The latest Fulbright Forum was interesting since it focused on American complicity in the hideous 1980 Gwangju Massacre, in which Korean armed foeces killed a huge (unknown) number of pro-democracy protesters in the southern city. I know of the massacre but the detail was all new to me, it was quite interesting (as all of these forums have been, incidentally).

The argument of the talk (a version of which is here) was that the U.S. supported if not actually facilitated the massacre in order to bring about the "neoliberal" transformation of Korea.

I don't doubt that economic motivations were and are the core of U.S. policy to maintaining order and systemic stability, and that the 1980 actions reflected these interests. But though I have a limited knowledge of the history of Korean economic development, I am fairly certain that the "neoliberal" transformation of South Korea did not occur that early (especially given the ongoing state-directed economic development program that had started in the mid-60s). It is something I plan to read about much more. Generally, the neoliberal transformation is dated to the IMF bailout after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Seeking stability, markets, and corporate investment oppotunities at the sacrifice of democracy has certainly been U.S. policy, but I would argue that it muddies or even renders useless the already overused concept of neoliberalism to apply it at that point. And, of course, the establishment of a for-real 'neoliberal' regime requires quite a bit more structural, economic, legal, and financial data rather than just the words of the ambassador and the appearance of American corporate investors. So, more evidence needed would be my advice. It could very well be there.

Part of my sensitivity to the overuse or misapplication of the concept of neoloberalism is having just read Naomi Klein's flashy, media-orientedShock Doctrine. Though there is certainly some good material in the book, and the argument examining the exploitation of all variety of shocks to aggressively transform political economies and social systems has some merit, the book has a sweeping and even breathless style of analysis which weakens it in the end. For one, Klein has a monolithic if not actually conspiratorial understanding of neoliberalized-shocked transformations that she attempts to fit to every and all situation around the globe. Thus she conflates Pinochet's Chile, Yeltsin's Russia, post-Tiananamin Massacre China and contemporary Israel. The model works well for Chile (which is why this should have been article and not book). China may have embraced capitalism and boomed, but it isn't 'neoliberal' by any definition, and certainly not in the American image or interest. Israel Klein apparently thinks is part of the neoliberalism machine because she doesn't support its policies and because it has successful defense and "war on terror" related businesses. But profiting and excelling in niche markets related to the military industrial complex in democratic-capitalist states is not the same thing as subverting democratic rule in order to streamline foreign corporate investment and privatize massive state wealth, and it isn't the same as setting up a turbo-capitalist state with a fascist system, like China is in many ways.

If such concepts are flabbily applied or oversued, they lose most analytical depth and utility.

Since the American project of restructuring global capitalism and national systems in its image, coupled with often arrogant, aggressive, and stupid use of power, are essential to study and understand, then surely some care should be taken with the terms of analysis.


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