Neoliberalism 101

Neoliberalism sounds, by its name, like a modern updating of liberalism. Liberalism is defined as a willingness to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; openness to new ideas and as a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

Neoliberalism is an updating of the definition of liberalism, specifically economic, or Classical liberalism. Economic, or Classical, Liberalism as opposed to Social Liberalism [1], which is more concerned with the common good than its “classical” more economically concerned variant, of course.

Neoliberalism is an ideology and policy model that favors free market competition, deregulation and reduction in government spending. It arose as a Cold War response to the state planning and government control of Communist governments and spent its first few decades on the fringes of world economic theory. It took off in the early 1970s, when Milton Friedman, an early adopter of the ultraconservative economic worldview of Neoliberalism, became a popular and influential author and talk show guest. Most American presidents, going back to Jimmy Carter, have been Neoliberals. In the economies to which Neoliberal policies were applied (under the watchful eye of geniuses like Friedman), notably in South and Central America and the former Soviet bloc, we see a radical dismantling of social safety nets, “austerity”, an end to government ownership of (or any other role in) business and the drastic reduction of all health and safety regulations. In almost all cases these policies led to vast profits for a few, while creating oligarchy, thriving organized crime, massive social inequality and violence for everyone else.

Neoliberals nonetheless continue to display a radical faith in the ability of Free Markets to solve all societal problems. Their animating idea is that private businesses, competing, unfettered, to offer the best products and services at the lowest prices, will create things far better than anything any government program can come up with. While this may or may not be true (and how free a market is that spends tax dollars to subsidize lucrative, powerful polluters like the Oil Lobby, is an obvious and reasonable question), what Neoliberalism has demonstrated is that it has no interest in or ability to solve societal problems like massive wealth inequality and its attendant injustices, climate change or the health of the labor force.

If you have a Free Market, they continue to argue, open competition among the best and the brightest, everybody benefits. A rising tide lifts all boats, massive wealth creates incentives for robust unregulated job creation. Also, they assure us all, I won’t come in your mouth.

The team at the Throughline podcast did an excellent three part series about Capitalism recently. For those who love capitalism, no worries. Unregulated, “free market” Capitalism is robustly defended throughout by panelist Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University (one of the first universities largely sponsored by the Charles Koch network) and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute (ditto). Here’s a nice sample of adjunct scholar Bryan Caplan’s work:

And a lot of what I’m going to be saying is that there are a lot of problems with the existing systems, but the most pressing problems really come down to having too little capitalism, not too much. And this is a system that produces, for all of its faults, an enormous mountain of stuff at very low prices, which enables us to go and live – livings – to have living standards that are far beyond almost anything that even the monarchs of earlier periods could ever have hoped to have.

So, I mean, like, at the beginning, when you were talking about how, you know, so many have so little, I’d say I’m really very puzzled by this. At least in capitalist countries, the average person has a living standard that would have compared very favorably to Louis the 14th of France in terms of just the quality of entertainment or health or food. It’s all way better than most people throughout history could ever have imagined.

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Check it out.

[1] This kind of shit is why people, conservative and liberal alike, distrust and even hate “academics”:

Social liberalism, also known as left liberalism in Germany,[1][2][3] new liberalism in the United Kingdom,[4][5] modern liberalism in the United States,[6] and progressive liberalism in Spanish speaking countries[7] is a political philosophy and variety of liberalism that endorses a social market economy within an individualist economy and the expansion of civil and political rights. Under social liberalism, the common good is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual.[8]

Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the world.[9] Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or centre-left.[5][10][11][12][13] A social liberal government is expected to address economic and social issues such as povertywelfareinfrastructurehealth careeducation and the climate using government intervention whilst also emphasizing the rights and autonomy of the individual.[14][15][16]

In the United States, the term social liberalism may sometimes refer to progressive stances on sociocultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage as opposed to social conservatism. Because cultural liberalism expresses the social dimension of liberalism, it is often referred to as social liberalism, although it is not the same as the broader political ideology known as social liberalism. A social liberal in this sense may hold either conservative or liberal views on fiscal policy.[17]

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