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Identity politics as a subset of neo-liberalism


Let Them Eat Diversity
Bhaskar Sunkara: Neoliberalism is often presented as a unified, homogenous ideology, but you differentiate between “left” and “right” neoliberalisms — what’s the difference and which one dominates American politics today?

Walter Benn Michaels: The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.

One of the first major works of neoliberal economics by an American is Becker’s [The] Economics of Discrimination, which is designed precisely to show that in competitive economies you can’t afford to discriminate. Foucault sort of marks the beginning of neoliberalism in Europe with the horror at what the Nazi state did and the recognition that you can legitimize the state in a much more satisfactory manner by making it the guardian of competitive markets rather than the guardian of the German volk. And today’s orthodoxy is the idea that social justice consists above all in defense of property and the attack of discrimination. This is at the heart of neoliberalism and right-wing neoliberals understand this and left-wing neoliberals don’t.

It's not even "left" neoliberalism vs. "right" neoliberalism, is it?

Both "left" and "right" tendencies look to markets first, and to the state to support (that is, rig) the market ("Because markets")[1]. But where a left perspective would follow the money (actually, the capital), the "left" neoliberal follows the semiotics, the markers of privilege (and always seems to miss the most obvious, which cannot be seen). So perhaps "extractive" neo-liberals would do for the right (since that tendency is at least open and honest about what it wishes to do (for example, the Koch Brothers), and "identity" neo-liberals would do for the "left" (for example, Krugman, Warren, et al).

A bit sloppy, perhaps, in the analysis. But I think "identity neo-liberals" and "extractive neo-liberals" work as polemic. This is, however, a binary opposition. I wouldn't really classify Clinton as either. So are there other factions? _____ neo-liberals?

NOTE [1] All markets are rigged, by definition. Why set them up, otherwise? The issues are who's doing the rigging, and how badly.

NOTE I'm not sure about the reference to Foucault on markets.

Average: 5 (1 vote)


albrt's picture
Submitted by albrt on

I think binary works pretty well in this instance. The Clintons are just ambidextrous, aka "whore" neoliberals, following the dialectic and doing whatever benefits them the most at any given time.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The commitment to neoliberalism has been brought about by the successful propagation of the idea of meritocracy -- more deserving people deserve more. If all different subsets of the population aren't at the top, then there is one of two explanations. Either the less well represented subset is genetically or culturally inferior (the right's assumption) or the subset suffers discrimination (the left's assumption). The left's commitment to identity politics is the effort to maintain meritocracy; if we eliminate discrimination each of us will get what we deserve and all will be well.

Michaels calls it a commitment to competitive markets, but I think there's a human search for justice under the commitment. We must challenge the philosophical idea that if you are skilled in a complex task, you deserve more freedom, dignity, human rights, all the rest that today goes with money. Until we do, we're stuck with identity politics.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Because we need hierarchy, with differentials in power (which is what money is in our society) necessarily awarded to those higher in the hierarchy? Because the higher-ups are more deserving than the rest of us and should get the more that they deserve? Because the children of the higher-ups are probably better than our children, so their parents should get enough to give them a leg up to eventually succeeding to the more powerful jobs?

1 person is 8 times better than another person? Just in terms of how we think about our society and the way we organize ourselves, the human mind is going to find justifications for the structures we have and to build additions on the same foundation. Meritocracy leads to a variety of problems, of which identity politics is one. If you're going to say, "I think there should be inequality," I think it would be useful to give a justification that opens our minds to more social justice.

Submitted by lambert on

... we've had them for all of recorded history and before; even a hunter-gatherer band will have some hierarchy, no?

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

... we've had them for all of recorded history and before; even a hunter-gatherer band will have some hierarchy, no?
No, not the way you think about it.
The best hunter would likely get the first "bite" of the hunt's success; but not the biggest share.
That's my read on history.
And then there is Riane Isler's, The Chalice and the Blade. Isler would likewise argue history does not show hierarchical, patriarchal cultures, until the War God Yahweh came into the big picture.
There was a time...

Submitted by lambert on

... as opposed to a 350:1 ratio, or whatever we've reached by now, the "share" aspect would be much more equalized. I mean, that's why Mondragon is a co-op....

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Yes, Mondragon. But unfortunately with a shot economy the co-op is in trouble. I have one of their food processors and a bread making machine; both of excellent quality and value.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I think you added emphasis to the right part of the quotation: left neoliberals are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals

Submitted by lambert on

If your point is that I'm a "becaus markets" guy, you're just wrong. If your point is that anybody who accepts that hierarchy has been, historically, part of the human condition is a neo-liberal, your point is merely vacuous.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Why have people who at one time supported social programs, unions, economic gains for all people made the distraction of identity politics their central focus? I think it flows naturally from the embrace of meritocracy as an underlying philosophy. My first comment included, "Michaels calls it a commitment to competitive markets, but I think there's a human search for justice under the commitment." I'm saying the neo-liberal approach isn't just "Because markets." I don't know many people who in their personal lives act or usually even talk as though markets are the most important thing. No, I don't think you're a "Because markets" guy. I do think meritocracy is the justifying philosophy for a lot of neoliberalism.

Rather than addressing the issue of meritocracy, you responded that you support inequality. I wanted to know what philosophy underlies your support of inequality, offering some statements of the kind of justification I was looking for. I think you ignored the question, choosing instead to glom onto one of the statements and to say that humans have always been hierarchical. That may or may not be true, but if so, why is it a justification? Recorded historical societies give men power over women. It's historical, so it must be right? Most societies have granted their elites the right to enslave foreigners. And so, consideration of the argument leads right back into identity politics.

And the question remains -- because one person is good at a particular skill, does that person then get to run society? Why must the hierarchy be arranged so that those at the top of a work organization get a larger personal and political life than those at the bottom?

We vacuous people wonder about things like this.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...indeed we do...
And further; history does not support hierarchical society as the norm. Some time in our recent past we invented the war God Yahweh. A not insignificant event...

Submitted by lambert on

I'd like some examples of heirarchy-free human societies in the last thousand years, say. Then we can talk about what's normal.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Such a narrow, limited take on human history. Even 6,000 years is only a fraction of our existence.
I gave a timeline which you chose to ignore because it didn't fit your argument.
Modern humans have likely been around for more than 50,000 years.
A "norm" must include this timeline.
And you choose to ignore the war god Yahweh. Rather makes this a pointless discussion...
Believe what you will.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

As already referenced, Riane Eisler has extensive examples in the Mediterranean and the Baltic areas of goddess cultures and villages with no defensive structures or weapons of war.
The "goddess" cultures were egalitarian in nature and not patriarchal. It is thought they were not matriarchal either. The archaeological evidence seems quite clear on this.
The invasion of the Kurgan cultures marked the beginning of the end for non-patriarchal societies. Gimbutas was an early adopter of this theory.
That's just Europe. The Navajo and Hopi of N. America were also not strictly patriarchal. In both nations women own the property.
I have long resented my assumed position in a world, long gone mad.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

No, you're trying to make it easy on yourself.
Lazy is as lazy does.
I took the effort which you have chosen to ignore.
Just what am I to make of that?
I do have my ideas, none good...

Submitted by lambert on

... you treat me like a servant while prating about non-hiearchical societies ("Lazy!" [kick]).

That said, "Riane Isler" [sic] sounds interesting. I'll read her book, though I'm quite dubious. My favorite utopia is feminist Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, which I recommend to everybody, and while the heirarchy is far more flat, it isn't dead level, as it were.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

I fail to see how I'm treating you like a servant. I generally do a bit of searching if I doubt someone's "facts".
I'm not sure what utopia has to do with anything. This is about history far into our past.
Nice word choice, prating, thank you (you might want to look it up).
While you may well be satisfied with the status quo; I am not. And part of my process is to distance myself from my comfort zone.
In any event, I thought this was about history and hierarchy in societies. There is good evidence our patriarchal world has not always been thus. And my own intuition says that it's so...
But then, I'm prating on...

Submitted by lambert on

Calling people lazy while assigning them work is a pretty good operational definition, no?

* * *

"You may be satisfied with your comfort zone." Dear Lord. Assuming that devoting tens of thousands of hours and what is (for me) over 10 years showing my discomfort with our current "zone" isn't enough, I'll state explicitly that I'm not. As the 12 points show, to take but one example.

I am, however, explicitly a reformist. So if your idea of "comfort" is restoring social relations that existed 50,000 years ago, yes, that strikes me as utopian.

All that said, I'll by Eisler's book and read it, since I'm temporarily in funds.

Ya know, why don't you just post on this? Put some time into the real deal? Presumably you have a coherent thesis, and that would be better stated long form, rather than beating me about the head and ears with "No, not the way you think about it" and other such. Put it out there!

Submitted by lambert on

One of the alternatives I presented was that your argument was vacuous.

If you've got yourself confused with your argument, there's not much I can do to disentangle your comment.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I guess it was a writing clarity fail on my part. I didn't mean to be making a point on the comprehensiveness of anyone's knowledge of recorded history, that is, that 4,000 to 6,000 year part of the 275,000 year or so life of homo sapiens. (I tend to think that human beings are variable enough that it's likely that there have been a number of ways of organizing things, and there is evidence to support V. Arnold's observations.) The point I was trying to make, starting with my first comment, is that as human beings we seek reasons to justify how we live. What are the justifications that neoliberals have promoted for their policies?

First, I guess I should say I don't really agree with your statement that neoliberals primarily look to markets, even with the caveat that they mean rigged markets. The Powell Memorandum called it not markets but "the enterprise system". I think neoliberals are defined by their belief that freedom is the unrestricted power of money. Markets are a subset of that belief. Just one example, the "free trade" treaties that neoliberals are so fond of have very little to do with markets and lots to do with investing power in money.

I realize I don't understand your point well enough to explain what I mean. I can only repeat, And the question remains -- because one person is good at a particular skill, does that person then get to run society? Why must the hierarchy be arranged so that those at the top of a work organization get a larger personal and political life than those at the bottom? That, it seems to me, is the basic premise of neoliberalism.

Submitted by lambert on

Who said I supported "meritocracy"? You're jumbling that together with hierarchy, and then you're saying painting all hierarchies with the same brush. 350:1, 8:1, and no doubt 2:1, 1.5 to 1.

I don't have time to cope with all the straw men here.

Submitted by lambert on

always end up insulting the admin. Because it's such a bad strategy!

"Whining." Dear Lord. It never ceases to amaze me why identity politicians feel free to throw working people under the bus. Privilege works in strange ways, I guess.

UPDATE Adding, I've had it with the drive-bys on this.

UPDATE And adding: The cream of the jest is that Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, the interviewed and commissioner of the piece, is not a "white" dude.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

n general, I try to avoid insults, either direct or inadvertent through phrasing like "you're wrong", since I never found that it convinced anyone. And even though we're all rather fond of our own ideas, the point of a discussion is to discuss, learn, and maybe persuade. But Lambert, you need to quit being a snit. I've read and commented at this blog for years, because I thought it was doing valuable work. I've commented to you how much I appreciate the fights you carry on for liberal causes. But over the past year, your argumentative technique slid more and more towards simply scoring points regardless of content. I suspect it has to do with how hard you're working. I seriously considered leaving the blog after the MMT fight, because I found that Hugh and danps held the high ground, and I was uncomfortable remaining. Marginally, it wasn't enough to give up on a community that I had been a part of.

Now, why do people end up insulting the admin? A couple of reasons. One is that when you keep insulting them, they will insult back. Another is that the admin feels thin-skinned or threatened enough to take a legitimate comment as an insult.

I assume that you felt you had something to say in your post. But if you didn't want it discussed, why didn't you close the comment section? If you did, why don't you discuss it, rather than simply attacking those of us who have thoughts on the subject? We live in a world explicitly fashioned on neoliberalism. You say you're explicitly a reformist, then go all insulted when I imply that your assumptions are neoliberal. Well, are you a reformist in a neoliberal world seeking amelioration of conditions or a radical seeking change of the basis of the world?

When you said, "even a hunter-gatherer band will have some hierarchy, no?" V. Arnold responded, "No, not the way you think about it." I note that, because you have not articulated any ideas of what hierarchy is other than the rather rigid power structure that characterizes our society now. However, rather than documenting and arguing for your statement about hunter-gatherer hierarchy, you keep doing what I'd call drivebys, one sentence demands that VA spend more and more time on your set-up. Then when VA finally objects to what is really a trolling technique, you get to go off on how you're being treated like a servant.

I don't know why you responded to my comments, since all your responses are attempts to change the subject and not in a good way. I write about the reason for the left to adopt identity politics, you say you like Mondragon's 8 to 1 ratio. I ask why, you say humans have always had hierarchy (with no defense of your statement, even when challenged). I note that your post underlined people's lack of understanding of the philosophy underlying their positions; you deny the implication and throw the words "wrong" and "vacuous" at me. I repeat my original comment's question, using "wrong" and "vacuous" to try to jolly you out of your grievance, and you play word games -- you used "vacuous" on my position, and that is such a totally confused idea that you can't untangle it! My reaction: gee, the three-year old scored a point.

And then we get to your real winner: "Who said I supported "meritocracy"? You're jumbling that together with hierarchy, and then you're saying painting all hierarchies with the same brush." No one said it, Lambert. I said that meritocracy is the philosophy that leads liberals to support identity politics. It underlies our current structure of hierarchies. You have avoided addressing the question. How do you define a reformist view that doesn't challenge the basis of current society? What your belief other than meritocracy? All hierarchies with the same brush? Why didn't you address that question when you were berating V. Arnold, who explicitly raised it? And then your favorite "straw man" charge, this "you imply X, I never said X, so it's a straw man" is sheer trolling, to blame me for your failure to address the question raised in the original post and first comment. You know my reaction? "Asshole!"

And hipparchia is absolutely right, so if you don't want to be classed with conservatives and right-wing white dudes, you need to come up with a way to advocate for social justice that addresses the subjugation of women and minorities.

I don't think this kind of comment is generally productive, but having watched the dismissal of valuable members of the community earlier, I wanted at this point to express a warning of at least one person's increasingly being pissed off at how you're addressing disagreement.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Thank you for that. My machete is too dull to cut through the jungle you so aptly cleared.
The ignorance about human history, nature, origins, and societies is over-ridden by assumed knowledge based on a hugely limited/short view.
Again, thank you.

Submitted by lambert on

V. Arnold writes:

The[1] ignorance about human history, nature, origins, and societies is over-ridden by assumed knowledge based on a hugely limited/short view.

I wrote:

One thing that may help is if you think of Corrente as my workplace: Basically, I have the right to walk in, sit down, and start typing without, shall we say, extraneous personalia.

So, excellent. Objectively, V. Arnold recommended a book, and I agreed to read it.

Experientially, V. Arnold came in and dumped a big sack of shit on my desk with some choice and very personal insults.

This after I spend thousands of dollars (and I'm not rich) and endless hours of technical, administrative, and writing time providing a free as in beer space for V. Arnold to dump said sack. Speaking of extraneous personalia (see below).

So, I may be ignorant; there's a lot to know. I'm increasingly thinking I am also a fool. Thoughts?

NOTE [1] I can only assume V. Arnold meant my ignorance, although he did not write that.

Submitted by lambert on

I have book length work I need to do, one on the 12 points, and the other on the Market State. That's the work I want to be doing, as a sequence of posts here. Of course, I haven't had the time to write the post explaining the change of direction.

That's why the whole BIG/JG debate -- you have noticed BIG is in the platform? -- seems to me to be a distraction right now; it's further ahead in the 12 points, and I need to handle the other points first, in their order.

As you point out, I don't have time to do the sort of interaction that you want on material that isn't on point for the projects above; in fact, if I do so, it's frustrating because it pulls me away from the more important material that I want to do, am called to do, if you will. And so I do tend to focus on technical matters.

My recommendation is that you write posts on your own putting forward whatever thesis you wish; all accounts have front page posting privileges, you included. I don't have the time right now, with two books to write, to engage in the proper sort of Socratic dialog. I do file stuff away mentally, and it will emerge later. VA's Eisler book, for example.

* * *

That said, if you think that either dan_ps or hugh held the high ground in the MMT debate, then you really should go. I do not (see above) have time to re-litigate the mattter, so I will say that from Hugh I processed literally endless amounts of crap at NC, days of it, and then he brought the battle over here. (And if you think I'm full of it, then read Fulwiler, or Kelton, or letsgetitdone, all of whom provided sourced and cogent arguments). As for dan, the post I didn't have time to write was to be titled "The Gentle Art of Poisoning the Well," which he certainly did, in a remarkably dishonest post. It's too bad, but there it is.

Like I said, I'm not going to relitigate the MMT thing. Those are my views. It's a big Internet, and I have other things to do.

One thing that may help is if you think of Corrente as my workplace: Basically, I have the right to walk in, sit down, and start typing without, shall we say, extraneous personalia, with which the MMT debate was rife.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

This is your blog, your workspace. You have undertaken a lot of work and you have to choose how to spend your time. We all have lives and priorities. So "I get to act how I want because it's my space" is true, but weakens community.

The point about the MMT thing was that the current comment thread embodies the same techniques that I found to be the lower ground in that discussion -- a refusal to address the actual issues, constant changing of the topic to declare that the person you disagree with is being less than honestly addressing the issue(!), misuse of the language of logical fallacies to claim that you've demonstrated error, word games, claims of grievance and victimization coupled with insults to the other. Well, everybody gets carried away from time to time and the internet is a fast response medium that allows us to demonstrate impulses that we later wish we hadn't. But when these behaviors continue, it does call into question whether to continue to participate.

Based on what I read on this blog, Hugh and dan_ps argued more cogently and fairly. (Incidentally and tangentially related to the subject of this post, did you even notice that every commenter who had a female-identified name had real problems with MMT? I found that very interesting and may have fed into my reactions. What were we seeing that the male MMTers weren't?) That brings us into agreement that I really should go.

We may well see each other's comments at other sites on the web. Meanwhile, best of luck with your endeavors. Goodbye.

Submitted by lambert on

... via Stephanie Kelton (UMKC department chair) and Pavlina R. Tcherneva, who are both authors of significant and influential work in the field and key public-facing figures. I might also mention supporter Yves Smith. And both BDBlue and DCBlogger helped organize the MMT conference as Correntians, and DCBlogger helped letsgetitdone with a fundraiser for an MMT video.

So, your crude identity politics and drive-by, unevidenced smear fail, as always. MMT haters, dishonest to the end. Good-bye.

NOTE That so many women support MMT should not be surprising, as MMT's fiscal policies open the possibility of concrete material benefits for women that the austerity policies of the legacy parties prevent.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Pity really. You'll be missed, at least by this poster. Much of what you post resonates with me. Cheers and happy trails...