In my review of John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics I started to develop a theme about the nature of neoliberalism that goes beyond his focus on a set of flawed economic ideas and their application:
So why do market liberal ideas persist despite being disproved in practice? Quiggin suggests a mixture of the influence of vested interests and institutional inertia among economists. Both are true, but they overstate the independent power of the ideas he is critiquing. His description of the history of policy responses to the crisis of the 1970s exposes a rapidly shifting theoretical terrain, more consistent with a desperate and pragmatic search for a solution to recession on capital’s terms. So under “really existing neoliberalism” the state never removes itself from economic life, it rather acts more aggressively for elite interests. Market mechanisms don’t get applied neutrally but to increase the exploitation of workers and increase profitability at ordinary people’s expense. And behind every mystification within neoliberal ideology is the drive to make the majority class pay for the restoration of the minority ruling class’s power and wealth.
Quiggin ends with a modest program for mainstream economics, one that is necessarily lacking in hubris because he doesn’t claim to have “the answer”. Yet he strongly implies that the ideas of market liberalism will eventually die out as a result of their practical failure (currently for him they exist mainly in reanimated, “zombie” form, hence his title).
Me on the ABC’s The Drum Unleashed, reviewing John Quiggin‘s latest book, Zombie Economics:
In seeking a progressive economics, Quiggin keeps skirting around some of the fundamental assumptions behind the ideas he critiques. So he portrays class as a social gradient rather than a power relation, the origins of value are left unexamined despite various value theories being trashed, and the state’s role is assumed as potentially neutral rather than as an instrument of domination. And while recognising the inequalities created by markets he has much less to say about growing micro-management and authoritarianism as capitalist logic intrudes not just into work life but every aspect of our “free time”, what has sometimes been called “Market Stalinism”. Despite being acutely sensitive to how certain theories are used to serve narrow interests, he cannot posit an approach that breaks out of this logic.
From John Quiggin’s just-released new book, Zombie Economics, this on “financial deregulation”:
The term deregulation is something of a misnomer, since no system in which the public is the ultimate guarantor can be regarded as unregulated.