Brief Thoughts on A Brief History of Neoliberalism

I’d been thinking about neoliberalism recently in relation to our foreign policy dealings with countries that resist taking the poison bullied onto them. What happens when we confront a state resisting the neoliberal transformation? I thought of Iran, and its leaders stated belief in an Islamic economy; one not set according to Western rules.

And our foreign policy toward them? Not kind.

That’s as far as my thinking on the subject had gone (and has gone) when Dr. Catherine Rainwater, one of my former professors at St. Ed’s, mentioned neoliberalism brief historyDavid Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism, which I’d downloaded onto my Kindle and started a few times a couple of months ago, on Facebook. It isn’t a new book. I started it again and tore through it last week.

It’s not necessarily the shortest of brief histories but it is a nonetheless quick primer that will serve as a great introduction to neoliberal theory and practice. I can’t emphasize how important it is that you understand that word and what it means – neoliberalism is the basic prison in which we live (and in which some, a very few, thrive).

Not to be hyperbolic, but neoliberalism is the reason we live our lives the way we do.

It’s the reason you can work more than forty hours a week, make seventy thousand dollars a year and still not be able to afford your rent or mortgage; your student loan debt; your employer- or market- or exchange-provided health insurance premiums and, thus, your health care; your car payment and insurance premium (also, the need or desire for a car); your child care; college savings – and that’s not even getting to retirement savings.

Neoliberalism is not a party to vote against. It is the fundamental ideology of our time – defining how we live our lives and what we believe is possible. Our conceptions of freedom and democracy and justice and the weight we give to each. To the vast majority of us, it is standard operating procedure.

Most insidiously, it is our belief that there is no alternative. That the system we operate under – with its attendant capitalism, republicanism, corruption, inequality, injustice, competition in all areas of life and et cetera – has never been, is not now and never will be different. Moreover, it can’t be different.

Donald Trump is as much a threat to as he is an embodiment of neoliberalism. I could quite extensively quote from A Brief History . . . for a clear-eyed and prescient description of the cultural, political and economic – not to mention demographic – actors and forces that embrace, empower and, more critically, allow and create leaders like Donald Trump to rise.

Some of those who are, to my mind, the worst of politicians. It is unconscionable that reasonable conservative individuals would continue to support Donald Trump no matter how illogical. But it isn’t illogical if you believe it to be politically advantageous to continue supporting him is.

Closing borders, starting wars, disrupting free trade and other Trump proposals are not neoliberal – they are the neoconservative (authoritarian) veneer atop neoliberalism; for the wealthy and powerful will still benefit.

I always find it unfortunate when authors of books like the above begin to comment on the politics of their age (in this case, 2007). So often does it become outdated and uninterested but it also negates, in some minds, the main argument. Worse, the statements are often a little preposterous, especially when viewed in hindsight.

Harvey does fall victim to this a bit toward the end, but it does not change his overall argument or its force at all. His brief discussion of post-Katrina New Orléans is accurate (see: The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans). Only now are teachers beginning to unionize again and schools returning to public control.

Like I said, it’s very important you understand neoliberalism.

If you can’t read, get someone to read A Brief History of Neoliberalism to you. I will give you a digital copy.


[Most of the above is stuff I scribbled in my notebook Saturday morning. It likely wanders and fails to make sense or seem to have a point. That’s fine.]

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