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Neo-liberalism or Late Capitalism

May 30, 2010

I recently realized that I have three or four separate yet complimentary strands of thought on neo-liberalism or late capitalism. The background of each is what I take to be central to Marx’s critique of capitalism: the logic of capital more or less necessarily leads to the squeezing or exploitation of labor. See Marx’s Capital and the books by Fishman, Reich, and Shell on my bibliography page.

The strands that build on that are as follows:

  1. Neo-liberalism or late capitalism is defined in part by the prominence of finance capitalism and speculation. We get multi-nationals, global markets, and global labor markets. It comes with a wide variety of forms of national and international exploitation, often backed with military intervention. I get this from David Harvey and Naomi Klein.
  2. Neo-liberalism also involves a new form of governmentality, according to which the state or government “governs” citizens in indirect ways. Rather than control or regulate them, they “encourage” individuals to autonomously “choose” to be consumers and “productive” members of society. This involves putting into place incentive structures and penalty systems that “encourage” particular behaviors without forcing them. I get this from Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller.
  3. Late capitalism also involves certain forms of cultural production that are linked to (and reproduce) class distinction, consumerism, and mass consumption. I get this from Pierre Bourdieu and Marshall Sahlins.
  4. Neo-liberalism and late capitalism require an individualist ideology that masks the function of social systems in order to legitimate inequality. Ayn Rand might provide the ideal type of this ideology, which is centered around the idea of personal responsibility (the implication being that if you’re poor it is because you’re lazy). I get this all over the place, but nowhere is it very systematically argued (with the exception of Carrette and King’s Selling Spirituality).

There’s no real purpose to this post other than to think through by writing down the disparate thoughts floating around in my head. I like systematic ways of thinking, and there’s nothing systematic about this list. Perhaps if I think hard enough I can run them together into a single systematic analysis! (I’m half-joking, half-serious here.)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2010 8:17 pm

    Very good!

    Point number 3 makes me think of Antonio Gramsci. Have you had a chance to read him?

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 31, 2010 10:21 am

    Hi Zack! Yes, I know Gramsci, but only the Selections from the Prison Notebooks (actually those were central to the argument of my first book). I love Gramsci.

  3. June 2, 2010 5:31 am

    On 3 you also have Jameson’s use of Mandel’s ‘Late Capitalism’ from the 1970s that was one of the first studies to systematize the features of the emerging system that would come to be labeled ‘neo-liberalism’ before it fully manifested later in that decade.

    On 2 & 4 there’s a lot of work kicking around on neo-liberal regimes of “self-government”; the blame game you refer to, sometimes it draws in Foucault, but also more liberal scholars like Ulrich Beck and Giddens.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 2, 2010 9:21 am

    VM: do you find Jameson to be of much use? I can honestly say I’ve never loved anything I read by that guy.

    Nikolas Rose gets the self-government stuff from Foucault. Where does Giddens write about that? In the book on self and modernity? I never finished that one …. I’ll have to check out Beck.

  5. June 2, 2010 10:44 am

    Beck’s really very liberal and quite banal. Very popular but I really don’t think there’s a lot to him. Giddens stuff- yeah around self and modernity – in that register is better.

    Do I find Jameson of use? Definitely, his ‘Postmodernism’ book is still the best take on shit, I reckon, Political Unconscious is a great work of Marxist bricolage; his essay ‘globalisation as a philosophical issue’ is similiarly authoritative to Pomo as is his essay ‘On cultural studies’.

    But what’s love got to do, got to do with it?

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