Representing the Death of Neoliberalism – Part 2

Installation view of Thatcher is Dead by Julien Gremaud, 2014

This essay was originally published in FOAM Magazine’s new Talent Issue. The first part of this essay can be found here.

Neoliberal ideology aggressively promotes leverage, risk and debt. This is true for governments and corporations, but it is also true for individual consumers. One of the grand narratives of our era is the substitution of debt for income. While wages are largely stagnating, the gap between them and the rising cost of living has been filled by borrowing. The persuasiveness of this ideology is extreme to the extent that can be observed on multiple levels, from students taking on student loans to developing countries selling bonds at the mercy of vulture funds. This new global economic system based on debt should not be confused with capitalism. According to the American economist Richard Duncan the new system is what he calls creditism: a centrally controlled economy that drives credit creation and consumption. One of the characteristics of this system is that it enriches those who can create credit (or who have first access to it) and enslaves those who depend on it.

Julien Gremaud, from the series Thatcher is Dead, 2014

The crash of 2008 was a warning shot to the developed world that the neoliberal economic system, and the explosion of debt associated with it, is not just unsustainable but it is actually economically and socially destructive. Yet instead of fixing the deep structural problems in the centrally controlled markets, those in power choose to prop up the rotting system with even more leverage, more risk and more debt. Ultra-low interest rate policies of central banks all around the world consequently led to the global rise of liquidity bubbles. In this sense the London property bubble and the irrational exuberance on the New York stock exchange are actually linked to the materialism displayed by Chinese consumers in Beijing – as documented by the French photographer Charles Henry-Bédué, whose work is also featured in this Talent issue.

Julien Gremaud, from the series Thatcher is Dead, 2014

Gremaud’s photography project Thatcher is Dead alludes to the fact that there is a flipside to the expansion of credit, unyielding consumption and the hyperbolic rise in asset prices. While on one hand markets are exuberant, on the other hand, this economic system can only be propped up by the depletion of natural resources and the exploitation of labour. The trickle-down effect meanwhile is exposed as a myth: what is occurring instead is a tremendous transfer of wealth from the poor and the middle class to the rich. It is a system that simply cannot survive in its current form. To that extent the neoliberal project displays anthropophagic, or cannibalistic tendencies to destroy itself. The dichotomies addressed in Gremaud’s double images precisely signify the chaos, paradoxes, injustices and inequality caused by such a plutocratic economic system. Gremaud’s double images represent a world that is not freed or liberated by the markets, but rather is subservient to its destructive forces.

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