Neoliberals put faith in the virtues of the market they structure to favour established corporations. They call this “THE market,” or “THE free market” so people may not wonder if markets can be structured in any other way or any significantly different way. The “THE” implies this market is the only type of market there is, the only type possible. So this is one form of ignorance that neoliberals create – there are, and have been, many types of markets and societies in human history. There is no reason we could not have a more egalitarian, less destructive, more sustainable, or effective, market – or even all of these at once…
This particular form of ignorance is fundamental to neoliberal power, and could be said to be cultivated. However, there are other indirect types of ignorance or misinformation that circulate because of neoliberalism.
For example. Let us assume we accept the idea that THE market is the perfect information processor as Hayek and others have argued. Then:
Putting faith in this market as the arbiter of truth means that it is impossible to distinguish hype from reality, other than by success. Truth is what works in the market so, if hype works and produces profit or defers the business collapse of the hypers, then the hype is effectively or ‘pragmatically ‘true’, no matter how much destruction is caused, or how false the statements.
Attempts by humans to gain knowledge are useless, or pointless, as human knowledge cannot contain (or process) the information of THE market, so ignorance is to be valued, other than when it is used to constrain the market. As all knowledge is ignorance, other than knowledge that THE market is the best we can do, then all other knowledge is to be disallowed, especially if it contradicts the perfections of THE market.
If knowledge is pointless. then it is not worth having. Neoliberals truly did not need to know about coronavirus. Neoliberals did not need to know how we have slowed pandemics in the past. Neoliberals did not need to know about the consequences of ecological destruction. Neoliberals do not need to know about Climate Change. Neoliberals do not need to know about poverty, or the condition of the working poor. Indeed Neoliberals need everyone to be as ignorant, or misinformed, on these topics as possible
All neoliberals need to know is that THE market will solve the problem (if it is a problem), if THE market is left alone to do its work, because THE market is the perfect information processor, and human knowledge is beside the point.
That is; if climate change, or the energy system, or the pandemic, is a problem then THE market will fix it, as best it is possible to hope for. If people die, that is not a problem as long as its not the hyper-wealthy.
The idea that THE market always produces the best possible, result is both Neoliberal positive thinking and positive ignorance. You can only think THE market always produces the best possible result, by cultivating ignorance of history.
For example if THE market always delivers, then the answer to any problem with government service is to privatise it. You don’t have to do any research to find out if privatisation has worked well in the past, solved the problems which were alleged, or generated efficiencies; you just know that it must have worked well. In particular you don’t have to do research in to which forms of government provided service have been replaced adequately and which have not.
The ‘perfection of THE market’ is an article of faith, which cannot be contradicted by reality. We have a true ‘Vision of the anointed,’ full of self-congratulation to use Thomas Sowell’s terms. If there was such a contradiction between reality and THE market, then THE market could not be the ultimate decider of human virtue and fate, and powerful people might be disturbed by the actions of less powerful people.
Lack of knowledge amongst ordinary people is truly a good thing, as it stops them interfering with THE market – hence Murdoch and others.
Neoliberal ignorance also depends on cultivating people’s ignorance of the idea that markets are contained within planetary ecosystems.
If anything at all is the ‘perfect information processor,’ then it is the global ecology. Anything which disrupts that ecology is likely to be eventually wiped out as the ecology moves into its new form of chaotic equilibrium – and the wipe out is likely to include THE market.
Ecologies take no notice of human requirements, or human politics, or human power. Especially if the human systems not only cultivate ignorance of the ecologies they depend upon, but attempt to destroy them or subjugate them.
Neoliberalism heads towards the destruction of everything, and celebrates the process, by blocking its ears, eyes, mouth, touch and brains.
A friend writes:
How do the neoliberals square this idea of the market as always being the best approach given its failure in the dotcom bubble, and the GFC? They seem like clear counterexamples, and one only needs a single counterexample to disprove a theory.
I think that, in general, people always try and get around counter-examples rather than give up their theory, especially when its tied to their status, money, and ways of making sense of the world. However, I would agree that there seem to be a large number of counter examples as to the efficacy of THE market.
However, neoliberals always say that the crashes were caused by the government interfering with the market.
Given that the market has to have some regulation and that capitalists always seek to regulate for their own sectional benefit, they can always point to the existence of some regulation. A market which gives massively unequal wealth gives massively unequal power, and hence THE market is always structured by politics. Consequently, given the ease of blaming the government, rather than the corporately controlled market and government, they are never at a loss for a way out of the problem.
As well, the corporately owned and sponsored media tends not to blame the neoliberal, pro-corporate market for the problems of that market, and the counter examples can get hidden.
Australia made two big experiments in turning over government to private enterprise and they nearly resulted in the collapse of Victoria and West Australia.
With google I could only find one paywalled reference to Western Australia Inc. https://search.informit.org/…/INFORMIT.098371697477048