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:
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?