Analysis by Carolyn Skelton. See also: Part 1 of this two part series.
‘Neoliberalism’ is a devious shape-shifter
Political and social changes are usually a result of evolution as much as revolution. The so-called ‘neoliberal revolution’ in western countries since the 1980s is part of an on-going struggle. This is largely between the ‘right’ (those with most power) and the ‘left’ (usually those with less power, but critical of the minority with most power). The exact make-up of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ and their policies have always undergone change, from the origins of this left-right naming in the French Revolution. In the ‘neoliberal’ era, many left wing ideals have been deviously co-opted in the service of financial and political elites.
The so-called ‘neoliberal revolution’ was as much a culture shift as an economic one: and a reaction to the growing dominance of left wing policies and ideals. In part 1, I described it as a devious shape-shifter. Wendy Brown (2015)* , explains it as something continually changing, taking a variety of shapes, forms and language; and often hiding its true consequences.
‘Neoliberal’ deceptive co-option of left wing narratives
As others have noted, with her government’s shift of narratives and related policy changes, aided by an increasingly supportive mainstream media, the UK Tories attracted the votes of a significant section of the UK working class: ones with aspirations to get a bit of the promised rise in the country’s economic fortunes.
This was part of the co-option of left wing narratives, as outlined by Trotter. He uses Charter Schools as an example where the government appealed to notions of social justice, freedom, and community empowerment, and
… as the only effective means of raising the educational attainment levels of society’s most disadvantaged groups.
Part of the promise held out to less well-off people by Thatcher’s government, was the possibility to buy their own homes. Thatcher explains this as a way creating a,
greater sort of personal responsibility to a society of which you are a part,
But what now that home ownership is a dwindling dream for an ever growing section of society?
The co-option of left wing ideals continues within NZ’s budget 2015: an inadequate income boost, with punitive obligations and no stake in society.
The positive take-away of the social security part of the NZ budget 2015, is that it is a response to the strength of the left’s narrative about child poverty and the too large inequality gap: a narrative that has been gradually gaining in strength.
Humane values vs ‘Neoliberal’ investment culture & social bonds
This is all part of an on-going struggle during which there has been stealthy cultural shift, as explained by Wendy Brown – towards values where everything is measured and monitored in financial and monetary terms; and where truly humanitarian, and liberal democratic values are being gradually destroyed. It’s a shift that simultaneously changes social and political practices, as well as the ways we think and talk about ourselves and others.
Another version of this can be seen in the government’s planned pilot of ‘Social (Impact) Bonds’. As well as being a further step in privatisation of public services, it reduces human beings, their needs and difficulties, to monetary measures and profit seeking values. Instead of fully rounded human beings engaged with others in a social context, individuals become units of investment, which will be measured against a tick list of benchmarks- people treated as though they are mini-businesses in a world of powerful corporates.
In the struggle for a more humane world, it is necessary to remember that (so-called) ‘neoliberalism’ is a devious shape shifter. The way forward is through shared responsibility for the society we all inhabit, and for the future world of all our children.