The Rise (And Fall?) of Neoliberalism

The Rise (And Fall?) of Neoliberalism


It’s great to welcome to the program today,
Wendy Brown, who’s a professor of political science at UC Berkeley and also author most recently of in the ruins
of neoliberalism, the rise of anti-democratic politics in the West. Uh, Wendy, so great to have you on. Thanks for having me. So first, just so we’re all hopefully working
with, with the sort of same definition of neoliberalism, I think it’s a much understood
and, and, uh, much understood and debated term in the context that you write about it. How, what are the, the important tenants that
define neo-liberalism? So, just to be clear to start with, because
I do think it’s confusing to many Americans by neo-liberalism. The original neo-liberals Milton Friedman,
Friedrich kayak and others were referring to a modification of economic liberalism. And I only want to make that clear because
still so many Americans, uh, imagine that it has something to do with our notion of
political liberalism where it has to do with more equality, more social spending, more
state and so forth. And it’s just the opposite. Neoliberalism as the founding fathers of it,
uh, thought about neoliberalism meant taking the basic principles of economic liberalism
that is, uh, unregulated markets maximized competition and, and, and modifying those
and the modifications that they imagined and that actually have come to be involved. Two things. One, understanding that markets are not necessarily
natural, even if they’re good. So they need a lot of state support. They don’t need state intervention, but they
need state support. They need the state oriented to the issue
of making markets work and making markets thrive. And the other thing that they did to modify
the original Adam Smith notions of, of liberalism had to do with um, bringing traditional morality
into the picture. Understanding that not just markets but also
morals were what ought to be organizing social life, cultural life, familial life and so
forth. And the reason I emphasize that is that so
many of us talk about neoliberalism just as a set of economic policies, but we need to
understand that it also has this other dimension, a dimension that of course has really come
to the fore as we think about contemporary political life. Yeah, I mean w what was the trajectory of
that in history? Because it’s not necessarily obvious that
what starts as a set of economic principles would eventually come to encompass a particular
view about so-called, you know, traditional family values or that it would dictate certain
foreign policy as often is a part of discussions about neoliberal versus other points of view. What was the trajectory through which those
elements became wrapped up in this sort of bigger understanding of neoliberalism in the
last 20 or 30 years? The fundamental attack that neo-liberalism
mates on the social state on Keynesianism, on practices of social justice that have to
do with legislation of the good, the fundamental attack that neo-liberalism makes is this. It says better that what we have is just organically
developed morality and markets organizing society and that means less democratic legislation. In fact, the neo-liberals were extremely suspicious
of and really tried to modify and, and, and diminish the extent to which legislatures
in electoral democracies should do anything other than just set general laws for people. So they really wanted legislators out of the
social justice business, out of the market regulation business. And certainly out of the taxation business. So those two things come together. Morality and market in the attack that neo-liberals
make on democratic ways of deciding how we should live together, how much equality we
should have, how much inclusion we should have, how we ought to deal with things like
gender power, racial power, class power and so forth. All of those, the neo-liberals wanted left
alone so that traditional morality and uh, markets could govern our lives and they believed
that that would maximize freedom and uh, maximize the good, maximize a good society. Yeah. One of the things that, that is interesting
to me as I understand that, and I’m curious if you believe that the same kind of inherent
contradiction exists is that in a lot of the ideology that’s espoused about neoliberalism
and these free market, less regulation, letting, increasing freedom, the language is very much
about getting out of the way to allow more Liberty to exist. But in practice that getting out of the way
to the extent that it exists, and of course it’s much more complicated than that can actually
allow a lot of different types of authoritarianism to take hold in different ways. Is that a contradiction that, that you agree
exists there? Well, for them it’s not a contradiction for
the following season. Uh, for us it seems that way. How, how come, what starts as a project or
a program of freedom ends up in the kind of authoritarianism that we see in the bull scenario
regime. Many of us argue is taking shape under Trump
and uh, err Dwan and so forth. Yes. But for, for, for insight and neoliberal frame,
the thinking goes like this. It’s okay to have strong States as long as
you maximize individual Liberty. Strong States are, are the way that you will
ensure that individuals can engage in market conduct and have the moral life, the social
life that they choose. But what a state must not do is intervene
in individual freedoms. So to put this in, in in fairly simple language,
what Neil liberals thought was all right was a form of what we might call authoritarian
liberalism. That is a strong state, making decisions,
indifferent to what we’d call the checks and balances and three branches of government
and all of that. A strong state making decisions, but leaving
alone private life, leaving alone individual life. And that’s what really distinguishes the authoritarian
liberalism taking shape today and that many on the right support from classic fascism. Yeah, and well, the other thing that’s interesting
to me there is there’s a lot of overlap between that ideology and sort of what we might consider
traditional, right? Libertarianism, not social libertarianism,
but right libertarianism, except when it comes to foreign policy, neoliberalism has been
much more interventionist then the right libertarians at least claim that they would be the, I don’t
know that they’ve ever really gotten a shot to show us how non-interventionist they would
be, but that in practice seems to be a very big distinguishing factor. Despite the talk of freedom and the individual
Liberty being the most important form of it. Neoliberalism has been extraordinarily interventionist
in terms of foreign policy. Correct. Now, here again, just if I’m to try to explain
what neo-liberals think they’re doing, what they’re trying, what they imagine they’re
trying to do is create a world of global free trade. Now what’s happening right now is another
story with the trade Wars and so forth. But with the classic Neil liberal, uh, foreign
policy advocates thought they were doing, for example, in Iraq regime change in Iraq. And then Neil liberalize the society, make
it into part of the global order of, among other things, debt financing and free trade
and so forth. So you’re absolutely right that they understand,
uh, a highly interventionist foreign policy as part of what is bringing about the Neo
liberal order. But there’s one other area that I would emphasize
where Neo, uh, the, the kind of markets and morals program of the neo-liberals seems to
really intervene in individual Liberty. And that’s of course, um, reproductive freedom
and LGBT rights. And again, the official thinking here is,
well, that has to do with the moral order. These things go against traditional morality,
which is tried and true and belongs part and parcel with a free market society. So it’s slippery there, but there you really
do have a contradiction, lots of intervention in the freedom of um, uh, women and uh, non-normative
uh, sexualities saying no, you can’t do that. There is the, I guess we could call it the
hope among many on the American left that socially democratic ideas that are similar
to those of the Scandinavian economies, Northern Europe, et cetera, are experiencing, um, maybe
a resurgence or Renaissance of sorts or, or maybe approaching something new that maybe
we’ve not even seen before in the United States and that the rise of those ideas will necessarily
push out some of the neoliberal framework that has been the status quo for a long time. Is it as clear as if one goes up, the other
goes down? Is it more complicated than that? Do you even agree that that’s actually a trend
that we’re now seeing? I do think that there has been a fairly robust
challenge to Neo liberal ideas really since the 2008 finance capital meltdown. I mean that was the beginning of the end of
a broad endorsement of free markets privatization, uh, minimal social state depression of progressive
taxation that post 2008 rethink went beyond occupy, although occupy really embodied it
that, uh, you know, and what we need to remember is that however limited the actual timeframe
of occupy wall street, what it did was begin to change the conversation about inequality,
about access to public education, higher education, uh, about banks being given free reign to
do whatever they wanted, bailing out the banks but not the foreclosed homeowners and so forth. So with that conversation now changed, uh,
you get the rise of Bernie Sanders and in turn AOC and Elizabeth Warren and so forth
such that I, I would actually agree that what you have is a fairly robust challenge now
to Neil the economic ideas. But, uh, I would say a little bit less savvy
on the part of the left about the extent to which neoliberalism is also bound up with
this idea that the state should stay out of the moral realm by which is meant the social
justice realm. Again, the left has certainly been robust
on the subject of arguing for gender rights, LGBT rights, black civil rights, um, endorsing
all kinds of social movement. But I, but I do think it’s the part of the
story that’s more complicated is taking apart that broad belief that neo-liberalism set
into our, the bones of society, that it’s best for the state to be out of the business
of social justice redistribution, social spending and all the rest. And to just let those things be handled individually. So to put a fine, to compress the point. I do think that we have a pretty major challenge
now to neoliberal economic thinking, but maybe not a full grasp of the way that what I call
neoliberal reason has, has really come to organize a lot of our understanding of society
and what’s appropriate for democratic legislation. Yeah. I’ve also found the challenge to be less robust
when it comes to foreign policy. I mean, you do hear, Hey, we, we shouldn’t
be getting it. We’re not the world’s policemen. We should be getting out of here. They’re the other place. But it’s been a less sort of nuanced and well
thought out challenge. I don’t know if you would agree. I totally agree. And I think that in many ways in the United
States, Trump has really confused the left in its own rethinking its own thinking about
foreign policy because he’s, Dan’s now for what the anti Imperial left used to stand
for, which is get out of the endless Wars, don’t be the world’s policemen. Of course he’s trying to do all kinds of things
at the level of, of trade and still engaged in, in um, massive, what we could call neo-colonial
condemnation of all kinds of nations and practices. But the, the withdrawal that has typically
been the stance of many on the left has, has really, I think not been fully come to terms
with by the left to think about, okay, where, where does the lift stand on the question
of joining together with others in the world, not just to solve climate change, not just
to get institutions of political economy, right, but also to right wrongs, where are
we with human rights diff courts, where are we with humanitarian intervention? And the left has gone super quiet on those
subjects. Absolutely fascinating. We’ve been talking with Wendy Brown, who’s
professor of political science at UC Berkeley, most recently, author of [inaudible] in the ruins of neoliberalism, the rise of
anti-democratic politics in the West. Wendy’s such a pleasure having you on. I appreciate your time, David. It was good to talk to you. Thank you.

30 comments

  1. Clintons exacerbated this!!!! Since Reagan, the Democrats have abandoned the middle class and embraced greed and power!!!

  2. Let’s all give a hand to the greatest president in history giving us an unprecedentedly amazing economy.
    TRUMP 2020.
    I expect you to vote for trump after seeing the economic report , David

  3. The reason the Western Elites believe that regime change works is they they believe the success of Germany, Japan, and Korea as axioms of success any country can do. Regardless of the effects of the Mideast they just keep going

  4. Neoliberalism = Libertarism = Fascism
    Greenspan: I was wrong about the economy… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQFq97ljy3k
    Libertarians are Fascist who govern through force against the will of the people…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3B5qt6gsxY&t=9m07s
    Jose Pinera, a fascist who served under Chile dictator Augusto Pinochet now works for CATO Institute and is behind the 'corporatization' of Social Security… https://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-chile-social-security-20160812-snap-story.html

  5. We are entering the 2020’s with Donald Trump as the leader of the free world, and with Boris Johnson as the leader of the United Kingdom. Neoliberalism has lead us down a dark path

  6. Omg!! I've read, and written many essays on, her book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. You should check this book out as well!

  7. “The corporate forces that have commodified the natural world for profit have also commodified human beings.
    We are as expendable to global corporations as the Barrier Reef or the great sequoias.
    These corporations and ruling elites, which have orchestrated the largest transference of wealth upward in human history, with globe’s richest 1 percent owning half the world’s wealth, kneel, and force us to kneel, before the dictates of the global marketplace.
    They have seized control of our governments, extinguishing democracy, corrupting law and building alliances with neofascists and authoritarians as the ruling ideology of neoliberalism is exposed as a con.
    They have constructed pervasive and sophisticated systems of internal security, wholesale surveillance and militarized police, along with criminalizing poverty, to crush dissent.” – Chris Hedges on Truthdig.

  8. My hat is off to this person for being able to navigate the words and definitions in our country vs. other countries, i.e. liberalism doesn't have the same definition abroad as it does here in the USA, as well as democratic socialism or social democracy….I continue to say we need a balance of ideologies or economic theories not one as opposed to the other(s) and hidden amidst all the discord and division we perhaps do have some working balance. It just isn't given credence as it should.

  9. Wow, a strong state that has the power to do what it wants but does not intervene in individual freedoms is very, very dangerous. The power you are talking about giving the state would have to be enormous and yet you would have to trust that no one would take advantage of that and, as the current administration is currently demonstrating, even if the state doesnt command the amount of power this would entail, when you get bad actors into key positions of power the government could be turned authoritarian. Just imagine how easily it could be done with an even more powerful state.

  10. Reaganomics and Neoliberalism have destroyed so many domestic jobs, working class, labor unions and middle class in America.

  11. Unpopular opinion: Donald Trump (currently; subject to change), even with his crimes and disgusting abuse of power, is less of a terrible president than Ronald Reagan. Fuck Reagan that guy was an absolute tool and ruined so many lives.

  12. Neoliberalism/centrism gave us Donald Trump and destroyed the working class and unions. Let’s end this failure. #bernie2020

  13. It will fall when its too late. The ulitmate ending of neo liberalism would be when the wealth split is 1% own 99% of everything. The peasants surely need to rise before then? I doubt they ever will but in theory thats where it would get to. It's a wealth redistribution scam. Take from the poor and give to the rich.

  14. "The power of all corporations ought to be limited…The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses." 
    James Madison did NOT say "The power of government ought to be limited".  Republicans have given "Unconstitutional Power To Corporations" in direct opposition to Founding Fathers and this power has enabled corporations to "Steal Power From The People".  The reason Republicans want "Deregulation and Small Government" is because they don't want "We The People" to "Limit the power of all corporations" as James Madison warned!

    Our founding fathers had a healthy fear of corporations and allowed them to form only with strict limits!
    http://reclaimdemocracy.org/corporate-accountability-history-corporations-us

    When American colonists declared independence from England in 1776, they also freed themselves from control by English corporations that extracted their wealth and dominated trade. After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society. 

    Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end. The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these:

    * Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.
    * Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.
    * Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.
    * Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.
    * Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.
    * Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making. 

    For 100 years after the American Revolution, legislators maintained tight control of the corporate chartering process. Because of widespread public opposition, early legislators granted very few corporate charters, and only after debate. Citizens governed corporations by detailing operating conditions not just in charters but also in state constitutions and state laws. Incorporated businesses were prohibited from taking any action that legislators did not specifically allow. 

    States also limited corporate charters to a set number of years. Unless a legislature renewed an expiring charter, the corporation was dissolved and its assets were divided among shareholders. Citizen authority clauses limited capitalization, debts, land holdings, and sometimes, even profits.

    Most of this vital history is unknown to citizens today, but it can provide critical understanding and tools for solving today's problems. Corporations are setting the agenda on issues in congress, courts and the media rather than "We the People" as our founding fathers intended. "We the People" can never speak as loudly with our own voices as corporations can with the unlimited amplification of money.

    Libertarians believe in Total Tyranny!… @

    .

  15. WTF This is BS ! just live life to the full less …. life is too short ! THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE ! TO BE SECURE IN THEIR PERSONS , HOUSES , PAPERS AND EFFECTS!

  16. If the name has "freedom" or "liberty" or "patriot" or "democratic" or "enhanced interrogation" be skeptical. They always use pc nomenclature for the most nefarious legislation or programs. Kidnapping by CIA is officially "extraordinary rendition", it sounds like an action movie you'd want to see.

  17. There may be indeed authoritarian tendencies in neoliberalism but there is also a strain of nationalism in far left isolationist progressivism. The only way we are goi g to survive as a planet is if we become a global society. Period. So we just can’t simply reject economic globalism.

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