Arguably, neoliberal hegemony was secured by the co-optation of social democracy. Influenced by the “The End of History” discourse after the collapse of the socialist alternative, “The Third Way” pragmatic “policy management beyond Left or Right” narrative built a bridge into the social democratic discourse community. Giving up on its aim to change primary distribution, “Third Way” social democracy lost sight of political economy and became an ally in the liberalization project of deregulation and privatization.
The neoliberal project also managed to build several discursive bridges into the (green) sustainability discourse community. In the sustainable development discourse, “The Tragedy of the Commons” concept is often used to describe problems of atmosphere, soil degradation, livestock depletion or carbon emissions. In the original economic theory, the “tragedy of the commons” conceptualizes the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests. Drawing on this mistrust against collective rationality, the neoliberal discourse used the “tragedy of the commons” to justify the privatization of public property. In a similar fashion, concerns over long-term sustainability of short-sighted interest-driven behaviour were adopted to describe concerns over budget deficits and mounting sovereign debt. With “fiscal sustainability”, a powerful term was coined to legitimize austerity and internal devaluation measures (cuts in wages, public goods and state administration).”
The tragedy of Operation Sovereign Borders is that it descends even further from this awful scene. The asylum seekers on Nauru and Christmas Island are not even punished as part of the established legal order, becoming subjects of the state as a result of their suffering. The federal government refuses to recognise their personhood as attracting inherent legal rights, which permits them to be maltreated. It is little wonder that they want to die, they are not even seen as human beings by the authority to which they want to submit themselves.
If we accept this description of asylum seekers (what Agamben calls homo sacer) then the spectacle of members of parliament crying over asylum seekers who drowned off Christmas Island was nothing more than unadulterated narcissism: “It makes me, a powerful elected member of government, upset to see that the legal structure I help perpetuate causes an utterly powerless person to either drown or be tortured.”
They are actually worse than North, who in Clarke’s novel at least has the decency to be ashamed at his failure. When he cries “No. Not if you are Christians!” at the sight of Kirkland’s flogging, he does not look for validation from those around him – unlike our MPs, who were no doubt glad to receive praise for their tears.”
The political problematics of Reaganomics and neo-liberalism are, of course, marked by a profound suspicion of the capacity of governments to calculate and regulate in the national interest. But, at the same time, neo-liberalism relies upon and seeks to utilize the calculative capacities of individuals and firms, who, in calculating to serve their own best interests, will cumulatively serve all our best interests. The numerical saturation of public discourse in Britain and the USA in the closing decade of the twentieth century reveals the new potential of a public habitat of numbers within such modes of government, and the new importance that is accorded to all those private agencies and consultants who claim that they can transform market conditions into numbers and to make private calculation effective. A new ‘privatized’ relationship between numbers and politics has been born.
This privatization was stimulated by the economic consequences of numbers. Huge amounts of money are committed in the marketplace on the basis of the figures in national statistical series – hundred of thousands of dollars change hands in the commodity markets as soon as data from the Crop Reporting Board of the Department of Agriculture are released. Hence, whilst nineteenth-century arguments stressed the need for numbers as an aid for governmental legislation and actions, economists in the late twentieth century argued for a ‘public statistical habitat’ to enable private enterprises to calculate actions and decisions. It is in this context that we should locate the rise of the statistical services industry in the USA and the UK. Whilst statistics might once have been a governmental activity, since the middle of the twentieth century it has become a business. For ‘with the technological and economic changes of the 1970s [emerged] a substantial industry of private firms selling repackaged public data and privately collected statistics, statistical models, and analytical skills’. Statistics are now intimately connected to corporate strategy, through the new discourse which binds economic success and business expansion to market segmentation and targeted take-overs and marketing. Statistical information, linking public demographic information on socio-economic and geographical distribution to all manner of other computerized information, is vital in the pro- grammes to sell different products, in different ways, to different customers.
Neo-liberal rationalities of government may revive the old nineteenth- century liberal themes of freedom, the market and choice. However, they become possible bases for a technology of government only in the presence of a population of personal, social and economic actors who will reason and calculate their freedom. They require a numericized environment in which these free, choosing actors may govern themselves by numbers. And they depend upon the elaboration of an expertise of numbers, embodied in all those professions – economists, accountants, statisticians, demographers – and all those techniques – censuses, surveys, national income tabulations and formulae, accounting practices – which render existence numerical and calculable.”
It was in the nineteenth century, argues Cline-Cohen, that numbers established the basis for their modern hold on the American political imagination. ‘The commercial revolution stimulated reckoning skills as it pulled more people into a market economy. The political revolution that mandated the pursuit of happiness as an important end of government found its proof of the public’s happiness in statistics of growth and progress. And the proliferation of public schools, designed to ensure an educated electorate, provided a vehicle for transmitting numerical skills to many more people.’ It is at this point that we can trace out most clearly the relation between disciplined subjectivity, numeracy and democracy. Arithmetic was to cease being commercial – it was to become republican. For Protestants like Benjamin Franklin, numbers were linked to personal conduct. Numbers were bound up with a certain way of approaching the world. They conferred certainty, they contributed to knowledge, they revealed regularities, they created regularities. And, in doing so, numbers could be thought of as fostering detachment from feeling, passions and tumults. The promulgation of numbers was thus inseparably bound up with the valorization of a certain type of ethical system. Numeracy was an element in the ethical technologies that would, it was hoped, produce a certain kind of disciplined subjectivity…
The pedagogy of numbers was republican not only because it generalized the competence to calculate; it was republican because it was a pedagogy of reason itself. As the investigation of mathematical truths accustomed the mind to method and correctness in reasoning, it was thus an activity that was peculiarly worthy of rational beings. The object in studying arithmetic, declared Catherine Beecher in 1874, ‘is to discipline the mind’.”
The spy myth clearly served the interests of intelligence agencies, which prospered during the 20th century more than any set of spies before them. The real beneficiaries, however, were the counterintelligence agencies or, to dispense with euphemisms, the secret police, of both Western and Communist countries. The powers granted to them for their struggle against armies of spies were used primarily against domestic dissidents. Terms such as ‘agent of influence’ were used to stigmatise anyone whose activities, however open and above-board, could be represented as helpful to the other side.
The supposed role of the secret police, to keep secrets from opposing governments, was, as we have seen, futile. Secret police, and the associated panoply of security laws, Official Secrets Acts and so forth, were much more successful in protecting their governments’ secrets from potentially embarrassing public scrutiny in their own countries.”
The regulator has only the most general construction of a rational consumer, who shows up via the abstract vision of the ‘competition’ which (neo-classical theory states) is the guarantor of consumer autonomy. Unless there is some form of ‘market failure’, or a proven strategy to mislead consumers, the consumer is a priori assumed to be in control of their own fate. This is demonstrably a fiction. (On which note, it’s interesting that David Cameron’s response to the new politicisation of energy prices is to call for ‘real competition’, a call that neoliberals can make ad infinitum, seeing as competition is only ever abstract, and so its ‘realisation’ is always in the future.)
We then turn to the internet, hoping that consumer autonomy is enacted and guaranteed by price comparison websites, possibly with the charismatic oversight of Martin Lewis or the normative authority of Which?. But, as I discovered in my attempt at consumer rationality, these sites require one to be quite a committed consumer, of the form Martin Lewis encourages. I needed to know more about my energy usage and bills than I was able to conveniently find out. People who self-identify as money-saving consumers are like environmentalists: they base their choices on an informed political-moral worldview. The rest of us can have a go at it, but quickly discover that we’re not very well-equipped. I will only really be able to find out how ‘rational’ my switching decision was after the fact, by which point it will be too late.”
A century earlier, William Petty had attempted a rather more technocratic version of the numericization of politics, although one that also dreamed of resolving political controversy through arguments of sense and the science of numbers. Petty’s project was inspired by John Graunt’s use of the bills of mortality kept by the City of London from 1603, which listed the numbers of children christened each week and the numbers of deaths classified by disease. On the basis of this he examined ‘The course of various diseases across the decades, the numbers of inhabitants, the ratio of males to females, the proportion of people dying at several ages, the number of men fit to bear arms, the emigration from city to county in times of fever, the influence of the plague upon birth rates, and the projected growth of London’, and drew practical conclusions for government such as the advantages of a guaranteed annual wage. Petty transformed Graunt’s speculative musings into a project for a political arithmetic that would introduce reliable political argument based on the facts of the natural world into the tumult of theological controversy. Political arithmetic was ‘uncontaminated by ‘‘passion, interest and party’’’ and it provided ‘an answer to the problem of how to create a science of policy ‘‘free from the distorting effects of controversy and conflict’’’. It would be ‘a science which could be expressed purely ‘‘in terms of Number, Weight or Measure’’, and which would use ‘‘only Arguments of Sense’’ rather than ‘‘those that depend on the mutable Minds, Opinions, Appetites and passions of particular Men’’ ’. And his arguments appear to have born fruit. An Act of 1694 ordered what was effectively a complete enumeration of the inhabitants of England and Wales, which was to lead to an attempt to tax births, deaths and marriages and to levy annual fines on bachelors over twenty-five and childless widows. The act lapsed a decade later, but in 1696 it led to the creation of the first special statistical department successfully established by any Western European state.
Paul Starr suggests that Petty’s political arithmetic sought ‘the application of rational calculation to the understanding, exercise, and enhancement of State power’. But historical accounts tend to stress that political numbers were to play a key role in liberal political thought. Thus Peter Buck argued that, in the second half of the eighteenth century, a broad ideological shift transformed political arithmetic from ‘a scientific prospectus for the exercise of State power’ into ‘a program for reversing the growth of government and reducing its influence on English social and economic life’. For Buck, this was a matter of conceiving of people not as subjects but as citizens, and of freeing political arithmetic from state power, ‘allowing it to reenter the domain of public controversy on new terms’.”
For those who advocate an anti-politics of community, civil society or the third sector, part of the political attraction of these zones lies in their apparent naturalness: their non-political or pre-political status. But likethe social before them, these ‘third spaces’ of thought and action have to be made up. Boundaries and distinctions have to be emplaced; these spaces have to be visualized, mapped, surveyed and mobilized. And, perhaps, what distinguishes the contemporary spaces of community from those references to community in the social philosophies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is precisely this – that communities have been objectified by positive knowledges, subject to truth claims by expertise and hence can become the object of political technologies for governing through community. And these political technologies involve the constitution of new forms of authority of this new space of natural associations, and the instrumentalization of new forces in the government of conduct.
Over the second half of the twentieth century, a whole array of little devices and techniques have been invented to make communities real. Surveys of attitudes and values, market research, opinion polls, focus groups, citizens’ juries and much more have mapped out these new spaces of culture, brought these values and virtues into visibility and injected them into the deliberations of authorities. The techniques that have been used to segment consumption communities are related, in complex and interesting ways, to those used to chart the values of electors in opinion polls and those used to chart the pathological values of the anti-communities of the depraved or the poor. New ‘experts of community’ have been born, who not only invent, operate and market these techniques to advertising agencies, producers, political parties and pressure groups, but who have also formalized their findings into theories and concepts. These experts are now on hand to advise on how communities and citizens might be governed in terms of their values, and how their values shape the ways they govern themselves. As community becomes a valorized political zone, a new political status has been given to the ‘indigenous’ authorities of community. For to govern communities, it seems one must first of all link oneself up with those who have, or claim, moral authority in ‘the black community’ or ‘the local community’. Ethnographers have charted the disputed and prob- lematic ways in which this authority is claimed and identified. And they have also shown that, in this apparently natural space, the authority of community authorities, precisely because it is governed by no explicit codes and rules of conduct, is often even more difficult to contest than that of experts and professionals. Other techniques are also used to mobilize territories in the name of community self-management. Programmes of community policing, community safety and community development grid these territories with circuits of communication. They develop new expert knowledges of these new irreal spaces of government. In the name of community, political programmes, both at the micro-level and at the macro-level, disperse the tasks of knowing and governing through a myriad of micro-centres of knowledge and power.”
In seeking to explain the reasons for their opposition to the policies advocated by the Left, social democratic leaders themselves have often advanced the view that whatever the merits of these policies might be, extreme caution must be exercised in proposing anything which ‘the electorate’ could find ‘extreme’ and therefore unacceptable. On this view, the reluctance of social democratic leaders to endorse, let alone initiate, radical policies, is not due to their own predilections, but to their realism, and to their understanding of the fact that to move too far ahead of ‘public opinion’ and advocate policies for which ‘the public’ is not ready is to court electoral disaster and political paralysis.
This raises some very large and important points. It is undoubtedly true that ‘the electorate’ in the capitalist-democratic regimes of advanced capitalist countries does not support parties which advocate, or which appear to stand for, the revolutionary overthrow of the political system; and ‘the electorate’ here includes the overwhelming mass of the working class as well as other classes. This rejection by the working class and ‘lower income groups’ in general of parties committed or seemingly committed to the overthrow of the political and social order is a fact of major political importance, to say the least.
However, this does not at all mean that organised labour, the working class and the subordinate population of advanced capitalist countries (which constitutes the vast majority of their population) is also opposed to far-reaching changes and radical reforms. Social democratic parties have themselves been driven on many occasions to proclaim their transformative ambitions in their electoral manifestos, and to speak of their firm determination to create ‘a new social order’; and have nevertheless scored remarkable electoral victories with such programmes. Popular commitment to radical transformative purposes may not, generally speaking, be very deep; but there has at any rate been very little evidence of popular revulsion from such purposes.
The notion that very large parts of ‘the electorate’, and notably the working class, is bound to reject radical programmes is a convenient alibi, but little else. The real point, which is crucial, is that such programmes and policies need to be defended and propagated with the utmost determination and vigour by leaders totally convinced of the justice of their cause. It is this which is always lacking: infirmity of purpose and the fear of radical measures lies not with the working class but with the social democratic leaders themselves.”
“Confession has moved beyond the consulting room and now forms part of the texture of everyday experience, where today it is more a matter of bearing witness to pain suffered than giving voice to an inner guilt. In all those encounters between two or more people, in relations of love and sex, in the family, in the ‘human relations’ of the group and the workplace, we discover hidden hurts and abuses that thwart the desire for recognition, for identity, for self-worth and self-actualization. Even in ‘the therapeutics of human finitude’ we find this ethic of self- fulfilment through relationships. Grief, frustration, disappointment, minor and terminal illness, even death itself have become the subject of intense biographical scrutiny and popular display, thorough personal narratives of coping, grieving, struggling, surviving, dying and much more. Experiences of finitiude have thus become events fraught with pathological possibilities and yet full of therapeutic potentials. Did our culture ever have a ‘taboo’ on discussion of these issues, as is popularly claimed? Certainly today finitude has found its voice; it is positively garrulous. Of course it is the province of those such as bereavement counsellors, who cluster around events from the illness of a child to the experience of a plane crash or other disaster to the diagnosis of a fatal disease. But above and beyond expertise, in popular discourse each ‘life event’ has become more than merely a locus of potential personal devastation: it has become the legitimate occasion for public documentation, for the description of the effects on everything from bodily functions and sexuality to feelings of hope and despair, not merely the legitimate object of therapy but also, with or without the benefit of experts, the location of hidden opportunities for personal growth.”
“All right-wing antigovernment rage in America bears a racial component, because liberalism is understood, consciously or unconsciously, as the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks. Racial rhetoric has been entwined with government from the start, all the way back to when the enemy was not Obamacare but the Grand Army of the Republic (and further in the past than that: Thomas Jefferson, after all, was derided as “the Negro President”). When former IRS Commissioner T. Coleman Andrews ran for president in 1956 on a platform of abolishing the income tax, it was no accident that his war cry—he was fighting against the “degeneration of the union of states into an all-powerful central government!”—was indistinguishable from that of the Southern governors enacting a policy of massive resistance against Brown v. Board of Education. Every time the government acts to expand the prerogatives of citizenship and economic opportunity to formerly disenfranchised groups, a racism-soaked backlash ensues. Defeatism—or ideological accommodation—only makes it worse.”
“Rather than an elimination of bureaucracy, what we’ve seen under neoliberalism is just the reverse: bureaucracy’s mad, cancerous proliferation. Increasingly, what this new bureaucracy measures is not the worker’s ability to perform their job, but their ability to perform bureaucratic tasks effectively. This has perverse effects on the way that institutions function, which we saw demonstrated with New Labour’s ‘target culture’. As is now well known, the imposition of targets led to widespread gaming of the system, and also a neglect of those areas which fell outside the remit of the target. I’ve called this situation ‘Market Stalinism’. This isn’t just a joke; what it highlights is the extent to which neoliberalism depends upon authoritarian bureaucratic control systems. Again, New Labour exemplified this perfectly. The party repudiated authoritarian Stalinism at the level of ideological content, but, at the level of form, Labour became an increasingly authoritarian organisation. The concept of Market Stalinism also allows us to recognise that neoliberalism was never about reducing governmental control in order to free up the market. Market dynamics don’t spontaneously appear in public services, they have to be constructed – and, as the examples I’ve already given show, this requires, not a trimming back of bureaucratic agencies, but the production of new forms of bureaucracy. In order that institutions and workers can be seen to be competing with one another, it is necessary to produce all kinds of spurious quantificatory data. This means that, in education and other public services, we’re not dealing with ‘marketization’ so much as a pseudo-marketization, the simulation of market dynamics”