Neo-liberalism entails a set of economic ideologies that aim at changing the business environment in favor of private businesses through reduced restriction from the government and reduced levies, with a view of hedging the loss in profit that the private businesses have experienced in the period of the last 25 years. 1
Adam Smith a Scottish economist advocated for the eradication of government intervention on economic matters. Smith is the author of The Wealth of Nations published in 1776. Smith advocated that businesses operate without restrictions on manufacturing, without barriers to commerce, and without tariffs. He recommended free trade, as the best way that a nation’s economy can develop. Smith’s idea defines economic liberalism. Elizabeth et al, argues that capitalists would exploit Smith’s idea to make large profit margins. 2
Between 1800 and 1900, there was economic liberalism in America. After this period, the great depression followed in the 1930s. The incidence of the great depression led John Maynard Keynes to challenge liberalism. Maynard’s theory suggests that increased employment is necessary for an economy to grow. This growth is possible with the intervention of central banks and the government, to increase the recruitment of workers. President Roosevelt embraced Maynard’s idea and later the population experienced improved lifestyles. This proves that Maynard’s theory worked and this experience gave the rise of the idea that the government works towards common good. Therefore, government should be involved in economic matters. 3
Over the last 25 years, corporate businesses have experienced reduced profit margins. This has caused corporate businesses to restructure the idea of economic liberalism. The restructure gave rise to the new liberalism also referred to as neo-liberalism.
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Neo-Liberalism’s main points include:
1) The reduction government control in business operations, to maximize in profit even if it means destroying the environment.
2) Freeing businesses from any duties imposed by the government irrespective of the impact to the society, increased freedom of international trade like in NAFTA, Elimination of worker rights and de-unionizing workers to reduce wages, elimination of price controls and the freedom of movement of capital, goods and services.
3) Eradicating the concept of ‘ the public good’ and embracing individual responsibility.
4) A reduction of maintenance expenses on public amenities and infrastructure and reduced expenses on social services such as education and health services. The businesses also want government subsidies and tax benefits.
5) The transfer of all state owned firms to the private sector. 4
Most of the characteristics of neo-liberalization will be counterproductive to the intentions of the private businesses. For instance, the lack of government control would lead to unethical and negligent business practices such as careless oil spills, careless release of toxic gases to the atmosphere and deforestation just to mention a few, which will end up threatening human life, animal life and plant life on earth. Private businesses want to operate without paying levies to the government, but they forget that the government uses levies to build and maintain infrastructure as well as to pay military and police. All the services the government offers are important for the smooth operation of all businesses. The elimination of worker’s rights will result in the exploitation of workers through low pay and poor working environment. This will weaken the workers financially and morally. A financially weak worker is not in a position to purchase the private businesses’ goods and services therefore the private businesses experience reduced sales and profit which is contrary to the aim of neo-liberalism. The elimination of price controls for some goods will result in the unfair exploitation of consumers through unfair increase in prices. The neo-liberal perspective is about the selfish interests of private businesses disregarding the rest of the population’s interests. The execution of such ideology will lead to a rise in the cost of living, increased mortality rate due to lack of health services and increased civil unrest due to the rise in the cost of living, reduced wages and lack of employment.
Neo-liberalism is in force in Mexico and the effects include an increase in the cost of living, a reduction in wages, and the failure of several small businesses and the privatization of several state owned firms. The effect of neo-liberalism have also been felt in America through attack on labor, destruction of welfare programs, and reduced expenditure on social programs. 5
Canally says that critics have the feeling that capitalists are behind the neo-liberalization of public universities with the intention to control educational institutions and students. She points out that creating awareness is one approach to resists the privatization of public education. Canally also adds that the academic staff contribute to neo-liberalization via the grading of students. Therefore, she further argues that grading or not grading is a tool for fighting against neo-liberal policies in public education. Therefore, she advocates that the teachers boycott the grading system so that students can learn since it does not wholly cater for the learning that takes place in a learning institution. According to Canally, the grading system and hierarchical classification of teachers and students, deters the creativity and critical thought in the learning process. 6
Canally is strongly against grading in the school system since it encourages competition in school and in the end the capitalist employers pushing for neo-liberalism use grades to employ workers. Disbanding the grading system might disconnect the private business’ interest in public education, but I think that Canally’s idea is not complete since all human beings are unique with varying strengths and weaknesses therefore a grading system is necessary students. Grades show an individual’s strengths and weaknesses hence the individual can focus his/her energy on her strengths and use the strengths in career choice. Disbanding the grading system would be an obstacle to employment since an employer will have a hard time identifying an individual’s capabilities in carrying out specific tasks. Grading encourages competition, which motivates students to work harder, and the student can tell where he/she needs to put extra effort. It is through grading that a teacher can tell if the students understood various concepts or not. The elimination of the grading system would lead to reduced quality of education, since there is no measure of the teacher’s output and the students are no longer motivated to work hard to better themselves. The privatization of public schools is also not advisable since it puts profit making a top priority. The priority of a school should be to offer quality knowledge that is applicable in the future. 7
Jaisal Noor a correspondent with Democracy Now, interviewed teachers from Chicago one of the teachers commented that the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) is taking up the management of public schools, but he feel that they are not in a position to adequately improve education. The teacher adds that AUSL does not understand the urban schools nor does AUSL understand the students. The teacher also says that a schools management should always involve the community in the management of a school. Jaisla Noor explains that the Academy for Urban School Leadership is a private non-profit company with turnaround specialists. The Chicago Public School Board allocates a school to AUSL, and then AUSL fires all the personnel in that school and hires new personnel. AUSL is supposed to manage the school so that its performance improves. This is neo-liberalism at play since public school management shifts to a private organization. 8
The privatization of public schools will lead to the disorientation of students, since the new private management restructures the school. Some school personnel will lose their jobs in the process, which will deny them a source of income. The new management is a private firm that is interested in making profits therefore the school will be keen on collecting fees. Needy students will be on the losing end. The private management might not meet the needs of the students and the local community fully since they did not involve them in the restructuring, which can lead to conflicts between the school management and the local community.
The grading system of both teachers and students is important. On the student’s side, grading identifies a student’s strengths and weaknesses. The grades also act as a compass to the career that the student can choose. Depending on the grade scores, the teacher is aware on what topics to revisit and polish. The grading of teachers can act as a tool to better the teachers teaching skills since it might reflect that his/her teaching skills are not effective.
I have done exams, passed some units, and scored below average in others. The grades helped me to restructure my study program so that I could focus more attention to the units that I performed below average. This way, I was able to optimize my study schedule and to balance my scorecard. Otherwise, poor individual effort can lead to the poor performance of the students and the poor grading of the teacher as well. Therefore, the student’s individual effort also counts in improving performance.
Canally, Culum, “ Intervention – Where’s our agency? The role of grading in the neoliberalization of public universities,” Wilfrid Laurier University, http://antipodefoundation. org/2012/03/30/intervention-wheres-our-agency-the-role-of-grading-in-the-neoliberalization-of-public-universities/ (accessed June 23, 2012)
Democracy Now, “ Occupy Education: Teachers, Students Resist School Closings, Privatizations, Layoffs and Rankings,” Democracy Now, http://www. democracynow. org/2012/3/1/occupy_education_teachers_students_resist_school (accessed June 23, 2012)
Martinez, Elizabeth and Garcia, Arnoldo, “ What is Neoliberalism? A Brief Definition for Activists,” National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, http://corpwatch. org/article. php? id= 376 (accessed June 23, 2012)