Neoliberalism is like a religious cult, with dogma to be upheld, apostates to cast out, and fervent belief in place of critical thinking. Margaret Thatcher well articulated the inflexibility of neoliberalism when she insisted that–“there is no alternative.”
The British voters seem to have missed the message.
In the wake of the vote by Britain to leave the European Union there’s been a rash of media stories decrying the racist, xenophobic, ignorant British voters, and warning darkly of an impoverished future. The elite contempt for democracy grows by the day. Our corporate media merely reflects this bias.
Our local paper had one of the most dishonest and infuriating editorials recently where they blamed the vote by Britain to leave the EU on racist and xenophobic voters, and likened the outcome to anti-government protestors here in the intermountain west. The editorial went so far as to conflate the British voters with western Sage-brush rebels who wield arms in defiance of the federal government.
Yes, voting is exactly the same as armed rebellion. Who knew?
However, Brexit should be viewed as an act of resistance against neoliberalism. The British voters who’ve been left behind by neoliberal capitalism, and therefore deigned superfluous, gave a big fuck-you to the British political and economic elite. In the US, Trump supporters are making the same calculation. Like the left behind Brits, they’ve watched as both parties have enacted policies that have destroyed their standard of living and left them in a precarious economic situation. These voters aren’t dumb. They know that a Leave vote or a vote for Trump probably won’t help them but they’re at the point where they just want everyone else to suffer too.
The problem with the revolt is that it’s been instigated and carried forward by the growing right-wing, nationalistic and xenophobic sector of of the populace in these countries ravaged by neoliberalism.
Liberal elite smugly blaming the Brexit vote of ignorance and prejudice are downplaying the serious economic concerns of these left behind voters and playing into right-wing critiques of a government run by liberal technocrats in thrall to neoliberalism. Rather that examining the causes of the economic dislocation that was the express purpose of institutions like the EU, liberals are herded into the familiar identity politics, where they lash out at ignorant, racist, losers who don’t appreciate the wonders of neoliberal globalization.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the EU was designed specifically to be a neoliberal institution. Journalist Greg Palast, managed to interview one of the architects of the EU, Robert Mundell, who confirms this. “The imposition of the euro had one true goal: To end the European welfare state. For Mundell and the politicians who seized on his currency concept, the euro itself would be the vector infecting the European body politic with supply-side Reaganomics. Mundell saw a euro’d Europe as free of trade unions and government regulations; a Europe in which the votes of parliaments were meaningless. Each Eurozone nation, unable to control neither the value of its own currency, nor its own budget, nor its own fiscal policy, could only compete for business by slashing regulations and taxes. Mundell said, “[The euro] puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians… Without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”
EU and NATO’s foreign policies in conjunction with US imperial diktats also contributed to Brexit. Does anyone believe that Britain would have voted for Leave if not for the invasion of Iraq? So much of the antipathy towards immigrants in Britain, as well as the rest of Europe, is a direct result of the EU and NATO’s foreign policies in the Middle East. These policies, in concert with US foreign policies of regime change, destroyed Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria, causing resident there to flee for their lives. Most of them made for Europe. Talk about blow-back.
The abdication of a political-left, that was able to provide a class-based alternative to neoliberalism and neoconservatism has left a vacuum that the resurgent right-wing is busy filling. Even though the solutions offered will do nothing to resolve the serious economic problems, politicians like Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Donald Trump are at least offering something different than neoliberalism.
We live in an incredibly dangerous milieu. The economic dislocations produced by neoliberalism and political dislocations produced by neoconservatism are creating political conditions that are reminiscent of the 1930’s and rise of fascism.
There needs to be a better alternative to neoliberalism than hate and fear. We urgently need to build a world community based on regional cooperation, social protection and integration of immigrants, rather than a market-based system run by neoliberal bureaucrats and controlled by corporations.