Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Autocratic Underpinnings of Neoliberalism?

The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 established the basis for competitive practices in the U.S. marketplace. However, U.S. antitrust laws only disallow oligopolies and monopolies if the basis for them are uncompetitive practices. In contrast, Bolivia disallows oligopolies and monopolies whether the basis for them are competitive or uncompetitive practices. (Image source: Harwich.edu).
The U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Occupy movement in general, represents resistance to western neoliberal policies, which among other things exacerbate the income gap between the rich and the middle and lower classes.
As defined in previous posts neoliberalism refers to an economic ideology centered around the values of a global economy, or globalization: free market, free trade, and the unrestricted flow of capital. Neoliberals advocate minimal government spending, minimal taxation, minimal regulations, and minimal direct involvement in the economy. Neoliberals believe market forces naturally fill many areas of jurisdiction for the highest overall gain (Urban Dictionary, 2012). Neoliberalism has been linked to crony capitalism, gross social inequities, corporatocracy, and globalization.

In more detail, neoliberalism supports the following:
  1. THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating "free" enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers' rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say "an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone." It's like Reagan's "supply-side" and "trickle-down" economics -- but somehow the wealth didn't trickle down very much.
  2. CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply -- again in the name of reducing government's role. Of course, they don't oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
  3. DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
  4. PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
  5. ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF "THE PUBLIC GOOD" or "COMMUNITY" and replacing it with "individual responsibility." Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves -- then blaming them, if they fail, as "lazy" (Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia, "What is Neoliberalism?")
Thatcher, Reagan, and the Bush regimes are associated with neoliberalism, and most recently, the Canadian Harper regime is associated with this ideology.

As identified above, neoliberalism supports a globalization agenda through free trade, lower taxes, and decreased government regulation, and thereby allowing the (imperfect) marketplace to guide society, countries, and the world. Within this model, there is explicit support for fair competition within the global marketplace. Viz., let the marketplace rather than governments determine supply and demand and which individuals and corporations are successful. The United States has concrete laws, through the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and other legislation, against uncompetitive practices in the marketplace. The European Union has antitrust laws through the Treaty of Lisbon which among other things disallows price fixing.  

However, the same competitive approach is absent from neoliberalism when it comes to democracy. Again with reference to the United States, the American federal electoral system is structured legally in gross favor of two political parties, and thereby creating the basis for uncompetitive electoral practices. The same electoral shortcoming applies to Canada in which the current major parties have significant electoral advantages over small and new parties, such as greater access to media coverage and access to public funds.

Is democracy a mere inconvenience to neoliberals? Why doesn't the same neoliberal commitment to competitive practices apply to democracy as well as the marketplace?

In my opinion, this lack of consistency is the principle flaw in neoliberalism: competitive practices are inconsistently applied, which suggests that extremism and autocratic rule are at the heart of neoliberalism. It may be said that neoliberals are anti-democratic, while they use pseudo-democracy to attain and hold onto political power.


Autocratism refers to 1. Of the nature of, or pertaining to, an autocrat; absolute in authority, despotic. 2. The principles or practices of autocrats (Encylco, 2013).

Autocrat refers to 1. A ruler having unlimited power; a despot. 2. A person with unlimited power or authority: a corporate autocrat (American Heritage Dictionary, 2009); 3. (Government, Politics Diplomacy) a ruler who possesses absolute and unrestricted authority. 4. a domineering or dictatorial person (Collins English Dictionary, 2003).

Extremism refers to the holding of extreme political or religious views; fanaticism: the dangers of religious extremism (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013).

Related information:

Essence of Neoliberalism from the Le Monde

2012 FDA Report on the United States Federal Electoral System

2011 FDA Report on the Canadian Electoral System








Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director


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