So what is it? Neoliberalism isn’t about ‘free markets’. That’s the populist soft sell, which claims that everyone is just a self-maximiser, out for maximum utility — whatever the fuck that is — yearning to be freed from moralist hypocrisies like ‘public service’. That was the classically liberal creed; just let everyone be as selfish as they really are, and it will all work out! What St Augustine called ‘cruel optimism’. But what posed as description was prescription. The mandarin sell, for policymakers, was different. People were too fucking stupid and socialistic to be self-maximisers. (I paraphrase). The power of the state and law had to be used to make them behave as such.
The issue was never the volume of regulations or spending, but their character. Financialisation, intrinsic to the neoliberal model, necessitated an explosion of regulations. The point was to reform economic and government activity so that everything operated like a market, construed as a kind of Darwinian mechanism for selecting efficiency through competition. That could mean things like Compulsory Competitive Tendering, internal markets, spending caps, workfare, the short-lived nudge unit etc.
It also entailed a counterrevolution against democracy. [...] in most states, it was sufficient to redistribute state power to unelected bodies, quangos, or centralise more of it in the executive, or outsource it to SERCO or similar bodies.
This diagrams a mode of power. One which transferred class power to corporations, linked to a new set of hegemonic practices governing people as ‘entrepreneurs’. For a while, combined with dynamite growth in south-east Asia, a boom in speculative capital, a series of Wall Street bubbles, the concomitant reduction in bargaining power and sharp decrease in share of incomes going to labour, increased profitability and thus investment.
But most people didn’t become neoliberal ideologues. Bits of the new dispensation were popularised and sedimented into more traditional ideologies — social democracy, socialism, authoritarian conservatism, classical liberalism, etc. There has never been a pure capitalist discourse. Ruling class parties had to operate on those traditional beliefs too, though they had trouble substantiating those commitments. Anyway, they were seen, especially on the social-liberal end of neoliberalism, as residual, being gradually supplanted by the new competitive individualism. That wasn’t entirely wrong; it just wasn’t the whole story.
god i love his writing