I’m continuing to listen to Season 4 of Scene on Radio, entitled The Land That Never Has Been Yet. As I mentioned in a previous post quoting from another episode in the series, the hosts bring a clarity to some of my muddled political thoughts.
This time, they’re talking about neoliberalism, the idea that markets can fix everything. It’s gone from being a contested idea when I was young to pretty much orthodox thinking in 2020.
John Biewen: Yeah and despite these inconsistencies and logical problems with the theory, another thing that Wendy Brown has pointed out is that neoliberalism has become so pervasive. People like Buchanan and Hayek and Milton Friedman wanted us to accept the market as the guiding metaphor for pretty much everything in our lives.
Chenjerai Kumanyika: Yes. And we were talking about an example of this in our pandemic episode. The problems with this idea that everything should be run like a business. But neoliberalism is really this on steroids, right? It’s like society should just be a marketplace, in fact, Margaret Thatcher famously said there’s no such thing as society. Just a collection of individuals. So in that picture, we’re not even citizens, right, we’re just kinda like, independent contractors.
John Biewen: And notice that language, the way so much of our language now is borrowed from the financial world and from markets. We’re not caring for ourselves, we’re developing our humanity, we’re investing in ourselves. We’re not sharing our gifts, we’re building our brands. We don’t have responsibility to take care of each other, we’re out here competing.Scene On Radio, S4 E8: The Second Redemption
That line from Kumanyika that we’re “not ever citizens… just independent contractors” really stopped me in my tracks (literally, as I was running at the time). In the UK, we don’t have a written constitution so, despite the government’s mention of us as ‘citizens’ we’re actually subjects of the Crown. The term may no longer be in popular use, but it doesn’t make it any the less true.
Part of the reason we don’t think about this is probably because how subjugated we are to the market forces of neoliberalism in every area of our lives. True democracy, as Biewen and Kumanyika discuss towards the beginning of the episode, deals in power dynamics, trying to make society more equal over time. Neoliberalism instead entrenches privilege and hierarchy, which is why I’m against it and everything it entails.