“What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?”
The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. The above cited words of “The Guardian”’s columnist George Monbiot show how powerful is nowadays the ruling ideology. He continues “So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution”.
Nevertheless the ideology, because it must be called for what it is, arose as conscious, discussed and planned attempt to reshape human life and reconfigure the allocation of power. The origins of neoliberalism can be found in the late 1930s, when a group of neoliberal intellectuals met in Paris to discuss about the threat that the great depression posed to liberalist politics and the peril of the totalitarianisms that were spreading around Europe in those decades, such as National Socialism in Germany. Furthermore, this “committee” was considering the risks that the collectivist planning of the economy as in the British Keynesian state and the New Deal in the USA were posing to their neoliberal ideals and ambitions. The meeting was organised by Louis Rougier in 1938. During this meeting it has been coined the term “neoliberalism” to update the previous liberalism after the realization of the liberalists themselves that governments must play an important role as guardians of “free markets”. Here it is possible to see a big paradox: while these neoliberalists were promoting the free market as the natural state, they were conscious of the need of the state intervention, regulation through the law, to ensure the existence of the free market (Turner 2007; Peck 2008).
In few words, it was the creation of a coherent and patient plan to create a new order. Liebman was one of the invited in Paris, where he stood up for the necessity to change and adapt people on the new system of a global economy. Otherwise, he explained, people would have been misfits. The adaptation proposed necessitated of the abandonment of certain traditional values and norms, because people should enter in a new culture framed by the markets, where everybody is in competitions with the others. This was the starting point to create a new society, based on competitivity, emphasis on individualism and the search of personal satisfaction and the maximization of the profit as a final end.
The basis of the ideology can be found in the laissez-faire economic liberalism plus the role of the state as an entity that must protect and guarantee the free market. It is possible to identify 5 principles: privatisation, liberalisation, monetisation, deregulation, marketisation. Those are the principles that can be found in the numerous manuals of economics spread around the world. Instead, what it is more interesting for the reflection of this paper is the “illumination” that one of the fathers of neoliberalism got in 1936. Friedrick Hayek wrote: "How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds, bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?” The answer was in the free market, the omniscient market (that reminds the Big Brother in 1984 of George Orwell). This was a grand epistemological claim – the market is a way of knowing, one that radically exceeds the capacity of any individual mind (Stephen Metcalf) and it is the only source of the absolute and objective knowledge.
Nevertheless, Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, dominated the public discussion. Several supporters of the free-market turned in favour of Keynes’s propositions, accepting the involvement of governments in the regulation of a modern economy. But the Second World War and the emigration of Austrian economists helped to spread neoliberal thinking around the world. In 1944 Hayek wrote ‘The Road to Serfdom’, where he explained the main case against central planning and he defended capitalism against the claims that it had led to fascism. In that book he pictured the market freedom as the foundation of the democratic freedom, because ‘only capitalism makes democracy possible’ (Turner 2007).
The first decade after the war saw the formal establishment of neoliberalism in intellectual networks such as the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS), founded in 1947. The MPS could count among its ranks exponents that were covering the different facets of the neoliberal thought: those from the Austrain school, Birtish intellectuals from the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of Manchester, Americans from the Chicago School - including Milton Friedman - and Germans from the Freiburg School (Peck 2008).
One of the main action of the MPS was on the development and promotion of neoliberal ideas, through their circulation in government, universities, civil society and the media. For example, neoliberal thinkers and their business sponsors – such as Sir Antony Fraser – helped to found numerous organizations to promote neoliberalism, particularly so-called think tanks and business forums (Miller; Birch and Tickell). Examples of the establishment of such neoliberal think tanks include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in the UK (1955) and the Heritage Foundation in the USA (1973) (Carroll and Carson 2006).
These centres of ideas constituted the basis of the emergence of a neoliberal political project to counter Keynesian policy and government intervention as regulator and distributor in the markets.
Mark Blyth (2002) argued that the combination of Milton Friedman’s monetarism with theories of rational expectations, supply-side economics and public choice contributed to the breakdown of the post-war consensus through the promotion of a neoliberal agenda and economic policies.
In the following years, this political and economic project found powerful promoters in the new right-wing politicians such as Margaret Thatcher (1979–90) in the UK and Ronald Reagan (1981–9) in the USA, whose policies became known respectively as ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganomics’.
But USA and UK were not the pioneers, first came the ‘Chicago boys’, Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago (where Milton Friedman worked). These economist helped the dictator Augusto Pinochet to privatize and deregulate the economy after the coup that ended Salvador Allende’s government and life in September 1973 (Harvey 2005). Other countries then followed (Swain, Mykhnenko and French 2010).
In 1989 arrived the epochal: the fall of the Berlin’s wall and the rise of capitalism as the legitimated power. Dogmas internal the neoliberal ideology, finally became the natural way. The power relations dominants in the classist construction of nowadays society were definitely consolidated. Since then not too much attention it has been given to the neoliberal ideology or the power relations involved. Few spoke clearly, such as David Harvey (2006), who argued neoliberalism “failed even to come close to, let alone achieve, the growth rates of the golden age of Keynesianism (1960s)”, which raises a serious question about how it has maintained legitimacy in the face of its own failed raison d’être – to ensure wealth for all through market efficiency.
But in 2008 something change, the credit crunch and banking crisis exposed the failure of an elite that was promoting its model as absolute. Here come to mind the words of Margaret Thatcher “There is not alternative”.
Finally, in the summer 2016, the economists of the IMF admitted that neoliberalism exists and that there is a neoliberal agenda. The economists cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality (Stephen Metcalf, 2017)
WHAT MAKES NEOLIBERAL IDEOLOGY A SINGLE THOUGHT
Neoliberalism is a particular way to live, specific of a defined economic and political context, in accord to the dynamics of the market and it cannot live and sustain itself without it. Authors openly hostile to it like David Harvey understand neoliberalism as a global project to expand the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore power to economic elites (2007). Economic elites seek to increase their wealth and income, but also their political and economic freedom and flexibility. But its peculiarity, common in many totalitarianisms, is to present itself as natural. We have to remind here Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative!”. A single thought is when a system of thinking proposes itself as the only and natural thought and the only correct and possible way to behave. In this way it kills every possible form of resistance.
“It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”
As Domenico Melidore explains, to assume that the neoliberal vision is universally accepted is an imposition of values and perspectives on the individual and collective life that the cultural minorities could reasonably question them. While Parekh added that the bottom error of neoliberalism is that neoliberalists tend to absolutize it. They pose it at the centre of the theory and the analysis as the unique landmark around which everything is understood.
In the past Adam Smith (mid-1700s) thought the market could be justified only in light of individual virtue and he was anxious that a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest was no society at all. “Neoliberalism is Adam Smith without anxiety”, wrote Stephan Metcalf.
Frank Knight (speech at Chicago School in the 20s) observed that the rational economic criticism of values gives results repugnant to common sense. In fact, still in those years, also in Economic Schools, it was commonplace to believe that the ultimate ends of society and of life were established in the non-economic sphere. While the neoliberal ideology relate everything to the market, commodifying every aspect of human life.
“The essential evil of humanity is the substitution of ends by means.”
The result it has been a formidable, daily demolition of models and cultures linked to family, to nature, to life and birth, to the spiritual meaning the mystic perception of reality, to the communitarian bonds, to the roots and identity, to the merit and personal capacity.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW ON THE NEOLIBERAL AGENDA
In this paragraph I will show and explain the principal key aspects of the neoliberal agenda, on which financial, economic, political and social choices are taken and imposed from the financial elites to institutions and sovereign governments.
Deregulation on economies around the World: governments reduce the “restrictions” in a particular industry in order to boost business operation and competition
Forcing open markets to trade and capital and the creation of agencies of incredible power that promote the so called multilateral trade agreements (such as those of the WTO)
The free market is proposed as the natural state. Nevertheless neoliberalists, in contraposition with their forefathers, are nowadays conscious that there is the need of state’s intervention to prevent distortions to mine the market. This proposition makes the whole neoliberal agenda an extreme ideology, that proposes its principles, as natural, unescapable and not negotiable
The market is the omniscient mind, the biggest ever created and capable of what every single mind will never be able to produce: the objective knowledge. The market reveals truth (Hayek)
Demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation (A strong warning that austerity policies can do more harm than good has been delivered by economists from the International Monetary Fund “27 May 2016-The Guardian” the IMF economists said rising inequality was bad for growth and that governments should use controls to cope with destabilising capital flows. “The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries,” they said. “The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomise the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda. “Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects. ” And all this discourse is done considering the mere economical perspective of growth, but you can imagine that considering cultural and social spheres of life the analysis can get harsher and harsher.
Privatization of social services in the hands of corporations too big to fail (banks, energy companies, etc)
Society is reconceived as a giant universal market (abolition of Society as a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family): the logic of the market is not only applied to the commerce and the economy but to all the other aspects of human life
Depoliticization: market’s void of values replace political spaces. The so called technical governments are the clearest example.
The creation of a new man
Competition is at the basis of every social relationship. “Egoism is the basic law of society” Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973)
Emphasis on individualism: an individualised person without ethics, values, bonds and roots created the perfect consumer, a mere work force, that seek for its individual satisfaction and the maximization of its profit.
The end of nationalism: it is proposed not to free people, but to create the globalization of the capital, a false multicultural society in which none of the cultures is left.
The vaporisation of identities: every identity is an obstacle for the movements of the capital. the financial and economic fanaticism is structurally heterophobe
The creation of a new language, an Orwellian New Speak in which things are called in different ways and in which opinion are accepted only if expressed in the politically correct vocabulary (that means that you cannot say anything)
Inequality is a virtue: the omniscient and fair market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve, but the ongoing situation suggests all the opposite “The 1% grabbed 82% of all the wealth created in 2017” CNN (22 January 2018)
Neoliberalism must have no name (Friedman change of position)
Specialization in the work, that then extends itself in other aspects of life. Already Le Bon in an intervention on industrialization said the specialization in the work on which modernity is based, it does not enhance the human intelligence, on the opposite it reduces it, till its atrophy.
Commodification of everything, even nature: nature is a finite resource; therefore, it must have a price. As one World Bank executive stated, "[i]n a world where you have scarcity, you have to have a price on things" (Simon 2012)
DISCOURSIVE PRACTICE ON REINFORCING DOMINATION
“To understand cultural hegemony is to take. Simple question: Who has the power?”
Gramsci anticipated Michael Foucault’s emphasis on the role of discursive practice in reinforcing domination.
The key of success to establish a cultural hegemony is ideological and economic: to achieve it the leader of an historical block must convince other groups in the society and they must be able to claim it with some plausibility that their particular interests are those of society at large. Capitalistic interests are promoted as benign for the whole society.
“Only capitalism makes democracy possible”
Von Hayek (The Road to Serfdom, 1944)
The modern modification of the language as the unique objective to confine the spaces of the thought, in a way that the thought will adhere to the new order of power (Diego Fusaro). The new contemporary capitalistic language, through a continues semantic contraction, causes a loss of lexicon and it becomes more sterile.
In the Latin language it was said that names are consequent of things. Today there is an opposed principle, that things are consequent of names. We call things in such a way that our minds are convinced that those things are like we call them. Some examples: