What is Neo-liberalism? A brief definition for U.S. activists.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: In the U.S. neo-liberalism was more commonly known as "Reaganomics," after the policies and measures that were inaugurated under the Republican Administration of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. We are offering this early work produced in 1996 by Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia as background information to help develop and engage discussions to build-up and promote the U.S. Social Forum. The U.S. Social Forum will be starting when thousands of activists, organizers and community leaders and members of U.S.-based social justice movements converge in Detroit the week of June 21, 2010.
What is “Neo-Liberalism”?
By Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo García
“Neo-liberalism” is a set of economic policies that have become widespread during the last 25 years or so. Although the word is rarely heard in the
“Liberalism” can refer to political, economic, or even religious ideas. In the
“Neo” means we are talking about a new kind of liberalism. So what was the old kind? The liberal school of economics became famous in
Economic liberalism prevailed in the
But the capitalist crisis over the last 25 years, with its shrinking profit rates, inspired the corporate elite to revive economic liberalism. That’s what makes it “neo” or new. Now, with the rapid globalization of the capitalist economy, we are seeing neo-liberalism on a global scale.
A memorable definition of this process came from Subcomandante Marcos at the Zapatista-sponsored Encuentro Intercontinental por la Humanidad y contra el Neo-liberalismo (Inter-continental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism) of August 1996 in Chiapas when he said: “what the Right offers is to turn the world into one big mall where they can buy Indians here, women there ...” and he might have added, children, immigrants, workers or even a whole country like Mexico.
The main points of neo-liberalism include:
- THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics -- but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.
- CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply -- again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
- DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
- PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
- ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves -- then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”
Around the world, neo-liberalism has been imposed by powerful financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. It is raging all over
Elizabeth Martinez is a longtime civil rights activist and author of several books, including “500 Years of Chicano History in Photographs.” Arnoldo García is a member of the Oakland-based Comite Emiliano Zapata, affiliated to the National Commission for Democracy in