So what’s the difference between neoliberalism and whatever came before (let’s call it old-fashioned capitalism or OFC)?
The differences are many but here are some crucial ones:
1. Capitalism is all about capital’s tendency to accumulate in the same hands. That’s unchanged. OFC Andrew neoliberalism are both about that. But in OFC it was real capital while neoliberalism operates with invented capital, a fiction of capital. Hence the proliferation of bubbles, of all these derivatives, risk management, “financial instruments”, etc. The most profitable activity is machinations with fictional capital entities.
2. OFC was capitalism of things while neoliberalism is capitalism of flows. Manufacturing tangible objects is no longer the most profitable thing to do.
3. OFC used to thrive on the alienation of a worker from products of his labor. Neoliberalism turns the worker into the product.
4. Of course, there is also the change in the function of the nation-state that we already discussed a lot.
5. OFC produced a certain structure of social classes which made for a ton of inequality but also for solidarity and common action. Neoliberalism destroys solidarity introducing suspicion into the interactions between former class allies. Many people can’t find words to describe these happenings so they refer to this suspicion with the term “identity politics.”
In short, neoliberalism introduces a different relationship to self, to others and to work than OFC had. It’s neither better not worse because it’s a variation on the same tune, which is “Capital rules!”
Bannon is gone. Markets are reacting favorably. Well, of course they are given that he was the only person who at least somewhat opposed fluidity.
The real tragedy is that the Left (Democrats, progressives, call them what you may) has embraced fluidity and left the field of opposing it to freak shows like Bannon.
Now that Trump has retracted his meaningless little flirtation with anti-globalism, he will proceed to ride the wave of liquefaction like he always wanted.
What’s at stake right now is whether there is going to be anything at all to politics beyond backroom deals among oligarchs. Nobody is naive here. I’m not running a blog for naive, wide-eyed little bunnies. Everybody here knows that backroom deals are an unavoidable feature of politics in all societies called democratic. Such deals are not necessary in totalitarian regimes because there is no need to hide in the backroom, of course.
But there has always been something beside backroom dealing. The will of the people has never been an entirely empty sound. There have been efforts, struggles, victories and achievements, and they – as opposed to the formality of holding elections – are what constitute a democracy. Today everybody has elections, so what? Does Russia have a democracy just because there are all formal characteristics of one? The answer is obvious.
When theorists of neoliberalism say that the greatest danger of neoliberalism is that it destroys democracy, they don’t mean that elections will be canceled. The danger is that demos – meaning people, us, all of us – will step out of the political process. And the saddest, saddest thing is that they won’t do it saying, “Hey, I just don’t give a toss. All I care about is making money, spending money, and having fun.” Oh no, they’ll disengage by believing they are the most engaged people in history.
My university just opened a master’s program in “diversity and social justice.”
But wait, there’s worse news. We also started an MFA in “creative writing.”
Quotation marks are mine because I can’t take this shit seriously.
The blustering self-righteousness of today’s progressivism aims to mask the vacuum that lies at its core. “We can’t offer you anything, but at least we’ll make you feel good.”