I was supposed to have one of the busiest semester’s of my academic life on the conference circuit this semester. Three invited panels, one Paris workshop, one interdisciplinary conference, one Italy workshop, one development workshop. Two panels happened before coronovirus hit. The international travel has been canceled and I’m waiting on word that the last remaining events will be a no-go. If you told me at the beginning of the semester that these events would be canceled, I would have thought that the news when it came would be devastating. I’m surprised to learn that I’m relieved. In the age of neoliberalism, the freedom of the collective expectation that you will not and cannot be “investing in” the human capital that you are and that no one else can be either reminds me that the burden of the expectation is a constant weight.
I had to fly back to Athens from Rome last night after my week at the Collegium Phaenomenologicum. I had arranged to stay at a place I found at hotels.com that turned out to be the guest house of a residence in the town adjacent to the airport. Soon after I booked the place I received an email informing me that I would have to pay another €20 for a cleaning fee when I arrived. Since I was unable to cancel and had not been aware of this fee before I booked I requested that it be waived. The owner agreed. He kindly arranged an “airport shuttle,” which he said would be cheaper than a regular taxi at €15 each way. At the airport a man was waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it. He told me that the police had hassled him for stopping right outside the airport and so he had to park in the pay parking lot, which he told me cost €4. I was skeptical because I had been dropped off by a Greek colleague and I saw signs saying the first 20 minutes were free. We got to his cab and drove off. On the way he told me that he was old and tired. He also told me that the recent fires were in the area about 10-20 kilometers away.
I have been listening to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (the book website gives a pretty good overview of the book). Desmond followed I think 11 different people around Milwaukee in 2011 as they were evicted and tried to make do with very little money and an eviction on their record. The most striking revelation of the book is the perverse incentives that housing policies and laws create for landlords as well as tenants. For example, federal housing vouchers enable their holder to pay only a third of the rent, encouraging landlords to evict current occupants and jack up the rent to what is a good deal for the voucher holder but way above market value for the property, in effect making federal housing vouchers good for individuals but bad for poor people (public housing turns out to be much better than this privatizing move).
At the same time, I’ve been reading a number of things that have been written about the direction of the #metoo movement. Alecia Simmonds reviewed Linda Martín Alcoff’s book, Rape and Resistance, in the Australian Review of Books. Simmonds calls attention to questions Alcoff raises of the colonial history of juridical concepts of consent and property as they pertain to sexual violation and rape to ask how far they get us. Also this week I came across Ann Snitow’s piece, “Talking Back to the Patriarchy” in Dissent Magazine. She begins by averring that the #metoo movement is “simply marvelous.” But she goes on to articulate some worries. Generally, I find that the worries people raise (what about due process?!) tell us more about their investment in the status quo than real concerns about justice. But one line struck me in Snitow’s list of pressing worries: “fear of a misdirection of the eye toward individual “monsters” and away from the need for systemic change.” Indeed, this point seems most important.
The focus on individuals instead of systems is part of what allows #metoo to be for better off women. Even the systems that the women of Hollywood are trying to change seem far away from the systems of power non-celebrities work within and even further away from the systems of power that affect the poor. Read more
This post could have been called, “And then they came for me.” My employer is self-insuring and has experienced recent spikes in health care costs. Several years ago, employees saw their premiums rise considerably and last year they rose even higher. To respond to employee frustration with these increased costs that employees were asked to shoulder, my employer has now begun to offer high deductible health plans (HDHPs). HDHPs offer free preventative care, but everything else for the first $6000 or so (plans vary) must be paid out of pocket, negotiated at the insurance company’s rate, by the patient. After that, patients are responsible for 20% of costs. Alongside the HDHP, patients can set up a Health Savings Account (HSA). Patients can place a pre-tax portion of their paycheck into the HSA and draw on it through a card, like a flexpay account, but this account rolls over year to year. My employer is putting some money each year in each person’s HSA who chooses to take it. At this time, employees still have the option of taking the high premium regular insurance.
I have signed up for the HDHP and an HSA. The HSA is managed by a third party company, Employee Benefits Corporation who is paid by my employer to manage the HSA. Several days ago I received an email from Employee Benefits Corporation. The first line read, “Congratulations, this is your important first step to becoming a better healthcare consumer!”
From what I have described you can see how the HDHP and the HSA are meant to encourage patients to think of their health care as consumers and not as patients. This plan is how Republicans want to address health insurance coverage. Such a plan supposes that patients should think of health care as consumers who have to make wise chooses about how to use their money. I already started thinking like that in the transition to the HDHP. In December, I had a test done that I probably would have waited on and maybe never had done if I would have had them covered in the New Year, but I knew that I wouldn’t have coverage in the New Year. I also got a prescription filled early in order to get it filled under the previous health insurance coverage. Read more
This post originally appeared on Fit is a Feminist Issue and is crossposted with permission.
The strange algorithms of Facebook brought Sam B’s post from several years ago–“Am I really lapping people on the couch?”–to my feed last week. People like to talk about their athletic efforts and workout regimes in terms of how they are doing better than other people. At the yoga studio where I practice they regularly say at the end of class, “You did more in the last hour than most people will do this entire day.” This sentiment suggests that I did something worthwhile because it was better than what other people are doing.
But I hesitate to just blame my fellow athletes for thinking about our physical efforts in this way. This way of thinking is exercising under neoliberalism. If liberalism underwrites capitalism through the idea that individuals bear responsibility for their position in the world and private property requires the protection of the government, resistance to liberalism came from workers organizing for their rights against the ownership class. Neoliberalism demands that workers be considered as individuals, not as a collective with shared interests. If labor opposed capital under liberalism by arguing that labor is the source of wealth production, under neoliberalism workers themselves are viewed as human capital, and as human capital, of being responsible for their own precarious situation that being workers puts them in. As human capital, the workers bear their own risks. Under liberalism, workers could demand that working conditions be improved to protect them because they argued that their well-being was necessary for wealth production. Under neoliberalism, workers are made responsible for the conditions. Read more
Two days ago Terry Gross had journalist Evan Osnos on Fresh Air discussing a new phenomenon of super rich people in the tech industry making plans for the failure of the government, of the food supply, of the electrical grid, of our world as we know it. Osnos has an article in the current issue of The New Yorker on the same topic. He tells the story of a guy who decided to get laser surgery so that he wouldn’t be dependent on contacts or glasses when “we have trouble,” because the supply lines might dry up. That same guy bought some motorcycles, guns and ammo and a bunch of food so that he could get out of town and have some supplies when things go bad. Read more
We’ve been asking ourselves for years why certain voting blocs vote for the Republican Party apparently against their interest. The economic platform of the GOP does not seem to serve working class white men, but the racist dog whistles and socially conservative “family-values” appeals draw these voters in election after election. The neoliberalism of Hillary Clinton suggests that this same question should be asked of traditional Democratic voters who feel compelled to vote for the Democratic nominee to protect specific rights associated with identity politics. 7 intraparty caucuses are listed by the DNC in 1982, Donna Murch notes in this volume: “women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals” (92).
One contributor asks whether, if Roe were settled, many feminists would feel any compulsion at all to support the Democratic candidate cycle after cycle. Maureen Tkacik (“Abortion: The Politics of Failure”), founder of Jezebel, argues that this is the one issue that seems to unite women to the Democratic Party, despite the fact that Democrats haven’t been very good at making abortion safe and accessible to women. Tkacik maintains that the right to abortion is easier to exercise in Mexico, a country where that right does not exist. “This is telling because Hillary Clinton owes her chances at the presidency to abortion: and she’s not alone–it’s often Democrats’ unique selling proposition to women” (113).
But abortion cannot be the sum of feminist politics. Far more significant and far more central in making women’s lives, workers’ lives, people of color’s lives precarious are the neoliberal policies long supported by Hillary Clinton. Neoliberalism is the political and economic view that uses government to support and protect corporate interests, devolving risk to individual workers, who can be deemed too expensive to support. Tkacik concludes that it is telling that abortion has become the rallying cry of Clinton’s feminism:
Yet it makes sense from an insular Beltway fundraising perspective to focus on an issue that makes no demands–the opposite, really–of the oligarch class; this is probably a big reason why EMILY’s List has never dabbled in backing universal pre-K or paid maternity leave; a major reason “reproductive choice” has such a narrow and negative definition in the American political discourse. (123)
This collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone reminded me of how central was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in bringing the neoliberal state of affairs to American politics and making it commonplace. In three specific areas-education, welfare, and crime policy- Hillary and Bill Clinton were catalysts of change in American thinking such that these issues appear incontestable yet are severely damaging. Read more
As I discussed in this post earlier this month, pointing out contradiction in someone’s position as a means to convert them to your view doesn’t work. Most people recognize that holding contradictory positions is not a good thing, but few seem to think that such a charge demands of them that they change their minds or their ways. It isn’t even that they defend themselves and try to show that they don’t maintain contradictory views. They just aren’t moved by the charge. So pointing out contradictions, as enjoyable as it is, is probably not the best approach for changing people’s minds. Read more
Neoliberalism: What is it?
I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce. I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized. Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others. This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live. This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.
This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Read more