Thursday, May 25, 2017

Some Resources on Neoliberalism

Here are three:

  • Anthony Giddens, in The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1999), advocates a renewed social democracy. He contrasts what he is advocating with neoliberalism, which he summarizes as, basically, Margaret Thatcher's approach. Giddens recognizes that more flexible labor markets will not bring full employment and argues that unregulated globalism, including unregulated international financial markets, is a danger that must be addressed. He stresses the importance of environmental issues, on all levels from the personal to international. I wish he had something to say about labor unions, which I thought had an institutionalized role in the Labour Party, before Blair and Brown's "new labour" movement.
  • Charles Peters had a A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto in 1982. (See also 1983 piece in Washington Monthly.) This was directed to the Democratic Party in the USA. It argues that they should reject the approach of the New Deal and the Great Society. Rather, they should put greater reliance on market solutions for progressive ends. I do not think Peters was aware that the term "neoliberalism" was already taken. Contrasting and comparing other uses with Peters' could occupy much time.
  • I have not got very far in reading Michel Foucault. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. Foucault focuses on German ordoliberalism and the Chicago school of economics.

Anyways, neoliberalism is something more specific than any centrist political philosophy, between socialist central planning and reactionary ethnic nationalism. George Monbiot has some short, popular accounts. Read Noah Smith if you want confusion, incoherence, and ignorance, including ignorance of the literature.


Blissex said...

Thanks, very interesting links and notes. Here is an interesting interpretation (and I think agreeable) of the motivation for neoliberalism in the UK, which had profound influences also on other countries:

To some extend understand what a diffuse concept as "neoliberalism" is becomes difficult. Part of my approach is to ask what it is not, and in particular on how it differs from victorian liberalism, what JM Keynes called "the Manchester system", and some french guy called "laissez faire". Even if "neoliberalism" and "Washington consensus" are presumably the same thing, and "Washington consesus" is more explicitly defined.

If neoliberalism is indeed "neo" and not just victorian liberalism, I think the main difference is that it is the ideology of the USA suzerain empire, as "Washington consensus" suggests, while victorian liberalism was that of the english colonial empire, and that involves a shift from land and manufacturing liberalism to services and finance liberalism.

Blissex said...

«neoliberalism, which he summarizes as, basically, Margaret Thatcher's approach.»

Relatedly a recent statement by a super-thatcherite propaganda institute that they prefer to be called "neoliberal" and why:

Emil Bakkum said...

This is indeed a fascinating subject. In fact the postwar ordoliberalism has also been named neoliberalism. For me Giddens is mainly important, because he states that socialism was a failure. He advocates an increased role for markets. People must be made active and participate in society. He calls his ideology social liberalism, which distinguishes him from Etzioni (although both support for instance family life). Finally note that in German states the Third Way is called the New Centre. The New Democrats have also contributed to this debate.

Robert Vienneau said...

Here are Blissex's links: Ramsay article, Bowman article.

I think neoliberals differ from 19th century advocates of a night watchman state in that they recognize markets must be consciously created and maintained by state action. I agree that the "Washington consensus" is the name for something quite like neoliberalism.

I was surprised what I found in reading Giddens. He is against central planning. But he explicitly contrasts what he is advocating with what he calls neoliberalism. And, as I noted in my post, he recognizes limitations of markets. Maybe New Labour, in claiming him and in his support for New Labour, still leaves some room for a contrast.

I've written more on neoliberalism in past post, mostly quoting Philip Mirowski. I agree that this is a fascinating subject.

Anonymous said...

I looked at the entry for "Washington Consensus" on Wikipedia and it is very relevant and interesting. The main point is that the "Washington Consensus" is a well defined list of 10 points by J Williamson, and it is certainly part of what "neoliberalism" is about.

The Wikipedia page quotes J Williamson as claiming that in his view the "Washington Consensus" is not "neoliberalism" because the latter includes more features:

«"It is difficult even for the creator of the term to deny that the phrase "Washington Consensus" is a damaged brand name (Naím 2002). Audiences the world over seem to believe that this signifies a set of neoliberal policies that have been imposed on hapless countries by the Washington-based international financial institutions and have led them to crisis and misery. There are people who cannot utter the term without foaming at the mouth."»
«"I of course never intended my term to imply policies like capital account liberalization (...I quite consciously excluded that), monetarism, supply-side economics, or a minimal state (getting the state out of welfare provision and income redistribution), which I think of as the quintessentially neoliberal ideas. If that is how the term is interpreted, then we can all enjoy its wake, although let us at least have the decency to recognize that these ideas have rarely dominated thought in Washington and certainly never commanded a consensus there or anywhere much else"»

«Williamson was asked by The Washington Post in April 2009 whether he agreed with Gordon Brown that the Washington Consensus was dead. He responded:
"It depends on what one means by the Washington Consensus. If one means the ten points that I tried to outline, then clearly it's not right. If one uses the interpretation that a number of people—including Joe Stiglitz, most prominently—have foisted on it, that it is a neoliberal tract, then I think it is right."»

BTW, as to my understanding, the core aspect of neoliberalism is that lower wages are the solution to every economic problem; and in particular lower wages are the same as lower inflation, and therefore lower nominal interest rates and bigger capital gains. While victorian liberalism was about lower wages leading to bigger profits instead.