Neoliberalism in America: Why we’re in the s*** we’re in

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher heralded neoliberalism as the savior to the failing Keynesian global economic system. The theoretical underpinnings of neoliberalism insist that little to no governmental regulations, taxes, etc. will result in a prosperous economy for all as the benefits reaped by the wealthy will trickle-down to the working class, i.e. the rising tide lifts all boats rhetoric.

Neoliberalism is still the dominant manifestation of capitalism in today’s global political economy; however, it has resulted in extreme wealth inequality that is unsustainable for a productive society and has infiltrated society’s conscious to accept corporate greed as the norm.

From corporations underpaying employees, evading taxes, and eliminating competition, the resulting society is one where an increasingly monopolised and polarized system benefit the wealthy and provide little opportunity for the not-wealthy to advance. In the US, the top 1% owns 40% of the wealth. I’m all for winners and losers, but running a race when the opponent is driving a golf cart, seems a bit rigged. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, for 1979 in the US was 34.6; in 2016, it was 41.5, and as you guessed it, the higher the value, the higher the wealth inequality.

It’s been forty years, why does neoliberalism persist? It shouldn’t have. George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian, said that neoliberalism should have gone out the window with the 2008 financial recession when suddenly “free-market” advocates needed the government to intervene to bail out the banks that were too big to fail. Instead of reinstating regulations on the financial sector that FDR put in place in the New Deal after the Great Depression (and then gradually dismantled under the Carter and Reagan administrations), these big banks skirted moral capitalism yet again and are on their merry way evading necessary regulations and paving the way for their corporate compadres in other sectors to exploit the average Joe and spread the gospel of neoliberalism.

Will we have to wait until the next economic collapse before dismantling this oppressive system? Or will be able to diplomatically move towards a more economically progressive capitalism that actually protects employees and consumers? I’m afraid that the latter possibility is much less feasible as people in power tend not to want to relinquish it.

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