Er. What Is Neoliberalism, Exactly?

By Coltrane, Chris | New Internationalist, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Er. What Is Neoliberalism, Exactly?


Coltrane, Chris, New Internationalist


When I'm not writing fan fiction about the heat-death of the universe, there are two things that play on my mind. The first is that almost every crisis currently facing humanity is caused by neoliberalism. The second? Almost no-one knows what neoliberalism is.

I mean, that's weird, right? Neoliberalism is literally the system we live under - and yet, if you go into a cafe and ask random people what they think neoliberalism is, you'll get thrown out. 'Stop bothering my customers,' Franco will say. 'Why do you keep doing this to me?'

Even finding a consistent definition is hard. Of the people who know what it is (which I'm assuming includes you, because you read New Internationalist - unless, like me, you nod along to the articles, hoping no-one will actually challenge you on any of it) most agree on neoliberalism's features. Free market, privatization, shrinking the state, lowering taxes, reducing regulation, replacing schools and hospitals with champagne bars, and so on.

But try asking people why someone would be a neoliberal, and you'll get a thousand different answers. For example, critics might claim that under neoliberalism, things are only worthwhile if they make money. In that respect, my comedy is the least neoliberal thing that has ever existed.

Conversely, advocates might say 'the free market is more efficient', or 'the state is a burden'. Anything other than admitting that they watch dystopian cyberpunk movies where the police have been privatized, and see it not as a warning, but a vision of a glorious future.

So, who to believe? It doesn't help that neoliberalism's meaning is almost impossible to guess. A friend of mine assumed it meant a 'new kindness'. 'Because, you know, liberal means open-minded.' That noise you hear in the distance is our Australian readers thinking about Tony Abbott, and laughing hysterically. …

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