Trotter’s neo-liberalism

In his latest newspaper column Chris Trotter tries to define neo-liberalism in The ideology that dares not speak its name

In the case of neoliberal ideology…we are presented with a very different picture. In essence: a codification of the economic, social and political pre-conditions required for massive social inequality to become a permanent feature of contemporary capitalist society; neoliberalism generally prefers to avoid self-identification.

He mocks Rob Hosking’s ‘ignorance’ about it:

Last week, for example, The National Business Review‘s Rob Hosking responded to Sue Bradford’s accusation that the Greens had sold out to neoliberalism like this: “As always, it isn’t clear what is meant by ‘neo-liberal’, apart from ‘bad things’.”

Hosking may well be more familiar with the comments sections at The Daily Blog, where Trotter is a regular author.

In the age of Google, Hosking’s professed ignorance as to the term’s meaning is curious. Even the humble Wikipedia could have offered him enough to be going on with:

“Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalisation policies such as privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.”

Google also, as usual, allows you to find variations to this, but along similar lines. A Primer on Neoliberalism looks like a good overview.

Admirably clear. And while there’s certainly scope for scholarly debate around detail and emphasis, Wikipedia’s definition is more than sufficient to dispel the feigned ignorance of neoliberalism’s most zealous defenders.

Why, then, do neoliberals like Hosking continue to insist that they have no firm grasp of the term’s usage – other than as an expression of left-wing abuse?

But definitions don’t go anywhere near describing how the term neo-liberalism is used. More often than not it is used as a general spit at current politics. It is often little more than an abusive expression.

The answer is simple. To survive and prosper, neoliberalism and the policies it inspires cannot afford to be seen as just another ideology – like communism or fascism. Rather, it must be accepted as a law of nature – as unyielding to human influence as the weather.

What absolutely must not become widely understood is that neoliberalism is, indeed, an all-too-human artefact: formulated by twentieth century economists and given popular currency by individuals and institutes funded by extremely wealthy and politically motivated capitalists.

It can be as understood as anyone wants it to be understood. There are no rules and regulations that ban looking it up on Google (that would be anti-neo-liberal).

After 33 years of neoliberalism, young New Zealanders find themselves burdened down with debt and, increasingly, shut out of the housing market.

The young All Souls Fellowship holder, Max Harris, has written a whole book, The New Zealand Project, on what he sees as young New Zealanders’ alienation from politics.

Young people have been relatively uninterested in politics for a lot longer than 33 years,

But how could a generation raised under neoliberalism be anything else?

All their lives they have been told that to be human is to compete.

I can remember a lot of criticism of schools and sports removing competition too much, where everyone is a winner no mater how good they are at something. During the last 33 years it is common to see kids sports awards and kids school awards being rotated sol that no one misses out.

That the way they buy and sell things (commodities, other people, themselves) is much more important than the way they vote. That their position in the socio-economic hierarchy is entirely attributable to the wisdom or unwisdom of their personal choices.

This is typical Trotter tosh. “That the way they buy and sell things (commodities, other people, themselves) is much more important than the way they vote”? Good grief.

Bill English must do Trotter’s pigeon hole head in. As Minister of Finance English bumped up welfare payments, the first real raise in over 40 years (since before ‘neo-liberalism’).

Looking at the definition that Trotter favours: These include extensive economic liberalisation policies such as…

  • privatisation,
    – there has been very modest privatisation over the last 8 years, and private management of Mt Eden prison has even been rescinded
  • fiscal austerity,
    – one of the biggest criticisms of English’s fiscal management is the amount the  deficit has grown, which is far from austere.
  • deregulation,
    – the Government has found it very difficult to deregulate, for instance the RMA has been very difficult for them to get through parliament
  • free trade and
    – they have tried with the TPP but Donald Trump has stymied it in a very non-neoliberal move.
  • reductions in government spending
    – government spending has kept rising, and is set to rise even more this year as a surplus becomes available in election year
  • in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society
    – the public/private balance is not changing much, we still have a very large government that remains prominent, for example with large injections of money into transport and housing.

The political world didn’t suddenly change completely and irreversibly 33 years ago. There were some significant changes for sure, but the alternative in New Zealand was letting the country go broke after the extreme interventions under Muldoon.

Ruth Richardson turned up the austerity screws in the early 1990s, but since then government has been a mix of many things, with it’s ‘neo-liberal’ component being very moderate.

While everyone in New Zealand hasn’t won Lotto yet, and there are huge hurdles to home ownership, in the main most New Zealanders are able to do ok, if they put effort in and things work out for them.

People like Trotter despise an extreme form of neo-liberalism so they can suggest an extreme alternative. The political, economic and social realities in New Zealand are far closer to the middle.

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53 Comments

  1. “To survive and prosper, neoliberalism and the policies it inspires cannot afford to be seen as just another ideology – like communism or fascism. Rather, it must be accepted as a law of nature – as unyielding to human influence as the weather.”

    There’s the rub, Right there!

    Sure, we can tutu with some minor details on the peripheries, always with a weather-eye on the polls or upcoming election. Half of this ‘fiddling’ is to compensate for the deficiencies and flaws of the system anyhow, e.g. accommodation supplements to compensate (landlords) for rents pinned to skyrocketing house prices … but without some fundamental systemic change it makes little difference …

    Neoliberalism is a Swiss Anarcho-Capitalist with his finger stuck in a Friedmachiavellian neoliberal dyke of their joint creation … “Oh shit! I didn’t expect it to leak here … or over there … or there …”

    Nothing in what Trotter says, or indeed what I say, advocates a return to Muldoon-ism … That’s just an easy ‘out’ for Righties …

    Speaking of “tosh” … Bill English’s “bumped up welfare payments” is the primo example from recent years … comes with conditions attached … and boy … what conditions … “You shall pay your State landlord more … und look vor vork earlier … und send your child for indoctrination younger … und pay for it …”

    Reply
    • Brown

       /  4th April 2017

      “… e.g. accommodation supplements to compensate (landlords) for rents pinned to skyrocketing house prices …”

      Goodness gracious. I can put the rents up then although I wasn’t planning to because we look at the rentals as a chance to reward responsible tenants looking to move up rather than solely maximise returns. How stupid wife and I are.

      At the end of the day the laws of nature are pretty clear if we are just evolved animals at a higher level than other animals as atheism would dictate:

      – We compete.
      – We hide in herds when we can.
      – Winners, well, win.
      – Losers lose.
      – We only do nice stuff when there’s a payback in some fashion.

      We can ponce about pretending otherwise but its clear when the chips are down most will walk over others for a crust. No philosophical “ism” changes the laws and we muddle along doing the best we can to keep ourselves above a base level of brutality. We have had it good for a long time and the dark side is not obvious in our day to day lives although we get a glimpse when we look at the feral monsters that beat their kids to death.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  4th April 2017

        “We only do nice stuff when there’s a payback in some fashion.”
        Heaven is the payback for the religiously deluded.

        Empathy, compassion & the good feeling I personally experience from doing nice stuff are usually my reasons.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  4th April 2017

          I find that doing nice stuff generally results in more nice stuff happening so long as there is a bit of judgement applied up front to screen out the exceptions.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  4th April 2017

            Ditto. Well said.

            Reply
            • Brown

               /  4th April 2017

              You have the luxury of being able to do things that make you feel good about yourself. Let’s see what happens when you are not in such a comfortable position.

            • Gezza

               /  4th April 2017

              Odd thing to say. You know nothing about me or my life beyond what I share here.

            • Gezza

               /  5th April 2017

              All day @ hospital yesterday & back there probably all today for urgent head scans. I’m not in a comfortable position, Brown. A little prayer for me wouldn’t go amiss. Just in case, you never know…. Hugs n stuff.

            • Conspiratoor

               /  5th April 2017

              G, I know it’s easy to say from a distance but try to remain upbeat. A dear friend of mine had a tumour and they were able to suck it out through his ear. He lost his hearing in that ear but he’s still very much alive. Kia kaha. Cheers,c

            • Gezza

               /  5th April 2017

              Aww … cheers c. It’s not a tumour. I had a blank spot develop in vision in my right eye on Sunday. Looked like it could a detaching retina so optometrist > A&E all feckin day > Eye Clinic > you’ve had a stroke, whatever caused it is not there > MAPU > We’re admitting you overnight. No you’re not. Don’t like this hospital. > Ok, we’ll work with that.

              Everything checked out ok, so, drove home. Got a phone call from the very beautiful Dr Cassandra: by the way, don’t drive. Further urgent checks needed & phone calls from radiology & neurology this morn. So, back there today. 💪 😬

            • Nelly Smickers

               /  5th April 2017

              Thinking of you from this end Geez…..

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  5th April 2017

              Best wishes, G. Hope for a speedy diagnosis and treatment.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  4th April 2017

            @Brown, your theory overlooks the evolution of humans as a successful collaborative group thereby able to overcome other stronger and individually more lethal species. Also the evolutionary drive to care for and protect your children. The mix is much more complex and subtle than you portray.

            Reply
      • Conspiratoor

         /  4th April 2017

        Brutal …but sadly an accurate reflection. Although for some of us Maslow’s hierarchy kicks in when we start moving up the ladder and our material needs are satisfied. At this point we begin looking beyond our own selfish needs towards the needs of others.
        Unfortunately compulsion and nanny state insist on fucking this beautiful dynamic up

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  4th April 2017

          That theory isn’t universally accepted. Some people don’t need all those ‘needs’.

          Reply
          • Conspiratoor

             /  4th April 2017

            Are you a benedictine monk brother corks?

            Reply
            • Try later C … He’s busy out hunting mammoth …

              Or is it Mammon?

            • Conspiratoor

               /  4th April 2017

              If this is true parti, brother corks and I may be distant cousins. For I’ve had my genome mapped and am pleased to inform I am 3.15% neanderthal. More in fact than 85% of the world’s population

            • This may explain some things Conspiratoor …

        • Neanderthal Man did survive!!!

          The theory’s simplistic and populist – one of many useful lenses through which to view human motivation – and IMHO Conspiratoor has ‘inverted’ it in true Sheldon Wolin ‘inverse totalitarian’ form … a perfectly neoliberal interpretation of Maslow!

          Empathy can easily (and possibly should) be learned in childhood. It and healthy communication, quality human relationships, personal growth and responsibility, including group & social responsibility, philosophy and ethics could easily be taught at school …

          The whole population could be released from and raised above Maslow’s Physiological and Safety levels, not just from each individual’s birth but through successive generations ‘from birth’ as entire populations … meaning everyone could launch into life from the Love/Belonging level … Our whakapapa could be about the search for Esteem and Self-Actualisation … instead of about “survival and instant gratification” consumerism …

          That last paragraph contains some of the objectives of what people now denigrate as our “socialist past” … which was, after all, democratically chosen … but you [individuals and populations] must have some knowledge of the things in the second paragraph to understand it …

          Reply
          • Conspiratoor

             /  4th April 2017

            @parti. A farcical albeit humorous attempt to politicize one of the great motivational theories of psychology. Cheers,c

            Reply
            • I aim to entertain as well as inform Conspira old bean …

            • Conspiratoor

               /  4th April 2017

              and parti my dear old thing, let’s not overlook your prodigious capacity for circular reasoning and rhetorical tautology

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  4th April 2017

    Neo-liberalism = Freedom.

    That is the word that the Left can never bring themselves to utter. So they have to invent something else to slur it with. Trotter, like the rest, is a creepy wordsmith, scuttling around the truth to hide his wounds and dirty tricks..

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  4th April 2017

      BREAKING DOWN ‘Neoliberalism’

      Neoliberalism has been used by various scholars, critics and analysts, mainly referring to an upspring of 19th century ideas connected to economic liberalism that began in the 1970s and 1980s. These ideals advocate for extensive economic liberalization and policies that extend the rights and abilities of the private sector over the public sector, specifically the shutting down of state and government power over the economy. Neoliberalism supports fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, privatization and greatly reduced government spending.

      The popularity and support of neoliberalism is divided. This approach has most famously been connected to various economic policies introduced in the United Kingdom by Margaret Thatcher and in the United States by Ronald Reagan. Some academics and analysts, however, attribute the resurgence of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s and 1980s to financialization and indicate that the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 is ultimately a result of such an approach to the economy.

      The exact meaning and usage of the term has changed throughout time. In its earliest sense, neoliberalism referred to an economic philosophy popular among 1930s European liberal scholars, a sort of middle road between classic liberalism and socialist planning. The use and popularity of the term “neoliberal” declined steadily, specifically in the 1960s. Neoliberalism gained popularity again in the 1980s, connected to Chilean economic reforms issued by Augusto Pinochet. During this time, the term gained a negatively slanted connotation and was used primarily by critics of market reform.

      The meaning of the term also shifted to indicate a more radical laissez-faire capitalist pool of ideas. Most scholars began to associate the term with Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. This new meaning of neoliberalism, popular among Spanish-speaking scholars, diffused into the English-language study of the economy. However, the term is rarely heard in the United States.

      Read more: Neoliberalism Definition | Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/neoliberalism.asp#ixzz4dE5HxXI0

      Reply
  3. Griff

     /  4th April 2017

    Neo-liberalism = Economic Freedom.

    I do not see what you have to get upset about Alan.
    NZ is one of the most economically free country’ s in the world.

    Economic freedom is not the only kind of freedom.
    In all of them we rate at or near the top.

    As to snarl words
    the Left
    Overton window.
    How far right are you?

    National has kept the status que it inherited from labor .
    English is not the sort to drive change .

    Reply
    • Griff

       /  4th April 2017

      Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  4th April 2017

      Who said I was upset about reality? Just criticising Trotter’s myopic and dishonest perception and representation of it. Classical liberalism is about social and economic freedom. If neo-liberalism is a return to it then it encompasses both aspects.

      Reply
  4. Griff

     /  4th April 2017

    Classical liberalism is about social and economic freedom. If neo-liberalism is a return to it then it encompasses both aspects.
    A non sequitur, in formal logic, is an invalid argument. In a non sequitur, the conclusion could be either true or false, but the argument nonetheless asserts the conclusion to be true and is thus fallacious. Wikipedia

    Neo liberalism as introduced by Roger D in this county Was an economic philosophy to address the malaise that was our highly regulated, protected,licensed. state run economy
    Neo liberalism was concurrent with the stance on nuclear and other social ideas from the left wing party it emerged from.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism
    Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism)[1] refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism.[2]:7 These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society

    The governments role is govern on behalf of NZ inc’s share holders the voting citizens . This idea is part of the neoliberal ideal Douglas championed and wrote about.
    Not to abandon all responsibility to a mythical benign free market .

    Too much American influence on our political discourse.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  4th April 2017

      Irrelevant crap.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  4th April 2017

        You’re being too hard on yourself.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  4th April 2017

          Oh. Sorry, I see what you meant now.

          Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  4th April 2017

          No, just uninterested in word salads and spurious logic claims.

          Reply
          • I don’t even know where to start with the Trotter article, it’s entire premise and conclusions are flawed. Pete did a great job of analysis though.

            The Labour Party has long since disassociated itself from Roger Douglas who lead our small country from the strait-jacketed, protectionist economy it once was and transformed us. There are plenty of signs on the left that indicate some (Trotter, Little) prefer to fly the kite of regulatory interference – something not seen since the statist bully and arch socialist Robert Muldoon. Socially, Labour has never much left what they call the compassionate intervention, redistribution path. They’ve just added SJW to the mix. Of course National are the same, our history of dem. socialism so much part of our DNA. Only difference Nats seemingly place an emphasis on accountability and results based outcomes for programs. Labour, not only because it was their mob jumped, pegs on noses into deregulation market, but because all our friends do it, is largely still forced into going with the flow economically. Little’s flirtation with regulating banks to pass on central bank’s interest rates was a toe dipping exercise – and the left’s full blown anti-TPPA stance another. Immigration is another area Little and co have shown their isolationist, exclusionist and racist colours. The Chinese surnames, ethnic chefs to be sourced locally gives an indication that they’re keen to move on both numbers in and possibly investment.

            Are they going to protect NZ citizens interests as they apparently see them best served through isolating and contracting the economy, or just go with the current flow and tax the so-called rich more to pass it on? They are now inextricably married to the GREENS, and it’s hard to imagine, that despite collective assurances of fiscal responsibility, the GREENS can be anything other than openly despising of the mechanics of productivity and wealth creation and downright obstructionist.

            It’s a frightening prospect that this lot, needing as they would, the xenophobic bauble-boy Peters to complete their coalition would ever get their mitts on the government coffers.

            Reply
  5. Griff

     /  4th April 2017

    We had a protected economy.

    We have moved as far from that as any nation on earth.
    Why not let the rest catch up?

    The major issue facing us is we sell our citizenship to cheaply.
    Immigration has costs on infrastructure we are struggling to fund.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  4th April 2017

      “We have moved as far from that as any nation on earth.”

      No, we have liberalised trade but we are in the middle of the “Big Government” OECD tables:
      In 2013, government expenditures in New Zealand amounted to 40.1% of GDP, close to the OECD average of 41.9%. Out of the public expenditure, the percentage spent on the compensation of employees at 23.5%, was also not far from the OECD average of 22.9%

      https://www.oecd.org/gov/New-Zealand.pdf

      Reply
      • Griff

         /  4th April 2017

        http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/expenditure

        Overview of information about government expenditure (spending) on the Treasury website.
        What are the government’s main areas of expenditure?

        The three largest areas of total Crown expenditure for the 2015/16 financial year were:

        Social security and welfare: $28.9 billion
        Health: $15.2 billion
        Education: $13.8 billion

        Social security being mostly the old age pension.
        Health being because we have a functioning national health service
        Education because uneducated people are less useful.

        You confuse size of government with freedom.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  4th April 2017

          Freedom to keep the money you earn and decide what to do with it is inversely proportional to the size of government.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  4th April 2017

            Should have said “inversely related” rather than “inversely proportional”.

            Reply
            • Purely theoretical anarcho-capitalist hogwash!

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  4th April 2017

              It’s only theoretical for people who earn nothing.

            • Purely theoretical, anarcho-capitalist, pseudo-psychological ‘projection’ hogwash!

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  4th April 2017

              No, simple unequivocal logic. Therefore anathema to the Left.

  6. Blazer

     /  4th April 2017

    Neo liberal..Thatcher ism. .ReaGano mics. .Rogernomics(. ..labels)…that accelerated inequality at a great rate of knots. .since the 80s. ..a con complete with propaganda like “trickle down. ..at rising tide lifts all boats “user pays” and the mantra that greed is. ..good. ..a great ponzi scheme. .fuelled by QE and looking very shaky.

    Reply
    • Griff

       /  4th April 2017

      Blazer
      You have to look at the time
      Government run business where nothing but a rort.
      They had massively inflated work forces and delivered SFA
      You had a tiny minority making family fortunes on imports licenses and industry protection.
      Labor unions that extorted the the country on a regular basis.
      Farmers with their hand out for some more subsidies every time the market fluttered.

      Reply
      • From somewhat of a farming background, it wasn’t long after the subsidies and interference were dropped that we realised what a Godsend the axing was, after an initial panic. It’s not the place, or within the expertise to artificially protect and “manage” productivity to the level we did. The outside market will always prevail in a nett exporting industry – far better to leave it to its own devices. The results speak for themselves.

        Reply
  7. Anonymous Coward

     /  4th April 2017

    ““That the way they buy and sell things (commodities, other people, themselves) is much more important than the way they vote”? Good grief.”

    That’s post-modernism 101 Pete, another idea that been around for a while.

    Reply
  8. One needs to remember that laissez-faire economic liberalism directly BROUGHT ABOUT the urban squalor, class struggle and Great Depression, which Social Security and the Welfare State emerged from to ameliorate human propensities to exploit one another … and perhaps create a foundation of life where Maslow’s Physiology and Safety were largely taken care of …?

    Reply

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