Has neoliberalism ruined higher education?

Neoliberalism: Weltanschauung, ideology, conspiracy against humanity?

The Saturday essay in the business section of the Süddeutsche Zeitung is this time by Nikolaus Piper, in the print edition titled “The false enemy”. Piper is a trained economist and one of the economically liberal house spirits of the southern Germans. In his contribution he congratulates neoliberalism on its 80th birthday and sees it in the tradition of resistance against totalitarianism of the 20th century. Neoliberalism is liberal thinking, and never, in any way, to blame for the emergence of right-wing populism of the present:

“In fact, populism is a reaction to the stress of change that all modern industrial societies are exposed to: digitization, the rise of China as a trading power, demographic change and, first and foremost, migration. None of this has much to do with neoliberalism. "

Piper began with his train of thought in 1938, when liberals of different currents met at the “Colloque Walter Lippmann” in Paris to discuss the crises in the world at the time. There the term “neoliberalism” was born because the old liberalism and especially its laissez-faire thinking was seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution.

What Piper does not say: When we talk about “neoliberalism” today, we are referring to precisely that reinvigorated laissez-faire thinking that has shaped mainstream political and economic thought since the 1980s. The Mont Pèlerin Society would have been the right point of reference here, a round that Friedrich v. Hayek and from which, for example, the ordoliberals Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rustow quickly separated. The Mont Pèlerin Society is one of the early neoliberal think tanks that advocated a radical dismantling of the state. The association still exists today. The Friedrich A. von Hayek Society, founded in 1998, is less influential, but no less radical and from which even people like the FDP boss Lindner or the ex-BdI boss Henkel left in 2015: Because it drifted too far to the right. AfD people like Frau v. Storch or Alice Weidel, on the other hand, feel at home there.

None of that comes up with Piper. He sees “neoliberalism” simply as a historical success. His evidence:

“Who wants to go back to the times when you had to 'apply for' your phone from the state monopoly Deutsche Bundesport, which was gray, came from Siemens and was permanently connected to the socket? Who wanted to become right-wing populist because there are several cell phone providers? "

Such a characterization of the new neoliberalism can hardly be surpassed in bad taste and cynicism. Of course, nobody wants to go back to the days of the Federal Post Office's rotary dial telephones. But the new neoliberalism stands for something else:

“Neoliberalism is first and foremost a theory of political and economic action that assumes that people's prosperity is optimally promoted by releasing individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills (...). The role of the state is to create and maintain an institutional framework that is appropriate and conducive to such economic activity. For example, the state must guarantee the quality and general acceptance of money and also guarantee the necessary military, police and legal structures (...) that ensure the (...) proper functioning of the markets, if necessary with force. Even more: where there are no markets yet - for example for land, water, education, health care, social security or environmental pollution - they should be created (...). "(David Harvey: Kleine Geschichte des Neoliberalismus. Zürich 2008: 8)

Firstly, markets are not the solution to all distribution problems, e.g. because in some cases the "market exit" of non-solvent actors means misery, illness and death; secondly, markets also need targeted framework conditions where they fit. Ordoliberals have rightly insisted on this. Otherwise a privatized communal water supply can also rot, the railway withdraws from the area, the flexibility on the labor market is one-sided in favor of the companies, scarce food in the third world becomes objects of speculation, the housing costs rise immeasurably, banks have to pay billions If the consequences of their unregulated business are saved, the companies are unrestrainedly externalizing their environmental costs at the expense of the general public or, as in the USA, there is good health care only for those who can afford it. Those who fall behind in the process and are no longer seen in the successful society, give the populists their voice today - and the populists supposedly give their voice to the invisible: “I am your voice”.

The "stress of change to which all modern industrial societies are exposed" (Piper) certainly has many reasons, as well as right-wing populism. But that all of this has little to do with neoliberalism is a worldview that fades out reality based on interests, i.e. ideology. Piper himself briefly mentions the social upheavals of the neoliberal “reforms” that, based on Reagan's USA and Thatcher's Great Britain, have permeated the western world for more than 30 years, but he does not draw any conclusions from them. Looking back on the 1930s, he could well have found some good advice. A famous quote from Max Horkheimer, one of the representatives of the "Frankfurt School", comes from that period: "But if you don't want to talk about capitalism, you should also keep silent about fascism."