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Neoliberalism and social enterprise – part 1

12 foot lizards

I’m just about old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a young child it seemed like a good idea to me that the East Germans should be allowed to join the rest of us in having decent haircuts and a good football team. The adults however thought they should also have a liberal capitalist economy.

Since the end of the Cold War, neoliberalism has been the economic and political force. It has had a substantial influence on economic, political and social life across the world since, advocating free markets as the best way of organising complex economies. As Margaret Thatcher said ‘There is no alternative’.

In countries such as the UK and USA, this has led to nationalised industries being privatised and governments rolling back their interventions in the workings of the market. The current UK Coalition government are clearly fans, attempting to reduce the size and role of the State through their current austerity programme. Critics however argue that neoliberalism is responsible for growing levels of inequality, and such policies are a smokescreen to cement the position and power of the ruling elites.

I recently found myself outed as a pawn in such a neoliberal conspiracy. The indirect accusation (in addition to confirming that if I was a chess piece I’d be the crappest one) was that, through my work, I am unwittingly aiding a shadowy group of elites in their attempts to seize control of the social investment market. In effect, I am helping neoliberalism to colonise the social sphere, and in doing so, supporting the establishment of a New World Order (presumably).

Neoliberalism and social enterprise

Besides the implication that there is an intentional conspiracy occurring, this raises important questions about the nature of social enterprise and entrepreneurship. By taking a market-based approach to solving social problems, are social enterprise and entrepreneurship inherently neoliberal?

This has inspired me to write a series of posts about the link (or not) between neoliberalism and social enterprise. If it is true that neoliberalism is here to stay then, where does the social economy fit in? Is it a genuine challenge to the status quo, or does it reflect a sort of acquiesce, in which we try to make our neoliberal reality more palatable? Is this necessarily a bad thing?
In a series of posts I plan to look at the positive links between the two, any negative consequences and possible alternatives. But first, I want to address the issue of…

How I was outed as a 12 foot lizard

Recently, I was reading some exciting new research (by Julia Morley of the LSE, but yet to be released), which claims to show that an elite group is shaping the social investment market in their mould. She argues that a small group of people are having a substantial influence on the development of the social investment market, imposing their financial language and logics on unsuspecting social entrepreneurs.

Julia presents persuasive evidence to support the idea that maybe, just maybe, there is a social investment equivalent of the Bilderberg group. A powerful elite pulling the strings, doing some good whilst doing really well.

The basic premise is this:

Neoliberalism infographic 1 (2)

Through its discourse analysis, this research implies that some of these developments are intentional. This is not an uncommon accusation – many critics of neoliberalism also suggest that there is a ruling elite intentionally fixing things in their favour. Some even go so far as to say that the ruling elite themselves are actually 12 foot tall, shape-shifting reptilian humanoids hell-bent on a worldwide conspiracy against humanity.

No one of course is making this accusation about social investment, though Julia’s research raises important questions about the nature of the social enterprise sector. I am particularly interested in this research, as some of my work was used to evidence the spread of neoliberal language and logic. By saying that private Angel investors look for ‘an impressive social entrepreneur’, it seems I have unwittingly participated in the third stage of this neoliberal conspiracy. I thought I was just passing on information about what private investors told me they look for in their investment decisions, in order to help social entrepreneurs access the additional capital they need to scale up their social impact and help more people. In doing so however, it seems I have helped to spread the language and logics of these social investment elites.

I wonder therefore what others in the sector think. Are we complicit in further embedding neoliberalism, and is this a good or a bad thing? Also, is this why I keep bumping my head on doorframes – am I a 12 foot lizard?

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8 thoughts on “Neoliberalism and social enterprise – part 1

    1. Thanks Jeff, this is really interesting as usual. How much of what you were suggesting almost 20 years ago do you feel has come to fruition? Later on in this series on neoliberalism, I’m going to look at what alternatives have been (or could be) proposed

  1. Well we’ve seen the evolution of other business models for social benefit in a variety of forms.On the downside, the warnings about inequalty and uprisings were largely ignored and we saw the riots in thw UK along with the Arab Spring and Occupy all hit us in 2011.

    In Crimea 2003, another warning was made about ignoring risk of uprising, We expected the Tatars to be provoked it turned out to be much bigger:

    “By leaving people in poverty, at risk of their lives due to lack of basic living essentials, we have stepped across the boundary of civilization. We have conceded that these people do not matter, are not important. Allowing them to starve to death, freeze to death, die from deprivation, or simply shooting them, is in the end exactly the same thing. Inflicting or allowing poverty on a group of people or an entire country is a formula for disaster.

    These points were made to the President of the United States near the end of 1996. They were heard, appreciated and acted upon, but unfortunately, were not able to be addressed fully and quickly due primarily to political inertia. By way of September 11, 2001 attacks on the US out of Afghanistan – on which the US and the former Soviet Union both inflicted havoc, destruction, and certainly poverty – I rest my case. The tragedy was proof of all I warned about, but, was no more tragedy than that left behind to a people in an far corner of the world whom we thought did not matter and whom we thought were less important than ourselves.

    We were wrong. ”

    it was from about 2007 onwards when we began to detect the influence of a global elite when we saw a threat from a prominent oligarch. That would be the beginning of the end as moves were made against us. One prominent figure, well known in Bilderberg circles would be a commun denominater as a friend of the oligarch also connected with social enterprise and the EU activity to open markets for Ukraine’s moguls.

    http://www.p-ced.com/1/node/236

  2. Very interesting indeed. The financial crisis of the last few years is definitely a wake up call for social enterprise. Is neoliberalism still valid? With all its impact on global economy, I am sure it is time to revisit Keynesian theories and cave the governmnet back in.

  3. This is a very interesting piece. What would you say your working definition of social enterprise is? When you think about neoliberalism in education models – there is a very explicit trend towards a market friendly pedagogy. I am just curious if your idea of enterprise fits into to this framework.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes the encroachment of markets into education was an area I thought about discussing, particularly as the dominant discourse around it these days is about employment skills, rather than personal fulfilment. However I’ve met numerous social entrepreneurs who are doing great things to really improve young peoples lives, so decided to stick to bashing bankers instead.

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