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On the Rise of NeoLiberalism in West During the 1968-2008 Era: Part 1

One of the more interesting questions about neoliberalism concerns its apparent popularity among the general population in western countries during the 1968-2008 era. I mean.. why did so many average people in western countries willingly support neoliberal ideas and policies during that era? Some of might say that a similar percentage of the population in 1930-era Germany also supported Nazism- and therefore most people are easily misled idiots. Except that is not really true..

The rise of public support for Nazism in 1930-era Germany was the culmination of widespread disgust with repeated catastrophic failures of mainstream political parties in governing the country. To put it another way, the supposedly “normal” political parties of that era had shown themselves to be incapable of maintaining a general acceptable level of governance- on more than one occasion. Things reached a climax in the early 1930s when global economic depression and ‘austerity’ driven economic policies cause mass unemployment and misery among the general population.

At that stage, the only two remaining alternatives were the Nazis or some coalition of communist parties. After the 1932 elections, the rich and petite bourgeoisie in Germany supported the “business friendly” Nazis over the communist parties. Hitler took full advantage of the situation and the rest, as they say, is history. In other words, the rise of popular support for the Nazi party in 1930-era era Germany looks far more rational once you consider the environment in which it occurred. They did also implement some fairly populist polices (at least for the majority) in the first few years of their rule.

The point I am trying to make is that public popularity of repugnant ideologies in certain historical eras should not be seen as evidence that people are stupid or easily misled. Instead, such popularity should be understood, if not celebrated, through the lens of prevailing socio-economic conditions and cultural mores. That is also why people like Mussolini, Stalin, Franco came into power and were able to hold onto it for so long. That is also how so many ‘muricans still see their country as one of good law and order when it was always about enslaving, exploiting and murdering black and other non-white people.

And this brings me to the main questions posed in the current post, which are as follows: Why did so many average people in western countries support neoliberal ideas and policies during the 1968-2008 era? Why did so many non-rich people cheer on an ideology which made their lives poorer, more precarious and generally more shittier than before? Was it just good propaganda or were the reasons for the public support for neoliberalism during that era more systemic than most critics are willing to admit? And why might the critics of neoliberalism not want to consider systemic factors behind its rise during that era?

One of the biggest contemporary myth about the rise of neoliberalism is that it was centrally planned by cabals of rich businessmen behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms. While I do not doubt that many such meetings occurred, it can (at best) explain changes in some government policy changes in a few countries such as USA and UK. However as anybody who has lived during that era will remember, the public was also very enthusiastic about a number of neoliberal policies from cutting the social welfare net, privatization of public goods and services, financialization of the economy, increasing corporate profits and many other ridiculous ideas.

So how do you explain public enthusiasm during that era for so many neoliberal policies? What were they thinking, or not thinking, when supporting those ideas and policies? What drove them to support policies that were against their best long-term self interests?

Here is my theory..

1] General prosperity and economic growth in the west after WW2, coupled with the residual effects of pre-WW2 colonialism resulted in what is probably the largest gap in living standards between the west and the rest of the world during the 1950s-1980s. Of course, that gap in living standards has decreased ever since those years and could likely go in the other direction in the future. Nevertheless, your average white person who grew up in that era almost certainly saw this as “proof” of their inherent racial superiority. They interpreted something which occurred through a combination of circumstances and luck as the natural order of things.

It is therefore not surprising that con-artists such as Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman etc started gaining an ever larger popular audience. While support by the scheming rich certainly helped these con-artists attain social respectability, it was the general environment of western society during those three decades which made neoliberalism seem ‘right’ in the first place. Most contemporary critics of neoliberalism would prefer to believe it was clever propaganda and sinister brain-washing, rather than inherent racism and other popular delusions of white people in western countries, which made neoliberalism the default ideology of the 1968-2008 era.

2] Some of you might have noticed that I consider 1968, and not the early 1980s, to be the beginning of neoliberal era. But why 1968? Didn’t neoliberalism start in the early 1980s under Reagan and Thatcher? While it is true that overt policy implementation of neoliberalism started in the early 1980s, the ideology itself had been fashionable for over a decade before 1980. While the precise triggering event or events which made neoliberalism fashionable was different in each western country, in the case of USA it came down to passage of civil rights related legislation in the mid-to-late 1960s.

Yes, you heard that right. Neoliberalism, as an ideology, became mainstream in the USA only after it became obvious to the average white person that maintaining their relative superiority over non-whites through overt “legal” racism was no longer possible. It is also therefore not surprising the strongest popular support of neoliberal policies such as shredding the social safety net, job precarization, union busting etc have always been stronger in ex-slave owning southern states and those adjacent to them (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana) rather than those in the North East or the West Coast.

3] But why would a combination of racism and delusions of inherent superiority specifically enable the dominance of neoliberalism in the west? Why not fascism or some other form of majority totalitarianism? Well.. it comes down to the delusion of inherent racial superiority. In the post-WW2 era, almost nobody wanted to be seen as a fascist, nazi or overt racist. Those were crude and failed ideologies. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, appeared to offer average white people most of the benefits of racism and discrimination while appearing to be liberal and hip. Since even the most average and mediocre white person now saw himself or herself as insurmountably superior to non-whites, they deluded themselves into believing that neoliberalism would only further their dominance.

Of course, it is now obvious that things did not work that way. However, in the late 1980s to mid 1990s, it was very easy for the average white person in USA to believe that the rest of world would never catch up with them. Remember, the USSR had just collapsed and everyone and their dog was proclaiming the end of history. China and other Asian countries had not reached the level of industrialization we see today. It appeared the white americans supporting neoliberalism were set for their own 1000-year Reich. I should also mention that some of the most damaging neoliberal trends like job precarization and high stealth inflation (housing, medical, education) had still not hit white-collar workers.

It is therefore not surprising that many average white americans, blue and white-collar, thought that they would be the winners of a neoliberal order. I mean.. it appeared to work for them for the first 10-15 years. Also, it was far easier to explain away problems caused by neoliberalism when they affected non-whites and poorer white people. Furthermore, the initial large wave of indiscriminate financialization specifically the housing price bubble and easy access to credit allowed the majority to look past ugly emerging problems. All of this meant that average white americans were cheering on neoliberalism until the financial crisis of 2008. Of course, by then it was too late..

In a future post of this series, I will try to explore why neoliberalism became popular in other western countries- specifically those in western Europe. As you will see, american influence was only one of the factors that drove the rise of that ideology in those countries.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. A.B Prosper
    August 31, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    One minor quibble, the US enslaved , killed and certainly oppressed other White people too . Its not all a White/Not issue but one of a culture that thinks rebellion over taxes and not having to pay the cost of civilization is a good thing

    That ideology worked OK when we could take land but as soon as the US was fully developed, hell maybe before that it started to ride the fail train

    The economic gains ended and started to reverse about 1973 and wages measured as percentage GDP are less half what they were for 89% of workers
    I generally agree with you on the Neo Liberal starting date though I’d argue the US was done by 1965 with the Immigration Reform Act aka the cheap labor act

    As for White superiority, given the modernity itself was developed by White people , its understandable though misplaced. Our leaders just got rich off it, so they loved it. So did a lot of regular folks

    This was mostly trade to Europe for the productive decades though these days , essentially every society now produces more than it consume and is trying to push it on someone else, This pushes wages down and reduces consumption , debt goes up, blah di blah. It can go on for a while but its like musical chairs in a terminal ward. Somebody is gonna go down

    Since the most stupid states last around 75 years in the West (c.f the USSR and others) the US should be over by the late 2030’s early 2040’s anyway.

  2. anon
    August 31, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Actually, in my opinion, it began long before the 60s:

    A Jewish Defector Warns America
    Introductory Note:
    Benjamin H. Freedman was one of the most intriguing and amazing individuals of the 20th century. Born in 1890, he was a successful Jewish businessman of New York City at one time principal owner of the Woodbury Soap Company. He broke with organized Jewry after the Judeo-Communist victory of 1945, and spent the remainder of his life and the great preponderance of his considerable fortune, at least 2.5 million dollars, exposing the Jewish tyranny which has enveloped the United States.

    Mr. Freedman knew what he was talking about because he had been an insider at the highest levels of Jewish organizations and Jewish machinations to gain power over our nation. Mr. Freedman was personally acquainted with Bernard Baruch, Samuel Untermyer, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and many more movers and shakers of our times.

    This speech was given before a patriotic audience in 1961 at the Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., on behalf of Conde McGinley’s patriotic newspaper of that time, Common Sense. Though in some minor ways this wide-ranging and extemporaneous speech has become dated, Mr. Freedman’s essential message to us—his warning to the West—is more urgent than ever before. —K.A.S.

    Read the speech here:

    • September 2, 2017 at 7:55 am

      Yeah, the Jews…

      Why don’t you internet tough guys learn Hebrew?!

    • September 2, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      It may have begun “long before the 60s”, but, as even this 61-year-old, non-Semitic-gened, born-into-a-RomanCatholic-family, for decades-an-atheist/agnostic recognizes, B.H. Freedman’s delusional rantings and his mis-explanations of Kol Nidre isn’t the evidence nor witness of it, lol.

      That supernaturalists (such as the Christian group behind that website) eagerly enlist Freedman’s ideas when they discover his ideas support their preconceived supernatural worldview should in itself engage readers’ skepticism.

  3. Thegenius
    September 1, 2017 at 3:39 am

    You call mlton friedman a con artist, yet the neo-keynsian theory of paul krugman, staley fischer and janet yellen is certainly based on the theory of milton friedman. and economists are overwhelming supporting neoliberalism.

  4. Thegenius
    September 1, 2017 at 3:42 am

    I should say new keynsian, rather than neokeynesian

  5. webej
    September 1, 2017 at 4:48 am

    [1] To start with the rise of the Nazi’s (and many other movements), although they gained the upper hand and had public support, that support never reached a majority. Of course the same applies to many elected regime’s today — gaining the upper hand sometimes requires only a modicum of support and the right circumstances.
    [2] You leave unmentioned the oil shocks and the crisis of stagflation — it was the combination of unemployment and inflation which lead to the “rediscovery” of pre-Depression neo-“classical” economics etc. The economic orthodoxy of the time simply did not have adequate explanations and proposals.
    [3] There was a massive reaction agains the welfare state — but the racism that this reaction embodies is only a strand, and was much weaker in Europe where they did not have the same racist social divide at that time.
    [4] The eighties represented a wave of disinflation and an attempt to close the mind to reality and return to the past, certainly the change from Carter to Reagan. Everybody was convinced that they could all become mini-capitalists, getting rich for doing nothing but trading pieces of financial paper. This was boosted by the collapse of communism and the tabling of any debate about political economic architecture (everything was supposed to turn out great “by itself”). This whole wave and the accompanying social mood could also be interpreted as part of the Kondratief cycle.

  6. September 1, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Firstly, Northern Europeans had a phase of dominance that lasted from the 1500s until the decades after WW2. They had also been a lot more sophisticated than most realize almost a thousand years before that. It’s not at all extraordinary to arrive at the conclusion that as a group they are unusually capable. Every group will of course have millions of mediocre individuals.

    I think there are multiple factors with neo-liberalism. America was a frontier culture for 400 years where there were always easy safety valves for social dysfunction. America stated to come to grips with these realities after the frontier was closed with the Progressive era but the market and cultural vacuum created by the World Wars delayed the need to grow up by several more decades. Now it’s slowly sinking in the US actually has to have a real society at some point.

    Race and culture certainly plays a big role as well. Homogenous societies have the most potential to cooperate since people feel social safety nets are helping people like them. In a loose empire of warring tribes no one wants to pay for each other’s stuff. Euro-Americans were stripped of the right to free association by Civil Rights so they have naturally relied on passive-aggressive measures ever since. This shredding of trust and safety nets means a lot of Euros have fallen through the cracks, leading to increasing radicalization as they watch those they are ostensibly privileged over enjoying high status and wealth transfer conferred on them by the state. The solution: try to shrink the state and privatize everything.

    There can only be a workable US society if other ethnic groups respect Euro-American territory and co-exist within a balance of power. They will be less wealthy, but that comes to pass no matter how things work out. The alt-right recognizes the flaws of the neo-liberal approach and rejects it. Their endgame will be safety nets and institutions only accessible to Euro-Americans and their allies. Those groups who have revealed their implacable hostility will increasingly find their hands slapped deftly away from the cookie jar.

  7. Gp
    February 13, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Write the second part of this series AD. You hit it out of the park with this one.

    Will do that soon.

  1. February 15, 2018 at 11:23 pm

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