ALL AH WE IS ONE: On neo-liberalism
Following an article in this column in which I sought to remind the regional media of the need to insulate itself from imperialist propaganda in its reporting on events in Venezuela, a writer, Rodney Jones, who has on previous occasions written letters critical of my perspectives, questioned why I would be defending liberalism, when in the past I have been a consistent critique of neo-liberalism particularly in relation to the failures of the trade union movement.
Hoping to find me trapped in ideological inconsistency, he publicly requested that I clarify why liberalism is acceptable and neo-liberalism repugnant. I am pleased to oblige. In addition, given that recent responses to my articles by the leaders of the Barbadian trade union movement have also revealed their inability to grasp the essence of my criticism, it is therefore opportune to unpack “neo-liberalism” in order to clarify my stance.
There is indeed a wide difference between classical and modern liberalism on one hand, and the current doctrine of neo-liberalism on the other. The main philosophical questions important to both liberals and neo-liberals are what is the appropriate role for the state, and which are the areas that should be considered “private” and therefore outside the legitimate nterference by the state. It is in the response to these questions that the differences between liberals and neo-liberals become clear.
The historical emergence of Caribbean independence as well as our post-slavery acquisition of civil and political rights was the historical of the application of liberal principles to the struggles of the black majority population. Prior to this, in their earliest incarnation, such liberal principles were deemed as having no applicability to the enslaved and colonised peoples of the world. However, when we applied the Lockean principle of “government by the consent of the governed” to our own condition, then everything changed.
It is for this reason, dear detractors, that social democrats like myself, see liberalism as consistent with our libertarian objectives. In contrast, there is a direct threat to our self-determination in the central assumptions of neo-liberalism.
Whilst liberals like John Stuart Mill gave governments a wide scope for action by narrowing the realm of individual liberty to “those things that affect myself alone”, neo-liberals by an unbelievable stretch seek to mark out the widest possible range of economic life (even where human misery is apparent) as areas into which the state should not interfere. Whilst liberals like Jeremy Bentham understood that governments should minimize pain and maximise happiness, neo-liberals have raised the issue of the freedom of market as the most important political issue which everything hangs.
Our post-colonial lives were built around Benthamite principles of the “greatest happiness for the greatest number”. The post-Moyne Commission framework which gave birth to trade unionism and a social-democratic state was Benthamite to the core. Neo-liberalism threatens this post-colonial order.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs.