Liberalism is still alive – it’s neoliberalism that’s the problem

David Boyle in The Guardian:

This also marked the break between liberalism and neoliberalism, as I explain in my new book The Death of Liberal Democracy?. Friedman argued that intellectual property was a kind of property, and must be defended as such, rather than – as it actually is – a temporary suspension of free trade to encourage innovation. That is why draft agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which purport to be about free trade, are actually about defending investments and trademarks.

Even more seriously, Friedman argued that monopoly didn’t matter, and – if it did happen – it was the fault of the government for over-regulating.

The first error led to the great heresy of neoliberalism, that corporations should be treated like human beings in legal terms. The second was a rejection of the most fundamental element in liberal economics, a defence against the over-concentration of market power. It was the very opposite of liberal free trade.

It explains why the dead hand of neoliberal orthodoxy has ignored monopolies as a problem as they grow in power over our lives, as we fall into the tyrannical clutches of companies we are virtually forced to buy from, such as Visa, Google or Amazon, or some toxic future merger, say TescoVirginWalmart.

So when Martin Kettle says that the era of post-liberalism is at hand, he is not talking about political liberalism – which is suddenly a relevant critique of monopoly power – he is talking about a liberal heresy called neoliberalism, which means almost precisely the opposite. And when John McDonnell hails the same post-liberalism (which actually sounds more like pre-liberalism) in his Labour conference speech – a vision of rival nations propping up their own steel industries (precisely the kind of waste that free trade was supposed to tackle), forced to pay more and more as the rivals pay more and more – he is missing the point.