Neoliberalism has reached the Southern Cone. Accompanying the privatization of public facilities, capital liquidation and de-regulation, socio-territorial changes have profoundly changed the layout and experience of the Argentine capital. These particular changes include a volcanic expansion of Urbanizaciones Cerradas (UC's) and other forms of closed community suburban growth. The simultaneous increases in capitalism, the car and UC's are not coincidental, neither are they merely additional examples of consumer culture; the car and the closed community are specific dividing mechanisms that allow for a small percentage of the population to escape and ignore the pauperization of the vast majority of the population, and to lead a life that convinces them of the value of individual agency over structural influences. The atomization promoted by the car is at the center of the hyper-individualism of neoliberal ideology.
When neoliberalism arrives in a country, it is often veiled under notions of "modernity" or a withdrawal of the state as an actor, in favor of "open" or "free" markets. The neoliberal agenda normally includes external indebtedness for large infrastructure projects, de-regulation on the flow of capital, cuts to public services, reduction in tariffs and the privatization of state-run business. While one could view these steps as a reduction in the role of the state, it is accurate if we consider it, as does Loïc Wacquant, a rearranging of the state. The state establishes the economic system, but neoliberalism portends to be a sort of natural way of life. In this new arrangement, the state promotes and facilitates the accumulation of capital and hyper-individualism, while systemically punishing and extracting resources from the majority of the population.
In the specifically Argentine context, neoliberalism has brought about levels of inequality unheard of in recent national history. According to Ezequiel Adamovsky's Historia de las clases populares en la Argentina (218) in 1974, the wealthiest 10% had an average wealth 12.3 times that of the lowest ten percent. By 2002, this rate had increased to 33.6 times that of the lowest ten percent. This trend does not only affect the poorest and wealthiest. Rather, those with medium and medium-high incomes have reduced in terms of percentage, while the low-income, poor and informal-housing populations have sky-rocketed. This rising inequality has been accompanied by a rising GDP as well, adding to the myth of individual responsibility.
An important example the Argentine state's active role in promoting the trope of individual responsibility comes from the transport sector. For decades, Argentina had a world-class rail network, connecting the major cities to the countryside and smaller pueblos; however, since the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín and especially under the Presidency of Carlos Menem in the 1990s, the state has ceded control of the trains to private companies, causing a disastrous 80% reduction of trains in operation, leaving rural and poor populations with drastically-reduced mobility. (For more information on the devastating effects of this privatization see Pino Solanas´ La Próxima Estación) The state handed a vital public service over to profit-motivated business that also had stake in the auto industry, while simultaneously constructing and expanding large highways dividing the city and facilitating expansion to the suburbs for the wealthy, car-owning population. This active promotion of the automobile has left us with a more deadly and less efficient means of transporting people and cargo. In other words, the state, all under the banner of an apolitical modernity, has actively promoted the car through neoliberalism, causing injury, environmental degradation and increased inequality.
Recently, the company Metrovías, the private company managing the subway in Buenos Aires, announced drastic cuts in services and a 127% increase in the price of a ride. With these cuts came a 30% decrease in ridership from 1,200,000 passengers a day to 900,000. These reductions serve as the latest example of private companies putting profit ahead of the needs of the population.
The increased use of the car, in addition to its more measurable effects of deaths (7,517 deaths in 2011), environmental destruction (transport now accounted for a record 42.69% of Co2 emissions in 2008) and decreased efficiency (transport by car is 8 to 10 times the cost as if by train) also has problematic isolating repercussions, necessary for neoliberalism. Cars allow for the continued explosion in UC's in the Greater Metropolitan Region of Buenos Aires (RMBA). Because these large countrys are constructed in the suburbs, they often displace dense areas of informal housing, replacing them with large houses, tennis courts and highways, the contrast between income-level is often stark. The wealthiest members of the society are often living next to some of the poorest, though with security guards, cameras and fences separating them. For this reason, quick access to highways is seen as extra security features. The separation that results from the increased reliance on private transportation is a causal mechanism for otherizing people in informal housing or anyone outside of the gated community. This isolation and decreased community are vital in constructing faith in neoliberal ideology.
In addition to the isolating effects for the car-owning class, the rise of the automobile, it's accompanying architecture and the disappearing of public transport options tear at the social fabric of many communities, discouraging cooperation and collective resistance. Similar to the infamous Bronx highway, Buenos Aires has constructed highways without regard to the displacement of the lives of many individuals. The UC's, which are often built on land previously occupied by large villas, serve as an additional bifurcation of the community. This disruption not only contributes to the economic decline of large parts of the population, but also reduces social and political capital, as neighbors are removed from their homes and marginalized people are forced to rearrange their lives for the purpose of the wealthiest have private transport and personal tennis courts. This particularly insidious mechanism thwarts the potential for collective, popular and political action, making the car and its byproducts integral in maintaining such an unequal society. Without the disruption of displacements, isolation, collective action would face fewer obstacles and neoliberalism would face stiffer resistance.
The car allows the wealthiest individuals to live a life that portends to be one based on apolitical individuality. By performing individualism through transport, it begins to seem true that one can arrive at such wealth without systemic support. The separation provided by the windshield, the highway and gated communities allows the individuals inside the walls to forget about the poverty and the lives of those outside the security fences. The steep decline in public and collective transportation options, has reduced our interaction with our neighbors, leading to dehumanization and thwarting the potential for collective action. The car is an important product and facilitator of the vast inequality wrought by neoliberalism.