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May 30, 2012


Ian C

A brilliant paper - thanks for sight of it.

I think the analysis is on the right lines. It's not so much that neoliberalism is being replaced or transformed but rather managed by exception. So the audit-target state is still in place, alongside all manner of 'neo-communitarian' attempts to handle the increasing number of neoliberal policy failures, while saving the appearances of the ideology. Not sure 'neo-communitarian' is the best term for it - behavioural paternalism, perhaps? If that is so, then the purpose of the state is not systemic sustainability in any sense of 'sustainable development', but maintenance of social order for a marketised polity.

One thing that strikes me, reading Kahneman's brilliant Thinking, Fast and Slow (the current must-read on social psychology), is how little attention Nudgers and behavioural economists such as Kahneman pay to power, economic agency and constraints, status, hierarchy and political conditions. As I think you have said before, psychology fits in perfectly as an intellectual toolkit for policymakers obsessed with individualism and market relationships and keen to avoid issues of structural inequality and power.

Will Davies

Thanks Ian. I'm glad you like it.

The term 'neo-communitarian' is chosen for quite a specific reason, namely that there is some type of dialectic going on (I don't use that word in the paper) between the liberal/universal and the communitarian/particular. When neo-liberalism conducts its own self-critique, the result is that it seeks a better understanding of contingency, relationships and non-rational behaviour. And without getting too Hegelian about it, there is something which seems quite logical about how (neo)liberalism produces (neo)communitarianism, almost by necessity.

On your final paragraph, I agree entirely. That said, this is also deeply unfair to the many psychologists and psycho-analysts who never intended their work to in defence of the status quo, and are themselves entirely conscious of how much capitalism and the cult of competition produce many of the problems and pathologies that they then seek to alleviate.

Dick Pountain

Interesting paper Will. Entirely agree about the logic of neo-liberalism turning to neo-communitarianism to save it from its own contradictions. What they have in common is that they both tend to divert from politics. Which is what Ian C's penultimate para seems to be acknowledging too:

how little attention Nudgers and behavioural economists such as Kahneman pay to power, economic agency and constraints, status, hierarchy and political conditions

We have to hope that a move toward neo-communitarianism will engender an appropriate politics: something more solid than Occupy.

Will Davies

Thanks, Dick.

The problem can also be looked at from another perspective: what technical instruments do communitarians want, if not these 'neo-communitarian' ones? I find the new wave of Aristotelians and Polanyians (Blue Labour, Red Tory etc) largely unwilling to discuss this, which may represent a critique of technocracy in theory, but is a capitulation to technocracy in practice. Say what you like about New Labour, but they were at least mindful of the need to govern, and not simply pursue the common good (which they arguably lost site of quite early on).

Ian C

Thanks Will.

I think your analysis is important and accurate. One feature of the micro-adjustments and panicky adaptations of neoliberalism in the direction you describe is the widespread reluctance to admit to any major flaws in the worldview of Actually Existing Neoliberalism, 1979 - 2007.

Interestingly, the New Economics Foundation, mindful of the absence of any new worldview and paradigm of political economy that can challenge AEN, is about to host a conference on rethinking economics that explicitly takes its cue from the Mont Pelerin Society's influence over many decades. I will report back if I get the chance to attend.

Dick Pountain

Will - my hunch, which I have no idea how to substantiate, is that we need a radical revision of the structure of trade unions. What is the appropriate forum in which employees can negotiate pay in a communitarian world?

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