Neo-Liberalism and Wisconsin

by ICP Blogger posted 9/25/2011 7:43:35 PM
A structural analysis of a society sheds light on a variety of things, from decision-making mechanisms, to the possibilities and limits to possibilities open to the people in that society, to the instruments of systemic inequality, and so on. The drawback of such an analysis is that while structures are ubiquitous, they are also largely invisible and hard to “see”—to measure directly. In many cases, we can only measure their effects and theorize about the structures as we attempt to tease out issues of causality.

The current
fight over collective bargaining in Wisconsin in particular, and Indiana and Ohio as well, are perfect examples of this. While this seems to be a simple fight between a Republican governor facing large deficits, on the one hand, and largely Democratic union members trying to maintain some power, on the other, this situation is much more complicated. The Wisconsin fight is about changing structures; and in this case, to a large extent about the rise and entrenchment of neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism, simply, is an approach to economic arrangements in a global market, particularly in the West, in effect since the 1970s (but really taking hold under Reagan and Thatcher). The neo-liberalism frame has several key components: a focus on local control, market rule at the global level, minimal role of government(s) in the economy, and a focus on the individual as opposed to the collective, public good. The implementation of neo-liberalism has produced decreasing funding available for social services, deregulation and privatization.

In terms of power arrangements some 35 some years after the institutionalization of neo-liberalism in US national government, we see the waning power of unions (because they are about collective good, not individuals), an increasingly large service economy (because the global economy has pushed manufacturing jobs overseas or to right to work states), a shrinking middle class, and with it, rising economic inequality.

Neo-liberalism as an embedded, ubiquitous and largely invisible economic structure is extraordinarily powerful, and therefore extraordinarily difficult to fight against. Governor Walker’s position that the bill helps to balance the budget, save jobs, and reduce a budget deficit might all be true. But the provision to end collective bargaining is a clear attempt to further embedding neo-liberalism into our political economy at the state level. While the immediate consequences of this may be small, the long-term consequences are significant. Other states will follow, and will them, eventually, workers rights. This is not just a fight over a law to reduce a state’s budget deficit, it is a fight over power, values and the future of the country. The real question is whether we want to follow a path that will lead to neo-fuedalism and the realization of elitist theories of American democracy.
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Neo-Liberalism and Wisconsin
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