racism, sexism and anti-intellectualism have been seized upon and fostered by the political Right to buttress a new protectionist agenda and a new monetary sovereignty while leaving largely untouched the systemic inequalities created by decades of neoliberal rule.

As demonstrated across the chapters in the Handbook, the tenacity of neoliberalism and its capacity for adjustment at the margins has been repeatedly evident, at both the level of theory and in practice, throughout its evolution. In this respect, there is no inevitability that persistent contradictions in its material and ideational foundations will instigate the transcendence of neoliberalism. Nevertheless, its persistent contradictions and crises have, at least, re-opened an opportunity for diverse movements to collectively work to delegitimise neoliberalism and envision the emergence of multiple alternatives. Through reflecting on the complexity of its theoretical underpinnings and multiplicity of its political implications, it is hoped that this book will productively contribute to such struggles.

This post is an adapted version of the editorial introduction appearing in the SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism, co-written with Damien Cahill, Malinda Cooper and Martijn Konings.

The post Taking Stock of Neoliberalism appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

The Grandparents of Brexit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/07/2018 - 3:30pm in

It is by far the most emotive and divisive issue of a generation: Brexit has split families, ended relationships, derailed political careers and divided a country. But was the outcome of the EU referendum on the 23rd of June 2016 a rash, knee jerk decision, or had anti-EU feeling been building for many years? If Brexit was a long time in the making, we ask: Who were the real grandparents of Brexit?

The post The Grandparents of Brexit appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Booked: The End of an Illusion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/07/2018 - 3:04am in

Born on the radical left and then seized by the right, has the concept of “capitalism” outlived its usefulness?

Probably the best “Acknowledgments” ever (4)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/07/2018 - 6:21am in

  “This work has been carried out despite the economical difficulties of the authors’ country. The authors want to overall remark the clear contribution of the Spanish Government in destroying the R&D horizon of Spain and the future of a … Continue reading →

But Did Labour Really Make Neoliberalism?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/07/2018 - 6:00am in

Drawing on my article ‘The Labour governments 1974–1979: social democracy abandoned?’, recently published in the journal British Politics, this post questions the view that the Labour government in office from 1974 to 1979 started the transition to neoliberalism in the UK. My focus challenges structural approaches to social democratic decline and makes two key claims. First, Labour did not abandon the social democratic postwar consensus. Any fundamental challenge to it remained politically unthinkable. Second, the eventual collapse of the consensus was not the product of structural changes in the global economy, but was the highly contingent outcome of an electorally motivated gamble.

The questions of when and why the post-1945 social democratic era (or postwar consensus) came to an end has generated substantial debate. Many have portrayed the end of the social democratic era as the product of structural changes in the global economy that occurred in the 1970s, specifically the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system, the end of the ‘long boom’ (1945-1973), and the increased globalisation of production. In Britain, a structural explanation appears to find strong support in the commonly accepted view that it was the Labour government (1974-1979) in the midst of economic crisis, and not the 1979-1997 Conservative governments that brought an end to the social democratic postwar consensus. This understanding is questionable.

When Labour returned to power in 1974, they inherited a large balance of payments and budget deficit, sharply increasing inflation and, for much of their first three years in office, they faced runs on Sterling. The latter eventually led to the IMF loan of December 1976. Labour dealt with the economic problems it faced by pursuing reductions in public expenditure (both before and in return for the IMF loan) and taking advantage of their ‘special relationship’ with the trade unions to establish an incomes policy. These policies were generally successful at stabilising the economic situation. In 1978 annual inflation was in single figures (it had reached 26.9 per cent in August 1975), GDP growth was over 3 per cent, the current account was in surplus, the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP was close to half of what it had been, and unemployment was falling.

Many have argued that the overcoming of these economic difficulties (and the IMF loan) led the Labour government to abandon the postwar consensus. A brief look at Labour’s economic policy between 1977 and 1979 makes clear that this is greatly exaggerated. The key elements of the postwar consensus remained in place (usually seen as a combination of full employment, corporatism, the mixed economy, and an ever growing state). Despite substantial cuts to public expenditure the state was larger as a percentage of GDP in May 1979 than it had been when Labour initially came to power. Unemployment while higher than in previous decades was still only at 5.3 per cent in April 1979 (it reached twelve per cent in 1984). Mass unemployment remained politically unthinkable for the Labour government.  The government therefore engaged in deficit financed reflation in 1977 and 1978 to keep unemployment from rising, while using incomes policies to control inflation.

Other elements associated with the consensus remained untouched, the close relationship between the government and trade unions endured, and there was no move to privatise state owned industries. This also remained a highly egalitarian period, with the years 1977 and 1978 seeing British incomes before housing costs at their most equal in modern times. The lowering of income inequality was partially the result of the government’s incomes policies. As the above makes clear, the Britain of 1978 remained much closer to the Britain of 1968 than 1988.

The Labour party leadership, like that of any governing party, can be seen to be driven by a desire to maintain the unity of the party, demonstrate their governing competence, and show to the electorate that they have superior solutions to the key issues of the day such as inflation and industrial relations. With this in mind it is clear that the neoliberal alternative eventually pursued by the Thatcher government, even in a much diluted form, would not have been politically desirable for the Labour government. Given the strength of the Labour left and the deep connection with the trade unions, liberalisation was incompatible with party unity.

Nevertheless, it was not just unity that made it desirable for Labour to maintain the prevailing order and their close relationship to the trade unions. The government had relied on trade union co-operation with wage restraint to bringing down inflation from 26.9 per cent to single figures without mass unemployment and industrial unrest.  This cooperation had therefore become the primary basis for their claim to governing competence, and the foundation of their key electoral narrative. They had inherited industrial unrest and rising inflation, but had brought it under control through their consensual relationship with organised labour. They could therefore convincingly argue that unlike Labour the Conservatives would create a destructive and inflationary free-for-all, in place of consensual incomes polices, which had brought about industrial peace and falling inflation. In recognition of the political desirability of maintaining the prevailing order, the government hoped for West German style corporatism, not liberalisation. This desire was outlined in cabinet meetings, and even their 1979 general election manifesto.

Social democratic continuity into the 1980s and beyond was neither politically nor economically unrealistic. By 1978 the economic crisis had been largely resolved, promoting the party’s recovering in the polls (the Labour party was ahead in some polls as late as December 1978). A perfectly plausible general election victory for Labour in 1978 or 1979 would have almost certainly led to continued attempts to establish corporatist arrangements, ruling out major liberalisation.

Unfortunately for social democracy, Labour’s political recovery was shattered by the ‘winter of discontent’, which destroyed Labour’s reputation for governing competence and made the election of Thatcher largely inevitable. This was the result of a political strategy that failed, not an inevitable outcome of the economic crisis or Labour’s response to it. As mentioned above, Labour had been able to demonstrate its ability to govern competently and differentiate themselves from the Conservatives by using their unique relationship with the trade unions to pursue incomes policies that had brought inflation under control. This successful fight against inflation was seen as the government’s greatest electoral asset. To help win a 1978 or 1979 general election it was desirable for this asset to be secured by keeping inflation below single figures.

The government identified a 5 per cent target for wage increases for the fourth year of its incomes policy. This target would keep inflation in single figures (despite inflation running at around 8 per cent), and perhaps bring annual inflation as low as 5 per cent in time for the end of the government’s term in the autumn of 1979. Thus, the 5 per cent target for wage increases that eventually triggered the ‘winter of discontent’, the election of Thatcher and the fall of British social democracy, was driven by electoral objectives. It was an outcome that could have been avoided by minor changes in strategy, such as holding an election in the autumn of 1978, or putting forward a target of single figures for wage increases. If either of the above had been implemented, it is highly likely that Britain would be a very different place today.

This post first appeared on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring

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