A monster that does not bleed and cannot be killed


Fig. 1. Photograph by NOBama NoMas [pseud.], April 16, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Gee, I thought neoliberalism was dead already, intellectually utterly discredited,[1] then killed by the COVID-19 pandemic (but not really).[2] Now, James Meadway pronounces it dead again (still not really), as central bank interest rate increases can only fail to address supply chain issues and an oil and food price shock from sanctions against Russia.[3] Did it come back to life, like a horror movie zombie? No, what we are rather clearly seeing[4] is that it is unkillable, a monster that does not bleed and will not die.[5]

We can certainly say that elites have no imagination beyond neoliberalism,[6] that it is a paradigm in the true sense of a paradigm, foundational, constraining our entire economic understanding. But as social inequality widens ever more,[7] it is hard to escape that elites truly are comfortable with what, for them, is an unparalleled success: As we understand that money is a means to power, and that it is power, not money, that makes the world go ’round,[8] neoliberalism enhances their power.

Employers whine about a so-called ‘labor shortage’ when really that means they can’t find workers to work for nothing,[9] and inflation can supposedly only be tamed by rising interest rates and decreasing wages, even when its causes are well understood to be wholly different.[10]

These are deceits, which is to say we are dealing not with claims based on understanding, but to protect an advantage, deceits perpetrated by elites at the expense of workers, because neoliberalism views labor not as an asset, but as a threat,[11] a threat to elite power that cannot be tolerated.

  1. [1]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); David Fickling, “The Gig Economy Compromised Our Immune System,” Yahoo!, July 25, 2020, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/gig-economy-compromised-immune-system-000048670.html; Amir Fleischmann, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative,” Jacobin, March 5, 2017, https://jacobinmag.com/2017/03/fiscal-conservative-social-services-austerity-save-money; Jason Hickel, “Progress and its discontents,” New Internationalist, August 7, 2019, https://newint.org/features/2019/07/01/long-read-progress-and-its-discontents; Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Stephanie Kelton, The Deficit Myth (New York: Public Affairs, 2021); Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/austerity_never_works_deficit_hawks_are_amoral_and_wrong/; Eric Levitz, “Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!” Review of Shutdown, by Adam Tooze, New York, October 14, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/neoliberalism-died-of-covid-long-live-neoliberalism.html; Dennis Loo, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (Glendale, CA: Larkmead, 2011); Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Heiner Flassbeck, Dani Rodrik and Simon Wren-Lewis, “Austerity Has Failed: An Open Letter From Thomas Piketty to Angela Merkel,” Nation, July 6, 2015, http://www.thenation.com/article/austerity-has-failed-an-open-letter-from-thomas-piketty-to-angela-merkel/; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Austerity-Has-Been-Tested-and/139255/; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/opinion/how-austerity-kills.html; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/19/paul_krugmans_right_austerity_kills/
  2. [2]Eric Levitz, “Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!” Review of Shutdown, by Adam Tooze, New York, October 14, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/neoliberalism-died-of-covid-long-live-neoliberalism.html
  3. [3]James Meadway, “The present crisis calls for a new economic paradigm,” New Statesman, June 8, 2022, https://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2022/06/cost-of-living-crisis-new-economic-paradigm
  4. [4]Eric Levitz, “Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!” Review of Shutdown, by Adam Tooze, New York, October 14, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/neoliberalism-died-of-covid-long-live-neoliberalism.html; James Meadway, “The present crisis calls for a new economic paradigm,” New Statesman, June 8, 2022, https://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2022/06/cost-of-living-crisis-new-economic-paradigm
  5. [5]“If it bleeds, we can kill it.” This passage is attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger by Brainy Quote, n.d., https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/arnold_schwarzenegger_379608
  6. [6]Eric Levitz, “Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!” Review of Shutdown, by Adam Tooze, New York, October 14, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/neoliberalism-died-of-covid-long-live-neoliberalism.html; James Meadway, “The present crisis calls for a new economic paradigm,” New Statesman, June 8, 2022, https://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2022/06/cost-of-living-crisis-new-economic-paradigm
  7. [7]Dominic Rushe, “Wage gap between CEOs and US workers jumped to 670-to-1 last year, study finds,” Guardian, June 7, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/07/us-wage-gap-ceos-workers-institute-for-policy-studies-report
  8. [8]David Benfell, “By all means, cherry pick your studies on ‘work from home,’” Not Housebroken, June 6, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/06/06/by-all-means-cherry-pick-your-studies-on-work-from-home/
  9. [9]Abha Bhattarai, “Retail workers are quitting at record rates for higher-paying work: ‘My life isn’t worth a dead-end job,’” Washington Post, June 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/06/21/retail-workers-quitting-jobs/; Sarah Chaney Cambon and Danny Dougherty, “States That Cut Unemployment Benefits Saw Limited Impact on Job Growth,” Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-that-cut-unemployment-benefits-saw-limited-impact-on-job-growth-11630488601; Fiona Greig et al., “When unemployment insurance benefits are rolled back: Impacts on job finding and the recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program,” J.P. Morgan Chase and Company Institute, July 2021, https://www.jpmorganchase.com/content/dam/jpmc/jpmorgan-chase-and-co/institute/pdf/when-unemployment-insurance-benefits-are-rolled-back-research-brief.pdf; Jenn Ladd, “‘This is a real job’: Philly’s restaurant workers dissect the labor shortage, and contemplate a different future,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2021, https://www.inquirer.com/news/labor-shortage-pandemic-workers-restaurants-philadelphia-hiring-20210710.html; Eric Levitz, “Letting the Economy Create Jobs for Everyone Is (Sadly) Radical,” New York, June 4, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/06/biden-full-employment-policy-labor-shortage-inflation.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/; Heather Long, “‘The pay is absolute crap’: Child-care workers are quitting rapidly, a red flag for the economy,” Washington Post, September 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/19/childcare-workers-quit/; Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers, and Andrew Van Dam, “Why America has 8.4 million unemployed when there are 10 million job openings,” Washington Post, September 4, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/04/ten-million-job-openings-labor-shortage/; Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, “States that cut unemployment early aren’t seeing a hiring boom, but who gets hired is changing,” Washington Post, July 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/07/27/unemployment-insurance-go-away/; Bryan Mena, “Unfilled Job Openings Outnumber Unemployed Americans Seeking Work,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/unfilled-job-openings-outnumber-unemployed-americans-seeking-work-11628531130; Anna North, “The death of the job,” Vox, August 24, 2021, https://www.vox.com/22621892/jobs-work-pandemic-covid-great-resignation-2021; Matt Petras, “In the continuing pandemic, businesses need workers, but are jobs meeting the needs of residents?” Public Source, August 12, 2021, https://www.publicsource.org/pittsburgh-workforce-covid-unemployment-hiring-worker-shortage/; Eli Rosenberg, “These businesses found a way around the worker shortage: Raising wages to $15 an hour or more,” Washington Post, June 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/06/10/worker-shortage-raising-wages/; Eli Rosenberg, Abha Bhattarai, and Andrew Van Dam, “A record number of workers are quitting their jobs, empowered by new leverage,” Washington Post, October 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/12/jolts-workers-quitting-august-pandemic/; Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/; Alina Selyukh, “Low Pay, No Benefits, Rude Customers: Restaurant Workers Quit At Record Rate,” National Public Radio, July 20, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/07/20/1016081936/low-pay-no-benefits-rude-customers-restaurant-workers-quit-at-record-rate; Derek Thompson, “The Great Resignation Is Accelerating,” Atlantic, October 15, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/great-resignation-accelerating/620382/
  10. [10]James Meadway, “The present crisis calls for a new economic paradigm,” New Statesman, June 8, 2022, https://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2022/06/cost-of-living-crisis-new-economic-paradigm
  11. [11]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013).

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