Let me give you a little background into this new post. I have actively sought out and considered rationality and logic extremely important since around the time I was 8. I had been reading of ancient Rome and Greece, their discourse and accomplishments really struck me. Fast forward, I found Eliezer Yudkowsky and his writings on rationality through Harry Potter And The Methods of Rationality, even though I never read the actual Harry Potter books. I then devoured the rationality writings on the website, and continue to go back to brush up or read something new every few months. In short, Eliezer Yudkowsky is a living legend and hero to me. I am sure he wouldn’t love that I really haven’t read his AI stuff, but I do mention his rationality and logic writings to almost anyone who will listen. So when I got on Twitter to have a larger potential audience for this website, I of course found and followed Mr. Yudkowsky. I skim his posts once every month or so because sometimes I don’t see what he posted or said. Today, I was going through his posts and this one was retweeted with no comment, and I assumed it was a tongue-in-cheek philosophical or sociocultural piece.

With that as my assumption, I read it and immediately was sad because it is not only wrong, but the article uses words incorrectly, makes extreme claims without data or evidence, and thereby contributes to spreading ignorance. In essence, it is a combo puff piece and smear in the same page, and to see basically a hero of mine fall into the “I agree with this and don’t care that it is shoddily written trash” trap… made me both sad and angry. So after reading it and yelling in my head “unsupported claim” and “what does he think that word means,” several times in a row, I decided to expel my analysis and put it out for everyone to read. Below is the title of the website, post, when it was posted, and where it can be found, at least as of writing this.

As a note, I did intentionally omit some sentences from the original post in my analysis, because either they were obviously absurd, or they did not make, nor support a claim. I will be posting about what neoliberalism is, and why people think it is a problem after I rip this article a new one.

First, let me give you two articles that entirely disprove the claims presented in the article that I am shredding below.

First, let me give you two articles that entirely disprove the claims presented in the article that I analyze below. This one and this one.

TheMoneyIllusion | A slightly off-center perspective on monetary problems. “Why modern leftism and modern conservatism are both evil” Posted on March 12th, 2019. Can be found at https://www.themoneyillusion.com/why-modern-leftism-and-modern-conservatism-are-both-evil/

During the 1990s, neither leftism nor conservatism were evil.

Ok, this is actually the best place to start. By the 1990’s America was already neoliberalized and had been becoming more so since the early 1970s. It feels ridiculous even to say this, but please define evil, or how it applies to conservatism or leftism in American politics. In the ’90s, the Republican Party had a minority of “conservatives” and a majority of neoliberals, while the Democratic Party had a minority of neoliberals, an extreme minority of leftists (as defined by the US political spectrum 1900-2019), with a majority of centrists verging on neoliberal. You have to remember that Republicans had started becoming more neoliberal and less conservative for 20 years by the ’90s, and Democrats were for at least 10 years. If you want me to trace the evolution of establishment politicians from the ’70s to now at an academic level, I am happy to for money. For now, my simplified explanation of historical context will work.

Now they both are.

I presumed, incorrectly, that this was like in some academic writing where they tell you the conclusion first and explain later. This never happens, except a clearly fallacious and flawed argument that basically reads ~ leftists hate the best thing in 4 billion years, so they are evil. No, I am not hyperbolizing. Yes, I did omit even bothering to analyze that sentence, for obvious reasons.

During the 1980s and the 1990s, neoliberal policy reforms led to the greatest improvement in human welfare in global history. Billions of people moved out of extreme poverty.

Yes, it is true that many people were no longer living in such poverty (as measured by income/wealth only, and doesn’t speak to wellbeing, access to education or healthcare, etc), but the “cause” listed is entirely false. In the 90’s the US and the UK were (basically) the only countries turning to neoliberalism. The rest of the world’s countries were still in variations of liberalism (economics not politics), and much of the global south was trying to become industrialized, while the US was becoming a service-based-economy. So those who moved out of extreme poverty was part of a centuries-long trend that included: political shifts from feudal societies and monarchies, the end of some informal types of slavery, alterations to many formal and informal caste systems, decades of variations on liberal economic schemes, healthcare and infrastructure improvements and access, education and illiteracy improvements, and had literally zero to do with neoliberalism whatsoever.

His claim is easy to disprove because there were no neoliberal trends in other countries. Let me provide an unrelated example. “After Thomas Edison pioneered electric use, light bulbs were developed for the streetlights as well. The first city to use electric street lights was Wabash, Indiana.” In this example Wabash, Indiana has streetlights. Claiming that people in Peru had a reduction in illiteracy because they could read later during that time… well you see the point by now. Or the year as penicillin was discovered, there was a significant drop in deaths from bacterial infections in a place where it hadn’t been developed or used and wasn’t yet being produced or distributed.

Related idea: post-1991, you really shouldn’t ever use the term “Third World” because it does not refer to the economic, political, health, or stability of a country, it only meant a country was neither allied with the US nor USSR during the Cold War. I know he doesn’t mention it, but a surprising amount of the article focuses on lesser developed nations (which is the current term btw).

The neoliberal policy reforms actually caused the sharp reduction in extreme poverty, and places that didn’t reform (like North Korea) remained mired in misery while reformers like India and China and Bangladesh saw huge reductions in poverty.

The claim here is that a complex sociocultural-political-economic ideology, that had only just begun to take root in a handful of countries, caused a reduction in poverty around the world. He also went on to dismiss correlation and causation, but once again, something that was only being started in a few countries somehow was the cause of anything except for increasing inequality in the countries where it was being instituted. I am struck dumb with shock at the absurdity of such a claim.

Why is it that when people talk economics and want to praise capitalism they choose countries like North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc as the only counterpoint? I mean, I know why, its because we have associative minds, and those places have been pounded into our social and cultural channels constantly as “bad.” That doesn’t mean I am not irritated by it or perplexed at how people think they are somehow making a point.

Any ideology that views the most wonderful thing that ever happened in the past 4.6 billion years as being a great curse is a truly evil ideology.

I am not going to even bother analyzing this, as I mentioned above. It is so absurd and fallacy-filled that I don’t have the energy to even think of where to start. In short, if you think this, you really need to rethink your life – unless you are in a neoliberal think tank because then it is literally your job.

“Of course we all agree that markets must play a role, it’s just about market fundamentalism[.]”

  1. Not all leftists think markets are a good thing.
  2. No leftist I know, or have known, has ever used the phrase “market fundamentalism” (anecdotal, but still shows the point.
  3. Strawmanning leftists into pro-market, and thereby pro-capitalism.
  4. Presumes the truth of the antecedent.
  5. The author very obviously is entirely unfamiliar with actual leftist policy preferences of any sort.

The most neoliberal regime in Europe is Switzerland. Did they go too far? Would they be better off like the least neoliberal regime (Greece)?

I am just going to assume that the implication that the Heritage Foundation’s  “Economic Freedom Index” is the epitome of neoliberalism. He does this without considering the fact that different organizations use different metrics to determine their indexes. Additionally, what policy preferences are desired by specific organizations will inevitably change what metrics and methodologies they use to determine their indexes. This does not once again prove anything, but can be said to be indicative that the foundation’s index was designed to promote certain things to the exclusion of others. But, because this is the closest TheMoneyIllusion gets to actually saying what they mean by neoliberalism, I am forced to assume that is the definition they are using. Which, by the way, is entirely incorrect, but I will save that for after I rip every argument apart.

Saying Switzerland has a high ranking on the Heritage Foundation’s “Economic Freedom Index” is not the same as saying it is neoliberal. It, at most, could be used to say that Switzerland has instituted a range of policies, procedures, and norms related to trade that the current philosophy of neoliberalism claims are good.

I want to point something out here; that while the rhetoric of neoliberalism has been “free trade,” it actually has been applied through treaties, policies, military and economic interventions, and sanctions by the IMF and WorldBank as “the US, UK, and other Western Countries which were traditionally ‘in charge,’ should continue to get unfettered access to the wealth and resources of other nations, and those nations cannot demand fair prices for those things, nor can they institute ethical or moral limits designed to protect their workers or environment, and must comply with the demands of those aforementioned countries’ financial markets’ demands.”

I am skipping a chunk here because he just launches more baseless claims about several other countries, and I have a doctoral program admissions essay to write, so not bothering to repeat myself about other countries.

Here you might argue that the US (lower in the Heritage rankings and higher in the Fraser rankings) is more neoliberal than Canada. On health care yes, but not on many other issues.

The first glimpse at potential nuance granted it isn’t a very good attempt, but I will praise the effort because the rest of this has been so bad it is painful. It bears repeating, but I will link the point I made earlier: “He does this without considering the fact that different organizations use different metrics to determine their indexes. Additionally, what policy preferences are desired by specific organizations will inevitably change what metrics and methodologies they use to determine their indexes. This does not once again prove anything, but can be said to be indicative that the foundation’s index was designed to promote certain things to the exclusion of others.”

In any case, if the US is such a neoliberal hellhole, why do so many people want to move here?

Over sixty years of propaganda efforts originally designed to make the USSR look bad while promoting America during the decades that it followed a liberal economic regime. Also, if you make the equivalent of a dollar a day in another country, but can make $7 per hour under the table in another, still live in poverty, but can send your family in your original country one hundred times your previous salary… then you are gonna probably choose that. Not to mention the sociocultural impact of decades of media (music, movies, images, articles, books, etc) pounding over and over how awesome America is, has had on personal preferences. Not only is this question an oversimplification of universal proportions (hyperbole), but it omits any other possible explanation than a relatively new sociocultural-political-economic scheme.

He follows this up with more countries so please see the section on Switzerland two analyses ago for a repeat of my argument.

Maybe the US on healthcare, but even our health care system is pretty socialist, with government spending on healthcare at higher levels than in Europe as a share of GDP. It’s just extraordinarily inefficient socialism.

I mean, if I ignore what he means, and take him literally, and then apply a different argument he could be right in a way. If we remove his arguments and instead say “because gofundme is basically the US healthcare option,” then in a way it is social, not socialist, but it does rely on society, so in a twisted way with a different argument.

Yes, the cost is higher so we spend more, because of neoliberal changes. Specifically, health insurance companies caused hospitals and doctors to do a lot more paperwork, so a doctor sees fewer patients and must spend that time not doing their primary job, or hire someone else to do it. Additionally, they marked up prices because the health insurance industry demanded that their patients get “discounts,” so they marked prices up to make insurance agencies look like they did something useful. Finally neoliberal reforms in drug pricing, drug patenting, and related changes like the neoliberal decision that companies may only consider shareholder value in making decisions, made prescription drug and treatment prices much higher than in other countries. Oh, and most countries in Europe have single payer healthcare.

So it isn’t socialism or even inefficient socialism that makes our healthcare what it is today compared to 1945-1980, it is neoliberalism that gives us the “gofundme or die” healthcare system.

As I look around the world, I see countries like Ethiopia moving toward freer markets, and that’s a good thing. I really don’t see any countries “going too far” toward free markets. If you find one, please let me know where it is. As far as welfare, even the more extreme neoliberals (Friedman, Hayek, etc.) never rejected a safety net, and more moderate neoliberals like Brad DeLong were even more supportive.

Then you aren’t looking at the side effects of what is rhetorically called “free markets,” and not the impacts, side effects, and their implementation in the real world. The United States is the epitome of why neoliberalism is awful, compare the US 2010-2019 with 1950-1959.

Ayn Rand, Mises, Hayek, Friedman aren’t writing the policies that compose neoliberalism, they had a series of philosophies about how society, culture, and economics should be run, and then corporate think tanks, astroturf groups, and corporate lawyers made the policies. Below you talk about drinking the kool-aid, as though you haven’t, though you clearly have already drunk deep of the waters of neoliberal rhetoric, and decided to end there. If you want to have an a real understanding of neoliberalism, I suggest you actually read academic critiques of neoliberal policies and their impacts on society.

As bad as modern leftism is (and I haven’t even mentioned the fanatical “Chinese Cultural Revolution” aspect of modern PCism), it is still the lesser of evils when compared to modern conservatism.

I am so glad that I haven’t looked for the article where he compares the Chinese Cultural Revolution with political correctness. I think my brain would run out of fuel and die from repeating “unsupported claim” ad nauseam.

During 2016, most thoughtful conservatives were appalled by Trump. Recall the “Against Trump” issue of the National Review, which laid out all their objections. Now conservatives (with a few lonely exception) have swallowed the kool-aid.

Let me be direct, concise, and clear: Trump and his acolytes are not politicians, they are exclusively neoliberals. Once more, if someone wants to pay me to write that article in an academic format feel free to let me know. Yes, I will take money in exchange for jumping through more hoops.

Conservatives often quibble that this isn’t really fascism, because no one is talking about eliminating elections and tearing up the Bill of Rights. True, and that’s certainly very important.

Correct in that no one is talking about doing that. However, if you read about voter registration purges, closed primaries, super delegates, police actions, and court cases you would see that setting precedents, altering laws, and instituting policies can have significant effects on elections and how peoples’ rights are enacted in the real world.

But that merely means that we aren’t in the mid-20th century anymore. Today’s leftist aren’t going to kill millions of people and send even more to work in the countryside. They aren’t even going to nationalize big corporations and install Nixon-style wage/price controls on the entire economy. This isn’t the mid-20th century–I get that.

This is a tired trope, I am tired of reading it, but I have never actually written down the problems with it, so I will try. Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Kim or any other such figure you can think of were not inspired by the policies of the modern left. They created a series of policies in their own vision based on very early Marxist thought. And anyone who has actually read historical accounts of leftists at the time would know that while leftists were inspired by the early rhetoric of those movements and leaders. However, when they went to visit they were appalled, horrified, shocked, and dismayed. Additionally, those regimes were dictatorships, which also are largely against all thoughts popular in the left. Remember, just because NK claims it is a democratic peoples’ republic, does not mean it is. You cannot be democratic or a peoples’ republic and have massive inequality in power, decision making, economics, education, or be a literal dictatorship. So, can people stop pointing to those countries as fallacious examples of what left-progressive policies supposedly look like now? Seriously people, grow up. Nixon was a conservative with neoliberal leanings who was dealing with the economic fallout from the stagflation which started us on the path to neoliberalism.

But in most other respects this is fascism, at least as I learned about it in high school. It’s authoritarian, exalting the power of the “great man” who is cruel (Putin, Kim, etc.) It blames our problems on unpopular minorities and foreigners. It’s deeply sexist, with more sympathy for men who are proven sexual predators than women who are victims. It engages in the big lie, day after day. It demonizes the media. It’s xenophobic, hostile to multinational institutions like NATO, the EU, the UN, the WTO, etc. It rejects modern science, and indeed any form of expertise, substituting a faith-based reality. It dismisses examples of police brutality against the poor, while whining when their own members are investigated for corruption.

When I originally read this it was extremely jarring because this paragraph is entirely correct and uses real-life examples that are nuanced, well proven, and doesn’t use them to prove things they do not and cannot prove. So the author gets an A+ 100% on this paragraph. The next one ending with the pact with the devil is… well there aren’t claims there, at least not ones that matter.

So I completely reject modern leftism and modern conservatism. I want nothing to do with either ideology. That doesn’t mean I reject the people–some of my best friends are conservatives and leftists. That’s fine, they are merely misguided. But their ideology is truly evil.

Sigh, it was going so well.

“Leftism” is not an ideology. I don’t mean like “that isn’t the right term,” I mean like he is saying a category with no limit is somehow a single homogeneous ideology. Which, it very obviously is not. Leftism is an ideology like religious is a religion.

PS. Feel free to leave comments telling me that my ideology is also evil. I’m not a leftist or a fascist, so I won’t delete them.

I would suggest you are gullible and not very familiar with how data or evidence works, don’t actually know anything about the ideologies or the policies inspired by those ideologies, and couldn’t give me a basic history of sociocultural narrative changes that gave birth to the themes and narratives you used to create your article if I paid you to.


 

Now I am going to give a (hopefully) short primer on why it is impossible to declare neoliberalism is ANY ONE THING. When we are talking about neoliberalism in policy, it isn’t limited to trade, or any single metric because it isn’t just economics or international relations. It includes several dimensions, ethical and moral preferences, and accepts certain “externalities” as inconsequential. When talking about neoliberalism you want to consider: implemented policies, acceptable outcomes, and where rhetoric, policy, and outcome diverge. If the rhetoric does not match the outcome, then the rhetoric is merely a thin veneer used to garner support and is not a part of the actual philosophy behind the policies. So, best to ignore political speech, commentators, and speculation.

In terms of what dimensions aside from trade there are: healthcare, macroeconomics, microeconomics, lifespan, infant and maternal mortality rates, infrastructure, education, disease, war, homelessness, cost of living, inequality and inequity, generational inequity and inequality, economic mobility, pollution, environment, etc etc. Literally all of these things are involved in an actual analysis of what any ideology, policy or group of policies are and assigning correlation or causation to their effects or purported effects.

So what is neoliberalism? There are the more expansive and oft-cited examples that I provide at the beginning: This one and this one. But since this nearing the end, let me try to give a fairly accurate, if simplified explanation.

Context first. Liberalism was a reaction to the dangers of a largely unhindered capitalist system from post-mercantilism through to the Great Depression (I said simplified). In this, it sought to save capitalism by severely limiting its negative effects, including rent, wage, price, access to and the quality of healthcare and education, protection against age or the inability to work. Basically, Liberalism was “gee this capitalism thing sucks for like 95% of people, and they look angry and have pitchforks.” Ok, with that in mind, after that period (which was the greatest period of domestic prosperity and wealth anyone had ever seen, ever) then comes Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism simplified is “screw the ethical and moral considerations of liberalism, let’s go back to pre-Great Depression policies.” Championed by Regan and Thatcher, we got trickle-down theory (which is neoliberal), increase in cost of healthcare and education with reduction in quality, we deregulated financial markets and banks (yes some of these changes came in Bill Clinton’s, George H. Bush’s, George W. Bush’s, and Obama’s presidencies). So let me repeat and summarize: Liberalism [save capitalism because it sucks for most people]; Neoliberalism [undo Liberalism’s ethical or moral representation in policies]. Neoliberalism is essentially capitalism pre-Great Depression with lots of protections and legislation that protects them, their profits, and investors.

Rant over.