How the Market Destroys the Lifeworld

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      A social organisation had asked lawyers if they would offer less expensive services to needy unemployed people, at $40 per hour. The lawyers declined. Then one organiser had another idea. She asked lawyers whether they would offer their services for free to the needy unemployed. Overwhelmingly, the lawyers said yes. Why did this happen? Contrary to neoliberal assumptions, how on earth could no money be more attractive than $40 per hour?

      Here is the clue: once money is mentioned, people use market norms, and when an offer is below market value, they decline. When no money is mentioned, people use social norms. They are willing to volunteer their time. In short, once market norms enter our considerations, social norms disappear.

      This is the ideological side of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is not only about destroying trade unions, the privatisation of everything, the annihilation of the welfare state, taxes for the poor – not the rich – political conservatism, etc., it is also about the destruction of the social world. Habermas calls this the structural transformation of the public sphere. It means the public domain has been truly commercialised. News and information, for example, are no longer a public good for the benefit of society but a commercial good to be sold and, of course, made sellable.

      As German philosophers, Edmund Husserl and Jürgen Habermas would say, the replacement of social norms with market norms represents the colonisation of the lifeworld. Neoliberalism infiltrates those parts of society that are not already dictated by the market (economics) and neoliberalism (ideology). Habermas and Husserl see the lifeworld as a shared common ground of human understandings and communalism. This includes social and moral values which are developed through face-to-face contacts inside non-commercial groups, families, and communities.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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