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Neoliberalism: ‘Stop thinking because this is it’

“What is neoliberalism?” The young American student looks at me with faux innocence of the wide-eyed sort. She’s not sure what it is. “Can you explain?” Sniggers precede and succeed the question.

With that little question-and-snigger, neoliberal hegemony re-iterates its reach across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, by way of that island that formerly hosted the empire that wrought the world we live in today. Yes, the US student has an unlikely counterpart in a middle-aged Afrikaner male editor of a newspaper where I used to work.

The editor asked me the exact same question a decade ago: “What is neoliberalism?” It was after I’d used the word in a front-page article of the newspaper. “Our readers don’t know what it is, so we shouldn’t use the word. What does it mean, anyway.”

It was a rhetorical question in the spirit of the rising populism in the Afrikaans media. The question suggested that even if neoliberalism exists, it sounds complex and populism disallows complexity.

The resonance across the Atlantic Ocean comes via the island that left few territories in the world unscathed when it elaborated its toxic combination of railways and pillage, and the project of carving the world in the image of British, white, middle-class hetero-masculinity in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In an adjusted confluence of similar elements, the same island spawned Thatcherism a few decades later. In contrast to the recent cinematic hagiography on former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, she is known for a few things other than senility and daydreams about a dead husband. More particularly, she along with her dancing partner US president Ronald Reagan, inaugurated in policy what is called neoliberalism. And she added the oft-quoted (by leftist critics) phrase: “There is no alternative”, or TINA.

“There is no alternative” means this is it – “the end of history”, as Francis Fukuyama (recently fêted by Mbeki-ite Joel Netshitenzhe’s think tank) boasted. It means “stop questioning, stop resisting, stop thinking because this is it”. It is a normalising phrase, designed to engender compliance. It’s an injunction.

But we can’t call it that. We’re so well versed, so immersed in TINA, that even to name that to which there is no alternative cannot be tolerated. It’s like questioning God. Hence the question-with-snigger: “What is neoliberalism?” Because when you name it, it’s there, it’s an identifiable object that can be turned over and analysed. And that is an affront to the upholders of the injunction TINA.

So, I repeated the words that I’d said to my editor a decade ago: it’s an identifiable, discrete set of economic policies of, among others, privatisation and deregulation at its most basic level. Fortunately, in the past 10 years more people have thought the unthinkable. They have not been cowed by Thatcher’s injunction. So I could also recommend political scientist Wendy Brown to the student and critical race theorist David Theo Goldberg, by way of post-colonial thinker Achille Mbembe. We can now think of neoliberalism as a mode of rationality hegemonising the social sphere. It does not stop at economics but goes to what makes individuals.

This would explain why individuals would defend it so vehemently, because it is a way of understanding the world and themselves in it. It draws on liberalism for some of its building blocks, such as the notion of the individual as a rational, free and autonomous agent. But this agent specifically constructs itself through consumerism. You are what you buy. Which is why you are “free”, because “freedom” lies in consumerist choice.

Here we can already see ominous cracks appearing, because we know that not everybody can buy things. How can you make yourself and be free if you can’t buy? This is where the neoliberal snigger turns into a sneer. Individuals who can’t shop are redundant. Because if you are poor, you have to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and aspire to middle-class consumption. If you cannot muster that, you are lazy, stupid, Godless and generally undeserving and by that token a member of the undesirables.

Thatcher comes in handy again: “there is no such thing as society”. If an individual cannot “make it”, that’s her/his problem. The contextual conditions producing the problem are erased. This is what lies behind the punitive measures accompanying the dismantling of social security in the US, Britain and western Europe. The latest Tory assault on sick and disabled people is an example. Thatcher’s party is pushing ahead with a policy that the Labour Party was flirting with before it was ousted: welfare reforms aimed at removing support from disabled people and which is specifically hitting people with long-term chronic illnesses and mental health conditions.

Despite the context of the highest unemployment rate in two decades, you have to prove your worth by working – otherwise you’ll be denied basic human rights of dignity, health and freedom of movement. To smuggle it through, the middle-class righteous express their disgust at the “idleness” of the ill who are “festering” on benefits. The objectives and real effects of the policy are obfuscated.

The same logic lies behind Democratic Alliance city councillor Dave Bryant’s recent attack on the derelict in Cape Town. He brought a motion to make the Company Gardens “vagrant”-free. According to the Cape Times, “It will no longer be possible to snooze on Cape Town’s Company Gardens benches because the city plans to remove ‘problematic’ benches used to sleep on and replace them with more ‘creative’ seating”. Bryant is quoted in the Cape Times as saying: ” … some of the benches did not have a bar in the middle and therefore encouraged people, mostly vagrants, to lie down and sleep rather than sit.” This is neoliberalism enacted: depoliticise and decontextualise the expulsion of unworthy others.

In other words, let’s not think about why some people are “vagrants” who sleep in parks (as opposed to a plush kingsize bed that some sleep on in their three-bedroom houses). Let’s rather think about the lack of a bar in the middle of the park bench. But let’s make it fun too, and dress it in the kinds of terms that legitimise the noble bourgeois pursuit. Bryant adds: “By utilising creative inspiration and inventive design, it is possible to create pieces of more functional art, which can also help to create a safer and more vibrant environment in a public space like the Company’s Garden.” Thus Bryant, with the help of the Cape Times reporter, positions sleeping “vagrants” as the opposite of safety and vibrancy.

Having thoroughly justified the exclusion of the redundant, the state deploys lethal force to render that exclusion final. This is, following the thinking of Mbembe and Goldberg, the final twist of the knife in the race-infused necropolitics of the neoliberal state. Its most recent incident was Marikana, where the necropolitics of neoliberal expulsion was taken to its logical conclusion.



  1. Michael Osborne Michael Osborne 19 September 2013

    Christi, I am 1000% with you in the struggle against neoliberalism. I just fear that heading a piece on the menace of NL “the mode of rationality hegemonising society” will cause some to mistake your piece for an Onion send up of a certain kind of obscurantist discourse favored by American academics who drive volvos.

  2. Rod MacKenzie Rod MacKenzie 19 September 2013

    Fantastic, informative article, Christi, thanks.

  3. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 20 September 2013

    I’m glad someone finally asks the question. The sniggers are there because obviously everyone knows what Neoliberalism is and obviously everyone knows either how evil it is or how there is no alternative. People write tombs on how we must combat it or how we must defend it, but this is a crucial question that gets overlooked.

    In reality, not many people even get as far as Thatcherism and Reaganomics, let alone evaluating Neoliberalism in practice with its explicit tenets. Compare the unemployment rate under Thatcher with that under Reagan. This prompts the question: Were they employing the same policies with such different results?

    Krugman (himself not exactly Neoliberal) says that Reagan employed standard Keynesian spending. This means whatever Reagan did, it wasn’t Neoliberalism in the privatise and liberalise sense.

    It’s also disingenuous to claim that a direct government intervention in a public garden is Neoliberalism in practice. How could this be? Had they privatised the Company Gardens or deregulated access there instead of doing exactly the opposite, a case could be made that this is Neoliberalism. Instead, they opted for more regulations and more stringent control of a public space – owned and maintained by the government.

  4. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 20 September 2013

    I am no clearer, really, what neoliberalism is. On this account it might be taken very narrowly to be human selfishness, or very broadly as any mode of thought or aspiration not shared by those with a different ‘understanding of the world and themselves in it’.

    The question then resolves itself into which of the two viewpoints is in practice the most liberal, neo- or otherwise.

  5. YO YO 20 September 2013

    Brilliant analysis. One of the best articles on any platform I’ve read recently. There is a terrible dearth, as you point out, of critiques of the neoliberal hegemon. It’s helped by the failures and atrocities of the so-called communist states of the twentieth century, which conveniently bolsters the TINA argument.

    I attended a seminar at UCT in 2012 with a prominent economics academic as the keynote speaker. This speaker, to my surprise but also relief, argued that he – and the neoliberal argument he defended – was not concerned with inequality. Human beings are born unequal, he said. The talented, and thus ‘deserving’, are the ones that ‘succeed’ in life. This success, thus, was a product of genes. Socio-economic circumstances were a negligible factor, he contended, and there was nothing really undesirable about the existence of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

    This refreshingly honest meritocracy argument demonstrated the lie that neoliberalism is designed to provide all people with an equal opportunity to have access to basic human rights.

    It’s time we stop pretending that the trickle-down effect was ever meant to bring about equity and correct historical injustices. The neoliberal paradigm deliberately reinforces an inherently unequal status quo, and will continue thus until our aspirations as human beings change from individualistic materialism to one where hoarding and greed are not viewed as ‘success’.

    We are capable of more than just buying things.

  6. proactive proactive 20 September 2013

    Human & social evolution of societies can never be viewed as finite & just. All of them- using either “TINA” like iron lady Thatcher & her flawed achievements or “Mbeki’s ANC think tank” & present JZ “until Jesus comes”- underlining greed with a similar grotesque injunction- “stop thinking”- just blindly vote for us tirade- are all doomed to fail! Such arrogant but flawed dogmas will deliver them as future victims on a pile of discarded “thinkers”- ending their history.

    Positive “hegemons” or leaders were and are always needed! Negative leadership simple increases destruction and undermine a common effort to uplift everyone.
    The dream, urge or greed to always buy goods is simple sick consumerism.

    Past & present excesses of empire building is viewed as exploitation and colonialism.
    Marxism or practiced communism being equally immoral- was also serving a narrow elite only.

    Latest excesses of total deregulation as applied by ‘Reganomics’- lobbying and changing laws to allow to gain economic advantages by the wealthy 1%- is modern colonialism- destroying the social fabric & balance!

    To demand appropriate behavior or to fit into certain situations “appropriately” is not an inhuman request! There is still the rule of our own made checks & balances!

    To ignore, not to allow or provide for the “social fallen” in a reasonable and responsive human manner- by whatever system is in place- however is!

    First- old, neo or just simple liberation…

  7. Brent Brent 20 September 2013

    You have not answered the question, what is neo liberalism. Another slogan/buzz word for the liberal left (like Marx coined capitalism) to avoid debate on actual issues and problems. How convoluted can you get blaming Marikana on so called neo liberalism. SA has been is ruled by three entities for the past 20 years; SACP (the C stands for Communism) Cosatu (another self proclaimed Marxist entity) and the ANC that has as its Secretary General, Mantashe, a leading member of the SACP.
    Debt to GDP of Assorted countries: Japan – 214%, Ireland – 118%, USA – 106%, France 90%, Germany 81%, Hungary 79% all caused mainly by the excess spending on ‘social democracy’ to form the welfare state. People who follow the ‘truth’ (as opposed to sexy/smart slogans) have been saying for the last four years that as Europe, the US and other Western and global nation-states continue their debt-fueled collapse the governments of these countries will continue to consider their citizens’ wealth to be their own and seize more of their assets. They have been vindicated.
    In March, 2009, Ireland seized €4bn from its Pension Reserve fund in order to rescue its banks.
    In Dec, 2010, Hungary told its citizens that they could either remit their private pension money to the state or lose their state pension
    In Jan 2100 French parliament earmarked E33 billion from pension reserve to reduce pension deficit etc etc. The real hegmons are ‘social democracy’ fat cats stealing ordinary peoples money, ask…

  8. Brent Brent 20 September 2013

    Left out was… ‘ask Cyprus’, who had their savings forcably stolen from bank accounts, not by so called neo cons but ruling social democrats Brent

  9. Sean Courtney Sean Courtney 20 September 2013

    So what is the alternative to neo liberalism that will create a better outcome? Tina.

  10. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 20 September 2013

    I’m afraid that I am no more informed on what ‘neo-liberal’ actually means than I was before reading this (twice).

  11. Same here Same here 20 September 2013

    Neoliberalism has been through a number of iterations already. – some say its strenght lies in being able to morph (the Chinese example of democracy being a case in point). It has certainly outlived and outshone communism and their narrowly socialist policies, so yep, tina – unless you want to consider the erudite polcies of EFF. But it is a very convenient whipping boy for every manner of evil.

  12. Tofolux Tofolux 20 September 2013

    It is quite disturbing that those who received priviledged education under an apartheid system cannot intellectualise a very familiar theory. Bluntly put, neo-liberalism can be found in the proposed economic policies of the DA.

  13. george orwell george orwell 20 September 2013

    Excellent description, Christa.

    Some people describe neo-liberals as “fascists in cardigans”.

    Unfair? If you unpack the word fascism, it describes the deadly marriage between state and consumerist corporatism, so in a sense it’s accurate.

    The Cape Town park-bench example is apt.

    On a global scale, the war-mongering ‘humanitarian interventionists’ serve as a good example of neo-liberalism in its full glory.

    These people like to think they are noble, right and good. Yet when you scratch the surface and examine their beliefs, a darker picture emerges.

    Thus you have the bunch of neo-liberal women surrounding President Obama – dubbed “Obama’s Valkyries’ – calling for ‘humanitarian’ bombing sorties in America’s Middle East resource wars.

    Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Anne-Marie Slaughter – all proudly class themselves as ‘humanitarian interventionists’.

    They believe as long as you stick “We’re Doing This For the Sake of Democracy” stickers on Hellfire missiles, you can fire them into oil-rich/ geo-politically significant sovereign nations.

    Spreading noble-sounding ‘democracy’ at the barrel of a gun is a very neo-liberal concept.

    Democracy = the ‘freedom’ to shop.

    The Nobel Peace Prize Winner President Obomber, who signed in ‘Detention Without Trial’ Law (NDAA), oversees a surveillance state, jailed brave whistle-blower Manning and bailed out greedy bankers, is a prime example of a neo-liberal in action.

  14. Richard Richard 20 September 2013

    Margaret Thatcher did not say “There is no such thing as society”. She said the following, which is rather different.

    “I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

    The sentence you extracted does not accurately reflect what she said, and was used by the Labour Party to vilify her.

  15. Richard Richard 20 September 2013

    This is interesting: “Thatcher’s party is pushing ahead with a policy that the Labour Party was flirting with before it was ousted: welfare reforms aimed at removing support from disabled people and which is specifically hitting people with long-term chronic illnesses and mental health conditions.”

    The Labour Party deliberately grew the number of people placed onto disability in order to make employment figures seem higher. Shuffling people from the labour market onto disabled lists reduces the size of the work-force, and so makes for better statistics. What is happening now is that is being re-evaluated, so that those who are genuinely ill are treated as such, and given the support they need.

    Also, “Despite the context of the highest unemployment rate in two decades, you have to prove your worth by working – otherwise you’ll be denied basic human rights of dignity, health and freedom of movement.”

    The NHS remains free for all users – whether on benefits or not – and passports are not denied because people are on benefits. There are not restrictions on movement anywhere, to my knowledge.

  16. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 20 September 2013

    For some of those expressing confusion at what neoliberalism is, perhaps this quote from Foucault’s ‘Birth of Biopolitics’ lectures might help clarify what the author means when she says ‘We can now think of neoliberalism as a mode of rationality hegemonising the social sphere. It does not stop at economics but goes to what makes individuals.’:

    “Neo-liberals apply, or at any rate try to apply economic analysis to a series of objects, to domains of behavior or conduct which were not market forms of behavior or conduct: they attempt to apply economic analysis to marriage, the education of children, and criminality, for example…We reach the point at which maybe the object of economic analysis should be identified with any purposeful conduct which involves, broadly speaking, a strategic choice of means, ways, and instruments: in short, the identification of the object of economic analysis with any rational conduct…Does the definition of homo oeconomicus involve marking out the zone that is definitively inaccessible to any government action? Is homo oeconomicus an atom of freedom in the face of all the conditions, undertakings, legislation, and prohibitions of a possible government, or was he not already a certain type of subject who precisely enabled an art of government to be determined according to the principle of economy…?”

    I.e., under neoliberalism we are valued to the extent that we succeed – bootstrap style – at perpetuating the logic of capitalist…

  17. MrK MrK 20 September 2013

    Succinctly put, neoliberalism consists of: privatisation, deregulation and free trade for corporations.

    1) Privatisation

    Instead of getting *our stuff* for free, we are going to have to pay a fee to the lucky corporation that received the contract. Our stuff is public roads, public parks, basically all the state owned infrastructure. Our stuff is also all the diamond, gold and platinum reserves, which no man created and whose very existence no man can take credit for.

    2) Deregulation

    This applies to everything that might cost the shareholders of the corporation a single cent in dividend payments. Labour standards, public safety, consumer protection, pollution, all externalisation of costs, all the rules that protect the public against poisoning or death are to go.

    3) Free Trade

    This applies only to the giant corporations. Local business, any future local middle class, are destroyed, to make way for the giant corporations with headquarters in a tax shelter. For instance, infamous tax evader Glencore International AG’s HQ is in Switzerland.

    In other words, neoliberalism, enforced by the IMF and World Bank, benfits the old colonial order – the Windsors, the Rothschilds, the last standing robber baron family the Rockefellers.

    That’s what, why and who benefits.

  18. MrK MrK 20 September 2013

    Here’s one hint. The head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, is a) named James after his father’s employer, James de Rothschild (google: wolfensohn rothschild theaustralian) and b) is a member of the Bilderberg Group, whose founder and honorary chairman is David Rockefeller (google: bilderbergmeetings org, click on Governance and click on ‘former steering committee members’).

    Rothschild Bank founded De Beers in 1887, when they also funded one Cecil John Rhodes. (google: de beers history rothschild)

  19. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 20 September 2013


    We were not brought up with abstract theories which were explained by abstract theories which needed you to learn a new abstract theory every three words of reading it!

    We were brought up with 1+1=2 – not ‘a number which may or may not be a counter revolutionary zero but may or may not be lower than a tjatjarag few will possibly be included or detracted from another neo-number of the same value to get a value that is arbitrarily predictable’.

    Oh, and the DA policy and ANC policy are so similar that you would have trouble placing a piece of waxed paper between them. So you ain’t no help either!

  20. MrK MrK 20 September 2013

    George Orwell,

    ” Thus you have the bunch of neo-liberal women surrounding President Obama – dubbed “Obama’s Valkyries’ – calling for ‘humanitarian’ bombing sorties in America’s Middle East resource wars. Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Anne-Marie Slaughter – all proudly class themselves as ‘humanitarian interventionists’. ”

    The ‘permanent business of government’ in Washington DC is wrapped up with the Rockefeller family organisations.

    David Rockefeller is the Honorary Chairman at the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Group. He founded the Bilderberg Group (1954, with Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biestervelf of the Netherlands) and the Trilateral Commission (1973, with Zbigniew Brzezinksi, whose book The Grand Chessboard everyone should read, because it sets out their geostrategy, and it is scary as hell if you don’t live in the northern EU and Northeastern USA).

    From the Jan. 13th, 2013 membership list of the Trilateral Commission:

    Susan E. Rice:

    Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

    Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton; former Director, Policy Planning, U. S. Department of State

  21. MrK MrK 20 September 2013


    Condoleezza Rice, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, and Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy, Hoover Institution, Palo Alto; former U. S. Secretary of State; former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush

    Former Members in Public Service

    Thomas E. Donilon, Assistant to the President, U.S. National Security Advisor
    Timothy F. Geithner, U.S. Secretary of The Treasury
    Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations


    Memorize those lists, because they are the real government of the world in action.

  22. Heinrich Heinrich 20 September 2013

    I wonder if urging people to “celebrate 20 years of democracy” or to wear something special for “freedom Friday” whilst stealing the wealth of a nation, corrupting its soul and neglecting its people, is neo-liberal?

    Be it may, my switch flips to “off” when confronted with “isms” and “ists”.

  23. bernpm bernpm 20 September 2013

    I did check the Wikipedia definition of neo-liberalism ( together with a graphic representation. It seemed more an interesting attempt to nail down a single and valid definition of a floating concept.

    My observation? The “word” has been used in many contexts. The economist has more than one options to use it to underline his/her perceptions of economic behaviorism. The politician will use it to announce a new and attractive way to collect money from the public pretending the method is on a proven scientific base. The socio- econoom will put it in a sociological context to explain the ill and benefits of this approach The man in the street will use it to show that he is well educated in economic matters be they financial, social or environmental related.

    If one is keen to defend personal freedom than liberalism seems the way to go. Does one want firm controls over human economic behavior one could put “neo” in front of liberalism and many liberal suckers will fall for it.

    Other than that, Thanks for an interesting topic, Christi.
    Should we call the ANC politics “neo- liberal” or “liberal” or “socialist” ? Or all three of them, depending where and how applied for the various population segments.

  24. Isabella van der Westhuizen Isabella van der Westhuizen 21 September 2013

    Thank you Christi for a well written article. The so called economic miracle of Thatcherism is based on a lie and it is all unravelling. Whether we can replace it with something more humane remains to be seen

  25. Dave Harris Dave Harris 21 September 2013

    These terms are coined by ultra-conservative groups with their mainstream media (the Rupert Murdoch news empire) to stick the term “liberal” to anything dysfunctional e.g. “liberal mainstream media” when in reality mainstream media is anything but liberal!
    Similarly, if one takes a closer look at Thatcherism and Reganomics, one finds that its anything BUT liberal!! Simply a way to peddle their ultra-conservative, white supremicist doctrine and then taking the credit for short lived successes and pinning the blame of the long term failure these policies wrought on the world on progressive liberal forces.
    btw. Good point Tofolux. The DA is anything but liberal in clinging to apartheid-like ideologies. I also blogged about this a while back Now you know who the DA learns from in their destructive policies that have make the WCape a tense politically unstable region as evidenced by the growing protests reminiscent of apartheid’s dark days.

  26. OneFlew OneFlew 21 September 2013

    Drop the labels. Explain the policies you object to and why.

    Otherwise you spend all your time trying to explain the label and getting huffy with people who don’t get it. As we can see from the article and the comments so far.

  27. Cam Cameron Cam Cameron 22 September 2013

    “Critical theory” sounds so deep and good and profound. But, strip away the dross and every “critical theorist” is a Marxist. It’s just that “Marxist” is simply so last century old-school today. But the gullible hordes take “critical theory” and “critical theorist” at face value, not scenting the hardcore doctrinaire Marxism permeating it.

  28. Yendys Yendys 22 September 2013

    Instead of using code protest words , phrases that mean what ever people want them to mean and moaning about what is, tell us what system you would like to have in place.
    I challenge you to articulate something practical. And please not Ubuntu or “we should all come together” or we should “hold hands in an unbroken circle symbolizing man’s humanity” and such things.

  29. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 22 September 2013

    @Christi, one of the most important part of the neoliberalism is missing in your article, and that is the removal of government regulations internal and external. The Neoliberalism means that there should be free trade and the market should control the exchange rates. If company A wants to move their operation to China where the labor is fifty percent cheaper and ship their goods around the world this company should be free to do so. A good example of this is Apples, this company designs her goods in the US and shipped it to China to be manufactured. Apples are shipping her goods around the world and is making a record profit. The shareholders in Apples are laughing all the way to the banks and workers in the US are looking for a job.

    SA since 1994 has became a resource provider for China and her manufacturers sector has been wiped out. In the US many towns have gone broke because many companies have moved out of the country to areas where there the cost to operate is cheaper. The big question is what to do with all of these displaced workers that have been impacted, by the neoliberalism thinking, of free regulations?

  30. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 22 September 2013

    @Unzola, the free trade is what’s having the greatest impact on many countries. However, Christi didn’t discuss this problem in her article although this is the root of the problem of neoliberalism.

  31. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 23 September 2013

    @Toufolux,Harris, if you write a book should you be limited how much profit you can make from this book? if the answer is no then you are a neoliberal.

  32. Rejoice Ngwenya Rejoice Ngwenya 23 September 2013

    I think @OneFlew gets it right – life beyond semantics! For starters, I had NO idea I was libertarian [or neo-liberal] until I actually stumbled onto the term. Having ‘grown’ up in Rhodesia, I knew I hated racism and discrimination. Then I came back from exile into Zimbabwe and waded into a government that was subsidising EVERYTHING, providing EVERYTHING and eventually ended up with half the population that is content with a wretched sense of entitlement! The same government was so much in CONTROL of our lives that they even regulated which movie I can watch, what a ‘proper’ nightclub should be like and that ALL men who enter Parliament must be in jacket and tie, even if they are NOT elected persons.

    Mind you, a government that promised free education, free health care and free public transport. I told someone about my resentment of this type of governance, and they said to me: “You are liberal!” Now I know.

  33. Yaj Yaj 23 September 2013

    @ Christi, thank you for an excellent article.
    @ Mr K , you are also quite correct

    It’s all about deregulation, privatisation and footloose capital wreaking havoc across the globe, looting nations by a cartel of banksters and ably supported by the not-so-hidden fist of the military-industrial complex in enforcing this hegemony through military interventions and war.

    However, there are alternatives and these rest on a public banking system and /or 100% full reserve banking to be pursued by nations who want to establish economic sovereignty and economic freedom with social justice and sustainability.

  34. Tofolux Tofolux 23 September 2013

    @Sterling, when the cost of money is actually zero, then we have problems. If u havnt seen the beginning of the failure of capitalism in America then clearly you are living in a bubble. The problem with neo-liberalism is when you allow the financial sector too much dominance with bonds, equities etc. Instead of reforming their economy they subsidised their banks through huge bailouts. They continue to allow people to borrow money to stay afloat. Also the housing market prices cannot rise when your income does not complement the rise in property. The housing and other economic bubbles are self-created ponzi schemes allowed through this nonsense of free markets. There is no bringing down the costs of credit hence when the cost of your money through interest rates equals to nothing you must worry, When there is poverty in a middle-class, when there is rigging of bonds and when a person misses one payment on debt and that has major repercussions, they one must worry. The DA has no remedy for any of this because exactly what America has, they want for this country. What that will bring is when you really begin to see politicians benefitting hugely from an unstable financial facade. It therefore begs the question, why they would want to see our electoral system changed much in the way that it mimics America’s and this is only to allow this non-sense of lobbying and very narrow economic power in the hands of the few.

  35. Christi van der Westhuizen Christi van der Westhuizen Post author | 23 September 2013

    @YO and Sterling: Sterling, YO’s comment captures a foundational element of neoliberalism: “the lie that neoliberalism is designed to provide all people with an equal opportunity to have access to basic human rights”. In fact, neoliberalism thrives on inequality and unemployment as it renders individuals more insecure and precarious and therefore available for superexploitation. I mention deregulation as one of the tenets but was trying to move beyond an economistic understanding to explain why people derive their identities from neoliberalism. I have written about the effects of neoliberalism on workers, e.g. and

  36. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 23 September 2013

    @Tofolux, when Adam Smith published his book in the latter part of the 18th century “Wealth of a Nation” he argues that the government shouldn’t place any restrictions on business, there should be free trade among nations, there shouldn’t be restrictions on profit by individuals and companies. The government should stay out of business and let the market control the business. People should be encouraged to compete because the more people produce the richer the country becomes. When this book was published, this book became the bible for N America and Europe for development. This what is called economic liberalism get the government out of business leave them alone. The neo- liberalism thinkers in the 20th century said lets go back to Adam Smith’s thinking and get the government out of business.

    However, in the middle part of the 20th century the social neoliberalism thinkers came out with the idea that it is alright to practice economic neoliberialism, but the government had a duty to look out for the weak and unfortunate people in the society. Many laws were passed to help the poor and unfortunate people in these countries. What you described in your comment isn’t economic neoliberalism because the government shouldn’t have been involved in bailing companies out that had bad decisions. The social neoliberalism thinkers said help these companies because of the impact it will have on the people in this country.

  37. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 23 September 2013

    @Tofolux, I asked you one question if you write a book should there be a limit put on how much you can make from this book? You never answer the question and you start talking about the failure of capitalism in the US and other places. The DA and ANC are total irrelevant to this conservation because both of these groups will go with the tide. In my opinion both of these school of thoughts have a point, the market should be free for people to make money and the government has a duty to take care of the weak and unfortunate people.

  38. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 23 September 2013

    @Rejoice, most governments in the world aren’t efficient and they don’t functioned to make a profit. The state run businesses will never make a country rich because there isn’t any competition to produce anything. Take a look at the state run businesses in SA, none of them are making money and producing goods in an efficient manner is SA. Most of these companies are nothing, but a drain on the taxpayers in this country. These companies should be sold off and allowed to make a profit. Eskoms should be broken up and sold off like Nigeria did with her electricity company and allowed to function for a profit, the production of electricity will increase.

  39. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 23 September 2013

    @Christi, it’s the investors that make a country wealth and not the workers like many people are saying in SA. Adams Smith’s “Wealth of a nation” makes a lot of sense.

  40. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 25 September 2013

    As long as we argue abstractions as if they exist in the real world, the more muddled we become and the more we muddle each other.

    ‘Neoliberalism’ doesn’t actually exist anymore than the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, ‘the withering away of the state’ or ‘communism’ ever did or does. All of them are coinages of thinkers who simply have different priorities or hold opposing views about what they believe life is or should be.

    Individual human beings in all their astonishing, variety, depth and complexity do not take their identity from ‘neoliberalism’, a fact that can be easily checked by talking to a few of them.

    As well argue that all the Welsh sing songs and eat leeks, the Spanish do nothing but attend blood sports and the ANC is composed of nothing but fools and rogues.

  41. Tofolux Tofolux 25 September 2013

    @Sterling, if you cannot challenge facts then concede the point. You cannot stick to books and American inspired theories and refrain from dealing with the reality around you. Also, Nigeria was divided by their colonial master so that this divide-and-rule concept made it better for Britain to pit their society against each other. So its worth noting that you once again call for division. But most importantly, I would suggest that you record facts this especially iro Eskom when you make irresponsible claims that they add nothing to our society. Lastly, free market fundamentalism is a DA economic policy. They put a lot of weight on the financial sector and they believe in this non-sense of inflation ratings and credit ratings. So when engaging in a debate be prepared to LEARN.

  42. OneFlew OneFlew 25 September 2013

    ‘ Neoliberalism’ is also a pejorative term: no person is a self-described ‘neoliberal’.

    So it’s not a term that is used by people who objectively engage with the subject matter, or who attempt to persuade those of a different mindset. It’s simply a term of abuse: ‘boo, neoliberalism’.

    Using such terms is a self-referential substitute for thought and reasoned argument: it is itself neither thoughtful nor reasoned.

  43. The Creator The Creator 25 September 2013

    Neoliberalism exists — it is the ideology of the ruling class which wants to enrich itself at the expense of everything else to the nth degree — and the most important practice of neoliberal propagandists is to pretend that neoliberalism doesn’t exist.

    However, it is worth saying that neoliberalism is, for many fake-leftists, simply a buzzword with which to take a posturing stance. I’m glad that some people have offered a usable definition. I think that the complaint about asking “”What is neoliberalism?” should not so much be directed against a student as against the student’s teachers.

  44. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 25 September 2013

    @Tofolux, Adam Smith is not American, he was English and is considered the father of modern economic. He wrote the ” Wealth of the Nation” and this book had a great influence through out the western world in the 19th century. The term economic liberalism is based on the thinking of Adam Smith and other writers of the 19th century like David Ricardo whom everyone knows that came up with the law on diminishing returns. In the 1960s the term Social neo-liberlism was coined because these thinkers said it was alright to have a free economy, but it was the duty to help the people that had fallen by the wayside. If the financial sector collapses there would be no SA as we know it today. Therefore, the ANC and the DA both talk the same language on this issue. You will not answer my question because you know that if you write a book, you do not want to be limited how much you can make from this book.

  45. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 25 September 2013

    @Creator, most people believe in economic neoliberalism and social neoliberialism. You should read Adam Smith’s “Wealth of a Nation”

  46. OneFlew OneFlew 28 September 2013

    He most certainly wasn’t English! He was a Scot. And the book is called The Wealth of Nations.

  47. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 29 September 2013

    @Creatror, you are right about not adding the s on the word nation. Yes! he did come from Scotland and that part of England isn’t ?

  48. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 29 September 2013

    @One Flew, the last comment was to you and not the Creator.

  49. OneFlew OneFlew 30 September 2013

    No, Scotland isn’t part of England.

  50. Bob Pierce Bob Pierce 22 May 2014

    When we discovered that there was no god we needed something to worship blindly. The All Mighty Economy has filled that niche.

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