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Neoliberalism vs. Future of the Planet: It’s a crucial moment – and there are signs of hope


In one country after another around the world, people are rising to challenge entrenched, failing neoliberal political and economic systems, with mixed but sometimes promising results.

Progressive leaders in US Congress refuse to give in to the Democrats’ pledges to American voters to reduce poverty, expand rights to health care, education and clean energy, and mend a tattered social safety net. After decades of tax cuts for the rich, they are also determined to raise taxes for wealthy Americans and businesses to pay for this popular agenda.

Germany has elected a government coalition made up of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, which is excluding the conservative Christian Democrats for the first time since 2000. The new government promises a minimum wage of $ 14, solar panels on all suitable roof surfaces, 2% land for wind and the closure of the last German coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Iraqis voted in an election convened in response to a popular protest movement launched in October 2019 to challenge the endemic post-2003 corruption of the political class and its subservience to US and Iranian interests. The protest movement was split between voting in the election and boycott, but its candidates still won about 35 seats and will have a vote in parliament. Long-time Iraqi nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s party won 73 seats, the largest of any single party, while Iran-backed parties, whose armed militia killed hundreds of protesters in 2019, lost public support and many of their seats.

Chile’s billionaire President Sebastian Piñera faces up to five years in prison after the Pandora Papers reveals details of bribery and tax evasion in the sale of a mining company. Mass street protests in 2019 forced Piñera to approve a new constitution to replace that written under the Pinochet military dictatorship, and a convention that includes representatives of indigenous and other marginalized communities was chosen to draft the constitution. Progressive parties and candidates are expected to do well in the November general election.

Perhaps the greatest success of popular power is in Bolivia. In 2020, just one year after a US-backed right-wing military coup, a mass mobilization of mostly indigenous workers forced a new election and the socialist MAS party led by Evo Morales was brought back to power. Since then, it has already introduced a new wealth tax and welfare payments to four million people to eradicate hunger in Bolivia.

The ideological context

Since the 1970s, western politicians and business leaders have instilled a quasi-religious belief in the power of “free markets” and unbridled capitalism to solve all the world’s problems. This new “neo-liberal” orthodoxy was a barely veiled return to the systematic injustice of laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th terrible exploitation of the poor and the weak worldwide.

For most of the 20th century, Western countries gradually reacted to the excesses and injustices of capitalism by using the power of government to redistribute wealth through progressive taxes and a growing public sector and wider access to public goods such as education and ensure health care. This led to a gradual expansion of the generally shared wealth in the United States and Western Europe through a strong public sector that balanced the power of private corporations and their owners.

The steadily growing common prosperity of the postwar years in the West was derailed by a combination of factors including the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Richard Nixon’s price and wage freeze, runaway inflation from the fall of the gold standard, and then a second post-oil crisis Iranian Revolution 1979.

Right-wing politicians around Ronald Reagan in the USA and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain blamed the power of organized labor and the public sector for the economic crisis. They launched a neoliberal counter-revolution to blow up unions, downsize and privatize the public sector, cut taxes, deregulate industries and supposedly unleash “the magic of the market”. Then they were credited with a return to economic growth, which was actually more due to the end of the oil crisis.

The US and UK used their economic, military and media power to spread their neoliberal gospel around the world. Chile’s experiment in neoliberalism under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet became the model for US efforts to push back the “pink tide” in Latin America. When the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe opened up to the West at the end of the Cold War, it was the extreme neoliberal form of capitalism that Western economists imposed as “shock therapy” to privatize state-owned companies and open countries to Western corporations.

In the US, the mass media shy away from the word “neoliberalism” to describe the changes in society since the 1980s. They describe their effects less systemically than globalization, privatization, deregulation, consumerism, etc., without drawing attention to their common ideological roots. This enables them to treat their effects as separate, unrelated issues: poverty and inequality, mass incarceration, environmental degradation, rising debt, dark money and corporate influence in politics, divestments in public services, declines in public health, permanent war and record military spending.

After a generation of systematic neoliberal control, it is now clear to people around the world that neoliberalism has utterly failed the world’s problems. As many have been predicting all along, it has only allowed the rich to get much, much richer while structural and even existential problems remain unsolved.

Even when people understand the selfish, predatory nature of this system that has overrun political and economic life, many still fall victim to the demoralization and impotence that are among its most insidious products, brainwashed to identify themselves only as To see individuals and consumers. instead of being active and collectively powerful citizens.

Indeed, confronting neoliberalism – whether as individuals, groups, communities or countries – requires a two-step process. First, we need to understand the nature of the animal that controls us and the world, whatever we want to call it. Second, we must overcome our own demoralization and impotence and rekindle our collective power as political and economic actors to build the better world that we know is possible.

We will see this collective power in the streets and suites at COP26 in Glasgow (which opens October 31 and runs through November 12) when world leaders gather to face reality state that neoliberalism has enabled corporate profits to trump rational responses to the devastating effects of fossil fuels on the earth’s climate. Extinction Rebellion and other groups will be on the streets in Glasgow calling for the long-delayed action needed to resolve the problem, including an end to net carbon emissions by 2025.

While scientists have warned us of the outcome for decades, politicians and business leaders have been selling their neoliberal snake oil to fill their coffers at the expense of the future of life on earth. If we don’t stop them now, living conditions for people everywhere will continue to deteriorate as the natural world on which our lives depend is washed away from under our feet, goes up in smoke, and kind after kind, dies and disappears forever.

The COVID pandemic is another real-world case study of the effects of neoliberalism. While the official global death toll hits 5 million – and many more deaths have gone unreported – rich countries are still hoarding vaccines, pharmaceutical companies are reaping bonanza in profits from vaccines and new drugs, and the deadly, devastating injustice of the entire neoliberal “marketplace”. System is exposed for the whole world. Calls for a “popular vaccine” and “vaccine justice” challenge what is now called “vaccine apartheid”.


In the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often said to the world: “There is no alternative” to the neoliberal order that she and Reagan unleashed. The selfish delusion they prescribed and the crises it triggered made it a question of survival for mankind to find alternatives after only one or two generations.

All over the world, ordinary people rise to demand real change. The people of Iraq, Chile, and Bolivia have overcome the incredible trauma inflicted on them to take to the streets by the thousands and demand better government. Likewise, Americans should demand that our government stop wasting trillions of dollars militarizing the world and destroying countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and start solving our real problems here and abroad.

People around the world understand the nature of the problems we face better than they did a generation or even a decade ago. Now we must overcome demoralization and powerlessness in order to act. It helps to understand that the demoralization and powerlessness we may feel are themselves products of this neoliberal system and that overcoming them is a victory in itself.

Since we reject the inevitability of neoliberalism and Thatcher’s lie that there is no alternative, we must also reject the lie that we are just passive, powerless consumers. As humans, we have the same collective power that humans have always had to create a better world for us and our children – and now is the time to use that power.


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