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!”