By Gordon Hull
It has seemed to me for a long time that one helpful theoretical lens through which to look at neoliberalism is to understand it as a phase (or perhaps a dispositive) of biopower. This is because neoliberalism does not generally rely on juridical rules (or tried to colonize the judiciary), it pushes for the marketization of everything, and involves an elaborate state apparatus to support that marketization. It also functions as an engine of subjectification, actively attempting to turn everyone into instantiations of homo economicus, whether directly by state action, or by way of empowering private actors. Even school students are quietly taught the ropes. The incessant demands for privatization have put enormous pressure on the public sector, both in the starvation of funding cuts and the efforts to privatize it. That, in turn, has led to such monstrosities as private prisons.
That said, today’s neoliberal biopolitics obviously needs to be distinguished from the biopolitics that came before, which was, as Foucault discussed, centered at the population level, concerned with birth rates, longevity, and so on (hence the distinction is readily apparent in health policy). One of the hallmarks of the emergence of biopolitics is the rise of the administrative state; as the state comes increasingly to try to optimize the population, an elaborate administrative apparatus – a large state bureaucracy – emerges to fill these functions. This does not mean that there are no more laws. Indeed, Foucault emphasizes that the biopolitical era involves multiple sites of power, both inside and outside the state: