Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The disintegration of neoliberalism

When I was in my early teens, I'd listen to Labour and Tory politicians at the General Election and be baffled. Both sides had good arguments - how was one to decide?

My adolescent confusion was far from unique. It took a few more years to figure out that politics was not maths or physics; there was no one right answer. In the Marxist jargon, political parties represent different class interests (or perhaps divergent fractions within a class) and the point was to decide where you stood.

This didn't make the exercise completely arbitrary. Perhaps one party was - in the grand scheme of things - better for everybody. Perhaps one party would be better at not crashing the economy, closing down freedoms or crushing innovation.


Marx explained that in every age, the ruling ideology was the ideology of the ruling class. This was not a crass point. Whether it's the Roman Empire, feudalism or capitalism, the theorisation of the status quo naturally aligns with the practices, values and intentions of the elite who happen to be running things.

Western liberalism, so amplified during the last two decades of Globalisation, is fraying at the edges. Way too many people don't believe that current neoliberal elites speak for them. Real interests are diverging.

So when I hear yet another world leader castigated for liberal value atrocities, I try not to join in the ritual abuse but to figure out instead whether - in the great scheme of things - the said leader is actually trying to do good for the constituency they represent .. and whether, on balance, that would be a good thing for humanity as a whole.

I don't subcontract that analysis to the BBC, The Guardian or the rest of the liberal media.


Neoliberal sweetness and light takes you only so far. When, for example, Allende was trashing the economy in Chile in 1973, the Americans (Nixon and Kissinger) had no hesitation in supporting the Pinochet coup which brought the Chicago Boys into economic power.

Pinochet meets Kissinger

The Chilean economy was fixed pretty fast; the parallel and one-sided civil war was vile and atrocity-ridden.

More recently, those nice Eurocrats gave Greece's Alexis Tsipras a pretty hard time.


Erdogan seems pretty popular amongst his supporters as he rolls back the Gülenists and secularists who, with implicit approval from western elites, tried to overthrow his government in a coup last July.

From the Wikipedia article:
"The 2016–17 Turkish purges are an ongoing series of purges by the government of Turkey enabled by a state of emergency in reaction to the 15 July failed coup d'état. After the immediate arrest of military personnel accused of making the coup attempt, arrests were expanded to include further elements of the Turkish military service, as well as various civil servants and private businesses.

These later actions, reflecting a power struggle between secularist and Islamist political elites in Turkey, which began to be known as a purge, affected people who were not active in nor aware of the coup as it happened, but who were alleged to be connected with the Gülen movement, a group which the government blames for the coup."
I don't know whether the Erdogan faction is a positive factor in world history or a regressive one. Perhaps we'll just have to wait and see. But his violations of liberal check-boxes are just par for the course when you're in a civil war.


Neoliberal ideology at its heart has a helium model of humanity: for all practical purposes people are autonomous hyper-individualistic clones, as is assumed in economics.

Thus unrestricted immigration is an unvarnished public good, dispossessed workers are arbitrarily retrainable and that there are no personal, gender or ethnic differences beyond the most trivial and inconsequential.

Yes, there are people - actors, politicians and journalists - who truly believe this.

Incidentally, Marxism also cleaves to the 'human clone' model but unlike the 'transactional-individual' model of neoliberalism, it prefers the maximally-collective 'ant-nest' model - at all scales up to the planetary soviet.

Neither ideology is consistent with evolutionary theory, psychometrics or genomics (not to mention commonplace observation).


  1. Speaking of 1970s Chile I cannot remember whether you have previously mentioned Project Cybersyn - here is the first sentences from WP:

    "Project Cybersyn was a Chilean project from 1971–1973 during the presidency of Salvador Allende aimed at constructing a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. The project consisted of four modules: an economic simulator, custom software to check factory performance, an operations room, and a national network of telex machines that were linked to one mainframe computer."

  2. As always: the first law of cybernetics.


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