Neoliberalism is the ideology developed by people such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It is not just a set of free market ideas, but a focused discipline, deliberately applied around the world. It treats competition as humanity’s defining characteristic, sees citizens as consumers and “the market” as society’s organising principle. The market, it claims, sorts us into a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Any attempt by politics to intervene disrupts the discovery of this natural order.
It was embraced by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and most subsequent governments. They sought to implement the doctrine by cutting taxes, privatising and outsourcing public services, slashing public protections, crushing trade unions and creating markets where markets did not exist before. The doctrine was imposed by central banks, the IMF, the Maastricht Treaty and the World Trade Organisation. By shutting down political choice, governments and international bodies created a kind of totalitarian capitalism.
It has failed on its own terms, and in many other ways. Far from creating general prosperity, as it promised, growth has been significantly slower in the neoliberal era than it was in preceding decades, and most of its fruits have been gathered by the rich. Far from stimulating an enterprise economy, it has created a gilded age for rent-seekers. Far from eliminating bureaucracy, it has created a Kafkaesque system of mad diktats and stifling control. It has fomented ecological, social, political, economic and financial crises, culminating in the 2008 crash. Yet, perhaps because its opponents have failed to produce a new, compelling story of their own, it still dominates our lives.
George Monbiot on.
For what it’s worth, I somewhat disagree with the last line, if only in the sense that so much intentional energy has been expended to try and ensure no alternative could possibly arise. Or, probably more accurately, could get widespread popular and political support; the CIA didn’t spend all those decades assassinating and deposing democratic socialist governments for nothing, after all, and American pop culture still spends billions of dollars packaging up neoliberal ideologies in flashing lights and dramatic music and attractive bodies (ref. for e.g. the entire MCU, among others).
Interesting times, I guess.