The word ‘neoliberal’ is one reserved usually for specialist writings and books, but it is important that you know exactly what it means. It will help you understand the failure of Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, the Yellow Vest protests in France, why people seem to have a harder time making ends meet, the precarious work situation facing Millennials in the Serf-Economy, and the massive rise in inequality since 1968 around the world.
First, historically (the Era from the Great Depression until 1968) America was under the economic regime known as ‘liberal’ economics. Within liberal economics the poor, workers, the elderly, public spaces, and rights are protected and respected. It is one of the two major parts of the rise of the “American Dream” and the growth of the middle class. Policies within this regime restrain corporations, protect workers, break monopolies, enforce a minimum wage that is above the poverty level, and have a robust social safety net to protect its citizens and foreign guest workers. Taxes are high on wealth, especially inheritance, and on very high incomes. It was this economic regime coupled with American domination of international markets (can you say the only country that didn’t have most factories turned to rubble from being bombed) that gave our grandparents and parents their unique (in history) position of reduced inequality, higher life expectancies, and both intra and intergenerational mobility.
Now, you may be wondering “if economic liberalism ended in 68 what are we in now, and is it the same thing since ’68?” Well, from 1968 to 1980 tax codes began to change, the influence of labor on economics started to wane, and the share of economic productivity that workers received stalled (it hasn’t budged since 1972). A new idea caught on, partially from business people inspired by the “Powell Memo,” and partially from Ayn Rand acolytes looking to cut taxes on the wealthy and undermine social support systems. By 1980 these trends had overtaken liberalism and replaced it with neoliberalism. We still live under neoliberalism, but a highly advanced form, which has increasingly bent government, social institutions, and inserted its maxims into the cultural mind. I use 1980 here as my cut off date for full neoliberalism because it was then that the Democratic Party finally sold out to neoliberalism and corporate interests, though there are earlier dates that have just as solid reasoning.
So what is the Powell Memo? At the time it was relatively non-influential memo that basically said that corporations and the wealthy should use their donations and philanthropy to push their interests in academia and make think tanks in their own image. Which was a total departure from the traditional prestige-oriented donations of the past, which stressed social benefit and personal prestige as the only acceptable motives in donating. In essence this memo advocated that rather than simply donating, one should pressure academic institutions to hire and teach more in line with your interests and withhold donations from those that don’t. At first it wasn’t a very popular proposition, and had an air of low-brow classlessness to it that didn’t largely appeal to the very wealthy. Obviously that has changed, you can look at the Koch brothers and their fake grassroots nonprofits as the epitome of this strategies eventual realization. Between its issuing and 1980, the interest-pressure-donation model flourished, and actually undermined the utility of economics degrees. The success ended up necessitating the creation of business degree programs to replace the now missing skills from “economics” degrees; which had become almost exclusively degrees in cheerleading for neoliberal (and pro-corporate) economics.
This mentality of interest-pressure-donations and withholding also found its way into politics, which is why the Democratic Party saw such a massive shift in its internal make-up. At the time, Bernie Sanders was a centrist in the Democratic Party, and was seen overall as moderate. Look at how he is viewed now: an extremist outsider – radical leftist. That is how money has changed politics in America in one generation, the utter destruction of policies and policy makers based on the best social outcomes, long term considerations, and the wellbeing of the people. Instead we have faux progressives like Beto O’Rourke and Hillary Clinton. Both of whom co-opt language from progressives, while staunchly supporting neoliberal economic policies, slashing public benefits and social safety nets, and undermining workers to open up further profit for investors, banks, executives, and corporations. Which if you read my article on the Gaslighting of Millennials, you would see how the press covers these fake and empty neoliberal corporate Democrats in such a pleasant light with a bit more skepticism. It is easiest to see when comparing the rise of the war hawk Democrats, the buddy-buddy attitude toward the CIA, and FBI (both of which have killed, undermined, and targeted leftists throughout the world).
Now for the final piece (albeit shortened for brevity), the Yellow Vests. Let me explain how you are being lied to be corporate news, your opinion altered with priming and framing, and inaccurate terminology by the corporate media. Firstly, they are neither a anarchists nor fascists, but are an unorganized group from all sides of the spectrum that have one thing in common: they are all part of the 70% who have faced an increasingly precarious job market, received less for their time and productivity, and seen additional necessary costs add to their monthly bills. Wages stagnant since the 1970’s, prices for housing, health care, transportation, etc rising, and job security almost nonexistent. That is what got them in the streets, decades of decline in wealth, security, income, the recent tax hike that the corporate news loves to pretend is an isolated and unreasonable thing to be upset by, is just one drop in an ocean of affronts. Let me put this simply, if you have blue collar workers, anarchists, office workers, and fascists against the same thing, it is obviously abhorrently wrong. The corporate news regularly treats long term series of events as disconnected and isolated incidents, be it mass shootings in the US or a series of years filled with increasingly extreme weather, the corporate media pretend it is just a weird singular event. Unrest over the alterations to society, work, and life are completely incomprehensible to those who can’t track trends, or in the case of corporate media – intentionally omit and ignore.
While most of the Yellow Vests in France, or Americans who refused to elect another corporate democrat couldn’t elaborate these changes, wouldn’t recognize the terminology, or describe themselves (due to failures in education and media), they are nonetheless related and loosely united in their rejection of the increasing neoliberalization and financialization of increasingly smaller pieces of our daily lives.
So why did Hillary lose, why are the Yellow Vests breaking things and blocking roads? People are sick of the crap that neoliberal politicians keep handing them. Just because you adopt progressive words and terminology does not make you progressive. If you support war, the death penalty, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, don’t support workers, and further erode social safety nets, you are a neoliberal and deserve nothing but our scorn and a boot heel to the political face.