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Neoliberalism

    Recent socio-political discussions have often been focused on the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The very wealthy control an enormous percentage of money while many Americans are swamped with debt and financial fears. One of the key ideas behind this trend is neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a political leaning that has dominated the American political sphere since the Reagan administration, with both Republicans and Democrats fitting neatly into neoliberalist categories. Founded on the principle that the free market economy, left to run on its own, can be trusted to bring success and wealth, neoliberalist policies often favor the rich. This generally results in deregulation of businesses, privatization of services, and free trade to boost the economy, hoping that the money that this generates for the wealthy will eventually trickle down, providing huge benefits to the elites and coincidental improvement in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. In reality, these economic and social policies have been detrimental to the lower and middle classes, resulting in the consolidation of power that politicians and big business can use to their own advantage.
    In the current presidential race, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been accused of acting as agents of neoliberalism, but this may be especially true of Clinton, whose policy decisions in the past have been clearly neoliberal. Former president Bill Clinton put his own spin on neoliberalism, using the free trade portions but shedding the militarism, social conservatism and environmental indifference that had been associated with it from the Reagan era, effectively splitting neoliberalism into republican and democratic “flavors.” Hillary Clinton shows every indication that she will continue with Bill Clinton’s style of neoliberalism, supporting free trade agreements and a certain amount of deregulation.
    Neoliberalism has been the continual enemy of the middle class. During the presidential debates Clinton was asked about her thoughts on NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which was enacted, with her support, by the Bill Clinton administration. NAFTA is an agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico that allows for less-restricted trade between the three nations. Supporters claimed that free trade would lead to decreased prices for goods, but in the end it resulted in the loss of many American jobs, reduced wages and benefits for American workers, and damage to unions. By saying that U.S. businesses could relocate production to other countries and then sell these products back to America, NAFTA seriously injured the bargaining power of American workers. The consequence of this has been economic stagnation and redistribution of wealth and power in favor of the elites. In the past, a workers’ union would say that the workers needed higher pay or better benefits, and eventually the companies in question would have to negotiate and improve, but in the modern market companies are more able to refuse to improve, instead moving work to another country. This, along with deregulation of banks and other industries, culminated in the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
    If the past decade has tried to teach us anything, it is that the free market cannot be given the measure of faith that neoliberal politicians and supports have entrusted it with. By relying on competition and consumption to drive America to success, neoliberalism has attempted to destroy the concept of the public good. Even the Affordable Care Act is, ideologically, neoliberal in that it depends on private insurance companies rather than public options. Neoliberalism advocates for reduced social spending in favor of increased breaks for big businesses, falsely assuming that the economic gains of the latter will benefit the former. In practice, neoliberalism does not contribute to social equity, instead fueling racial, gender and socioeconomic divides. For example, neoliberalism has historically advocated for “color-blindness,” propagating the idea that the best way to end racism is to ignore it, resulting in cases of racism being dismissed as isolated occurrences instead of pieces of the continued trend of racism. Connectedly, neoliberalism has been linked with mass incarceration of poor, generally non-white, Americans, reflecting the inability to constructively deal with the social instability within economically-marginalized populations. This is paired with the tendency to be lenient with the crimes of those in the upper echelons of society, such as economic crimes (fraud, insider trading, etc.), or perhaps the email scandals that have dominated the anti-Clinton crusade.
    Neoliberal policies can often appear “left-ish” while still effectively putting power and wealth in the hands of the elite. It must be acknowledged that most Americans are not trying to “make money” or rise to the top. The lower class wants to survive and the middle class wants to be comfortable. Hillary Clinton, while nodding to social issues and socio-economic inequality, tends towards policies that further inequality and unequal distributions of wealth and power.

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