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 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.

Customer Reviews:

  • Cogent analysis of the economic impact of neoliberal politics
    This is an essential, thought-provoking book for anyone engaged in international business, the media, corporate strategy and governance. It fills the gaps between what you see in the media and what you experience as a citizen and businessperson by very ably explaining the theory and practice of neoliberalism. This philosophy has largely replaced liberalism as a popular political doctrine. The results are not very impressive from a democratic perspective, according to this analysis by author David Harvey. Armed with a different perspective and interesting sources, he puts neoliberal political thought and practice into its modern context, in everything from foreign policy, to how the media (led by Fox News) presents events, to the emergence of the new super wealthy class built on huge profits raked in by select corporations. He dedicates a chapter to the way this policy has worked in China, and frequently cites its effects in other countries. We think this well-documented short book makes it easier for readers to understand contemporary events and recommends it to business strategists, media professionals and concerned world citizens.

    ...more info
  • a fantastic mind
    i first came across this book lying around an anarchist collective in new orleans, myself volunteering to rebuild the city. i immediately was taken with the book since it was an economics which at first glance appeared to be on the side of the people. a few times i felt that that author was being a bit too polite in his narration of the injustice of neoliberalism and i wanted him to heap more scorn and derision on the establishment. the description of china's transition to a capitalist society was a bit vague. for instance he said that the politicains wanted to inhibit a capitalist class from springing up that would hinder their power, but then he did not document examples of this. my second encounter with the book came when i was watching youtube and i was in the process of trying to find another leftist intellectual to listen to other than chomsky. the anticonsumer had posted one of his lectures given in new york city. it was a great lecture, just as good as any chomsky ever gave if not better. i then looked him up on wikipedia and was astonished to learn that he was the author of the brief history of neoliberalism. reading economics is always a risky business so it's good to know that harvey is a committed populist that the people can trust. ...more info
  • A Seminal Work
    David Harvey had masterfully unmasked the machinations of the world plutocracy in its quest for (further) wealth and domination. Concluding on the basis of hard facts, Harvey shows how certain people and institutions have deliberately introduced a major political and economical shift in the last 30 years, a shift that has brought the world back to the dark ages in terms of human decencies.

    The book might have actually been titled "A Brief History of Our Generation", because out of the fragmented reality, you finally see how all the pieces fall into place.
    For all those who ever wondered why their lives and futures look the way they do - start with this book.
    Whether you're one of the billions of impoverished outcasts;
    Or one of the hundreds of millions of hard-working people;
    Or one of the dozens of millions middle-class' citizens;
    Or one of the millions of the upper middle-class' privileged;
    Or one of the hundreds of thousands of the ruling elites;
    Harvey shows how you got here.

    If you're one of the billions or the millions, I would suggest that after reading this book you should:
    A) Read it again
    B) Read Harvey's latest posts concerning the crisis and the state of Capitalism - http://davidharvey.org/
    C) Commence, what might actually become, your Sisyphean task of enlightening the multitude of the blind around you.
    D) However creative or humble your input may be - strike back - for the benefit of each and every person in the world....more info
  • Good Review of Neoliberalism in the US
    A good review of the development of neoliberal ideology in public opinion, government policies and global relationships...more info
  • Brief and thorough
    David Harvey writes at a high level of abstraction so it helps if the reader has some familiarity with the history, especially economic, of the last 35 years. However, because he also writes very clearly, including offering specific examples of what he's talking about along the way, I think a general reader can get much from this work.

    His history of neoliberalism offers insights into how this ideology was espoused and followed in different ways in different places. Harvey also provides a useful distinction between neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

    There are also good explanations of the contradictions within neoliberal theory and dangers inherent as the effects of them are played out. (Some of the ideas are, unfortunately, prophetic of what is going on now - early 2009 - in national and international economies.)

    David Harvey's work shows how the results of neoliberalism has been the huge increase in income and wealth inequality in country after country. Unlike other writers who notice this trend, Harvey is willing to suggest that this occurance is not incidental or accidental. The accumulation of so much wealth into one class has been the intent of neoliberalism all along. ...more info
  • our goose is cooked
    so this is how the rich and powerful do it! what will be taken away from the ordinary citizen during and after this current financial crisis? I doubt there is any way for the small fry to oppose the entrenched powers that rule our lives, our country and the world. To oppose the rulers is to be labeled "un-American", "un-patriotic", "socialist" and worse. The top 1% will NEVER let their power slip away. We're toast.

    Read this book and see why we can't win....more info
  • Freedom for some, crumbs for others
    On the first anniversary of 9/11 President Bush made a speech saying, `Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world... as the greatest power on earth we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.' Spreading freedom is the primary function of neoliberalization but as George Lakoff stated in `Whose Freedom?' freedom can be a very subjective term. The freedom of neoliberalism is the glory of unfettered, free market economics and the rights of corporations and financial institutions over individuals and governments. It's the freedom to fully exploit resources and workers.

    From its founding America's wealthy have feared democracy recognizing that the majority, being poor and middle class, could vote to redistribute wealth and reduce the control held by the elites. After World War II, the middle class in the United States grew dramatically somewhat flattening the countries power base. As a reaction to this dispersal of power the early 1970's saw the formation of groups like The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEO's who were `committed to an aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation'. As the author writes, `neoliberalization was from the very beginning a project to achieve the restoration of class power'. The neoliberal plan was to dissolve all forms of social solidarity in favor of individualism, private property, personal responsibility and family values. It fell on well funded think tanks like The Heritage Foundation to sell neoliberalism to the general public using political-philosophical arguments.

    At the same time a group of economists were working on economic theories that developed into the `Washington Consensus'. These followers of Hayek and Friedman just happened to create economic blueprints for growth that matched up exactly with the goals of the wealthy business elites. The plans were based on the superiority of the marketplace in making wise decisions but also assumed perfect information and a level playing field for competition. As the author writes, `...eminent economic theorists [...] argue that all would be well with the world if only everyone behaved according to the precepts of their textbooks' The neoliberal economists have become so focused on growth that they seem to take a decidedly amoral approach to human suffering. Above all countries needed to focus on privatization and low taxes and definitely avoid deficit spending. What has happened is a widening of the gap between the wealthy and poor. The author suggests that rather than an unfortunate byproduct of neoliberalism or a temporary situation this is the intended result.

    The great irony is that the U.S., the world's number one proponent of neoliberalism, generally finds itself breaking the rules. With high deficit spending and massive subsidizing particularly in consumerism and defense spending the United States has generally taken a `do as I say, not as I do' stance. With the amount of political appointee/lobbyists shuttling back and forth between business and government Adam Smith's `Invisible Hand' looks more and more like a crushing fist.

    This was not the book I expected. This is a devastating critique of neoliberalism. I didn't agree with everything the author wrote and there are most definitely many positives that have come from globalization but the corporatization of the world has the potential to by an enormous threat. Global Warming has to be the poster child for neoliberal extremism with short term economic growth trumping the welfare of the entire world. David Harvey has a decidedly liberal stance but he backs up his views with sobering facts. Despite being a book on economics I found it extremely readable and recommend it wholeheartedly.
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  • Great book
    Easy to read, interesting, and well written as well. You can tell by reading it that Harvey is a Professor since he presents his theory and arguments so well.
    Go for it! You won't regret it. ...more info
  • Masterful??? Yes, indeed...!!!
    Some other reviews described this book as Masterful.., Outstanding!!...and I am just taking a minute to agree with them. This is a solid book. Full of facts and of a profound knowledge of recent history. It simply goes to the core. The neoliberal theory is nothing more than a disguise or a distraction for taking control and relocate class domination. Why?? Not only for political, racial or financial reasons, but mainly because the availability of natural resources ( mainly oil) is going to reach sometime soon a critical point, and then we, the rest of the people, are going to be redundant by the billions ...and if this is so, we can forget about financial or institutional solutions to the contradictions that exist within the system or about popular movements, NGOs or whatever other alternatives you could think of...the solutions or better still, the reactions of the dominant elites are going to be hard and applied by military means.... and I think that they are exploring this option in practical ways as you are reading this humble opinion...just follow the news.. ...more info
  • Deconstructing neoliberalism's peculiar definition of 'freedom'
    "A Brief History of Neoliberalism" by David Harvey is a concise and razor-sharp deconstruction of the neoliberal movement. Mr. Harvey convincingly demonstrates that neoliberalism is an ideology that has been wielded to enshrine elite privilege at the expense of people and the environment. Assiduously researched and cogently argued, Mr. Harvey offers a jargon-free and readable text that helps readers gain a greater understanding about the political economy of our neoliberal world and what this might hold for us in the future.

    Mr. Harvey explains that neoliberal propaganda has succeeded in fixating the public on a peculiar definition of 'freedom' that has served to conceal a project of upper class wealth accumulation. In practice, the neoliberal state assumes a protective role for capital while it sheds as much responsibility for the citizenry as possible. Mr. Harvey details how neoliberal theory is ignored whenever it comes time to bail out corporate interests from bad decision making while the safety net for the working class has been gradually eviscerated. The author effectively intersperses the text with graphs to illustrate how thirty years of neoliberalist policies has resulted in rising inequality, slower economic growth, higher incomes among the upper class, and other measures that serve to convincingly support and prove his thesis.

    Mr. Harvey's history of how neoliberalism has gained ascendancy mostly treads through familiar ground but also highlights some key events that are sometimes overlooked by others. For example, Mr. Harvey relates the well-known stories of how the Chilean coup in 1973 opened the door for Augusto Pinochet to implement the first national experiment in neoliberalism, followed by Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the U.S. in 1980. However, we also gain greater appreciation about the importance of the New York City bankruptcy in the 1970s. We learn how the city's financial crisis allowed for the imposition of neoliberal reforms in a manner that would prove to be a familiar template around the world: the rollback of labor rights, the privatization of public assets, cuts in public services, and increased policing, surveillance and political repression of a markedly polarized population.

    Mr. Harvey surveys neoliberalism around the world to discover connections and to analyze its effects. He finds that the U.S. economy has benefited immensely from its ability to extract tribute from other nations, including the U.S. financial community's probable engineering of crises in developing nations in order to scoop up devalued assets on the cheap. The author discusses how economic restructuring programs imposed on poor countries has benefited U.S. and other foreign investors while it has bolstered or created a small but powerful class of wealthy individuals in Mexico, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. In China, Mr. Harvey remarks about the ease with which neoliberalism has found a home in an authoritarian state where the political elite have amassed their fortunes by exploiting a defenseless working class. The author is particularly concerned about the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the U.S. and China and muses about the potentially catastrophic financial situation that the two countries' mounting debts might pose for each other and the world economy.

    In the final chapter, Mr. Harvey writes passionately about the need to continue building diverse democracy movements within the U.S. that are dedicated to social and economic justice. Although it is true that Mr. Harvey does not detail precisely what must be done, his thorough dissection of neoliberal ideology empowers us to effectively challenge those who hide behind false rhetorical devices in service to privilege. And for that, we should be grateful.

    I give this outstanding book the highest possible rating and strongly recommend it to all. ...more info
  • Interesting
    I had to read this book for a course in college. It was definately informative if you can get past the first 10-15 pages. When you first read it, it comes off as party bashing. Though I'm not affiliated with any party the book goes into historical trends with the authors opinion removed. Allow you to form your own opinions based upon the authors countless hours of research. Definately informative and interesting if you can get past the first 15 pages. ...more info
  • Another superb book from David Harvey
    I'm going to do something here that I rarely do: attempt a short review. There are many excellent reviews of this fine book that I don't need to add much except to say that I agree with the bulk of them. I believe that neoliberal ideas have caused incalculable harm over the course of the last several decades. There are signs of increasingly wide discontent and distrust of the kinds of economic prognostications put forward by people like Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan (admittedly not a great economic thinker, but unquestionably the great popularizer of neoliberal ideas), and their ilk, seen in part by the great commercial success (and surprisingly popular reception) of books like Naomi Klein's THE SHOCK DOCTRINE. Increasingly, people are coming to understand that what is best for General Motors just might not be the best thing for the rest of the world. But there is little doubt that neoliberal and libertarian thinking (and yes, I do not think there are important distinctions between the two -- the best thing I've read lately about libertarianism came from the superb SF novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, GREEN MARS -- one of his characters thinks to himself, "That's libertarians for you -- anarchists who want police protection from their slaves") will continue to confuse thinking about economic and political ideas. But as those ideas have increasingly resulted in nothing more nor less than a shifting of wealth into the hands of a very small number of people, that vastly larger number of people (even in the United States, where economic inequality has been increasingly dramatically since 1979 -- neoliberal ideas were actually first embraced by Jimmy Carter, though with nothing like the religious fervor of Ronald Reagan), have started to realize that all "trickle down" economic policies are a massive con job.

    Harvey in this book wants to present the history of neoliberal thinking. "Neoliberal" as a term is in common usage in many parts of the world, but not in the United States. "Neoliberalism" is not a left wing but is a right wing position. The two most famous neoliberal political figures were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Harvey's book is a marvelous recounting of that history and an accurate chronicler of the frequently devastating effects of neoliberal, free market principles. In particular, he writes of the catastrophic effects neoliberal principles have had through their forced acceptance in many non-European countries.

    I find very little to differ with in this book, but I would make two distinct recommendations. First, if you want to read a book by David Harvey, there are three others that I would perhaps recommend more strongly than this. If you have any interest in the postmodern debate, his THE CONDITION OF POSTMODERNITY is one of the 3 or 4 greatest works in the field. Next, if you are interested in globalization, I would recommend THE NEW IMPERIALISM, which overlaps a good deal with THE HISTORY OF NEOLIBERALISM. Also, one of Harvey's earlier works, THE LIMITS OF CAPITAL, though a bit more challenging, is one of the best contemporary works extending Marxist (not Communist -- Harvey is both anti-Communist and a Marxist) ideas into a contemporary intellectual framework. So, my first recommendation is to look at those three books. My second is to look at Naomi Klein's THE SHOCK DOCTRINE for a more popular, entertaining exploration of much of the same territory as this book. She may lack some of Harvey's sophistication, but she surpasses him as a communicator. ...more info
  • A Critical Look at the Post-Keynesian Era
    The term neoliberalism is usually heard in the pejorative sense, often coming from Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. The term refers to an international economic policy that has been predominant in policy-making circles and university economics departments since the 1970's. The four faces on the cover of this book (Reagan, Deng, Pinochet, and Thatcher) are considered by David Harvey the primemovers of this economic philosophy. Reagnomics, Thatcherism, Deng's capitalism with Chinese characteristics, and Pinochet's free market policies marked the beginning of new era of global capitalism.

    Neoliberlism as a philosophy holds that free markets, free trade, and the free flow of capital is the most efficient way to produce the greatest social, political, and economic good. It argues for reduced taxation, reduced regulation, and minimal government involvement in the economy. This includes the privitization of health and retirement benefits, the dismantling of trade unions, and the general opening up of the economy to foreign competition. Supporters of neoliberlism present this as an ideal system. Detractors, such as Harvey, see it as a power grab by economic elites and a race to the bottom for the rest.

    In this short, but very well researched book, Harvey charts the capital flows of the last thiry years. In the 1970's, there was the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, with its fixed exchange rates, tariff barriers, and capital controls. It gave way to floating currencies and high trading volumes. Capital started searching the globe for comparative advantage. Proponents claimed that this routed out corruption and inefficiencies, while opponents saw instability and exploitation. Indeed, Harvey produces ample statistics showing how the rich got richer and the poor stagnated. More surprisingly, he points out that the aggregate economic growth during the years of Keynesian management (the decades between World War II and the 1970's) was greater than during the neoliberal era (the 1970's to the present). The neoliberal era benefitted mainly the wealthy. In the US, the richest 1% now control 15% of the wealth as opposed to 8% at the end of World War II.

    When Reagan and Thatcher came to power in the late 1970's and early 1980's they used their control of the IMF and World Bank to impose neoliberal policies on the developing world - especially Latin American countries. In the case of Chile, Pinochet - after violently ousting the Allende government - instituted free market policies as prescribed by the Chicago school, and was relatively successful. Other Latin American countries were not so successful, and it created a backlash of populist nationalisms in the form of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

    The section on China is one of the best in the book: "Neoliberalism with Chinese Characteristics". Harvey points out that China is not a pure neoliberal state. There is still heavy state intervention in the economy and management of the currency. And as a further criticiem of neoliberalism, he reminds us that China has produced some of the highest growth rates - 9 to 10 percent annually. On the downside, the gap between the rich and poor is growing, and because their currency is held artificially low they are building dangerous overcapacity.

    Neither does the US, for that matter, operate according to neoliberal principles. Even as it is urging other countries to maintain minimal goverment and balanced budgets, it is running huge deficits and issuing ever more t-bills to cover its excess spending.

    With China and the US - two linchpins in the world economy - not playing according to the rules of the game a crisis is bound to happen. One country is totally geared toward producing and exporting, while the other is content with importing, consuming, and creating more debt. Harvey believes that the global economic readjustment that is going to take place will be painful and possibly violent.

    Harvey's excellent little book illustrates, once again, that the perfect market, presupposed by neoliberalism and classical liberalism, does not exist. Unfortunately, he does not offer any remedies to rectify the current situation, nor does he offer an alternative system. Nevertheless, this book is very insightful....more info
  • An outstanding book
    David Harvey is an outstanding scholar, from a left wing perspective, who has the ability to crystallise world events and economic trends in sharp, memorable observations. His analysis of neoliberalism as the default belief system of the late twentieth century is convincing and his delineation of its faults, including a wide divergence between the idealism of the theory and its deviations in practice, is also pithy and to the point. As usual, once left wing thinkers move to the solution the issue is less clear, although he admits this himself. He seems to suggest that just as Keynesianism was the underlying paradigm of the first half of the twentieth century, from which it was difficult to deviate without offending 'common sense', so neoliberalism is the prevailing orthodoxy of the last decades of the twentieth century. Hence, it may take some time, and the world to move in a so far unforseeable direction, before a new, perhaps kinder, orthodoxy, can be thought or felt. Nonetheless, full marks to David Harvey for another outstanding book. His book on Postmodernity is a classic and his other books are also readable and convincing. Well worth buying and reading....more info
  • Interesting argument, but evidence too wobby to be persuasive
    This book makes a provocative argument: that the goal of neoliberal theory and practice is to restore wealth and power to a ruling elite. Unfortunately, I don't think it presents a strong enough case. It has a lot of footnotes and a long bibliography, but (i) many footnotes refer to an entire book, without any indication of where the fact can be found, (ii) many of the sources cited are secondary works from leftist authors or publishing houses, including the author's own works, and (iii) many purported facts, including material placed wthin quotes, are not sourced at all. While I was sympathetic to many of the author's points, I found myself constantly wondering about the reliability of his evidence.

    Sadly, the tone fits the stereotype of leftists taking themselves too seriously; it's utterly humorless and at times PC-preachy. I wished the author could write (and cite) more like Thomas Franks, who's also left of center but fun to read. Nonetheless, the book has some very interesting bits, such as about the involvement of University of Chicago economists in advising the Pinochet regime, and the comparison between the Chilean reforms with those enacted by Paul Bremer in Iraq. You'll find some stimulating ideas if you can tolerate the book's unremittingly sober mood -- but maybe double-check the facts before you start quoting it.

    PS: For historical background about the real motivations for creation of the Chicago School, see the essay by R. Van Horn and P. Mirowski, "The Road to a World Made Safe for Corporations: The Rise of the Chicago School of Economics", a draft of which (May 2005) is available online. While nowhere near as polemical as Harvey's book, this scholarly essay more tends to support Harvey's thesis than to undermine it. And it has the advantage of being based on primary source archival research in the papers of the participants, rather than on secondary sources by like-minded authors. ...more info