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Neoliberal Arguments Concede the Main Point

Here's a write-up in Current Affairs that talks about how neoliberal arguments are based on conservative premises.

For example: Republicans argue that their tax cut will increase GDP, reduce the deficit, and reduce taxes for the middle class. Democrats reply that the tax cut will not increase GDP, will not reduce the deficit, and will not reduce the middle-class' tax burden. Both parties are arguing around a shared premise: The goal is to cut taxes for the middle class, reduce the deficit, and grow GDP. But traditional liberalism, before the "neo" variety emerged, would have made its case on the basis of some quite different premises. Instead of arguing that Democrats are actually the party that will reduce the middle class' taxes, it would make the case that taxes are important, because it's only through taxes that we can improve schools, infrastructure, healthcare, and poverty relief. Instead of participating in the race to cut taxes and the deficit, Old Liberalism is based on a set of moral ideas about what we owe to one another.
I gave a similar example recently of the difference between the way a neoliberal framework looks at things versus the way a leftist does. Goldman Sachs produced a report suggesting to biotech companies that curing diseases might not actually be profitable, because people stop being customers once they are cured and no more money can be extracted from them. The liberal response to this would be an empirical argument: "Here's why it is actually profitable to cure diseases." The leftist response would be: "We need to have a value system that goes beyond profit maximization."

Neoliberalism, then, is the best existing term we have to capture the almost universal convergence around a particular set of values. We don't have debates over whether the point of teaching is to enrich the student's mind or prepare the student for employment, we have debates over how to prepare students for employment. Economic values become the water we swim in, and we don't even notice them worming their way into our brains. The word is valuable insofar as it draws our attention to the ideological frameworks within which debates occur, and where the outer boundaries of those debates lie. The fact that everyone seems to agree that the purpose of education is "job skills," rather than say, "the flourishing of the human mind," shows the triumph of a certain new kind of liberalism, for which I can only think of one word.

If we accept the conservative framework when responding to conservative points, we've already lost the debate.

By min | April 24, 2018, 3:22 PM | Liberal Outrage