Plunging into a Dark Age of Neoliberalism

The choking effect of neoliberalism on the aspirations of people in Ireland, Europe and globally to live better lives, to end poverty, to achieve equality, to progress, is becoming ever more clear.

There is an audible growth of discontent.

Neither human well-being nor progress are being advanced by neoliberalism and its assumption that individual freedom is guaranteed by the freedom of the market. In fact the opposite is the case.

Neoliberalism has seen a drive to make the state and government responsible for less and less.

It tells us, in terms of public services, social protections and wealth distribution, ‘thus far you shall go and no further’ but also actively seeks to reverse much of the progress that has been made over the last century.

Those functions which the state took on progressively from the 19th century and which were transformational in the lives of ordinary people – from health and education to water and sanitation – are now struggling for survival in the face of growing pressure to privatise and deregulate.

Neoliberalism seeks to create markets where they currently do not exist: in water, education, healthcare, prisons and social security.

The impact which this marketization of public services has on the ability of people to access them matters not to the proponents of neoliberalism. Neither does it matter to them that they are an essential component in making the lives of all of citizens better.

Gradually neoliberalism has seeped into every aspect of our governance – in national, European and supranational institutions and organisations. Its advocates have gained positions of influence in the media, in academia, in corporations, in financial institutions.

Neoliberalism is the elephant in the room – every discussion we have north and south about public policy, about investment in public services, about austerity, is impacted by the extent to which neoliberalism has infected the European Union and in turn states like Ireland.

It is impeding the ability of governments to act in the best interest of citizens.

It is an attack on the solidarity between citizens.

It has become something that is anti-democratic and authoritarian.

Its advocates are becoming bolder in what they seek to take from citizens and from states.

We see this in TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and the ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) mechanism.

We need only look at examples where ISDS has been initiated in the past to understand how it undermines national governments and to grasp its health and environmental implications.

An ISDS action by chemical manufacturer Ethyl saw Canada reverse its ban on the toxic chemical MMT and agree to a $13million payment.

The Swedish Energy company Vattenfall has claimed €4.7 million over Germany’s decision to close two nuclear power plants as part of it’s phasing out of nuclear energy.

The proponents of neoliberalism would plunge us into a new dark age for democracy and for human progress.

A dark age of corporate power, of emasculated states, of deregulation, of privatisation, of low paid precarious work, of billionaire oligarchs, of environmental destruction, of resource wars and of growing wealth inequality.

Neoliberalism harks back to the past.

It harks back to a time before public services, before state protections, before the great advances of the modern nation state.

And yet it relies on the state to enforce the freedom to conduct business, accumulate wealth and to regulate the ability of organized labour to act in the interest of workers.

Critics of neoliberalism have set out how, in an unmatched historic reversal, almost a half a century of economic and social progress has unravelled in little more than two decades.

We can see that neoliberalism has indeed been a political project to restore the political power of an economic class that saw its wealth and power decline in the post Second World War period.

The impact of this began to be felt from the 1980s.

From the Troika programmes in Ireland and Greece, to the ISDS case taken against the Egyptian minimum wage, to the structural programmes imposed on developing countries in Africa, neoliberalism is acting against our best interests.

The European Union – supposedly conceived as a solidarity between nations in Europe – has become an enforcer of neoliberal policies within its member states.

But as people rose up against colonialism, imperialism, feudalism and every other system which denied them their essential equality and rights, so too it is inevitable that citizens globally will rise up against neoliberalism.

As we look to the future, we can but imagine how little progress would have been achieved had neoliberalism always held the power it now does.

Would child labour have been outlawed? Would the eight-hour-day have been secured? Would slavery have been abolished? Would pensions for the elderly have been introduced? Would the welfare state have been created? Would our systems of public health and education been created? Would environmental protections and consumer protections have been introduced? Probably not.

In envisaging a better future for people globally – a future based on equality, on wealth redistribution, on environmental sustainability, on ever improving working conditions – it is hard to see how these can be achieved unless we overthrow the destructive influence of neoliberalism.

  • Muiris

    Dior dhuit a Chaoilfhionn (spot on)

  • Muiris

    That should be ‘Fior dhuit’

  • [/rant]

    What’s this ‘we’, kemo sabe?

  • Deke Thornton

    The term ‘neo’ is off-putting and puerile. Liberalism, Free market economics whatever were a product of the agricultural and industrial revolutions which replaced Feudalism as the predominant force in much of ‘western’ society. I presume the author has not read Adam Smith. Marxism has not travelled well. And religious feudal tribalism exists to exacerbate poverty elsewhere. Scandinavia probably has the best mix of ‘neo-liberalism’ with social inclusion, as good as it gets. The alternative, given the failure of Communism, is Darwinian capitalism. The USA comes (relatively) close to this and the European model the best of a bad bunch.

  • barnshee

    Yea –making people responsible for their own actions
    Refusing to pay for other peoples life choices
    Getting the state off peoples backs and stopping transfers to useless bureaucrats

    No wonder they are popular

  • salmonofdata

    It is curious how, in spite of the best efforts of the neoliberals, that the percentage of people living in poverty has never been lower in all of human history. I suppose they need to try harder.

  • What was it Basil said?

    “the home of party hacks and trolls”

    He’s not necessarily wrong in every case.
    But come the Revolution. ‘We’ know who will be first against the wall…

  • Cue Bono

    “Would child labour have been outlawed? Would the eight-hour-day have
    been secured? Would slavery have been abolished? Would pensions for the
    elderly have been introduced? Would the welfare state have been created?
    Would our systems of public health and education been created? Would
    environmental protections and consumer protections have been introduced?
    Probably not.”

    Er, surely all of these things happened under neo liberalism? They certainly aren’t happening in North Korea.

  • NMS

    I am intrigued by Iníon Ui Dhonnabháin’s comments about the “State” which “… took on progressively from the 19th century and which were transformational in the lives of ordinary people – from health and education to water and sanitation – are now struggling for survival in the face of growing pressure to privatise and deregulate.”

    The only one of which the “State” (by which I presume she means the hated Brits) took on in Ireland in the 19th century was primary (national) education, which was immediately sub-contracted to the various churches. Health, water and sanitation, where they existed were the preserve of the local authorities. Indeed the Irish Dept. of Health existed as a sub unit of the Dept. of Local Govt. until 1948. There was a limited involvement of urban authorities in the provision of some of these services.

    Victorian Liberal ideas of profit and the common good working hand in hand ruled and provided Dublin with gas and housing (Dublin Artisan Dwellings plc), graveyards etc. The municipalism which she mixes up with “State” involvement had of course its shining light in the form of the great Liberal Unionist, Joseph Chamberlain.

    State involvement in people’s day to day lives is more recent. The initial provision of most utilities has been provided by the private sector. Electricity was for example available in urban areas before the ESB was set up and took control of the local providers

    The rejection of a Statist model within the European Union is enshrined in the Maastricht treaty. If she and her party, Sinn Féin, wish to move to an alternative economic approach, then the first proposal should surely be to propose withdrawal from the EU. That of course would be the honest approach.

    Centre right parties rule in most European countries and those with elections this year such as Poland where the centre right and right have 88% of the vote in recent polls, will continue that trend. She is correct in noting that there has been a distinct move to the right by CD parties who have moved to a liberal economic view and have prospered accordingly.

    The current Greek Government have no coherent economic plan,other than to look for more hand outs, I suppose similar to Sinn Féin in administration in Belfast. They have already shown themselves unable to carry out basic functions such as current tax collection.

  • notimetoshine

    Just out of interest where does this wealth that would be redistributed come from? What incentives for the wealth generators would there be to encourage them to produce this wealth if it is to be redistributed, I assume through heavy taxation?

    “Would child labour have been outlawed? Would the eight-hour-day have been secured? Would slavery have been abolished? Would pensions for the elderly have been introduced? Would the welfare state have been created? Would our systems of public health and education been created? Would environmental protections and consumer protections have been introduced? Probably not.”

    The creation of many of the above services were introduced during a period when the prevailing economic ideas were of neoclassicalclassical economics. Neoliberalism writ large. Cultural attitudes and moral and religious philosophy had more to do with the introduction of basic social services not to mention the practical needs of the rapidly developing modern industrial state. I mean for god sake slavery had its golden age in Britain when it truly was dog eat dog in economic terms. The drive to abolish slavery was a moral and religious drive.

    But on a more general note, I am sceptical of sweeping generalisations based on some black and white ideological basis.

    Pure neo liberal economics is not something we need or want, nor would its opposite socialist system be something that would be wanted needed or indeed beneficial. We need the vibrant, entrepreneurial spirit of neo liberal economics and political thought, balanced with higher standards of regulation and social justice that come with a more left leaning philosophy. Rather than an all or nothing approach would a meeting in the middle not ensure the best of both worlds?

  • David Crookes

    Oh, no doubt Caoilfhionn Ní Dhonnabháin is altogether wrong, and the world is really wonderful. In East Belfast we have many immigrant workers earning six pounds something an hour, and paying fifteen pounds a week protection money to local gangsters for the privilege of not being burned out of their homes. While those workers are working, lots of able-bodied indigenous men in the same area are paid by taxpayers to watch the Jeremy Kyle show in their pyjamas.

    Nothing happens to the gangsters, but the rest of us are spied on by cameras wherever we go.

    Across the water more and more local authorities announce a reduction in the quality of their services without reducing their rates by a penny. Bins containing putrefying foodstuffs are emptied once a month in summer and winter.

    Not long ago it took four months for the pertinent authorities to replace a bulb in the only lamp on my own little street.

    Useless academic Lilliputs proliferate. Some of their VCs get twice what a PM gets.

    Caoilfhionn, I am with you. There will have to be an uprising against useless wasteful theory-infested bureaucracies.

    What has happened? In the early nineteen-fifties, when times were supposed to be hard, every gully in Belfast was vacuum-hosed and disinfected once a week. Why shouldn’t we rant? When our education system has been turned into a jargonistic dunghill? When ludicrously overpaid academics are unable either to speak or to write proper English? By the way,. what is the ‘market value’ of an academic who creates intellectual sewage?

    Copy-and-paste this link into Google if you think my head’s cut.

    I rage, I melt, I burn, as Polypheme sings in ‘Acis and Galatea’. Crush the infamy.

  • Cue Bono

    “Just out of interest where does this wealth that would be redistributed come from?”

    Tractor factories no doubt. You can be sure that the people who currently make the lifestyle choice not to work would be absolutely delighted to knock out eight hours a day producing tractor parts rather than playing on their X Box. For the same money.

  • Abucs

    The important things that have been lauded in this blog – education, welfare and health care were all originally pioneered, funded, staffed and developed not by government but by the Christian Church.

    With the emergence of the modern state much of this Christian civilisation was handed over to the government because it could be better funded. It is interesting now that universally governments have found that they themselves are having trouble funding these important aspects of our culture even with the forced contributions of citizen’s wealth through taxation. (and in some cases even with the crippling borrowings of international monies).

    I think part of the problem lies with those who have pushed government power and expectations too far. A big government might be good to force your views on others of how society should be, but it chokes the life blood of culture and wealth creation that every society needs.

    Government control of everything from money to morality kills culture (yes it matters), hijacks vast sums of wealth (leaving us poorer) and retards the ‘people power’ that actually would drive progress and culture and wealth creation.

    Responsible government should regulate culture and wealth, not hijack it and try to re-make it which seems to be the modus operandi of the ‘modern’ Progressive.

    The financial and cultural realities that eventually caught up with Eastern Europe is what forces government in the West to again cause the passing on of these important things so that they can be better funded and developed.

    The difference between the modern Progressives and the Christians is that the Christians actually performed the difficult task of creating these attitudes and institutions and in much of Europe worked with government for the benefit of all.
    Progressivism, which didn’t create this part of our culture seems to want exclusive control of it for its own ideological advancement including the roll-out of the disastrous replacement morality of mis-directed equality which in the absence of the idea of God, seems to be their only moral compass.

    I don’t think such an incoherent manufactured morality works either financially or morally.

    Hopefully what this article highlights is the death-throes of the 20th century mistake of Fascist Progressive Socialism – “all within the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state” Benito Mussolini (socialist leader of the Italian Fascisto Party).

  • siphonophorest


  • Abucs

    The papal encyclical of 1891 discussing the idea of Socialism and its inherent problems.

    quote ………… the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

    To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.

  • Reader

    Caoilfhionn – that all seems a bit abstract. Obviously, you will have some concrete ideas, so could you comment on the following points please:
    One of the features of globalisation is FDI – corporations based in one country that open up bases in another country to get access to new markets and new labour markets. What is your party’s position on FDI – is it a Good thing or a Bad thing? And specifically in respect of the Republic of Ireland, which has made a bit of a business out of this.
    And, somewhat connected with that, what do you think would be a moral level at which to set Corporation Tax?

  • David Crookes

    That seemed to fix it — thanks again, Paddy.

  • salmonofdata

    I’m not sure of the point you are making. The median worker in the United States would have been rich by global standards in 1970, and his or her income has only increased slightly since 1973. However, over the same period, the world has went from most people living in poverty (60%) to less than a fifth (18%). Supposedly “neoliberal” reforms in China have pulled 680m out of poverty since 1981 in China alone.

  • siphonophorest


  • Reader

    David Crookes: There will have to be an uprising against useless wasteful theory-infested bureaucracies.
    You need to make up your mind. Theoretically you could get rid of either bureaucracies or neo-liberalism. Not both. You might try to find a healthy balance point.

  • Paddy Reilly

    You can correct this, David, by pressing on ‘Edit’ under your contribution

  • David Crookes

    Many thanks for being so helpful, Paddy, I can sort-of type a bit, and that’s the height of it.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Reader, and sorry to be late in reply. Theoretically, nothing ever happens. I never had much time for the Reichsthatchler, but she did bring to an end the days of unions telling the government what it could and could not do. On the other hand, much of the form-filling ‘accountability’ nonsense that pollutes our lives today, whether in police stations, in hospitals, in care homes, or in schools, derives from idiotic ideas that were put into action when the Reichsthatchler was in charge. She must bear a lot of blame for centralizing and sovietizing the bureaucracy of the UK at a time when the Soviet Union was getting rid of multitudinous absurdities (like having to queue at three different counters in a shop to make a single purchase).
    When a nation heads towards cultural self-destruction, its citizens use more and more bigger and bigger meaningless words. Thus if today you ask any group of great-or-good persons to create a utopian blueprint for a new NI, for example, you will end up with an ugly unreadable Frog Chorus of brain-dead abstract nouns and pietistic clichés, studded in every paragraph with the obligatory imbecilities — discourse, narrative, postcolonial, mutual, toxic, viral, key, and non-key.
    Crush the infamy.