Thursday, March 7, 2013

Neoliberal Theory of Society

Neoliberalism has been one of the most discussed topics of the 21st century. In many respects, the concept has been used as a ubiquitous catchphrase conveying a sense fundamental transformation of various dimensions of social life. It is espoused that given the intensification of integration, through the proliferation of capital mobility and the aggrandizement of transnational corporations (TNC’s), countries are forced into ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ type situations in which the capacity for progressive reform along Keynesian lines is limited, if nonexistent. The assumption is that the capacity is strained to  sustain welfare-state institutions. This culturally hegemonic social construction is nothing but an ideological mask; the foregone conclusion is a self-fulfilling mythology. An excellent paper that expounds this is Simon Clarke's 'The Neoliberal Theory of Society" (see here).

In general, neoliberals contend that financial liberalization and privatization guarantee the most efficient utilization of capital by freeing up the market mechanism for long term sustainable growth, bringing convergence in development across countries.  Through the Washington Consensus and the institutionalization of neoliberal economic doctrine via the co-ordination of the World Bank, IMF and the US treasury department, measures across the globe, however, has resulted in the majority of the world’s population being denied the human right of commanding the productive resources necessary for sustaining adequate standards of living. Social outcomes like distributive justice, gender equity, basic access to socially acceptable housing, nutritious food, education, freedom from poverty and discrimination, and social inclusion have been far from reached. 

Neoliberalism propels governments to adopt policies aimed at maintaining credibility in financial markets for the attraction and retainment of short-term capital. The recipe for disaster is fiscal restraint, tight monetary policy, and the protection of high interest rates to prevent inflationary pressures from undermining the value of real return on financial assets. Macroeconomic policy is supposed to be designed in such a way that the interests of those who own financial assets (wealthy households) are prioritized over those who are forced to sell their labor power for sustenance.  As a result, the trigger threat of capital fight significantly limits the space for attention to social welfare to be embedded. 

Interestingly, given already present gender inequalities in labour markets and unequal power relationships within the household, neoliberalism forces women to assume greater responsibilities in cushioning families from economic insecurity, which has had the unintended consequence of pushing them into the informal sector of employment, maximizing susceptibility to egregious labor rights violations and physical abuse.

In response to the widespread social dislocation caused by neoliberal dogma, the Post-Washington consensus has initiated a new outlook under the rubric of ‘New Institutional Economics' (NIE).  NIE  proposes the wider role of government to guarantee the conditions for markets to in fact work as they supposedly should through the promotion of market-friendly civil societies and the encouraging of a democratic political culture. The Post-Washington consensus, like the Washington consensus, however, still promotes highly regressive macroeconomic policy. The only real difference is the facilitation of appropriate assessments, and the proliferation of that pathetic euphemism 'social capital', rather than forced upon structural adjustments, such that the institutions that do support free trade, liberalization, and deregulation are implanted such that disproportionate effects on the poor do not egregiously materialize. In the final instance, however, this is just window-washing. 

For an excellent paper by Ben Fine (see here).


  1. That is neoliberal aim, but philosophy that is going under is that state as society's extension can not solve problems of a society, it is free market that will do better job of solving problems of a society.

    Now that state solved a lot of infrastructure problems neoliberals want to benefit from investment in it since kapitalism run out of profits due to low buying power of its customers/workers. Privatization of natural monopolies under excuse that market will do it better because of competition, but they are hiding the fact that infrastructure is a natural monopoly and also strategic infrastructure so there is no competition.
    Neoliberal strategy is robbing us of our strategic investments into infrastructure for benefits of those that have so much wealth that they can never, ever spend it, or their kid's kids. They simply does not need more profits but they just want more even tough it is our society's investment paid by our taxes.

  2. O social capital one must read is Ben Fine's critique, "Social Capital Versus Social Theory"

  3. Fantastic book. What is interesting is that many sociologists tend to treat the concept as a variable in functionalist fashion, little realizing that such argumentation is subject to the same criticisms that were evidenced by the capital debates in economics.

  4. Great paper is here:

  5. Replies
    1. David posted this, so I don't know to what was the paper by Ben Fine he had in mind.


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