The Dim-Post

January 30, 2015

On neoliberalism

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 5:59 pm

One thing Catton got really wrong about her critique of the government was calling it ‘neoliberal’ and claiming it didn’t support the arts because they’re profit-obsessed, etc. Like I’ve said before, these guys aren’t neoliberal and aren’t remotely ‘profit obsessed’. They don’t believe in free markets and market forces, and they give eye-glazingly large amounts of taxpayer money away to golf tournaments, yacht races, sports stadiums and other things that make no economic sense whatsoever (we know this because Treasury keeps telling them so.)

If New Zealand’s novelists had banded together, formed a lobby group with an ex-National MP as Director, taken the PM’s Chief of Staff out to dinner somewhere nice and all chipped in a donation to National’s election campaign then Literature would have quickly become part of Joyce’s ‘Business Growth Agenda’. Most of our literati would be in Menton by now, writing by the poolside at the gleaming new taxpayer funded New Zealand pavilion, and none of this unpleasantness would have happened.

42 Comments »

  1. This government *is the result of* 30 years of neoliberalism. Roger Kerr passing away probably marked the period where that side of NZ politics/business veered away from overt attachment to that particular strain of thought.

    Also, neoliberalism has morphed and changed over time (freakanomics, etc) to be much more nuanced than just bare market fundamentalism. Whether to call this new thing the end-game of the same old neoliberal thought collective or something-else-which-we-have-yet-to-define could be just about naming things.

    Comment by ╔╦╗╔╗╔╠ (@maetl) — January 30, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

  2. I thought it was just plain old corporate cronyism, a recent variation on the sort of stuff the Nationals have been doing since they set the dogs on Bill Coates.

    Comment by Christopher T — January 30, 2015 @ 6:52 pm

  3. Saying that neoliberalism has morphed into something else and it is still neoliberalism is about as meaningful as saying communism morphed into enviromentalism.

    Comment by Swan — January 30, 2015 @ 7:03 pm

  4. Also, neoliberalism has morphed and changed over time (freakanomics, etc) to be much more nuanced than just bare market fundamentalism. Whether to call this new thing the end-game of the same old neoliberal thought collective or something-else-which-we-have-yet-to-define could be just about naming things.

    Much as Marxism has morphed and changed over time to be much more nuanced and now anything to the left of National party is pretty much accurately defined as communism by stealth.

    At least Catton’s definition of neo-liberalism makes more sense than this bloke – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11393757

    Comment by Richard — January 30, 2015 @ 7:04 pm

  5. >Whether to call this new thing the end-game of the same old neoliberal thought collective or something-else-which-we-have-yet-to-define could be just about naming things.

    Yup, there will be two camps, those who want to use the word the way it’s been used for years, and those who would like to challenge it’s meaning, thereby casting doubt on the clarity of the idea itself. Neither will see eye to eye. We have to pick a camp or avoid the discussion. I pick the one in which it’s obvious what she meant and most people who use the term accept that neoliberalism has always been a hypocritical thing, which is pretty much normal for any hegemonic ideal. But that won’t stop this going to 50 odd comments of earnest hair splitting for the man.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 30, 2015 @ 7:06 pm

  6. Ok so I genuinely thought lefties thought the National government was neoliberal as per its standard meaning.

    So essentially it is a general insult – a bit like calling someone a whore doesn’t mean you literally think they are a prostitute. Good to know.

    Comment by Swan — January 30, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

  7. Yes, and being a neoliberal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an actual whore, even if prostituting your ideals is what it’s all about.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 30, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

  8. Personally I have no trouble thinking of the National government as neoliberal.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 30, 2015 @ 8:18 pm

  9. I think that National’s agenda/motivation is better described as crony capitalism than neoliberalism, but I think that the mindset of almost all the present generation of Kiwis in power is thoroughly steeped in neoliberalism, particularly the ideas around natural inequality, managerialism, ‘human capital’, etc. It has seeped so far into our language that it is influencing thought at large and small scales. So I think the discussion is still extremely relevant. Catton might be technically wrong, but I think aesthetically/authentically, she’s pointing at something real.

    Comment by ╔╦╗╔╗╔╠ (@maetl) — January 30, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

  10. Also, Danyl is 100% correct about a hypothetical ‘Writers Union’ chipping in with donations and becoming part of the ‘Growth Agenda’.

    Comment by ╔╦╗╔╗╔╠ (@maetl) — January 30, 2015 @ 8:34 pm

  11. Just for the record, there actually is a union of NZ writers. It’s called the National Society of Authors. Unfortunately their chairman is not an ex Tory MP.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 30, 2015 @ 10:40 pm

  12. I’d have to say that neo-liberalism has mutated into crony capitalism, and not just in NZ. I’d go as far as saying that crony capitalism is strongly related to neo-feudalism. The kind of system where success in life isn’t about what you know, but who you know.

    The CEO of SkyCity having the audacity to do an Oliver Twist is starting to expose the limitations of the current model. A lot of the SkyCity convention centre supporters have wavered since that announcement, and anyone still defending SkyCity’s CEO in defiance of all logic can be safely tagged as crony capitalist/neo-feudalist.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — January 31, 2015 @ 12:42 am

  13. I think the term has become a dogwhistle, a pejorativelu intended tetm usrd by many who don’t really know what it means, but who suspect it encapsulates things they disapprove of. This lot are as neoliberal as New Labour were in the UK were under Blair. (Less, I’d argue).
    Thrre’s a good blog site ‘one angry voice’ (I think) which discusses the concept, and ‘The Strange Non-death of Neolibetalism’ also.
    But interesting to consider, the kinds of maverick, individualized musings in the blogosphere might be atgued as a non-collectivised symptom of ‘neoliberalism ‘, if we see it as a legacy of individual liberty along Mill’s lines, or a product of Utilitarian philosophy ala Bentham.
    Ergo – wre are all ‘Neoliberals’..

    Comment by Lee Clark — January 31, 2015 @ 7:14 am

  14. aplogities for typos

    Comment by Lee C — January 31, 2015 @ 9:59 am

  15. Just because John Key is a hypocrite re: Skycity doesn’t mean he’s not a neoliberal. He believes in markets over state intervention, deregulation over regulation, inequality over equality. So does the rest of the National Party, and most of the Labour party too. That’s why people, like me, hate neoliberalism so much, and use it so often. It has totally taken over our political system, and most other Western countries too. The barely contained excitement of leftist newspapers like the Guardian over the election of Syrzia in Greece demonstrates how desperate the left is for the neoliberal consensus to fall apart.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — January 31, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  16. Whenever I’m reading a conservative writer I stop at the first mention of “socialism”.

    With a liberal writer it’s the first mention of neoliberal.

    They’re used as terms of abuse and there’s no point reading the rest as it’s not going to offer anything new or interesting.

    Comment by NeilM — January 31, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  17. Seb Rattansen wrote “He [John Key] believes in markets over state intervention”

    Not true. He believes in business, but he seems quite keen to intervene in markets to help businesses. This is the fundamental difference between the neoliberal right and the non-neoliberal right.

    Comment by Can of Worms, Opened — January 31, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

  18. “…Whenever I’m reading a conservative writer I stop at the first mention of “socialism”.

    With a liberal writer it’s the first mention of neoliberal….”

    And presumably at the mention of culture you reach for your pistol.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 31, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

  19. … as opposed to your kleenex, I’d presume…

    Comment by Lee Clark — January 31, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

  20. In other words Statist circle jerk.

    Comment by Simon — February 1, 2015 @ 8:13 am

  21. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=n8frPD7DgqI

    Comment by ross — February 1, 2015 @ 8:16 am

  22. “Today the term neoliberalism is mostly used pejoratively as a general condemnation of economic liberalization policies” ~ Wikipedia

    Does National support free trade, fewer and lower trade barriers, more flexibility in the labour market, etc? If so, neoliberal seems apt. Though it’s fair to say this government isn’t as neoliberal as the Lange government.

    Comment by ross — February 1, 2015 @ 8:21 am

  23. Pistol – Juliet’s prefered brand of earplugs.

    Comment by NeilM — February 1, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  24. @ross: I think that National would be happy to describe themselves as liberal with reference to all that. It’s the neo prefix that puts it into ‘never used as a self-descriptor’ territory.

    Although so many of the Nats have bought into the American paradigm as to what ‘liberalism’ means, maybe not.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — February 1, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

  25. Post 1984 election of the reforming Labour government, we have been living in a neo liberal state. As opposed to a welfare state where education, health, employment, postal services, railways et.al were managed / subsidised by the government. The paradox being that if a government was truly neo liberal they would have to abolish their own positions of power. Catton is more right than wrong.

    Comment by Neil Miller — February 2, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  26. Neil Miller: “The paradox being that if a government was truly neo liberal they would have to abolish their own positions of power. Catton is more right than wrong.”

    Keeping just enough power to put the lumpen-proletariat in its place.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — February 2, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

  27. @Neil Millar – I can’t tell whether you are trying to be ‘ironic’ or not… are you actually arguing that the government doesn’t manage/subsidise those things that you list?

    Comment by Michael — February 2, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  28. Michael, Do you think that the reforms of the past 30 years add up to nothing and we are still a welfare state?

    Comment by Neil Miller — February 2, 2015 @ 3:02 pm

  29. No, but I do think you are over-egging the pudding, quite a lot actually, as your examples are pretty much all govt subsidised – and most by quite a lot… But, apparently you can make arguments at this level of rigour and still be a highly regarded intellectual, so don’t mind me, you’re doing fine…

    Comment by Michael — February 2, 2015 @ 4:22 pm

  30. we have been living in a neo liberal state. As opposed to a welfare state where education, health, employment, postal services, railways et.al were managed / subsidised by the government.

    This is fantastic – a state where government has been at a steady state of around 40% of the economy (depending how you count it) is neo-liberal. And the opposite of the type of state NZ is is one where the government manages/ subsidies the things that are provided/ owned by the government in NZ. Black is white btw.

    Comment by Richard — February 2, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

  31. The idea that economic policy in NZ is still neo-liberal is absolutely bizarre.

    The sacking of Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley in 1993 marked pretty much the end of neo-liberalism as the dominant policy paradigm.

    That doesn’t mean all of what the neo-liberals was reversed. Indeed, it was bedded in with the rough edges taken off.

    The problem for the ruling class was that neo-liberals said if you did various things, the NZ economy would become dynamic again. Well, the various things were done – the rights of workers were driven down, the rate of exploitation was raised, a chunk of state assets that could be profitable were flogged off on the cheap to private ‘enterprise’ and other parts were transformed into SOEs (ie state-owned capitalist enterprises), chunks of state spending were cut, the unions were largely defeated – but all that resulted was a rather stagnant economy through much of the 1990s.

    Indeed, productivity growth in NZ fell behind Australia after the Employment Contracts Act because bosses here tended to rely on making workers work harder, faster and longer, rather than engaging in massive investment in PME (plant, machinery, equipment) and R&D. NZ has well below the OECD average in terms of such investment.

    The capitalists would have been very stupid people indeed to continue with full-on neo-liberalism. And they’re not stupid, so they didn’t.

    Bolger began toying with the concept of ‘social capital’ and when Shipley overthrew him her big thing was the Code of Social Responsibility (quietly shelved as Britain’s most famous adulterer, Prince Charles, was coming to visit). Labour brought us ‘The Third Way’.

    As I think Danyl pointed out, you’d have to stretch the definition of neo-liberalism so wide that it becomes meaningless if you want to define Key-English (and Clark-Cullen) as pursuing neo-liberalism.

    As someone else pointed out, neo-lberalism has become a meaningless pejorative term thrown about by the lazier (and stupider) sections of the left (I’m not referring here to particular individuals but to groups.) It means they don’t have to analyse the capital accumulation process and how different economic policies become dominant and then get the heave. Keynesianism got the heave because it couldn’t explain how you could have massive inflation and stagnation at the same time – and Muldoon’s use of keynesian policies made the economic crisis of the time worse. Neo-liberalism got the heave because, after it was implemented, the economy continued to be pretty crap – and remains so.

    Here are a couple of pieces where I’ve tried to deal with what has been going on:
    This from 2008 and 2009: The Key-English government in the ocntext of capital accumulation in NZ today: /
    Key’s ‘vision’: managing the malaise of New Zealand capitalism: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/keys-vision-managing-the-malaise-of-new-zealand-capitalism/

    Even people on the left who tended to demonise the Nats are starting to see the light. For instance, Mike Treen, the most radical union leader in the country, now admits this is not a neo-liberal government: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/keys-government-not-neo-liberal-says-unite-union-leader/

    Brian Easton also said the other day in a piece on Pundit about Eleanor Catton and the backlash against her that this government is not neo-liberal and that capitalists started telling him this over a decade ago; that they’d moved on.

    Philip Ferguson

    Comment by Philip Ferguson — February 3, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  32. Oops, here’s the piece on Key-English in the context of capital accumulation in NZ today. It is actually made up of a couple of pieces written in 2008 and 2009. I think the pieces have been proven right:
    https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/the-key-english-government-in-the-context-of-capital-accumulation-in-new-zealand-today/

    Comment by Philip Ferguson — February 3, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

  33. 2014 finished with a bill driving down employment conditions and 2015 started with 2000 state houses going up for sale. Naming this continued process is just semantics, Brian Easton concluded his piece with the term crony capitalism, I prefer the more sweeping term, managed democracy.

    Comment by Neil Miller — February 3, 2015 @ 3:01 pm

  34. It’s true that the New Zealand state cannot accurately be described as neoliberal. But the ideology and philosophy of the governing party is a different matter, and National really is a neoliberal party in almost every way that counts.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — February 3, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

  35. The idea that economic policy in NZ is still neo-liberal is absolutely bizarre.

    Meh. If libertarians are such enthusiasts for accuracy, perhaps they could stop bandying the word “socialist” about as though NZ had socialised the means of production while no-one was looking.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — February 3, 2015 @ 9:02 pm

  36. and National really is a neoliberal party in almost every way that counts.

    Except the way that that manifests itself if reform of the economy along neo-liberal lines. I guess it’s like saying Marx was right in almost every way that counts except the for the fundamentals basis of his beliefs.

    Comment by Richard — February 3, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

  37. Richard, while it’s true that National has not been able to achieve or even substantially draw nearer to a neoliberal economy, it’s clear that that is the direction they want to move in. The fact that they haven’t achieved it has more to do with the innate difficulty of radical change in a parliamentary democratic system than them not wanting it.

    If you look at the National party’s declared beliefs regarding the role of the state in the economy, neoliberalism is obviously the dominant ideology. There are a few old-school Tories around but they’re very much the exception these days. John Key is a pragmatic neoliberal, which means his neoliberal scorecard is relatively modest. But that doesn’t make him less ideological, it just means his ideology is constrained by external factors.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — February 3, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

  38. Kalvarsen: First i disagree that neo-liberalism is the dominant ideology in the National party – it just doesn’t match up with what they say or do at a parliamentary or party level and certainly not in their actions or policies. When has a National MP said that the state should reduce to nothing but a provider of security and a judiciary and leave everything else to the market? Assuming Key is the neo-liberal ideologue you claim, there don’t seem to be many others in the Cabinet. Not Joyce, English, Brownlee or Bennett or Smith or Finlayson or McCully- actually who? A bit like Marx never being proven wrong since the revolution could come tomorrow the assertion that they’re all neo-liberal but just pragmatic seems to be more an article of faith than evidence.

    This whole ‘that want to but they know they can’t’ thing seems to have far too many parallels with the rants in he comments sections of WhaleOil or kiwiblog that we saw about Klark and her communists during their third term.

    Comment by Richard — February 3, 2015 @ 10:51 pm

  39. “When has a National MP said that the state should reduce to nothing but a provider of security and a judiciary and leave everything else to the market?”

    By that standard, Hayek and Friedman weren’t neoliberals either.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — February 3, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

  40. Puddleglum makes a strong case for Catton being correct:
    http://www.thepoliticalscientist.org/and-then-she-goes-and-spoils-it-all/

    Comment by Sacha — February 6, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  41. Mr Key, a State Capitalist, is a Communist of the Highest Order.

    Relax, Comrades, let the JudeoBolshevism unfold as it will. Big Brother China will oversee our transition.

    We New Zealanders aren’t McCarthyites.

    Relax.

    Comment by Neo-Bolshevik — February 8, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  42. I must say though, the Fascist Takeover, the US directed Regime Change attempted by the “Left” was a bit close for comfort!

    Comment by Neo-Bolshevik — February 8, 2015 @ 10:30 pm


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