What is neoliberalism, and who benefits from its economic policies? Who is at a disadvantage by these policies, and why?
Liberalism, as a school of thought, advocates freedom of political choice, freedom of thought, free markets and a limit on the power of government. Liberalism prizes progress and human endeavour and argues that thought and reason should the guiding principles behind decisions.
Neoliberalism, which has some similarities to classical liberalism, begins from the assumption that all people should have the freedom to acquire as much wealth as they would like. Ironically, neoliberalism, which is a school of thought in economics, is often accompanied by conservative political thought. A one-eyed view of neoliberalism is that it can offer growth and hope to poor countries by allowing investment in industry to increase trade and improve the economy. While this can be the result, many profits from such investments and trade leave the country with the exports.
The greatest winners from neoliberalism in the 20th century were large corporations from the western world, who often took the place of western imperial powers in the former colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin and South America. Historians have coined the term "neo-imperialism" to describe the actions of transnational corporations who acted with the support of their native governments to maintain control over their monopolies through bribery, threats and violence.
One of the most famous of these corporations is the United Fruit Company. The company's involvement in political and civil strife in Guatemala has been well documented, and is the topic of many books and documentaries. The company has been called "The Octopus" by many Latin American critics because it was able to infiltrate so many aspects of the countries' economies and power structures due to its wealth (through bribery) and strong links with leaders within the US government. The American transnational Ananconda was also accused of manipulating Chilean government and economy to make huge profts from its copper industry. The biggest losers in this system were 1) the indigenous populations, who were dipossessed of their land and became the underpaid, maltreated workforce of transnational corporations, and 2) the environment, which was changed almost beyond recognition in some instances, by plantation agriculture and damaging mining methods.
Another way of describing neoliberalism is "globalisation", which seeks a unified global economy with few (or none, in its ideal form for neoliberal thinkers) restrictions by governments in the form of import and export tariffs and obligations to workers to ensure fair and safe working conditions and wages. During the 1990s Nike and Mattel were accused of exploiting poor workers (and child labourers) in third world countries in Asia.