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New Left Review 100, July-August 2016

Emma Fajgenbaum


Neoliberalism’s rise came with all sorts of advertising for the rollback of the state. [1] David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy Melville House: New York 2015, $20, paperback 261 pp, 978 1 61219 448 6 Bureaucracy was a byword for everything rigid and oppressive, which marketization promised to dissolve into supple flows of individual choice unburdened by the rigmarole of rules and procedure. Instead, regulations have expanded into every cranny of social existence: the commercial ‘terms and conditions’ generated by corporate bureaucracies are so non-negotiable that we automatically check the box in the knowledge that there’s no point reading them; big-data constructions of our consumer, civic and geographically situated identities are supremely rule-bound and bureaucratic. Yet the ideological opposition between state and free market has become so entrenched that awareness of the hyper-regulatory nature of contemporary capitalism has difficulty gaining ground. Even in the wake of the government bailouts following the 2008 crash, the ideal of the market’s independence from government regulation still reigns supreme.

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