Chapter Five: Modernity, neoliberalism, crisis

Flying out of New York in August 1981, I was a little concerned about the aeroplane’s take-off. Edgy and anxious passenger banter about who might be populating the airport’s control tower, guiding our pathway into the sky, fluttered through the cabin. Fast-forward to Ireland in August 2017 and the Health Information and Quality Authority announced that it was aware that some private nursing homes are prone to charging elderly residents �20 to attend Mass (O’Halloran and Clarke, 2017).

Almost 40 years apart, these, seemingly, random occurrences can be conjoined because they relate to the evolution of a particular form of capitalism: neoliberalism. In the first instance, the nervousness on the night flight out of New York was attributable to the fact that President Reagan, launching an assault on trade union rights, had sacked 11,345 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers’ Organization (PATCO) taking part in a nationwide strike. This state offensive against the trade union movement tends to be perceived as one of the foundational, and symbolic, moments associated with what was subsequently to become known as ‘neoliberalism’ (Harvey, 2005). Turning to contemporary Ireland, the ‘top-up fee’ that nursing home residents are expected to pay is reflective of how neoliberalism currently operates in practice. It is a rationality that aspires to incessantly and unremittingly maximise profits for capitalists. Importantly, as the Irish example illustrates, neoliberal practices result in encroachments into areas formerly considered beyond the reach of market imperatives. Everything, everyone, becomes a potential source of capitalist accumulation. Anything can be monetised, even an elderly nursing home resident’s desire to attend Mass.

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