Time for it to die, and for the corpses of von Mises and Hayek to be dug up, paraded through the streets, and thrown into the Tiber. Every once in a while, I get some ass who snootily tells me that his (strangely, it’s always been a man) brand of liberalism is superior to mine, and then proceeds to announce that he is a true “classical liberal” (translation: he’s a flaming Libertarian) or more rarely, that he is a “neoliberal”, although that species of conservative prefers to hide the term under a fog of economic buzzwords. I detest them all.
Now George Monbiot has written a wonderful summary of the crimes of neoliberalism, that poisonous doctrine of St Reagan and St Thatcher. It’s one of those essays where I do a disservice to it by quoting only a small portion of it — but I’ll do it anyway, just so I can tell you to go read the whole thing.
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.
It is the most pernicious and pervasive ideology of our time. I’ve been hearing a lot of it in complaints about tenure and teachers’ unions lately — “these are just efforts to give teachers job security“, as if that were some horrible abomination. Shouldn’t we aspire to give everyone job security? Isn’t it a good thing when people can rely on stable employment and income? But no, much of the public has absorbed this notion that chaos and fragility are virtues, that we need to be able to, for instance, fire people as punishment for inefficiency.
They never seem to care that the beneficiaries of that ruthlessness all seem to be the most useless parasites, the profiteers and rent-seekers and exploiters of the market. The punishment is the thing. We’re all getting screwed over, but hey, at least we get the vicarious thrill of seeing someone else screwed over even more.