Dan O’Brien of the Irish Times is having trouble with the concept of Neo-Liberalism

Dan O’Brien complains in the Irish Times that financial and political  commentators have started coming under unfair criticism. It says a lot that after five years of recession and a near monopoly on political discourse that O’Brien is shocked to discover that there are in fact those who disagree with him. Ironically considering the title of his piece he builds a straw man argument against those who critique the dominant economic discourses.

In Ireland, a similar unhealthy trend in political debate is emerging. Reactionaries on the left of the political spectrum increasingly describe others very critically as “neoliberals” and policy proposals that are not state-led as forms of “neoliberalism”. The private creche scandal revealed by RTE is the most recent example this sort of name-calling, and it happens even though no political party, grouping or individual in Ireland describes itself/himself/herself as “neoliberal”.

Leaving aside the notion the notion that pro-market policies are viewed as simply common sense and in fact a ‘reality’ rather than an ideology that is adhered to, which is a common position in the Irish press; the question of neo-liberalism and the state is far more complex than O’Brien allows. After all the greatest state intervention since the crisis began has been the state guarantee of all private debt, which was done specifically to protect private markets. As discussed in an earlier piece on critical media review neo-liberal economics and politics has a close connection to the state which both guarantees and regulates it:

 While radical neo-liberal discourse can often be anti-state or anti political this is from the point of view of the social democratic re-distributive state  (or socialist appropriation) and state regulatory policies or programmes such as permanent employment or wage rates, here the state is seen to ‘interfere’ with the market. It is opposed to Keynesian demand interventionism. On the other hand an interventionist state to either defend or create markets is deemed permissible (Amble 2010 ). The role of the state therefore is to keep the market competition from either collective interests of monopolization, in that sense the neo-liberal state is regulatory.  That is to say nothing of protecting private property (and private markets) by force if necessary, up to and including from the state itself (through taxation). There is an anti democratic discourse which calls for the rule of ‘experts’ rather then those who must answer to the electorate or what is termed ‘political influence’. This is linked to elitism (Amble 2010).  When it comes to state enterprise there is an overall discourse of public sector enterprise being bad and private enterprise being good, except (so far) the repressive state apparatuses of the police and military.

The role of celebrity economists, opinion writers and much of the financial  media has been, as O’Brien himself consistently does, to normalise and depolitisise what should be contentious and  political decisions. This article in denying any real opposition to what are class based political decisions does more of the same.

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