What follows is notes for the first part of a talk for the Rochester Russell Forum scheduled at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., Rochester, NY, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13.
Neoliberalism is the philosophy that economic freedom is the primary freedom, economic growth is the primary goal of society and the for-profit corporation is the ideal form of organization.
It is the justification for privatization, deregulation and the economic austerity currently being imposed on governments by lenders.
Neoliberalism has its roots in classical liberalism, which arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. Classic liberals said that the purpose of government is to protect human rights, including religious, intellectual, political and economic freedom. They fought the absolute power of kings and the privileges of aristocrats and demanded the right of individuals to determine their own fates.
Classical liberalism came to be supplanted in the early 20th century by a belief that government regulation and welfare could, if well thought out, enhance human freedom by giving individuals more choices. A graduate of a public school or university, for example, has more options than a person unable to afford an education, so taxing the public to pay for public schools and universities would be a form of liberation.
Neoliberalism is a backlash against social liberalism. Neoliberalism affirms that freedom of enterprise is the only important freedom. Its well-known adherents include Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.
It came into widespread acceptance in the 1980s, as a reaction against the manifest failures of central economic planning and as a way to break the political gridlock of the welfare state. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were both strongly influenced by the neoliberals.
Neoliberalism’s strongest adherents are to be found among economists, journalists, financiers, Silicon Valley executives and right-of-center parties in the English-speaking world and western Europe, and in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and European Central Bank, which enforce neoliberal policies on debtor countries.
It is more of an implicit philosophy than a credo, a series of assumptions that has come to permeate our society.
What follows is my attempt to understand the logic behind these assumptions.