Dr Liz Gordon: Will COVID 19 kill neo-liberalism?


Neo-liberalism is designed upon three main planks – a free market unencumbered by state interference, an assumption of individual rather than collective values and the existence of a free marketplace in which we all operate.

Neo-liberalism produces not only particular types of values affecting how humans live, but particular forms of markets (profit-making) (including drug companies), specific methods of interaction in society and modes of governance.

In all four areas, the virus sounds a death knell (or perhaps merely a mortal blow) to prevailing neo-liberal modes. The mass of humanity, acting freely according to their own desires, is much more likely to spread the coronavirus than contain it. If governments order social isolation, then homo economicus falls back on those familiar maxims of ‘fake news’ or personal exclusivity (it doesn’t count for me). Economic man is a slippery bugger, hard to contain and unlikely to easily comply to state rules.

The neo-liberal marketplace is ‘free’.  There is a degree of separation between the needs of the public for, say, a cure for Covid-19 and the needs of the drug companies for profits. While in theory a drug company can charge their own price for such a cure, in reality social demand and expectations may require a more humanitarian response.  As well, drug companies tend to work on a long game, and may not be flexible enough to respond quickly. This has been recognised all around the world with funds being quickly made available to universities and other public sector research organisations in search of a vaccine or a cure.

Neo-liberalism has changed the way we interact with one another. Ideas are more easily contested today and we are more oppositional.  In the workplace, competitive models often dominate and there is little sense in working for the common good. We have become more macho. It was really interesting this afternoon sitting outside a large shop and watching people going in.  While the shop itself regulated social distance at the checkout (with taped spaces), outside young men clustered together and postured, revelling in the non-obedience to the sensible rules of play.

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This brings us to governance.  The rules announced today at level 3, moving on to level 4, are considerably draconian. The appeal that is made is to the common good – the good of all New Zealanders.  It cuts across race, class and other inequalities. Once again, it is emphasised that we are all in this together, backed up with an economic package that promises to leave no-one behind.  It is a radically social democratic package and will face resistance. Neo-liberal thinking and actions can only shrivel and die under the onslaught of kindness and social care that the government is putting into place.

To this point things are very hopeful.  Perhaps no-one will die here. A month’s isolation is not too big a price for most, although for those who are dying of other diseases, or the virus, it is scary that they may not see out this period and reap its rewards in the future.

I noticed that Simon Bridges has come, however late, to the party. No beneficiaries were bashed in his post-announcement speech, and he strongly put his support behind the government or someone for whom opposition is a holy duty, this is a change indeed.

And beyond that?  Is it too much to think that we will be changed forever, or at least for the foreseeable future? Having cut us down to size, reminded us that we are but animals spinning around on our small rock, will the Covid-19 leave us better, more empathetic, more careful people?  Will the shadows of Rogernomics, Ruthanasia and their legacy, which have stuck with us like a particularly nasty virus, at last be eradicated as surely as Smallpox?

We shall see.  This virus might be the making of this government and the heralding of a new political era in Aotearoa.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. I would say it wont necessarily change ‘ neo liberalism’, it will simply morph ,such as a virus does. And even if it does ‘die’ , dont think for a moment that those massive forces which a world elite can wield will simply go down without a whimper. A worst case scenario is that it is used as an impetus for bringing in a cashless society, and replacing it with a completely electronic one. There is not and has not been a gold standard for decades. And despite there already being world bodies that set prices , and a foreign exchange dealing with all manner of currencies, … an electronic one would do away with even that.

    Therefore perhaps, there would be a powerful centralized global body governing over that ‘electronic system’. So who might that be? – there are no ‘global elections’. And there is a very well read and ancient book that says ‘ in those days no one can buy or sell without the mark’. And that is of course the Bible. It further states that the ‘ mark ‘ will be put on the right hand or forehead.

    Its interesting that the silicon chip used on dogs and cats now even in this country is the same that has been trialed for some time now in Europe and endorsed by certain among the financial sector.

    Be that as it may , the same social strata would still apply then as it does now. With a small percentage of ‘elites’ presiding over us the ‘ masses’. No matter what country you lived in. And while the above is a worst case scenario, and many will doubt , – it would need a global collapse of the current financial system such as Covid19 to set it in motion. Perhaps a series of global calamity’s rather than just one pandemic. Covid19 is not the Black Death , but it has upturned the apple cart to some extent already. It has reminded us how fragile world systems really are.

    Was there ever a time in global history when nations closed their borders ,- barring warfare , – in response to pandemics? Did it happen with the SARS outbreak? I cannot remember.

    Suffice to say , I do not think we will wake up some sunny day to find neo liberalism gone and replaced with a new caring world community operating together in harmonious magnanimity. The same ‘elites’ who have always been there in global history controlling and seeking to control will use any such global disasters to their advantage. They will simply adapt the plan and seize opportunity.

    But rest assured, the same ruthless ‘ elites’ who have financed both sides of major wars will not change either their natures or their designs. Because the same traits that the panic buyers have displayed is the same flaw that runs through all of humanity. We are a self centered species, with personal survival and our needs coming to the fore in times of crisis, tempered with acts of great compassion and heroism at times, yet at other times, – cowardly , treacherous and indeed , murderous. Some would say this is overly pessimistic, I would prefer to think of it as being realistic.

    Since the days of one tribe gaining a technological advantage over another tribe using spears instead of a bone club, … mankind’s nature really hasn’t changed that very much at all. We’ve just gotten more organised , more numerous , and the weapons more technologically advanced, prompting us to use more sophisticated diplomacy to avoid blowing us all off the face of the planet.

    About the only thing we can hope for is the rise of various degrees of a Keynesian type of international trade, however , that is undesirable to the elites because they lose much power…and it will still rely on world organisations to loan nations cash so it would not be long before even that will collapse , much as it did in the 1980’s. You are still dealing with repayable national debts and as such is open to manipulation. And so what comes after that just might be a new era of initial ‘debt forgiveness’ in some cases, – yet electronic surveillance , human rights abuses and global governance. Assuming of course, it ever gets that far down the track. Whose to say?

    But to those global elites who have caused wars, denied food and medicines to peoples all around the planet causing millions to die , have set nations and regions against each other to manipulate hostility’s to their further own ends, … I only have this to offer…

    Thunder Underground

  2. A portion of the package from government is aimed at saving lives but the bulk of the package seems to be directed to save the current economic system. So I say no, we will not see the end of neo liberalism.

    • Exactly. You could push it a little more and say a more neo liberal gloabalist economic system than exists currently that favours monolpolistic multi nationals and global supply chains and extinguishes the last of the SMEs.
      It might be a nice and cosy thought for the fairy dancing hippies that only good is going to come out of this but the end result will be fewer and bigger corporate players who hold governments on an even shorter leash and with the economy promoted even further ahead of people in the pecking order.
      What this crisis is showing us is that people are now essentially helpless and at the mercy of government and corporations.
      Only a community led response to the crisis would go some way to breaking the shackles.

  3. Not a chance with the make up of the current members of parliament who are indoctrinated with neoliberalism.

    They need cleaning out too. Let the Maori’s off the chain!

  4. Totally agree with WK and Peter. You really think all this largesse wont have to be repaid or used as a future excuse for being able to afford compassion towards real killers like oh I dont know, poverty? The tax payer as ever will foot the bill and those who make a literal killing offered more. Heres Craig Murray on that. Just because we have Jacindas pretty and caring face leading this doesnt mean the same forces arent sitting behind just as they were with that humourous and forthright chap David Lange and that lovely black man Obama.


  5. Yeah but I never claimed it was the end of capitalism, just that we may be re-entering an era of capitalism with a blob of social democracy on it to sugar the effects. A bit less inequality, a bit more caring, proper social policy and state leadership. Today I have been comparing NZ’s approach with Bloody Boris in the UK, who began his announcement of lockdown by saying anyone not complying would be arrested. Can there be a more divisive approach? There is a bit of a reset going on here, but I do not know to what it will lead.

    • Yes but we do not have nearly the same sort of population per square kilometer as England, ( we are around 25km squared more than England apparently) , so compare the population and the measures needed to control those who are non compliant and dependent on bail outs and tops ups compared to us.

      Chalk and cheese.

      That said, the measures externally at least are going to be seen as different.

      Economically ,… well… another thing entirely. Now whether the Australian banks bail us out ( strongly doubt it as time progresses, the economic impact of their own domestic problems means we are seen as merely the beer fridge top ups, the minor lolly scramble in the good times… )… we can only guess at. The Australian banks are now subject to every other nations economic crisis…

      That of diminished trade , equity and the means to back their loans in the advent of something going wrong with the vendor…and realizing the recall of their investments…

      But I cant help thinking you are only dealing with the petty local effect, the literal ‘wee lads’ in the trade, Liz…

      That you are not thinking of the real big boys who can just as easily write off these ‘minions’ and just as easily recoup any losses without batting an eyelid.

      Rest assured, as we have seen down through history, the poor will suffer and bear the brunt, the economists will talk blandly of a ‘reset’ as millions die, and the same globalist elitists will still be in control.

      THAT ,… is the bottom line for us battlers.

      So therefore nothing changes.

      Not one jot.

    • “Yeah but I never claimed it was the end of capitalism, just that we may be re-entering an era of capitalism with a blob of social democracy on it to sugar the effects.”
      There’s all that ‘Yes Minister’ phenomenon to battle and the neo-liberal Empire is well-entrenched.
      But then as you watch it all play out – things like “I can’t comment on operational matters”, have completely vanished – it’s now ALL operational, and any master-of-the-universe generic managerialist that resists probably faces a future of career-ending irrelevance if they don’t step up and perform.
      The trick will be in transitioning back into comfy normality. If there’s a few lessons that have hopefully been learned (“learnings going forward in this space”), they’ll be to do with where the roadblocks, bullshit and spin, and resistance is.
      Currently, I have confidence that the people now managing our approach are the ones with experience and equipped with scientific evidence behind them. Where there have been blips (such as inadequate border controls at times, or lack of resources because of some sort of master-of-the-universe imposed priority setting), they’ll be stamped on.

  6. Yeah, it’s a weird thing…?
    Our economy and society is the neoliberal aftermath of when an unchecked lunatic wanders out of the mad house and takes control of common sense.
    The lunatic pronounces : ” I am King, God, Head Buck Rabbit and Grand Poopy and all shall fall before me and those who are not wearing yellow underpants will forever live in substandard housing if your lucky and now I’m taking all your stuff and things! ”
    Instead of people going ” Yeah? Well ! Ba Ha ! Fuck you mate! ”
    We people, instead go ” Oh no! I don’t have any yellow underpants! Fuck! Now what!? What am I going to do!? I know ! I’ll remortgage the house and buy a three pack of yellow undies! Whew! I’ll be ok then… ”
    It’s literally like that here, in AO/NZ.
    dirty douglas wandered ravenous and in dire greed out of his crypt and fell upon a ranch of fat, stupid, chickens? I.e. Us.
    We listened to him snark and blather as his little moustache fluttered and we believed him. He asked us to, so why wouldn’t he be straight up? Who knew, aye?
    You guys ever seen a film called ” The invention of lying” ? It’s kind of genius actually. In it, no one lied. They never heard of the concept. They were sitting ducks the moment someone figured out… I’m going to lie? Why not? A lie can be the truth until it’s discovered that it isn’t.
    It’s like me, here, inventing a word.
    Like ‘ Ringspousie ‘ It means one has, indeed, called the misses. Or Mister?
    To illustrate : ” Whad ya do today mate?”
    “Aw, a bit a ringspousi…? Otherwise no’much… You? ”
    Yep, got the ringspousie outa the way then got on with work.”

    While the above seems trite and harmless, it can be exploited.
    If ringspousie cost money? Would you? If you couldn’t pay for it, how could you ring?
    And if you didn’t…? What might the consequences be. For everyone! ?
    Childless starvation then a lonely death, would be my guess.
    You see what I mean?
    In politics:
    Ask yourself?
    Is it kind?
    Is it harmless?
    Is it good?
    Does it make one’s life ‘better’?
    Is it inclusive and does it rejoice in the wonders of difference?
    If it doesn’t? You, dear humanoids, are about to be fleeced.
    Ask sheep about fleecing. They’ll tell you…
    I can sell you a sheep -to- English language decoder?
    It’s called The Bleat-vert.
    $49.95? Cheep? See chicken above.

  7. this guy doesn’t know where he caught it .. so threat level 4’s not a moment too soon.

    how accurate are the testing kits ..

    the system remains functional thus far thanks to the combined efforts of the nation which has bn enough to slow the spread of covd-19.

    for good measure 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exXDrlI1B8A&feature=youtu.be&t=85
    … close to me

    get it here first , your light in the dark – TDB

  8. I doubt if anything can save us in the long run because we are what we are and the pure selfishness of those who strip the supermarket food bins, or harrass the staff, shows clearly what we are. We deserve this.

    • Kiwis spent $110 million yesterday on groceries up 100% this time last year. I mean honestly so what? The hell is wrong with that?

      • Its the effect it has on the wider populace and social conditions.

        There is no more need to elaborate.

        Mess with statistics all you will, it changes nothing.

        And you know this already.

  9. No, it needs a world-wide revolution to kill neo-liberalism.
    But COVID-19 won’t do that.
    COVID-19 will impact on the world for a while and might cause a few minor reforms but eventually it will fade from memory and the world will get back to business as usual: making the rich richer, the poor poorer and destroying the planet at the same time.
    We thought that the GFC would finally force a rethink to the world’s enveloping money greed, but how quickly did the world’s money barons get back to their old ways?
    Nothing was learned then, and little will be learned now.

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