Skip to main content

Globalization: neoliberalism is a political project

David Harvey on what neoliberalism actually is — and why the concept matters.

Eleven years ago, David Harvey published A Brief History of Neoliberalism, now one of the most cited books on the subject. The years since have seen new economic and financial crises, but also of new waves of resistance, which themselves often target “neoliberalism” in their critique of contemporary society.

Cornel West speaks of the Black Lives Matter movement as “an indictment of neoliberal power”; the late Hugo Chávez called neoliberalism a “path to hell”; and labor leaders are increasingly using the term to describe the larger environment in which workplace struggles occur. The mainstream press has also picked up the term, if only to argue that neoliberalism doesn’t actually exist.

But what, exactly, are we talking about when we talk about neoliberalism? Is it a useful target for socialists? And how has it changed since its genesis in the late twentieth century?

Bjarke Skærlund Risager, a PhD fellow at the Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Aarhus University, sat down with David Harvey to discuss the political nature of neoliberalism, how it has transformed modes of resistance, and why the Left still needs to be serious about ending capitalism.

The ideological front amounted to following the advice of a guy named Lewis Powell. He wrote a memo saying that things had gone too far, that capital needed a collective project. The memo helped mobilize the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

Ideas were also important to the ideological front. The judgement at that time was that universities were impossible to organize because the student movement was too strong and the faculty too liberal-minded, so they set up all of these think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Ohlin Foundation. These think tanks brought in the ideas of Freidrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and supply-side economics.

The idea was to have these think tanks do serious research and some of them did — for instance, the National Bureau of Economic Research was a privately funded institution that did extremely good and thorough research. This research would then be published independently and it would influence the press and bit by bit it would surround and infiltrate the universities.

This process took a long time. I think now we’ve reached a point where you don’t need something like the Heritage Foundation anymore. Universities have pretty much been taken over by the neoliberal projects surrounding them.

With respect to labor, the challenge was to make domestic labor competitive with global labor. One way was to open up immigration. In the 1960s, for example, Germans were importing Turkish labor, the French Maghrebian labor, the British colonial labor. But this created a great deal of dissatisfaction and unrest.

Instead they chose the other way — to take capital to where the low-wage labor forces were. But for globalization to work you had to reduce tariffs and empower finance capital |8|, because finance capital is the most mobile form of capital. So finance capital and things like floating currencies became critical to curbing labor.

At the same time, ideological projects to privatize and deregulate created unemployment. So, unemployment at home and offshoring taking the jobs abroad, and a third component: technological change, deindustrialization through automation and robotization. That was the strategy to squash labor.

It was an ideological assault but also an economic assault. To me this is what neoliberalism was about: it was that political project, and I think the bourgeoisie or the corporate capitalist class put it into motion bit by bit.

I don’t think they started out by reading Hayek or anything, I think they just intuitively said, “We gotta crush labor, how do we do it?” And they found that there was a legitimizing theory out there, which would support that.

[...]

What’s missing here is the way in which the capitalist class orchestrated its efforts during the 1970s and early 1980s. I think it would be fair to say that at that time — in the English-speaking world anyway — the corporate capitalist class became pretty unified.

They agreed on a lot of things, like the need for a political force to really represent them. So you get the capture of the Republican Party, and an attempt to undermine, to some degree, the Democratic Party.

From the 1970s the Supreme Court made a bunch of decisions that allowed the corporate capitalist class to buy elections more easily than it could in the past.

For example, you see reforms of campaign finance that treated contributions to campaigns as a form of free speech. There’s a long tradition in the United States of corporate capitalists buying elections but now it was legalized rather than being under the table as corruption.

Overall I think this period was defined by a broad movement across many fronts, ideological and political. And the only way you can explain that broad movement is by recognizing the relatively high degree of solidarity in the corporate capitalist class. Capital reorganized its power in a desperate attempt to recover its economic wealth and its influence, which had been seriously eroded from the end of the 1960s into the 1970s.

[...]

One of big moves of neoliberalization was throwing out all the Keynesians from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1982 — a total clean-out of all the economic advisers who held Keynesian views.

They were replaced by neoclassical supply-side theorists and the first thing they did was decide that from then on the IMF should follow a policy of structural adjustment whenever there’s a crisis anywhere.

In 1982, sure enough, there was a debt crisis in Mexico. The IMF said, “We’ll save you.” Actually, what they were doing was saving the New York investment banks and implementing a politics of austerity.

The population of Mexico suffered something like a 25 percent loss of its standard of living in the four years after 1982 as a result of the structural adjustment politics of the IMF.

Since then Mexico has had about four structural adjustments. Many other countries have had more than one. This became standard practice.

What are they doing to Greece now? It’s almost a copy of what they did to Mexico back in 1982, only more savvy. This is also what happened in the United States in 2007–8. They bailed out the banks and made the people pay through a politics of austerity.

[...]

The other thing I think is crucial is that the neoliberal push of the 1970s didn’t pass without strong resistance. There was massive resistance from labor, from communist parties in Europe, and so on.

But I would say that by the end of the 1980s the battle was lost. So to the degree that resistance has disappeared, labor doesn’t have the power it once had, solidarity among the ruling class is no longer necessary for it to work.

It doesn’t have to get together and do something about struggle from below because there is no threat anymore. The ruling class is doing extremely well so it doesn’t really have to change anything.

Yet while the capitalist class is doing very well, capitalism is doing rather badly. Profit rates have recovered but reinvestment rates are appallingly low |18|, so a lot of money is not circulating back into production and is flowing into land-grabs and asset-procurement instead.

[...]

I think it’s possible that you can make a better capitalism than that which currently exists. But not by much.

The fundamental problems are actually so deep right now that there is no way that we are going to go anywhere without a very strong anticapitalist movement. So I would want to put things in anticapitalist terms rather than putting them in anti-neoliberal terms.

And I think the danger is, when I listen to people talking about anti-neoliberalism, that there is no sense that capitalism is itself, in whatever form, a problem.

Most anti-neoliberalism fails to deal with the macro-problems of endless compound growth — ecological, political, and economic problems. So I would rather be talking about anticapitalism than anti-neoliberalism.

Full interview and references:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Donald Trump: the last symptom of a system that is about to collapse

globinfo freexchange
In another interesting interview with Chris Hedges, Richard Wolff explains why the Trump presidency is the last resort of a system that is about to collapse:
Finally, if everybody tries to save themselves (protection), we have a historical example: after the Great Depression that happened in Europe. And most people believe that it was a large part of what led to WWII after WWI, rather than a much saner collective effort. But capitalism doesn't go for collective efforts, it tends to destroy itself by its own mechanisms.
There has to be a movement from below. Otherwise, there is no counter force that can take us in another direction.
So, absent that counter force we are going to see this system spinning out of control and destroying itself in the very way its critics have for so long foreseen it well might.
When Trump announced his big tariffs on China, we saw the stock market dropped 700 points in a day. That's a sign of the anxiety, the danger, even in the min…

Austria has just returned to the Middle Ages

The Austrian government confirmed that the far-right is an emergency reserve of neoliberalism
globinfo freexchange
Haven't you yet convinced that the nationalists and the far-right are the most faithful dogs of the big capital? Then, look at what just happened in Austria. In the end, despite the mass protests in Vienna, Austrian employers will be able to introduce 12-hour working day without increasing wages. The relevant law adopted by the Parliament of the country, reports on Friday, July 6.



What's the first thing that Emmanuel Macron did after his election in France? He rushed to complete what Francois Hollande - the other puppet of the neoliberal establishment - had started: destroy trade unions, completely deregulate the labor market.
Yet, the media in France were promoting him as a 'progressive' (what a joke) who will stop the far-right threat.
In reality, big capital’s reserve, Marine Le Pen, is waiting in the 'bench', ready to take action any moment, now tha…

The vicious circle of modern slavery

globinfo freexchange
It sounds unbelievable, but in one of supposedly the most advanced European nations, the government plans to allow the working day to be extended to 12 hours!
We are talking about Austria, where tens of thousands of people in Vienna packed the streets on Saturday to voice their opposition to loosening labor laws to allow for a 12-hour workday and subsequent 60-hour workweek. Police in Vienna said some 80,000 people took part, while the trade unions that organized the protest said some 100,000 people attended.
What can someone say about this unimaginably absurd decision?
In an age of all this advanced technology, with AI and hyper-automation, people should work less hours, enjoying all the benefits and extra free time for their families and themselves. Yet, in the homeland of Austrian economics that led us to brutal neoliberalism, it seems that the elites push things to the opposite direction. Why? Is it just because human labor can't compete the machines?
Think ab…

The idiotic circus of terror leads us to the final collapse

There is a familiar checklist for extinction and we are ticking off every item of it. The idiots know only one word: more. They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their own vanity.

failed evolution
The idiots seen in the decay the chance of personal advancement in profit, takeover in the final days of crumbling civilizations.

Idiot generals wage endless unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation.
Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor. And project economic growth on the basis of myth.
Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air. Slash jobs and depress wages.
Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens.
Idiot journalists and …

Bernie's revolution starts to wipe out the establishment with a huge political earthquake!

globinfo freexchange
It happened! A 28-year-old super-progressive beat the personification of the establishment in the Democratic primary! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district, defeating the establishment baron, Joe Crowley. This has been described by many, rightfully, as the biggest upset victory in the 2018 midterm election season.
What are the origins of this amazing, unprecedented result in the US political process?
We can find them in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Back then, Bernie Sanders put the foundations of a truly progressive movement that could beat the neoliberal establishment. We wrote then that Bernie speaks straightly about things buried by the establishment, as if they were absent. Wall Street corruption, growing inequality, corporate funding of politicians by lobbies. He says that he will break the big banks. He will provide free health and education for all the American people. Because of Sanders, Hillary w…

Corporate media pundits depict establishment's evident panic in front of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's huge victory

globinfo freexchange
Shortly after recent political earthquake with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's huge victory, the establishment apparatus started to react as expected.
TYT immediately responded by identifying the common narratives used by the corporate media pundits in the following video:

In this video you can track at least two kinds of typical 'arguments' provided by the neoliberal ideological framework. We wrote several times in this blog about such arguments that their carriers present them as being perfectly rational using 'logical leaps', while in reality, they are deeply irrational.
In the first argument, Steve Schmidt labels progressivism as 'dishonest', simply because it fights for free education, free healthcare, etc. The basic 'argument' is the usual: ordinary people can't have such things because of the enormous debt. Of course, the logical leap here is the fact that the neoliberal pundits always avoid to refer to the billions in bailout…

Key parts of the Matrix: the faithful little soldiers of the mainstream media

globinfo freexchange
Ludivine Bénard describes almost perfectly a key part of the Matrix of our times:
Journalistic titles hire journalists whose social background – socially, culturally, educationally and morally – fits perfectly with what the current capitalist order asks for.
People working in media are mostly middle-class types with the same interests, favouring consumerism, hedonism, libertarian individualism and unconditional Europeanism from Brussels. And they're all subject to this form of political illiteracy – they reduce reporting on politics to reporting on political personalities. The journalists and pollsters in the press turn political life into a theatrical stage, where personalities just endlessly talk and debate.
All that talk drowns out any serious criticism of the system.
The French people have been indoctrinated that way for decades – we've had more than 30 years of a certain consensus between the centrist powers of the conservative right of Les Républicains…

The 'anti-establishment' Trump admits he is more elite than the elite!

globinfo freexchange
He said it!
From the first moment in this blog, even before Trump's election, we repeatedly said that Donnie is only a reserve of the establishment.
Finally, he essentially admitted that he is more elite than the elite! Or, more establishment than the establishment if you like. During a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Trump said "Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I'm smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn't."
Kyle Kulinski is right. Donald Trump wants to be fully integrated in the Establishment Inc. He wants to be loved by the elites, join them. He sends signals to them, saying 'I did what you want, why don't you play with me?'.
The message to the American citizens is this: do not trust the orange clown. In case that will grab your vote for a second term, he will do whatever the establishment wants, and more. Meaning, more tax-cuts for the rich, more for-pro…

The real E CORPs seek complete control of global food supply

Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world
globinfo freexchange
In the famous TV series, Mr. Robot, E Corp (which the central character, Elliot Alderson, perceives as Evil Corp), is an extremely powerful company that controls societies through consumer debt.
Yet, in the real world, a couple of mega multinationals could be proved even more ruthless. In another interesting report, James Corbett exposes the ultimate goal behind the merge of two of the biggest corporations in the food, medicine and agricultural sector. These are the real ECORPs:
What does a pharmaceutical giant have to gain from buying out and merging with an agrichemical giant, especially one that carries as much baggage as Monsanto?
If the connection between these corporate behemoths seems tenuous, then perhaps the key to understanding it is presented in that 1995 quote from former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro: “We’re talking…

Russia ready to 'grab' the Visegrad group in the geopolitical warfare

globinfo freexchange

The news are indicative of the growing gap among the EU members.
Leaders of the Visegrad Four countries of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will skip a mini summit on migration this weekend, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday. Orban said such meetings should be organized by the European Council, the bloc’s top decision-making body, not the EU Commission. The Commission will organize the smaller summit ahead of a full EU summit due next week, Reuters said. Speaking in Budapest after a meeting of the Visegrad Four leaders, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the EU border agency Frontex should be strengthened and its forces beefed up substantially. Babis said he agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on this, and believed Frontex should be increased to 10,000 staff.
The latest years, Visegrad group countries have strengthened ties, as a result of the total failure and inability of the EU mechanisms to deal with the huge refu…