The Neoliberal Order Must End

Its legacy is only that of destruction and great suffering.

Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention hosted by the AFL-CIO at the Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona, Iowa. Courtesy of Flickr by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Shortly after the end of the Cold War, we were sold the illusion that the neoliberal order was going to be the harbinger of indefinite prosperity for all, allowing the markets to bestow their blessings upon the wider populace as governments mostly tended to matters of civic life, with a ballot being cast every few years to decide who’s at the helm of a well-oiled and self-sustaining machine. Many were left by the wayside as profiteers of the neoliberal order kept reaping the rewards of their complicity–as wealth inequality grew wider, and as the downtrodden awakened to the needlessness of their suffering, neoliberals have suddenly realized they can no longer play coy with their decades-long con, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re forever unseated from the power they’ve so lustfully desired.

A microcosm of this happening was the night before Super Tuesday, when recent drop-outs of the Democratic primary Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both drew support behind whom they’ve spent months calling unfit for presidency–this is a normal occurrence for politics, but what gives it further symbolic meaning, is that they’ve banded behind the candidate whose platform would be a maintenance of the status quo. This includes a climate plan that’s far less ambitious in its scope than the Green New Deal, a vision for compromise with Republican elected officials that can only be described as amnesic — especially considering what Barack Obama went through prior — and most important of all, a measly expansion on Obamacare that does nothing to ensure that the United States views the health of its citizens as essential to its function, and not a vacant spot for the insurance industry to bury the most vulnerable under mountains of insurmountable medical debt.

Among that group, is what can only be described as a demographic whose vying for change has been substituted for chronic despair–that’s boomers and up. The age breakdown of Super Tuesday backs this up, but this trend isn’t only limited to America’s electoral landscape–due to a function of staggered expectations, the oldest have a tendency to vote for the most outwardly-conservative platforms. There’s plenty to criticize about a search for an orthodoxy that never existed, but it’s even more so an indictment of their rigid voting patterns that the policies they’re voting for are the ones poised to cause them the most harm. If climate change isn’t addressed, while it might be hard for everyone to cope, it is the youth who are at a disproportionate advantage–the same can be said for welfare-bolstering programs, whose dissonance of support is hard to decouple from the often-austere nature of conservative economics.

What this gives a recipe for, is a generational conflict that is more than about the fate of the planet, or the dire straits of the least fortunate–it is the erroneous notion that we’re custodians of our own failures, essentialized by the nature of personal strife under a neoliberal society, that we can’t conceive of effective collective action, much less demand that of our governments. Much kerfuffle is abound whenever increased spending on the populace is on the docket of an upcoming government, but if we can’t demand more of those who are to lead us, then what are we electing them for? In an era where asking more — within the reasonable realm of possibility — from the vestiges of neoliberal power has become almost taboo, it is worthwhile to consider whether democracy has not just become a formality with self-justifying qualities, rather than the much-needed shift from erstwhile oppressive rule towards a better world.

To say the course we’ve plotted forth for the future is a dangerous one would be an understatement–the rise of nationalism has proved that if anything, it’s easy to delude those clamoring at the bits to cleanse society from vermin that they’ve magically attained some semblance of agency over their lives back. Alienated as they remain because of capitalism, the scapegoat that has become the presence of an “other” is weaponized to further feed into a narrative where national pride replaces the need for substantive change. As such, calls for ethnic mass-displacement will be made, not realizing that a shrinkage in population would only amount to that–ever emptier streets and countrysides, with nothing to show for but a long legacy of xenophobia and racism.

The fear is, once nationalism has taken over, the far-right won’t realize the error of its ways until all has been lost, with no path to reversal. Two decades prior, the case could’ve been made for an incremental approach to change, but given the scale of the threat coming up ahead, anything shy of a political revolution will likely not be enough. We’ve been long sold the dream of a world where our fates were fully ours to own–but as that reality slips away, even from those who’ve originally advocated it, the costly human toll of a narrow approach to the betterment of society has made it impossible to reconcile slow progress with what really needs to be done, which is ending the neoliberal grasp on our politics once and for all.

For that to happen, local action won’t suffice–a global movement needs to be led for the rejection of neoliberal values. It doesn’t matter who helms it–it just needs to be done. The longer the current state of our broken society persists, the more costly it is to fix. With material threats looming on the horizon like climate change, it’s even more so important to emphasize that the free market — which has long promised us the world, only to plot its demise — has failed us all, and it needs to be forever divorced from the project of human progress. If the health of people and planet is of any importance to anyone whatsoever, showing up against neoliberalism — whether through peaceful protest or violent revolt — is a moral imperative. To not do it, is to bemoan our planet’s eulogy, written by those who depart it the soonest, just as everyone else is left scrambling for a way to survive.