What is neoliberalism (an intro)
What is neoliberalism?
Put simply, neoliberalism is a blurring of public and private interests. On a surface level, this statement is pretty banal and probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. You might be asking “why do people think they’re insulting ______ by calling them neoliberal? That’s not even a word!” Or you might ask me why I don’t think you’re liberal or progressive enough or what’s so bad about markets or market forces. A lot, actually, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
First, some background. In the wake of World War 2, every Western government was scared as fuck. The Soviet Union, despite losing a lot of people, came out of the war looking quite strong and the threat of worldwide communism was growing ever more palpable. America, despite making it out relatively unscathed and using the war effort to fix their economy, now had a legitimate superpower to contend with, one that was opposed to its very reason to exist for that matter. Meanwhile, the formerly mighty British Empire was beginning to corrode as anti-colonial movements gained steam in Africa and Asia.
In an effort to keep their citizens mollified so that they didn’t engage in a fascist resurgence or(more horrifying in their eyes) a communist insurrection, the Western powers instituted social democratic reforms that would create what is considered the modern welfare state. These reforms included subsidized health care and higher education, affordable housing and improved public infrastructure. The underlying structure and hierarchy of these societies remained more or less intact but people felt more secure in their day-to day existance so it mattered less. Basically they gave people a little bit so that they’d shut up before they started to ask for anything substantial. Like civil rights for instance.
While this was happening, a group of economists started a series of biennial meetings in the resort town of Mont Pelerin in the Swiss Alps. Their goals were to push for individualism and open societies, mostly through the ideas and theories of classical liberal(i.e free market) economics. Their enemies were collectivism, intervensionism and central planning(i.e The Soviets). They were champions of policies such as free trade agreements and privatization of national firms and services, an idea taken from the original radical centrists, the NSDAP.
Ideas such as these would eventually become the core of a philosophy known as neoliberalism, which was a third way between the planned economies of the former Soviet Union(and the East Asian Tiger Economies, De Gaullist France, Atllee-era Britain, post-war Sweden etc) and the classical laissez-faire liberalism prevalent in 19th century Britain and America. Basically the state uses laws and regulations to protect, expand and create markets. This is obviously the best possible path to take and won’t result in anything bad.
In this upcoming series, I will talk about just how not bad this is and how it doesn’t affect your everyday life.