Neoliberalism, the ideology that the government’s primary purpose is to support the free market, has been one of the most important buzzwords in modern politics for the last 30 years. Neoliberalism considers government restrictions an impediment to freedom and encourages globalization and unrestricted trade among countries.
Although neoliberalism can be seen as all-encompassing, especially as our world has become increasingly globalized, many scholars believe that there are viable modern alternatives to a market-based economy. The acclaimed anthropological duo, who write under the pen name J.K. Gibson-Graham, published an influential article dubbed “Diverse Economies: Performative Practices for ‘Other Worlds,’” which states that while neoliberalism is seen as the singular economic system in the modern world, diverse economic systems still exist across the globe today. The article highlights how academia has been weaponized by capital to encourage the spread of neoliberalism. Modern social scientists have been trained to view neoliberalism as the only valid form of economic system, but this worldview is faulty; there are still a variety of economies in practice today, and it is crucial that these alternative economic practices be considered valid.
During the last year, it has become increasingly obvious that the world cannot rely completely on globalization, as there will inevitably be some fault in a global supply chain. During the early months of COVID-19, masks were in short supply worldwide as outsourced manufacturers struggled to keep up with astronomical consumer demand. The globalized process of COVID-19 vaccine distribution has caused lags in rollout; the European Union’s heavy reliance on the British-produced AstraZeneca vaccine led to catastrophe when concerns about the vaccine’s safety arose and there was no EU-produced vaccine to take its place. Finally, the recent grounding of the behemoth container ship Ever Given has wreaked economic havoc across the world, as the ship’s mistake disrupted supply chains worldwide. Globalization, when utilized effectively, is a crucial component of the modern economy, as it allows products to be distributed across the globe, including to people who would normally lack access to key resources. However, the recent distributional blunders of key products such as vaccines and masks have demonstrated that we, as a society, cannot be completely economically reliant on globalization.
“Diverse Economies: Performative Practices for ‘Other Worlds’” highlights the potential gains that society will reap if people are able to consider economic systems other than neoliberal capitalism, such as local trade systems, gift giving and state allocations. The article’s “reframing of the world city” section states that urban political and economic structures are crucial “in defining the kind of world that is currently under construction,” or in other words, determining modern culture. For example, Gibson-Graham cites a hypothetical alternative economic relationship between Venezuelans and Londoners in which Londoners would assist in Venezuelan urban planning efforts in exchange for Venezuelan oil.
The article hypothesizes feasible alternative economic models that would benefit people and societies on local and national scales. Such models should be seriously considered if we want to avoid overreliance on globalization and alleviate the rampant inequality brought about by neoliberalism.