We live in the age of neoliberalism. For some, this is heaven on earth.
It’s hard to agree on a strict definition of what this neoliberal heaven on earth is, although it does have defining characteristics. One, there is a preference for market competition over state intervention. Two, there is reduced government spending on social services and welfare in favor or private or individual entrepreneurship and efforts at self-improvement. In a neoliberal world, price controls on goods and services are gradually removed, state enterprises and services are privatised, markets are deregulated, and legal and policy barriers are removed to allow foreign investment.
David Harvey gives a very good account of the global rise of neoliberalism. In sum, it was implemented as a solution to the economic woes capitalist countries like the United States ad the United Kingdom were experiencing in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Chile was the site of the first experiment in neoliberalism. It was imposed quite violently on the Chilean people by the dictator Augustus Pinochet with US backing. One of neoliberalism’s main ideologues, Milton Friedman, even unapologetically served as unofficial adviser to Pinochet for a while.
In the course of implementing neoliberalism in Chile under Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, at least 40,000 political opponents, activists, intellectuals, writers, artists, and ordinary people who dared criticize the regime were either killed, disappeared, or imprisoned and tortured.
Despite the claims that it promotes democracy and equality, neoliberalism is actually oriented for one thing and one thing only: profit.
And it’s not even profit for everyone. Three senior economists from the World Bank, an institution known for pushing neoliberal economics through “structural adjustment programs,” released a study in 2016 which showed that neoliberalism, far from making people’s lives better, actually caused greater inequality and suffering.
Admittedly, some people do actually benefit from neoliberal economics. Think Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In 2018, his net worth was USD 112bn, making him the world’s richest man. This is more than the combined national gross domestic products of 23 countries in the Carribean and the Pacific.
In fact, in 2018, the top 26 richest people in the world owned USD 1.4 trillion or equal to the combined wealth of the world’s 3.8 billion poorest people. The year before, it was the top 43 richest people. Expect the number to be smaller this year, as the rich grow even dizzyingly richer and the poor become more dirt-poor.
If you look closely, you’ll notice many similarities in economic policies of the countries where neoliberalism has made its home (which is almost every country in the world, with the exception of a few). State enterprises are privatized and industries deregulated to make way for private–often foreign–investments in vital sectors. Wages are deliberately low and workers are made to undergo labor contractualization in order for business to become more “competitive.” Farmers and Indigenous Peoples are being dispossessed of land to make way for agricorporations and extractive and energy projects. Austerity and “belt-tightening” measures are consistently implemented, resulting in less funds for social services.
That being said, we shouldn’t be surprised why protests and other forms of resistance are happening worldwide. While many of them are sparked by specific issues, such as the corruption legislation in Indonesia, they soon become broader indictments of how the neoliberal system that has promised so much has actually delivered so little to the world’s poor, underprivileged, and marginalized people.
Armed revolutions are also ongoing in many parts of the world, particularly those that espouse a Marxist/Maoist, anti-capitalist ideology. Granted, many will debate the necessity or even validity of armed struggle as a form of resistance. I, for one, though, will not. I think it’s important to recognize that both armed and unarmed movements are part of the resistance against what neoliberalism is and what it does to the world.
We live in the age of neoliberalism. For the elite, the rich, the powerful, this is heaven on earth.
For the rest of us, it’s a living hell.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP.