How do we see neoliberalism in our politics and governance today?
Neoliberalism’s set of beliefs is gospel. It acts as rules that all countries in the world have to abide by if they want economic development. There are many rules, but one of the major ones is that the government should not try to constrain, limit, or disincentivize the free market and free trade in any way. Another is that private companies should be able to handle utilities like water and energy, allowing competition to improve these public services.
Following these rules has inadvertently become a requirement under neoliberalism, because the fulfillment of these rules signals to international institutions (like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, and so on) that a state can be trusted with capital (through loans or grants) or that a state can be a reliable ally. Thomas Friedman calls this set of rules a “golden straitjacket,” because, while these rules are mere suggestions, countries don’t get much wiggle room in creating their economic policies — countries that don’t follow these rules will be perceived as hostile, backwards, or not trustworthy. Which means: no capital, no allies, no economic development.
At the end of the day, neoliberal policies are adopted to advance the economy (especially on the world stage), but it does this at the expense of the masses, who don’t have the means to compete with multinational corporations.
Often, neoliberal ideals conflict with the economic policies that developing nations might need. This is a simple example that deserves much more nuance, but for our purposes of understanding this point: Remember what your Twitter feed looked like when Ikea announced that it would open its largest store here? A major apprehension was that its presence would kill the Philippine furniture industry, which is largely composed of small to medium enterprises, which may be true, because these SMEs won’t be able to compete with them.
At the end of the day, neoliberal policies are adopted to advance the economy (especially on the world stage), but it does this at the expense of the masses, who don’t have the means to compete with multinational corporations. Worse, they struggle to even have the resources to get the opportunities to try to compete with them, like good public education, food, decent housing, and public healthcare.
Ideally, a government that genuinely represents their constituents should address this. We even have a partylist system to ensure that the concerns of marginalized sectors are truly heard and acted on. But policymakers disproportionately represent their corporate backers, and they get to decide what bills to pass, what trade agreements to sign. The political arena is full of competing interests, but you already know who wins.