This ain\’t neoliberalism Mr. Monbiot

Neoliberals claim that we are best served by maximising market freedom and minimising the role of the state. The free market, left to its own devices, will deliver efficiency, choice and prosperity. The role of government should be confined to defence, protecting property, preventing monopolies and removing barriers to business. All other tasks would be better discharged by private enterprise.

And as a neoliberal I know these things.

What you\’ve described there is one form of libertarianism: not the same thing at all.

A neoliberal will readily admit that governments should do many more things than just those four.

We\’re entirely happy with the existence of a welfare state for example: just perhaps not the one we\’ve got. State involvement in education and health care is just lovely jubbly. Although we might argue that financing is the important role, not direct provision. We argue that there are indeed externalities which need to be corrected for: the ASI was a long term supporter of the London congestion charge for example. Currently argues for road pricing.

Climate change is an externality: I argue one that needs correcting for. It\’s true that I argue for an alteration to the market to solve it, via a carbon tax, rather than detailed regulation. But note that I\’ve not said that government has nothing to do with this.

Nor would I argue against subsidy to (if not, in some cases, direct provision of) public goods.

Neoliberalism differs from modern lefty type liberalism in only two important ways.

Firstly, we believe that the number of things that government is competent to deal with is rather smaller than lefty liberals seem to believe. We do thus argue that government should try to solve fewer problems: not because they\’re not problems but because we see them as not being solvable by the Man in Whitehall.

Secondly, we believe that market mechanisms (no, not markets unadorned, but market mechanisms as suitably tweaked) are often the best way to solve those problems that are amenable to a solution.

In short, you\’ve set up a strawman there and they are famously easy to fulminate agaionst. As you do.

8 thoughts on “This ain\’t neoliberalism Mr. Monbiot”

  1. Where did that “preventing monopolies” bit come from? Only Government can enforce monopolies. And should “removing barriers to business” not be “not erecting barriers to business”?

  2. Ian

    Some businesses are natural monopolies – the provision of water (imagine trying to create two water systems) and (once upon a time) telecoms, railways, utilities. Technology makes it possible to split some of these by dividing the carrier network and the provider of services now.


    Education is something that the state could well fund, but I am not convinced that it is something that it should provide. Once upon a time the economics of education provision might have made centralised provision desirable, but given that we can now monitor and disseminate outcomes, it isnt clear that the state should be involved in provision.

  3. Lots of pro-Statist arguments depend on straw men arguments.

    Criticism of the NHS is ignorantly (or more often deliberately) assumed to be a criticism of free healthcare. The fact that it’s the method of delivery being criticised rather than the price is simply too subtle a distinction for the media and politicians to engage in public debate about.

    Ignoring the true debate: Energy policy, Immigration, Europe, Climate Change, Education, Foreign Affairs, Democratic reform, Drugs policy, Crime and Policing. All areas using straw men to prevent debate.

  4. Ken, just to clarify, “provide” means to pay for in this context. What you’re arguing against is gov’t PRODUCTION of education.

  5. Considering the results the private education sector achieves, and even the homeschooling sector, compared to state production of education…..
    I’d not choose to inflict a public school on my kids if I ever have them. If they choose to go however I would not stop them.

  6. Martin

    Selective entry, not having to deal with disruptive kids, greater resources all help to explain superior performance of the private sector. However, just watching the NUT annual conference underlines the importance of not allowing producer capture.

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