"Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations ...Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve"
In its rudimentary form, neoliberalism came from the ideas of Hayek (1944) and Friedman (1951) who contended that the attempt to create a comprehensive Welfare State was an impossible dream. The Welfare State, they argued, was a fundamental threat to basic freedom: freedom in a negative sense where it is liberation from an overbearing State. From their perspective, the Welfare State was economically damaging as it reduced competition, artificially raised wages and falsely raised the price of goods beyond their ‘natural’ market level. Moreover, the Welfare State required high taxation to sustain itself which, in turn, hindered investment in the economy. The Welfare State was also seen to be politically damaging in that governments became a ‘referee’ for competing welfare interest groups and, as a result, were deflected from their main purpose of promoting and creating wealth. Finally, the Welfare State was deemed to be socially damaging. People came to rely on the State resulting a reduction of self-reliance (the key to a healthy, thriving market economy) and thus allowed some individuals to seek the ‘easy’ way out of full participation and rely exclusively on State handouts (see 'Welfare Recipients' for a broader discussion).
Crucially, though, inequality was viewed to be an acceptable dynamic in the economy as it reflected an inevitable part of the human condition. We all, they argued, have competing and differing ideas about what we want and this makes it impossible for the State to organise welfare in a way that will meet and satisfy a common purpose. And, in the eyes of Hayek (1944) and Friedman (1951), only the market can detect what people really require or need: only the market is 'just' as it is bereft of conflicts of interest. Quite simply, they insisted that the supporters of the Welfare State failed to understand human nature since people are essentially individualistic, self-interested, rational actors and not altruistic. As a consequence, the notion of a Welfare State is, for neoliberal advocates, erroneously based on an optimistic view of people. By contrast, a truly prosperous and free economy would provide ample opportunities for individuals to satisfy their ambitions, find their rightful place in society while the wealth produced from these competitive endeavours would 'trickle down' from the top of the pyramid of success to the bottom and, by doing so, would benefit all.
Nevertheless, the neoliberal ideal has been seen to have serious consequences that have a more general affect on the maintenance of social security and welfare benefits for the working and non-working poor when economic growth is not maintained. Indeed, when the economy experiences high rates of inflation and there is no growth or even a decline in the economic system (known as ‘stagflation’), the aforementioned benign/positive cycle foretold my the neoliberals becomes less virtuous. To be specific, when investor and market confidence during ‘stagflation’ is low (as demonstrated under the Truss Conservative Government in the UK, 2022) interest rates on government borrowing increases—especially on index-linked gilts (which pay interest in the opposite direction to inflation—results in investors (especially those who invest in pensions) selling off their gilts causing unfavourable yields and a crisis in government funds which, in turn, further effects the ability to pay benefit payments.
Moreover, this seemingly impeccable but naive logic of neoliberalism had no practical comprehension. No account for greed and the pursuit of excessive profits had been considered. Nor had the fact that the competitive basis of a neoliberal economy results in 'winners' and 'losers'. Yet with this dichotomy comes extreme iniquity and not the benign dynamic inequality depicted by neoliberals. In essence, untold pressures are placed upon individuals within the system. Greedy individuals will not invest but keep their wealth through, for example, off-shore tax havens whilst others will be unsuccessful and could find themselves amongst the working poor suffering from relative, if not absolute, poverty (click here for more on poverty). When, however, it comes down to industrial/entrepreneurial competition, there is an inherent conflict. The demand to be more productive and secure a viable, lasting and cost-effective market position can, and does, lead to extra demands/pressure on the workforce (affecting mental and physical wellbeing), lower wages (to increase profit), dangerous health and safety 'short cuts' (to increase productivity) and longer working hours (leaving a tired, less attentive workforce). All have dangerous consequences for not only the workforce but also for society as a whole as disposable income decreases as a result.
On an even greater scale, this demand to be successful and profitable has also led to catastrophic environmental pollution and destruction (see 'The Environment') along with numerous travesties inflicted on Indigenous people. In Brazil, for example, the Indigenous people of the Amazon and the global atmosphere have been devastated by unrestricted forestry clearances to provide an increased infrastructure for money-making timber sales and the creation of larger cattle farms, or a combination of the two (see video). All of these activities, alongside many others, have caused even more destruction (as epitomised by 'Global Warming') that impact upon each and every one of us regardless of wealth, ethnicity, religion or persuasion. And it is precisely these elements of neoliberal greed that (In)Injustice International is intent on exposing.