With the rise of neoliberalism, there is not only an intensive growth of market rationality in societies but an increasing control of humans within social space.
Neoliberalism is the form of late capitalism that has emerged, beginning in the 1970’s, and is the predominant economic mode in the world. It proposes that all social and political actions can best be accomplished through the market, and with this attitude is also the implied demand that more and more people take on market discipline in their daily lives. Instead of a situation where “the personal is political” one will find that with neoliberalism “the personal is economic”. The market rationality becomes the major method of social interaction by way of capitalism’s extensive and intensive growth. Extensive growth is the spatial growth of the market, such as what would cross national borders to eventually encompass the entire globe. Intensive growth accompanies extensive growth and is the increasing commodification of culture that will occur in areas that have an established market system. Extensive growth crosses geographical borders quantitatively, while intensive growth crosses social boundaries qualitatively. As extensive growth determines the economic practices of areas such as nation-states, intensive growth redefines the social practices in areas where capitalism is already based. These two types of growth not only portray capitalism as the only way to engage in economics, but also the only way to engage in any type of social relationship. Neoliberalism imposes itself as the only reality as it grows, and from this position it engages in a deliberate regime of social control starting from the premise that society can not exist independent of capitalism and the market. Some, like former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, would claim that “there is no such thing as society” and that all relationships outside of the family are market relationships.
Among those who advocate for the market, describing it as “the free market”, there is the argument that the market is an emergent order that arises from a multiplicity of individual actions and is thus more effective than centralized economic planning. This statement is partially true, in the sense that it is more decentralized than direct government planning and that the input of information from each participant is much more accurate than the information at the top of a centralized hierarchy, but it goes through a stage of consolidation that counteracts some of its positive emergent properties. As the market grows and intensifies, it subordinates the local markets to such a degree as to create a global structure which alienates the possible free actions of individuals, abstracts value that was developed in communities, and enforces strict rules of exchange and other economic activity that contradicts the free decisions of individuals in their communities. In other words, the market always scales upward and never downward, and when the market reaches its highest point of growth and intensity it acts like an invisible machine that processes all social life for its own ends. Its ultimate end is the structural reproduction of capitalism itself. An impasse is thrown up between free people and their economic goals since everything is mediated by a global market. This phenomenon is common among many social structures, and it should be clear that any economic activity is a subset of the social field, where structures that are more than the sum of its parts can retroactively organize and shape the initial desires of its participants with the overall goal of structural reproduction. The result is the image of capitalism as the only natural state of social interaction, and the impossibility of any other alternative both in terms of thought and action.
The evolution of capitalism as a transcendent structure through neoliberalism can be mapped out by way of its ability to oppose actual voluntary exchange while presenting itself as the only way to engage in voluntary exchange. The transition from the sovereignty of monarchs to capitalism begins with the disruption of the commons. As the old sovereign orders were eroded through various democratic revolutions, there also occurred the enclosure of the commons which displaced many people from a source of land and production. The enclosure of the commons was a disruption of a way of economic life that was also the initial appropriation of the means of production. This appropriation of the means of production resulted in the emergence of labor as a separate factor in an economy. Peasants became independent labor, and for a brief moment existed as a free people who were liberated from feudal obligations with the possibility of owning their own means of production or acting cooperatively to achieve economic goals. However, this simultaneous political independence and economic independence was prevented when the commons were privatized and the only way to survive was through the selling of labor in the beginning of the factory system. The emergence of labor was followed by its subsumption by capital. Capital took on the identity of the only creators of value in production, and subsequently became the persona of the free individual in capitalism. This subsumption by capital also meant a process of internal control within such business entities as corporations. The wage system, which exacerbated the modern class divisions in an unequal hierarchy of power, was never necessary in order to promote voluntary exchange. In fact, the internal hierarchy of the corporate structure is a direct contradiction of the idea of free individuals in a market system. There is no contradiction between economic democracy at the workplace and voluntary exchange between equals. The internal control of corporations serves the sole purpose of the universalization of the labor force and the compartmentalization of labor actions. By creating an artificial unity that erases the unique economic needs of individual workers, making them interchangeable parts in a machine, they take on the identity of mere costs of production. By dividing up the production process into smaller and smaller units of action, individual skill or ability is no longer necessary and human labor becomes easier to regulate as well as replace. This process of control is a deliberate path taken instead of a more cooperative and democratic business structure that would have preserved voluntary exchange as well as the decentralized coordination of individual economic action. The fact that this path was taken after the enclosure of the commons demonstrates that those in power who were in danger of losing their authority during the time of political democratic change used the disruption of the commons as an opportunity to reestablish a new hierarchy in the heart of the call for economic freedom.
Historically, neoliberalism arose after the firm establishment of what is known as the welfare state or some other form of social democracy. After the Great Depression, many national economies in the West had various types of social safety nets and other public services alongside strong industrial manufacturing. Though these services did much good in the short-term for people, there is a strong disagreement as to its long-term effects or purposes. Some have argued that the welfare state and basic business regulation is only a stage toward socialism or centralized planning of the economy. However, the historical evidence has shown that the long-term purpose of welfare is to save capitalism from its own internal failures, contradictions, or growth limits. This trend began with the German government under Otto Von Bismark, continued through the reforms made by Theodore Roosevelt, and resulted in the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The purpose of each series of welfare and reforms were clear, to prevent a more comprehensive change through a socialist revolution of one kind or another. The fact that the government has become more centralized with each case is only a secondary feature, for with each series of reforms there is some achievement in terms of economic equality among citizens in order to coincide with the political equality guaranteed by law. The problem of centralized government can be dealt with through democratic restructuring and decentralization of political power, but the advocates of neoliberalism proposed the market as the cure for the perceived centralization, ignoring the need for some form of economic equality. Whenneoliberalism was applied in cases where the traditional manufacturing declined or there was some sort of financial crisis, its nature became more clear in stark contrast to the welfare state. Neoliberalism is the theory of the market, as well as the practice of governmentality. Through the rhetoric of the market as the only way to organize society, there was also the act of making individuals conform to a market discipline that regulated human behavior despite the fact that all talk about the market emphasized individual freedom. Governmentality is the set of practices that are used to govern people, and can be employed by both dictatorial or democratic governments as well as private institutions or settings. Its goal is the increase of the utility of people while at the same time increasing the docility of people. Within the framework of the market, people were required to be useful and productive as well as take on the responsibility for making economic choices that were in fact precluded choices. People were limited to passive consumption as the only expression of public opinion. The result is the incessant talk of freedom while there is the erosion of freedom through precluded choices and demands for discipline in the workplace. In short, neoliberalism served the purpose of being the structural recuperation of hierarchy, setting itself up as the only true alternative in times of economic crisis or emergency.
The spatial growth of capitalism is one that allows multiple features to emerge that are automatically dismissed in the rhetoric of freedom. Mercantilism, as the practice of nation-states controlling foreign markets for the goal of exclusive natural resources and customers, is in fact the extensive growth of the body of capitalism. Mercantilism is not necessarily a precapitalist phenomenon, but a feature that returns in capitalism especially in situations of scarcity or taking advantage of underdeveloped nations. The government in this case steps in as the instrument of neoliberalism. On the other hand, the enclosure of the commons is the intensive growth of the spirit of capitalism. Historically this enclosure repeats itself, first in terms of land and later in terms of intellectual copyright. This eradication of the commons of ideas coincides with the commodification of culture to such a degree as to be a deliberate erosion of social interactions outside of the market. The ebb and flow of the social sphere with its use of symbols and ideas becomes constricted when these symbols and ideas become privatized and subject to passive consumption. Corporate personhood, as the legal and political rights of corporations to the same degree as human citizens, insures the internal hierarchy of the centralization of capitalism. Each corporate form is centralized in its operations and organization, and is a direct dispute of the idea of the market as a decentralized network that communicates value. When corporations are allowed their internal hierarchy, then they are able to act with impunity within the market, having vastly more resources and abilities than average citizens. The appropriation of surplus value, set between the class relationship between those who supply labor and those who supply capital, is in turn the external hierarchy of the centralization of capitalism. What begins as an internal hierarchy of organization spills over into the economy with the formation of two classes, labor who is only able to survive in the economy and capital who is able to make claims of ownership and power. This hierarchy severely affects any foundation of political equality in a society. All of these features occur when capitalism becomes universalized through neoliberalism, and this universal status is made possible when neoliberalism expresses itself through spatial dimensions. This spatial growth gives the appearance of capitalism as natural, inevitable, and eternal.
The battle over the commons has been one of the clearest points where the growth of capitalism can be seen as also the growth of social control. The commons, both in terms of land and ideas as well as other examples, implies an alternative to the privatization of neoliberalism and the rhetoric of the market. With a commons, there is the possibility of universal access and shared ownership, alongside situations of abundance and the chance for cooperation to use and replenish the commons. Privatization, restricted use, class formation, and competition become senseless in regards to the commons and the type of social relationships they promote. Neoliberalism has used the idea of the “tragedy of the commons” as an explanation for why the commons must be privatized, that individual users will try to overuse the commons out of fear that others will overuse, and this perspective has been used continually to disrupt the operation of real commons throughout history. In other words, the disruption of the commons is an eternal process in the sense that attempts to privatize or enclose the commons will arise whenever the commons is formed among a social group. The “tragedy of the commons” ignores the fact that a commons can be regulated without being broken up into private property, with the fact that democracy can act as the most effective organization of the commons. But what must be noted is that this democratic alternative prevents the formation of a system of control through privatization where some participants are owners and others are not. The resulting hierarchy naturally develops in neoliberalism, while at the same time neoliberalism ignores hierarchies of power as relevant to its political and economic framework. In other words, neoliberalism proposes freedom while at the same time denying the existence of hierarchies that directly interfere with the expression of freedom.
The heart of the spatial dynamics of neoliberalism is found in the dichotomy between private and public property. Both private property and public property are subsets of the commons, the former a disjointed fragment of the commons while the latter is the government oversight of the commons. Public property exists as the gap between specific cases of private property, just as public roads and sidewalks exist in the spaces between private homes. Private property is individual ownership while public property is collective ownership, but because of the commons public property can be said to precede private property. For some time public property with its universal access was the background for individuals to acquire private property for their own free use. And in specific local cases it makes sense that the exclusive rights to some private property allows freedom to be expressed as long as it is embedded in a larger area of public property. But neoliberalism proposes that everything must be privatized, supposedly as the most effective and efficient way to manage property, and that all forms of public property be eliminated. The fact that is denied is that the individual in public property has an equality of ownership with other individuals, while collectively people in cases of private property have an inequality of ownership. Whenever an individual finds themselves in the private property of another, they are subject to the power of that other person. In contrast, everyone is equal in public property and that means that there is no hierarchy of power in public property. Here one will find that public property, closely resembling the characteristics of the commons, is in fact the true avenue of freedom. Freedom as free agency is the expression of individual desire. Free agency is the difference of quality where each individual is able to express their unique nature, but it is also the equivalence of quantity where there is equal access and opportunity to make use of the tools and resources that are needed to express freedom. These spatial factors of neoliberalism are clearest when there are attempts to privatize all public property, and thus create an environment where there would always be a hierarchy of power with no chance of a level playing field in any sense of public property or the commons.
Private property and public property need to exist side-by-side in the absence of the commons in order to give the best chance for freedom for all individuals in a society. But neoliberalism and its promotion of universal privatization develops an environment of social control through inequalities of power and market discipline. As neoliberalism grows late capitalism in the world, its effects on society is in stark contrast to its critique of centralized government planning of the economy. What began as a criticism turns into a demand for discipline, especially through the choices presented within the market of private property. It must be shown that capitalism is only a set of precluded choices internal to the market, but democracy is the original choice external to the market that can determine all other choices. Just as democracy is the best way to organize the commons, democracy allows individuals to make more expansive choices than mere passive consumption. These choices are made in a setting of equality so that no hierarchy prevents the expression of freedom of some for the empowerment of others. The best way to block the growth of neoliberalism is through the weaving together of democratic practices, the preservation of the commons, and guarantees of universal access both in a political and economic sense. This will result in a strong alternative to neoliberalism that does not revert to centralized planning but insures that power is shared equally among all participants of a society, thereby creating a setting of authentic freedom.