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Neoliberalism and Human Capital

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Fueled by the rise of the Chicago School of neo-classical economists, the Reaganite and Thatcherite revolutions of the 1980s initiated a 30-year run of neoliberalist reform that has profoundly reshaped global trade through policies and institutions that foster both national and international deregulation.  From the privatization of everything from public works to prison systems, the measured excision of state oversight and control has been conjoined with a systematic rollback of expenditure for social services.  A myriad of major multilateral and bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA (1994) MAI (1995_1998) have reduced tariffs and facilitated the unchecked flow of capital across national borders; GATT’s formation of the WTO in 1994 has since made it the dominant supranational institution that dictates global economic policy; and the last vestiges of Keynesianism have been squeezed out of the IMF and the World Bank, which have now become the global strong-arm to convert the world’s poorer national economies to the neoliberalist agenda. Overall, this wave of neoliberalist reform has meant a diminishment of state sovereignty. Seeking to open new channels for the flow of capital that were previously limited by nationalist protectionism, the state has become an agent of multinational corporations, as one can easily glean from the ominously sequestered G8 summits.  All this is happening under the ambiguous, divisive designation known as globalization--outsourcing production to the global south, systms of flexible accumulation, the production of financial speculative wealth--which has lead to the current economic downturn and intensified the crisis of global precarity.


This description offers a standard macro-economic perspective on the reigning global economic paradigm, but it does little to explain how neoliberalism actually functions at the micro-levels of culture, politics, and society.  How does this economic doctrine produce and articulate forms of subjectivity, identity, and affect?  How does it connect to parallel scientific paradigms such as cognitive psychology, chaos theory, or rational action theory?  How is it realized through the myriad operations of biopower and biopolitics?  How is it transmitted in forms of cultural production?  How does neoliberalism fundamentally change our understanding of human labor power, techno-politics, and the attention economy?  This course will concern itself with these and other question by tracing the story of how a recondite economic doctrine was extended into every aspect of social, cultural, and political life through the theory of human capital.  If neoliberalism is the reigning global economic paradigm, human capital refers to the way that paradigm becomes installed through discrete technologies of power and the self toward the management of populations.


The course will consist of a set of close critical readings of primary sources that directly advocate or contest the development of a theory of human capital.  Readings may include: Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Gary S. Becker, Milton Friedman, Frederick von Hayek, T.W. Shultz, Leo Strauss, Thorstein Veblen, Emile Durkheim, Nikolas Rose, Brian Holmes, and others.

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