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A Brief History of Neoliberalism

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Neoliberalism - the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action - has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of wh Neoliberalism - the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action - has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage. Through critical engagement with this history, he constructs a framework, not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.


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Neoliberalism - the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action - has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of wh Neoliberalism - the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action - has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage. Through critical engagement with this history, he constructs a framework, not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.

30 review for A Brief History of Neoliberalism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    "...There is no such thing as society, only individuals..." "...greed, for lack of a better word, is good..." Margret Thatcher and Gordon Gekko together summed up the essence of neo-liberalism in two quotes. This book is an excellent summary of the history and damage done by the impoverished ideology of these two neo-liberal icons. Harvey's "Brief History of Neoliberalism" reads like a true-life detective story investigating the mugging of the world economy in autumn 2008. What's unusual about Harv "...There is no such thing as society, only individuals..." "...greed, for lack of a better word, is good..." Margret Thatcher and Gordon Gekko together summed up the essence of neo-liberalism in two quotes. This book is an excellent summary of the history and damage done by the impoverished ideology of these two neo-liberal icons. Harvey's "Brief History of Neoliberalism" reads like a true-life detective story investigating the mugging of the world economy in autumn 2008. What's unusual about Harvey's detective work is that the victims were identified, the weapon discovered and the crooks fingered before the crime was even uncovered. The battered body of the economy was found alive but barely breathing in an alley in Lower Manhattan on 15th September 2008, three years after the book was published and the day that Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in US history. That was the same day 99% of the population began to understand their wallets had been emptied by billionaire thieves carrying a neoliberal cosh who had left them with nothing but the small change in their pockets. Neoliberalism is: "…a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve the institutional framework appropriate to such practices…" In case you're wondering, Neo-conservatism is Neoliberalism plus God and guns. It all sounds innocent enough, which is one reason for the success of neoliberal dogma. But as with most public discourse these days, the mischief is in what is left unsaid by words designed to conceal rather than to reveal. The "..institutional framework…" created by the state is the use of its monopoly on violence to preserve private property rights. The state encourages its citizens to be used as the tools of private enterprise and cares nothing for them as individuals and members of society. Neoliberalism's main success has been to enrich the few at the cost of the many. The evidence is everywhere and irrefutable: unprecedented growth in inequality and stagnation or falls in real wages for ninety percent of the population while those already rich watch their wealth grow from tax cuts and subsidies to corporations. The magic spells neoliberalism uses to make wealth flow uphill to the rich instead of trickling down to the rest of us as are as numerous as the bedrooms in a billionaire's mansion and as subtle as a lawyer's undisclosed side letter. Chapter six explains the methods in detail: privatization and commodification, excessive financialization, the management and manipulation of crises and state redistribution. Privatization is particularly invidious. As a trained accountant I well know how the tiniest change to a pension fund's expected investment return or the smallest tweak to the priority of a lien can send large sums of money out of the taxpayer's pocket and into the ether, only to rematerialize in the hands of a well connected businessman. If you don't believe this just pause to reflect, how did the twenty four Mexican billionaires appeared on the Forbes rich list after Mexican privatization? Are these billionaires genuine "wealth creators"? Did Mexico spontaneously generate twenty four Bill Gates or Steve Jobs practically overnight? Harvey outdid many trained economists with his insight into the financial markets and the phantom speculative profits they were reporting. As events in 2008 showed, Harvey was spot on in foreseeing how: "…So-called global cities of finance…become spectacular islands of wealth and prvilege, with towering skyscrapers…Within these towers, trading between floors creates a vast amount of fictitious wealth…" The only thing he got wrong was underestimating the depths of criminality in the financial system. Even Harvey couldn't imagine the extent to which bankers were shamelessly breaking out the Bollinger to toast their rigging of LIBOR, FX, commodity and other markets. Neoliberalism has failed to live up even to its limited ambition of preserving private property rights and creating fair markets: the markets were rigged and if you ever took out a loan or changed foreign currency then your pocket was picked. The discussion on neo-liberalism's theft of the human desire for individual freedom as a cover story for its rapaciousness is the best section in the book. Harvey is known as a Marxist and he has some controversial quotes up his sleeve. Take this for example: "…Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well…we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life, is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power…" Who is this preferring the freedom evinced by proper security, reasonable leisure and a decent living throughout life ahead of the acquisition of wealth and power? Roosevelt of course - who these days is a dangerous radical given Neoliberalism's current hold on public debate. It only took the US a few decades to abandon the freedoms Roosevelt spoke about and replace them with the freedom of unregulated markets. Sad. UPDATE: An outstandingly good article on neo liberalism in The Guardian today http://gu.com/p/4tbfb?CMP=Share_iOSAp...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A Brief History of Neoliberalism was written shortly before the current economic recession, and has become even more 'appealing' at a time when many are searching for both answers and blame. Critique of the current system and its damage is important. However, this critique falls into the category of 'sloppy and lazy,' and I have a tough time giving Harvey the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his intellectual honesty. Let me say that I fully appreciate the central criticism of joint state-cor A Brief History of Neoliberalism was written shortly before the current economic recession, and has become even more 'appealing' at a time when many are searching for both answers and blame. Critique of the current system and its damage is important. However, this critique falls into the category of 'sloppy and lazy,' and I have a tough time giving Harvey the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his intellectual honesty. Let me say that I fully appreciate the central criticism of joint state-corporate power, which has no doubt produced undesirable effects. I found myself nodding my head at each mention of how the state along with big business has corrupted the ideas rooted in the Mont Pelerin Society. In addition, he has used writing that is pretty accessible, albeit a bit pretentious, for a book about such an intricate subject. In keeping the narrative brief, he has geared the book toward a wide audience, though it will likely catch on most with those already inclined toward his attitude, as his work is simply too weak to be persuasive. So about the only positive comment I have is that the book is readable and at least makes a feeble attempt to discuss corporatism and its lamentable consequences. That's where my praise ends. I say 'feeble' because there is no evidence of actual curiosity about the current political-economic framework. He equates neoliberalism with financial disaster, without any economic analysis as to why, instead using a caricature of the wealthy and the (non-existent) free market as scapegoats. There's no exploration of why 'embedded liberalism' failed, no thought as to why the IMF might impose restrictions on countries in debt, no look into who actually composes that 'capitalist class' he has so vilified. Harvey tries to hammer it in, on close to every page, that neoliberalism has been a product of a deliberate conspiracy from the individuals of the upper class to maintain their own status while stamping down the lower classes. Harvey makes this claim many times, each without citation, yet speaks as though they are obvious facts. Repetition of a concept does not count as evidence. Furthermore, Harvey blatantly ignores parts of the story that don't enhance his arguments. For instance, he treats the Fed as a tool abused solely by neoliberals 'to make key decisions', when the institution was created in 1913, (almost 40 years before the foundation of the Mont Pelerin Society, to which he traces the root of neoliberal ideas) and has always been used 'to make key decisions' by progressives and conservatives alike. Harvey also fails to mention that many of the members of the MPS were against the existence of the Fed in the first place. But I suppose that in a book critiquing the ideas of these men and their implementation by the state, that information couldn't possibly be relevant. Finally, having an entire chapter dedicated to alternatives with no such concrete alternatives to be found weakens this book and its message significantly. It ultimately enables the book to be summed up as, "Neoliberalism is bad, we should do something." The further I read into the book, the more I got the sense that Harvey already had a conclusion, and simply adjusted his research to fit in line without thinking critically about it. I can accept that 'brief' entails some omissions; I cannot accept such seeming intellectual dishonesty regarding those omissions.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    Harvey has performed a rather impressive feat here: in a dimpled gumdrop over two hundred pages he has summarized - with a scope and depth that belies its brevity - the forty years of political-economic development labelled Neoliberalism - or globalism - that has, in fitful and uneven, but always steady, progression, become the dominant meme throughout the world. The basic plot has been tackled by many others*: Hayekian/Friedmanite Monetarism challenges the postwar Keynesian Embedded Liberalism Harvey has performed a rather impressive feat here: in a dimpled gumdrop over two hundred pages he has summarized - with a scope and depth that belies its brevity - the forty years of political-economic development labelled Neoliberalism - or globalism - that has, in fitful and uneven, but always steady, progression, become the dominant meme throughout the world. The basic plot has been tackled by many others*: Hayekian/Friedmanite Monetarism challenges the postwar Keynesian Embedded Liberalism consensus during the stagflation seventies; Thatcher and Reagan initiate the first marked turn towards neoliberalism amongst major nations by breaking the power of labour and backing the power of finance; the state's role channeled towards ensuring that the provision of a good business environment supersedes that of the welfare of its citizens; the tendency to favor diverting capital accumulations towards the finance sector rather than those of production and industry; the formation of the IMF and WTO as neoliberal organs that take advantage of endemic fiscal crises to force austerity and neoliberal policies onto developing countries in order to facilitate the transfer of tribute to the Western Powers; the inevitable result being stagnant and/or declining wages for the majority, and vast, unparalleled wealth accumulation by that teensy sliver of a percentage at the very top of the pile.Although the focus is upon changes that took place within the United States, the UK, and China, he manages to at least touch upon every important event or development in the drive to return to regular, catastrophic capitalist boom-and-bust cycles with a new goal of making the taxpayers and borrowers completely responsible for mending the disasters by transferring subsidized wealth to prop up the lenders, a central tenet that is but one of the paradoxes that flourish amongst regnant neoliberal practices. What Harvey stresses is that, seeing as how the re-creation of class structures has been the one consistent result of neoliberal implementation, perhaps we should begin to agree - or at least assess the likelihood - that this was the principal goal of the turn to neoliberalism all along. Marx provides the proper lens with which to view this system of encroaching and extreme disparity. This is a very good and well-written book on a subject that tends towards aridity; perhaps the fact that I have read this account several times already tempered my appreciation for what the distinguished author has achieved. The numbers Harvey cites to prove the illusory nature of neoliberalism's claims to be a rising tide have been countered by other (pro-market) publications; which you choose to believe will likely depend upon which side of the free-market divide you claim as home turf. Although I lean towards accepting the class recreation that claims primacy in Harvey's determination of motivation for implementing a global neoliberal system, I am also leery of the concept. There has been an immense mobility across various levels of wealth in the past thirty years, and I'm uncertain of the value of a class distinction apart from the truism that - in the United States and elsewhere - those who are rich enjoy such status, and are apt to do anything necessary to maintain their wealth and avoid giving it/having it taken away. Harvey stresses that class is a nebulous construct, and that he is not advocating any manner of conspiracy theorizing; but such an admission from the author himself leads me to question what the benefit of establishing such a bifurcation would be. I am not a free-market cheerleader, and Harvey's account fills me with the proper gloom and outrage over the appalling plunder that has been wreaked upon the world - it is actually quite remarkable how prescient and accurate Harvey has proved to be in his estimations of the potentiality for disaster endemic to the highly-leveraged and corrupt state of global financial institutions. He basically described the 2008/09 meltdown three years before it took place. Unfortunately, the solutions and challenges he offers to neoliberalism are a weak tea. This system is now entrenched and heavily supported by government and media elites, especially in North America; furthermore, there is a sizable percentage of the populace that deems the potentiality for entrepreneurial initiative, creative destruction, and freedoms resulting from an uninhibited or lightly regulated market to be a necessary component of the cultural, economic and moral clime that promotes individual responsibility and ensures individual freedom over the enslaving uniformities of collectivity. Whether or not this segment, a la Thomas Frank, is confoundingly-yet-consistently voting against its own economic interests, it is a very real and active portion who continue to prop up neoliberal policies. It is hard to fathom how this economic powder keg will be challenged or rolled-back absent a clear-cut disaster of sufficient proportion to induce a violent re-assertion of popular rights. One of the painful pictures Harvey paints is that it has required terrible upheavals to derail past incarnations of free market dominance; I hold out little hope that anything short of another will be able to do the trick this time around. *For an interesting analysis of this phenomenon from a Canadian perspective, I suggest The Integrated Circus by the late Patricia Marchak, a renowned British Columbian academic and author.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sebastien

    Ok, first off, let me give you a bit of full disclosure. I am 100% behind globalization and free trade. These are essential tenets for me in my economic philosophy. In my estimation globalization and free trade are the best tools in growing economies and maximizing the total wealth pie. Although I have to say that protective barriers are sometimes warranted given certain unfair practices like US/Europe subsidizing their agricultural industries, which in turn decimates agricultural industries in Ok, first off, let me give you a bit of full disclosure. I am 100% behind globalization and free trade. These are essential tenets for me in my economic philosophy. In my estimation globalization and free trade are the best tools in growing economies and maximizing the total wealth pie. Although I have to say that protective barriers are sometimes warranted given certain unfair practices like US/Europe subsidizing their agricultural industries, which in turn decimates agricultural industries in other developing countries which can't compete with those artificially cheap prices. That is not a fair marketplace. I also think that protective measures are sometimes warranted when a country is developing, the US used a lot of protective tariffs before its industries had fully developed. There is a case to be made against neoliberalism. David Harvey makes it, and he makes it very well. Personally I agree with a lot of his arguments. I consider myself a capitalist, but I really think we need to strive for a much more sustainable balanced regulated capitalism with a very strong social safety net and protections for the citizenry. Neoliberalism - with its belief in unfettered capitalism and deregulation and commodification and privatization of every atom in this universe - is decimating large segments of our societies, decimating the environment, and corporations are agglomerating and wielding way too much power in the system. These corporations are usurping our governments, in effect controlling and writing laws and capturing the regulators, and creating very unbalanced markets where they make it hard for true competition. This set of circumstances also gives them astounding leverage in their positioning against labor, with the most stark examples coming in countries with weak labor laws and unions. As I see it, yes, globalization, free trade (and of course technology like AI, robotics) are decimating the working class in industrialized countries (but globalization and free trade are growing the world economy at better rate than if everyone stayed in a closed system). Pure neoliberalism is allowing the top 10% to get all the gains of a growing economy. It is turbocharging inequality and further marginalizing labor. Complete deregulation is a travesty, but is sold under the guise of the freedom philosophy (sneaky, but smart). Corporations cannot be trusted without proper controls, they slam our communities with negative externalities like pollution, environmental degradation, and unchecked poisons in our food supply. Without controls they are unaccountable for this devastation. And the unfair market and labor practices which they take advantage of are really incredible. Add to that the pure consumerism and commodification of our societies (result of neoliberalism), and the belief that every single thing should be privatized and commodified... wow, that is a recipe for disaster imo. Some industries absolutely need to be treated as public utilities, corporations cannot be trusted with certain industries. David Harvey makes all these points. And he also effectively contrasts various countries, comparing their systems, comparing how much they adopted neoliberal tenets within their societies and the resulting outcomes. His comparisons focus on western Europe, Scandinavian countries, the UK, China, and the US. All great comparisons each featuring different degrees of neoliberal adoption. The one point where David Harvey falls short imo is he somewhat ignores and gives short shrift to the fact that the implementation of free trade and globalization principles has ended up lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, especially in India and China. Yes, the counter is there has been a growing inequality in those countries, the top 1% are reaping tons of gains, but the overall wealth pie has grown a lot and the rest of the society has also benefited. The world economy has grown at a great rate due to globalization. We (US) also benefit in a certain sense because this free trade has provided us with very cheap products and goods. Although I won't be particularly keen to say this to a person who has lost their job to outsourcing or robotization! sadly they are martyrs for this benefit. But overall it increases our purchasing power and keeps inflation low, but it decimates our wages for large segments of society which is why I think we need greater safety net, universal healthcare, more fair education system, proper and fair protections and unions for labor, and greater redistribution. Oh, another great point that Harvey focuses on are how the large neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank and also various national governments always focused on protecting and saving the capital investors, which means they always bailed out the elitist lenders and really shivved the borrowers (in essence the little guy). This means that it was always elite corporations, elite large banking institutions, that would get bailed out, while the borrowers were always getting shivved, getting stuck with ridiculous austerity measures that would decimate the economy and destroy livelihoods and quality of life. But don't worry, the big banking guys always got to make their profits while the little guy got roasted at the stake. Nice. Austerity is a huge tenet in neoliberalism, government is bad, must be relegated to the margins and cut down to the smallest size possible... I mean, this is all about freedom right? and corporations deserve absolute freedom, just like people do... because corporations are people right? To summarize. Imo we need to maintain free trade and globalization. But what we need to do is balance that out with proper controls over industry and corporations, we should have a more redistributive model that spreads the wealth, protects the "losers" in this system, strive to spread opportunity, ensure adequate labor protections and fair union practices, and makes sure we invest in a very strong social safety net and education system. We are failing so terribly here in the US it is astounding. The wealth inequality is only getting worse, we are reaching and have surpassed levels not seen since the 1920s. Imo we are primed for an ever greater reckoning/punishment than what happened this past election. What is incredible is how mind-blowingly prescient David Harvey is in this book in predicting all the terrible outcomes and manifestations (political and economic crises) that have come to pass due to the current paradigm. Personally I'd like to see a more robust, effective, and respectable federal government that protects and cares for its citizenry, and redistributes wealth to a greater degree. Please feel free to offer any critiques or thoughts on my thinking. Def recommend this book if you are curious about political economy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alex Hiatt

    David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism is an invaluable survey of neoliberal theory and practice. It begins with the intellectual roots of the theory in the 1930's and continues through the complex and often antithetical realities of neoliberal development since the late 1970's. He characterizes neoliberalism as an economic system, however one which requires a complementary political component, that has either sought to, or has in certain cases merely facilitated the conditions to, recon David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism is an invaluable survey of neoliberal theory and practice. It begins with the intellectual roots of the theory in the 1930's and continues through the complex and often antithetical realities of neoliberal development since the late 1970's. He characterizes neoliberalism as an economic system, however one which requires a complementary political component, that has either sought to, or has in certain cases merely facilitated the conditions to, reconstitute or newly construct capitalist class power. This has been achieved through a multi-pronged mechanism he calls "accumulation by dispossession". This is the primary thesis of the book, and is very strongly developed. "Accumulation by dispossession" Harvey describes as a political-economic prescription that utilizes privatization, commodification, financilization, the management and manipulation of crises, and state redistribution (which is heavily geared toward upward wealth transfer, despite common myth). Most of the book is spent tracing the "uneven geographical developments" of neoliberal practice throughout the world, focusing on the United States, Britain, and China, with smaller studies of Mexico, Sweden, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and others. While neoliberal theory has long promised more-or-less even creation of wealth, Harvey demonstrates that neoliberalism in practice has meant the transfer of wealth from the poor majority of the world to the governing and moneyed elites. From there he briefly outlines the mostly devastating direct consequences of global neoliberal development for laborers, women, and the environment, and its peripheral affects on activist and oppositional culture, including the rise and role of NGOs and religiously based movements, and even our long-held universalisms such as "freedom" and "human rights". In one of the more interesting tangents in the book, he also explores the rise of neoconservatism and its relationship with neoliberal theory, and offers a warning against the increasingly authoritarian and militaristic doctrine of American neoconservativism. Anyone interested in understanding the precarious economic realities of today ought to give this book a read. It is the best I have read so far on the subject of neoliberalism, and the only one which features such a comprehensive historical analysis. Be warned that David Harvey presumes an understanding of international economics, financial markets, fiscal and monetary policy, and the like. I found this to be an obstacle at first, as my grasp of macroeconomics is casual at best. Highly recommended for anyone interested in globalization and its effects. Also see Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order by Noam Chomsky and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    More or less the same argument that Naomi Klein presented in The Shock Doctrine-- neoliberalism is by no means necessarily paired with democracy. Harvey, however, presents it in a more intellectually rigorous, less journalistic fashion. I'm very OK with this-- it's what one would expect from a widely regarded academic, and something I would hope for from someone whose intellect I admire as much as David Harvey's. The basic point is that we should all reject neoliberalism, and that in the past 20 More or less the same argument that Naomi Klein presented in The Shock Doctrine-- neoliberalism is by no means necessarily paired with democracy. Harvey, however, presents it in a more intellectually rigorous, less journalistic fashion. I'm very OK with this-- it's what one would expect from a widely regarded academic, and something I would hope for from someone whose intellect I admire as much as David Harvey's. The basic point is that we should all reject neoliberalism, and that in the past 20 years, the leadership of the supposed "alternative" in the US and UK, the Democratic Party and the Labour Party, has played into the neoliberal playbook to an absurd degree, with dolorous social consequences. Notice how more or less ALL of Harvey's predictions came to a head in the collapse of the economy in 2008. Guess he wasn't surprised.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The book was written during the Bush presidency, but it predicts everything--financial crisis, rising nationalism, crisis response, etc. And we did not go the route suggested, but only doubled down on neoliberalism and added some xenophobia and nationalism. It's time to talk about class politics without caricatures

  8. 5 out of 5

    Peter D. Mathews

    I've read some insubstantial reviews of this book on Goodreads that accuse this book of being insubstantial. Mouth breathers, every one. It's true that there is a certain political angle to Harvey's analysis, but the facts stand firmly with him. Primary among those facts are the massive transfers of wealth that have widened the gap between rich and poor in the contemporary world. That's not a political opinion, it's a fact. Secondly, there is the demonstrably negative effects that these transfers I've read some insubstantial reviews of this book on Goodreads that accuse this book of being insubstantial. Mouth breathers, every one. It's true that there is a certain political angle to Harvey's analysis, but the facts stand firmly with him. Primary among those facts are the massive transfers of wealth that have widened the gap between rich and poor in the contemporary world. That's not a political opinion, it's a fact. Secondly, there is the demonstrably negative effects that these transfers have had not just on the poor, but on women as a whole. Yes, some women have benefited, but on the whole the effects have been devastating. Also a fact. Third, I happen to think that Harvey's politics are pretty sound. The absolute priority of money over people is one of the worst possible ways of viewing both life and society. Fourth, the timing of this book is exquisite. Harvey turned out to be absolutely right in predicting the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and what turned out to be the largest-ever transfer of wealth to the wealthiest class in history during the Obama presidency. Is this really the world we want to live in? To me, it looks very much like a return to the very worst days of oligopoly, a quasi-aristocracy that can and does anything it wants in the pursuit of its own insatiable greed. All it will do is breed unrest and hatred and misery.

  9. 5 out of 5

    W.D. Clarke

    [Review thingy forthcoming placeholder]

  10. 5 out of 5

    sologdin

    similar to callinicos' Against the Third Way, chomsky's Profits over People, and other lefty discussions of neoliberalism. informative, committed, and so on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Reading “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein as a 19-year old was a profoundly radicalizing experience. This book by David Harvey could be counted as a more academic version of that work, published around the same time and making the same general critique of neoliberal economics and its political enablers. But while Klein’s book focused on the role that crises played in pushing forward laissez faire economic policies, Harvey's book dives deeper into the mechanics and goals of neoliberal theories Reading “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein as a 19-year old was a profoundly radicalizing experience. This book by David Harvey could be counted as a more academic version of that work, published around the same time and making the same general critique of neoliberal economics and its political enablers. But while Klein’s book focused on the role that crises played in pushing forward laissez faire economic policies, Harvey's book dives deeper into the mechanics and goals of neoliberal theories and practices. First and foremost, Harvey says that the practical goal of neoliberalism has always been to promote and preserve the power of the upper class at the extent of any broader society. The set of tools used to accomplish this goal are familiar: privatization, financialization and appropriation of public assets. What is interesting however is how much neoliberal practice tends to diverge from theory. According to Harvey, upper classes around the world are more than willing to eschew neoliberal pieties whenever needed in order to achieve the overriding goal of consolidating their class position. This book was written before the 2008 financial bailout, but it seems like the most jarring example of what he was describing would be the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a government initiative that amounted to a radical act of Keynesianism on behalf of those who had spent decades shredding Keynesian economics for the rest of the population. It became impossible to argue that financiers and others who had spent their lives proselytizing against government intervention in the market "on principle” were acting on behalf of anything other than narrow class interest, following that grotesque episode. Harvey’s argument tries to take the wind out of the glamorous criticism that neoliberalism is a failed utopian idea rather than a more basic upper class power play. So who exactly is the upper class whose interests neoliberalism promotes? Its not entirely clear and varies from country to country. In the UK, neoliberal policies were promoted by Thatcher specifically in opposition to the old inherited aristocracy. In the U.S. and China, entirely new elite classes were formed in Manhattan, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and Beijing in the course of political changes and advances in information technology and financial technologies. In most cases, these new and newly empowered classes have promoted their interests under the attractive guise of “freedom.” On this point Harvey refers extensively to the economist Karl Polanyi who correctly pointed out that freedom can mean all types of things, some of them quite troubling: "In a complex society, [Polanyi] pointed out, the meaning of freedom becomes as contradictory and as fraught as its incitements to action are compelling. There are, he noted, two kinds of freedom, one good and the other bad. Among the latter he listed 'the freedom to exploit one's fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage'. But, Polanyi continued, 'the market economy under which these freedoms throve also produced freedoms we prize highly. Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose one's own job.’" Polanyi presciently foresaw planning and control of the economy being demonized as a form of unfreedom, and the “freedom that regulation creates,” for most people, denied and ignored. The fruit of this assault by elites has been the modern neoliberal state, a state that is very different from the government of “embedded liberalism” that prevailed in many countries after World War II. Instead of promoting and protecting the interests of ordinary people and preserving freedom from want, over time the state decided that its narrow purpose would be national security, protecting private property and ensuring the functioning of the marketplace. Within these loose boundaries pretty much anything goes, which in practice has meant allowing the rich and powerful run roughshod over everyone else. Many hard-fought benefits on behalf of the public good were lost, while, in the United States, the top tax rate went from 70 percent in the 1970s to 28 percent and falling today. A key part of this program also entailed undercutting the ability of workers to negotiate on their own behalf, something made possible by technological advances and globalization that eviscerated their bargaining positions. Lawyers and doctors are some of the few examples of high-skilled professions that were able to preserve their interests, in part by being able to maintain barriers to entry to their field. How have so many people acquiesced to this class warfare against themselves? Harvey argues here that the attractive language of individual rights has been hijacked and used by elites to create space for their own “bad freedoms.” Ordinary people are afforded a greater array of rights in areas of lifestyle, sexuality and personal expression, while being systematically denied rights to economic security, a clean environment or any of the power that comes from collective organization on class grounds. Human rights discourse is important and understandably resonates with people, but it has been used as a Trojan Horse for other more exploitative practices, leading Harvey to strongly argue for a more expansive set of collective freedoms instead of just the liberal individualistic ones on offer. This was a powerful argument to reminded of and one that I think is worth noting by movements for change that are just finding their voice at the moment. A call for collective freedoms instead of strictly individual ones would also help address the psychological dilemmas caused by atomized post-industrial modernity, which are increasingly bleeding into our politics and making them less rationally negotiable. Thatcher famously claimed that “there's no such thing as society,” stating instead that there are "only individual men, women and families." Its important to push back against this chilling declaration by arguing in terms of collectives. Harvey is a Marxist and within that context he makes an important point about the description of “labor” as just another commodity; something like coal or FX reserves that can be transferred around, reduced or gotten rid of as needs change. This idea of labor as commodity is deeply troubling as it suggests that our society is not being owned or catalogued for “we the people,” since labor is in fact the “we” for whom public decisions are supposedly being made. As Polanyi also noted land (as in, the environment) and labor are both fictitious commodities; they are things owned by everyone and no one in particular, and the latter is something that has hopes and dreams and is part of our collective society rather than a commodity subject to business needs. The rest of the book is a familiar litany of crimes and outrages that have occurred in both the developed and developing worlds over the past several decades, pushed forward under the Washington Consensus and using its practical implements like the IMF and World Bank. I was a bit suspicious as to whether this was a blinkered version of history that leaves out some of the genuine gains that seem to have been achieved in the developing world in recent years. Harvey ends by quoting Roosevelt’s now seemingly radical statement that, "Americans must forswear that conception of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well,” and calling vaguely for some sort of alternatives to be drawn up to the global neoliberal project that has been accelerating over the past few decades. The book is quite dense, repetitive and the arguments seem a little stale since it was written a decade ago. Nonetheless the core point is important and still relevant. While there have been real economic and human development gains over the past half century, exploding levels of income inequality and chronic economic crises suggest that we are not in a sustainable situation. I’d like to see a book that takes things a step further and begins articulating some realistic steps that can be taken to help create collective social and economic justice, particularly in light of the sweeping technological and political changes that have occurred in the years since this was published. While I think that Harvey generally escapes the charge of being an ideologue, I’d also like to see more rigor on his charge that neoliberalism is a deliberate conspiracy of the rich rather than just another failed ideology.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I have never been in this position when having to rate a book. I hated this book, so should I give it one star. But I liked the book in that I am glad that I read the book, so should I give it four stars? I am glad I read this book. I think any person who possesses any critical thinking skills needs to read this book and get so angry that there will be an uprising, no, a revolution to change the system, because, from my comfortable perch of upper-class-ness as a property owner, with a second hom I have never been in this position when having to rate a book. I hated this book, so should I give it one star. But I liked the book in that I am glad that I read the book, so should I give it four stars? I am glad I read this book. I think any person who possesses any critical thinking skills needs to read this book and get so angry that there will be an uprising, no, a revolution to change the system, because, from my comfortable perch of upper-class-ness as a property owner, with a second home and a successful business that supports my wife and I and health insurance etc, etc I should probably be voting republican. But I am not. And I am hoping the GOP will self-destruct this year. Neoliberalism is all about "Profits over people," as we saw so many times during the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. It is all about establishing a class-based political economy that benefits the economic elites and it has succeeded. I read the book and would jot down things, and underline words/phrases, even though I have to return it to inter-library-loan, and then the next day I would google stuff to get a better understanding or some historical or biographic background and it made me more and more depressed. So, what is it one-star or four-stars. I don't know. And the more I think about what I just read I have to laugh at myself. I completely understood what I was reading, and yet, there is no way that I am able to explain to anyone why this way of ordering ourselves as rationally thinking individuals as come to pass and that the more the data proves that it DOES NOT WORK, the MORE EMBRACED it becomes. I will write down some quotes directly from the book, with the page that it was from in my copy. Like this one: "Weakening (as in Britain and the US), by-passing (as in Sweden), or violently destroying (as in Chile) the powers of organized labor is a necessary precondition for neoliberalization." - page 116. Or this: "The more neoliberalism is recognized for the restoration of ruling class power, the more the basis is laid for a resurgence of mass movements voicing egalitarian political demands and seeking economic justice, fair trade and greater economic security." - page 204 And how about this statement: "The progress of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in the US has some connection with proliferating job insecurity, the loss of other forms of social solidarity and the hollowness of capitalist consumer society. In Thomas Frank's account, the religious right took off in Kansas only at the end of the 1980s, after a decade or more of neoliberal restructuring and deindustrialization." - page 172. And could there possibly be a connection between neoliberalism and the rise of fundamentalist Islam? Could there? There is a section in one chapter titled "The Commodification of Everything." - page 165 - COMMODIFICATION, I love that word. And read this: "Secondly, neoliberalization, the process rather than the theory, has been a huge success from the standpoint of the upper-classes. It has either restored class power to the ruling elites (as in the US and to some extent Britain) or created conditions for capitalist class formation as in China, India, Russia and elsewhere. _ page 156 One more, no. It is too depressing. Just read the book. Get angry. And start voting for change, and not the kind that Obama represents, or Hilary, or Trump. Feel the Bern. Feel the Bern. He is the only candidate who has been addressing class issues from the beginning of his political career 35 years ago. Feel the Bern. Feel the Bern. Feel the Bern. Feel the Bern.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Popov

    "Neoliberal concern for the individual trumps social democratic concern for equality, democracy, and social solidarities." This was written in 2005 or even earlier. OK, yes, it is a silly coincidence of a pun, but, coincidentally, it pretty succinctly captures 2016. More importantly, the rest of the book provides a framework within which Trump and Brexit are not surprising at all, they emerge as events that are a natural development under the current reckless course of globalization and capital a "Neoliberal concern for the individual trumps social democratic concern for equality, democracy, and social solidarities." This was written in 2005 or even earlier. OK, yes, it is a silly coincidence of a pun, but, coincidentally, it pretty succinctly captures 2016. More importantly, the rest of the book provides a framework within which Trump and Brexit are not surprising at all, they emerge as events that are a natural development under the current reckless course of globalization and capital accumulation. A short and useful book. Don't expect any great theoretical depths from it, that was evidently not Harvey's goal here. However, neoliberalism doesn't seem to have any great theoretical depth to itself either, so a largely descriptive account such as this one is more than adequate. It brings clarity, much needed practical definitions and makes it a little bit easier for the proverbial fish to realize the existence of water. Even for readers who will eventually disagree with most of what is written here, it is an important reference point towards a more meaningful map of modernity.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    Ok, let me be honest. Would I have read this book if it hadn't been assigned for class? Maybe? But probably not. That being said, I am really glad I took this class and I'm glad she us start with this book. I wouldn't have been able to articulate neoliberalism before this book. Harvey deftly traces the history and emergence of neoliberal policies, mainly the privatization of industry, the opening of the market, and the financialization / globalization. "It has been part of the genius of neoliber Ok, let me be honest. Would I have read this book if it hadn't been assigned for class? Maybe? But probably not. That being said, I am really glad I took this class and I'm glad she us start with this book. I wouldn't have been able to articulate neoliberalism before this book. Harvey deftly traces the history and emergence of neoliberal policies, mainly the privatization of industry, the opening of the market, and the financialization / globalization. "It has been part of the genius of neoliberal theory to provide a benevolent mask full of wonderful-sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice and rights, to hide the grim realties of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power, locally as well as transnationally, but most particularly in the main financial centers of global capitalism." - David Harvey Harvey is an anthropologist by trade and not an economist. So this is a really readable account of a complex history. If you wonder why unemployment is high and no one seems to care, or why the government is willing to bail out banks but not help home-owners, this book will help you see how these policies work in a larger framework.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anand Gopal

    The key point in this book is that neoliberalism isn't just a failed economic policy (as Stiglitz and others claim) but a deliberate attempt to steal wealth from the poor. In other words, neoliberalism is class warfare, waged since the 1970s.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Miquixote

    Come on, admit it, you don’t really know much about neoliberalism do you? Well, I won’t tell anyone. This here though is an admirably short history of how the elite got, get, and are getting so filthy (rich) while the lower classes eat deeper layers of dirt in our neoliberal age. Harvey calls the process 'accumulation by dispossession'. Neoliberals call it freeing up the market. It certainly does free…although perhaps not in the way we would like. Well, the story goes something like this… once up Come on, admit it, you don’t really know much about neoliberalism do you? Well, I won’t tell anyone. This here though is an admirably short history of how the elite got, get, and are getting so filthy (rich) while the lower classes eat deeper layers of dirt in our neoliberal age. Harvey calls the process 'accumulation by dispossession'. Neoliberals call it freeing up the market. It certainly does free…although perhaps not in the way we would like. Well, the story goes something like this… once upon a time in the 70s a minority idea began and was into power full-force by about 1980…called ‘neo-liberalism’ (angels singing in the background)… The neoliberal-mongerers granted us our ‘freedom’ in 4 main ways. One was privatization where the elite can then sell or rent to the public what used to be commonly owned. Of course privatization involves public-owned natural resources too, such as earth, forest, water, air. We are of course supposed to feel gracious and liberated when public land is handed off to the market, so they can make money grow where the trees once were. The message is that privatization is profitable to the lower class, to all classes. Conversion from rental to ownership at a relatively low cost leads to untold riches. You would be silly not to gain control over a valuable asset! They of course don’t tell you that once the proposed transfers are accomplished, housing speculation takes over, eventually bribing or forcing low income populations out. Integral to this ‘liberating’ practice is that the state actually seeks redistributions on those profits through strategies like changing the tax code to profit returns on investment rather than incomes and wages. So that leads us to the second practice: state redistributions. Redistribution not only occurs in the aforementioned way, but also when contracts are given to power groups: for large infrastructures, services are paid by the State and carried by private enterprise, defense developments, research projects, etc. These generous grantings of licenses for all sorts of State sanctioned activities often obviously turn out as unfair wealth distribution. If you are confused by how ‘free’ market jives with corporate welfare, you aren’t the only one. Another common practice that is supposed to make us feel more liberated is financialization by credit and stock manipulations. This consists usually of 'liberatory' mechanisms like stock promotions, Ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, dispossession of assets through raiding of pension funds and their decimation by stock and corporate collapses. Feeling like flying like Dicaprio on the edge of the Titanic yet? If that isn’t enough there is the fail-safe ploy of management and manipulation of crises: by suddenly raising interest rates, they can force poorer nations into bankruptcy, and if the poorer nation agrees to such deals like structural adjustment programs, it can yield even more damages (er...freedoms) to those nations. This is of course authorized by parties such as the U.S. Treasury, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If that isn’t inspiring enough for you, Harvey argues that the internal contradictions of neoliberalism will inevitably lead to its collapse, perhaps in a new type of authoritarianism. If alternative progressive ideas do not come to the fore, it will be surely be a more authoritarian one that abuses the concept of freedom in new ways. Until then, the almighty neoliberal ideology continues to use its invisible hand to emphasize individual freedom above social justice, to continue to split us up into different factions, to make us obsess on individual post-modern expressions of identity (and allow us to consume freely, based on our newly-minted particularist identities). This is really probably just thinly veiled libertarianism and narcissistic consumerism with a mission to teach us in mind, body and soul (sell?) the belief that social justice itself is simply another type of slavery. According to neoliberal doctrine: whatever is against the freedom of the market must be slavery. And if neoliberalism in practice isn’t really even about a free market either (for all the aforementioned evidence)? Well, maybe we should consider whether we are actually already enslaved… Freedom? What does the billboard say? Come and play. Forget about the movement. Freedom yeah right! (Zack de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I remember reading this while lying on the beach in El Segundo next to the power station when I was preparing my big return to academia. For that purpose it was fantastic, though I won't pretend I didn't nod off to the sound of waves... As a basic summary of a very influential strand of political economy it’s great, David Harvey writes clearly and well, with a passionate interest that I find very engaging and decades of experience in wrestling with these issues, so on that level alone I would re I remember reading this while lying on the beach in El Segundo next to the power station when I was preparing my big return to academia. For that purpose it was fantastic, though I won't pretend I didn't nod off to the sound of waves... As a basic summary of a very influential strand of political economy it’s great, David Harvey writes clearly and well, with a passionate interest that I find very engaging and decades of experience in wrestling with these issues, so on that level alone I would recommend him highly. Going back over my underlinings a few years later, with much more to compare him to, I find it still holds up strong. It has all the strengths and failings of a ‘brief history’, so I won’t spend much time on those. It is very much a grand theory of political economy, a worldwide explanation of the broad processes that are occurring, but I confess I feel the need for a bit of that, in spite of my appreciation of Foucauldian nuance. Because it is undoubtedly true that: … one persistent fact within this complex history of uneven neoliberalization has been the universal tendency to increase social inequality and to expose the least fortunate elements in any society––be it in Indonesia, Mexico, or Britain––to the chill winds of austerity and the dull fate of increasing marginalization. [118] It is also true that for the most part, the people on each side of the divide between rich and poor have also remained the same, although Harvey makes the good point that changing technology and focus on the market have possibly rearranged those with the greatest amounts of wealth and power to some degree. What I miss, and a terrible absence I find it, is the analysis of race, because that is another thing I find remains always the same: the darker your skin, the further down the economic and political hierarchy you are likely to be, at least in Latin America, the United States, and Europe. I think we need to grapple with these truths at both the macro and the microlevels, sadly most people do one or the other… So Harvey’s argument: that neoliberalization is in fact a class project to advance the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The reality is that this has happened, whether or not you believe that is due to a conscious effort, as any look at the statistics of how the wealth of the top 5% in the world has grown since the 1970s will show. Forget about the 1%, it is obscene. That ‘the assets of the top three billionaires [were by then] more than the combined GNP of all least developed countries and their 600 million people’ could be true, I find nauseating. So yeah, I find some version of this class project idea rather persuasive – I don’t think such large levels of wealth accumulation happened just by accident, and it is natural enough that the wealthy promote their own interests. I think the way that the theory has been developed and disseminated is also clearly shown to be deliberate, from the Mont Pelerin society onwards through a host of thinkers and think tanks. That it has become hegemonic, I see for myself in the news, in politician’s speeches, in the unquestioned beliefs held by many of my students at the London School of Economics. I study forms of democracy, and here again you see a narrowing of the idea of democracy to become nothing more than a simple vote in much discourse. Harvey also puts his finger on this: Neoliberal theorists are, however, profoundly suspicious of democracy. Governance by majority rule is seen as a potential threat to individual rights and constitutional liberties. Democracy is viewed as a luxury, only possible under conditions of relative affluence coupled with a strong middle-class presence to guarantee political stability. Neoliberals therefore tend to favour governance by experts and elites. It follows that struggle is channeled into courts and policy but that in doing that it can never achieve full victory. Of course liberals have always been afraid of ‘the mob’, and I didn’t think there was nearly enough on privatisation and the new forms of governance, but then such discussions would have to be pretty specific to place. I like the way he thinks through the contradictions in the logic of neoliberalism, and how practice deviates from neoliberal theory…those seem the most fruitful areas to explore in terms both of pointing out (and targeting) weaknesses, but also in thinking about how to form an alternative vision strong enough to replace it. I also found the discussion of rights as rallying call and the [limited] thoughts on contestation quite useful as a basic starting point … though again this I find weaker than I’d like. The uprisings of the 60s and 70s surely had a huge impact on neoliberal thought and practice, shaping it in effect, nor is there enough detail on contestation to make it too useful. It’s an interesting warning, how neoliberalism has co-opted movements. I’m not sure what to take away from that and I rather think I strongly disagree – not that movements haven’t been co-opted, but I think contestation has always come from outside a state structure, and that NGO or ‘interest-group’ status alone does not necessarily lead to co-optation, and certainly not anarchist politics … that is what this edges towards saying if I read it right. But the kind of organization needed to challenge neoliberalism is definitely a key question, one I have yet to see satisfactorily answered. Including a chapter on China in a book like this is key I think, and I found it fascinating, but have no background to judge how accurate it might be. And to wrap this lengthy meandering up, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone really, particularly if you need something introductory.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    An extremely detailed picture of the one side class warfare that has been going on since the 1970s especially since Reagan-Thatcher forged the contours of the current economic and political consensus around neoclassical economics. It has been a destruction of working-class power and a wealth transfer to the wealthy owners of the new economy worldwide. Very well written and detailed. It was written before 2008 during the Bush years but little has changed in terms of power but the trends depicted An extremely detailed picture of the one side class warfare that has been going on since the 1970s especially since Reagan-Thatcher forged the contours of the current economic and political consensus around neoclassical economics. It has been a destruction of working-class power and a wealth transfer to the wealthy owners of the new economy worldwide. Very well written and detailed. It was written before 2008 during the Bush years but little has changed in terms of power but the trends depicted have since intensified and led to right-wing nationalism and political crisis. Harvey probably saw some of it coming but it is the dangers he outlines of neoliberalism are only more manifest now.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    The economy as a zero-sum game [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites.] Or the c The economy as a zero-sum game [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites.] Or the core belief system of imperialism applied to democracies. The book, which heavily draws on the foundational work of Duménil and Lévy, sets the scene for the birth of neoliberalism in the stagflation-ridden 1970s by telling us, without much of an explanation, that accumulation of capital had come to a halt. Accumulation is a fundamental marxian concept worth volumes, which we can popularize here, in the absence of a better steer from the author, as the 'economic growth engine'. In the 1970s the economies of the US, Europe and China had stopped growing. And this disconfirmed the basic Keynesian notion that growth is always possible if money circulates fast enough for whatever reason. For 25 years that had been the case, and for 25 years the State had contributed to economic development and social justice. But now the theoretical possibility of creating new wealth without subtracting wealth elsewhere, at the heart of the pax Keynesiana, no longer rang true. Hence the counter-theory, not articulated but acted upon, that actually there is not such a thing as (endogenous) growth, which Margaret Thatcher expressed more shockingly and famously by "there is not such a thing as society". The primitive belief that economic growth is just about grabbing resources from one place and moving them to another had always driven imperialistic expansion. As per the first law of thermodynamics energy cannot be created, but only transformed, so in the economy income and wealth could only be allocated across competing uses and recipients. The second law of economics was (is) that for any income flows to significantly increase wealth in one place at the expense of another, you need asymmetries, and the sharper the asymmetry the greater the intensity of the flow. This the essence of neoliberalism. The rest are details that logically derive from the core. One of these details, very appropriately addressed by the author, is neoliberalism's deep distrust for democracy, understood as the concern for society as a whole. Democracy has always gotten in the way of grabbing and looting, and therefore its forces need to be distracted, or deceived, or weakened, or kept busy with other problems. To this end, unemployment is good, indebtedness strategic, crises extremely good, emergencies of any kind totally beneficial. The role of the State in neoliberalism in practice, as the author points out, varies from country to country, as it best serves anti-democracy. In the Thatcher years for instance a strong, central, policing State was useful to counteract the forces of local powers and trade unions. The author's interpretation of the role of technology and information in the neoliberal context is absolutely eye-opening. Where I cannot help disagreeing with the author is his thesis that neoliberalism is the political project concerned with the restoration of class. Class had not disappeared from our societies, and was indeed alive and kicking in the 1970s, as the strength of trade unions testified. I think it is more fitting to say that neoliberalism is a political project concerned with the restoration of empire through financial means. Where by empire I mean the barbaric idea that the economy is a zero-sum game. The elites engaging in this game differ from country to country, and are not - I suspect - limited to the very naively exposed Carlos Slim, George Soros or Warren Buffets of mediatic relevance (David Harvey and I might as well be active members to those elites). Based on this definition, contemporary China is no less imperialistic than the US. The current imperialistic game is one of fast arbitraging across purchasing power asymmetries, regulatory asymmetries, information asymmetries, contractual power asymmetries while using politics and military power to foster those same asymmetries and keep the flows flowing. The only way out of this nightmare can be a new theory of growth acknowledging all the factors involved in the creation of wealth, and unlocking again - based on more material or 'real' (accounting also for natural resources) mechanisms than the financial fiction á la Keynes - the trust in the possibility of a better future for all.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bro_Pair أعرف

    As a layman, this text was extremely accessible and informative. Unlike most political economists/geographers, he is compulsively readable, and has a flair for narrative and scope. As for his political and economic judgment, it is stunning to see how accurately in 2005 he anticipated the 2008 financial collapse, and more impressively, the concomitant state coercion used against the global protest movement that emerged from the depression. Harvey never descends into histrionics, but his attitude As a layman, this text was extremely accessible and informative. Unlike most political economists/geographers, he is compulsively readable, and has a flair for narrative and scope. As for his political and economic judgment, it is stunning to see how accurately in 2005 he anticipated the 2008 financial collapse, and more impressively, the concomitant state coercion used against the global protest movement that emerged from the depression. Harvey never descends into histrionics, but his attitude towards the financial elite and their enablers is admirably hard-nosed. Indeed, reading him is a good salve after imbibing too much of the MSNBC "lean forward" blather; Harvey argues (convincingly) that our econonomic predicament was not caused by a few bad apples, or a misapplication of neoliberal theory, or a dearth of Clintonite/Obamalarian "centre-left" fig leaves. The economy is built on a three decade-old transferrance of wealth from the bottom upwards. Relevant and shocking.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    Economic theory always numbs my brain. And this book wasn't as accessibly-written as I expected. I had to keep Wikipedia up so I could remember what monitarism means or what financialization refers to. The most interesting part for me was the penultimate chapter, "Neoliberalism on Trial." Harvey fully sets out the evidence that Neoliberalism is merely a retrenchment of power for the capitalist class, clothed in empty words of freedom. It was written during the Bush years. It was an eerie and depr Economic theory always numbs my brain. And this book wasn't as accessibly-written as I expected. I had to keep Wikipedia up so I could remember what monitarism means or what financialization refers to. The most interesting part for me was the penultimate chapter, "Neoliberalism on Trial." Harvey fully sets out the evidence that Neoliberalism is merely a retrenchment of power for the capitalist class, clothed in empty words of freedom. It was written during the Bush years. It was an eerie and depressing read under Trump. Harvey predicts the recession and the resulting bail-out. He warns about the inherent failures of neoliberalism and how it pushes countries into authoritarianism. He spoke about Bush's 'military Keynesianism,' which flouted neoliberal values to drive up a deficit endlessly in order to wage wars -- we could also now speak of 'Border Keynesianism.'

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marc-André

    Argues efficiently that neoliberalism was pushed to restore the power of an elite of investors and industrials. It goes very much against the tendancy to impute current world trends like poverty, insecurity and inequalities to defect in the practical application of neoliberalism. Rather, it analyse these trends as a deliberate choice to favorise the few at the cost of the many. It seems hard to argue against the facts and the numbers used to support this claim.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stefanos

    David Harvey undertook a difficult project. He tried to unravel the complicated story of neoliberalism and to give an enlightening narrative account of how it originated theoretically, how it was practiced and what have been the results. And in my opinion he did a great job! Concerning the first question - he acknowledges that there are many different theoretical versions but he is mostly concerned with the ‘Hayek version’ since it’s the most well-known and influential. It was Friedrich Hayek, Mi David Harvey undertook a difficult project. He tried to unravel the complicated story of neoliberalism and to give an enlightening narrative account of how it originated theoretically, how it was practiced and what have been the results. And in my opinion he did a great job! Concerning the first question - he acknowledges that there are many different theoretical versions but he is mostly concerned with the ‘Hayek version’ since it’s the most well-known and influential. It was Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig Von Mises (even Karl Popper for a while) and others that got together to create a new ideological movement around the 18th century liberalism - of liberty and freedom - and neo-classical economics. Hence the name neo-liberal. Their most significant and fundamental idea was that individual freedoms can only be guaranteed by freedom of the market and of trade, combined with strong private property rights, individualism, ‘personal responsibility’ and the rule of law. Free trade is regarded as a fundamental imperative and competition as a primary virtue.Goods and services must move freely without any form of intervention by the state or any other price-setting monopoly which implies deregulation, privatisation, low taxes, no tariffs, no subsidies, low barriers to entry etc. As a result, the argument goes, private enterprise and entrepreneurial initiative works as the key to innovation and economic prosperity/growth. The increases in productivity would result in higher living standards to everyone under the assumption/hypothesis of trickle down economics. Thus the elimination of poverty (both domestic and worldwide) can best be secured through free markets and free trade(pg 65) Additionally, they emphasized on individual right to freedom of action, expression, and choice - which includes businesses and corporations since they are considered legally as individuals - and that these virtues must be protected at any cost. And there lies the role of the government. It must be confined to preserve these freedoms by using its monopoly of the means of violence. Lastly their skepticism of the government as an institution made them suspicious of democracy as well since the majority rule of majority could be a threat to individual rights and constitutional liberties All these were written in the middle of the Golden age of Capitalism, between 1950 and 1960, a period of extreme prosperity and economic growth for the western world. It was mainly based on interventionism, Keynesianism, embedded liberalism and a strong social democratic system in Europe within regulatory structures and institutional arrangements (such as strong unions) Neo-liberal thinkers were a minority in intellectual circles and were widely overlooked But the crisis in 1970 of economic accumulation , the oil crisis 1973, Keynesianism not working hit the western capitalist system hard and led an immediate need for a paradigm shifting ideology.This is when neo-liberals grabbed the opportunity! They used think-tanks, extensive media coverage to spread their ideas and ‘took advantage’ of the strong social movements of 60s(e.g civil rights) and appealed to people’s sparking feelings about individual liberty, freedom but excluded social justice - without many noticing the distinction. And they succeeded! Very soon the first experiments took place, starting with Chile, a little later Uk under Thatcher and USA under Reagan but the system was unstable and didn’t live up to it’s promises of great capital accumulation and development - especially for Russia where it was disastrous. On the contrary it was the interventionist Germany and Japan that were at their prime. Harvey claims that this was a result of the internal contradictions of neoliberal theory. On that account there was a further systematic shift that departed, in some respects, from the original ideology towards a “more pragmatic neo-liberalism”. This included: 1)Maintaining the imperative for free market while at the same time demanding an active state in order to create a good business for investment to strengthen their position in the global economy and induce a strong inflow of foreign investment. 2) The state should favour the well-being of the financial system and the interest of the institutions instead of supporting welfare programs, hospitals, universities etc. A kind of “Keynesianism for the rich” 3)In case of a financial default the state has to intervene and rescue companies or deter financial failures by replacing the ‘bad’ money with ‘good state money’. It has usually been the citizens that were called to pay for these mistakes through higher taxing, austerity and other similar measures. Internationally this meant extracting surpluses from impoverished Third World populations in order to pay off the international bankers(pg. 74) 4) Institutions like the IMF and WTO had an increasingly important role in the global market to make key political decisions in developing countries forcing them to follow the neo-liberal orthodoxy. A case of intense state interventions and government by elites and ‘experts’ in a world where the state is supposed not to be interventionist.(pg. 69) 5) A strict control on trade unions, social movements in the name of protecting the liberty of isolated labourers and freeing the market. 6) Privatization of public utilities, social welfare provision, public institutions and even warfare, the commodification (through tourism) of cultural forms, histories, and intellectual creativity as well as treating labour and the environment as mere commodities and of course financialisation. These above, constituted the Washington Consensus(with few more) meaning the “pragmatic neoliberal” orthodoxy that was proposed to every country as the best possible system. Naturally, every country had it’s slightly adjusted policies and Harvey devotes a whole chapter looking at many specific cases(Mexico, Argentina’s collapse,South Korea,Sweden) and their “uneven geographical developments” and a whole chapter on China which case he founds extremely interesting. Nevertheless the most important and interesting part is about the outcomes. The evidence strongly suggests some consistently similar results wherever this neoliberalism has been practiced. First of all it didn’t live up to it’s economic promises. The stimulation of capital accumulation has been dismal, growth rates and GDP were steadily declining in neoliberal countries, developing countries ‘advised’ by the IMF hence the neoliberal orthodoxy remained stagnated or spurts of growth followed by economic collapse (with very few exceptions), financial crises multiplied and were more endemic and contagious. So why did it continue to prevail as a system? It was mainly because from the standpoint of the upper classes that the neoliberalization was a huge success since wealth was concentrating in fewer hands - especially the super-rich(0.1%) - and they restored class power and wanted to maintain the status quo. On the other side, unemployment was rising, real wage levels declining, the social safety net was reduced to a bare minimum, the welfare programs and national health care were restricted creating overall huge inequalities and problems for the vast majority of people. Of course, you don’t have to be an expert economist to see that such a system is not sustainable and the great financial crisis of 2008 is the manifestation of this. It may even be the case that you had to be an expert economist in order to miss a self-evident truth like this! I’m can’t be sure that it was a deliberate plan to restore class power but the evidence is clear.Neoliberalism is a ‘utopian’ project gone wild. It is not the most efficient economic system, it is unethical since it completely disregards social justice and basic human rights and democracy, it’s short-term contractual logic on environmental uses has disastrous consequences and of course, it’s not the “only alternative” "There is a far, far nobler prospect of freedom to be won than that which neoliberalism preaches. There is a far, far worthier system of governance to be constructed than that which neoconservatism allows."This is a extremely important story everyone should know. A valuable analysis and useful tool to understand the political and economic world of today. It doesn't come without it's problems and shortcomings but it is still, truly worth-reading!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kf

    Listened to this on an audiobook so not certain if I "read" it. I will say that there's definitely things lost in a listen that aren't lost in read. Aside from the medium, Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism (BHN) provides an as-titled brief (247 pages or a little over 6 hours on audible) walkthrough of both the theories and implementations of neoliberalism in addition to its inconsistencies and self-serving hypocrisies. I don't have any education or deep knowledge in global economics so it's Listened to this on an audiobook so not certain if I "read" it. I will say that there's definitely things lost in a listen that aren't lost in read. Aside from the medium, Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism (BHN) provides an as-titled brief (247 pages or a little over 6 hours on audible) walkthrough of both the theories and implementations of neoliberalism in addition to its inconsistencies and self-serving hypocrisies. I don't have any education or deep knowledge in global economics so it's difficult for me to vet Harvey's material and positions against existing knowledge. That said, Harvey's scholarship wasn't lacking. He cited copious sources and I imagine the bibliography is extensive. Not having a firm knowledge of economic models though, I had to take some things (frequent references to Keynesian principles) at face value without pre-req knowledge that I'm guessing many (most?) readers already have at least a basic understanding. While Harvey's descriptions fit into my extremely basic understanding of the topic of neoliberalism, I was repeatedly frustrated at the, IMO, harsh realities of the execution of power by political leaders, bankers, corporations. Harvey lays out scenarios where economic policies which value profit above all have steamrolled the interests of a public and resulted in catastrophic social conditions. Am I naïve for being frustrated by this? Is it just a given? I mean, I wasn't surprised, but it doesn't mean I blithely accept IMF/WTO/US policies that callously take a dump on millions of people around the globe. Sigh ... I did appreciate Harvey's ability to seamlessly tie the policies of neoliberalism with its bedmate nationalism and show those policies further racism and xenophobia. Given the present day (8/10/17) conditions, this relationship between nationalism and economic policies appears even more relevant (or was it always relevant and is just experiencing a peak?). Harvey wrote this in 2005 and I don't know if updated versions address the recession of 2008, but I'd be keen to read another chapter or two including the past 9-10 years and how these events have dovetailed or deviated from Harvey's initial book where, towards the end, he was seeing significant cracks in the walls of neoliberalism.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Burak

    First and foremost, this is a great reference for the recent history of capitalism. I got the book only to browse through some of the themes I was wondering about, but ended up reading it twice, taking pages full of notes in the meantime. It is impressive to have put all of this material in one place and tie it together so successfully. The main genius of the book, then, is in its packaging and knitting together of the whole story, but reading this chronicle at once is an enlightening experience First and foremost, this is a great reference for the recent history of capitalism. I got the book only to browse through some of the themes I was wondering about, but ended up reading it twice, taking pages full of notes in the meantime. It is impressive to have put all of this material in one place and tie it together so successfully. The main genius of the book, then, is in its packaging and knitting together of the whole story, but reading this chronicle at once is an enlightening experience in its own right, opening up interesting angles, questions and contemplation on the subject. The only downside is that it is a very dense and -by subject matter- not a very lively or entertaining read. Harvesting the evidence, Harvey asserts that neoliberalism is "either a *utopian* project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism, or a *political* project to re-establish conditions for capital accumulation and restore the power of economic elites." Even though he doesn't cut through these two hypotheses very decisively, as they are not mutually exclusive, he patiently knits the evidence for the latter, that the neoliberal project was a political one from the beginning, envisioned and mustered principally by a fearful economic elite in the wake of the economic confusion and an emerging left-wing consensus in the 1970s, later amassing all sorts of mechanisms to harbor consent and capture the state apparatuses in the meantime. Class formation is a tricky and difficult undertaking. According to Harvey and many of his references, the current business and financial elite may be the only economic stratum of society that now has built the capacity to act as a "class," hence has the ability to act according to common interest to rise above their inner conflicts. The same class has the ability to coerce and control state policy more or less everywhere. Harvey discusses the implications of this, which are mostly bleak, but also hopeful for the prospect for resistance and radical transformation. These comprise the most important and interesting parts of the book, along with the overall assessment of the results of neoliberalism. It is also commendable that Harvey clearly saw, in the years before 2005, and iterated the eminent possibility of a coming major financial crisis. Pair with: Polanyi, who is invoked by Harvey at the most critical junctures of the text to tie up the argument, and who harnessed one of the most decisive and convincing answers to the "market ethic" of economic liberalism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rob Kitchin

    A brief review to go with a brief history. David Harvey, one of the world’s leading social scientists, details the dominant political ideology shaping a number of Western countries, with its tentacles ever more influencing the political and economic relations of just about all countries as they become bound up in the global markets and global forms of economic governance such as the IMF and World Bank. At its heart, neoliberalism promotes the logic of the free market; that the state is inherentl A brief review to go with a brief history. David Harvey, one of the world’s leading social scientists, details the dominant political ideology shaping a number of Western countries, with its tentacles ever more influencing the political and economic relations of just about all countries as they become bound up in the global markets and global forms of economic governance such as the IMF and World Bank. At its heart, neoliberalism promotes the logic of the free market; that the state is inherently inefficient and ineffective and that services (such as health care, education and social services) are best delivered through the market and so should therefore be deregulated and privatized. Harvey does an admirable job of explaining the logic of neoliberalism and in detailing a history of how its ideas have come to prominence in a number of countries. Whilst Harvey demonstrates the ways in which neoliberalism has unfolded in a variety of ways in a selection of countries, the story would have benefited from a more systematic analysis of the varieties of neoliberalism working across and within countries. Indeed, a scalar analysis from the local to the global would have been a useful addition to the text. That said, for anyone wanting a good overview of neoliberalism, this is a very useful introductory text. It also predicted the present global financial crash and explains why it was an inevitable outcome of free market financial capitalism, sustained by a political economic ideology that prioritized the interests of the market and corporations at all costs. From an Irish perspective, anyone trying to understand why the Irish economy collapsed and why the banks and the bond holders have been prioritized over citizens this book provides a compelling starting point to an explanation.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    If you think we're living in a democracy read this book. There's too much here to comment on but Harvey basically uncovers the root of America's foreign policy, as well as the motives of those in power, since the 1970s. What's really scary is how the elites mask their reconstruction of class power through words familiar to us all: freedom, democracy, liberty, choice, etc...and we buy into it. When's the last time you heard any mention of CLASS in a newspaper or on TV?? Absolutely phenomenal book If you think we're living in a democracy read this book. There's too much here to comment on but Harvey basically uncovers the root of America's foreign policy, as well as the motives of those in power, since the 1970s. What's really scary is how the elites mask their reconstruction of class power through words familiar to us all: freedom, democracy, liberty, choice, etc...and we buy into it. When's the last time you heard any mention of CLASS in a newspaper or on TV?? Absolutely phenomenal book, I would give it ten stars if I could. Oh yeah, the author is even a geographer!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    Explores rise of the neoliberalism to mainstream, its theoretical and practical contradictions and what it has begat. This has the main shortcoming of other leftist critics of neoliberalism that I have encountered, it can't offer any solid alternative that is capable of replacing neoliberalism. Failing to come up with such an alternative paves the way to the rise of neoconservatives (Repulican Party in US, Putin in Russia, ...).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    One of the ideas that struck me the most in this book is the idea that social justice cannot really coexist with individualism. Because if you really want social justice in the world you have to repress personal desires. Not sure I really buy it but I did also recently come across the comment "Individualism is part of Colonialism" in a discussion on indigenous rights...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A great book on how the Reagan / Thatcher era helped enable the corporate take-over of politics that is in full-force today. Since the 1980's, the rich have gained an increasingly larger share of the world's wealth, and this book explains how the policies that enabled this were designed and sold to the people of the world.

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