Neoliberalism in One Image

Now, the interesting question is whether those lines will keep falling, and what might rise in their place.



Update: For those who don’t know about google ngram. And for a more enlightening case study:

and especially:


  • Why so little attention in conversations about neoliberalism to where this is all happening? What about land and territory? As in, when it came to the VW emissions scandal, what planet exactly did these high-level executives think they were going to move to?

Your point about the role of space and place in neoliberalism is spot on. What is fascinating about the reading I’ve been doing about financial imaginaries, and their slow diffusion into our everyday thought, is that the abstraction required–of the individual, of their desires, and of the income that they earn (and the income they accumulate, because when you put on your finance glasses, all assets [“capital”] become nothing more than future income streams)–also entails a second-order abstraction from place or, more precisely, a conceptual annihilation of place.

“Making,” in this view, is just a combination of income streams to create further income streams, which are then distributed to the participants; consumption, too, happens nowhere, in an existential vaccuum, precisely alone; markets are not made of people or of computers or of actions or of anything at all, but simply exist as universal, ambient calculating devices, receiving and sending inputs and outputs without requiring any actual interface with the consuming, accumulating subject. We cannot learn anything about our wants, which have no where; we can learn only about how to feed them, anywhere, and only through the market, which is everywhere.

Now, this is almost but not quite hyperbole: it is not per se that e.g. the work of economic geographers is irrelevant. There is lip service, in the probabilistic characterization of futures in terms of “states of the world” that will determine the payouts from those assets, to the fact that these states will actually come to occur in a world. But the value of the “state” is in its realized income, not in the world. You can want to watch a Tahitian sunset, but the existence of Tahiti is irrelevant, reproducible, peripheral. The bodies, actions, performance, work, interpretations, decisions–all these, from within the perspective of the system, are obscene. And what is place but a gathering of bodies and actions, a complex of work and implementation, a site of interpretation and decision: an entangled jumble, doubly obscene. An abomination of unpriced value.

If you are a Volkswagen executive, the question is not what planet you will live on. The question is how the risk-weighted discounted future cost of getting caught impacts on the firm’s share value, and how the risk-weighted discounted future impact on share value of doing it anyway impacts on your present net worth. You must think against the planet as place. There is no planet; all states, after all, have their dollar price. When there is no more earth, we will simply plant gold.


Cezanne_HarlequinI am participating in a reading group on neoliberalism, or perhaps on “what we talk about when talk about when we talk about neoliberalism.”

Here is Hayek, within two contiguous pages (50-51) of his most-famous work, The Road to Serfdom:

  • “The intellectual history of the last sixty or eighty years is indeed a perfect illustration of the truth that in social evolution nothing is inevitable but thinking makes it so.
  • “Far from being appropriate only to comparatively simple conditions, it is the very complexity of the division of labour under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such co-ordination can be adequately brought about.”

One begins to understand, in reading the neoliberal canon, just what Strauss and his gang were on about when they suggested, given the low likelihood that authors of Hayek’s intelligence might accidentally contradict themselves so starkly, that the only reasonable reading is one that receives such glaring errors as a demand to read between the lines in a search for what the author might really mean.

The unthinkable alternative, of course, would be that Hayek was a fool, and one whose thinking has somehow come to seem inevitable.