William Davies, What Is “Neo” About Neoliberalism?, New Republic, July 13, 2017
How to tell the difference between liberalism and something else.
In the buildup to the 2015 General Election, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), reiterated his support for an “Australian-style points system” as a means of controlling immigration, the policy issue that his party had prioritized above all others. What was curious about Farage’s statement was not the policy commitment itself, which had been known for some time, but the liberal rhetoric that he used to justify it. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Farage argued “what UKIP wants is not to do down migrants. It’s not to stigmatize, or discourage, or blame people for coming to this country and trying to make a better life for themselves” and that the “points system” is the only fair basis for managing immigration.
Firstly, neoliberalism has never pursued a weaker state; indeed it is a political philosophy and policy agenda that has always looked to the state to reshape society around its ideals. As Michel Foucault went to great lengths to stress, it is not another form of laissez-faire and, instead, grants the state a key role in shaping how economic freedom is to be defined and instantiated. So, in the case of immigration, the liberal notion that economic welfare will be maximized by simply throwing open the national labor market to all-comers would be resisted from a neoliberal perspective. It is entirely plausible, from a neoliberal perspective, that the state might seek to regulate something like labor flows, to serve certain strategic economic goals.