Wendy Brown, laying out one of the “four lines” along which “the market is the organizing and regulative principle of the state and society,” from her essay “Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy”:
b)The state itself is enfolded and animated by market rationality, not simply profitability, but a generalized calculation of cost and benefit becomes the measure of all state practices. Political discourse on all matters is framed in entrepreneurial terms; the state must not simply concern itself with the market but think and behave like a market actor across all of its functions, including law.
Here, Brown briefly hits on one of the chief aspects of neoliberalism, but one that is usually neglected or forgotten. Most accounts of neoliberalism, including influential ones such as David Harvey’s and even, for the most part, Brown’s, primarily see it attempting a destruction of the state’s “traditional” role as a Keynesian redistributor and as the arena of “the political.” But as Brown hints at above, neoliberalism is less about destroying the state than transforming it, less (or not only) about making it completely subservient and in service to capital’s rationality than making it like capital. Under neoliberalism, the state, and with it politics, undergoes a becoming-entrepreneurial in which labor and economic calculations are solely constitutive of desire and self-management is the cardinal virtue.
Brown’s description, helpful as it is, is in the end too metaphorical. And too western. If the neoliberal era in Europe and North America, particularly the United States, has meant the abandonment of welfare guarantees and the transformation of the state into its sole function as supporter of the market, in Asia and elsewhere, particularly China, the state’s becoming-entrepreneurial has been more literal: the actual ownership of the largest and most important capitalist firms by the state, its minute management of capital flows and complete control of exchange rates, its role as the primary regulator of the workforce.
(A placeholder. More on this soon.)