Knowing The Price of Everything and The Value of Nothing

Devin Conway

An Introduction to Neoliberalism

To paraphrase Lester Spence. Political Science professor at Johns Hopkins University, neoliberalism is the expansion of capitalism from merely an economic system to a governing force that works to shape a society according to market principles. 

In other words, neoliberalism is capitalism in its most radical form. 

Whereas capitalism is merely an economic system based on the idea of the rational consumer and the market-driven producer, neoliberalism is an economic, cultural and political force that has come to dominate the masses through a constant bombardment of corporate propaganda, misinformation and advertisements.

The Irrational Consumer

The concept of the so-called ‘rational consumer’ at the core of capitalism assumes that, when left alone, people will generally make purchases based solely on an objective and logical assessment of the goods and services offered to them. 

In this type of system, consumers would compare the quality and price of the goods and services they are looking for and then make a decision after properly critiquing the information at hand. 

The lower class would often be forced to sacrifice quality for quantity, while the middle and upper classes could afford to pay higher prices for higher quality products. Hence the phrase, ‘you get what you pay for’.

A Constant Struggle

The problem with the brand of capitalism mentioned above, from the perspective of the producer, is that it works too well for the consumer.

There is an obvious conflict of interest between a consumer who buys based on needs rather than desires and the producer who seeks to maximize profits.

As Spence mentioned in his definition of neoliberalism, the people and institutions of a given society must sometimes be shaped to work according to market principles. 

It goes without saying that, in order to maximize profits, the producers in a society must maximize consumption.

Working Against Ourselves

While capitalism seeks to establish the rational consumer, neoliberalism seeks to establish the irrational consumer.

Take for example the Hardee’s advertising model, which is essentially just to get scantily dressed women to eat their products as provocatively as possible.

Hardee’s recently ran a Super Bowl advertisement for their All-Natural Burger that features swimsuit model Charlotte McKinney. 

The ad drew over two and a half billion media impressions in just two weeks. 

If we can be subconsciously conditioned to associate two primal desires such as sexual pleasure and hunger, we can easily be manipulated to make purchases that are against our own long-term interests.

All For One

In order to shape the people and institutions of a society according to the interests of the neoliberal agenda, the seeds of consumerism, individualism and competition must be planted at an early age. 

As children, we were coerced by fun and playful advertisements. We wanted our favorite cartoon characters on our fruit snacks and our favorite super heroes on our lunch boxes. 

We threw temper tantrums when our parents wouldn’t buy us whatever random, useless things happened to catch our eye in the grocery store, and they bought them for us to save them the trouble of dealing with an obnoxious child in public.

Those very same children that grew up unsatisfied by an insatiable materialistic desire were molded into teenagers that demanded things we didn’t need to impress people that we didn’t even necessarily like. 

The clothes we wore, the cell phones we used and the cars we drove became a matter of social status as we relentlessly ridiculed those who couldn’t afford such luxuries.

A Lost Cause

Once we made it to college, our financial independence slowly came to fruition. 

We have somehow come to believe that our future salaries will become the defining characteristic of our lives and a key component to our long-term happiness.

Now that we’re old enough to meaningfully reflect upon our past experiences and the cultural phenomena that molded those experiences, you would think that we could break free from the chains of the grotesque system that led us to act so ruthlessly. 

For the general public, that simply is not the case. 

Everywhere I look I see my peers idolizing entertainers, television and movie stars; many, if not most, of whom have no redeeming qualities other than the tremendous amount of fame they have achieved by hijacking the once sacred medium of artistic expression and exploiting it for monetary gain.