Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Primer on Neoliberalism from Fiorillo

UPDATED: July 6, 8AM

There was a good debate at Gotham Schools the other day that led to this interchange on the issue of neoliberalism. The discussion came out of the Eric Nadelstern story which is worth reading -- I will comment on that in another blog.

Use of the word "liberal" confuses people who think it refers to classic American liberalism -- or the left. Claucius asked that very question of Michael Fiorillo who responded in a concise manner.

Michael Fiorillo (unregistered) wrote:
The consequences of Nadelstern's implementation of Bloomberg and Klein's policies - a power grab intended to shut out stakeholders, administrative dominance (increasingly wielded by people explicitly chosen for their minimal teaching experience), constant disruption and destabilization, undermining of teacher's professional autonomy, etc. -  have been anything but unintentional.  On the contrary, they are central to the neoliberal project to privatize the schools and turn them into profit centers. If he failed to see that, it was his opportunism that blinded him.Disruption, destabilization and creating a climate of fear and intimidation in the schools is the only thing these people are competent at. To re-phrase Tacitus, they create a desolation and call it learning.
 claudius (unregistered) wrote, in response to Michael Fiorillo (unregistered):
 Not sure why you call these policies "neoliberal". Privatization of state institutions, education as profit centers, and attacks on civil service employees and unions hardly seems liberal in any traditional sense of the term. Neo-conservative seems more appropriate to me.  But hey, I'm just a teacher and don't have time these days after lesson plans, teaching, and all the new time killers principals think up to keep teacher running to follow the new political terminology here. I am trying though and have learned that we need more "rigor" in my "failing school" so we can be more "accountable". So help me out Michael.

Michael Fiorillo (unregistered) wrote:

You're right, there's nothing "liberal" (in the mid-20th century sense of the term) about union busting and privatizing the common wealth of society, but that's exactly what Neoliberalism is about.

Instead, you have to think about the word's earlier, 19th century meaning, which essentially meant laissez faire and absolute property rights. That old, New Deal-ish liberalism that Rush Limbaugh loves to bark about - pluralism, the common good, labor rights as a necessary brake on the built-in nastiness of unregulated business - was interred by Bill Clinton in the '90's, replaced by NAFTA and other trade agreements that undermine living and wage standards, elimination of social safety nets that have further lowered wages, economic domination by Finance at the expense of the broader economy (thus the omnipresence of Wall Street in every corner of so-called education reform) and the almost complete absorption of the Democrats into little more than a self-deluded and less visibly insane wing of The Money Party.

Of course, Neoliberals trumpet their social liberalism - support for gay and abortion rights, which are good things - but that costs them nothing, and in the case of abortion, keeps their employees more productive (see Michael Bloomberg's feelings about this in testimony given at a sexual discrimination suit he faced:

Sure, they're big social liberals, but the minute someone wants a pay raise, or some say on the job, or simply wants to teach without being continually blamed for problems not of their  making and interfered with by arrogant know-nothings, out come the knives (for the good of the children, of course!).

Here are two links that describe neoliberalism far better than I can:

The second link is to an article by the eminent geographer David Harvey, who lays it all out.
Link to comment

Thanks for the clarification of "neo" liberalism. I was aware of the much older definition of liberalism, which goes back to the Whig party in Britain if I remember correctly. Before becoming a teacher, I worked on Wall St. where a lot of my colleagues were libertarians a la Ayn Rand, so I am aware of this socially "liberal" streak in the conservative movement. Still, neoliberalism seems a somewhat anachronistic use of the term liberal in today's context, at least to me. Additionally, as a teacher who automatically receives free copies of the NY Post every day, I am  aware of the relentless propaganda battle being waged in the press, so naturally I am suspicious of who is defining what terms for their own interest. Otherwise I am in much agreement with what you say and appreciate your many comments.


  1. Thanks Michael for the lesson. Your explanation of neoliberalism is a good place to start when understanding the big picture of what passes for education reform. They are so many moving pieces and people are confused with the labels of Democrat and Republican too (remember Michelle Rhee is a registered Dem!) Now it would be really helpful to keep track of the players – who’s on whose side? We could start with the mayors of LA, NYC, Chicago, Newark, etc., then move on to the “philanthropists” like Gates and professional “reformers” such as Wendy Kopp. Oh and let’s not forget the President of the United States.

  2. Michele,

    Yes, let's not forget the President of the United States, aka The Great Imposter.

    More and more, and certainly in regard to so-called education reform, party labels are meaningless. The Democrats have become a stealth vehicle for privatization of the schools. The hostile takeover of the public schools and the breaking of the teachers unions is a matter of ruling class consensus, and without open revolt on the part of parents, students and teachers will go forward no matter who is mayor or president.

    Should Obama be re-elected, he will go after Social Security, since just as you needed a Republican (Nixon) to open trade with the Godless Red Chinese, so too do you need a Democrat to attack Social Security.

  3. I really wish Michael had a blog. The comments he leaves on here, NYC Educator, Perdido Street and my site are generally brilliant and insightful. I remember the meeting the nascent MORE caucus had on March 10 and the discussion that was being had about what our platform should be. Michael's points were all dead on. We could have voted right there at that point and adopted all of his points wholesale without changing them and we would have had one heck of a platform right then and there. MORE has a great platform anyway, but I was really impressed with what he brought to the table. He can guest blog for me anytime.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating).