Neoliberalism — a self-serving con

31 August, 2014 at 22:46 | Posted in Politics & Society | 8 Comments

If neoliberalism were anything other than a self-serving con, whose gurus and think tanks were financed from the beginning by some of the richest people on earth … its apostles would have demanded, as a precondition for a society based on merit, that no one should start life with the unfair advantage of inherited wealth or economically-determined education. But they never believed in their own doctrine. Enterprise, as a result, quickly gave way to rent.


All this is ignored, and success or failure in the market economy are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The rich are the new righteous, the poor are the new deviants, who have failed both economically and morally, and are now classified as social parasites.

The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafka-esque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty and breeds frustration, envy and fear.

George Monbiot



  1. I can understand the criticism only if it involves a comparison of alternatives. Every known economic system is a neoliberal cover-up with the intention of exercising control over the masses. At least in neoliberal systems you know who the rich are, in socialist or even more extreme systems to the left they are only known by their Swiss bankers.

  2. Criticism that does not suggest an alternative can be vital if it leads to a search for alternatives. In this case, there are some obvious policy implications, such as removing tax breaks for private schools and making it more difficult for the rich to avoid inheritance taxes. Practically though, it is hard to see how governments could enforce anti-inheritance measures.

    On the plus side, having a few undeserving rich around has created markets for exotic products, with benefits that do trickle down to the rest of us. So the question seems one of balance. Any speculation on what proportion of UK wealth is really owned by the top 0.01%? And what proportion is inherited?

  3. “Criticism that does not suggest an alternative can be vital if it leads to a search for alternatives.”

    I agree but nobody has offered an alternative that does not pose serious consequences and all this talk is driven either by naivety or by hypocrisy. The Pareto distribution is a natural phenomenon. Mess with nature and it kicks you back on the face hard. Cul de sac. The robots are taking over soon anyway…

    • Which variety of neoliberalism has no ‘serious consequences’?

      • Can you name a variety that has been fully implemented? AFAIK neoliberalism has never been implemented in full but only certain aspects of it selectively (crony capitalism) and then blamed in its totality. I’m not advocating it but I know it has been used as an escape goat to blame by failed ideologies while the truth is that neoliberalism has never been in full force anywhere..

        I reverse the burden of the question:

        Which variety of socialism has no ‘serious consequences?

        • To answer my own question first, there is a variety of neoliberalism which says that it is possible to have too much state control etc, in which case one should deregulate etc. This seems to me to be not only harmless but correct. The less credible form (and possibly harmful) is that which says whatever the role of the state, it should be less.

          My dictionary defines socialism as something in which ‘the community as a whole’ controls things, which seems to me like a nice idea, but impractical. Certainly nothing like it has ever been achieved on any significant scale. For example, China is a long way from being socialist. (Forgive me, as a mathematician I incline to the logical.)

          Neoliberalism and socialism in practice seem to mean some small group gaining power, contrary to their supposed definitions. So your neoliberalism versus socialist straw-dogma seems a distraction from the real issues, such as how can we achieve a more resilient system, and what is the role of politics versus economics within democracies?

  4. “So your neoliberalism versus socialist straw-dogma seems a distraction from the real issues, such as how can we achieve a more resilient system, and what is the role of politics versus economics within democracies?”

    The reality is that neoliberalism and socialist philosophies are currently clashing. Looking for a more “resilient system” is actually a distraction because “looking” does not solve any problems and “resilient” is in the eyes of the beholder.

    Unfortunately for utopia seekers, natural laws create extremes. To maintain “resilience” to that requires input of energy that is too expensive and eventually leads to even further distant extremes due to the law of action-reaction. I already said this is a cul de sac. The robots will offer the solution but at the expense of human dignity.

    • Here in the UK there hardly seems any appetite for nationalising the means of production etc. Even our core finance institutions are independent, which make the US seem more socialist than we are (!) The exceptions are things like the railways, and that is only because from time to time people have been unhappy with the private provision, not on any ideological grounds.

      In the UK there is some unease with public provision of education and health services, with progressive partial privatisations that have yet to prove their worth. It seems to me that there is a legitimate debate to be had about such things, and that quite possibly the best balance for the UK would not be fully neoliberal without at all being socialist. The best balance for the US might be different.

      In considering the above, I think we need a well-rounded education and research base, to support overall resilience, and this may well be an important factor in determining the right balance. (Neither our state or private schools – on the whole – enjoy a good reputation in this regard.) So ‘resilience’ continues to be an important consideration for us. But the US may have some more serious short-term problems.

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