The New Nightmare on the Tail of Neoliberalism, and Precariat

Although it is rarely discussed in Turkey, we observe profound paradigm shifts regarding welfare systems worldwide, especially after the 2000s. Some describe it as post-neoliberal political economy. In fact, the paradigm describes a system we have been familiar with for a while in Turkey, peculiarly in working life. This approach, called the social investment paradigm, which we have seen that the EU has taken into consideration while formulating its welfare policies, will be the first part of my article. In the second part, I will also criticize the approach connected to the precariat.

So, what is the social investment paradigm? Essentially, it is a concept introduced at the beginning of the 21st century to manage certain phenomena that started to be defined as ‘social risk’ and cause social exclusion. Some of these risks are as follows: (1) the care gap created by the worldwide increase in the female workforce and the decline in birth rates disrupt the intergenerational contract (Esping-Andersen, 2009); (2) the burden of early retirements and the increasing proportion of the elderly population on the welfare state; (3) the difficulties experienced by young people who have completed their education and started working life, in transition to their new order, as well as their financial difficulties, not being able to get the job they want and as a result their exclusion from the society (Knijn & Smit, 2009).

The purpose of social investment, of course, is not to return women to care or to leave the young and old to themselves.On the contrary, to strengthen the market as neoliberal economics does; to involve all sectors in the labor market as much as possible; to ensure that individuals remain in the market as long as possible without experiencing difficulties in their transition from one period of life to another, and to increase the carrying capacity of the welfare state to recommodify people as self-sufficient active and productive actors. But unlike neoliberalism, to involve the state as much as possible.

This is the crucial part: Although neoliberalism has tried to reduce all kinds of state intervention to zero; we used to think that the task of the welfare state was to de-commodify people, that is, to protect society against the capitalist market system by detaching individuals from the market (or at least that was what it was supposed to be). Today, we see that the hypocritical relationship between capitalism and social policies has a new dimension. The social investment paradigm is redefining the state’s duties towards the market. The theme of these tasks is that the state prepares individuals for the market and organizes some kinds of internship programs that redefine “social spending” as “social investment” in order to create a living order for the market, not despite the market. For this, for example, we need to get the most out of the education we receive at school when we are young and move on to working life. While doing this, we need to contribute to the economy by continuing to improve ourselves through internships, training, and certificate programs. The state no longer assumes the task of protecting individuals against risks but of supporting individuals as they manage risks.

The idea that the social investment paradigm will prevent social exclusion and will be a hope for young adults, who constitute an important part of the precariat, in their transition from education to employment, especially in a country like Turkey, where working hours are incredibly long, is simply ridiculous. While describing the precariat, Guy Standing (2011) wrote that the class emerged with the loss of social security step by step with neoliberal economics.For instance, being highly educated does not always mean having a good job. Precariat jobs are where the pay is unsteady; sometimes, you do not even know who the boss is, there is little chance of promotion, and job descriptions or working hours are indefinite.

According to Standing, the growth of the precariat is precisely stemming from recommodification. Re-commodification means that labor relations become measurable with prices and turn into supply-demand relations. This leads to the loss of the social security that Standing expresses. It means that the precariat, which has no transformative effect on the economy and is forced to make a choice from a range of options restricted by structural problems, can be unemployed at any time. In this sense, commodification does not empower people; on the contrary, it takes your capacity to resist risks away. On the other hand, let’s bear this in mind: In some cases, social exclusion can be resolved by being included in the labor market. However, what matters is the nature of these jobs: Do they really enable the transition to more regular jobs? Or does it obligate you to low-paying and insecure jobs? According to Standing, taking a short-term job after being unemployed for a long time dramatically reduces your chances of having a good income in the future.

When he mentioned our resisting capacity, Amartya Sen (2009) emphasizes that these two must be distinguished: (1) A person’s achievement of goals must be independent of the role that the person plays. (2) The achievement of one’s goals must-has been accomplished by one’s efforts. So how limited a person’s capacity to make changes in their own life is a highly variable issue. On the other hand, the factor that determines the preferences of young people is, unfortunately, mostly the economy.

Esping-Andersen, G. (2009). Incomplete Revolution: Adapting Welfare States to Women’s New Roles. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Knijn, T., & Smit, A. (2009). Investing, Facilitating or Individualizing the Reconciliation of Work and Family Life: Three Paradigms and Ambivalent Policies. Social Politics, 16(4), 484-518.

Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Şeyma Dursunoğlu

Şeyma Dursunoğlu

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