NEOLIBERALISM: The Enshrouded Culprit Behind it All

An ideology, barely recognizable to many, has been the driving force behind the shaping of the contemporary world that we know today. From historical events to corporate culture and the very norms that dictate our lives. Neoliberalism has played its dutiful part in forming contemporary society. The reason why we witness the public systems flop and why the contemporary man feels crippling loneliness in today’s fast-paced life

By Barish Raman
  • Neoliberalism views human relations as nothing but competition, further reinforcing the concept of the rat race, degrading humanistic values
  • People surrendered control over their own lives and accepted a smaller role for themselves as cogs in the economic machinery
  • during the pandemic, when most lost their livelihoods, the 10 richest men in the world have doubled their fortunes
  • One of the biggest concerns arising from this ignorance is internalisation. We start to believe that rich have worked for this fame and success

In today’s time, where simply existing has been changed into a rat race in the fast lane, we should stop and take a moment to cerebrate on the question ‘Why’. Why are we the rats, what was that one day in our lives that we decided to enter this race and accept the exploitative stripping of our identity down to a mere rat, sprinting towards an unattainable piece of cheese, trying to push past our fellow brethren. 

Probably, the fateful day when we realised the importance of sustenance and the means of it being money in our capitalistic labyrinth of a society. However, there is no escape from the rat race but rather just embracing it as the only way to live, not to mention the prime question of what else is one supposed to even do then and there is no answer to that as there is no alternative to this “lifestyle”, maybe the wrong word to use as “lifestyle” indicates the presence of a choice. Of course, it should be noted that it is not necessarily as grim as this has been written out to be, notably because class differences make all the difference. The rat race stops feeling entrapping and meaningless when one is able to leave others behind and relish a far bigger and better chunk of the cheese. 

It might be evident that there is no other culprit to this centuries-old struggle of the working man, than capitalism. A word most are very familiar with and how can we not be, with capitalism being the ubiquitous ruler in most, if not, all countries. 

What the bourgeois started centuries ago, is carried forward by today’s global corporations, oligarchs, and governments to sustain the capitalist model of economy we all live in today, and what better way to achieve what you want than by making it a survival necessity for all in fear of not having an economic collapse.

What started as a right to own property or opening up markets, soon morphed into the elephant that we know as modern capitalism where commodification and consumerism are customary. It is here that neoliberalism proves itself to be an advantageous tool to strengthen the economic model. 

THE NEOLIBERALISM EFFECT

An overview, albeit the textbook version, doesn’t necessarily shed light upon the chokehold this ‘ideology’ has had on the global economy and society. Neoliberalism is contemporarily used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as “eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers” and reducing, especially through privatisation and austerity, state influence in the economy. 

What started from the seed of classical liberalism planted by Adam Smith in the 18th century with the right to own property soon morphed into defining the exercising of democracy by simply buying and selling. It changed the identity of citizens to consumers, making all the difference. Neoliberalism views human relations as nothing but competition, further reinforcing the concept of the rat race. Citizens are weighed with measures of profit and loss while degrading humanistic values. 

Neoliberalism is contemporarily used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as “eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers” and reducing, especially through privatisation and austerity, state influence in the economy

Neoliberalism believes in leaving it all to the market by privatising everything and reducing taxes to the bare minimum, elementarily, killing the public systems while confiscating the accessibility it might have provided to the citizens in need, whether that is affordable healthcare or education. 

In this plan of action, this privatisation acts as the perfect domino for the large systems that are just concerned with raking in the profits. With no accessible necessities, the common man is pushed harder to work in order to be able to make more money to support themselves and their dependents. 

The concept of workaholism is fascinating. While being severely normalised and often praised under the guise of ‘working hard’, no workaholic, generally an employee, rather than a business owner, takes the time to contemplate who they are working hard for, who profits from their nights of unpaid overtimes in hopes of getting recognition from the higher-ups because, at the end of the day, it all goes into the pockets of the one probably sitting 20 floors above you. We have accepted being extremely small parts of these huge institutions, while desperately waiting for the benefits to trickle down the hierarchy. William Greider, a celebrated sceptic writer, sheds light upon this perfectly in his book ‘Secrets of the Temple’, stating that Capitalism was a ‘Faustian bargain’. People surrendered control over their own lives and accepted a smaller role for themselves as cogs in the vast and complicated economic machinery, in exchange for mere material goods.” Nevertheless, you have to admit that “the devil certainly kept his half of the bargain.” That certainly is true, there is no end to the abundance of things one could buy, from actual private jets down to sticks made solely to make taking selfies easier. 

HIDDEN MOTIVES OF NEOLIBERALISM

All in all, neoliberalism is a plan of action rather than just a philosophy that uses the semblance of democracy and the latter part of the word, liberalism, to push forward capitalistic agendas to make the rich richer. The fact that during the pandemic, when most of the world has experienced a dramatic loss in their livelihoods, the 10 richest men in the world have doubled their fortunes, having to look no further than at the empires of Ambani and Adani to reject the notion of the presence of neoliberalism being fictitious. Noam Chomsky also offers a spotlight to this in his must-read book, ‘Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order’, stating, “Neoliberal democracy instead of citizens, produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralised and socially powerless. In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy, not just in the United States but across the planet, and will be for the foreseeable future.”

It should also be elucidated that criticising capitalism and especially, global neoliberalism doesn’t necessarily make one a ‘communistic nut’ (let’s leave delving into the overpulled agitprop of instrumented by American pop culture, of labelling carrying non-capitalist ideologies as being a loon or a nut for another day) or a passionate socialist, it simply makes them democratic; someone who exercises the liberty that contemporary democracy promises them, rather, the liberty neoliberalism promises them. 

Neoliberalism also involves the idea that the public sector should not only follow the rules of the private sector but it should also subsidise the private sector which we know is now owned by fewer and fewer global capitalists. (Note, India’s path towards these neoliberalist policies, starting with privatising all the governmental ventures rather than improving them.) This not only paralyses public finances but also enforces permanent austerity on the working class. Inequality is presented as righteous, the benefits are reaped by the generators of wealth and the minuscule bits are expected to trickle down and the libertarian part of this just says, as if, mockingly, that the markets are for everyone, it is up to you to dip your toes or dunking in it. Without, taking into account the generational cycle of poverty or the unequal starting lines that society offers to everyone. These egalitarian presumptions of neoliberalist policies are fantasised. 

DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS OF INTERNALISATION

One of the biggest concerns arising from this ignorance is internalisation. We start to believe that the rich have worked for this fame and success as if they started from the bottom and now they are here, not taking into account their education, background, and inheritance. While the underprivileged blame themselves for their shortcomings without realising that they can’t change their system rank that has been instilled by society. However, this doesn’t mean that we disacknowledge businessmen and women that have achieved what they have and give up and underplay the hard work of the working class, but rather, to acknowledge the differences with a critical eye. This internalisation severely manifests itself in the unemployed population as they start blaming themselves and questioning their own calibre even if it might be structural. 

Internalisation takes a huge toll on a person’s mental health. The rise of the contemporary epidemic of loneliness in working adults, with 57% of men and 59% of women reporting feeling very lonely in the USA, as surveyed by the Morning Consult commissioned by Cigna

Workaholism is also a part of this internalising culture as one equates their self-worth and skill with the quantity of work that they do even if the benefits they might reap from it might be the same. Working overtime incessantly will pay the same salary as the timings of 9-5. However, we must not ignore the long-term benefit that hangs by the thread of probability of getting recognition from the level ups allowing one to step a level up themselves, as small beings in large organisations. 

This internalisation takes a huge toll on a person’s mental health. This contributes to the suffocating self-doubt that has been proven to be one of the biggest symptoms of dwindling employment rates, however, this might work to the market’s benefit as the evolutionarily problem-solving human mind comes up with one solution to overcome their own shortcomings, work more. This also brings to attention the rise of the contemporary epidemic of loneliness in working adults, with 57% of men and 59% of women reporting feeling very lonely in the USA, as surveyed by the Morning Consult commissioned by Cigna. 

HOW IT ALL STARTED

The history of this ideology that overtook the world is also quite interesting. The word itself was coined in the 1930s and the ideology was mostly defined by the work of Friedrich August von Hayek, along with a group of 25 classical liberals who believed in pro-market policies to repair the damaged economy, post depression. Being able to view the market as an autonomous space, allowed the opening of a floodgate of free-market based ideas. Built on the foundation laid out by Adam Smith with his contribution to the conception of classical liberalism. However as a moralist, he believed that the market could only be led with justice and virtue and a society based on self-interest and greed cannot be a functioning society. Neoliberalism did not care about this. Neoliberalism uses the language of classical liberalism in ways that now benefit large corporate interests. Many of the tenets of this were enacted in the name of equality meaning that free-market policies were supposed to allow people an equal chance into the marketplace under neoliberalism but the free market loses its ties to democratic ideals and instead allows corporate capitalists to fully occupy the market and kill competition. While rooted in classical liberalism, neoliberalism differs from the policies of state intervention as it encourages the presence of a state, but a state they like, that can contribute politically to the market. 

Neoliberal democracy instead of citizens, produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralised and socially powerless. In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy

 In 1944, Hayek wrote ‘The Road to Serfdom’, where he foreshadows the wrath of a totalitarian government that crushes individuality through its planning. Hayek believed in a total worldview of perceiving all human activity as a form of economic calculation, which can then be collated to dominate the concept of wealth and cost. He saw price as an efficient means of organising resources on the basis of scarcity and abundance, using the supply and demand system. Hayek was afraid of society succumbing to totalitarianism and believed that only a state-free market could protect society from that. 

All in all, neoliberalism has been a revolution, a propaganda, and a political slur in its time. While the IMF still tries to dismiss its authenticity as an ideology and labels it a political slur thrown around by critics of the market, no one can deny the huge role it plays in dictating our lives. It may now be inescapable and giving up would just be unemployment with an opinion in a guise of revolution, all we can do is use our voice and rationality to call out the wrong and hold the wrongdoers accountable.

Barish Raman

The author is a young writer with a keen interest and strong base of expertise in society and psychology. She aims to shed light upon any topic in a manner that can empower a reader. She is fascinated with the ever changing dynamics of society and how they aff ect us. Barish is currently pursuing Psychology in Universitá Cattolica Del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy.

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