In this paper (pdf), Jon Wisman makes an important point:
Once control of the state was in principle democratized by the ballot box, the fortunes of the elite came to depend solely upon controlling ideology.
This reminds me of Steven Lukes' "third dimension" of power; rulers can exercise power not only by direct action or by keeping some things off the agenda, but by shaping ideology so that the oppressed come to regard their oppression as legitimate and unquestionable.
But how do the elite achieve this trick? Sometimes, the left verges towards conspiracy theory here, by believing that our rulers have the organizational skill to hoodwink people through the mass media.
This, though, needn't be the case. There are numerous cognitive biases which dispose people towards "neoliberal ideology."
2. The self-serving bias leads people to exaggerate the extent to which they are responsible for their own success, and thus biases them to believe that they "deserve" their incomes and hence resist paying tax.
3.These two biases also depress demand for unemployment insurance, as folk believe (until they get the heave-ho) that if they work hard they'll keep their jobs.
4. The just world illusion causes people to rationalize injustice, for example by blaming the victim.
5. The status quo bias causes us to prefer the devil we know, thus biasing people against radical change (not that this is on offer!)
6. The fundamental attribution error causes people to over-rate the importance of human agency relative to environmental factors, and so believe that huge pay for bosses is justifed.
7.The same error can also stop people recognizing that - via a mix of priming, stereotype threat and the Pygmalion effect - inequalities of outcome generate inequalities in behaviour. We might therefore attribute income inequality to differences in intelligence or industry, when in truth those differences are the result of inequality in income and power, not the cause.
Now, I don't say this to either deny a role for hoodwinking or to claim that "neoliberal ideology" is all bull. Instead, I do so merely to suggest that the ideology that benefits the elite is supported, in part, by cognitive biases.