Dissertation Abstracts

The Middle Classes and the Politics of Neoliberalism in Israel and in Chile

Author: Avigur-Eshel, Amit , amit.avigur@mail.huji.ac.il
Department: Political Science
University: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Supervisor: Mario Sznajder
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: neoliberalism , hegemony , middle class , latin america
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Social Classes and Social Movements , Economy and Society

Abstract

In recent decades, neoliberalism has served as a framework for economic policy in dozens of countries and has shaped their political economy. Yet, the socio-political foundations that underlie its political stability have been under-researched. This research examines the contribution of the middle class, and specifically the upper-middle class (UMC), to the political stabilization and permanence of neoliberalism in Israel and in Chile.
These two countries were selected for two reasons. First, because they are ‘successful’ neoliberlizers. They have adopted the neoliberal course and have maintained it. Second, they are most-different cases of success. Israel began implementing wide neoliberal market reforms gradually in the mid-1980s, initially under a National Unity government which dissolved in 1990. Chile executed some dramatic reforms as early as the mid-1970s under a dictatorship and maintained the neoliberal model even after the transition to democracy in the 1990s.
Theoretically, this research is based on a Gramscian framework. In a Gramscian hegemony, a dominant social group constructs a stable political, economic and social order which primarily serves its interests by securing the consent of other social groups. The consent of a non-dominant social group to a specific hegemonic project is achieved through (1) the fulfillment of some – but not all – central material interests of that group and (2) the group’s acceptance of central ideological principles which the hegemonic project believes in and promotes.
The main argument is that during 1990-2008 the UMCs contributed to the political stability of the neoliberal projects in Chile and in Israel by consenting to them. These projects enabled some of their main material interests to be fulfilled while others were compromised, leaving the corresponding upper classes (capitalists) as the main beneficiaries. Concomitantly, the UMCs perceived the ideological foundations of neoliberalism as desirable or at least as acceptable.
The main finding in the part of the argument regarding material interests is that most UMCs in both countries experienced considerable real wage increases (or relatively very high wage levels) with some parallel deterioration in employment quality. The only exception is a segment of the Israeli UMC which did not receive considerable wage increases.
The main findings in the part of the argument regarding ideology are that the UMCs are more receptive to neoliberalism than other classes and that some segments within that class-group have accepted the core of the neoliberal ideology. Another finding is that segments among both UMCs critical of neoliberalism find it difficult to construct an alternative to the neoliberal ideology.
The main contribution of this study is the introduction of the concept of consent. The perspective of consent offers a new look at the socio-political foundations of neoliberalism which overcomes the limitations of existing relevant theoretical perspectives that concentrate on interest-fulfillment or on coercion. This perspective also contributes to the socio-political analysis of political-economic orders in general. The decline of representative organizations in recent decades has negatively affected existing theoretical frameworks. This study joins other recent efforts in meeting these challenges by proposing consent as a basis for analysis.

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