The four logics of neoliberalism

Loic Wacquant, Professor of Sociology at UCl Berkeley, essays a sketch of “the neoliberal state” in his study of social insecurity, Punishing the Poor

Neoliberalism is a transnational project aiming to remake the nexus of market, state, and citizenship from above. This project is carried out by a new global ruling class in the making, composed of the heads and senior executives of transnational firms, high-ranking politicians,…and top officials of multinational organisations (the OECD, WTO, IMF, World Bank, and European Union), and cultural-technical experts in their employ…

Beyond “reasserting the prerogatives of capital and the promotion of the marketplace”, neoliberalism entails four “institutional logics”.

  1. economic deregulation
  2. devolution, retraction, and recomposition of the welfare state
  3. the cultural trope of individual responsibility
  4. an expansive, intrusive, and proactive penal apparatus

Wacquant’s four logics allow us to evaluate any policy proposal or decision made by a government; in effect, it provides an early warning system which allows us to see through the misdirection and obfuscation with which neoliberal policies are usually presented (what George Orwell in 1984 called “doublespeak”).

The vocabulary used by neoliberal government in the UK since 1979 can be translated into the terms of one or more of the four logics. For example, “competition” as used to refer to Education or to Health implements all of the first three, and is used synonymously with “marketplace”.

  1. Economic deregulation actually means reregulation intended to promote a market-like mechanism to supply a public good.
  2. A component of the welfare state is devolved from state control to the “market” and recomposed to introduce “shareholder value” in place of equality of access or treatment.
  3. The individual is obliged, expected, or forced to be responsible for relinquishing the role of patient or student, and accepting the role of consumer in the new “market”.

Another example is the response of Linda Whetstone to the problems of water scarcity. Whetstone’s recommendation was to the effect that most of the shortage issues should be dealt with via the market; charging for the resource, issuing property rights, and removing government interference. (BBC Newsnight, August 2008)

The neoliberal solution is thus that water could be made less scarce if there was reregulation to assert ownership of water and to create a marketplace. The most likely outcome of course would be that millions would die of dehydration once the insufficient water they had no access to had been expropriated by corporations in order to sell it back to them (with no Government control).

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