Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

nicholls-teasdaleAlex Nicholls (University of Oxford) and Simon Teasdale (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Since the late 1990s the idea of social enterprise – broadly speaking businesses that trade for a social purpose –has received considerable academic and policy attention. It is probably fair to say that opinions are polarised. On the one hand we have those who see social enterprise as a new paradigm whereby localised civil society responses to social problems achieve financial sustainability through economic activity and regenerate and reinvigorate communities.  Alternatively critics, particularly from the left, see social enterprise as an extension of a neoliberal paradigm whereby policies to extend market discipline and competition have been extended throughout society, and responsibility for welfare provision moves from state to communities.

In a recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm, we developed recent work on policy paradigms (broadly speaking a coherent set of ideas and norms that specify policy goals, instruments and problems). Continue reading Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

Making sense of neoliberalism in the era of Brexit and Trump

Christopher ByrneChristopher Byrne, University of Exeter

The term neoliberalism is most commonly used to refer to the free market-oriented reforms enacted by right-wing governments in the UK and US throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and continued by ‘Third Way’ politicians such as Tony Blair in the UK and Gerhard Schroeder in Germany into the 2000s and beyond. Recently, mainly as a consequence of ‘Brexit’ — Britain’s rejection of EU membership in a 2016 referendum — and the victory of avowed economic nationalist Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election, there has been talk of the end of the neoliberal era. Continue reading Making sense of neoliberalism in the era of Brexit and Trump

Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

sarah-brown-from-ecprMessage from Sarah Brown, Journal Manager

To celebrate our most popular articles in 2016, you can access them free of charge throughout December and January from the links below.

Our most highly cited and recent articles this year have ranged from research articles such as rethinking depoliticisation: beyond the governmental  which reflects on a reappraisal of depoliticisation, offering a conceptual horizon beyond a fairly narrow state-centric approach; to an in-depth analysis of behavioural change mechanisms such as nudge set against the political context of neoliberalism in the politics of behaviour change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state; to two different case studies examining different aspects of their respective policies and politics: one on the water sector offering a critical evaluation of policy translation across countries entitled rethinking the travel of ideas, and one offering a new framework that both measures and explains policy change within the context of institutional change entitled measuring and explaining policy paradigm change.

Take some time out to catch up on our most read articles of 2016: Continue reading Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state

Will LeggettWill Leggett, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham, discusses his article, ‘The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state’ which is free to download in January 2015.

In 2013 there was controversy when it emerged in the UK that unemployed jobseekers had unwittingly been used as guinea pigs for a government experiment. They had been told to complete an online psychometric questionnaire called ‘MyStrengths’, with the threat of benefit withdrawal if they did not comply. Having entered their answers, participants were presented with apparently personalised electronic messages of ‘positive reinforcement’ eg that their answers had demonstrated a ‘love of learning’. But it later transpired that no matter what answers were entered, everybody received exactly the same messages. The real objective had been to indiscriminately instil positive psychology among the Continue reading The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state

The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state

Will LeggettWill Leggett, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham, discusses his article, ‘The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state’.

In 2013 there was controversy when it emerged in the UK that unemployed jobseekers had unwittingly been used as guinea pigs for a government experiment. They had been told to complete an online psychometric questionnaire called ‘MyStrengths’, with the threat of benefit withdrawal if they did not comply. Having entered their answers, participants were presented with apparently personalised electronic messages of ‘positive reinforcement’ eg that their answers had demonstrated a ‘love of learning’. But it later transpired that no matter what answers were entered, everybody received exactly the same messages. The real objective had been to indiscriminately instil positive psychology among the participants, rather than to meaningfully engage with them.

What had been exposed was a textbook, covert ‘behaviour change’ intervention. From the everyday choices of individuals (what to eat, to recycle) to the activities of errant corporations, behaviour change is a contemporary political buzzword. Of course, politics has always been about trying to shape attitudes and behaviour in some form, so what makes this agenda particularly prominent now? Three related factors stand out. The first is an increasingly complex, differentiated and individualised society, which presents challenges (eg in public health, climate change) that only widespread behaviour change on the part of both individuals and institutions can address. The second factor is political and ideological context. Thirty years of neoliberalism successfully discredited faith in direct, ‘command and control’ state action. The third factor is academic and intellectual, in the form of the rapid rise of the behavioural sciences, led by behavioural economics and psychology, which themselves operate in the advancing shadow of neuroscience. In the UK, these developments came to a head in the enthusiastic take up by the Coalition Government of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s bestselling book on ‘Nudge’ economics, and the corresponding establishment of a ‘Behavioural Insight Team’ – or ‘Nudge Unit’ – in the heart of Whitehall. The Unit has a wide-ranging brief across government, and its fingerprints were unmistakably on last year’s controversial jobseeker/positive psychology experiment.

My article in Policy & Politics examines the interesting assumptions about human action that are presented by Nudge. Most notably, Nudge moves away from the discredited idea that we are fully rational, consistent calculating machines, and instead tries to capture the role of our emotions, snap decisions and fallibility in making choices in various contexts. In particular, it draws our attention to the way our behaviour can be influenced by changes to our ‘choice environment’ (eg by changing the layout of products on supermarket shelving). Nudge’s argument is that policy should go with the grain of this all too human view of humans, rather than fighting against it in the hope we will make fully rational, optimum choices. For example, our inertia makes us prone to go with default options. Rather than futilely trying to overcome human inertia per se, it can be harnessed by policymakers using the default option eg making ‘opt in’ the default with regard to organ donation.

I also explore the complex and paradoxical politics of the behaviour change agenda. Thaler and Sunstein presented their project as a new ‘libertarian paternalism’. It is paternalistic, because nudgers are attempting to promote the best interests of ‘nudgees’ (eg to lose weight). But it is also libertarian in the sense that there is no compulsion, and the individual always ultimately has the option to choose differently/opt-out if they wish. Unsurprisingly, having set itself up as a new libertarian-paternalism, criticisms of Nudging have poured in from both these of these traditions. Paternalists (typically on the statist left) see in Nudge the ideological retreat of state action and responsibility for public goods. Conversely, libertarians (from both left and right) see Nudge as a sinister state incursion into our very brains and decision-making. This ambiguity is reflected in the party political take up of Nudge. Behavioural economic ideas were first encouraged in the UK by New Labour, and might be seen as a classic instance of the ‘nanny statism’ they were often accused of. And yet the behaviour change agenda has been even more enthusiastically co-opted by David Cameron and his anti-statist inner circle.

Beyond these familiar dichotomies, more thought needs to be given to the ways that behaviour change is recasting the state-citizen relation, and what alternative forms the behaviour change state might take. A ‘Nudging state’ risks depoliticising and diminishing our faith in positive state action. In the Nudging model, the state is just another voice trying to grab consumer attention in an already crowded market: it becomes no different to the private sector marketers and advertisers who have been subtly shaping our preferences for many decades. An alternative, social democratic approach could use the behaviour change agenda to reassert the importance of an active state, but in a way that develops more empowering models of citizen engagement than traditional command-and-control approaches. The important insights of behavioural theories should be heeded, but the traditional case for state regulation, mandates and bans needs to be sustained: it is increasingly clear some behaviour change will require a ‘shove’ rather than a nudge (eg smoking in public places). Simultaneously, the case needs to be made that the state is the only institution that can protect citizens against potentially undesirable or damaging attempts to shape their behaviour. This might take the form of direct regulation (eg curbing advertising aimed at children). More creatively, it could involve raising awareness of ubiquitous attempts to shape decision-making, and equipping citizens with the psychological and deliberative toolkit to define and implement – individually and collectively – their own behaviour change agenda. This would necessarily be linked to broader questions about the good society, rather than just immediate ‘choice environments’. So what emerges is a more complex vision of the modern social democratic state, in an age where behaviour change is an integral objective. Crucially, this recognises that behaviour change is not politically neutral, as some of Nudge’s advocates like to suggest. Instead, it raises fundamental questions about the citizen’s relationship to the state and the market, about which social democrats and neoliberals will have very different things to say.

The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state’ is part of the Policy & Politics January 14 issue (volume 42, number 1) and is available on Ingenta.

What’s to be done about capitalism? Everyday making and changing the world

Jonathan S. Davies
Jonathan S. Davies

Jonathan S. Davies discusses his article, Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism, part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

Decades of political domination by free marketeers have been very damaging for the left. With partial exceptions in some Latin American and northern European countries, varieties of ‘free market’ fundamentalism are now so ingrained as to be unquestioned, even unquestionable, by political elites. Mainstream social democratic parties have largely accepted the terms of this neoliberal hegemony: all prosperity depends on a healthy market economy, argued Tony Blair. With mass strikes being defeated and membership falling for decades, the trade unions too seem impotent in the face of this market hegemony. Worse still, far from provoking a successful challenge to neoliberal domination, the economic crisis of 2008 and after seems only to have entrenched it. At the sharpest end of the crisis in Greece, heroic struggles on the streets and in the workplaces, have failed to halt the relentless austerity drive. On the contrary, the Greek Labour Party (PASOK) chose to sacrifice its own political base and electoral credibility to drive through an unprecedentedly brutal cuts agenda, in order to save Greece’s membership of the Euro and make the country ‘competitive’.

With the organised left on the sidelines, many thinkers and activists have started looking for other ways of challenging the dominance of markets, corporations and authoritarian ‘austerian’ states. The basic idea of ‘everyday making’ is that despite everything, we have the capacity to do things differently if we choose. If only we stop devoting all our attention on criticising ‘the system’ and focus on our immediate experiences and capabilities, then another world is possible in the here and now. Everyday makers typically focus on practical action at the small-scale: from those in the craft movement trying to recover creative skills lost in mass production, to those wanting to build new economic practices through cooperatives and other forms of mutual endeavour. Everyday making is to build painstakingly in small spaces ignored or vacated by the profit economy.

My article explores the rich variety of approaches to everyday making, arguing that it is a mistake to give-up on challenging capitalism. I draw on the ideas of Karl Marx to argue that capitalism is no illusion, but very real and by its nature profoundly unstable and aggressively expansionary. This is not because capitalists necessarily want to behave like that, but they have to do so to continue making profits in ageing market economies. The governance of European austerity illustrates all too well how, driven by authoritarian states, the market encroaches further and further into public welfare and public space. Nothing is sacrosanct, including the economic alternatives celebrated by everyday makers. Since the crisis, for example, cooperatives have been firing employees and cutting wages just like ordinary businesses. They cannot do otherwise if they want to continue trading in the market economy. This is not to deny the importance of grassroots community campaigning – London Citizens has made a real difference through its fight for a living wage. It is rather to say that sustaining and building on success requires a challenge to market domination. In other words, everyday making itself poses questions about how economy and society as a whole are organised.

At the same time, it is clear that there is a strong, constructive relationship between everyday making and large-scale protest. In Turkey recently, we saw how a small-scale ‘everyday’ protest against the development of Taksim Gezi Park could quickly mushroom and generalise to encompass far more radical political demands. I argue that despite many defeats over the past 30 years, it is these mass demonstrations and strikes that have come closest to defeating austerity – and still have the greatest potential to do so. If so, the question is not whether to give up on system change in favour of everyday making, but rather how to further radicalise the explosive struggles that emerge from everyday life; how, that is, to take that final step from heroic resistance to victory. There are no easy answers to that question and the ideas of everyday makers have much to contribute to our visions of how another world may be possible. But they are not enough on their own.

Jonathan S. Davies

Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism is part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

The recurrent struggle for real democracy

Policy & Politics coverby Gary Bridge, Alex Marsh and David Sweeting, University of Bristol

The right to the city: the struggle for democracy in the urban public realm by Mark Purcell is available to download free during September.

In a lucid and compelling contribution to Policy & Politics, Mark Purcell confronts the progressive liberal line of those who warn of the dangers of austerity and urge the (re)instatement of a welfare state. He argues that while a conventional liberal-democratic state may be more desirable than a neo-liberal state, they both fall far short of what we can and ought to imagine democratic society to be. Drawing on the work of French intellectual Lefebvre, Purcell outlines for citizens a state of ‘autogestion’ – a process and struggle where citizens both individually and collectively take control. They take control not to cede power to oligarchical state institutions or powerful state actors, but instead to co-ordinate in leaderless, non-hierarchical groups analogous to rhizomes – ‘centreless assemblages in which any point or individual can connect to any other’.

As Purcell points out, this idea is not some abstract utopian notion of human organisation, but instead a recurrent feature of co-ordinated and democratic behaviour occurring spontaneously around the world in 2011, in sites such as Tahir Square in Cairo, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, and Zuccotti Park in New York. Rather than ‘lamenting these revelations as a failure’, we should, according to Purcell, ‘narrate the exhilaration that participant after participant reported having felt as they refused to be ruled and took on the challenge of ruling themselves… it is that joy and delight in discovering democracy and urban society that we must help to grow and spread’.

Purcell focuses on the urban public realm to develop his analysis, and his article is available free of charge in September. His is one of five contributions to the current themed issue of Policy & Politics (Volume 41, number 3, July 2013,) on ‘reconfiguring the local public realm’. This collection of papers aims to advance our understanding of local and urban governance and democracy through theoretical and empirical exploration of matters such as social movements, political participation, and institutional formation. Contributions are international, taking in global North and South, and are located both in theoretical literature and empirical analysis. Alongside Purcell’s contribution is a detailed empirical analysis of urban activism in Madrid by Andres Walliser; an examination of the potential of participatory forms of governance such as those found in Brazil to proliferate in the global south by Jeremy Seekings; a consideration of the relationships between state and civil society in Norway by Jacob Aars and Dag Arne Christensen; and, in a contribution that very much contrasts with Purcell’s, a consideration of the need on democratic grounds for powerful local government by Colin Copus, Melvin Wingfield, and David Sweeting.

Download Mark Purcell’s article here (free during September). Find out more about Policy & Politics at http://www.policypress.co.uk/journals_pap.asp