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Neoliberalism Is Working Exactly As Intended

Ron Rivers~December 11, 2018 /Politics

A common criticism of capitalism is that the neoliberal approach has failed to meet its intended goals.  We recognize this because we can observe that the United States is becoming increasingly more unequal every year.  Oxfam.org recently published a study stating that 82% of all the wealth created in 2017 went to the top 1% of economic earners.  [1] Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of neoliberalism’s greatest cheerleaders, has published work that the concept has been oversold to the public. [2]  The truth is neoliberalism hasn’t failed. It’s working as intended.

Neoliberal philosophy is, and always has been, about increasing the wealth of the owners of capital.   It was never intended to bring global prosperity, which is why the criticism that it isn’t working is false.  Neoliberalism wants to allow those who control capital to access new ways of multiplying that capital. The idea is rooted in rewarding capital concentration.   It is a system that manipulates our culture to celebrate greed and predatory practices. For the uninitiated, it promises the possible. You too can be a billionaire if you work hard and stay focused!

The ideal bleeds into our education, communication, and interaction with one another in all works of life.  Only a global culture indoctrinated to neoliberalism would allow a production structure that allocates 45% of the worldwide wealth into the hands of 1% of the population. [3]  From the perspective of the architects, neoliberalism is a spectacular success!

Compounding this challenge is a political class that perpetuates the fantasy that there is something to be saved of the current regime.   This delusion has bled into our public consciousness as well. For example, we can observe vitriolic feedback against measures to raise the quality of life of our lowest earners such as a minimum wage increase.   The data-defying arguing is that this wage increase would hurt small businesses. Neoliberalism has convinced us to approach the problems of inequality under the assumption that creating systemic improvements to help the poor are a balancing act.  By doing one, we diminish the other.    I imagine that the political actors supporting this line of thinking don’t believe for a second that it will last forever, they’re just trying to take advantage of it for a few more years.

Language Matters

The argument being made against the choice of syntax surrounding neoliberalism may seem a bit trivial.  Why does it matter if we say it failed or it succeeded if we agree that economic alternatives need exploring?  It matters because language is the foundation of everything we know and do. By allowing concepts to be incorrectly classified we open ourselves up to further manipulation under the guise of good intentions.  We must reject critics who claim neoliberalism isn’t working as if there was some version of the economic theory that would ever do anything more than concentrate wealth upwards.

We know from the plentiful data available on wealth concentration that the architects of neoliberalism succeeded in their goals.  As our elected leaders push for solutions to attenuate these inequalities, we must insist that they communicate their intentions clearly and concisely.  It is no longer enough to merely humanize the impact of these economic policies; we need alternative visions of the future. Most importantly, armed with the knowledge that neoliberalism is working as intended, we must demand that the architects of alternatives focus on expanding every person’s access and agency to exist within the world and not cater solely to those with economic power in the present.   In rejecting the notion of well-intentioned economic policies gone awry, we take another step towards the progressive transformation of the world.


[1] Reward work, not wealth Oxfam International https://d1tn3vj7xz9fdh.cloudfront.net/s3fs-public/file_attachments/bp-reward-work-not-wealth-220118-en.pdf

[2] Neoliberalism: Oversold?  by Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri International Monetary Fund https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/ostry.htm

[3] Global Inequality Facts Inequality.org https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/