Postmodernism or neoliberalism? (2022)

The World Social Forum in Mexico City and the World Economic Forum in Davos both ended without conclusions. It is their normal way of working since they want to be nothing more than ‘open spaces’ where people meet, talk and listen.

There are many differences between them of course. However, in this article, I want to focus on one other common characteristic, approached from two very different logics.

When talking of two major global problems of today, poverty and inequality, both the World Social Forum and the World Economic Forum prefer to focus on their multi-dimensionality; that is they prefer to not speak of incomes and wealth.

For social movements, it is a kind of rejection of modern and materialistic thinking. Poverty, in their eyes, is mainly a problem of housing, lack of health, lack of a job, each time with psychological consequences. That is why poor people need help. Poverty, so they think, cannot be solved with money alone, it needs care and support. Poverty is a consequence of the hard, cold world we are living in. We should care for poor people with warm, direct solidarity, with love. Yes, poor people need money, but that is not the most important thing.

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For the global elites who put poverty reduction on their agenda some thirty years ago, this non-materialistic thinking is extremely useful. "Poor people rarely speak about money," said the World Bank in its interpretation of poor people’s stories about low wages and low market prices. The World Bank only sees a lack of skills and badly functioning markets. Take care of these skills and open up markets, so poverty will disappear. No social assistance with cash transfers are needed.

It is amazing to see that two ways of reasoning that are in every sense and meaning opposed to each other do arrive at the same conclusion. If we want to fight poverty, we have to look at its multi-dimensionality. I want to argue that both ways of reasoning are wrong. They are wrong for the very simple reason that with a decent income, most of the other dimensions of poverty disappear as rapidly as snow in summer. If you have money, you can have good housing, you can go to a doctor, you can send your children to school. With a serious social protection system that takes care of people with opportunities for education and cash transfers in case of need, people will always be able to pay for all the basic things they need. With livelihoods secured and an adequate standard of living, people will have less psychological problems, there will be less violence and less intolerance. And for the exceptional cases in which some problems remain, social workers can give all the help that is needed.

It is no wonder global elites do not want to speak about incomes. If you choose a definition of poverty that omits the income dimension, the solution for it will not need monetary resources. If the problem can seemingly be solved without any redistribution and, hence, without touching their own wealth, so much the better.

The best examples are female and child poverty. We have no statistics on the poverty of women, since all measurements are made at the level of households. How income is distributed within families, we do not know. Yet, we have whole libraries on the ‘feminization of poverty’. This is only possible if one omits the income dimension and if, in the same way as some UN organisations, one considers women to be not only biological mothers but also social mothers. One counts on them to produce all the public goods governments do not want to provide anymore, from community cohesion to child care and a solidarity economy. Poor women, then, become the strategy to overcome poverty. They are the ‘deserving poor’. Focusing on the feminization of poverty, then, becomes a very cheap way of fighting it. It rarely is an emancipatory policy, since the ‘empowerment’ of women does not look at their wages or labour conditions – it ignores the economic system that produces poverty and inequality. Socially poor mothers are a substitute for the welfare state.

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The other example is child poverty. Obviously, poor children live in poor families with parents who do not earn enough to give their children a decent standard of living. There are no poor children in non-poor families and there are no non-poor children in poor families. Yet, more and more attention goes to these poor kids without taking care of their parents. One can only be happy if public authorities do all they possibly can to provide children with the necessary nutritional resources and give them a decent education. But what about decent jobs and wages for their daddies and mummies? If one really believes in the autonomy and empowerment of poor people, should this not be a priority?

Fighting inequality: don’t look up!

The same argument can be used for inequality, although here, social movements will very rightly also point to the income and wealth dimension. But the wealthy themselves, from the World Bank to the Davos people, do not.

Today, inequalities have been individualised. We are all ‘unequal’ as woman, as black, as a migrant, as a disabled person… We have all become ‘intersectional’ and in such a world solidarity mechanisms are not easy to find. It is obvious that inequality will only be reflected on when it is experienced as too unfair. This problem cannot be dissociated from the ‘equality’ of all human beings, a vision introduced with western modernity. But who can say what a ‘just’ society of equals looks like?

This question is all the more interesting now that inequality has reached the international agenda. The annual Global Risk Reports of the World Economic Forum do mention it, but never extensively describe it or come with proposals to reduce it.

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The World Bank was as reluctant as Davos to look at inequality, but since its own researchers indicated that a too-high inequality hinders growth, it could not escape anymore. Fighting inequality now became a policy priority but the World Bank cleverly keeps looking down. Inequality will be tackled by raising the incomes of the poorest 40% in societies, as it already said in the 1970s! Don’t look up! The World Bank knows about possible solutions such as redistribution through taxes and transfers, but keeps warning that these also may hinder growth. Income and wealth redistribution is not on its agenda.

The consequence of this means we now get a lot of proposals about racial equity, LGBTQI+ anti-discrimination, digital inclusion, health equity, disability inclusion, and so on. Here again, social movements and NGOs gladly join the efforts, but as to the cost of living, who cares?

In fact, income and wealth inequalities today are so immense – just look at the Oxfam reports, or the more academic writings of researchers like Thomas Piketty or Branco Milanovic – that it is hard to believe this can be sustainable. Income and wealth inequalities are almost absent in the group up to 60 to 80% of the world population. They are entirely situated within the top income category, in fact, mainly the top 1%.

Poverty and inequality are made invisible

Multidimensional dimensions of poverty and inequality are interesting topics for research, but they do not take into account the real and tangible problems of people.

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In one of its famous reports on poverty, in 2000, the World Bank defined poverty as ‘vulnerability, lack of voice and lack of empowerment’. How can one define and quantify these problems? They are mechanisms for avoiding the consideration of the material reality of poverty. As if we did not know what poverty really is in a market economy: lack of resources to acquire what is needed to survive.

What happens with this multidimensional approach is that all these different dimensions of poverty are identified as being poverty itself, while they are only symptoms that can easily be reduced with decent incomes. As for the multidimensionality of inequality, such as racism and gender inequality, they are quite different problems that too often are ingrained in our societies. They cannot be treated in the same way as unequal access to education, to health care or to… incomes.

Time and again, we have to state that the real problems in our society – income and wealth, poverty and inequality – are made invisible. By focusing on their ‘multidimensionality’, poor people are being reduced to ‘others’; a different population who have a long way to go and with opportunities they need to seize at the right moment before they can become fully fledged members of our societies. Materialism-averse social movements should be aware of this and not support their Davos opponents.

Wealthy people do not want to share their wealth, they want to moralize and even blame the poor. Inequality is necessary, they claim, to make markets function and produce growth. However, economists know that this growth only benefits the rich and never reaches the poor. 38% of all additional wealth created since the mid-90s was taken up by the richest 1% of people.

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Poverty and inequality are not inevitable. They are political choices. Paradoxically, putting poverty and inequality on the international agenda did not help to reduce these unacceptable and unsustainable phenomena. On the contrary, by defining them as multidimensional and receiving the support of social movements that should know better, they completely ignore the essential characteristics of these problems. They created a semantic soup in which the ingredients got totally lost.

Poverty and wealth go hand in hand. Our current economic policies cannot provide enough resources for the poor, nor can they fulfil the moral needs of the wealthy. They create wealth and frustration, but need poverty and violence. If we really want a fairer world, we should first and foremost check our definitions. Poverty is a material deficit, wealth a deficit of moral values. If we want to reduce poverty, we should define wealth in terms of community values, of civilisation instead of money.

It can be useful to remember this brilliant conversation between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway: "The rich are different from us." "Yes, they have more money."

FAQs

What is the difference between modern liberalism and neoliberalism? ›

Neoliberalism is distinct from liberalism insofar as it does not advocate laissez-faire economic policy but instead is highly constructivist and advocates a strong state to bring about market-like reforms in every aspect of society.

What is the ideology of postmodernism? ›

postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.

What is the difference between postmodern and postmodernism? ›

One position maintains that post-modernity is a condition or state of being, or is concerned with changes to institutions and conditions (Giddens 1990) – whereas postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy that consciously responds to postmodern conditions, or seeks to move beyond or offers ...

What is another word for neoliberalism? ›

n. Liberalist, liberal, progressive.

Why is neoliberalism bad for developing countries? ›

Globally, the rolling out of neoliberal policies has led to a plethora of harmful socioeconomic consequences, including increased poverty, unemployment, and deterioration of income distribution (Rotarou and Sakellariou 2017; Collins et al. 2015).

What are the 5 characteristics of postmodernism? ›

5 Characteristics of Postmodern Literature
  • Embrace of randomness. Postmodern works reject the idea of absolute meaning and instead embrace randomness and disorder. ...
  • Playfulness. ...
  • Fragmentation. ...
  • Metafiction. ...
  • Intertextuality.
Jun 7, 2021

What is an example of postmodernism? ›

Postmodern movies aim to subvert highly-regarded expectations, which can be in the form of blending genres or messing with the narrative nature of a film. For example, Pulp Fiction is a Postmodern film for the way it tells the story out of the ordinary, upending our expectations of film structure.

Are we still in postmodernism? ›

Since the late 1990s there has been a small but growing feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion." However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the era succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream ...

What is postmodernism in today's society? ›

Post-Modernity refers to the view that the institutions and ways of living characteristic of Modernity have been replaced to such a profound extent that our society is fundamentally different to the 'modern' society. In contrast post-modernism is a term that refers to new ways of thinking about thought.

What is the characteristics of postmodernism? ›

Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence. Postmodernism is often associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction and post-structuralism.

Are we in the modern or postmodern era? ›

While the modern movement lasted 50 years, we have been in Postmodernism for at least 46 years. Most of the postmodern thinkers have passed away, and the "star system" architects are at retirement age. So far, we have not seen thoughts or ideas that announce a change, neither in architecture nor in culture.

How do you use neoliberal in a sentence? ›

How to use neoliberalism in a sentence. Since 1979, the dominant form of capitalism has been neoliberalism—a fiercely competitive, fiercely individualistic system of being, and that even animates the forms of activism that we have.

What is another word for good personality? ›

Affable — He's easy to talk to. Agreeable — He's enjoyable to talk to. Amiable — He's friendly and nice. Charming — He has a “magic” effect that makes people like him.

What's the opposite of personality? ›

What is the opposite of personality?
detachmentimpartiality
neutralityobjectivity

What is neoliberalism in human rights? ›

Neoliberal doctrine seeks to reduce the role of the state on which human rights depend for protection and implementation, including to diminish or even eliminate its social and welfare responsibilities.

How does neoliberalism affect education? ›

Neoliberalism sees education as extrinsically good as it enables the student (customer) to purchase a product that will increase his or her human capital and thus allow the student to secure a better job, as defined by salary and wealth.

How has neoliberalism affected social work? ›

Neoliberalism has impacted significantly on social work over recent decades. In particular, the profession has been subjugated to the demands of managerialism with its focus on ensuring practitioners complete bureaucracy speedily so as to ration resources and assess/manage risk.

What is a simple definition of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

FOLLOWING the great American modernist poets of the first decades of the 20th century -- Pound, Eliot, Williams -- Charles Olson is the father of the "postmodernists" of the second half of the century, bridging Pound & Co. to such major poets as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

What does postmodernism say is wrong with us? ›

What Postmodernists believe is wrong with us is adherence to metanarratives such as Christianity. There believe that there is "no room for an obedience to a nonhuman authority". Thus in turn created a new definition of what it meant to be human - "a matter of forgetting about eternity".

Is the 21st century postmodern? ›

In contrast, the '21st century' is a postmodern period – the 'post', in this sense, means 'after' modernity.

How does postmodernism impact society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What's next after postmodernism? ›

Metamodernism is the cultural code that comes after postmodernism.

Why is postmodernism dead? ›

Postmodernism has lost its value in part because it has oversaturated the market. And with the end of postmodernism's playfulness and affectation, we are better placed to construct a literature that engages earnestly with real-world problems.

When did postmodernism ended? ›

Some art historians believe the Post-Modern era ended at the beginning of the 21st Century and refer to the following period as Post Post-Modern.

Why is postmodernism bad for society? ›

Postmodernism reacted against the liberal humanism of the modernist artistic and intellectual movements, which its proponents saw as naïvely universalising a western, middle-class and male experience. It rejected philosophy which valued ethics, reason and clarity with the same accusation.

What is a disadvantage of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism had flaws from the beginning (as do all aesthetic theories.) For one thing, conceptions of “high and low” culture (and music) are not very descriptive. They are vague, create confusion, and provoke unnecessary ideological tension.

What's another word for postmodern? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodern, like: postmodernist, post-modern, postmodernism, postmodernity, modernity, post-modernism, modernism, , modernist, post-structuralist and post-enlightenment.

What is postmodernism culture? ›

Postmodern culture is characterized by the valuing of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology necessitates a valuation of variation and flexibility in the cultural sphere.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Modernist artists experimented with form, technique and processes rather than focusing on subjects, believing they could find a way of purely reflecting the modern world. While modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of scepticism and a suspicion of reason.

What are the different types of liberalism? ›

The diversity of liberalism can be gleaned from the numerous qualifiers that liberal thinkers and movements have attached to the very term "liberalism", including classical, egalitarian, economic, social, welfare state, ethical, humanist, deontological, perfectionist, democratic and institutional, to name a few.

What is the difference between realism and liberalism? ›

While liberalism offers an optimistic view of the global order, it's more about what the world ought to be. Realism is more about what the world is. For realists, a peaceful global order is desirable, but that's far from reality. Hence, they are pessimists.

What is neoliberalism in international relations? ›

Liberal institutionalism (or institutional liberalism or neoliberalism) is a theory of international relations that holds that international cooperation between states is feasible and sustainable, and that such cooperation can reduce conflict and competition. Neoliberalism is a revised version of liberalism.

What is the libertarian philosophy? ›

Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and political freedom, and minimize the state's encroachment on and violations of individual liberties; emphasizing pluralism, cosmopolitanism, cooperation, civil and political rights, bodily autonomy, free association, free trade, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom ...

What is theory of liberalism? ›

Liberalism is a school of thought within international relations theory which revolves around three interrelated principles: Rejection of power politics as the only possible outcome of international relations; it questions security/warfare principles of realism. Mutual benefits and international cooperation.

What is positive liberalism? ›

Positive liberty is the possession of the power and resources to act in the context of the structural limitations of the broader society which impacts a person's ability to act, as opposed to negative liberty, which is freedom from external restraint on one's actions.

Videos

1. Post Modernism and Neo liberalism
(PHILIP OLSON)
2. Noam Chomsky - Postmodernism I
(Chomsky's Philosophy)
3. Teaching in the community. Mini Lecture 2 (Post Modernism and Neoliberalism)
(Josiah Wilkes)
4. What Is Postmodernism and How Does It Affect Our Culture Today? | Dr. Jamie Dew
(LifeWay Christian Resources)
5. Jordan Peterson: Why You Have To Fight Postmodernism
(PhilosophyInsights)
6. Gio Pennacchietti - Art, the Right, Postmodernism and the Neoliberal aesthetic.
(Alex Kaschuta)

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