Neoliberal Tango

In economics, ‘neoliberal’ is a confusing term that doesn’t actually mean anything useful, but refers to the current dominant contemporary national and international economic policy.

The name of this policy is confusing for Americans because we tend to associate the word ‘liberal’ with Social Justice Lite and the Democratic Party. That is political liberalism. But in economics it’s a half-hearted revival of obsolete economic theory from the early 1800s.

Neoliberalism aims to maximize trade. For this it sacrifices domestic production and security, the domestic social contract (wages, benefits, unions, and social programs), and environmental regulation in favor of cheaper exports.

It has been violently imposed on post-colonial nations through Structural Adjustment Programs and Free Trade Agreements.

Neoliberal economists claim that their theory is a natural or scientific law. The rest of economists insist that the economy is a political choice and that its study should be restructured to accept “heterodox” concepts, of which neoliberalism is only one (with many worthy competitors).

Neoliberal national economic policy affects the operation of business (externalization), the rights and entitlements of citizens (austerity), as well as product safety and environmental protection laws (deregulation), even those proposed at sub-national levels. Basically any decision that increases the costs of production is vilified and any way to decrease the costs of production is valorized. That includes assaults on workers rights and working conditions.

Most of us are familiar with deskilling in manufacturing. It means designing the production line so that each worker does only one small job over and over, and it’s easy to train anyone to do that one thing. This increases flexibility and power for the company while decreasing the meaning, opportunities for development, and power of workers. Deskilling also applies to retail, where workers are no longer experts on what they are selling, and do not provide personal service to their customers, but just stock shelves and ring cash registers. It seems to me that the deskilling of manufacturing and retail depend on the deskilling of the customer, who is no longer able to assess quality of products, nor repair them.

That was a long windup to a short punchline:

Fundamentalist tango is neoliberal.

Fundamentalists distort and coopt a complex history by denying fusion, evolution, and the possibility of a heterodox tango.

Fundamentalism is bigoted and exclusionary toward those who don’t conform, insisting that its way is the “only” correct (“authentic”) way.

It prioritizes one goal (elegance) over every other possible agenda, resulting in a homogenous, repressive, and (proudly) exclusionary tango scene.

Like neoliberal manufacturing priorities, Fundamentalist tango deskills the people you depend on.


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