Tag: neoliberalism

Neoliberalism Revisited

A return to a topic first posted 2/10/2017.

Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used

February 10, 2017

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription.

Dear Dollars & Sense,

Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years ago I wondered how the word “liberal” and “neoliberal” are connected? Then, I remembered the little I can recall about 19th century European political philosophy. Oh, its that liberalism that is new!

Really, outside of academic circles no one knows what this word means. Most in my circle find it off-putting, obscure and boring.

Free Market Religion

I prefer to refer to this ideology as “free market religion”. “Free market” is a widely used term as in “free market capitalism”. And “religion” gets across the fact that this is a counter-factual pile of BS.

If you don’t like my term, come up with something better. Please stop using “neoliberalism”.

A Reply from D&S

2/22/2017 – Chris Sturr commented on New Issue!.

in response to Mark Orton:

……

Mark, this is something that we struggle with, but we have over the years decided that it is more important to call our current economic system by the name that left economists have tended to use. You’re right that its origins are academic, but other mainstream publications have been using it more and more (for example, The Guardian, Salon, Jacobin, and (as far back as 1990) The American Prospect.

Dollars & Sense authors have been using (and carefully defining) the term “neoliberalism” for years now (most recently in David Kotz’s two-part piece on the crisis of neoliberalism (here, but for years before that). We do try to explain the term whenever we use it.

Sasha Breger Bush’s cover story makes a careful argument that Trump’s economic policies do not signal an end to the free-market, anti-government policies of the neoliberal era, but do signal the end to its globalist orientation. She’s proposing that if he gets his way we will be entering a different economic regime, and she gives it the name “national neoliberalism.” It’s a bold and thought-provoking analysis and we wanted to use her new term on the cover. We recognize that downsides, but we think our readers are familiar enough with the term and those who aren’t will read on to see what it means.

You suggest calling neoliberalism “free-market religion” (which reminds me of Bill Black’s term “theoclassical economics”–see for example here). I think that works when “neoliberalism” refers to free-market ideology. But “neoliberalism” also refers to an economic system that results after years of policy justified by free-market ideology. You’re right that the ideology is BS, and the economic set-up that results from years of “free-market” ideology is not really characterized by “free-markets” (as Breger Bush show’s, it’s just as much about corporate capture of government to promote ruling-class interests at the expense of everyone else). But the system itself is not BS and it deserves a non-pejorative name. The name that left economists have come up for it is “neoliberalism.”

Anyhow, you are surely right that it is offputting to some people, and that’s why we’ve struggled with whether to use the term. But we think the value of getting people familiar with the name of the economic system we’ve been living under outweighs the downsides of using the term. Your comment is a reminder that we need to do better about explaining what we (and left economists) mean by the term.

A Further Thought

This is of course an interesting addition to my knowledge of the thinking at D&S about the language they employ. But, even this discussion further supports my conviction that we need to develop a more robust accessible language to use in public discourse about one of the most important issues of our time. I am quite certain that the readership of D&S is not confused or put off by the term “neoliberalism”.

The audience of my concern is the average American who has been subjected to a sustained campaign of free-market thinking from the Republicans, most Democrats, the mass media, corporations, the academy…..not to mention Wall St. for the past 40 years. If we want to offer an alternative analysis we need direct language that does not refer to thinking and issues from 150 years ago that invites immediate suspicions that those speaking are academics and intellectuals who by definition are not connected to the day-to-day realities of American life.

Free-Market Ideology (Neoliberalism) – the posts

Healthcare and Markets – why don’t they work together?
June 26, 2017

A consistent chattering point in American discussions of healthcare is the claim that if we can only bring transparency and competition to healthcare we will drive prices down and bring sanity to healthcare. The rest of the world knows that this is not the answer but we seem to remain in the thrall of universal free-market thinking. To answer this question lets start with an example of a market that…

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Trickle-Down Returns to Enrich the Rich
June 24, 2017

You need to be clear that the vicious Republican Party is at work on tax changes for their masters among the rich and corporations. There job is making sure that the 40 year stagnation in incomes for the 80% will not change course and the flood of wealth will continue to those at the top. 

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The Environment, Trump, Koch Brothers & Big Money
June 5, 2017

The now publicly visible campaign by the Koch brothers and many others to make their decade’s long campaign to deny climate change bear new fruit in public policy. More evidence that the plutocrats are now so secure in their control over our politics and the government that they can come out of the shadows and rule directly through Trump.

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Neoliberalism Revisited
June 3, 2017

If we want to offer an alternative analysis we need direct language that does not refer to thinking and issues from 150 years ago that invites immediate suspicions that those speaking are academics and intellectuals who by definition are not connected to the day-to-day realities of American life.

Read more →
Naive Talk about Healthcare from Adam Davidson in the New Yorker
May 25, 2017

The solution to our healthcare problems cannot be clearer. Look at Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Sweden, and others. Plenty of healthcare systems with decades of operational experience producing much better outcomes for very single person in these countries at less than half the cost!!

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The Global Context of the US Healthcare Debate
May 14, 2017

The solution to our healthcare fiasco is first to recognize its true nature and then to face down those who are consuming a fifth of our economic output while producing profoundly bad results.

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Regulations vs Protections – more than just words
May 7, 2017

The word “regulation” has been used as an epithet and rhetorical sledge hammer by Republicans and the centrist Bill Clinton Democrats as part of a general campaign to discredit anything that the government might do. This is part of the decades long political strategy of the rich and corporations to puff up the delights of “free markets”.

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Dumping Concrete: a law of capitalism In action – a local example
May 6, 2017

Thanks to GossipsOfRivertown for the image. The May 3rd post “Unbelievable” on our favorite local blog GossipsOfRivertown.blogspot.com caught our attention. This F.H.Stickles concrete truck dumping waste concrete next to a stream running into the Hudson River is a local demonstration of one of the central laws of capitalism. For more pictures of this incident go here. Every company seeks to get someone else to pay for as many of its…

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Building the New American Economy – Not
April 5, 2017

The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy. Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient…

Read more →
BEHEMOTH (BEI XI MO SHOU) at TSL Hudson
March 4, 2017

This 2015 movie by Chinese director Liang Zhao is filled with great cinematography and sounds. It trades back and forth between scenes of enormous horizon gulping coal mines, under ground mines, iron making, and ends with scenes of a ghost city filled with enormous apartment blocks in a newly developed but vacant city West of Beijing. But, the most arresting part of the movie is its focus on the workers,…

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Job (Business) Killing Regulations
March 2, 2017

Ever since Ronald Reagan told us in his 1981 Inaugural Address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” government bashing by right-wingers, Republicans and many Democrats has been a constant drumbeat of political rhetoric. Now we have Trump with his “Kill 2 regulations for every new one” and a government dominated by Republicans for whom destroying government has been an objective for decades. We are…

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The Internet and Demand Management (Advertising)
March 1, 2017

My friend Joe Keenan recently sent me an article by Vicki Boykis, “Fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people” from her blog Woman.Legend.Blog.  Today’s internet is mean. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when everyone online became a jerk, but to me it seems that the tipping point occurred right when making money off content started being worth more than the content itself. Ms. Boykis devotes…

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Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used – Updated
February 10, 2017

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription. Dear Dollars & Sense, Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years…

Read more →
Talk Back: Correcting the Anti-Government Bias of Our Politics
January 29, 2017

President Reagan was not the originator of this central trope of free-market (neo-liberal) politics, but he famously said in his first Inaugural Address in 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” President Clinton, a Democrat, continued this theme during his terms culminating the the deregulation of the financial industry in 1999 setting the table for the collapse of 2008 and the Long Recession. Listening…

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The Gig Economy in the Academy – a note
December 29, 2016

The values of capitalism, especially as expressed through free market (neoliberal) ideology, have come to dominate how we organize our lives. Silicon Valley and the tech sector is busy celebrating the “gig” economy. Companies have simply stopped hiring employees and now conduct much of their work using “temps”, “1099ers”, part-time contract workers. The companies, and the champions of free markets, tout this as a wonder of flexibility and opportunity. For…

Read more →
A Note on Jobs & Unemployment
December 27, 2016

As the presidential campaign of 2016 fades away and the Trump Era begins, we find a national scene without any real discussion of the facts of jobs and unemployment and what the future might bring. Trump and others talk about bringing manufacturing back to the US. No plan, plausible or otherwise, has ever been mentioned for how to accomplish this. The Democrat are hardly better. Much has been made and…

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“Liberal”, “Progressive”, “Free Market”, “NeoLiberal” – what’s up?
November 15, 2016

A friend asked the following question of me on Facebook the other day:What’s wrong with the word LIBERAL …. This word … progressives … is only a diluted weak solution of the real thing …. the L word has become like the N word … it can’t be mouthed in public. I know what Liberal means I don’t have a clue what progressive means … you’d think Neoliberal has some…

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Inside Goldman Sachs with the Federal Reserve
September 27, 2014

Since the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession we have hoped that the government would return to applying some real rational restraints on the financial system. To be honest, with both political parties deep in the pocket of the industry, this is probably merely wishful thinking.

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Flash Boys cover by Michael Lewis
Flash Boys Doesn’t Ask the Important Question
April 7, 2014

We should demand that our financial markets serve their findamental purposes – connect investors with those who can deploy those resources to create new products and services and enable the flow of these goods and services. To call holding financial insturments whether stocks, bonds, or other assets for mere seconds investments is to beggar the mind.

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playing cards
Wall St – not about investing but fixing the game
July 9, 2013

photo courtesy of Chance Agrella, photographer An article in the NY TImes today reports1 that NY Attorney General Schneiderman is pursuing various information providers, Thomson Reuters in the immediate case, for their practices of selling market sensitive information preferntially. Those paying a premium get information several minutes before its release to the general public. This is more evidence that Wall St…

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The Job Creators – Who Are They? The Rich, Really?
May 19, 2012

In recent years a standard bit of political rhetoric in the US has included references to “the job creators”. This most usually  flows along the lines of higher taxes on the wealthy will injure the job creators. Or, government regulation is crushing the job creators. The presumption of course is that the wealthy, the 1% in the current rhetoric, create jobs (and those not created by the wealthy are created by small…

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Economic Inequality – Does It Matter?
May 9, 2012

It is fairly widely known that income and wealth inequality in the US is as high or higher than at any time except perhaps the Robber Baron period at the end of the 19th century. Lots of articles and books explain how this has come about over the last 30 years. In a recent NYTimes Magazine article, “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy” by Adam Davidson, we…

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High Frequency Trading and Deeper Questions about Capitalism
March 27, 2012

A recent PBS Newshour report by Paul Solman on Thursday 3/15/12 in his series “Making Sense of Financial News” gave pause concerning the role of high frequency traders (HFT) on Wall St. (and doubtless on other markets around the world). First, you might ask what are HFTs? These are traders who use computer-based algorithms to select, buy, and sell shares on the markets. The speed of these transactions and the…

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Charts from Mother Jones Illustrate That the Rich Have Won the Class War
November 19, 2011

I came on a set of graphics in Mother Jones, “It’s the Inequality, Stupid: Eleven charts that explain what’s wrong with America” that illustrate what you probably already know. But, a simple refresher course in some of the reasons why the rich are rich. The 99% already have this base covered. Here are some of the charts I liked. Read the whole article at the Mother Jones website. Income (constant dollars) Note that if median family…

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Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – the movie
May 27, 2011

The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern Here is a summary2 of the ten steps discussed and illustrated by Ms. Wolf in the movie. 10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY 1. invoke an internal and external threatPeople who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do. 2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes…

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Corporations as Persons – Freedom of Speech, now Right to Privacy – Bring on Three Strikes!
January 20, 2011

The case of the Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T3 now being heard before the US Supreme Court raises anew the craziness of the thinking that has position corporations to be “persons” in the first place. Noun vs Adjective! First we have several of the justices focusing argument around the difference between “persons”…

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Money floating around
Religious Doubt Spreads – Free Flows of Capital Seen as Dangerous to Some
November 12, 2010

There is more evidence that the current run of religious mania about “free markets” is finally giving way to a more fact-based approach to this important human invention, many countries are now applying capital controls on the flow of monies into  their economies. The world flood of money seeking higher rent districts is terrorizing smaller economies like a tsunami. Fears of speculative bubbles burgeoning and then bursting with disastrous consequences for local economies are…

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The Mortgage Debacle – Redux
October 10, 2010

The current tsunami of revelations of misbehavior, if not outright criminality, by the banking industry in their pursuit of mortgages gone bad, is further evidence of how fundamentally corrupt and cynical this industry continues to be. On the front end of this global economic disaster the financial system engaged in misleading sales tactics using financial products that were baroque in their complexities. Aided by governments seduced by the siren songs of free market…

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Krugman Asleep at the Wheel of History ….. the elite has not been interested for forty years…
August 2, 2010

The August 1st New York Times carries the latest Paul Krugman opinion piece, “Defining Prosperity Down”. He is depressed because it is dawning on him that the elite is in the process of redefining the level of structural unemployment that is normal to adjust to the significant likelihood that we will be living with 9%+unemployment on into the future. Where has Krugman been? He is old enough to remember that…

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Free Markets – free? markets? – lessons not learned
June 6, 2010

“Free market” has always struck me as a rather strange phrase. Never more so than in this period of financial market disasters. The phrase ‘free market’ continues to be used reflexively. Just as commentators go right on speaking of Wall St. as a source of capital and innovation, few want to ask out loud why we need most of  Wall St.’s “services”; few people are openly using the most obvious words to…

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Do We Need Wall St. and all the other gamblers in the financial services world?
April 20, 2010

What Is the Function of Wall St.? The global financial meltdown of 2008 – 2009 with its ongoing sequelae seems not to have definitively demonstrated the dangers of our continuing belief in the religion of “free markets” nor shaken, especially it seems in the Obama administration, our thrall with Wall St. and all things financial. We are seeing the combined effects of Wall St.’s funding of the Democrats and Republicans,…

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How Did We Come To Consider Corporations to Be Natural Persons? – What To Do Next?
January 25, 2010

This week’s decision by the US Supreme Court to allow corporations, including unions, to hold full rights to free speech and political action under the First Amendment to the Constitution once again reminds me of the strange practical and ethical relationship we have with corporations. In the 1886 ruling, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company1, the court reporter wrote in a summary: “The court does not wish to…

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Controlling Gambling by Wall St. and the Big Banks – Bad for Business?
January 22, 2010

Anti-Wall St Does Not Mean Anti-Business President Obama’s proposals to break up the “too large to fail” mega banks and otherwise reapply the Glass Steagall Act to the financial sector has predictably brought loud complaints that this is populist and anti-business. Even the rhetoric of the reporters and expert talking heads reflects a general bias that anything that we might do to prevent a re-occurrence of last year’s global financial…

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Manias,Panics,and Crashes by Kindleberger
Book Review: Manias, Panics, and Crashes: a history of financial crises by Kindleberger
November 13, 2009

Manias, Panics, and Crashes: a history of financial crises, fourth edition by Charles P. Kindleberger (New York: Wiley 2000) A recent Wall St Journal article described this book as a “must read” classic for anyone involved in financial markets. I have been involved directly in financial markets in two ways recently. First, I spent a year chasing around chasing angel investors and venture capitalists during the DotCom boom to fund Valuedge…

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Just Another Cost of Doing Business? – Pfizer’s $2.3 billion penalty and fine
September 4, 2009

Is $2.3 billion really a lot of money? The Obama administration is touting the action taken this week against Pfizer for illegal promotion of several of its drugs. The $2.3 billion sounds like a lot of money to me, and I suspect most people. Is it really a lot of money or just an annoyance to a large company, just another cost of doing business? Take a look at Pfizer’s…

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Enron, Trust and Malfeasance
January 29, 2002

January 23, 2002 (revised 1/29/02) The collapse of energy giant Enron over the last six months has produced a surprising level of outrage especially for a cynic like me. As this drama continues to unfold, I have been trying to understand how Enron structured their business and made money. Until just last night I was operating on the belief that the cleverness and sophistication of Enron’s managers simply outstripped my…

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  1. Regulators Examining Early Sales of Financial Data http://nyti.ms/12hDF3t []
  2. from the endofamericamovie.com website – 05/27/2011 []
  3. See the NYTimes,  “Court Weighs Whether Corporations Have Personal Privacy Rights” By ADAM LIPTAK Published: January 19, 201 []

Regulations vs Protections – more than just words

In a recent stream of comments about a post in GossipsOfRivertown, “More about Dumped Cement” Virginia Martin wrote to me: 

Mark Orton said “This is why we have government regulations.” Linguist George Lakoff would say the term “regulations” is ill-considered. He’d say they’re protections. This is why we have government protections.

I thanked Virginia for pointing this out and promised to try out “protections” in place of “regulations”. The word “regulation” has been used as an epithet and rhetorical sledge hammer by Republicans and the centrist Bill Clinton Democrats as part of a general campaign to discredit anything that the government might do. This is part of the decades long political strategy of the rich and corporations to puff up the delights of “free markets”.1 One might wonder what word we might use in place of “de-regulation” ? De-protect? Un-protect? Deregulation is so often projected as inherently a positive action yet that is hardly so. There is a parallel with the current efforts by the Republicans to “reform” health care laws.

The story of government regulation is complicated by the way in which the rich and corporations have come to dominate the writing of regulations.

  1. Here we are avoiding another word, “neoliberal” that most academics and political wonks use to describe the ideology of Thatcher, Reagan, and Clinton. The first time I came across this word I was totally confused. Liberal meant Roosevelt, unions, public education, etc. Then I realized that “liberal” in “neoliberal” referred to the use of that term as applied to 19th century liberals like Locke, Mill, Bentham and so on. Small government, maximum individual freedom thinkers. []

Building the New American Economy – Not

The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.

Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.

Diversity and Identity Politics Is A Deadend

Progressives have to declare class war as a central strategy. Otherwise we will all be sitting at the dinner table basking in our glorious diversity with nothing to eat.

For many good reasons identity and diversity have dominated our politics for decades.  Progressives celebrate its expansion and Republicans and their brethren on the right pretty universally engage in either dog whistle or outright racist politics. 

Simultaneously the rich and corporations have been fighting a class war. They have succeeded beyond belief. As is well known, for 90% of the population real incomes have been flat for the past 40 yrs. Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have gotten fabulously rich. Richer than at any time in history. And, to make things worse they have done this while hiding behind free-market (neoliberal) ideology that has impoverished the government and the public sphere of our lives. Our infrastructure is crumbling, education is outrageously expensive, sending many students to decades of indebtedness. Our health system costs more than twice any of our developed country cohort and delivers third world results. 

Progressives, time to fight back. Diversity and identity without a fair share of the pie is not going to make you happy.

Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used – Updated

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription.

Dear Dollars & Sense,

Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years ago I wondered how the word “liberal” and “neoliberal” are connected? Then, I remembered the little I can recall about 19th century European political philosophy. Oh, its that liberalism that is new!

Really, outside of academic circles no one knows what this word means. Most in my circle find it off-putting, obscure and boring.

Talk Back: Correcting the Anti-Government Bias of Our Politics

President Reagan was not the originator of this central trope of free-market (neo-liberal) politics, but he famously said in his first Inaugural Address in 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” President Clinton, a Democrat, continued this theme during his terms culminating the the deregulation of the financial industry in 1999 setting the table for the collapse of 2008 and the Long Recession. Listening to almost any discussion by Republicans and Democrats you can find this theme, “If just get government out of the way, free markets will solve our problems.”

This ideology is ahistorical, counter-factual nonsense. It is asserted without any basis in fact. It is rhetorical cover for policies that have led to the vast enrichment of the wealthy and corporations and the impoverishment of everything public.

The Gig Economy in the Academy – a note

The values of capitalism, especially as expressed through free market (neoliberal) ideology, have come to dominate how we organize our lives. Silicon Valley and the tech sector is busy celebrating the “gig” economy. Companies have simply stopped hiring employees and now conduct much of their work using “temps”, “1099ers”, part-time contract workers. The companies, and the champions of free markets, tout this as a wonder of flexibility and opportunity. For gigers not being recognized as an employee means that they lose out on all sorts of direct and indirect benefits long part of the contract between employers and employees: minimum wages, overtime benefits, health insurance, workers compensation for those hurt on the job, unemployment benefits for those who are laid off, proof of employment for those trying to rent or get a loan, and, perhaps most significantly, lower taxes (workers who are “independent contractors” have to pay the employer’s share of  payroll taxes, thats an additional 7.7%). Part-time employees have no regular schedule, in many cases no regular place of work, no regular contact with other employees, or even a job at all. They are the ultimate commodity, entirely replaceable with very few contingent liabilities for companies.

American higher education long ago became an essential part of the corporate state and therefore focus for application of free market ideology.1   As the accompanying chart shows, in 1975 the  contingent  faculty (full-time non-tenure, part-time and graduate assistants) made up 55% of the academic workforce.

  1. By corporate state I mean the current situation in which our government, rhetorically democratic, is really the captured entity of the rich and corporations. []

A Note on Jobs & Unemployment

As the presidential campaign of 2016 fades away and the Trump Era begins, we find a national scene without any real discussion of the facts of jobs and unemployment and what the future might bring. Trump and others talk about bringing manufacturing back to the US. No plan, plausible or otherwise, has ever been mentioned for how to accomplish this. The Democrat are hardly better. Much has been made and continues to be made of the role various trade agreements have had in the loss of manufacturing jobs. Even Bernie Sanders can do no better than talking about creating millions of good paying jobs through a national infrastructure program. It is laudable to fix the infrastructure that has become third world, but that is not a long-term jobs strategy.

There are structural changes in the capitalist economy that must be understood and accepted as fact. Lets begin with a few examples. US steel production, one of those lost American industries, is now as high as it was at the beginning of the 1960s.

Next Steps for Progressives

The Trump election debacle demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current leadership of the Democratic Party. Faced with a foe who has engaged in serial bankruptcy as a business strategy, is a notorious know-nothing bully with a very sensitive ego, and is best known as the red-faced guy on reality TV who says “You’re fired”, they could not come up with a candidate and story to retain their core voters in the old rust-belt states.