Friday, 13 November 2015

Has Neoliberalism Failed America? The American Inequality Series #3

The practice of neoliberal capitalism in the USA has been the focus of much debate. In this third instalment of The American Inequality Series, we will take a look at two of the key tenets of neoliberal capitalism: the beliefs in the right of the free-market to rule the economy, and in the idea that the pursuit of self-interest will lead to the best outcome for society.
Scottish icon Adam Smith, the 'Father of Modern
Economics', laid the foundations for much of
neoliberal economic theory.
Free markets rule
An idea that has dominated Western economics for quite some time now is marginal productivity theory- the idea of the competitive, regulation-light free market being the best instrument for aligning productivity, social benefits and private returns. Essentially, those who have skills that help them to be more productive will be in more demand in the competitive market- thus their ‘price’ (income, job benefits) will be higher than those incapable of being productivity. 

This meritocratic system is what most people would like- but the key question here is how to achieve this, and marginal productivity theory answers that the free market is most effective in doing so. So to examine their claim further, what are the tenets of free marketism in the USA? Is there a ‘laissez-faire’ approach, where markets are given total free reign, or a more regulated way to keep competition alive?

A popular argument against regulating fast food chains such
as McDonalds has been that the free market will itself find the
best solution over time.
Well, as is often the case, there is no definitive answer. US economic policy is not entirely coherent (no nation’s policy is); for example, observing the lack of regulation over fast food, that has contributed to the quadrupling of adolescent obesity between 1980 and 2012, one would think America is running a free market almost fully dependent on the ‘invisible hand’, that guides resources to where they are most needed by itself. Yet a glance at antitrust laws such as The Clayton Act, that bans the monopolistic practice of merging market dominators, suggests the contrary. 

Perhaps the most retold saying of Adam Smith is his thoughts on us as consumers, 
how "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest".

Theory states that the businessman inevitably has the contentment of his customers in his own self interests- if he doesn’t make the customer happy, the customer will not return to him and thus the businessman will lose out. So following his self interests will benefit both himself and his customers.
The internet is held often as an example of such a successful self-regulating market where companies such as Google and Facebook have succeeded of their own merit, while others such as and Myspace have felt the consequences of failing to appease the market.

However, free markets have been seen by many to be against the interests of the ‘customers’. Allowing American companies to outsource employment is a pertinent example. Free international trade has allowed companies (particularly in the primary and secondary sectors) to hire cheaper employment in places like China, resulting in a wave of job losses in America. In the decade 2000-10, US multinationals sent 2.4m jobs overseas, simultaneously putting 2.9m Americans out of work.
Gates' Microsoft dominated the computer market during
the 1990s. 
Monopolies such as that of Microsoft over the IT market in the 1990s highlighted further free market failure- a lumbering giant was unrestrained from crushing competition such as Netscape, resulting in a lack of choice that prevented any market self-regulation from taking place. If people didn’t like Windows or Internet Explorer, there was nothing else they could choose- they had to deal with it, without the democratic power free market theory promised.

Paul Samuelson (the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics), claimed how “utterly mistaken was the Milton Friedman notion that a market system could regulate itself”. And while free market has arguably created the environment for new businesses to prosper, it has failed to live up to its promise of market democracy- as recent monopolistic activity and the loss of domestic employment have shown, the consumers have little power over the market.
Mohammad Lone Editor