A few months back I was musing over whether, ironically enough, we may come to value some of the insights of neo-liberal theorists, just at the precise moment that their recipes and prophecies appear to be collapsing all around us. In particular, the impoverished neo-liberal vision of society does at least have some vision of individual agency built into it, albeit one rooted in consumption and price-based relations. So the question is - what of this Hayekian landscape might we want to preserve in the face of the truly illiberal trends that could emerge within the next wave of capitalism?
I've tried to develop some answers in this article for The Liberal, defending the particular liberal - or perhaps modernist - properties of money. It's partly an attack on Chris Anderson, but hopefully more than that. I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts. Here's a nugget:
The rise of free artistic and media products involves what might be called a form of ‘cultural pollution’. When a customer pays money for a newspaper or a DVD, they are tacitly aware that at least some of the cost has been captured in the price. When a customer gets a newspaper or a film for free, all of the costs are external to this price, seeing as it is zero. The film may be funded by product placement that the customer is unconscious of. The newspaper’s editorial policy may allow a blurring of the distinction between news and advertising. There is now a field of marketing known as ‘sponsored conversations’, in which brands strategically support ‘free’ (as in speech and beer) online spheres of debate, such as blogs. It is no longer clear what is being paid for or how.
In the age of free media, money may need to acquire a more explicit role in upholding individual freedom, rather as Hayek and Friedman imagined. Surveys conducted by the BBC show that parents particularly appreciate the organisation’s somewhat clunky funding model (an annual TV license fee) as it permits a rare advertising-free space for children’s entertainment. Payment for a newspaper or magazine may become increasingly anachronistic, but worth preserving if it can stave off the pollution of sponsored content. Just as the industrialisation of agriculture is met with the retort of the organic food movement, so the drift towards ‘free’ cultural content must be met with an appropriate form of conservationism.
Oh, and if this doesn't get me invited to the Brit Awards, nothing will.