Bilerico Report

Neoliberalism’s siren song of freedom

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Banksy

As I read about the presidential candidates’ stated views, and as I watch the televised debates, I see the battle lines clearly drawn over competing ideologies separating not only individual candidates, but also differentiating political parties in the United States and also throughout the world concerning the structure and purpose of government.

One argument rests on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, a British economist who theorized that economic growth and reduced unemployment can be supported through governmental fiscal policies including spending to stimulate the economy, adjusting interest rates, and placement of certain regulations on market economics. 

Another and competing philosophy has come to be known as “neoliberalism,” which centers on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, healthcare, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

These tenets taken together, claim those who favor neoliberal ideas, will ensure the continual growth of the economy while protecting individual autonomy, liberty, and freedom.

Neoliberalism rests on the foundation of “meritocracy”: the notion that individuals are basically born into a relatively level playing field, and that success or failure depends on the individual’s personal merit, motivation, intelligence, ambition, and abilities. Those who are, however, born or enter into difficult circumstances can choose to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” and they can rise to the heights that their abilities and merit can take them.

People, therefore, possess “personal responsibility” for their life’s course, and the government should not give them “stuff.”

Remember the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign and the CNN/Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Florida? (The former Congressional “Tea-Party Caucus” has since changed its name to the Congressional “Freedom Caucus.”) The debate facilitator, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, asked then presidential candidate Ron Paul the hypothetical question of what we as a society should do in the case of a 30-year-old man who chooses not to purchase health insurance and later develops a serious life-threatening disease. Before Paul had a chance to answer Blitzer’s question, a number of audience members shouted “Let him die. Let him die.”

During this current presidential election cycle, the lines seem clearly demarcated with the Republicans generally taking more of a neoliberal stance and the Democrats taking more of the Keynesian policies. Though the neoliberal battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?

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