Friday, 13 January 2017

‘Neoliberalism’? What the hell *is* that?


I’m always fascinated to see what it is that opponents like to characterise as “neoliberal.” I say “opponents” because as far as I know no-one ever at any time or place in history has characterised themselves as a neoliberal. It’s always a way of characterising “the other” (did you see what I did there?) – and, by noticing who shovels out the term, an  excellent way to identify an idiot.

And here’s one right here: Martyn Martin Bradbury, writing this afternoon that Bill English’s Big Idea of so-called ‘Social Investment’ “is simply mass surveillance of beneficiaries designed to limit the neoliberal welfare state even more.”

Now I know Bradbury hasn’t engaged brain and writing arm at the some time probably since some time in the early primers, but that just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a sort of comic-book analysis.

First of all, Bill’s Big Idea is not really very big at all when you think it’s already shaping up to be “the centrepiece” of his premiership. Sure, it’s bigger than the centrepiece of, say, John Major’s premiership (when the best he could come up with by way of “This Shit Needs to Be Done and My Government is Just the One To Do It’ was a Cones Hotline. Which really was truly embarrassing.)

But (second of all) it’s little more really than keeping an eye on whether your welfare spending is doing very much at all that’s very positive, isn’t it. Which is fairly sensible, really, when you consider that in the last ten years alone NZ governments have taken upwards of $250 billion from taxpayers and thrown it in the welfare direction, spending it on a “war on poverty” that would have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $700,000 each to start their own individual campaign, but instead seems to have been largely been pissed up against a wall.

(Not that Bill and I would probably agree with what might be counted as a positive outcome -- getting beneficiaries to vote for me not rating highly on my own personal values scale.)

So, thirdly (if you’re taking notes) neither is it really correct to describe as “mass surveillance” what is little more than suggesting to people taking other people’s money that they shouldn’t be wasting it, and then monitoring if they are. Frankly, if you’re going to be taking other people’s money without their say-so then, you know, you’re somewhat obliged to at least throw a shape and pretend that you’re not taking it for granted.

And finally, to conclude where I started before I started rambling about this particular idiot, what about this epithet “neoliberal” that idiots like him throw around? What exactly does it stand for, and how does the government raising welfare spending (which is what they’ve done as part of their political programme) fit into all that?

Self-described left-wing accounting teacher Deborah Russell has pontificated about this recently, which is useful if not really entertaining (I doubt she could be, to be frank), circulating what she calls “a useful summary of neoliberalism.” I have little interest in who Martinez and Garcia are (and I sense she doesn’t either), but, she claims …


If you can look around at the current state of New Zealand, or at the National Government, and use that description to label either as “neoliberal” then you’re an even bigger idiot than Deborah Russell’s students must be. As even the mild-mannered Pete George understates it, “That’s quite different to reality in New Zealand.”

Not with the left’s red-tinted glasses it’s not, however – which is both fascinating, and self-revealing. To them, you see, they’ve lost. To them, they’ve lost and they’re out of power, and the reins of power they’d like to hold are held instead by madmen in authority who are gutting regulation, selling off the silverware and (as Martyn Martin Bradbury seems by his comment to be fantasising about) ending welfare as we know it.

As if!

As Damien Grant noted to me recently, the Left don't seem to appreciate that they have won. That they are in power, if not in office.

I wonder how bad they’d be if they did. Because as long as their popular perceptions of Classical Liberalism are riddled with such straw man fallacies as these, they’re far less dangerous than they could be.


  1. Your very last link doesn't work Peter.

    ... Have a great weekend.

    1. Ah, it's a Facebook post by a chap called David Magram. A very good post, as it happens. You'd enjoy it. :-)

  2. Martinez and Garcia's definition of neoliberalism is at least mostly consistent, but most users of the label aren't. I've seen "neoliberalism" being used to define anything from corporate welfare, to the state nationalising property, to the central planning behind the Chch rebuild, to the genuine free market. It's an anti-concept.


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