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61 responses to “So what is this thing called 'neo-liberalism'?”

  1. Jarrah (formerly fatfingers)

    “to either deny that there is such a thing or to insist that if there is, everyone was into it.”

    You missed the third – requesting those blaming neoliberals to define the term. Quiggin makes a good attempt, but is challenged on several points by commenters.

  2. dk.au

    I was thinking of posting on those two posts! both great. I’m eagerly awaiting this - will have to review it here.

  3. Mark

    dk.au – yep, both are very worthwhile contributions!

    You missed the third – requesting those blaming neoliberals to define the term.

    Jarrah – true! :)

  4. Jacques Chester

    Since we’re all allowed to name ideologies invented by other persons, I hereby name the LP house nostrums Larveology. Henceforth larveologists will be mocked in detailed posts if they do not accept the label.

  5. Mark

    Neo-larvaeologists, please! ;)

  6. Jacques Chester

    Soon to be followed by post-neolarveologists and anarcho-prodeists.

  7. thewetmale

    Anarcho-Prodeists… where do i sign up!

  8. Nabakov

    But surely (“Don’t call me Shirley”. “Did I? I must have been drunk.”) the definition being sort here for neo-liberalism just basically renders down as good old fashioned “the world’s our oyster” capitalism with added spreadsheets, wifi and pundit “go-faster” stripes.

    Except minus actual capitalists. Y’know, people who actual risk their own capital to create thriving companies. Instead it’s a slithering eels nest of professional board directors, pundits and corporate and government fixers frantically dodging all care, responsibility and the consequences of risk. That’s my real definition of neo-liberalism. Faux players with nothing to lose and willing to risk us all.

    I offer this view as an anarcho-libertarian psyndicalist social democrat proto-capitalist hedonistic technocrat. Who is now drunk at 3am and more than willing to have the consequences of my choices now dealt with by underlings in a few hours.

    That’s what they are paid for.

  9. klaus k

    I’m inclined towards the view that there is much work to be done in understanding neoliberalism. There is good work around the place on identifying the ideological movement (and more to come, as dk.au suggests), but as Michael Bérubé argued recently, in some areas of inquiry it has become a catch-all explanatory device. Surely the point is also to understand its legitimacy, and even appeal, outside of a group of instigators who, for all their influence, have still had to work their ‘neoliberal’ magic in political cultures, like Australia’s, which weren’t a natural or inevitable home for such ideologies.

    That means creating a thoroughgoing account of what exactly has been going on in the Anglophone world for the last thirty years at a more fundamental social level, up to and including how ‘the social’ is constituted as such in contemporary capitalism.

  10. Mark

    There’s a fair bit of that around, Klaus – cf. Nikolas Rose’s work and some other sociological stuff in the governmentality mode.

  11. Mercurius

    I hereby name the LP house nostrums Larveology.

    Well Jacques, what about your nostrils? Why don’t you take a good look up those instead? I’ve always thought it’s the height of bad manners to scrutinise other people’s nostrils.

  12. Ambigulous

    But Mercurius:

    some folk insist on drawing attention to their nostrils. Fortunately my good manners prevent me from enumerating examples: they are all disgusting.

    At least you and I are able to maintain some decorum, in the midst of this seething mass of brutes and barbarians.

  13. klaus k

    Yes, Rose and governmentality did come to mind, but I do find some of that stuff a bit abstract, which is sometimes very useful and sometimes not. Haven’t read widely enough in the sociological literature, perhaps.

    There is also a tendency for discussions of governmentality to be used to collapse the specificity of distinct contexts and periods of time into something more general. It is not so much the theorists themselves as where those theories are picked up as explanatory devices. My preference would be to start with neoliberalisms and governmentalities, not something monolithic like ‘neoliberal governmentality’.

    On the other end of a spectrum of questions that could be asked about this, I’m also quite impressed with some of the cultural studies work on political figures associated with neoliberalism. I think Hall on Thatcher, Massumi on Reagan, and Morris on Keating are good places to start, and in some ways they haven’t really been followed. Morris’ ‘Ecstacy and Economics’ really has a great deal in it, drawing together media, political economy, semiotics, affect. It’s a pity nobody has been as successful with Howard et al. We all seem to want to do some quasi-idealist thing about figuring out where all the sinister ideas came from, as though that really explained their hegemony.

  14. Paulus

    The problem with the term ‘neoliberalism’ is that it is used to obscure rather than clarify.

    It’s like the way ‘socialism’ is used in the US. Let’s say you’re a Republican who wants to tell the supporters that Obama is doing something wrong. Solution: invoke ‘socialism’. Your fanboys know socialism is wrong, and it absolves you from actually having to analyse the costs and benefits of Obama’s policy, or come up with something better yourself.

    Same deal with ‘neoliberalism’ used by the left. Describe some policy as ‘neoliberal’, and your readers instantly get the picture that it’s a Bad Thing. And you don’t actually have to explain why, or propose an alternative.

    Everyone who uses ‘neoliberal’ gets a black mark for intellectual laziness.

  15. Paul Burns

    Neo-larveoligists _ you mean born-again catterpillars, butterflies and moths, I suppose.? :)

    Many years ago when I was studying Jack Lang in depth. in one of the books on him (I think Heather Radi’s Jack Lang, there was an article on the way Lang was influenced by Liberal philosophy (in this case referring to classic Liberaliam), and if I recall rightly there has always been a bit of a Liberal strain running through the ALP too. Now, if neo-Liberalism is born again Liberalism ( the original of which presumably took a back seat to the ersatz Socilism of Keynes and co.) [by all means shoot me down in flames if you think I went too far there] is it surprising that what passes for centre-left was seduced somewhat by neo-Liberal nostrums? Do some of the problems defining neo-liberalism arise out of the fact that its dark-hearted ideology has crept into political thinking right across the spectrum, (except for genuine Socialists)?

  16. klaus k

    “Everyone who uses ‘neoliberal’ gets a black mark for intellectual laziness.”

    I disagree with this, but only in part, and that’s because I don’t think it signals the total evacuation of intellect that some other terms have, and probably doesn’t work effectively as a shibboleth. The use of ‘socialism’ you compare it to really is about casting all opponents as relentlessly the same.

    The ‘neo’ in ‘neoliberalism’ at least implies that we need to grapple with the conditions of the present or with events of the recent past, and some thinkers and activists out there do take it seriously as something that still needs to be thought through and explained. Unlike ‘postmodern’, ‘neoliberal’ isn’t dead yet for me as a word and concept that can do things, but it certainly could die the same kind of death.

  17. Mark

    Yes, fair points about the governmentality stuff, Klaus, although I think what Rose and his co-workers are really trying to do is to look empirically at techniques rather than start with theory – that is to say the theory of liberalism. It’s an examination of liberalism as a practice and a technology of governing, which has very little to do with either ‘classical liberalism’ or with the ‘liberal self’, and the unspoken part of the argumentative move is to make that contrast visible. So, actually, from that point of view, it’s the liberal critics of neo-liberalism who are intellectually lazy in assuming an unproblematic correspondence between liberal theory and what people do when they govern (neo)liberally. Hence also the obsession with correct definitions referred to above. I think Quiggin makes a good point there which could be extended further.

  18. klaus k

    “So, actually, from that point of view, it’s the liberal critics of neo-liberalism who are intellectually lazy in assuming an unproblematic correspondence between liberal theory and what people do when they govern (neo)liberally.”

    Yes, I think you are right. And to the extent that critics on the left treat neo-liberal ideologues and their intellectual genealogy as the last word (and not all do this) then I suppose they are doing the same thing, only turning it on its head through a hermeneutics of suspicion or a simplistic account of ideology. I guess I’m always concerned not to see a really useful theory turned into a catch all explanation, a quasi-conspiracy theory, or as a new way of saying that ‘underneath it all’ it’s the same as totalitarianism.

    Rose et al are certainly on the right track, then, especially when they remember how much significance their intellectual forbears gave to the fact that liberal governmentality was not just another ruse of power.

  19. David Irving (no relation)

    I reckon neo-liberalism is a bit like pornograpy (or bad art). I can’t quite define it, but I know it when I see it.

  20. John Quiggin

    I’ve offered, or reposted a definition on my blog. Broadly, I agree with David Irving. It can’t be helped that “neoliberalism” is also used loosely and polemically – this is true of all political terms, whether they are mainly used favorably or negatively.

  21. Mark

    And to the extent that critics on the left treat neo-liberal ideologues and their intellectual genealogy as the last word (and not all do this) then I suppose they are doing the same thing, only turning it on its head through a hermeneutics of suspicion or a simplistic account of ideology.

    Yes, I agree, Klaus.

    It’s worth sorting out analytically practices from rhetorics, though the two are intertwined.

  22. Adam Bandt

    Thanks, Mark and others, for an interesting post and discussion. To avoid the pitfalls klaus identifies, the strong role of the state needs to find a theoretical place without picking up some lazy notion of totalitarianism. To my mind, Wendy Brown is one of the more interesting (and neglected) writers on the topic. In her Edgework she calls NL ‘a social analysis which, when deployed as a form of governmentality, reaches from the soul of the citizen-subject to education policy to practices of empire’. She argues that whereas liberalism presumes the market is natural, neoliberalism (quoting Thomas Lemke) understands that ‘this fundamental economic mechanism can function only if support is forthcoming to bolster a series of conditions, and adherence to the latter must consistently be guaranteed by legal measures.’ The system of practices that makes the market appear as the ‘natural’ way of ordering social life is the ‘neo-’ bit. The Australian electricity ‘market’ is, I suggest, an example of NL par excellence.

  23. Ag

    Mark Davis has an interesting post on the difference between the rhetoric and practices of neoliberalism here.

    I’m not so sure that we are ‘after’ neoliberalism. Yes, there’s been lots of talk about government regaining the ascendency over markets, with ‘nation-building’ projects having been announced and ’stimulus packages’ that seemingly fly in the face of ‘hands-off’ market approaches to governance, but various forms of free-market thinking that owe much to neoliberalism remain embedded in just about all our civic and private institutions.

    Note, for example, the punitive approach we continue to take to welfare. Or the ongoing pervasiveness of public sector managerialism. Or the pervasiveness of free-market theory in Treasury and elsewhere such as in the current Productivity Commission enquiry into allowing the parallel importation of books. We live in a Benthamite, surveillance-oriented world oriented around a fetishised rhetoric of market efficiency and ‘individual responsibility’, that should make those who think neoliberalism is dead or even mildly ill, blush.

    Speaking of the governmentality school, Mitchell Dean and Barry Hindess have a long relationship to writing about liberal practices of government in the Australian context, and Carol Johnston’s Governing Change covers the Keating-Howard period, up to 2000. But in terms of cultural studies it’s hard to go past Meaghan Morris’ long essay – “Ecstasy and Economics” – on John Forbes’ poem “Watching the Treasurer”. Gary Becker’s human capital theories are perhaps the key target for Morris, as they are for Foucault when he writes about American Neoliberalism in the recently released lectures The Birth of Biopolitics . Fredric Jameson also critiques Becker’s theories. Odd, as Becker is rarely mentioned when Neoliberalism is dicussed. I wonder why?

  24. Ag

    Whoops, the link to Mark Davis’ post on Neoliberalism should be this one

  25. Katz

    Since we’re all allowed to name ideologies invented by other persons, I hereby name the LP house nostrums Larveology. Henceforth larveologists will be mocked in detailed posts if they do not accept the label.

    During the 1930s a Victorian government minister wrote an article for the Sun entitled “Why I am a fascist”.

    Before the outbreak of WWII it was acceptable in some circles to self-identify as a fascist.

    Until recently it was also acceptable to self-identify as a neo-liberal. Alas, it seems, no more.

    If JC could find one person who identified herself as a Larvaeologist, then his little jape may make some sense.

    Alas, it never will.

  26. klaus k

    And isn’t thinking the intertwining while also keeping them analytically separate the difficult bit, Mark? Especially when rhetorics are simultaneously practices which do things other than what they say, but also say things. Which is also a doing. I’ve taken a renewed interest in Austin lately, and some of the interesting things being done with his philosophy around (non-)performatives, for exactly that reason (I seem to have misplaced my copy of “Signature Event Context”, which I’ll be needing any minute now).

  27. Mark

    SEC – that’s great fun, really, Klaus! I think it’d be interesting to look at neo-liberalism in terms of iterability and citation…

  28. Mark

    Thanks for the link, Ag. I’m in the Davis camp – I’ve been arguing (contra John Quiggin for one) that we’re still very much within neoliberalism.

    Meaghan Morris’ long essay – “Ecstasy and Economics”

    And thanks for that! Probably should be on everyone’s reread list!

    @22 – Adam, yep, Wendy Brown is very interesting as well.

    The other way to think about neoliberalism is that it’s a set of social roles which order and sort capacities and enable and disable particular actions and practices – and that’s one where rhetoric has a role which is perhaps more than performative. Re – Klaus’ point – it’s probably worth returning to Austin’s linguistic philosophy to analyse something and then to complicate it.

  29. klaus k

    The whole of Morris’ Too Soon, Too Late is quite amazing as a piece of interdiscplinary scholarship that covers an enormous amount of intellectual territory and yet makes very small and precise interventions over particular questions. The ‘political’ end of the book, including ‘Lunching for the Republic’, is the best, and a good frame for ‘Ecstacy and Economics’. (Off topic, but her piece on Hanson, republished in Identity Anecdotes is also worth a read).

  30. Adrien

    Good post Mark. A practical application of potmodern philosopy, poststructuralism Nietszchean Frogs to political practice.

    …the Global Financial Crisis has been to either deny that there is such a thing or to insist that if there is, everyone was into it

    Yeah there was some of that at [Name of blog deleted]. People evading an argument by denying the validity of a term even tho’ it was well-defined and established. Don’t you just hate that?
    .
    I think everyone was into it (everyone in government anyway). Not entirely, and not without concessions or contradictions. Reagan’s military spend-a-thon didn’t lead to a small govt and it was way over the top. Essentially it looks like industry policy. But because it’s military spending and because, according to the Reagan Myth, it precipitated the Sov collapse it’s not regarded as such.
    .
    But the loosening of Keynesian-type regulation appears to’ve revived growth from c. 1980 forward. It’s uncontroversial to assert, for example, that the Hawkeating reforms of the 1980s made this country’s economy much healthier. The society of course is another matter.

  31. Adrien

    From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense.

    Yeah. But everyone and everything is ideological. As in we all carry with us our bag of ideas about the world, and that these constitute ‘common sense’ or our take on it anyway. For some of us this organized to varying degrees by doctrine, alliance and organized political or religious activity.
    .
    Ideology is in a way common sense. Or rather common sense is an ideology. Political ideologies and political parties try to merge this sense with their program. This is why political agents are never pure ideologues. Neo-liberal afficandos can point to the various statisms of Howard or Bush to declare that they were not really advocates of the movement. Reagan, who is still lauded by economic liberals, was a neo-liberal economically but he had to be a statist to satisfy the agendas of the religious and patriotic right-wingers that supported him.
    .
    That all said. I think that ideology is best understood in Foucauldian terms as an architecture of knowledge. And that to preserve liberty of thought one must be overtly aware that the ideological prism, whether corporate or idiosyncratic, one is using is simply one lens amongst many.
    .
    A lot of it comes down to the way you feel tho’. And there’s some evidence to suggest that conservative and progressive dispositions are genetically inherited. At least a little bit. Perhaps being aware of one’s self in that way and being aware that ‘the other side’ are useful in necessary might come in handy?
    .
    Have a t-shirt

  32. Ginja

    There’s been nothing more pathetic than the denial that neoliberalism exists. Neoliberalism? Never heard of it. As Robert Manne wrote recently a google search reveals squillions of hits. It truly is bizarre. All the usual suspects at the The Australian are spouting this line from the Ministry of Truth (Murdoch HQ).

    The thing is neoliberalism has been on the nose for a long time now – not just since the GFC. Sept. 11 and Tampa obscured it for a while, but voters are sick to death of neoliberalism (Howard cottoned on to this and opened the purse strings in 2000-01). Indeed, Tampa was an attempt to use Hansonism (itself a reaction against neoliberalism).

    And remember Howard’s warning – to turn back Work Choices would be the first time since neoliberalism began that we reversed a major “reform”. Voters reversed it with relish.

    So neoliberalism doesn’t work politically. It ceratinly doesn’t work as economics. So why, exactly, do we have neoliberalism again? Is it some kind of massive S&M game among unconsenting adults?

    Keynesian social democrats have an indispensable asset nowadays: we’re right. Everyone knows deep-down we’re right. We have the mojo. We just need to confidence to say so.

  33. Adrien

    So neoliberalism doesn’t work politically. It certainly doesn’t work as economics.
    .
    But Keynsianism ran aground in the 70s.
    .
    And what pulled the ship back up into the air? And weren’t various core policies associated with neoliberalism de rigeur for parties on both sides of the house: Hawke, Keating, Clinton. Three ‘left-wing’ advocates of neoliberalism. All eminently electable.
    .
    I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s best just to dispense with this economic religious warfare and simply take an objective look at things. I suspect one will find that there are cycles and different policy instruments are warranted in different parts of the cycle.
    .
    PS – Do please tell me, as someone else already has, that they’d strayed from the path of true Keynsianism or were never really on it, etc. The neoliberals love that one; so do Trots. If only they’d really listened to [insert Object of Cultish Adoration Here].

  34. John Quiggin

    I don’t deny that neoliberal policies, ideas and modes of thinking are still ubiquitous. But, contra Mark & Mark, I claim
    (i) neoliberalism never successfully embedded itself in the way that postwar social democracy did. Despite some big successes, it remained an elite project imposed on a largely hostile (or at least unsupportive) public
    (ii) as a movement with any capacity for forward movement, neoliberalism is finished. The representatives cited by Mark D (Bolt, Devine, Akerman and so on) aren’t advocates of anything positive – they play the traditional conservative role of carping opposition to progress
    (iii) while the current government is still heavily influenced by neoliberal preconceptions, the power of those preconceptions is diminishing all the time. For example, the broadband plan (not an emergency response to the crisis) would never have happened under the political conditions prevailing a year ago
    (iv) even under Howard, neoliberalism was already in retreat. WorkChoices was the last fling of a government that had already reconciled itself to high taxes, high spending and lots of government intervention.

  35. Mark

    John, yes, I’d disagree with Mark Davis about the conservative punditariat, I should note. I think they’re almost completely irrelevant.

    But I still maintain that the size of the state isn’t a particularly good indicator. Or how much it intervenes. It’s what and why the state does and doesn’t do that’s much more important.

    For those who missed it about six months ago, here’s my argument:

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/2008/09/29/is-neoliberalism-finished/

  36. Ginja

    Well I’m sorry Adrien, the truth is the truth even if it isn’t novel. We did depart from the true path of Keynesianism. Keynes was just as insistent about the the dangers of overstimulating an economy as he was about the dangers of understimulating an economy (see his suggestion for soaking up excess demand during WW2).

    I believe social democrats will have the discipline to stick to the true Keynesian path when things turn good.

    Remember what happened at the 2007 campaign launch speech when Rudd said he wouldn’t match Howard’s spending. Rudd got a huge applause (Keating said they would have lynched him for saying that in his day). Now, much of that had to do with disgust at Howard’s lavish upper-middle-class welfare, but I like to think that some of it had to do with Labor being horrified at such over-spending during a boom (pro-cyclical spending).

    In any event, the IMF’s latest WEO points out that recessions caused by downturns tend to be protracted and recoveries sluggish. So concern about the main preoccupation of the 70s and 80s – inflation – seems pretty academic.

    Hawke wasn’t voted in in ’83 as a fully-fledged neoliberal (he evolved and there were distinct phases to his government). Hawke actually lost the popular vote at the 1990 election as neoliberalism took hold. And people seem to have forgotten this now, but Keating led Labor to one of its worst defeats (the ’96 election also saw the rise of a massive anti-neoliberal protest movement called Hansonism).

    What I find cultish is the weird inclination many have nowadays not to settle on any general beliefs at all. Pick a side, dagnamit!

  37. Ginja

    Oops – I meant recessions caused by financial crises in the third last paragraph.

  38. Ginja

    P.S. I’d add that Clinton was elected in ’92 because of a recession (like Hawke in ’83) and he offered at least some relief from Reaganism – neoliberalism in other words. The most important reason was that a third party candidate – Ross Perot – peeled off a chunk of the Republican vote.

    If there’s a choice between a neoliberal and a credible alternative – assuming something like Sept. 11 or an engineered panic like the Tampa doesn’t happen – voters will choose the alternative.

    What pulled the ship back up into the air? Simple: the US Fed Chairman, Paul Volker, brutally stuck his foot on the neck of inflation and when he took it off the economy bounced back, saving Reagan’s political hide in the process. Oil became cheap again, too. So don’t belive neoliberal mythology.

  39. Adrien

    Ginja – We did depart from the true path of Keynesianism.
    .
    Indeed. Of course we did. Just as the regimes of Reagan, Thatcher, Hawke and Clinton were not pure Hayek, not pure Friedman. Friedman, for example, wrote the classic argument for the decriminalization of drugs. But no open, legal market in drugs obtained. No politician can ever entirely put a thinker’s thoughts into practice. First – there are competing interests. Second – thinkers will think things, write ‘em down, and others will come along and get ‘em wrong.
    .
    Right? Often the Cult of the Intellectual will laud and make doctrine the very worst of someone’s ideas. How many decades did you have practicing psychiatrists crapping on about penis envy?
    .
    I believe social democrats will have the discipline to stick to the true Keynesian path when things turn good.
    .
    It’s this faith in ‘the True Faith’ that disturbs me. No movement is ever entirely without merit. We can learn from all of them. Even Fascism. (Fascism’s an excellent ‘how not to do it’ style guide. Unfortunately it’s also an excellent ‘how to do it’ guide as well).
    .
    Remember what happened at the 2007 campaign launch speech when Rudd said he wouldn’t match Howard’s spending. Rudd got a huge applause
    .
    I love the irony of history :)
    .
    (Keating said they would have lynched him for saying that in his day). Now, much of that had to do with disgust at Howard’s lavish upper-middle-class welfare, but I like to think that some of it had to do with Labor being horrified at such over-spending during a boom (pro-cyclical spending).
    .
    And perchance likewise the neoliberal ideas drummed into the populace by the News Ltd agit-prop apparatus that govt spending is bad. Thing is it’s not bad – if it’s necessary. But Keynes notion viz spending in a boom is right. You save in a boom. But this is what I mean about bad ideas and vested interests. Howard’s pop-a-kid-and-get-a-house grant was terrible economics but good politics. A tradition that Rudd appears to be continuing.
    .
    In any event, the IMF’s latest WEO points out that recessions caused by downturns tend to be protracted and recoveries sluggish. So concern about the main preoccupation of the 70s and 80s – inflation – seems pretty academic.
    .
    And is the notion that the comprehensive welfare state, which arose out of the Keynsian paradigm, was responsible for stagflation entirely without merit. Remember regardless the brilliance no individual ever gets is entirely right – ever. And their followers get it wrong always.
    .
    Hawke wasn’t voted in in ‘83 as a fully-fledged neoliberal… but Keating led Labor to one of its worst defeats (the ‘96 election also saw the rise of a massive anti-neoliberal protest movement called Hansonism).
    .
    Neoliberal policies hurt the blue collar heartland of this country first and hardest. But Keating and Hawke saw that it had to be done. They didn’t go all the way. Just where is was (arguably) necessary. People persisted in voting for Labor even tho’ they didn’t like the policies because the Libs would’ve been the same only worse. Hewson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with economics so dry they needed drought relief. Keating lost next time because he pursued his ‘elitist’ ‘luvvie’ agenda and Howard rode the wave of backlash.

  40. Adrien

    Ginja – What I find cultish is the weird inclination many have nowadays not to settle on any general beliefs at all. Pick a side, dagnamit!
    .
    I’m not sure it’s cultish. More nihilistic: the indifference of Pechorin. I suppose your frustration could be expressed as:

    …the view that, because parties of the traditional Right and traditional Left have now moved to some mythical place called the `Centre’, all that is left is an essentially technocratic decision between one team of managers against another, both operating within a common, or at least similar, mission statement. Politics on this argument becomes little more than theatre?a public performance necessary to convince the shareholders at the AGM that the company needs new management.

    The retort to this is that, in the grip of ideology, the government may wreak havoc believing firmly in the theory even tho’ reality is somewhat different. But still without beliefs can one engage in the necessary struggle for the good life? That struggle that others, who believed, engaged in and thus won us our right to spend Saturday afternoons considering the esoterica of economic philosophy?
    .
    No.
    .
    Skepticism without belief leads to a phlegmatic indifference to the world. One lives according to style and the shadow-figures of tyranny make small and constant encroachments on my liberty to feel indifferent. Looking at the gross injustices of the world: Seeing, for example, a video of small boys playing soccer with a bundle of rags in the Congo whilst, just down the road, a mine pulls billions of dollars in some essential substance all in furtherance of making people rich on another continent entirely; knowing that if they should try to change this situation a truckload of psychopaths with machine guns will rock up to set ‘em straight – all bills paid by your local friendly multinational resource concern.
    .
    Yeah then what do you do? How do you feel:


    I’m looking for a vehicle, I’m looking for a ride
    I’m looking for a party, I’m looking for a side
    I’m looking for the treason that I knew in ’65
    Beware the savage jaw
    Of 1984

    David Bowie
    “1984″
    Diamond Dogs
    1974
    .

    But here’s the rub. The Bolsheviks believed. What happened? Ulrich Meiner believed. What did she do? My problem with this ‘pick a side’ thing is that I might not like the sides. And I might be disinclined to subject myself to ideological discipline which appears to me at least to be the submission of my political philosophy, personal values and associational behaviour to some military style collectivity.
    .
    When I was a student I was involved in campus politics. And one of the things that surprised me, and disgusted me, was the way in which the ALP assumed your loyalty if you were ‘left-wing’. I’ve never joined any party but the agents of the ALP with which I was involved had the temerity to label me ‘disloyal’ because I had the chutzpah to have one of them punished for illegal activity! This isn’t limited to the ALP. All groups: the National Civic Council, Libertarians, Libs, Labor, Greens, Trots, Anarchists, Situationist funsters even – require a submission to the collective will resembling the joining of a congregation.
    .
    I’m not against solidarity. It’s necessary and desirable in certain areas. But anything that would limit my freedom to think and say what I think is part of the force in the world to which I am opposed. That is one of my few core political beliefs.
    .
    I was reading an <a href=”http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/82/paris_1968.html”excellent article on belief last night. The money paragraph follows:

    I think the trick is to possess both belief and skepticism, simultaneously, without trying to reconcile the two. That is, to exist somewhere in between, resonating with both yet never being wholly subsumed by either.

    I agree. Entirely. And I like the adBusters crew because sometimes I disagree strenuously. And they know and hope that I will.

  41. Adrien

    So don’t belive neoliberal mythology.
    .
    I don’t believe any mythology. Except this one.
    .
    It’s true because it’s fictional. The only myths that are ever true are the ones you know are not.

  42. Ginja

    I like that, Adrien. I have no idea what any of it means, but I like it. Anyway, it’s ANZAC Day – no politics today.

  43. Adrien

    Ginja – :)

  44. Paul Burns

    Something to do with werewolves and street kids?

  45. Adrien

    Something to do with werewolves and street kids?
    .
    Yes and…
    .
    It’s ‘neath the world were the Shifter’s bound ’til Ragnarök.
    And a London pub in 1389 where immortal comes an ordinary bloke.
    .
    It’s the gods, the witch, the drag-queen and the raven’s caw
    It’s Death, and death the Furies bring according to their law
    .
    It’s a conference of killers
    And the origin of thrillers
    .
    It what Destiny must demand;
    That that his book forsooth
    The fate of one,
    Of everyone:
    .
    The Lies that tell the Truth.

  46. Mark D

    Coming in late here but John Q, I’d have to say I don’t necessarily disagree with you on the points you raise about the demise of neoliberalism. My point would be that nothing is ever so clear-cut, and that in this case there are strong currents and counter-currents. I don’t think the ideological debate about the efficacy of markets is settled, and that despite the (welcome) trends you mention it would be premature to start up the band!

    As for the power of the conservative pundits, which Mark also mentions, this is something I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. I tend to agree that they’re given too much credit, but I think their influence on debate is nevertheless powerful. There’s not space here, but I’ve tried to think through some of the complexities of the power dynamic here: http://thelandofplenty.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/no-power-to-the-pundits/#more-218.

  47. Ginja

    Mark D, even if we could have a social democratic utopia, markets – or at least the private sector – would account for most of the economy – overwhelmingly so.

    All that many of us is that we have a strong public sector, unions that are allowed to do their job, and that the government concerns itself with the shocking level of inequality that has grown up since Thatcherist-Reaganism swept the world.

    But as you seem to suggest, things won’t always move in the one direction – they rarely do. But the tide is with people who’ve always had a big problem with neoliberalism. And just out of sheer necessity, we’ll have activist governments trying new things because I can’t see us not being in a deep economic malaise for the next decade.

  48. Ginja

    …meant to say all that many of us ask…

  49. Ginja

    P.S. We do give “pundits” too much credit – Andrew Bolt turned in a self-pitying performance on Insiders today that was even more embarrassing than usual.

    What I want to know is, why aren’t there any regular opinion columnists who are on the Left? I mean really on the Left, not just fashionably progressive-ish. And by that, I mean people who will come out and strongly argue the case for trade unions or progressive taxation or that government debt is a second-order issue at the moment?

    Wherre’s our Polly Toynbee or Paul Krugman? Robert Manne is one of the few to come close, and he no longer writes a regular newspaper column. Doesn’t my third of the electorate deserve to have its views represented in the opinion pages?

  50. Adrien

    Doesn’t my third of the electorate deserve to have its views represented in the opinion pages?
    .
    No commies! :) .
    .
    I agree. Get Pilger back here and give him Philip Adam’s space in The Weekend Oz.
    .
    It’d be fab if only because he’d show the others what a journalist who actually works looks like. :)

  51. Andrew E

    I’ll believe in the demise of neoliberalism when somebody can guarantee me that its like will never, ever appear again. You can’t write off tuberculosis or the Latin Mass, fat chance of doing down a philosophy that made many people rich, some powerful, a few both.

    I think this is as good a definition of neoconservatism as any – a different but related term. Note the disdain for small-state solutions.

    … statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.

    You wouldn’t have to be the smartest of smart-arses to ask which category Pakistan falls into. The last paragraph of hat article is telling for neoliberalism – the relationship between social conservatism and economic radicalism.

  52. Adrien

    John Q – neoliberalism never successfully embedded itself in the way that postwar social democracy did.
    .
    I don’t think you’re thinking wide enough. The international system of trade and finance is largely a product of the open trade policies of those called neoliberals. One of the main priorities of that Christian Socialist Kevin Rudd is to preserve this. To write the rulebook of course. But to maintain it nevertheless. Like it or not certain neoliberal fundamentals are embedded in the system. Will HECS go away? Will comprehensive welfare come back?
    .
    Appreciate the cycle that never ends.
    .
    Despite some big successes, it remained an elite project imposed on a largely hostile (or at least unsupportive) public
    .
    I’d wager that all economic policy is an elite project. And the assertion that the public was entirely unsupportive seems to me spurious given the electoral success of various agents of neoliberalism which include the governments of the ALP in the 1980s, the Tories in the UK, the Republicans and then the Democrats in the US.
    .
    There were limits of course, there were distortions and there was grumbling but overall?
    .
    as a movement with any capacity for forward movement, neoliberalism is finished.
    .
    True. And they said that about the socialism of the Keynesian era and they were right. And when this cycle of neosocialism is finished because nothing endures whatever liberalism’s morphed into will be by then ready again. Cycle. Never. Ends.

  53. Paulus

    “Mark D, even if we could have a social democratic utopia, markets – or at least the private sector – would account for most of the economy – overwhelmingly so.”

    Ginja, if Sweden counts as your definition of utopia, the public sector there takes and spends 48% of GDP (2007). And that’s only < 50% because of some market reform in recent years. My point being: the public sector in a “social democratic utopia” could easily account for the majority of the economy. Whether you think that would be a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

    “What I want to know is, why aren’t there any regular opinion columnists who are on the Left? I mean really on the Left, not just fashionably progressive-ish.”

    Kenneth Davidson?
    Ross Gittins? (Not necessarily pro-union, but certainly Keynesian.)

    “Get Pilger back here and give him Philip Adam’s space in The Weekend Oz.”

    Naah. Pilger’s only marginally better than Adams.

    Syndicate Paul Krugman’s columns instead. Krugman’s the best left-wing opinionista I’ve ever seen, with a combination of firm views, clear writing, and very deep knowledge. Most opinionistas (left or right) have only the first of those attributes.

    Quiggins would also be an excellent choice.

  54. Paulus

    “I’d wager that all economic policy is an elite project.”

    Very true, Adrien.

    And from conversations on economics I’ve had with taxi drivers over the years, I fervently wish that economic policy will always remain an elite project! :)

  55. Adrien

    Naah. Pilger’s only marginally better than Adams.
    .
    Mm don’t know about that. I’ve picked Pilger on distortions and outright propaganda. But when it comes to those he’s got in his sights I’ve never seen anyone wield so skillful an interview. He gigs like few in the trade still do.
    .
    But it’s a joke. Think about it. Rupert Murdoch paying cash to a guy whose business it is to excavate the skullduggery of people like Rupert Murdoch. N’uk.

  56. Ginja

    I was excepting The Age, of course. I think I’m right in saying The Age is the only large paper to publish pro-union editorials (I almost fell off my chair when I happened across one). I didn’t know that was legal anymore.

    But for the rest of the country, it’s slim pickins’. Gittins is great, but I’d still hesitate to think of him as an unambiguous Leftie.

    Murdoch employs the odd progressive type, but they ususally fit a pattern. They’re the kind that spends all their time fretting – the type that wants a toothless Left that never does anything.

    Pilger?! Pilger?! When Pilger was on Q&A a while ago he got stuck into Labor over Iraq. Apparently Labor wasn’t living up to its election promise because it was only pulling combat troops out of Iraq. The only problem is, Labor had lived up to its election promise – some support personnel would remain but combat troops would be pulled out. That was what Labor very clearly said it would do before the election. Argue against the policy by all means, but you can’t say Labor went back on an election promise. It didn’t. Facts are facts.

    This is the kind of misinformation that makes people on our side of politics cynical – usually it’s based on twaddle. The sad thing is, if you were to ask people on the far Left who was more trustworthy – Rudd or Pilger? – Rudd wouldn’t even be in competition.

  57. Adrien

    The only problem is, Labor had lived up to its election promise – some support personnel would remain but combat troops would be pulled out. That was what Labor very clearly said it would do before the election. Argue against the policy by all means, but you can’t say Labor went back on an election promise. It didn’t. Facts are facts.
    .
    Pilger is something of a propagandist. He distorts or creatively interprets. His take on the representation of Vietnamese people in Hollywood movies comes to mind. He described such representation in Apocalypse Now and it was so fanciful as to appear completely fabricated. He seems to’ve missed the obvious point that most Hollywood movies treat the Vietnam War from the point of view of those opposed to it. It’s a shame. When he’s good he’s really good.
    .
    This is the kind of misinformation that makes people on our side of politics cynical – usually it’s based on twaddle.
    .
    Both sides of politics run on twaddle.
    .
    The sad thing is, if you were to ask people on the far Left who was more trustworthy – Rudd or Pilger? – Rudd wouldn’t even be in competition.
    .
    Well he wouldn’t. He’s not in the far Left is he? It’s easy to be trustworhy if you’re on the far Left. You never have to choose between to or more unacceptable options. In govt you must do this all the time.
    .
    I think Rudd is a moralistic control freak. And I’m a little mystified as to his buy-some-stuff grant. But he’s made a big effort to keep his promises. Methinks he’s trying to restore faith in the ALP after the contributions of the World’s Greatest Liar.
    .
    But how’s this for twaddle? Yesterday I got into a discussion viz the homebuyer’s grant. There was a guy who was lambasting Rudd for creating a housing bubble. True the grant did do that. But the dude totally forgot that it was Howard not Rudd who introduced it!
    .
    That’s party loyalty for ye. Have a card and fit the CRM-114 to your head. Permanently.

  58. Ginja

    Control freak, maybe (perhaps understandably) but what exactly is moralistic about Rudd? Aside from alcopops – which is really a public health issue – I’m racking my brains to undrstand what Rudd has been moralistic about.

    It’s an impression people have about Rudd (mostly from being a churchgoer, I’d guess) but I don’t know what it’s based on when it comes to public policy.

  59. Russell

    Ginka – the Henson affair? marriage can only be between a man and a woman etc etc

  60. Ambigulous

    Pilger is a propagandist, not a journalist.
    In this he follows faithfully in the footsteps of Wilfred Burchett (who until the end proclaimed himself “independent” and a “rebel”). Both did some useful reporting.

    I would put Pilger on a par with Noam Chomsky (whom some still regard as a “scholar”). Chomsky’s writings – outside linguistics – are characterised by quaint and blinkered misreadings on topics he knows but sparsely. He seems to operate from press clippings half-digested. No expert he. But idolised by many. As is Pilger. As was Burchett.

    Pilger’s misbehaviour in Fleet Street many decdes ago was lampooned by “Private Eye” magazine. They noted the new verb: ‘to pilgerise’ [to exaggerate a story for emotional and political effect]. Come to think of it, Pilger’s a bit like Germaine Greer at her worst: unscrupulous and raucous.

    epater les bourgeois is fair enough, but do it with style and substance ladies and gents!

  61. Sukrit

    The Australian people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But under the name of Liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day Australia will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened.