Category Archives: Neoliberalism

May the Best House Win – and the Neoliberalisation of culture

This latest programme represents a new Nadir in televisual lifestyle viewing. If anything reproduces neoliberal ideology at the level of the lifeworld it’s this – for ‘house’ you can read ‘debt fuelled consumption’ and for ‘win’ you can read ‘competition is good’ – and that’s even before we get onto the subtler normalisation of the construction of the self through the conspicious consumption of material objects and the lampooning of the working class – for details read on!

The show’s web site says ‘May The Best House Win is the daytime ITV1 series (ok I caught it on a Sunday morning rerun) that sees the owners of some of Britain’s most interesting and unusual homes compete against each other in a bid to win a cash prize.’

In each episode four proud homeowners open their doors to each other and let them cast a critical gaze on their property masterpiece – they score the property out of ten and the winner gets a £1000 cash prize.

The one episode I watched witnessed one working class woman (she ran a fancy dress store – so self employed – successful w.c.) in a relatively ordinary house – one upper middle class woman living in a perfectly presented family home (mod cons to the hilt – having a particular fetish for odd taps), an interior designer (at least I think that’s what she was, but frankly I couldn’t give a toss)  living in a flat which she had spent 20 years filling full of arty objects including a mural on of the walls, and in what must be the ironic gesture in world history -a 3 ft tall glittery Buddha,  and finally some woman who lived in a 3 story Georgian mansion with a pool which had featured on footballers’ wives.

The show basically consisted of the working class woman being pilloried by the commentators as she paradaded around the decidely more opulent middle class homes  loudly demonstrating her lack of middle class taste and manners while the other three got all luvy-duv with eacother, by the end of the show they were offering up their deference to the 3 story Mansion dweller (‘ My daughter goes to school up the road’ said the only-middling-upper-middle-class-interior designer- ‘and of all the houses I go past (no doubt in her Chelsea Tractor) this is the one I always wanted to look inside’) 

Incidentally, the working class woman turned up to the Mansion with a general look of disbelief on her face (last to arrive after editing) and was shown walking in the door to the ‘Mr Ben’ theme tune (for those of you that remember Mr Ben*) – no, you should not be incredulous about those that are more successful than you – even if the only way they can afford a house like that is by trading in children’s organs.  

Anyway as if this genre of programmes wasn’t bad enough for giving us unrealistic ideas about the average standard of living this little number ramps things up by overtly lampooning the poorest, working class, member of the foursome invovled.

Lets remember that the norm in British housing is that

  • One third of people do not own their own homes!
  • 43% of people that do own their own homes are on interest only mortgages and thus struggling to survive.

These programmes can only serve to give us an unrealistic idea of what’s normal and foster negative emotions such as materialism, greed and jealousy – oh and hatred, but I won’t say what I want to do the producers – but let’s just say I’ve thought up some pretty creative uses for that glittery Buddha…

*For those of you don’t Mr Ben was a character who went to a fancy dress shop, put on a certain costume and was transported temporarily to a different world, depending on the costume he was wearing. I remember the ‘space man’ episode being particulary thrilling, although I don’t remember anything about him going to three story georgian mansion land though.

 

Aid Dependency and Neo-Liberalism

Totally unobjective!
Totally unobjective!

A quote from Dambisa Moyo’s highly selective and poorly referenced populist book on aid-dependency could equally be a critique of the neo-liberal culture she perpetuates …The quote…

‘Unfortunately, unfettered money (the prospect of sizeable ill- gotton gains) is exceptionally corrosive, and misallocates talent. In an aid-dependent environment, the talented – the better education and more principled, who should be builing the foundations of economic prosperity – become unprincipled and are drawn from productive work towards nefarious activities than undermine the country’s growth prospects. Those who remain principled are driven away, either to the private sector or abroad’

With a quick rewrite it becomes a critique of neo-liberalism 

‘Unfortunately, unfettered money (the prospect of sizeable ill- gotton gains) is exceptionally corrosive, and misallocates talent. In an unregulated, neo-liberal economy, the talented – the better educated and more principled, who should be builing the foundations of economic prosperity – become unprincipled and are drawn from productive work towards nefarious activities than undermine the country’s growth prospects. Those who remain principled are driven away’

As to the book’s reviews on Amazon – clearly lots of idiotic right wingers have been using it to stoke their biases, hence it scrapes over 3 starts, but I’m with this review –

“I felt that Moyo used the most insidious form of manipulation by presenting only the facts which support her theory, conveniently omitting or playing down information inconsistent with her argument (e.g. Botswana). As a scientist, I want to see all the facts laid out on the table and hear a well informed thesis; this is not the case with Dead Aid.”

Neo-Liberalism’s evil freedoms

PolanyiThe Marxist Thinker Karl Polanyi’s conception of ‘good and bad’ freedoms offers a useful starting point for criticising the recent tory cuts.

Below is a lengthy ammended passage from David Harvey’s ‘a brief history of neo-liberalism’. I was going to wait and publish the whole summary once I’d finished it (obviously within copyright limitations!) but I read this on the train this morning and it was just so pertinent I had to upload it asap!

Karl Polanyi in 1944 pointed out that in a complex society the meaning of freedom becomes contradictory. There are, he noted, two types of freedom, one good the other bad. Among the ‘ bad freedoms’ he listed ‘the freedom to exploit ones fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage. Polanyi argues that all of these types of freedom throve under a competitive market (capitalist) economy. However,  this same capitalist system that is responsible for these ‘evil freedoms’ also gives rise to ‘god freedoms’ that most of us cherish – such as Freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom to choose one’s own job. 

According to Polanyi we need greater regulation of the market in order to achieve a greater amount of ‘good freedoms’ for the majority. We need, for example to restrict those types of freedom such as ‘the freedom to make gains from others without giving a commensurable service back to the community’ and this should result. In Polanyi’s own words…

‘The passing of the market economy can become the beginning of an era of unprecedented freedom. Judicial and actual freedom can be made wider and more general than ever before; regulation and control can achieve freedom not only for the few, but for all… Industrial society can afford to be both just and free.’

Unfortunately, Polanyi noted, the passage to such a future is blocked by the ‘moral obstacle’ of liberal utopianism (read ‘neo-liberalism) in which…

‘Planning and control are being attacked as a denial of freedom. Free enterprise and private ownership are declared to be essentials of freedom. No society built on other foundations is said to deserve to be called free. The freedom that regulation creates is denounced as unfreedom; the justice, liberty and welfare it offers are decried as a camouflage of slavery. ‘

The idea of freedom ‘thus degenerates into a mere advocacy of free enterprise. This means a mere pittance of liberty for the people, who may in vain attempt to make use of their democratic rights to gain shelter from the power of the owners of property.’ But if, as is always the case, ‘no society is possible in which power and compulsion are absent, nor a world in which force has no function, then the only way this liberal utopian vision could be sustained is by force, violence and authoritarianism. Liberal or neoliberal utopianism is doomed, in Polanyi’s view, to be frustrated by authoritarianism, or even outright fascism. The good freedoms are lost, the bad ones take over.

text in this blog adapted from this!
text in this blog adapted from this!

Polanyi’s analysis appears particularly relevant today given the following

  1. 1. America has persistently used military force, both covertly and overtly, to install neo-liberal states which protect the property and profit rights of the wealthy while stamping on the rights of the majority to basic public services, freedom of expression and association. Read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, for the evidence.
  2. 2. Many Corporations have profited from natural disasters and war – Halliburton and Blackwater being the most obvious.
  3. 3. You might also want to look up how Goldman Sachs is profiting from dealing in basic food supplies, pushing prices up. Sachs profits, while people in the developing world starve. Will post on this rather complex issue later.

This is a great moral and philosophical tradition from which to argue against the Tory Cuts – by cutting Corporation Tax and encouraging them to use tax havens, the Tories are allowing the elite class to have even more freedom, but by cutting public services and hassling 12 year olds that want to protest, they then limit the freedom of expression of the majority.

The argument we should be making against the Tory cuts is that there is a direct relationship between the elite class having too much of the wrong kind of freedom – these are the freedoms which cause social problems.

TORYS – IF YOU WANT THE PROTESTS TO STOP YOU NEED TO LIMIT THE EVIL FREEDOMS OF THE FEW – THE FREEDOMS WHICH HURT THE MAJORITY

Neo Liberalism and rising crime

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In this book (published 2008)Robert Reiner analyses trends in crime since the 1950s and argues that neoliberal economic policies are associated both with higher levels of serious crime than social democracies and with more punitive and inhumane crime control.

Reiner argues that there are three main historical trends in crime post World War Two:

  • 1950s – 1980s – rapid recorded crime rise
  • 1980s – 1992 – crime explosion
  • 1992 onwards – Ambiguously falling crime.

In this post I will outline Reiner’s analysis of why crime trends have varied over the last six decades, focussing especially on how neo-liberalism lead to rapidly increasing crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s.

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1950s – 1980s – rapid recorded crime rise

Reiner argues that a variety of factors lead to increasing crime during this period. Among them are –

  1. The 1950s was the decade when we entered the age of mass consumerism – it was the first decade where it was regard as normal and desirable to have a high level of consumption of material goods.
  2.  Reiner explicitly notes the role of television in ushering in a consumer culture and the norm of ‘immediate gratification’ – ‘ It is perhaps no coincidence that the rise in crime began in the same year (1955) that ITV, the first commercial channel, began to broadcast’,
  3. Reiner argues that a combination of advertising and game show culture (stressing the idea that you can get rich quick for doing nothing) undermined the previously widespread norm of deferred gratification pointing out that criminals tend to be impulsive, insensitive, risk taking and short sighted – which in his eyes also describes the perfect consumer in a capitalist society.
  4. Reiner also reminds us that the mid 1950s saw a weakening of informal and formal controls. The 50s saw the emergence of independent youth cultures and declining deference to authority.

 

1980s – 1992 – crime explosion

Maggie Thatcher - She pimped our nation to neo-liberalism, created the underclass and spawned a high crime society
Maggie Thatcher - She pimped our nation to neo-liberalism, created the underclass and spawned a high crime society

Reiner argues that the neoliberal economic policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government was the key accelerant behind this ‘crime explosion’ From this section we can identify several factors that explain an increase in the crime rate –

  1. Increasing levels of long term unemployment
  2. An increase in insecure, low paid, casual jobs (McJobs)
  3. Declining wages for unskilled workers
  4. Increasing levels of inequality
  5. A culture of egoism – the ‘me’ society
  6. The withdrawal of public services and supports, especially for women and children,
  7. The erosion of informal and communal networks of mutual support, supervision and care;
  8. The spread of a materialistic, neglectful and ‘hard’ culture;
  9. The unregulated marketing of the technology of violence
  10. The weakening of social and political alternatives to neo-liberal political economy
  11. The spread of consumerist culture
  12. Increasing social inequality and exclusion, involved a heightening of Mertion ‘anomie’.
  13. The erosion of conceptions of ethical means of success being preferable, or of concern for others limiting ruthlessness.

 

 Reiner’s take on Neo-Liberalism and how it relates to crime…

Reiner says of Neo-Liberalism – It is the economic theory and practise that has swept the world since the late 1970s. As an economic doctrine it postulates that free markets maximise efficiency and prosperity by signalling consumer wants to producers, optimising the allocation of resources and providing incentives for entrepreneurs and workers. Beyond economics, however, neo-liberalism has become the hegemonic discourse of our culture’

Neoliberalism as culture and ethic

To neoliberals free markets are associated with democracy, liberty and ethics. Welfare states they claim have many moral hazards: they undermine personal responsibility, and meet the sectional interests of public sector workers but not the public. Neoliberals advocate market discipline, wand Public- private partnerships to counteract this.

Neolieralism has spread from the economic sphere to the social and cultural. The roots of contemporary consumer culture predate neoliberal dominance, but it has now become hegemonic. Aspirations and conceptions of the good life have become thoroughly permeated by materialist and acquisitive values. Business solutions, business news and business models permeate all fields of life from sport and entertainment to charities and even crime control.

Neoliberalisation has meant the financialisation of everything, penetrating everywhere from the stuff of dreams to the minutiae of everyday life. Money has become the measure of men and women with the ‘Rich List’ and its many variations ousting all other rankings of status.

 1992 onwards – Ambiguously falling crime

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Reiner says of crime in this period  –

  1. No grand narrative can help explain wy crime is falling.
  2. He dismisses the view that zero tolerance policing and mass incarceration have reduced the crime rate – because there is considerable evidence that crime rates have fallen in countries that haven’t employed these policies. It is very important to note that the ‘tough on crime’ approach is much more likely to be found in neoliberal countries such as Britain and is part of the ideology of neoliberalism. The New Right claim it is necessary to reduce crime – but this is a false claim because crime has been decreasing elsewhere!
  3. There has been a fall in long term unemployment that partially explains the fall in crime
  4. There has been a halt in the acceleration of inequality – which at least helps to explain why crime is not growing!

Reiner finishes off by noting that today there is a paradox of security – although crime has been going down since the mid 1990s, public fears of crime have not declined at anywhere near the same rate – there is thus a ‘reassurance gap’ – one of the reasons Reiner cites for this is that when we see increased measures of control – we think they must be there for a reason – so we assume the crime rate must be high. The paraphernalia of crime control reminds us that the risk of being a victim of crime is significant.

Look out for my next blog when I’ll be summarising Reiner’s views on the relationship between neo-liberalism and tougher measures of crime control