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Neoliberalism  

Jessica Toft

Neoliberalism is an international, transdisciplinary, and interdisciplinary concept with political, economic, and social dimensions. Neoliberalism is a governing rationality based on market logic that protects free markets by reducing business regulations, restricting citizen and resident welfare state protections, and increasing welfare state discipline. This entails three dimensions: First, neoliberalism consists of economic governing principles to benefit free markets both globally and domestically to the advantage of corporations and economic elites. Second, this includes concurrent state governing principles to limit welfare state protections and impose disciplinary governance so service users will be individually responsible and take up precarious work. A third component is neoliberal governmentality—the ways neoliberalism shapes society’s members through the state to govern themselves as compliant market actors. Neoliberalism is at its core a political reasoning, organizing society around principles of market rationality, from governance structure to social institutions to individual behavior in which individuals should behave as responsible and accountable market actors. Among its central tenets are that individuals should behave as independent responsible market actors; the social welfare state should be downsized and delegated to lower levels of government; and public welfare should be privatized, marketized, and commodified. While neoliberal policy design sets public provision parameters, its signature tool is to govern through state public administration. New public managerialism is a common example, as is managerialism more generally; they both borrow business management principles and apply them to the management of all aspects of social services. Because of its prescriptive nature, there is concern that neoliberalism dictates practice, threatening professional authority of social workers and challenging the implicit trust the public puts in professions. Writ large, there are concerns about democracy itself as neoliberalism works against the will of the people and collective responses to social problems. Resistance to neoliberalism is growing and early examples are provided.