The Neoliberal State
The Neoliberal State
The role of the state in neoliberal theory is reasonably easy to define. The practice of neoliberalization has, however, evolved in such a way as to depart significantly from the template that theory provides. The somewhat chaotic evolution and uneven geographical development of state institutions, powers, and functions over the last thirty years suggests, furthermore, that the neoliberal state may be an unstable and contradictory political form. According to theory, the neoliberal state should favour strong individual private property rights, the rule of law, and the institutions of freely functioning markets and free trade. These are the institutional arrangements considered essential to guarantee individual freedoms. The legal framework is that of freely negotiated contractual obligations between juridical individuals in the marketplace. The sanctity of contracts and the individual right to freedom of action, expression, and choice must be protected. The state must therefore use its monopoly of the means of violence to preserve these freedoms at all costs. By extension, the freedom of businesses and corporations (legally regarded as individuals) to operate within this institutional framework of free markets and free trade is regarded as a fundamental good. Private enterprise and entrepreneurial initiative are seen as the keys to innovation and wealth creation. Intellectual property rights are protected (for example through patents) so as to encourage technological changes. Continuous increases in productivity should then deliver higher living standards to everyone. Under the assumption that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, or of ‘trickle down’, neoliberal theory holds that the elimination of poverty (both domestically and worldwide) can best be secured through free markets and free trade. Neoliberals are particularly assiduous in seeking the privatization of assets. The absence of clear private property rights––as in many developing countries––is seen as one of the greatest of all institutional barriers to economic development and the improvement of human welfare. Enclosure and the assignment of private property rights is considered the best way to protect against the socalled ‘tragedy of the commons’ (the tendency for individuals to irresponsibly super-exploit common property resources such as land and water).
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