Welcome to Our Neoliberal World

In recent weeks, our comments section has been filled with request to define a term we use constantly on this show: neoliberalism. For people who like buzzwords parsed and spelled out, this hour’s for you.

There are countless avenues that neoliberalism can lead us through: from the dismal science of efficiency and austerity to the dismal politics in Washington on both sides of the aisle. In our neighborhoods, neoliberalism may mean the defunding of our public schools as well as the deregulation of our public services. It’s driving impulse may be the ruthless privatization of everything in existence: from parking meters to prisons. It’s affective influence can transform our personal relationships, both intimate and platonic; gamifying our everyday relationships and turning the dating pool into a competitive market. Through the co-option of feminist and anti-racist struggle, it can disguise class enemies as “woke” allies. Through the commercialization of our artistic works and the corruption of our scientific research, it can convert our greatest human achievements into metrics on a spreadsheet.

So, instead of pursuing a single definition in this show, we’ve enlisted an all-star cast of public thinkers to discuss where they see neoliberalism creeping into their daily life and work.

Corey Robin—professor of political science at CUNYauthor of The Reactionary Mind and a formidable blogger on the left—sees a specific evolutionary chain in the American political system. Against journos like Jonathan Chait, Robin has argued that neoliberalism is not just a pejorative synonym for “liberalism.” Its political use, in the U.S. at least, refers to a specific transformation within the Democratic party elite as well as their allied beltway outlets. The formal outlines of neoliberalism were drafted in the pages of the Washington Monthly—most notably  Charles Peters’s 1983 “Neo-Liberal Manifesto,” but its influence extended well beyond this journalistic clique. Free-market friendly policies of the so-called “Atari Democrats” culminated in Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, but its deregulating drive began, as Robin reminds us, with the administration of Jimmy Carter:

 

Writer, editor, and queer activist Yasmin Nair—reporting from the grounds of American neoliberalism’s birthplace and de facto capital: Hyde Park, Chicago tracks the ideological revolution through trends in mainstream feminist writing. From Lena Dunham to Arianna Huffington, Nair sees a rhetoric of therapy and inclusivity for elite women displaying analysis of class and power for the mass majority. The defining symbol of neoliberal feminism, Nair suggests, may be the bronze-casted “Fearless Girl” statue now staring down the bull on Wall Street. For the State Street Global Advisors, the Wall Street who funded the metal girl’s construction, the artwork was “intended to highlight efforts to get more women on corporate boards.” For Nair, it’s a cynical testament to elite striving and the desire to be recognized symbolically without resisting materially.

Greg Lindsay is the super-smart, MIT Media Lab-affiliated urbanist and technologist who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. He’s looking at neoliberalism’s effect in the global city, where innovation and corporate cash flows in while families and working people are pushed out.

Moira Weigel, our favorite chronicler of love in the time of capitalism and the editor of the new tech magazine Logic, grapples with the interpersonal implications of neoliberalism in a digital world—one which profoundly alters our approach to friendship, courtship, and sex. She’s joined by Yarden Katz, our local biosystems whiz at Harvard, who argues that “neoliberalism reorders the priority of scientific projects according to what’s sellable and profitable in the short term, while steering science as a whole towards serving the technological interests of private stakeholders.”

Mail Bag

If you’re still trying to nail down a definition, here are a few helpful guidelines sent in by our friends and our correspondents over email. Put your own definition in the comments!

George Scialabba, essayist and author of Low Dishonest Decades: 1980-2015:

I’d say neoliberalism is essentially the extension of market dominance to all spheres of social life, fostered and enforced by the state. In economic policy, this means deregulation and privatization. In culture, it means untrammeled marketing and the commoditization of everyday life, including the intimate sphere. In law, it means consumer sovereignty, non-discrimination (which is after all economically irrational), and a restrictive conception of the public interest. In education, it means the replacement of public by private (i.e., business) support for schools, universities, and research, with a concomitant shift of influence over curriculum and research topics. In civil society, it means private control over the media and private funding of political parties, with the resultant control of both by business. In international relations, it means investor rights agreements masquerading as “free trade” and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.

Bonnie Honig, Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and author of Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair:

Talking about public things is THE way, in my view. And also, as I say in my book, Public Things, it is always key to notice the ideological  character of the privatization claims of neo liberals, who say prefer markets to the state but always — nonetheless — enlist the state (policing, resources, etc) while claiming to have “privatized”.
Jason Jackson, Lecturer in Political Economy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the MIT:
In my work the primary way that I conceptualize neoliberalism is as a particular relationship between state and market, but my own perspective differs from the conventional relationship that is supposed between the two. Neoliberalism is often touted as laissez-faire, free markets, and ‘getting rid of the state’. In my view (and those of others in my field who work on this) this characterization is misleading. It is more analytically useful to see neoliberalism as a particular mode of economic governance by the state. That is, neoliberalism refers to the imposition to particular rules by the state (laws/regulations, policies, etc.) that (re)structure markets in ways that are held to be more efficient as well as to guarantee freedom of choice.

Jill Lepore, historian at Harvard and New Yorker writer:

Neoliberals prefer numbers to facts and data to numbers. They are now among those decrying the fall of the fact, but they have had a real hand in that.

David Bromwich, Yale professor of English:

Seven or eight years ago, I was walking to lunch with a friend, a former dean of the law school, who mentioned he’d been “talking at the reunion to Bob Rubin, who said, you know, America is getting to be a less and less desirable place to live, it might be time to think about living elsewhere.” This was conveyed in a neutral tone – as a curious and maybe perceptive remark, anyway interesting considering from whom it came! I didn’t react neutrally. But it has occurred to me that neoliberals act with something like  the presumptive authority of absentee landlords between the time of the elder Pitt and Gladstone. Now the world is their Ireland and it is no more supposed to know how to run itself than the average smallholder or tenant-at-will.

Bill Deresiewicz, author and literary critic:

Neoliberalism is all the rhetoric you hear in advertising and the media that assumes that our chief goals are to become more productive and competitive, to optimize ourselves like machines with apps and gadgets and “life-hacks” and lists of the 13.8 habits of highly workaholic individuals. The emergence of the word “creativity” as the great desideratum for individuals and corporations. Because it isn’t about self-expression or making art; it’s about creativity understood as a business good: “innovation” and so forth.

Illustration by Susan Coyne

Guest List
Corey Robin
professor of political science at CUNY and author of The Reactionary Mind
Yasmin Nair
writer, and activist based in Chicago, a co-founder of the queer radical editorial collective Against Equality and an editor-at-large for Current Affairs
Yarden Katz
departmental fellow in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and fellow at Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
Greg Lindsay
Urbanist, technologist, and author of Aerotropolis
Reading List
The First Neoliberals
Corey Robin
"Neoliberalism, of course, can mean a great many things, many of them associated with the Right. But one of its meanings—arguably, in the United States, the most historically accurat —is the name that a small group of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians on the Left gave to themselves in the late 1970s in order to register their distance from the traditional liberalism of the New Deal and the Great Society."
Bourgeois Feminist Bullshit
Yasmin Nair
"Feminist principles are not, ultimately, simply about making things better for women. They are about paying attention to gender in order to think about policies that make things better for everyone. So, for instance, a feminism that is simply about ensuring that women at the top get bathrooms with diaper-changing stations means nothing if the women and men who are cleaning those bathrooms — and presumably wiping baby shit from the walls — get neither time off nor the ability to place their children in care while at work. A policy that ensures that female professors get to take a year off after having their babies is useless if the system continues to simply hire adjuncts of all genders — who get no such benefits, no matter how well paid they are — to fill in for them."
The Neoliberal Arts
William Deresiewicz
"This is education in the age of neoliberalism. Call it Reaganism or Thatcherism, economism or market fundamentalism, neoliberalism is an ideology that reduces all values to money values. The worth of a thing is the price of the thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of the person. Neoliberalism tells you that you are valuable exclusively in terms of your activity in the marketplace — in Wordsworth’s phrase, your getting and spending."
Neoliberalism Turned Our World Into a Business -- And There Are Two Big Winners
Ben Tarnoff
"No industry has played a larger role in evangelizing the neoliberal faith than Silicon Valley. Its entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ways to make more of our lives into markets. A couple of decades ago, staying in touch with friends wasn’t a source of economic value – now it’s the basis for a $350bn company. Our photo albums, dating preferences, porn habits, and most random and banal thoughts have all become profitable data sets, mined for advertising revenue. We are encouraged to see ourselves as pieces of human capital that must ceaselessly enhance our value – optimizing our feeds and profiles, hustling for follows and likes and swipes."
The President's House is Empty
Bonnie Honig
"Neoliberalism means many things to many people but the one trait by which it is always distinguished is its approval of the opt-out and a willingness to turn a blind eye to the hidden costs of such a choice. Everything is optional for the neoliberal; this is how neoliberalism defines freedom. Neoliberals opt out of any collective thing they can afford to opt out of. They believe everyone should be free to send their children to private or charter schools, to live in private gated communities, to hire private transport rather than take the school bus, and so on. “Choice” is their watchword (except when it comes to pregnancy) and choice is synonymous with freedom."
A Neo-Liberals Manifesto (1982)
Charles Peters
"Neo-liberalism is a terrible name for an interesting, if embryonic, movement. As the sole culprit at the christening, I hereby attest to the innocence of the rest of the faithful. They deserve something better, because they are a remarkable group of people. The best known are three promising senators: Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gary Hart of Colorado and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. The ones I know best are my fellow journalists, including James Fallows and Gregg Easterbrook of The Atlantic, Michael Kinsley and Robert M. Kaus of Harper's, Nicholas Lemann and Joseph Nocera of Texas Monthly, and Randall Rothenberg of New Jersey Monthly. But there are many others, ranging from an academic economist like MIT's Lester Thurow to a mayor like Houston's Kathy Whitmire to a governor like Arizona's Bruce Babbitt. There's even a cell over at that citadel of traditional liberalism, The New Republic."

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  • lukelea

    link not working

  • A. David Wunsch

    Why not call it neo-conservatism ? The definition presented in today’s show describes a philosophy that accepts the tenets of capitalism. This to me describes conservativism. The term “liberal” has become so pejorative in recent years that it doesn’t need further tarnishing by the intellectual community.

    • Charles Morgan

      To my mind the point is that in fundamental practical ways neoconservatism and neoloneralism are painfully similar….they cannot see very deeply beyond the boundaries of their own privilege. Nor can many of us since real change would require a drastic redistribution of income which among many things might mean that professional families like mine couldn’t so easily choose the schools their children go to! Hillary and Barack are goodhearted in so many obvious ways that Trump is not…. But while Trump benefits from our financial systems in ways they do not, they carry out much of the dirty work of perpetuating grossly inequitable rules (and ideas even) they believe are necessary to the survival of these systems. That’s all simplistically put, but hopefully carries some resonance.

  • Sara S

    What are these people talking about? This sounded like a critique of capitalism. Neo-liberalism is about globalization and a global government, trade deals, and liberal justification for wars!

  • Peter

    There doesn’t seem to me to be much “neo” here. It reminds me of the arguments between the Sparticists (Spartakusaufstand) and the SPD (Social Democrats) in Weimar Germany. (I believe one of your guests alluded to Rosa Luxemburg). It probably goes further back way further than that (the limits of my historical memory). How, for example, were Roosevelt, Truman, Stevenson, Kennedy any less “Neo-Liberals” than Carter, Clinton, and Obama? How were Walter Lipmann and the Alsops different from James Fallows? I consider myself an anti-capitalist and agree with most of the positions articulated by your guests, but I’ll argue with anyone who won’t distinguish (electorally) between liberal (or Neo- if you prefer) pro-captialists and Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz “conservatism”. While Hillary Clinton did not reflect my own political/economic views (in addition to her flaws as a candidate), had she been elected the lives of many people, already suffering, would be in far less jeopardy. I just can’t turn a blind eye to that. I remember an anecdote once told to a History class I was in by Professor Harvey Goldberg, an avowed and very articulate socialist in the Sparticist mold. He was traveling in India with a colleague and they were being accosted by a veritable mob of beggars in the most pitiable condition. The other person said, if you give money to them you are only supporting the corrupt system that keeps them in such abject poverty. At that, Professor Goldburg said, he”turned his pockets inside out.”

    • ++++ the Professor Goldburg story

    • A. David Wunsch

      Excellent!

    • Charles Morgan

      Yes, but…. in the context of this conversation yours is a kind of neoliberal dichotomization. Of course we should give money to beggars as well as attack the systems that keep them poor. But frankly I think your argument for Hillary– often echoed before the election, that she would be so much better than Trump, as well as our first woman president, as well as a ‘progressive who gets things done’, etc. etc.– is the kind of argument that waylaid Bernie, and, to be provocative, actually helped get Trump elected. It wasn’t just the racists and misogynists and nationalists and xenophobes who elected Trump– it was the aging white liberal/progressive class that, failing to listen to their young colleagues and children, promoted a militaristic wall-street loving elitist female neoliberal. Sad. (lol)

      • Potter

        What waylaid Bernie was internal politics within the Democratic party elites.

        • Charles Morgan

          exactly… the neoliberal elites of which Hillary was a keen mouthpiece.

          • Potter

            Yes she tried to sell herself as a progressive. But who was buying that? It fell flat. And, speaking of definitions, what is a “progressive” to voters? Bernie was pushing her as he attracted the enthusiastic crowds, a “social democrat”, “socialist” no longer a pejorative. I think she was gradually realizing she had to move, but she was also stubbornly clinging to her attachment to her neoliberalism. She did not want to criticize Bill Clinton’s presidency, stuck up for him. So at the same time she was slowly moving, she affirmed more of the same, no change.. or not much. She was moving though it was hard to get her to move. What did she stand for? Finger in the wind…
            I remember she had a hard time with free college, free public college. She said kids/students should have “skin in the game”. That enraged me. Then she stopped saying that.

        • michael pettengill

          What waylaid Bernie was his free lunch economics, just a progressive version of Reagan and Republican free lunch economics.

          Bernie promised to tax out of existance the fossil fuel industry and the rich, and after the fossil fuel industry and the rich no longer exist, the taxes on carbon and the rich will fund a huge welfare state.

          If you are taxing something based on the power of taxes to destroy that something, you can’t spend the tax revenue because there will be no tax revenue.

          Republicans made spending tax revenue from eliminating tax revenue cool, so Bernie is simply changing who wins from free lunch economics made cool by Reagan Republicans and conservatives.

          Obama and Clinton learned from Bill in 1993 to never raise taxes to pay for existing government spending because voters want the free lunch Reagan promised voters. Bill made voters paid for the lunches voters were getting, but that voters did not much like. Government roads, for example, were not the best, so they wanted government to pay workers to fix them, but the screamed bloody murder and voted out HW and then Democrats for hiking taxes on highway use to pay workers to fix transportation.

          Bernie wanted to tax the rich out of existance, but he was going to fund fixing infrastructure from taxes on the rich to destroy the rich, and taxes on consumers who burn fossil fuels so they won’t burn fossil fuels. Bill and Obama levied taxes to pay for government spending, without driving the payers into extinction, and voters objected because they wanted the spending for free.

          So, Obama and Clinton advocated only the policies voters would pay for.

          Bernie advocated policies that no one would pay for, so either way, those in Congress would be defeated for failing to deliver the free lunches they have been taught to expect from government by conservatives.

          • Potter

            I never got any of that from Bernie. He’s smarter than that.

            But government, through tax policy, can encourage and discourage for the general welfare i.e. on the environment and climate change issues.

            Bernie advocated policies that people wanted…free public college tuition, raising minimum wage, healthcare for all as a right, campaign finance reform.

            Why is Bernie Sanders Polling So Well?

      • The story or parable can be read different ways I suppose, but I think the two options are supposed to be mutually exclusive.
        The one guy is rational; he is aware of the moral hazard. This is why he is not going to do anything.
        Professor Goldburg perhaps doesn’t think awareness is worth much compared to action. Personally I think awareness is a stepping stone and I do appreciate the work academia does. The guests were superb at offering vocabularies, vantage points, and detailed thoughts.

      • Peter

        I agree that Clinton is a militarist and pro-capitalism, AND her policy prescriptions recognized the prevalence of economic injustice and promoted programs to ameliorate, though certainly not eliminate, it. That stance has been descriptive of American and European liberalism at least since Roosevelt. To my mind dichotomization is to view that contradiction as untenable and hypocritical, which is what the young often do. (I know, I was there.) Now I have a different view, which includes the need to eventually replace capitalism with a form of socialism, but in the mean time (and like it or not there will be a long mean time, which would have been true even if Sanders had won), to work around the edges to improve the lives of the oppressed. It is elitist, in a high degree, to oppose amelioration. Sometimes, like it or not, a band-aid helps. By the way, I was pro-Bernie, but when it became Trump vs. Clinton, Bernie and I made the same decision.

    • Potter

      I would like to hear another updated discussion about plain modernism and it’s supposed offshoot “postmodernism”. I think neoliberalism is a particularization of that general topic.

  • I see Jason Jackson’s blurb echoing what Yarden Katz said on the show as a major…. insight or refining of the definition.
    Jackson:
    “neoliberalism refers to the imposition to particular rules by the state (laws/regulations, policies, etc.) that (re)structure markets in ways that are held to be more efficient as well as to guarantee freedom of choice.”

  • Jordan Weinstein

    Great discussion Chris! I’ve posted a link to this show everywhere I could. First of all, never quite knew until now what exactly Neoliberalism was, nor why everyone seemed to say it began in the early 1970s. Hadn’t considered that every presidential election has an impact on each party and the trajectory the party takes coming away from it. The WHY is what you seem always to address and we are better off for it.

  • Jordan Weinstein

    Odd. I couldn’t find one of these book titles on Amazon. Not one. Where are they available?

    • zgoldhammer

      Which book titles were you looking for?

  • Charles Morgan

    Christopher and gang, In this wonderful show, like several recently, there is a kind of evasion by your guests of both the implicit and explicit question of ‘what do we do’ or even ‘how do we lead our lives’. Of course professors and scientists, like writers and others, live in bubbles as impenetrable at times as those of techies and politicos.
    But progressive-minded professors use Uber in the rain; leftist scientists text with their iPhones; and of course, progressives everywhere, when they can, land in towns and villages with ‘better’ schools.

    Mine is not an accusation of hypocrisy– we all live in webs that are entanglingly sticky– but we need another, perhaps deeper conversation, about these immensely difficult, and fascinating, conflicts of daily life. Please bring your guests back for this more personal, but absolutely central and edifying, conversation.

    For example: How do thoughtful lefties, socialists, progressives negotiate their lives, their work, their families, and especially maybe their minds, in a world so fully penetrated by neoliberal structures.*

    *I’m sure Mary M. can work the topic into a provocative 9 word phrase. [I could too, if I had the time, but have to get back on my iPhone and do some random texting.]

    Charlie M.

  • Potter

    This is very instructive. Neoliberalism has many facets as opposed to definitions. Or would it be better to say repercussions? Isn’t most of the discussion about effects (and affects) that stem from the political definition and the political state we have arrived at: it’s corruption, the acquiescence…both parties? The story of how we got here is important to absorb (thank you Corey Robin).

    We were robbed! and we are still being robbed!: our commons, our community. Watch it go even more now. See that budget?

    (I never tire of telling this). I went to Hunter College, City University of NY when it cost $24 per semester (bursar’s fee)…and I majored in Art without a thought to how I was going to earn. I am a relic from pre-1970, a time of free higher education in NYC. But we knew then even that the arts were an indulgence.

    I agree with Moira Weigel: Trump seems the embodiment, the apotheosis, of neoliberalism. Trump finishes the job and possibly awakens us causing a lot of pain. Chris asks “who is going to rescue us?” I am asking where are our values.

    .

    • Floyd C. Wilkes

      Chris asks “who is going to rescue us?” I am asking where are our values.

      Perhaps we are the ones we’ve been waiting for? Perhaps the resolution consists of a change of mind and heart, a radical yet simple metanoia, one mind metasized at a time? Wasn’t it Einstein that said ~”A good example is not the best way to teach someone, it is the only way.”? Artist will save us if we are to be saved, one must become an artist, live to create, to grow, an artisan, in other words properly joined to Logos, the way, the truth, reality. Art thou willing to be an artist? Yes, you are!

      And applause to Potter, it is fair to say we suffer a crisis in values, and its related vicious cycle, an unfortunate spiraling down of the commons, civic society and its psychological and ecological foundation. Wouldn’t life be more grand in a vivifying virtuous cycle? If so, perhaps a movement away from lust and greed as the organizing principles of our national creed is warranted ? A transition towards benevolence aka caring, liberty, justice and equity might do it? A new social contract rooted in and defined by cooperation rather than unceasing competition, its perpetual inevitable conflicts and conflagrations ?

      • Potter

        Thanks. We have to stop looking for a messiah, a savior, to come rescue us.
        The notion that there should be, for instance, free public college (of high quality) for all, healthcare for all, not just the poor, enables a liberty: the liberty to become, to choose a life different than what we might have had to just to survive. Why do so many liberal arts graduates go into finance? So that is how government can enable or cripple human potential. Call this social democracy, or liberalism or progressivism or leftist.

        By the way Zach writes a lot in the email and I don’t entirely disagree but just to say that Jimmy Carter was a response to Nixon/Ford. We were so happy to have a decent man in the WH, a southerner, a peanut farmer, educated. What did we know of neoliberal philosophy?
        And Clinton after the love affair the country seemed to have with Reagan seemed at the time progress. It was called “triangulation”.. “the economy stupid!”. Clinton was very loved, even abroad.

        We are in hindsight.

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    To my way of thinking, Neoliberalism elevates and prioritizes the concerns of capital above all others concerns including the welfare and wellbeing of humans and natural stocks (environmental and ecological factors of production). Capitalism conventionally acknowledges all three spheres of concerns in its reckonings and mandates a kind of equilibrium or equi-tension between the three . Neoliberalism also sanctions force and violence as a legitimate means of advancing its aims (neocons not only subscribe to neoliberalism they birthed it). It is born of empire and could not be imposed within the context of other modes of socio-economic organization.

    It is known as neo- “liberalism” by virtue of its dogma espousing the doctrine of “Laissez-faire” market management i.e. arguing incessantly the virtues of deregulation. A fantasy that history provides ample information to refute quite easily. Consider the effects of deregulation as a crucial factor in the financial climate that produced the Crash of ’08 and the Great Recession that entailed.

    Another great show, and a much needed discussion. Thank you Open Source.

    • michael pettengill

      So, wasn’t FDR the ultimate and original neoliberal in America, and Keynes and Churchill in the UK?

      Or do you believe they did not mobilize massive violence which restored a bit of empire to the UK but transformed the US by force into the greatest empire ever?

      The UK ended up with the NHS as a consequence of violence destroying the ability of markets to deliver needed care. But UK voters did not like the limited services and low pay of the NHS, but objected to paying higher taxes to fix those problems. The NHS existed in tension between what voters wanted and what voters would pay. The rich were already taxed heavily, heavily enough many left the UK, more NHS required all voters paying higher taxes. But voters refuse to pay more,but instead pay capitalists to get more medical care.

      Are the voters in the UK going to capitalists to get medical care paid for with their own money placing capital above themselves as patients and workers and voters? Or are they placing themselves above government capital funded by taxes and above private capital by paying for what they want for themselves?

      As for financial deregulation, voters wanted it so they would get higher interest on savings than allowed by government dictates that was below inflation, and because voters wanted to borrow money government said they could not borrow because they had too little money to qualify for borrowing money. (Regulation Q.) In the 70s, checking paid 0% by Regulation Q, savings a max of 5%, but inflation was 6-10%.

  • K.L.

    Thank you for an excellent show. The topic itself was very well-explored, but however many examples of societal, political and institutional problems were presented, it remained theoretical in nature. No matter how many of these problems an individual is aware of, there is still the missing “what do I do?” that was not addressed by any of the guests. Narrowing the failures of a system down to the failures of particular institutions is difficult indeed. In this way, though, the listener must narrow those down to the failures of the individual. Dwelling on one’s own failures is overwhelming; being presented with opportunities to help improve one’s behaviors in order to change those of institutions and systems is enabling and much more effective. It would be a great help to find out how your guests would address this directly to the individual listener.

  • michael pettengill

    Listening to the description of neoliberalism, I heard descriptions that apply for FDR’s policies.

    FDR was opposed to government being the economy, but instead sought policies to make free market capitalist put money in everyone’s pockets so everyone had money to spend in the free market that would pay the free market price for goods and services.

    FDR Democrats were totally tax and spend, with taxes levied everywhere on everything. It was in the 30s that almost all workers started paying taxes on their labor income. Social Security taxed workers so workers no longer able to work, by lack of demand or ability, would get cash to spend in the free market to keep the economy profitable.

    FDR early on tried to hike food prices in order to ensure the free market would pay “capitalists”, farmers, enough money for farmers to repay “capitalists”, the banks, their debt secured by capital, the land. FDR did not seek an alternative to capitalism to solve the foreclosure problem, but instead expanded capitalist debt funding of buying capital to more people: the FDR policies increased the leverage of savings a great deal so workers could own capital by putting only 20% down on the land and buildings instead of 50%, or typically, require owning the land before using the land to secure borrowing to build a barn and plant crops, with shelter built with the landowner’s labor.

    FDR wanted all workers to work for private businesses, but recognized some workers were not employable in the free market, mostly the young adults. So his policies funded short term employment for the young adult that paid below market wages and focused on high labor work building stuff the free market would not because it would generate nothing but tax revenue indirectly. Ie, parks and public building generated returns to the community over the long term that increased tax revenue that over time exceeded to taxpayer investment in capital, the public parks and buildings. The CCC planted a billion trees using unskilled young men which decades later generated revenue from logging, or in increased productivity from the farms sheltered by trees from the winds. These workers got a dollar a day plus room and board, which was below market rate for experienced workers, but they got training and work experience, and left the CCC in a couple of years for the free market.

    FDR advocated providing free market capitalist services to rural America with subsidized loans to electric and telephone utilities to extend services to rural households and farms and businesses. Coops are community capitalist businesses that must charge customers enough to pay for all the labor required to deliver the goods to customers. The coops did not give free electricity to the poor and charge really high rates to the rich. Where private capital built the utilities, regulations forced free market principles: the poor and powerless paid the same rates to connect and use electricity as the rich.

    Basically, I heard criticisms of FDR annd his political economy policies.

    What is the alternative? Cuba? Venezuela? China under Mao?

    Is China and the Chinese people worse off from China adopting neoliberalism a quarter century ago?

  • Ben Bochner

    What a great show. Nobody brings together talent that needs to be heard and focuses on issues that haven’t even been defined in other media outlets like Chris Lydon. So tired of having American cultural life litigated on cable TV by the same talking heads. Bravo to Chris Lydon for leading the way to a more relevant conversation. A good nutritious meal in a world of fast food news.

  • Ben Bochner

    By the way, a much more effective way of discussing this thing called neo-liberlism, which most people will never understand, is to say we were promised The Jetsons and got The Flintstones.

  • Pete Crangle

    The Political Economy Parasite

    The Parasite

    “Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.” ― Samuel Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony

    Neoliberalism is an opaque term with very loose consensus as to its meaning. It can lead to endless feats of strength and arguments with one’s drunk uncle about its history, or existence. In operational terms, it remains largely undetected or understood by a culture hypnotized by bread and circuses — it is a convenient coincidence that bread and circuses work to the advantage of neoliberalism and its incremental, cultural creep. It infiltrates our society without proprietary restrictions, and yet, is embraced by organizations that embrace its principles with proprietary zeal. It is a cottage industry for study and research, and hence, a project and grant funding generator. You will probably find few if any explicit degree programs in neoliberalism, nor job titles, such as, chief neoliberal officer or senior vice president of neoliberal projects. Neoliberalism may or may not be considered an institution, and it is not a unified system of thought. It has historical roots with these people (note that budget … that’s called bang for the buck!). Diverse actors such as Milton Friedman, Bill Clinton, Augusto Pinochet, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have architected neoliberal policies successfully and in some cases, brutally. The brutality may be a side effect of neoliberal policy, or a core part of its dynamic. This too is fodder for endless argument.

    From my perspective, neoliberalism is a parasitical ideological framework that is extremely malleable. Some of the salient features are: it works with a very, very long timeline to achieve its goals; its goals are dynamic to changing conditions; it creates the illusion that all problems of relevance can be resolved by the market; it creates the illusion that the market is not only a functional mechanism with near omnipotent powers, but the market is an incremental replacement for nature; it attempts to construct consumers, not citizens — tellingly, citizenship vitality is not indexed and reported except during elections; transactions are a primary unit and metric of vitality; it uses think tanks and public relations to influence, manipulate, and fog mass thinking; it does not rely upon nor require rational markets; its arena of primacy is market making exchanges; its aspiration is global totality across various political and economic systems and styles — making it a hegemonic parasite; it requires an interactive and strong state that will serve its interest above its citizenry and backstop it through various crisis management modalities; and it requires a security and surveillance apparatus to protect the interest of its activities — both domestic and global security protect its footprint.

    Those last features, crisis management and pacification, serve a dual use of protecting the interest of its activities while at the same time providing yet another tax payer funded revenue stream. We’re not just talking about arms manufacturing and global dealership in concert with the deployment of these weapons through various imperial projects. We’re talking about publicly funded R&D investment. We’re talking about cycles of publicly funded bailouts and monetary policy that provide revenue infusions and protection, as well. We’re talking about lawlessness that is lightly regulated and lightly punished; e.g. LIBOR collusion, or the recent Wells Fargo consumer fraud program. It feeds and thrives on moral hazard. State intervention, bail outs, tax funding, monetary policy, security protection, and deregulation are baked into a model that is dynamic to the context shifts. Of course, all of this can be argued away as phantoms of irreality. The media bubble has been gaslighting the citizenry for decades through omission and commission.

    From a humanist perspective, neoliberalism is redefining the boundaries of gentrification in order to assert the supremacy of markets and corporate personhood over actual human beings — making judiciaries and ISDS/ICS complicit in its suffocating growth. Neoliberalism is a form of zero sum activity that is conducted in a wildly asymmetric power arrangement between a technocratic management class that relies upon a strong state to essentially kick labor and consumers to the curb by a corporate-state hegemon. Neoliberalism is always in the process of becoming ubiquitous while remaining murky, unseen, and yet, ever intrusive. In terms of political rhetoric, our political class has been attempting to convince its citizen population that our political system is the parasite feeding off of the economic engine host — a host without overt form or visibility. The devil must be given his due for such a bold and cynical project, and its continued success.

    Excellent discussion Chris. Thank you …

    • Potter

      It’s a power struggle. I see it as a failure of government ( the of the people by the people for the people kind), government that has been corrupted by the lure of money and power. So you have these people-power revolts (wake up time)- the T party, Occupy, Trumpists ( worst of all). You have the identity movements. But it waxes and wanes and is diffuse. It has to come together. I can’t fault business interests being interested in business, not entirely. They should be interested in people but they are not apparently ( by and large) except as consumers. Let’s not dream. Yesterday I learned that a little bottle of eye drops would (if I bought it) cost me $400. And that’s the discounted price from my insurance. I protest!

  • Billy McBride

    I now feel surprisingly more guilty for owning my Smartphone and little iPad! One wants to be a better person, but there are always the usual welcome arguments out there to make one think about that.

  • Gordon Adams

    This broadcast also helped me realize while so many financial planners decry the lack of savings in the U.S., they also say nothing about the capitalist system in which it is so difficult for most families to save. Retirement, college funds and probably soon, health savings plans are all predicated on the neoliberal ideal.

  • The Ninja Star Rapper

    Does anyone know where that Corey Booker clip in the first minute came from?