By Zoe Titus
Edited by Emma Davis
Neo - meaning new. Liberal - meaning free. Ism - meaning ideology. From the deconstruction of the word neoliberalism, one might believe the ideology belongs to a group of new, alt-left personas, formed by the chaotic but revealing times of the COVID-Era. However, this correlation could not be less true. Neoliberalism is, in fact, not new and is favored by the primary American economic system: capitalism.
The word capitalism has been thrown around a lot these past few months. It has been used as a good word, a bad word, or even an “American” word (“American” seems to mean, more and more often, the unevolving status quo upheld only through immunizing certain outdated systems.). Our economic systems have been under scrutiny because of our lack of preparedness for the public health crisis we’ve encountered.
Constant change and evolution is what has made America so great. The outdated systems that so poorly reflect the times must be innovated, if not reinvented. I bring up innovation because innovation is what America does best. Criticizing the government is one of the most “American” actions. Innovation and the hunger for improvement birthed our nation’s Constitution - if you remember the harsh critique of King George III. We gained independence by dismembering our government and finding flaws. But why, now, has this basic value changed?
Stop thinking that right now. American values have not changed at all. I can prove it to you. Have we stopped criticizing our government? No, if anything we are in a revolutionary period where nitpicking and reform is happening quicker than the media is able to write a biased article about it. Have Democrats completely thrown away the idea of freedom for socialism in return? No, they are looking toward socialism to solve the social inequalities, lessen the rich-poor gap and, in their minds, gain more freedom. Have Republicans all grasped the legs of Trump and worshipped the ground he walks on for the 2020 election? No, the media picks out the most dramatic, click-worthy stories and consistently misrepresents Republicans and every other political party there is.
The truth is, if you’re getting all your information from big business media, you are bound to consume biased stories at some point - if not with every single story you read. Humans are biased. Confirmation-bias is what is turning the parties against each other. And the media is hoping to prolong this Republican value versus Democratic value fight for as long as they can beat money out of it.
So how does this tie into neoliberalism? Well, the reason the media is able to produce content that makes these extremes look normal is because of this “American” ideology. In a study titled “Neoliberalism as a class ideology; or, the political causes of the growth of inequalities,” neoliberalism is defined as “the reduction of state interventions in economic and social activities and the deregulation of labor and financial markets.” That’s a lot, so let’s break it down. Neoliberalism is when the government does not regulate the market. It harnesses the belief that the market will balance itself. Neoliberalism supports the humongous potential of capitalism and, ideally, creates unprecedented social well-being. Neoliberalism is amazing at first, yet the money and power it brings to the one percent ultimately draw out selfishness and apathy. After decades of building business empires, the “unprecedented social well-being” becomes applicable only to the wealthy high-class.
Thus, the question: if money has given complete freedom to the high-class to rule through marketplace influence, are all men really created equal in America?
Whoa, that was heavy . Let’s back up.
Take advertisements, for example. You think they don’t affect you, right? You don’t want those advertised products, especially as teenagers. Let me ask you, what about Kleenex? Why do we call tissues by the name of a company? Or how about Photoshop? That’s just called editing. Adobe Photoshop actually asked for people to stop using it as a verb - it’s a noun. Those examples are small compared to the way that big business targets your instincts, gut, or subconscious brain. The next time you go into a store, look at which products are placed at eye-level and which are placed at the front, back or middle of the store. Compare those product placements to what you think is trending in pop-culture right now. Maybe a few months ago when Korean skin-care was trending, you might’ve noticed that every Korean product was placed at eye-level. Or you might notice that textured hair-care products are placed at the bottom of the shelves - that’s because companies know that that group of consumers will search for the product more readily than, say, a person whose eyes graze the Korean skin-care products.
Targeted marketing allows neoliberalism to flourish, sell more product, and ultimately drive lower-classes into more debt and big business people higher up the class ladder.
Moving on to why neoliberalism is receiving questioning and scrutiny from me: the coronavirus killed the American marketplace. Now, that is a dangerous statement right there. The market died because the American marketplace relies on the momentum of money. Because neoliberalism means that the government will never interfere with the marketplace, the inequalities have been vastly revealed. As most who have been following the news know, the Trump Administration has swayed the government to spend more on supporting big business and less on unemployment, small businesses, and rent subsidies. Not interjecting to create a level playing field across both small and big business is why neoliberalism fails in emergencies. If the market isn’t saturated with a diversity of demand, there will no longer be a diversity of business owners in the marketplace.
The hand-to-mouth norms lower classes live by and the passing of money from company-to-employee-to-company system led to the downfall of entrepreneurs and the American marketplace during COVID-19.
Before the coronavirus, companies would pay their employees as little as possible in order to maximize profits, then people are forced to buy products intentionally priced as high as possible, maximizing profits for that company. Neoliberalism, though it supports the growth of capitalism and saturates the market with money, it drives the class gap farther and farther apart.
It seems like both the marketplace and the media’s purpose is to create chaos. Chaos between political parties, between classes, between ethnicities, between nations, and any other dividing factor. More money is the goal. More clicks. More profit for the powerful and more scrutiny on the lower class. We, as Americans, value freedom, liberty, and life. Now, it’s up to you. How do we create a system as close to fitting those ideals as possible, and how has the coronavirus exposed the inner workings of America?