By Dan Williams
Neoliberalism, like identity politics, has become one of the buzzwords people use to try to explain the bizarre state of affairs that is today’s world. Visiting author Junot Díaz used the word on four separate occasions when answering questions during his two talks Tuesday and Wednesday — with many in the audience nodding and verbally assenting to his castigations of this mysterious devil.
However, the word can easily become a catch-all phrase that is meaningless because of its broadness. Nevertheless, there are real instances of neoliberalist policies going into effect in the Iowa Legislature right now.
Let me characterize neoliberalism, in brief, as the politico-economic doctrines advanced by President Ronald Reagan, and continued by every president onward, which take a broadly laissez-faire, anti union, market-driven approach to the global economy. Domestic policies in turn reflect this globalist, free-market agenda.
There is also the cultural side of neoliberalism. Neoliberalist policy turns the government into a company, with its citizens as consumers. Neoliberalism and Marxism, you might say, are two opposite extremes of a view that sees people as essentially objects engaged in the exchange of material products.
Not many can publicly support neoliberalism anymore — not after the financial crisis of 2007-08, which showed how an unregulated free market can end up costing literally trillions of dollars because of a greedy elite. Indeed, one way of interpreting Trump’s election is as a reaction against the sort of globalist, neoliberal hegemony that Hillary Clinton represented.
A lot of Midwestern liberals and conservatives — meaning, basically, average people, who have a lot more in common with each other, by the way, regardless of their political affiliations, than with coastal elites — are against neoliberalism of some form or another. With the Republicans winning seats in state legislatures across the country, one would hope that the ordinary, working people who put them into office might get a break.
But the Republicans in Iowa, at least, are revealing that they are no more for ordinary working people than the corrupt Clintons and neoliberal Democrats. The Republican-controlled, Koch-brothers-backed Iowa Legislature passed a bill Thursday that takes away the collective-bargaining rights for 184,000 public-sector employees in the state. These include teachers, nurses, corrections officers, snowplow drivers, mental-health workers, janitors, maintenance workers, and other public employees.
Let me be clear: These people aren’t royalty; they’re not Wall Street; they’re not information economy hacks; they’re not overpaid lawyers, insurance salesmen, or greedy landlords. Plainly said, they are the people who do the real, on-the-ground, grunt work of the day-to-day business of running the state. They make sure the rest of us can go about our business in relative ease, quiet, and comfort. These people are just as essential as firefighters and police officers. It is a disgrace that the Republicans have rammed such a ridiculous and comically unimaginative bill through the Legislature.
The Republican bill isn’t going to improve the state. It is going to create a tumultuous environment for teachers, who will be encouraged to constantly search around for better pay instead of putting down roots in a specific community in which they can prosper in ways more than just economic. It will suck teachers and other employees away from rural areas, where there is less money, to the cities, where the pay is better, because they cannot rely on unions to protect and negotiate for them.
The state will not cease to function because of this bill, to be sure. We will go to work, go to school, drive on the roads, use public restrooms, go to public parks and libraries, and all the other things we do. Nevertheless, it is a serious blow to the public servants of the state of Iowa.