Seeing the price of everything....but the value of nothing

One definition of development might be "evolution of new ways humans organize ourselves by". On whatever scale human organization could be around kinship ( our selfish genes), culture, resources or, perhaps, ideas.  Published by the Guardian as a "Long Read" Stephen Metcalf's "Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world"  examines and critiques the evolution and current insidious dominance of perhaps the most pervasive organizing principle in modern development and politics. By following the evolution of Austrian economist Hayeck's "Big Idea",its spread and its consequences Metcalf made me think of so many effects neo-liberalism has on me, the people around me  and the development spaces in which I work.

Reduced to this? Neo-liberalism, a Big Idea that shrinks humanity to a  lowest common denominator.

Reduced to this? Neo-liberalism, a Big Idea that shrinks humanity to a  lowest common denominator.

My summary is that a Neoliberal lens shows us the price of everything but the value of nothing. We thus launched ourselves on our price-not-value development trajectory- not because it is the only, or necessarily the best, way to organize ourselves but simply because for a constellation of factors a Big Idea gained dominance.  Metcalf says it makes us "a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest ".  The article is a counterpoint to "Atlas Shrugged",  Ayn Rand's classic eulogy to transactional humanity which I explored in a recent post. . Read Metcalf's whole piece here or as an appetizer start by chewing  over these excerpts:.

"..[almost] all (if not all) human activity is a form of economic calculation, and so can be assimilated to the master concepts of wealth, value, exchange, cost – and especially price."

"Through competition, “it becomes possible”, as the sociologist Will Davies has written “to discern who and what is valuable”.

"... a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity."

"...It isn’t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers" 

"...the bloodless paragon of efficiency known as the free market?"

"... it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression."

"...“neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals."

"Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality."

"Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties)"

"...the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers" 

"...thanks to our thoughtless veneration of the free market, truth might be driven from public life altogether?"

 "so too has Hayek’s thinking woven itself into every aspect of the post-1989 world."

"Hayek’s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition." 

 "...the possibility existed that the market might not just be one piece of society, but society as a whole". 

"....the state need only keep the market free."

"...every aspect of democratic politics, from the choices of voters to the decisions of politicians, must be submitted to a purely economic analysis."

"The only social end is the maintenance of the market itself."

"...Hayek's Big Idea isn’t much of an idea – until you supersize it. Organic, spontaneous, elegant processes that, like a million fingers on a Ouija board, coordinate to create outcomes that are otherwise unplanned."

"What if we reconceive all of society as a kind of market?"

"In so doing, it puts any value that cannot be expressed as a price – as the verdict of a market – on an equally unsure footing, as nothing more than opinion, preference, folklore or superstition."

"...the application of Hayek’s Big Idea to every aspect of our lives negates what is most distinctive about us." 

".When the only objective truth is determined by the market, all other values have the status of mere opinions; everything else is relativist hot air. "



Its a great read. -Jeph