So what does Klaus Schwab mean when he says that neoliberalism is over and the nation-state has fully recovered from the loss of relevance it had been experiencing pre-COVID?
Schwab is operating with an outdated, simplistic definition of neoliberalism that assumes there will be nothing but markets and no state whatsoever. But it’s not the state that goes away in the neoliberal future. Oh no, not at all. The state will be just fine. It’s the nation-state that will go away. State and nation-state aren’t synonymous, just like cucumber and vegetables aren’t.
Schwab draws his conclusions from the dramatic expansion of state powers under the guise of “an exceptional danger” that SARS-COV-2 supposedly represents and from massive payouts to the quarantined masses in the form of Trumpbucks and their equivalents.
How can we talk about the death of the state, Schwab prompts us to ask, when in California the state governor is prohibiting the use of “indoor bathrooms” when visiting somebody and regulates the pitch of your voice if you decide to sing (seriously, look it up).
Here’s the deal, though. Neoliberalism always relied on the state to enforce its dictates. Ray Kiely, a scholar from the UK, for instance, explained a long time ago that “neoliberalism from the outset was prepared to use state power in ways that would defend the market order.” Remember the birth of neoliberalism in Chile? A brutal dictatorship had to be installed to create a neoliberal society. What we are seeing today is not new. It’s same old, same old.
But how does the increased state spending figure into this situation?
Let’s ask Kiely again. “The expansion of state spending itself,” he says, “doesn’t necessarily challenge or undermine neoliberal rationalities.” It’s all about where the money that the state spends will end up.
As I’ve been saying for years, there is nothing more neoliberal that the Universal Basic Income. And it’s not accidental that Schwab is a great fan of the concept.