Yes, neoliberalism is a thing. Don’t let economists tell you otherwise

“The really fascinating battles in intellectual history tend to occur when some group or movement goes on the offensive and asserts that Something Big really doesn’t actually exist.”

So says Philip Morowski in his book ‘Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown’. As Mirowski argues, neoliberalism is a particularly fascinating case in point. Just as Thatcher asserted there was ‘no such thing as society’, it’s common to find economics commentators asserting that there is ‘no such thing as neoliberalism’ – that it’s simply a meaningless insult bandied about by the left, devoid of analytical content.

But on the list of ‘ten tell-tale signs you’re a neoliberal’, insisting that Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing must surely be number one. The latest commentator to add his voice to the chorus is Sky Economics Editor Ed Conway. On the Sky blog, he gives four reasons why Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

1. It’s only used by its detractors, not by its supporters

This one is pretty easy to deal with, because it’s flat-out not true. As Mirowski documents, “the people associated with the doctrine did call themselves ‘neo-liberals’ for a brief period lasting from the 1930s to the early 1950s, but then they abruptly stopped the practice” – deciding it would serve their political project better if they claimed to be the heirs of Adam Smith than if they consciously distanced themselves from classical liberalism. Here’s just one example, from Milton Friedman in 1951:

“a new ideology… must give high priority to real and efficient limitation of the state’s ability to, in detail, intervene in the activities of the individual. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that there are positive functions allotted to the state. The doctrine that, one and off, has been called neoliberalism and that has developed, more or less simultaneously in many parts of the world… is precisely such a doctrine… But instead of the 19th century understanding that laissez-faire is the means to achieve this goal, neoliberalism proposes that competition will lead the way”.

You might notice that as well as the word ‘neoliberalism’, this also includes the word ‘ideology’. Remember that one for later.

It’s true that the word ‘neoliberalism’ did go underground for a long time, with its proponents preferring to position their politics simply as sound economics than to admit it was a radical ideological programme. But that didn’t stop them from knowing what they stood for, or from acting collectively – through a well-funded network of think tanks and research institutes – to spread those ideas.

It’s worth noting that one of those think tanks, the Adam Smith Institute, has in the last couple of years consciously reclaimed the mantle. Affiliated intellectuals like Madsen Pirie and Sam Bowman have explicitly sought to define and defend neoliberalism. It’s no accident that this happened around the time that neoliberalism began to be seriously challenged in the UK, with the rise of Corbyn and the shock of the Brexit vote, after a post-crisis period where the status quo seemed untouchable.

2. Nobody can agree on what it means

Well, this one at least is half-true. Like literally every concept that has ever mattered, the concept of ‘neoliberalism’ is messy, it’s deeply contested, it has evolved over time and it differs in theory and practice. From the start, there has been debate within the neoliberal movement itself about how it should define itself and what its programme should be. And, yes, it’s often used lazily on the left as a generic term for anything vaguely establishment. None of this means that it is Not A Thing. This is something sociologists and historians instinctively understand, but which many economists seem to have trouble with.

Having said this, it is possible to define some generally accepted core features of neoliberalism. Essentially, it privileges markets as the best way to organise the economy and society, but unlike classical liberalism, it sees a strong role for the state in creating and maintaining these markets. Outside of this role, the state should do as little as possible, and above all it must not interfere with the ‘natural’ operation of the market. But it has always been part of the neoliberal project to take over the state and transform it for its own ends, rather than to dismantle or disable it.

Of course, there’s clearly a tension between neoliberals’ professed ideals of freedom and their need for a strong state to push through policies that often don’t have democratic consent. We see this in the actions of the Bretton Woods institutions in the era of ‘structural adjustment’, or the Troika’s behaviour towards Greece during the Eurozone crisis. We see it most starkly in Pinochet’s Chile, the original neoliberal experiment. This perhaps helps to explain the fact that neoliberalism is sometimes equated with libertarianism and the ‘small state’, while others reject this characterisation. I’ll say it again: none of this means that neoliberalism doesn’t exist.

3. Neoliberalism is just good economics

Neoliberalism may not exist, says Conway, but what do exist are “conventional economic models – the ones established by Adam Smith all those centuries ago”, and the principles they entail. That they may have been “overzealously implemented and sometimes misapplied” since the end of the Cold War is “unfortunate”, but “hardly equals an ideology”. I’m sure he’ll hate me for saying this, but Ed – this is the oldest neoliberal trick in the book.

The way Conway defines these principles (fiscal conservatism, property rights and leaving businesses to make their own decisions) is hardly a model of analytical rigour, but we’ll let that slide. Instead, let’s note that the entire reason neoliberal ideology developed was that the older classical “economic models” manifestly failed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, leading them to be replaced by Keynesian demand-management models as the dominant framework for understanding the economy.

Neoliberals had to update these models in order to restore their credibility: this is why they poured so much effort into the development of neoclassical economics and the capture of academic economics by the Chicago School. One of the great achievements of neoliberalism has been to induce such a level of collective amnesia that it’s now once again possible to claim that these tenets are simply “fundamental economic rules” handed down directly from Adam Smith on tablets of stone, unchallenged and unchallengeable in the history of economic thought.

In any case, even some people that ascribe to neoclassical economics – like Joseph Stiglitz – are well enough able to distinguish this intellectual framework from the political application of it by neoliberals. It is perfectly possible to agree with the former but not the latter.

4. Yes, ‘neoliberal’ policies have been implemented in recent decades, but this has been largely a matter of accident rather than design

Privatisation, bank deregulation, the dismantling of capital and currency controls: according to Conway, these are all developments that came about by happenstance. “Anyone who has studied economic history” will tell you they are “hardly the result of a guiding ideology.” This will no doubt be news to the large number of eminent economic historians who have documented the shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism, from Mirowski and Daniel Stedman-Jones to Robert Skidelsky and Robert Van Horn (for a good reading list, see this bibliographic review by Will Davies.)

It would also be news to Margaret Thatcher, the woman who reportedly slammed down Hayek’s ‘Constitution of Liberty’ on the table at one of her first cabinet meetings and declared “Gentlemen, this is our programme”; and who famously said “Economics is the method; the object is to change the soul”. And it would be news to those around her who strategized for a Conservative government with carefully laid-out battleplans for dismantling the key institutions of the post-war settlement, such as the Ridley Report on privatising state-run entities.

What Conway appears to be denying here is the whole idea that policymaking takes place within a shared set of assumptions (or paradigm), that dominant paradigms tend to shift over time, and that these shifts are usually accompanied by political crises and resulting transfers of political power – making them at least partly a matter of ideology rather than simply facts.

Whether it’s even meaningful to claim that ideology-free facts exist on matters so inherently political as how to run the economy is a whole debate in the sociology of knowledge which we don’t have time to go into here, and which Ed Conway doesn’t seem to have much awareness of.

But he shows his hand when he says that utilities were privatised because “governments realised they were mostly a bit rubbish at running them”. This is a strong – and highly contentious – political claim disguised as a statement of fact – again, a classic neoliberal gambit. It’s a particularly bizarre one for an economist to make at a time when 70% of UK rail routes are owned by foreign states who won the franchises through competitive tender. Just this week, we learned that the East Coast main line is to be temporarily renationalised because Virgin and Stagecoach turned out to be, erm, a bit rubbish at running it.

***

It may be a terrible cliché, but the old adage “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” seems appropriate here. Neoliberalism successfully hid in plain sight for decades, with highly ideological agendas being implemented amidst claims we lived in a post-ideological world. Now that it is coming under ideological challenge, it is all of a sudden stood naked in the middle of the room, having to explain why it’s there (to borrow a phrase from a very brilliant colleague).

There are a number of strategies neoliberals can adopt in response to this. The Adam Smith Institute response is to go on the offensive and defend it. The Theresa May response is to pay lip service to the need for systemic change whilst quietly continuing with the same old policies. Those, like Ed Conway, who persist in claiming neoliberalism doesn’t even exist, may soon find themselves left behind by history.

  • noodlecake

    Regardless of what you decide to call it, it works.

    • For the rich, of course. Not so great for the rest of us.

      • ANGRY_MODERATE

        Indeed, with one qualification: it works only for the VERY rich, not all the rich. This is the absurdity of the project — that it has badly damaged the mainstream of society and most people are either too propagandised or too thick to notice.

      • Actually and sadly, this is not true. The poor in poor countries are very much better off. People living in poverty has steadily declined. The poor in rich countries (who are very much better off than the poor poor) are not doing so well. But *globally* poverty is on the decline. I know this is an inconvenient fact for us, but it should be on the table.

        • Mike

          But the places where poverty has declined have not, for the most part, pursued neoliberal or even conventional policies. In particular, East Asia has become prosperous by using a completely different way of doing things, notably state channelling of capital, together with export discipline to ensure world-beating companies (this is *not* the same as “free trade” in the neoliberal sense). The different East Asian countries have been very different in detail, but this unites them. Many academic economists still do not recognise how different their model is, and how problematic its success is to explain using conventional economic theory.

          • William MacDougall

            Depends how you define “neoliberalism”. Yes Singapore became very wealthy in a highly regulated system, but Hong Kong became wealthy with very little regulation. Taiwan became wealthy in spite of regulation, while in Korea and China it’s debatable. In India it’s clear that the reduction in regulation led to an explosion of growth, and a reduction of poverty. Which of these different systems to you label “neoliberal”, all or just some? Depends on the definition. But yes in all poverty has been greatly reduced.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            Hong Kong was a British colony with neoliberal ideology and policies. It was atypical of the Third World because it was controlled by the British in collusion with wealthy Chinese crooks. And no, the other countries did not follow neoliberal policies. This is just more propaganda laid down to try to confuse people. Neoliberalism has clearly created more poverty, and attempts to deny this are pure lies.

          • BC

            “Taiwan became wealthy in spite of regulation, while in Korea and China it’s debatable. In India it’s clear that the reduction in regulation led to an explosion of growth, and a reduction of poverty.”

            Taiwan, Korea and China did not develop as a result of neoliberalism at all. Their economic success involved extensive state interference in business and industry and a great deal of regulation. “Debatable”? Really? Why?

            Hong Kong is an artificial niche economy – able to take advantage of a unique relationship to both China and Western nations and simply too small to extrapolate from. It is absurd to attribute its success to neoliberalism.

            As far as India’s neoliberal policies are concerned it is simply too soon to tell but I would bet on an impending social and economic disaster accompanied by extremely dangerous political turmoil. More in common with their old imperial masters than they ever bargained for, perhaps.

          • William MacDougall

            Hong Kong is an economy with over 7 million people, not some ignorable “niche”, and it coped well with millions of refugees from Communism and grew quickly, and of course neoliberalism can be credited for that success. As for Taiwan, Korea and China, it’s difficult to prove whether state intervention was an aid or a hindrance to development, but in Taiwan and China at least the more dynamic parts of the economy were the less regulated. Anyway, I see you are again using the word in a narrow fashion that excludes New Labour and other social democratic approaches; not all users of the word have such a narrow definition.

          • BC

            I don’t exclude New Labour from it. They adopted it because they thought it was the new paradigm. A tiny rump of them still think that. Thankfully, the proportion of Tories and Lib Dems who still adhere to it is also small. It endures because the very rich continue to support it.

          • William MacDougall

            Now you are switching from a narrow to a broad definition.
            Such slippery usage makes the word meaningless.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            The only slippery arguments here are yours.

          • BC

            I don’t agree your reasoning. It’s very similar to what had happened with Social democracy from the early 1950s through to the mid 1970s. Only the nuttiest of Tory Right wingers advocated re-privatising the strategic industries or reforming the NHS out of existence. The fact that MacMillan et al had accepted that it would be electoral suicide to try and reverse Social Democratic reforms didn’t make “Social Democracy” a slippery usage…

          • William MacDougall

            You can have a broad definition or you can have a narrow definition, but decide which and don’t slip back and forth…

          • BC

            I’m not slipping between the two. Blair adopted policies which were decidedly Neoliberal. In particular, he set out to shunt parts of the NHS into the private sector, he introduced academies (a flagship Buchanan policy) ,he favoured unearned income over earned in his tax policies and he failed to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union legislation and privatisations.

          • William MacDougall

            So now you’ve slipped into a broad definition. It’s as if I defined “Marxism” as being the same as “Maoism” and then slipped into calling some moderate a “Maoist”…

          • BC

            That actually happens a great deal. Any link to the Chinese tends to label the subject as a Maoist.
            I hate to get personal but you did exactly that with regard to the Greek Party, Syriza some years ago, William. Marxism has been around a little longer than Neoliberalism so it has acquired a few more variants but the latter is certainly beginning to branch out in different directions.

          • William MacDougall

            Well Syriza included a party that calls itself “Maoist”, so my point then was reasonable. Re your later point, is “Neoliberalism” the same as Classical Liberalism, which is older than Marxism?

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            No, your point was not reasonable. As usual, you think yourself expert on everything while in reality you are expert in nothing. It’s all hot air (or some smelly gas from the nether regions).

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            Hong Kong is an artificial state which grew out of British colonialism and collusion with Chinese criminals. It was always used in the 1970s to 80s textbooks as the world’s unique example of a country without any sort of welfare system — free markets everywhere such that the rich became richer and the poor (the majority) remained in abject poverty. As a small-scale experiment carried out by greedy British crooks it proved definitively that free markets create poverty and terrible living conditions, while allowing the owners of capital to increase their obscene wealth.

            Your ridiculous theoretical postings are what I would expect from first year undergrad students without much ability. They bear no relationship to reality and you cite no sources, no statistical data, nothing — because there is nothing to sustain the fraudulent claims that you are making.

          • This is also quite obviously not true. A lot of the change in poverty has happened in Africa and South Asia. East Asia is a very mixed bag and cannot be talked about as a lump the way you are doing.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            Garbage. Ideological garbage. Try looking at the UNDP reports on human development before opening your big mouth. Much of Africa remains in poverty and much of SE Asia. Those few countries with success stories did not follow neoliberal policies — FACT.

        • ANGRY_MODERATE

          What-aboutery and garbage. The poor and middle class in the developed world have been made poorer, while the rich became very rich. In the developing world, different approaches have prevailed — which focused on industrialisation and export development. The latter intersects with neoliberalism only with regard to relatively free trade — something not confined to neoliberal ideology.

          • Try looking up some facts on poverty and then join the discussion as someone with an informed opinion.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            I deal exclusively with facts, with much of my published work consisting of statistical analyses. You are the one with an uninformed opinion — in common with all of the neoliberal and far right. Propaganda is now known to be the standard practice of ideological crooks.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            Flagged as abuse.

        • BC

          “I know this is an inconvenient fact for us, but it should be on the table.”

          You are confusing statistics with fact. Statistics are abstractions and mask the fact that overall increases in living standards are often accompanied by localised grinding poverty and that the increased prosperity enjoyed by an individual may well be fleeting as production moves elsewhere and family and communal support is broken up by workforce mobility. It is a mistake often made by intellectuals whose only knowledge of the lives of ordinary people comes from books.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            A mistake made by second-rate “intellectuals” whose only knowledge of the world comes from books (or more usually, online articles) and for whom empirical data collection and verification of claims or “truths” is considered a waste of their allegedly valuable time.

    • Dunbar

      If you regard $230 TRILLION of global debt “working” I hate to think what you consider failure…

    • ANGRY_MODERATE

      Are you the brother of noodlehead?

  • Dunbar

    It’s a rather ham-fisted attempt by Neoliberal apologists to hide in plain sight.

    Even the IMF calls itself “Neoliberal”: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/ostry.htm

    • ANGRY_MODERATE

      The IMF is one of the few openly neoliberal agencies, backed as it is by US interests and with the only two political parties (Democrats and Republicans) committed to neoliberal axioms. The ROW is more circumspect, as there are alternatives elsewhere.

  • Sanjay Mittal

    I’m much amused by the claim in the above article that “…on the list of ‘ten tell-tale signs you’re a neoliberal’, insisting that Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing must surely be number one.” There’s just one teensy problem with that claim: the rise in interest in this subject in recent days stems from an article published a few days ago by someone who is not just left of centre, but describes himself as a Marxist! That’s Chris Dillow on his “Stumbling and Mumbling” blog.

    Don’t quite see how a Marxist can be a neoliberal – or perhaps I’ve missed something!

    At any rate I rather agree with Dillow’s questioning whether neoliberalism exists. In fact neoliberalism is arguably just one example of several allegedly wicked ideas thought up by lefities so that lefties can portray themselves as saints by comparison and so as to provide lefties with an evil monster which lefties can be seen to valiantly fight.

    Another classic example of this delusion is “hate”. The truth is that it is extremely difficult to prove what anyone’s motives are for doing or saying anything. But lefties are not bothered by mere trifles like the truth or proving evil intent before attributing evil intent to anyone. In the eyes of lefties, anyone disagreeing with a leftie (especially on immigration) is motivated by hate. End of.

    • ANGRY_MODERATE

      Utter crap. Your claim that because someone I have never heard of has posted something on a blog then a general thesis is overturned is nothing less than pathetic propaganda. Try dealing with realities, instead of posting hate speech masquerading as thought.

      • Sanjay Mittal

        I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of Chris Dillow: his articles tend to be read by and often cited by the intelligentsia – university professors etc. Plus I didn’t argue that because “someone has posted something on a blog” that a “general thesis is overturned”. Try reading my above comment again.

        • ANGRY_MODERATE

          If this is some sort of attempt at a put-down, it fails miserably. I consider myself to be part of the intelligentsia — more so than most university teachers these days, who specialise in collecting money and writing drivel.

          And I do not need to read anything again. If you failed to express your intentions clearly, then you need to write it again.

    • Dunbar

      “Immigration”, or the “free movement of people” is a pillar of the “free market”. Along with the free movement of Capital and produce, the free movement of people is a central tenant of Neoliberalism.

      The recent articles regarding Neoliberalism are in response to Ed Conway’s laughable assertion it doesn’t exist. He’s not the first to make the claim, right wing “libertarians” were at it ten years ago, too.

      Marxists regard the myriad distinctions between Capitalist models merely dancing on the head of a pin. It’s all “Capitalism” to them.

    • Red

      “fact neoliberalism is arguably just one example of several allegedly wicked ideas thought up by lefities so that lefties”
      -> Did you even bother to read the article ? Section “1. It’s only used by its detractors, not by its supporters”

      • Sanjay Mittal

        Section 1 doesn’t flatly contradict or support my point. It says the term neoliberal originates with the political right, but for the last 70 years has been used primarily by the left. I.e. I shouldn’t have said the term was “thought up” by the left: on the other hand it certainly owes it’s existence in 2018 to the left (assuming the above article is correct on the history of the term).

        • ANGRY_MODERATE

          Irrelevant whataboutery

  • William MacDougall

    The problem with the term “neoliberalism” is the ambiguity over what it means, and conflicting ways the word has been used, so that I’m not sure whether to wear the label with pride, or to attack it. The “neoliberalism” or “ordoliberalism” of the 30s and 40s is very different from the Chicago School of economics, involving a much greater role for the state, in particular for state regulation, than the latter. If Tony Blair – who greatly increased economic regulation – is a “neoliberal” than I certainly am not. If the word means “classical liberal” then he isn’t, and I might be. I’ve often seen the word used to describe decidedly unliberal policies that are neither the “neoliberalism” of the 30s nor the classical liberalism of Freedman, i.e. it’s often used to describe policies that the left-wing speaker doesn’t like rather than policies that arise from some variant of liberal thinking. Be clear whether you mean social democrats abandoning state ownership but still decidedly statist, or whether you mean libertarians wanting a very limited state role, and the word might be useful. But as a catch all for anything the left-wing speaker dislikes the word is useless.

    • ANGRY_MODERATE

      Confirmation that you are a neoliberal ****ole — as in fact we knew already. You have been bleating this crap about poorly-defined terminology for years on oD. It is clear that you are more concerned with definitional pedantry than with actual outcomes and the damage caused to hundreds of millions of lives by policies that you actively support.

    • ANGRY_MODERATE

      Confirmation that you are a neoliberal ****ole — as in fact we knew already. You have been bleating this crap about poorly-defined terminology for years on oD. It is clear that you are more concerned with definitional pedantry than with actual outcomes and the damage caused to hundreds of millions of lives by policies that you actively support.

    • BC

      The term refers to the ideology espoused by the Mont Pelerin Society and was adopted by them for a short time. As the author points out, there are variations within it but it follows on from Von Hayek’s short-on-analysis long-on-polemic Road to Serfdom – a work which also set the tone for making ideologically loaded and contentious assertions as if they are empirically proven facts.

      Quite simply, the fact that there are superficial differences between Chicago Neoliberals and (say) ACLU Neoliberals does not nullify the common thread to which they belong any more than the differences between Allthusser and David Harvey mean they cannot both have been Marxists.

      “Be clear whether you mean social democrats abandoning state ownership but still decidedly statist, or whether you mean libertarians wanting a very limited state role, and the word might be useful.”

      Neoliberalism does not involve “a very limited state role” by any means: Buchanan’s Chilean constitution gave the armed forces the right to intervene in government at their discretion; Thatcher’s government broke new ground in terms of the state spying on trades unionists and political activists and of course using the police to break the heads of strikers and then frame them with criminal offences. A brutal, politicised and democratically unaccountable state is central to Mont Pelerin Society ideology.

      • Dunbar

        “The Road to Serfdom” is slippery slope fallacy, the book.

      • William MacDougall

        So you don’t think it covers New Labour? Great. But I don’t think there’s any evidence that Hayek approved of the military clauses of the Chilean constitution, and certainly didn’t as a long term state of affairs, nor that he approved of the more oppressive police measures you mention… Hayek rightly said “You can have economic freedom without political freedom, but you cannot have political freedom without economic freedom.” So he valued both, but felt economic freedom came first. “A brutal, politicised and democratically unaccountable state” is certainly not “central to Mont Pelerin Society ideology”; if that’s part of your concept of neoliberalism then I don’t understand your definition.

        • BC

          Blair accepted Neoliberalism for the same reason he had earlier elected to join the Labour Party: He thought it was the winning choice at the time. He is a man with very limited intellect and zero morality and has no relevance to this debate.

          “Hayek rightly said “You can have economic freedom without political freedom, but you cannot have political freedom without economic freedom.” ”

          He said it but that doesn’t make it fact. The economic freedom he and his associates advocated for the benefit of the rich would effectively cancel out political freedom for the rest of us. This is what I meant by “making ideologically loaded and contentious assertions as if they are empirically proven facts.”

          I am not aware of any Mont Pelerin Society members ever resiling from the conclusion that Pinochet’s brutal Chilean regime is their greatest achievement so far. Neither, to my knowledge, have any of them ever condemned Thatcher for the brutality and perfidy of her regime with regard to the miners’ strike.

          “…if that’s part of your concept of neoliberalism then I don’t understand your definition.”

          I define neoliberalism as the ideology adopted by the Mont Pelerin Society. I have given you two examples of the application of that ideology here. There are plenty more. What’s not to understand?

          • William MacDougall

            Blair is most definitely not a follower of the Mont Pelerin Society, and your two examples most certainly are not applications of that society’s ideology. You are shifting from a narrow definition to a broad definition well illustrating the slippery use of the word by Leftists…

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            So you’re an expert on Blair’s political philosophy now, despite the fact that you are a self-confessed Tory? Unbelievable!

          • BC

            “Blair is most definitely not a follower of the Mont Pelerin Society”

            That’s irrelevant. In common with most of his contemporaries he accepted their dogma – his NHS “reforms” and tax policies are pure neoliberalism – because he thought it would serve him well personally.

            “…and your two examples most certainly are not applications of that society’s ideology. ”

            What a peculiar claim! You are saying that neither James Buchanan nor Margaret Thatcher subscribed to the aims of the MPS? Buchanan was one of its most prominent and influential members. As pointed out in the text, Thatcher actually declared that the Constitution of Liberty “is our programme”. Are you suggesting that someone made these facts up?

            “You are shifting from a narrow definition to a broad definition well illustrating the slippery use of the word by Leftists…”

            Its definition and scope has broadened as its adherence has grown. This is one of the many ways in which it increasingly resembles Marxism.

          • William MacDougall

            With Marxism you have a large group of people who call themselves “Marxists” and you can enquire what they might have in common and ask them what they think they have in common. And it’s rarely the case – at least since McCarthy –
            that anyone who does not call himself a “Marxist” is alleged by others to nonetheless be a “Marxist”. Almost no one calls himself a “neoliberal”, so you can’t use those techniques, while a lot of the people called “neoliberal” by others have relatively little in common, hence the difficulty.

          • ANGRY_MODERATE

            The fact that neoliberalism is heavily tainted, actually refuted, is the reason that its ideologues do not use the label. The remainder of your comment is pure Tory drivel.

          • BC

            “And it’s rarely the case – at least since McCarthy –
            that anyone who does not call himself a “Marxist” is alleged by others to nonetheless be a “Marxist”. ”

            You have to be kidding. Corbyn and McConnell are the most obvious examples but I’ve seen the term used for Nicola Sturgeon(!) and several SNP MSPs and MPs.

            By and large though, it is true to say that most Marxists are honest about their affiliation while most Neoliberals are not. Having said that, Neoliberals are damned easy to spot so it doesn’t really present the problem you say it does.

            “…while a lot of the people called “neoliberal” by others have relatively little in common, hence the difficulty.”

            They will certainly have differences – as Marxists do. But what they do have in common is fundamental – a preference for market over democratic solutions.

          • William MacDougall

            Well McConnell at least does call himself a “Marxist”, even citing Mao’s Red Book in the House of Commons (imagine a Tory citing Mein Kampf), but anyway it is much more common for Marxists to call themselves that simply because it’s their own word. My fear with your slippery use of “neoliberalism” is that I might proudly call myself that, as the Adam Smith Society does, only to discover you are defining it in a way that includes not only the abhorrent Blair, but even Swift’s “Modest Proposal”…

          • BC

            The book was used as a joke to taunt Osborne with regard to his relationship with the Chinese. He is not a Marxist.

            A Modest Proposal was a satire which could well have been applied to Thatcher and Blair’s governments but it predates Liberalism, let alone neoliberalism.

            I referred you to examples of what Blair actually did. Academies and stealth privatisation of public services are concrete neoliberal policies. What he believes (nothing much) is irrelevant.

          • William MacDougall

            I’m pleased to hear Modest Proposal is excluded, though I fear the way the definition slips around that it might be included tomorrow. I agree Blair did some “neoliberal” things, but he also did some decidedly anti-neoliberal things, at least by the Mont Peleron measure, to such an extent it’s wrong to call him a “neoliberal” overall.

        • ANGRY_MODERATE

          These nursery school concepts such as “freedom” made sense to people when they were clamouring for independence from empires, or demanding a nation state. In the cold light of the modern world, neither “economic freedom” nor “political freedom” makes any sense as a useful concept. Freedom from, or freedom to?

          Negative and positive liberties are frequently confused, However, this binary distinction is nowhere near sufficient in a modern world where the power of the State is essential in order to protect citizens’ economic rights, especially with regard to global monopolies, abusive cartels, banking, employment issues… the list is endless. These issues were perhaps less compelling at the time Hayek wrote his key texts, but unlike Marx’s writings they proved far from prophetic. They share with Marx the misfortune of having been put into practice by political crooks and idiots — roughly half a century later than the implementation of communist ideology.,

  • There is a typo under No.1 in the quote attributed to Friedman. “The doctrine that, one and off,” one > on.

  • Mike

    Have you read the article “Neoliberalism – oversold?” – by the IMF Research Department. My take on it: they put the question mark in the title to make it palatable to the IMF as a whole. It’s an understated criticism, but still important given its origin. See http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/pdf/ostry.pdf

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