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THE MARKET AUTHORITARIAN TRANSITION

Marketization is commonly used almost interchangeably with democratization. It is almost “common sense” to consider that for democracy to emerge it must do so within a market system. In terms of development, it therefore makes intuitive sense that the greater the marketization the greater the potential for democratic transition. Nevertheless, such assumptions have been dramatically challenged when placed alongside actual processes of neoliberal transformation. Privatization and deregulation have been accompanied by and contributed to less rather than more democracy, in many if not most cases.

In the wake of such mass policies of marketization the world over, scholars have increasingly theorized a “new politics of development” (Carroll and Jarvis, 2014), in which the values of popular representation must be linked to and if necessary constrained by social forces that will ensure that countries implement long-term “reforms” (Cammack, 2012). Larry Summers, former US Secretary of the Treasury, warned of the “propensity for democracies to be short sighted” and the need “to find politically acceptable ways to ... preserve the benefits of democracy without letting popular forces destroy the economy that supports them” (Haggard and Webb, 1994: x-xii). For this reason, the implementation of marketization is often described as a type of “anti-politics” whereby economic change is initiated and made permanent through recourse to a variety of non-democratic methods (Roberts, 2010).

Such insights echo emerging views that neoliberalism actively weakens democracy. Specifically, it is asserted that it relies on a form of “technocratic” political leadership (Gualmini and Schmidt, 2013). Politicians are tasked, in this respect, with simply competently putting in place a market agenda of privatization and deregulation rather then encouraging public consultation and open ideological debate. Regionally in Europe, the financial crisis, which popularly signaled the need for a new “economic paradigm,” in fact allowed neoliberalism to become even more entrenched as part of a justified “authoritarianism of emergency” (Giannone, 2015). More generally, the high inequality associated with neoliberal economics and politics has a profoundly negative democratic impact (Wade, 2013).

The detrimental effect of neoliberalism for democracy in practice reflects its theoretical underpinnings as a form of socio-political governance. In particular, the advancement of marketization economically prioritizes ideologically complementary political values of efficiency and results over participation and deliberation. Neoliberal governance models such as “New Public Management” threaten substantive democracy due to their overriding ethos of managerialism (Box et al., 2001; Christensen and Lffigreid, 2002). Its recent evolution to “Public Value Management” is plagued by the same political concerns. While it ostensibly promotes greater consultation and incorporates certain corporatist features of social democracies (Bryson et al., 2014), their democratic credentials are severely compromised by their ultimate and intractable goal of instituting and expanding neoliberalism, leading consequently to the “downsizing of democracy” (Dahl and Soss, 2014).

Specific to themes of development, scholars have highlighted the perpetuation of neoliberalism internationally with similar political processes of “strategic participation.” For this reason, Cooke and Kothari (2001) ask critically if participation can be considered “the new tyranny?” Such forms of participation are often demanded and serve to make populations complicit to already determined policies of marketiz- ation (Mosse, 1994; Stirrat, 1996). More than simply reinforce the economic hegemony of neoliberal values, such “tyrannical participation” also bolsters political authoritarianism. The inclusion of these consultative measures allows for formally and informally non-democratic regimes to legitimize their own power and reform agenda. Such “participatory planning” permits, in this regard, private and public elites to organizationally “seek to secure the benefits (financial, political and symbolic) but avoid the costs of ‘participation’” (Mosse, 2001: 18).

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that authoritarianism has become so resurgent nationally, even in the face of rather massive international and popular pressures on developing countries to democratize. There is a rather contradictory tension between the “anti-politics” and strategic management demanded by marketization and the concurrent expectations for democracy. To deal with this tension, elites have tactically deployed liberal democratic institutions for maintaining what is in fact an authoritarian system. Witnessed is “the rise of competitive authoritarianism,” whereby different groups vie for repressive power through elections (Levitsky and Way, 2002). The consequences of such democratically sanctioned authoritarianism can, beyond reinforcing institutionalized repression, be quite violent as incumbents and opposition parties exhibit the “perils of pluralism” in literally fighting over the spoils of governing neoliberalism (Taylor et al., 2013).

This has led many to wonder if neoliberalism is at all compatible with democracy and democratization. Despite certain democratic pretensions, is it at its heart a project of capitalism at any cost? Does it leave open the space to fully engage in substantive democratic debate over its values or a deepening of democracy beyond its most basic liberal forms? Extending these lines of thought, Wendy Brown (2015) associates neoliberalism with “the undoing of the Demos.” In her view it is a time marked by the shift from “homo politicus to homo economicus,” symbolizing a modern politics that has been almost completely “economized.” “What happens to the constituent elements of democracy - its culture, subjects, principles and institutions,” she intones, “when neoliberal rationality saturates political life” (Brown, 2015: 27). The current era, for this reason, has been considered as profoundly “post-political” (Wilson and Swynge- douw, 2014).

While these critiques remain undeniable in their force, they nevertheless leave comparatively ignored a just as significant concern. There is more at stake than simply how neoliberalism is anti-political or the adverse relation of marketization to democratization. Instead, it must be asked how such economic transformations are explicitly politicizing individuals in support of them. Further, how is such politicization directly linked to prevailing discourses of corporate globalization? More precisely, how is globalization serving to frame development as a political fantasy of authoritarian capitalism?

 
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