The Issue with Neoliberalism: A Response | Sajan Suganth


This piece is a response to the article The Issue with Neoliberalism: a Traditional Conservative Critique by Albert Bikaj, published in the Mallard on the 3rd of February. You can read that article here

In my response, I want to focus on the supposed conflict between neoliberalism and God-based conservatism. This is distinct from the left-wing critique of neoliberalism, which centres around the exploitation of workers. Mr Bikaj’s piece touches on some arguments that we would typically associate with the economic left (environmental degradation, for example) but that’s a discussion for another time. 

The central theme of his piece – and the one that I want to address – is the allegedly harmful impact of markets on culture. 

Neoliberalism and the family

Mr Bikaj assures us that big business has paved the way for sexual liberation:

He writes: “prostitution and pornography have converted into “sex work” and “a right”— just as long as there is profit out of it.” 

But he misunderstands. When people say “sex work is real work”, they are not worshipping the market. They are not trying to elevate “sex work”, as much as they are denigrating all other professions. The Marxist views every job contract as exploitation; being a mechanic, a plumber or an engineer is seen as a form of selling your body, just like prostitution. This is an exercise in relativism, with the aim of devaluing work altogether.

As for the suggestion that our modern criteria of professional success sacrifices womanhood, the data implies otherwise. The most educated women are the most likely to get married. The declining fertility rate is an issue, but that has more to do with the decline of religious life, rather than exploitative corporations. The UK has strong anti-discrimination laws for pregnant employees. That hasn’t stopped fewer people deciding to have children.  It also hasn’t deterred a record abortion rate.

We should be rallying against a culture and a legal framework which reduces abortion to a triviality. We could look to the pro-life movement in the United States, which has helped contribute to a long-term decline in the abortion rate since 1980. But polemics about greedy business owners who encourage women to become “slaves of Moloch” are hardly helpful.

Woke capital

Mr Bikaj writes: 

“Mega-corporates are the first to show support for even the most irrational trends, including the neo-Marxist protests.”

And he’s right. Large corporations today are not conservative. It would be foolish to argue otherwise. Every brand from Innocent to Lululemon proudly announces their “anti-racist” bona fides.

This is not because the anti-racist ideology is extremely popular. It is because large corporations are risk-averse and want to avoid bad publicity. Board members at these companies understand that they have more to lose by upsetting influential activists who assert: “silence is violence” than by annoying religious conservatives. 

Economist Milton Friedman (a neoliberal icon) understood the implications of corporate activism. In 1970, Friedman wrote: ““social responsibility” [of business] taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine.” 

This demonstrates why our values should precede the market, instead of being informed by it. There is a difference between values-based capitalism and values-forming capitalism. If we look to the market for moral direction, ideas that destroy markets in the long-term get promoted. After all, a healthy respect for the individual is the notion on which markets are predicated; this ideal is incompatible with judging and treating people according to race. In ushering in neo-racism, businessmen are plotting their own downfall.

Conclusion

The UK can hardly be considered a neoliberal paradise. We have 5 separate minimum wage laws, a backlog of 40,000 cases in our employment tribunal courts, and a Conservative business secretary who refuses to deregulate the labour market, instead proposing “dynamic” interventionism. Neither the electorate nor the politicians they elect have much respect for economic freedom.

A religious revival is good and desirable. It would improve social cohesion through unity of purpose, constrain some of the worst tendencies of business, and give human beings meaning beyond politics, in family and community.

But if a conservative culture is to be restored, that can only happen from the bottom-up, not through a set of laws crammed down by self-interested bureaucrats.

I’ve seen no evidence of politicians, on the whole, being any less willing to cooperate with the woke agenda than, for example, CEOs or teachers’ unions. With ethnic pay gap monitoring on the Conservative party’s agenda, governments are just as susceptible to appeasing or encouraging harmful social trends as any private institution. 

Rather than attacking a neoliberal bogeyman, we must do the slow and boring work of proposing and debating specific solutions to our cultural decline.  Some of these solutions might involve a greater role for the state, but clear measures are better than monocausal attributions.  What should not be overlooked is our own duty to promote important values and encourage civic participation, which should not be reflexively outsourced to politicians.


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