Skip to main content

How neoliberalism manufactured consent to secure its unlimited power

From David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Part 11 – The Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal legacy: a bizarre form of a sinister political doctrine from which it would be difficult one to escape

But Thatcher had to fight the battle on other fronts. A noble rearguard action against neoliberal policies was mounted in many a municipality –– Sheffield, the Greater London Council (which Thatcher had to abolish in order to achieve her broader goals in the 1980s), and Liverpool (where half the local councillors had to be gaoled) formed active centres of resistance in which the ideals of a new municipal socialism (incorporating many of the new social movements in the London case) were both pursued and acted upon until they were finally crushed in the mid-1980s.

She began by savagely cutting back central government funding to the municipalities, but several of them responded simply by raising property taxes, forcing her to legislate against their right to do so. Denigrating the progressive labour councils as ‘loony lefties’ (a phrase the Conservative-dominated press picked up with relish), she then sought to impose neoliberal principles through a reform of municipal finance. She proposed a ‘poll tax’ –– a regressive head tax rather than a property tax –– which would rein in municipal expenditures by making every resident pay. This provoked a huge political fight that played a role in Thatcher’s political demise.

Thatcher also set out to privatize all those sectors of the economy that were in public ownership. The sales would boost the public treasury and rid the government of burdensome future obligations towards losing enterprises. These state-run enterprises had to be adequately prepared for privatization, and this meant paring down their debt and improving their efficiency and cost structures, often through shedding labour.

Their valuation was also structured to offer considerable incentives to private capital –– a process that was likened by opponents to ‘giving away the family silver’. In several cases subsidies were hidden in the mode of valuation –– water companies, railways, and even state-run enterprises in the automobile and steel industries held high-value land in prime locations that was excluded from the valuation of the enterprise as an ongoing concern.

Privatization and speculative gains on the property released went hand in hand. But the aim here was also to change the political culture by extending the field of personal and corporate responsibility and encouraging greater efficiency, individual/corporate initiative, and innovation. British Aerospace, British Telecom, British Airways, steel, electricity and gas, oil, coal, water, bus services, railways, and a host of smaller state enterprises were sold off in a massive wave of privatizations.

Britain pioneered the way in showing how to do this in a reasonably orderly and, for capital, profitable way. Thatcher was convinced that once these changes had been made they would become irreversible: hence the haste. The legitimacy of this whole movement was successfully underpinned, however, by the extensive selling off of public housing to tenants. This vastly increased the number of homeowners within a decade. It satisfied traditional ideals of individual property ownership as a working-class dream and introduced a new, and often speculative, dynamism into the housing market that was much appreciated by the middle classes, who saw their asset values rise –– at least until the property crash of the early 1990s.

Dismantling the welfare state was, however, quite another thing. Taking on areas such as education, health care, social services, the universities, the state bureaucracy, and the judiciary proved difficult. Here she had to do battle with the entrenched and sometimes traditional upper-middle-class attitudes of her core supporters.

Thatcher desperately sought to extend the ideal of personal responsibility (for example through the privatization of health care) across the board and cut back on state obligations. She failed to make rapid headway. There were, in the view of the British public, limits to the neoliberalization of everything. Not until 2003, for example, did a Labour government, against widespread opposition, succeed in introducing a fee-paying structure into British higher education.

In all these areas it proved difficult to forge an alliance of consent for radical change. On this her Cabinet (and her supporters) were notoriously divided (between ‘wets’ and ‘drys’) and it took several years of bruising confrontations within her own party and in the media to win modest neoliberal reforms. The best she could do was to try to force a culture of entrepreneurialism and impose strict rules of surveillance, financial accountability, and productivity on to institutions, such as universities, that were ill suited to them.

Thatcher forged consent through the cultivation of a middle class that relished the joys of home ownership, private property, individualism, and the liberation of entrepreneurial opportunities. With working-class solidarities waning under pressure and job structures radically changing through deindustrialization, middle-class values spread more widely to encompass many of those who had once had a firm working-class identity.

The opening of Britain to freer trade allowed a consumer culture to flourish, and the proliferation of financial institutions brought more and more of a debt culture into the centre of a formerly staid British life. Neoliberalism entailed the transformation of the older British class structure, at both ends of the spectrum.

Moreover, by keeping the City of London as a central player in global finance it increasingly turned the heartland of Britain’s economy, London and the south-east, into a dynamic centre of ever-increasing wealth and power. Class power had not so much been restored to any traditional sector but rather had gathered expansively around one of the key global centres of financial operations. Recruits from Oxbridge flooded into London as bond and currency traders, rapidly amassing wealth and power and turning London into one of the most expensive cities in the world.

While the Thatcher revolution was prepared by the organization of consent within the traditional middle classes who bore her to three electoral victories, the whole programme, particularly in her first administration, was far more ideologically driven (thanks largely to Keith Joseph) by neoliberal theory than was ever the case in the US. While from a solid middle-class background herself, she plainly relished the traditionally close contacts between the prime minister’s office and the ‘captains’ of industry and finance. She frequently turned to them for advice and in some instances clearly delivered them favours by undervaluing state assets set for privatization. The project to restore class power –– as opposed to dismantling working-class power –– probably played a more subconscious role in her political evolution.

The success of Reagan and Thatcher can be measured in various ways. But I think it most useful to stress the way in which they took what had hitherto been minority political, ideological, and intellectual positions and made them mainstream. The alliance of forces they helped consolidate and the majorities they led became a legacy that a subsequent generation of political leaders found hard to dislodge.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to their success lies in the fact that both Clinton and Blair found themselves in a situation where their room for manoeuvre was so limited that they could not help but sustain the process of restoration of class power even against their own better instincts. And once neoliberalism became that deeply entrenched in the English-speaking world it was hard to gainsay its considerable relevance to how capitalism in general was working internationally.

This is not to say, as we shall see, that neoliberalism was merely imposed elsewhere by Anglo-American influence and power. For as these two case studies amply demonstrate, the internal circumstances and subsequent nature of the neoliberal turn were quite different in Britain and the US, and by extension we should expect that internal forces as well as external influences and impositions have played a distinctive role elsewhere.

Reagan and Thatcher seized on the clues they had (from Chile and New York City) and placed themselves at the head of a class movement that was determined to restore its power. Their genius was to create a legacy and a tradition that tangled subsequent politicians in a web of constraints from which they could not easily escape. Those who followed, like Clinton and Blair, could do little more than continue the good work of neoliberalization, whether they liked it or not.

***

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

MSNBC poll on Julian Assange backfires epically

globinfo freexchange
Frequently - if not always - polls set-up by corporate media aim to track public opinion on a specific issue. The results could be used by the deep state apparatus in order to justify an action, or, figure out how to handle a negative trend for the deep state agenda.
Of course, the question could be set-up in a very simplified and convenient manner, so that the results could be translated accordingly.
Yet, the results from the following MSNBC poll on Julian Assange are so devastating for the deep state planning that leave little room for any misconception and manipulation.
Specifically, you have two options to answer the following question: “Should Julian Assange be prosecuted for his involvement in WikiLeaks?
The first option is to answer that "Yes, he is a criminal."
The second option is to answer that "No, he is a whistleblower and deserves protection."
At the time we checked out the results, the second answer prevailed overwhelmingly with 95% (~1…

Trump's failure to start a civil war in Venezuela could be proved disastrous for the plans of the US imperialists

by system failure
Donald Trump and his bloodthirsty warhawks are about to break the record of failed attempted coups against a single country. Concerning Latin America, the US imperialists were setting the desirable conditions for their corporate beasts usually by overthrowing governments and supporting military dictatorships.
But Trump himself has already broken another record. The record of not keeping his promises to the American people - every one of them. The 'anti-interventionist', 'anti-establishment' Trump, has already started a war against Venezuela, which so far includes brutal economic sanctions, sabotage operations, attempted coups. Trump not only does whatever he can in order to satisfy the US neocon/neoliberal establishment and the deep state, but especially in the case of Venezuela, he follows the obsolete CIA playbook to the letter.
So, after a series of failed orchestrated coups, Trump's warhawks attempted to start a civil war in Venezuela by mobiliz…

Former top US official confirms: military action against Venezuela will become a Vietnam 2.0 for the US imperialists

globinfo freexchange
Former US Chief of Staff for Secretary of State, Lawrence Wilkerson, spoke with Sharmini Peries of the Real News about Trump's plans for a potential US military action against Venezuela.

As he pointed out:
Elliott Abrams, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and the administration’s approach to Venezuela, is as if they were Panama or they were Honduras. They are not. They’re very professional. That puts them above Argentina, above Chile, whose militaries are quite competent, too. 
Mr. Trump ought to be very, very careful about saying he’s going to send marines or soldiers to Venezuela because the Venezuelan military will be unified immediately. It will take to the hills and it will fight as the Vietnamese did during the Vietnam War, and as the Taliban are in Afghanistan right now: to the last marine, to the last soldier.
Putin is a smart man, probably told Trump 'you don’t want to get involved in those jungles. You don’t want to get involved in those mountains. You …

Latest ridiculous attempts by the US propaganda machine on Gaza, Venezuela – enjoy

globinfo freexchange
Plenty of propaganda is manufactured by the US deep state apparatus to push for the imperialist agenda. Yet, some elements of the propaganda machine are still unable to realize that independent truth seekers and real journalists are watching, and therefore, these elements could be easily exposed.
Sloppy efforts immediately backfire in social media and the Internet. Most recent sloppy efforts are related to Gaza and Venezuela.
As the Newsweekreported:
Senior 2020 Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson used a 2015 video showing a Ukrainian rocket launch alongside comments about this weekend's deadly attacks between Israel and Gaza militants and a condemnation of congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Pierson, who was Donald Trump's 2016 campaign spokesperson and is a frequent cable news guest, shared the video—which was first posted online in 2015 and reportedly shows Ukraine launching dozens of rockets at Russian-backed separatists—on Sunday.
Alongsi…

Fox clowns committed suicide by bringing Bernie Sanders inside their nest to destroy them

... and the liberal centrists must be really pissed off
globinfo freexchange
It was epic indeed. The moment where the crowd inside the Fox ultra-right nest enthusiastically cheers in favor of a government-run healthcare system, could actually be considered a historical moment, thanks to Bernie Sanders.
The moment clearly depicts and officially marks the end of controlled audiences in controlled MSM environments. It shows that the well-paid MSM pundits and their producers are finding increasingly difficult to set up the scene according to the desirable agenda. Therefore, audience reactions can't be directed, or predicted in many cases by the MSM 'experts'.
The shock for the MSM tools was inevitable. It shows that they are now completely detached from the ordinary people and their problems.
But the whole thing highlighted something even more fundamental. It was another loud evidence for the fact that the BS neoliberal narratives don't work anymore.
And even more remarkably, th…

CNN sets up a fully controlled audience panel to promote pro-establishment candidates using Bernie Sanders progressive agenda

 An example of advanced psy-ops by the corporate media 

globinfo freexchange

As we wrote recently, the moment where the crowd inside the Fox ultra-right nest enthusiastically cheers in favor of a government-run healthcare system, could actually be considered a historical moment, thanks to Bernie Sanders.

The moment clearly depicts and officially marks the end of controlled audiences in controlled MSM environments. It shows that the well-paid MSM pundits and their producers are finding increasingly difficult to set up the scene according to the desirable agenda. Therefore, audience reactions can't be directed, or predicted in many cases by the MSM 'experts'.
Now, here is an example showing a successful set up through a controlled audience. It took place inside CNN and there is plenty of evidence that was indeed carefully set up. In the following video, Mike Figueredo of the Humanist Report felt optimistic, but also quite frustrated at the same time. Figueredo's reaction …

Chelsea Manning proves that she is a real hero

globinfo freexchange
Outside of an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom, Chelsea Manning explained to reporters why she would refuse to testify before a second grand jury investigating Wikileaks' Julian Assange, and as a result, face jail time once again. On May 9, Manning was released from jail because the term of the last grand jury she refused to testify before expired. She was immediately subpoenaed once again—for May 16.
Her following words clearly depict that Chelsea Manning is a person with strong and solid principles and a real hero:
I will not cooperate with this or any other grand jury, so it doesn’t matter what it is, or what the case is. I’m just not going to comply or cooperate. Facing jail again, potentially today, doesn’t change my stance. The prosecutors are deliberately placing me in an impossible position: go to jail and face the prospect of being held in contempt again, or, in the alternative, foregoing my principles, the strong positions that I have, that I hold dear…

Chemical weapons assessment contradicting official Syria narrative is authentic

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has begun responding to queries by the press about a leaked document which contradicts official OPCW findings on an alleged chemical weapons attack last year in Douma, Syria. The prepared statement they’ve been using in response to these queries confirms the authenticity of the document.
To recap, a few days ago the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document signed by a man named Ian Henderson, whose name is seen listed in expert leadership positions on OPCW documents from as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. It’s unknown who leaked the document and what other media organizations they may have tried to send it to.
The report picks apart the extremely shaky physics and narratives of the official OPCW analysis on the gas cylinders allegedly dropped from Syrian government aircraft in the Douma attack, and concludes that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, a…

Updates for a possible coup against Jeremy Corbyn

 globinfo freexchange

In this episode of RT's Going Underground, former MP and author of A Very British Coup and The Friends of Harry Perkins, Chris Mullin, spoke about the history of MI5 and MI6 meddling in UK politics against Labour Party leaders. He also estimated whether a British coup is underway against Jeremy Corbyn.
The story of A Very British Coup was set in the 1980s when there was speculation about the possibility of a government led by someone like Tony Benn and the establishment conspired to bring it down. The establishment in this case being a sort of mixture of the security and intelligence services, the media barons, with a little help from the Americans. 
Tony Benn looked likely to become deputy leader of the Labour Party which at the time was strongly challenging the government of Margaret Thatcher in the opinion polls. Persistent rumours circulated over the years about attempts by members of the British security services, and other wings of the British Establish…

How GMO seeds and Monsanto/Bayer’s “RoundUp” are driving US policy in Venezuela

With Juan Guaidó’s parallel government attempting to take power with the backing of the U.S., it is telling that the top political donors of those in the U.S. most fervently pushing regime change in Venezuela have close ties to Monsanto and major financial stakes in Bayer.
by Whitney Webb
Part 4 - Why is a top to Marco Rubio increasing his stake in Bayer while others flee?
Yet, it is AEI’s top individual donor noted in the accidental “schedule of contributors” disclosure who is most telling about the private biotech interests guiding the Trump administration’s Venezuela policy. Paul Singer, the controversial billionaire hedge fund manager, has long been a major donor to neoconservative and Zionist causes — helping fund the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the successor to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC); and the neoconservative and islamophobic Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), in addition to the AEI.
Singer is notably one of the top political donors to Senat…