Neoliberalism - A Huge Bi-Partisan Success, A Devastating Economic Failure

Mary Parsons

"The grand neoliberal experiment of the past 40 years has demonstrated that markets in fact do not regulate themselves"

The American Prospect - June 2019

"By the 1990s, even moderate liberals had been converted to the belief that social objectives can be achieved by harnessing the power of markets. Intermittent periods of governance by Democratic presidents slowed but did not reverse the slide to neoliberal policy and doctrine. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party approved."

... Neoliberalism’s premise is that free markets can regulate themselves; that government is inherently incompetent, captive to special interests, and an intrusion on the efficiency of the market; that in distributive terms, market outcomes are basically deserved; and that redistribution creates perverse incentives by punishing the economy’s winners and rewarding its losers. So government should get out of the market’s way.

By the 1990s, even moderate liberals had been converted to the belief that social objectives can be achieved by harnessing the power of markets. Intermittent periods of governance by Democratic presidents slowed but did not reverse the slide to neoliberal policy and doctrine. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party approved.

Now, after nearly half a century, the verdict is in. Virtually every one of these policies has failed, even on their own terms. Enterprise has been richly rewarded, taxes have been cut, and regulation reduced or privatized. The economy is vastly more unequal, yet economic growth is slower and more chaotic than during the era of managed capitalism. Deregulation has produced not salutary competition, but market concentration. Economic power has resulted in feedback loops of political power, in which elites make rules that bolster further concentration.

The culprit isn’t just “markets”—some impersonal force that somehow got loose again. This is a story of power using theory. The mixed economy was undone by economic elites, who revised rules for their own benefit. They invested heavily in friendly theorists to bless this shift as sound and necessary economics, and friendly politicians to put those theories into practice.

Recent years have seen two spectacular cases of market mispricing with devastating consequences: the near-depression of 2008 and irreversible climate change. The economic collapse of 2008 was the result of the deregulation of finance. It cost the real U.S. economy upwards of $15 trillion (and vastly more globally), depending on how you count, far more than any conceivable efficiency gain that might be credited to financial innovation. Free-market theory presumes that innovation is necessarily benign. But much of the financial engineering of the deregulatory era was self-serving, opaque, and corrupt—the opposite of an efficient and transparent market.

The existential threat of global climate change reflects the incompetence of markets to accurately price carbon and the escalating costs of pollution. The British economist Nicholas Stern has aptly termed the worsening climate catastrophe history’s greatest case of market failure. Here again, this is not just the result of failed theory. The entrenched political power of extractive industries and their political allies influences the rules and the market price of carbon. This is less an invisible hand than a thumb on the scale. The premise of efficient markets provides useful cover.

The grand neoliberal experiment of the past 40 years has demonstrated that markets in fact do not regulate themselves. Managed markets turn out to be more equitable and more efficient. Yet the theory and practical influence of neoliberalism marches splendidly on, because it is so useful to society’s most powerful people—as a scholarly veneer to what would otherwise be a raw power grab. ...
Read full article at The American Prospect

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