Neoliberalism and Human Suffering

Neoliberalism is associated with the quest by states to organize their affairs using free-market principles as the founding pillars. This philosophy suggests that there should be minimal interference in the market from the state or any other external actor because it corrects itself naturally (McGuigan, 2015; Van Valkenburgh, 2019). Similarly, neoliberalism has been used to organize societies by defining the concept of happiness through the pursuit of business and monetary objectives (Ashman et al., 2018). This model of social and economic development comes from the belief that human beings are untrustworthy. Therefore, there needs to be a different and more reliable metric for measuring progress and defining success, which is determinant on the use of market forces as a metric for defining socioeconomic goals and plans (Song, 2018). In this regard, neoliberalist ideas peg human endeavors, which range from public sector activities to intimate and private pursuits of love, on the fundamental principles of utility and free-market ideas.

Deeply held neoliberalist ideas about economic and social development have increased their influence in daily life. For example, proponents of the concept advocate for the creation of internal controls and competitive market mechanisms when defining exploits or measures of human development (McGuigan, 2015; Van Valkenburgh, 2019). Their views stem from the belief that all forms of personal choice, including the freedom to make a democratic decision, are subject to the principles of free-market logic (Hurley, 2019). Therefore, neoliberalism strives to build a “machinery of freedom” which evaluates human actions from an economic lens first, while all other considerations are secondary (Gantt Shafer, 2017). In this regard, the “self” is deemed an entrepreneurial project where the body is a form of human capital, which can be used to generate an income. This paper demonstrates that neoliberalism dictates the extent to which human beings suffer, based on its influences on education and healthcare services, which are important determinants of quality of life.

Neoliberalism is one of the most impactful forces in the education sector because it shapes people’s livelihoods and, by extension, how they think and act. Indeed, it has permeated different facets of this system and created a paradigm shift in how learning is organised. For example, the concept of the “knowledge economy” has been developed from this process and is one of the most defining forces in the sector today (Ashman et al., 2018). Its impact can be traced to the similarly growing prominence of the “knowledge worker” in the business environment. A direct consequence of this trend has been the rise of specific discourses and conceptualizations of educational progress outcomes and people’s ultimate ability to live a dignified life. Based on these insights, neoliberalism has been adopted in the education sector as an unquestionable orthodoxy, which has gained credence as the “absolute truth” of life (Ashman et al., 2018). Coupled with its effects on the growth of the global economy through the conceptualization of the knowledge-based model of education, neoliberalism has had a significant impact on human life.

The relationship between neoliberalism, education and human suffering can be further linked to their association with poverty, which is one of the most commonly used indices of human development. For example, several research studies have shown a significant relationship between people’s level of educational attainment and poverty (Bates, 2018; Giovetti, 2019; Garira, 2020). Additional evidence suggests that educational progress is associated with several solutions to poverty, including economic growth, income inequality, infant and maternal death, vulnerability to diseases and domestic abuse cases (Sharabi and Marom-Golan, 2018; Penning de Vries et al., 2019). There is even more evidence showing that people who lack basic education tend to keep their children from school, further exacerbating their economic woes (Garira, 2020). Based on this link between educational outcomes and human development, neoliberalism influences people’s levels of suffering.

Healthcare access is also another criterion for assessing the impact of neoliberal principles on human suffering. Similar to education, it is also one of the most important and commonly used indicators of human suffering because people who have access to healthcare services tend to have a better life compared to those who do not. Access to health services may denote several advantages to those who have the financial resources to pay for health insurance, including service availability, the multiplicity of medical resources and relevance of services to specific population groups (Sakellariou and Rotarou, 2017). In this regard, neoliberalism has had a profound effect on the healthcare sector because it encourages institutions to provide medical services to those who can afford it, as opposed to those who are in dire need of them (Sakellariou and Rotarou, 2017). This model of healthcare service delivery has increased people’s suffering, especially among low-income households because they have disproportionately more health needs than those from higher-income families.

The evidence explaining the impact of neoliberalism policies in the healthcare sector and its influence on people’s suffering has been reported in Chile and Greece where the adoption of free-market principles in the sector has led to health inequities and a stratification of the healthcare system. Particularly, the evidence coming out of Greece shows that the adoption of neoliberal policies in the country’s healthcare sector has led to a deterioration of medical services (Sakellariou and Rotarou, 2017). These outcomes have been traced to power differentials that emerge in societies when economic potential, as opposed to people’s human rights, is used as a determinant of healthcare access. This model of healthcare service delivery has created a class of disempowered people, such as the disabled, who have been disproportionately affected by health problems (Sakellariou and Rotarou, 2017). These people’s healthcare needs are usually secondary to economic concerns. The effect of this neoliberalist healthcare system on societies has ranged from high out-of-pocket expenses to poor quality medical services.

Overall, the insights highlighted in this paper show that neoliberal policies have been used as a structural tool of violence in healthcare and education, thereby causing immense human suffering, especially among the economically weak and disadvantaged people in society. Therefore, the most vulnerable segments of the human population have suffered the hardest. In this regard, neoliberalism dictates the extent that human beings suffer.

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