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Neoliberalism: An Introduction, And A Warning

Neoliberalism breeds apathy in those who are served well by it. When neoliberals are comfortable in their “normal,” they accept the mistreatment and oppression of others. 

If you’re on Twitter—especially leftist Twitter—you’ve likely heard the term “neoliberalism” before. This ideology is so pervasive in settler colonial/western European society and politics that it’s almost always left undefined, but is nonetheless present like a demonic spectre. The fact that it remains undefined (or just accepted as normal) is why it’s been a very hard ideology to fight. With the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, it’s the exact ideology that we’re up against. 

Neoliberalism is capitalism’s best friend (or maybe just its current iteration) in that it stipulates that competition and ~the market~ are the best drivers of change and progress. Neoliberalism is part of the reason that Americans are more consumer than citizen. Systemic issues that were once ideally solved through the introduction of sweeping social safety nets are now blamed on individual issues or a failure to understand the market. Rather than create a system that is inclusive of everyone, neoliberalism perpetuates the idea that life is a zero sum game with winners and losers. 

Neoliberalism has brought us some of America’s greatest hits, such as: 

  • Low taxes for the rich, who believe they are rich and successful because of their own merits (They’re not.)
  • The housing crisis, which neoliberals believe is due to individual failures, rather than systemic problems and capitalist greed (It’s not.)
  • Crushing trade unions, deregulation, and outsourcing. 
  • Privatization—of prisons, healthcare, postal services, etc. 
  • The Iraq War, TPP, IMF loans, and other international disasters. 

Today, neoliberalism in the United States is embodied by the Democratic Party and their leadership. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg are all classic neoliberals. They present themselves to the public as the compassionate, progressive, caring option juxtaposed with the outright fascism of the GOP. In reality, neoliberals are just war-mongering capitalists in disguise. 

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We see neoliberalism in the Democratic Party’s refusal to make actual change, instead opting to uphold the status quo. This is emblematic of what little Biden policy we know of thus far: giving more money to police for so-called reform, rejection of socialized medicine so Americans can maintain “choice,” supporting fracking, etc. All of these policies maintain the system responsible for all of the crises and tragedies that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic: unemployment, eviction, more than 200,000 dead. Instead of vowing to change the ways in which this country consistently fails to  serve the most marginalized, Biden and Harris have sworn to get us back to “normal.” Normal was already deadly. It will still be deadly even when it’s dressed up as a historic victory for BIWOC.

This brings us to the biggest problem of all. Neoliberalism breeds apathy in those who are served well by it. When neoliberals are comfortable in their “normal,” they accept the mistreatment and oppression of others. The same people who marched in the streets donning  pink pussyhats will be silent when they have a #girlboss as their VP. They close their eyes to even bigger problems, like the rise of fascism—which is far from over. The people who took to the streets to celebrate a Biden win must acknowledge that millions of people (nearly half the country) voted for Donald Trump. His white supremacist supporters marched on Washington and stabbed people (as cops did nothing) just this week. What are Joe Biden and his supporters doing to stop this? Funding and “reforming” the police, who are the domestic soldiers upholding fascism at home. 

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Reina Sultan is a Lebanese-American Muslim freelance journalist and one of the co-creators of 8 to Abolition. She is a PIC abolitionist and anarcha-feminist working to dismantle systems of white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy. Her work can also be found in VICE, Bitch, ZORA, Greatist, Teen Vogue, and more. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for hot takes and cat photos.

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