George Monbiot has written an incredibly important and timely essay on the world's greatest killer: neoliberal economics. In his piece, Monbiot argues that the economic ideology is essentially the root of all major problems on the planet right now -- financial crises, poverty, psychological disorders and environmental destruction.
Most worryingly, he argues, is the fact that most people don't really know what it is and accept it as some immutable law of human society. He writes:
Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?
Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?
Monbiot's article does a phenomenal job of uncovering and dismantling this nameless killer, and should be required reading for anyone concerned with how to genuinely change the world for the better. After all, how can we fight something if we don't even know it exists? Here is his characterization of the toxic ideology that controls most of our lives:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.
These laws are not immutable, not inevitable and not necessary any more, and we can only get rid of them once we come up with a serious alternative -- one Monbiot argues must come from the Left. The Right has dominated economic thought for far too long, and the results have been a spectacular disaster on both a human and ecological front. "For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century," writes Monbiot.
And we'd better hurry up given this is the future we are currently facing.