By: Simón Sedillo
Neoliberalism is a system of political economy. A system of political economy is a system of government and a system of economics working together. Simply put, political economies are systems of power and money. Neoliberalism is a system of power and money.
Neoliberalism is a system of power and money that prioritizes the interests of transnational corporations and financial institutions. It does not simply prioritize the interests of transnational corporations and financial institutions; it enforces them with a variety of very specific, political, economic, and military strategies. Therefore, a more complete definition would clarify that neoliberalism is a system of military political economy that prioritizes and enforces the interests of transnational corporations and financial institutions. In fact, it has become the most aggressive and prevalent system of military political economy in the world today.
Neoliberalism is also just a pretty way of saying capitalist imperialism. Capitalism is an economic (financial) system for making money. Imperialism is a political system for gaining power. While capitalism is a system for making money by whatever means necessary, imperialism means taking land, labor and resources by force for power. When we say capitalist imperialism what we are actually saying is: “The taking of land, labor, and resources by force for money and power.” This is why neoliberalism is a military political economy. The ultimate strategy for the taking of land, labor, and resources by force for money and power is militarism.
Neoliberalism as we know it today was born on September 11th, 1973, in the South American nation of Chile. The democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overturned by a military coup that was supported by the U.S. government with direct involvement by the Central Intelligence Agency and at least two major U.S. based transnational corporations: International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) and Anaconda Mining Corporation.
Immediately after Salvador Allende was assassinated, his administration was replaced by a military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet would go down in history as an absolute tyrant who would have dissidents thrown alive from helicopters. His opposition was detained in concentration camps, murdered, and tortured relentlessly by a military with commanding officers who had received training at the U.S. Army School of the Americas or S.O.A.
The U.S. Army School of the America’s (SOA) is a training school that was originally located in the Central American nation of Panama, and later moved to Columbus, Georgia, U.S.A. at Fort Benning. Today the school has changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but throughout Latin America, and especially in Chile it is known as the School of the Assassins.
The SOA is known for training Latin American military officials in military counterinsurgency strategies that included the use of violence, torture, coercion, political and mass media manipulation, and the imposition of several military dictators. If you want to learn more about the SOA check out SOAW.ORG, which is a watchdog organization that has exposed many of the SOA’s deepest secrets.
In 1973, as Pinochet took power by force with the use of SOA trained military officials, simultaneously a group of Chilean economists who received their university educations at the Chicago School of Economics simultaneously returned to Chile with an economic and political model for the military government of Chile. The book they came with was titled “The Brick: Foundations of the Political Economy of the Chilean Military Government”. This model imposed the interests of transnational corporations and financial institutions over the basic human and civil rights of the Chilean people. The neoliberal military political economy was born.
Since this era of military dictatorships throughout South and Central America, known as the “Dirty War Era,” neoliberalism has consistently attempted to give the illusion of progress towards social responsibility and “democracy” while, in fact, intentionally engaging in quite the opposite. Chile has been touted as a stellar example of how neoliberalism is a great success for democracy, which has never been true for the Chilean people or for the entirety of Latin America either.
What the neoliberals would have us believe is that they have finally figured out a democratic and socially responsible way of engaging in capitalist imperialism. This is the ultimate lie of neoliberalism. It is impossible to forcibly take peoples’ land, labor, and resources for power and money in a “democratic” and socially responsible way. Propaganda and mass media manipulation that champion this military political economy are as much fundamental elements of neoliberalism as are paramilitary death squads.
What neoliberalism does in fact do, is commodify life itself. The worth of human lives and of all living things on this earth is quantified. What is put on the scale is the worth of life over the worth of natural resources. On one end of the spectrum we have all living things on this earth including ourselves and the earth itself, and on the other end of the scale we have the economic value of natural resources and the desire to extract them. Our current climate crisis rests primarily on the shoulders of neoliberal extractivist and manufacturing policies with no regard for the environment whatsoever.
Neoliberalism, like capitalist imperialism has always reduced life as we know it into disposable variables in an economic equation. All forms of life on earth are considered disposable variables in an equation whose sole purpose is to gain wealth and power through the control of territory, extraction of natural resources, and the exploitation of labor. Neoliberalism in essence is a global system of oligarchy: A small group of people who have taken absolute control over the earth, its people, and its resources.
Entire ecosystems and entire sectors of society are considered disposable in this military political economy. Workers, students, teachers, farmers, peasants, black people, other people of color, Muslims, women, young people, poor people, indigenous people and in particular indigenous women are considered disposable and displaceable in this economic equation.
If one or several of these sectors of society begin to organize successfully for grassroots community-based self-determination, self-defense, and autonomy, they are no longer disposable variables, but instead become a military target for being the greatest threat to the neoliberal military political economy.
What we have learned through decades of surviving neoliberalism is that contrary to the dominant media narrative, the greatest threat to this military political economy has never been communism, terrorism, the narcotics trade, or so called “organized crime,” but rather grassroots community-based organizing for self-determination, self-defense, and autonomy. This is particularly true when it comes to a community defending a specific territory that holds an economic interest for governments, financial institutions, and transnational corporations. The vast majority of territories that are being defended are being defended by indigenous people across the globe.
The popular uprising that we are seeing in Chile today in 2019 is happening because neoliberalism has always consisted of fascist dictatorships pretending to be a democracies. This is not only true for Chile and all of Latin America, but for the whole world. The roots of neoliberalism are fascist military dictatorships, and though neoliberalism has tried to give the illusion of democracy, it has always been economic, political, and military fascism. Today we are undoubtedly seeing a worldwide shift towards unabated, full blown right wing fascism wherein authoritarian governments wish to impose this military political economy by even more force.
The industries, institutions, and governments that benefit the most from the neoliberal military political economy are the most profitable industries, the financial institutions that back them, and the governments of wealthiest countries in the world. These include, but are not limited to: mining, pharmaceutical, weapons, real estate, prison, manufacturing, food and agriculture, and mainstream media industries, and of course international financial and banking institutions.
In addition to industries, institutions, and governments which benefit the most from neoliberalism, the citizens of the wealthiest countries in the world also benefit greatly. They enjoy a certain peace, tranquility, and comfort that the rest of the world certainly does not. They don’t experience the constant brute force that militarized communities live through day in and day out. They have “basic” things like drinking water, running water, hot water, air conditioning and heat, electricity, food, medicine, education, and shelter.
In the most powerful countries in the world, neoliberalism provides products and merchandise to its citizens who have little or no consciousness of their origin: watches, phones, computers, tablets, video games, automobiles, planes, gasoline, shoes, clothes, jewelry, chocolate, etc.
There is a long list of minerals that must be mined in order to produce and maintain cutting edge communications technology. Where are these mines? Whose community is affected by them? Who is doing the actual mining? Are workers paid a fair wage? Do they have health consequences?
In terms of fashion it is no secret that the cotton industry exploits land and labor around the world. What about the laborers working to make your new blue jeans? Are they paid a fair wage, or are they exploited to provide you with a cheaper pair? You might say, “But wait my jeans aren’t cheap and I work hard to buy them.” What if I told you that most laborers in denim factories around the world would have to work two whole months in order to afford one pair of your jeans?
How about all that bling? Where do gold, silver, diamonds and platinum come from? Are there children mining it? What effect does its extraction have on the natural environment? Whose blood, sweat, and tears went into making that tennis bracelet, or those diamond studs that you got on sale at the mall?
And yet, with all of these products and merchandise, most citizens of wealthy countries are not reaping the billions in profits from these sales. In fact it would seem that most citizens are simply living blindly in prisons of their own comfort. Surrounded by the illusion of endless choices, like “which hair gel works best for me,” these privileged citizens are kept complacent. And this happens while transnational corporations, financial institutions, and politicians rake in the profits of the destructive natural resource extraction and exploited labor that goes into manufacturing all of these products.
All of these things are taken for granted, though they have always come upon the backs, sweat, and blood of others. Neoliberalism has been able to persist primarily by providing relative peace, tranquility, and comfort to a select group of privileged citizens in the most powerful nations in the world. This is not to say for example, that all U.S. citizens have the same privileges, and comforts, but rather that enough of the citizens with political agency in these countries enjoy the benefits of neoliberalism to have kept it alive and well all this time.
The rest of the population, in particular poor people in these powerful countries and average, everyday citizens around the world, are no longer believing the lie that neoliberalism is about peace, prosperity, and democracy. They can clearly and irrefutably see that neoliberalism is a violent and corrupt system of government, business, and finance that truly benefits a very select few while systematically subjugating and oppressing the rest of the world.
There are several questions you must answer for yourself about neoliberalism: Where on this spectrum do I stand? Am I one of the select few who truly benefits from neoliberalism? Am I one of the citizens of a country that is kept complacent by the comforts provided to me by neoliberalism? Am I one of the disposable variables in the economic equation of neoliberalism? Am I or is my community targeted by neoliberalism? Am I a threat to neoliberalism? Do I care that I may benefit, if even a little bit from neoliberalism, while others suffer its atrocities? Is my peace, tranquility, and comfort built upon the back sweat and blood of others through neoliberalism? Do I want to change this? What am I willing to do to change this?
Simón Sedillo teaches geopolitics and political economy and he also coordinates a study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico for native students from the USA. He has been teaching geopolitics and political economy in the US and Mexico for the last 15 years. Simón has a growing archive of workshops, lectures, articles, and documentary films about the effects of and community based resistance to neoliberalism, militarism, and white supremacy.