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Capitalism IS Crisis

NEOLIBERALISM AND CRISIS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

European University Institute
14th Mediterranean Research Meeting
Mersin (Turkey), 20-23 March 2013
Workshop 16: Neoliberalism and Crises in the Mediterranean: Causes, Policy Responses, Forms of Resistance

Galip Yalman,
Middle East Technical University, Turkey.
yalman@metu.edu.tr

Alfredo Saad-Filho,
University of London, UK
as59@soas.ac.uk

Abstract

Neoliberalism has been the dominant form of global capitalism since the early 1980s. Despite their political, historical, geographical and economic diversity, and their widely distinct modalities of integration into the world economy, this has also been the experience of several Mediterranean countries. Indeed, the tensions and displacements embedded within global neoliberalism are now nowhere more evident than in the Mediterranean region where they have led to a variety of political economic responses and/or regime changes. While the implementation of the neoliberal policy agenda has initiated a process of cumulative transformations in class relations and property rights, it has also propelled a variety of forms of resistance since it effectively undermined the ‘politics of redistribution’ which had hitherto seemed to characterize most of the countries across the region, albeit under different political regimes. Yet, the experiences of different Mediterranean countries seem to suggest a rather paradoxical outcome which requires further examination: the political and economic crises turn out to be the driving forces of neoliberal transformation as the outcome of these crises tends to be the reinforcement of the rule of neoliberalism.

This workshop is intended to provide a forum to discuss the impact of neoliberalism on both the state structures and the societal actors with a specific focus on the developments since the turn of the century across three main areas of the Mediterranean region: South European countries of the Eurozone, the ‘Arab Spring’ countries of North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey.

The sessions of the workshop will be planned so as to bring together participants working on different aspects of neoliberal transformation and its political, economic and social consequences in these three areas of the region. No doubt, there will be contributions by specialists residing within the region as well as outside it.

Description

Neoliberalism has been the dominant form of global capitalism since the early 1980s. As a hegemonic social, political and economic project, neoliberalism emerged gradually, both feeding upon and contributing to the partial disintegration of post-war Keynesian consensus in the West and developmentalism in the countries of the South. Neoliberal transitions in various countries have been based on the systematic use of state power at different scales – including the international, supra-national and national – to initiate a hegemonic project for the reconstitution of the rule of capital in most areas of social life. Despite their political, historical, geographical and economic diversity, and their widely distinct modalities of integration into the world economy, this has also been the experience of several Mediterranean countries. Indeed, the tensions and displacements embedded within global neoliberalism are now nowhere more evident than in the Mediterranean region. These have led to a variety of political economic responses and/or regime changes on different parts of the Mediterranean basin.

The neoliberal transitions have transformed the material basis of social reproduction, basically initiating what is referred as ‘debt-and speculation-driven’ model of capitalism. These changes include shifts in economic and social policy, property rights, the country’s mode of insertion into the international economy, and the modalities of exploitation and social domination. There has been significant changes in the traditional ways in which social welfare have been provided by the states, thereby undermining the role of the family as service provider. With the erosion in the material basis of modern citizenship (universal identity), the vacuum thus created tended to be filled by integrating subordinate classes into a web of financial relations through private pensions, consumer credit and mortgages and/or social support systems via charitable organizations and the like. The latter in turn has paved the ground for the emergence of a symbiotic relationship between Political Islam and neoliberalism in the countries of North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey.

The political counterpart of these processes has been the incremental limitation of the domestic political sphere through the insulation of ‘markets’ and investors from democratic and social accountability, and the imposition of a stronger imperative of labour control allegedly to promote international competitiveness. While the implementation of the neoliberal policy agenda has initiated a process of cumulative transformations in class relations and property rights – a process which has been characterised as “accumulation by dispossession”, it has also reduced the scope for universal welfare provision and led to regressive distributive shifts and higher unemployment and job insecurity in most countries. With concerted attacks on the trade union movements in many countries by the imposition of legislative constraints on their capacities to promote the interests of their membership, there was a deliberate attempt to discredit them as mechanisms of collective action. In many instances, the actual brunt of the neoliberal assault has been carried especially by the workers of the privatized companies who tended to lose their jobs in mass and were increasingly deprived of their social rights. Consequently, it has also propelled a variety of forms of resistance since it effectively undermined the ‘politics of redistribution’ which had hitherto seemed to characterize most of the countries across the region, albeit under different political regimes.

The inclination to remove the perceived obstacles to capital accumulation with the initiation of structural adjustment reforms, accompanied by the attempts to take politics out of the decision-making processes has often been in conflict with the contemplation of using the state to ensure the democratic legitimacy of the market order. That is to say, it underlines the need to widen the debate on neoliberalism by problematizing the extent to which the states of the region attempt to reconcile imperatives of the reforms with securing political legitimacy and social cohesion. Moreover, the protracted nature of the global financial crisis since 2008 could also be construed as a turning point whilst the theoretical edifice of neoliberalism has increasingly come under scrutiny with important implications on both the political and economic structures and practices. Yet, the experiences of different Mediterranean countries seem to suggest a rather paradoxical outcome which requires further examination: the political and economic crises turn out to be the driving forces of neoliberal transformation as the outcome of these crises tends to be the reinforcement of the rule of neoliberalism.

The unifying theme of the workshop pertains to the need of conceptualizing the impact of neoliberalism on both the state structures and the societal actors with a specific focus on the developments since the turn of the century across three main areas of the Mediterranean region: South European countries of the Eurozone, the ‘Arab Spring’ countries of North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey. The selection of these areas is especially pertinent for such a theoretical evaluation since the countries in each area have experienced in distinct ways and through diverse channels, the contradictions and limitations in neoliberalism through political regime shifts, changes of government and/or reconfiguration of state-civil society relations. The diverse dynamics entailed in these groups of states need not be an obstacle for the development of fruitful debates regarding the potential implications and transformations entailed in each.

The comparison of different ‘mechanisms’ involved in historically specific national contexts such as the transmission of policy discourses and/or accumulation strategies and/or different forms of financialisation which assume the need for change in the so-called path-dependent forms of state will, in turn, shed light about the ways in which different interests are structured. In this regard, the impact and management of the economic crises experienced, including the shift in priorities from price stability to financial stability, as well as the perceptions and attitudes of key international organisations such as the IMF, World Bank, European Central Bank, etc. should be taken into consideration. Furthermore, the forms of resistance against the repercussions of neoliberalism more generally tend to instigate the crisis of the state, hence the salience of democracy in many countries of the region as a negation of the status quo rather than its positive delineations become germane. This includes the ‘technocratic’ turn in such countries as Greece and Italy, the rise of neoliberal authoritarianism in Turkey, and the political transformations in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries.

Since there is yet no comparative analysis of these historical processes, such an endeavour will be of interest not only for enhancing our understanding of the processes of change experienced by the countries of the region, but also contribute to the theoretical advancement of the literature concerned in the fields of comparative politics and/or international political economy.

In the light of the above, thematic priorities of the workshop, without necessarily being exhaustive, can be summed as follows:

1. Transformation/adaptation of the states to the new realities (i.e. to changing configurations of power within the societies and/or changing modes of integration with the world economy/ European Union / Mediterranean region etc.)
– Changes in state forms and/or political regimes, structure of the political system
– Transformations taking place in the coercive apparatuses of states

2. Restructuring of the state in line with the requirements of a globalized market economy.
– The impact and management of the economic crises, including the shift in priorities from price stability to financial stability as an integral part of the process of financialisation, and the reproduction of neoliberalism
– The ways in which financialization developed through both old and new regulatory bodies
– Perceptions and attitudes of key international organisations
– Changes in property rights, legislation, regulation, economic role of the state.

3. Social welfare programmes, including their main features and limitations within the neoliberal order
– Changes in the traditional structures of social welfare provision, family as service provider, gender divisions, etc.
– The ever-increasing integration of ‘working people’ into capitalist financial relations.

4. Differentiated experience of the crises
– The resistances against neoliberalism more generally, the crises of the state in particular, and its implications for the processes of democratisation in the region
– The extent to which the forms of resistance experienced by the resisting workers/labouring classes made an impact on their consciousness and/or political orientations

It is envisaged that the workshop will include four sessions each comprising 3 or 4 papers examining each of the four topics listed above. Outcomes will include a set of publications, including one edited volume to be submitted to a highly-reputed academic publishing company (such as Routledge or Palgrave/Macmillan).

First published at: http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/news/distributed/european-university-institute-workshop-neoliberalism-and-crises-in-the-mediterranean-causes-policy-responses-forms-of-resistance-mersin-20-23-march-2013  

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