Mind over Managing: When neoliberalism eats itself

The grey Danish summer weather provided some serious reading time over the holidays. I lost myself in Haruki Murukami’s mammoth tale of parallel worlds, ‘1Q84’.

The book made me rather paranoid – what if we were living in a parallel world? So much at the moment seems to be out of place. From the good (Leicester winning the Premier League) to the not so good (Brexit, Donald Trump …), nobody saw any of these events coming. Had I somehow slipped into another universe?

Reality bites
In the absence of any clear signs to the contrary (there’s a handy second moon in the sky in ‘1Q84’), I have come to the conclusion that this is indeed reality as we know it, and I have been pondering on the cause of recent events.

In global economic terms, one theme of the past 30 years has been the undeniable triumph of ‘neoliberalism’ – the idea that economics is a system independent of ethics or normative judgements, and instead one where markets are the supreme moral arbiter, independent of pesky human subjectivity and argument.

Yet whilst ‘markets’ in isolation may be objective concepts, anything which involves us homo sapiens certainly is not. Economic policy that places our actions in an amoral sphere – dictated by the whims of the market, whilst undoubtedly creating enormous wealth for a few – has caused phenomenal wealth disparity whilst downgrading subjective, reasoned argument derived from conscience.

Beginning of the end?
Could this pervading sense of nihilism created by 30 years of neoliberal policy have created a platform for the election of Trump, someone utterly devoid of principle, a creature of whim solely concerned with his own narcissism and bank account? Or the success of Brexiteers, who campaigned on a staggering array of promises that now lie broken? Possibly.

But if that is true, it could also mean that neoliberalism has sown the seeds of its own destruction. One thing that the likes of Trump and the Brexiteers have in common is the lack of any cohesive argument. Policies come and go: there one minute, contradicted the next. Even a neoliberal policy cannot survive in an environment devoid of any coherent policy at all.