Is Neoliberalism a philosophy of economics, politics or religion?
Neoliberalism had its start as a guiding philosophy from the field of economics. There is no doubt about the coining of the term by Alexander Rüstow in 1938 had a different meaning to that it has carried since the 1908s. It was originally an attempt to find a ‘third way’ between classical laissez-faire liberalism and the heavy state controlled economics of the time. Milton Friedman happily identified himself as a neoliberal in the early 1960s. However, by the early 1970s the word had lost its meaning in favour of a pure laissez-faire approach more resembling classical liberalism. It returned in the 1980s with a new twist, it became a term that covered both the economic policy and government that supported it. This was primarily in response to the harsh regimes the US government helped install in multiple South American countries during the 1970s. These regimes were to be the showcases of neoliberal principles in action. The fact they involved repressive dictatorships that ‘disappeared’ anybody who dissented shows how popular the ideas really were.
Reagan and Thatcher promoted and implemented this extreme economic idea during the 1980s and it has formed the basis of US and UK policy ever since.
So the evidence shows it began life as an economic philosophy attempting to find a balance point that has become known as a social market economy. By the time we reached the end of the 1980s it had come to describe a radical laissez-faire approach that believed a market would regulate itself through the ‘invisible hand’ that Adam Smith had first proposed in his 1776 treatise “The Wealth of Nations”. This philosophy is sold to the world as the only way to form a society that provides for all citizens with a constant flow of increasing wealth and benefits.
So if this is a scientific, economic philosophy, there should be a large amount of evidence to support the theories proposed and extended. This is where the trouble begins for this idea. The evidence actually shows repeatedly that removing government regulation of any industry inevitably results in concentration of ownership and eventually monopoly. Since the 1980s the wealth of the planet has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer global corporations and hedge funds.
The reality is that neoliberal governments act to channel wealth from the many to the few. They do this very effectively through their standard policies. If it was sold to the world as producing only this effect at the expense of the majority, it could be considered an accurate description of a philosophy. However, no democracy would ever knowingly vote for this system – who would agree to hand their wealth and possessions to a small few with no benefit given in return? So the need to lie about its motivations becomes clear.
The evidence shows that the ideals of neoliberal governments and the slogans they repeatedly use are nothing more than empty statements of faith. Privatising government operations normally results in increased pricing for lower service and the concentration of resulting profit in the hands of a precious few.
In fact, all the central tenets of neoliberalism can be easily shown to be empty justifications for selfish greed – as classical liberalism always was. It is an expression of the perfect world for a sociopath to operate within. A world without regulation or legal consequences for behaving with naked self interest.
So what is the definition of a religion?
The Oxford English dictionary provides these three:
1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
2. A particular system of faith and worship
3. A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion
So can Neoliberalism meet these requirements?
1. The fundamental belief in laissez-faire systems is in the ‘invisible hand’ of the market that Adam Smith described. Even in his own later essays, he revealed that his idea of the ‘invisible hand’ was the hand of God. That a supernatural force would intervene to guide the market to a healthy balance. Since that supernatural force has never been observed and markets simply move towards monopoly instead, this belief is simply religious in nature.
2. Neoliberalism holds a number of doctrines to be self-evident axioms that are beyond question. None of them stand up to the slightest rational criticism and all fail before evidence. This makes them matters of faith.
3. Supporters of neoliberalism include media owners, multinational corporate executives, politicians and any billionaire. This system works exclusively to line their pockets, so they see its inherent value and pretend it is a solid economic theory with the backing of scientific evidence. The fact that they do not seek out this evidence or even know whether it exists or not in the course of their wholesale promotion of the philosophy shows they are devoted believers of a faith with no foundation in reality.
So neoliberalism has been marketed as a religious belief to avoid the problem that the evidence shows it only serves to move wealth from the many to the few.
With generations now raised with slogans about ‘being yourself’ and valuing individuals far above communities, the scene was set for a new belief system to spread to the masses. A religion of selfish greed that supports the constant media campaigns to be an individual hero instead of a member of a group or community.
Curiously, the information age has produced a different reaction. The availability of instant communication around the world has served to create more new global communities than global multinationals. A generation of children has now grown up with instant access to the knowledge of the world – a huge group of instant cynics. It has become harder and harder to perpetrate the lies that this religion relies on as the truth becomes clearly evident through internet communications. Which also shows clearly why neoliberal governments like the US are terrified of this anarchic free flow of information. It is the enemy of any Orwellian police state and has become the primary tool for global citizens to unite together to undo the damage that neoliberals have done to communities and nations.