Neoliberalism miscontrued?

15 Sep

Borrowed this from the library and found that it’s also available online on the Centre for Independent Studies website. The think tank promotes itself as an ‘independent public policy ‘think tank’ within Australasia… actively engaged in support of a free enterprise economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents’.

I think that pretty much tells us what they stand for. In this occasional paper, ‘Neoliberalism: the genesis of a political swearword’, the author, Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, argued that the term neoliberalism has been misunderstood; that the original creator of the word, Alexander Rüstow, actually advocaties a form of political management of the economy in the middle between ‘Marxist socialism and liberal capitalism’.

According to him, neoliberalism stands for ‘sound institutions such as property rights, freedom of contract, open markets, rules of liability, and monetary stability as prerequisites for markets to prosper and thrive’ and that they are laudable achievements.

Yet, even if we can agree that neoliberalism has been misappropriated (which is debatable since it was not mentioned what Rüstow thinks of certain associated aspects of neoliberalism such as the privatisation of public services  e.t.c.), it does not necessarily follow that critics are wrong to be vehement against the term. It is now commonly understood as a form of free-market fundamentalism that puts profits and market at the centre of every-day activities with significant impacts on peoples’ lives. It is this core conception of the term which enjoins activists together.

Moreover, Hartwich argued that the free market conservatives do not think of themselves as neoliberals; and that there are currently no self-identified ‘neoliberals’ to speak of. Therefore, no harm is done to any group which makes this clarification (if it exists) rather moot (with the exception that Rustow might disagree vehemently).

One of the weaker point of his paper is the lack of explanation of the resurgence of the term ‘neoliberalism’. This could possibly explain why the current usage of the word deviates from the original creator.

In any case, we can call it neoliberalism, right libertarianism or free market ideology.  What we can’t deny is the need to critique an ideology that has had serious negative global impacts on the lives of most people.


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