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How neoliberalism manufactured consent to secure its unlimited power

From David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Part 5 - Cultural take over of New York by the neoliberal doctrine and the enormous negative impact

The city’s elite institutions were mobilized to sell the image of the city as a cultural centre and tourist destination (inventing the famous logo ‘I Love New York’). The ruling elites moved, often fractiously, to support the opening up of the cultural field to all manner of diverse cosmopolitan currents. The narcissistic exploration of self, sexuality, and identity became the leitmotif of bourgeois urban culture.

Artistic freedom and artistic licence, promoted by the city’s powerful cultural institutions, led, in effect, to the neoliberalization of culture. ‘Delirious New York’ (to use Rem Koolhaas’s memorable phrase) erased the collective memory of democratic New York. 11 The city’s elites acceded, though not without a struggle, to the demand for lifestyle diversification (including those attached to sexual preference and gender) and increasing consumer niche choices (in areas such as cultural production).

New York became the epicentre of postmodern cultural and intellectual experimentation. Meanwhile the investment bankers reconstructed the city economy around financial activities, ancillary services such as legal services and the media (much revived by the financialization then occurring), and diversified consumerism (gentrification and neighbourhood ‘restoration’ playing a prominent and profitable role).

City government was more and more construed as an entrepreneurial rather than a social democratic or even managerial entity. Inter-urban competition for investment capital transformed government into urban governance through public–private partnerships. City business was increasingly conducted behind closed doors, and the democratic and representational content of local governance diminished.

Working-class and ethnic-immigrant New York was thrust back into the shadows, to be ravaged by racism and a crack cocaine epidemic of epic proportions in the 1980s that left many young people either dead, incarcerated, or homeless, only to be bludgeoned again by the AIDS epidemic that carried over into the 1990s. Redistribution through criminal violence became one of the few serious options for the poor, and the authorities responded by criminalizing whole communities of impoverished and marginalized populations.

The victims were blamed, and Giuliani was to claim fame by taking revenge on behalf of an increasingly affluent Manhattan bourgeoisie tired of having to confront the effects of such devastation on their own doorsteps.

The management of the New York fiscal crisis pioneered the way for neoliberal practices both domestically under Reagan and internationally through the IMF in the 1980s. It established the principle that in the event of a conflict between the integrity of financial institutions and bondholders’ returns, on the one hand, and the well-being of the citizens on the other, the former was to be privileged.

It emphasized that the role of government was to create a good business climate rather than look to the needs and well-being of the population at large. The politics of the Reagan administration of the 1980s, Tabb concludes, became ‘merely the New York scenario’ of the 1970s ‘writ large’.

The translation of these local conclusions of the mid-1970s to the national level was fast-moving. Thomas Edsall (a journalist who covered Washington affairs for many years) published a prescient account in 1985: ‘During the 1970s, business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging competitive instincts in favour of joint, cooperative action in the legislative arena. Rather than individual companies seeking only special favours . . . the dominant theme in the political strategy of business became a shared interest in the defeat of bills such as consumer protection and labour law reform, and in the enactment of favourable tax, regulatory and antitrust legislation’.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

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