Neoliberalism

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Since the 1990's activists use the word 'neoliberalism' for global market-liberalism ('capitalism') and for free-trade policies. In this sense, it is widely used in South America. 'Neoliberalism' is often used interchangeably with 'globalization'. But free markets and global free trade are not new, and this use of the word ignores developments in the advanced economies. The analysis here compares neoliberalism with its historical predecessors. Neoliberalism is not just economics: it is a social and moral philosophy, in some aspects qualitatively different from liberalism. If Adam Smith returned and saw the more extreme aspects of neoliberalism, he would probably find them bizarre. Nevertheless, they derive from the ideas of early liberalism. The belief in the market, in market forces, has separated from the factual production of goods and services. It has become an end in itself, and this is one reason to speak of neoliberalism and not of liberalism. A general characteristic of neoliberalism is the desire to intensify and expand the market, by increasing the number, frequency, repeatability, and formalization of transactions. The ultimate goal of neoliberalism is a universe where every action of every being is a market transaction, conducted in competition with every other being and influencing every other transaction, with transactions occurring in an infinitely short time, and repeated at an infinitely fast rate. It is no surprise that extreme forms of neoliberalism, and especially cyber-liberalism, overlap with semi-religious beliefs in the interconnectedness of the cosmos. Neo Liberals believe in a new expansion in time and space of the market: although there has been a global-scale market economy for centuries, neoliberals find new areas of mercerization. This illustrates how neoliberalism differs from classic market liberalism. Adam Smith would not have believed that a free market was less of a free market, because the shops are closed in the middle of the night: expansion of trading hours is a typically neoliberal policy. For neoliberals a 23-hours economy is already unjustifiable: nothing less than 24-hours economy will satisfy them. They constantly expand the market at its margins. The emphasis on property, in classic and market liberalism, has been replaced by an emphasis on contract. In the time of Adam Smith, property conferred status in itself: he would find it strange that entrepreneurs sometimes own no fixed assets, and lease the means of production. Contract maximization is typically neoliberal: the privatization of the British railway network, formerly run by one state-owned company, led to 30 000 new contracts. Most of these were probably generated by splitting services, which could have been included in block contracts. The contract period is reduced, especially on the labor market, and so the frequency of contract is increased. A service contract, for instance for office cleaning, might be reduced from a one-year to a three-month contract, then to a one-month contract. Contracts of employment are shorter and shorter, in effect forcing the employee to re-apply for the job. This flexibility means a qualitatively different working life: many more job applications spread throughout the working life. This was historically the norm in agriculture - day labor - but long-term labor contracts became standard after industrialization. Market forces are also intensified by intensifying assessment, a development especially visible on the labor market. Even within a contract period, an employee will be subject to continuous assessment. The use of specialized software in call centers has provided some extreme examples: the time employees spend at the toilet is measured in seconds: this information is used to pressure the employee to spend less time away from the terminal. Firms with contracts are also increasingly subject to continuous assessment procedures, made possible by information technology. For instance,...
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