People’s Tragedy: Neoliberal Legacy of Thatcher and Reagan
- Kamran Mofid
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Proud architects of Global Misery
'On September 11, 1973—now referred to as the “other 9/11”—Augusto Pinochet staged a successful coup to oust Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. Backed by the CIA, American business interests, and the blessings of Henry Kissinger, Pinochet, enlisting economists trained under Milton Friedman and the so-called “Chicago boys,” restructured the Chilean economy in the image of what has now come to be known as “neoliberalism,” that state apparatus which seeks to deregulate markets, privatize formerly public assets, minimize the power of unions, unleash all manner of austerity measures—in short, to ensure, in the name of freedom, an increasingly frictionless flow of capital across borders and into the bank accounts of those in power.’*
'Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It’s rapidly colonising the rest of the world,’* *or as I would say: It has colonized the rest of the world.
'Our era is the individualistic one, and the myth of the happy single obscures our longing for the other in combination with our distrust of this other.
This is strange. We live in one of the safest regions of the world and we have never been so afraid of one another! Why do we view the other as a possible threat? In my opinion, the explanation is to be found in the dominant nature of neoliberal ideology, setting the tone of the past thirty years or so. When it started, Margaret Thatcher produced a very prophetic formulation: ‘There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals’. In the meantime, neoliberalism has installed a society with isolated and ever competing individuals. An unexpected side effect was the growing need for top down control of everything and everyone. We have been turned into lonely hedgehogs filling in forms for every step we take. And we have to take it, that’s for sure. The golden goose is called success.
Michael Douglas puts it quite clearly in one of 1987’s blockbusters ‘Wall street’: “Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works.” Neoliberalism has realised its own principle, a ‘rational’ selfishness. We do no longer parent, or teach or love. We invest in parenthood, education and relations. And if the investment does not return satisfactorily, we dump the lot, and move on to the next. Get rid of the weakest links in order to boost productivity. The other is first of all a competitor. Team spirit has become rare and needs to be boosted by team building weekends, ironically enough filled with survival of the fittest games.
In the early stages of neoliberalism the principle was limited to industry and trade, but today it dominates everyday life. An ironic example can be found in so called ‘reality shows’ on TV, with striking titles such as The Weakest Link, Temptation Island or Top Starter. The irony is that they pretend to show us who we really are, whilst they are dictating how we should behave. Their message is clear: the ideal human is a rat-race- loving player, always looking for number one. We have to score. In bed, at work, in life. The winner takes it all.
Under the skin of our successful society, fear thrives, from fear of failure to a general distrust of the menacing other. Indeed, if everybody is only looking for number one, then no one is to be trusted. This explains another surprising effect of neoliberalism: the ever-growing burden of top down control, audits, evaluations, protocols and the like. CEO’s are everywhere, meaning chief executive officers. Mind you: ‘officers’, obviously, we are all part of the army. We may have freed ourselves from god, but the almighty eye of CCT is everywhere. Beware if you do not follow the rules!
For the last thirty years, our neoliberal society has been promoting competitive individualism and top down control. Today, the smoke is clearing and we are left with a world of winners and losers, all of them on their own.
Loneliness means cold. And because we are social animals, we need the other in order to feel protected and warm. Today, we need global warming on a societal level. We don’t need a new messiah for that. On the contrary; we should remember that we love our autonomy as well. We need no messiah to enforce top down innovations. Change will come from grass root initiatives, in our own streets and neighbourhoods, bringing people together with a common goal, teaching them to trust one another, instead of feeling afraid and helpless. Citizen Initiatives testify to citizen power.’***
**Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism breeds
Now watch this excellent video:
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