Neoliberalism and Our Collective (selective?) Future
Last week members and friends of DePaul’s Institute for Nature and Culture gathered to watch and discuss a keynote lecture given by economic philosopher Phillip Mirowski delivered at the Life and Debt: Living Through the Financialisation of the Biosphere conference held at the University of Technology in Sydney Australia in 2012. Mirowski’s talk was eye-opening and compelling, provoking a spirited discussion, so much so that we thought we’d invite our readers to join us in discussing the critical issue raised by Mirowksi—and that is, neoliberalism.*
Mirowski is Carl Kroch Chair of Economics and the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame. His books include: More Heat Than Light: Economics as Social Physics (1989); Natural Images in Economic Thought: Markets Read in Tooth and Claw (ed.,1994); Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science (2002); The Road From Mt Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (with Dieter Plewhe, 2009) and Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science (2011). Mirowksi’s latest book, previewed in his keynote, was published this year: Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Verso, 2013).
“In this lecture, Professor Mirowski responds to the question of how it is that science came to be subordinate to economics and the very future of nature to be contingent upon the market.”
The lecture was brought to our attention by Tim Morton, who posted a link to it on his blog in early November commenting:
I wonder whether, given this talk, neoliberalism is a kind of monotheism of the hyperobject, where there is only one true hyperobject (the market). To counteract that, of course, requires not necessarily atheism but non-theism or something like polytheism.
“One true hyperobject”? Strong words and a couple of us here at INC think that’s an accurate description of our current condition. So please watch the lecture—60 minutes—and tell us your thoughts. What does a world mediated by markets qua markets look like: ecologically, politically, socially and morally? For a few thoughts about that you might want to check out Liam Heneghan’s essay, Only Mars Can Save Us Now for his keen reporting on a conference he attended in Boulder, Colorado in September (EC/Three Quarks 9-23-2013).
Are we inextricably bound to neoliberalism? If so, then what to do? One INC participant described neoliberalism as a “secular religion”. So what might a polytheism look like—especially one that can break the hegemonic hold of neoliberalism? What might Bruno Latour, another thinker the INC discusses often, add? In The Politics of Nature (Harvard 2004), Latour proposes an ecology of a collective—a democratically decided future unbounded by a hegemonic notion of nature. Does Latour’s thinking play into the hands of the neoliberal thought collective? Breakthrough (Houghton Mifflin 2009) authors Shellenberger and Nordhaus employed Latour’s work to proffer a “politics of possibility”—which seems to pave the way for a neoliberal future. What does ecological restoration mean in a neoliberal frame? Are proponents of novel ecosystems (e.g. Hobbs, Marris) actors bound within this hyperobject? In all these kinds of conversations, aren’t we talking about power? Who has it and how did they get it? How do they use it and why? And finally, is this something we can all live with, and well?
This seems to be a critical issue: what the environment is and what it will be depends on the forces involved. Neoliberalism is a mighty force, undetected by many. Please tell us what you think.
*In the lecture Mirowski uses Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate as a foil (The Nation, Nov. 9, 2011). Though not necessary to grasp Mirowski’s thesis, you can read the essay here.
**You can read a concise summary of Mirowski’s thesis in this essay, Beyond Denial: Neoliberalism, Climate and the Left (Mirowski, Walker, Abboud. Overland Journal Autumn 2013)