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For the school of international relations, see Neoliberalism (international relations).

Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism)[1] is a controversial term that refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism.[2]:7 These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 as one of the ultimate results.[10][11][12][13][14]

The term has been used since 1938[15] but became more prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and '80s by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences[16] and critics.[17] Advocates of Free Market policies avoid the term "neoliberal".[18]

The definition and usage of the term has changed over time.[3] It was originally an economic philosophy that emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s in an attempt to trace a so-called 'Third' or 'Middle Way' between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and socialist planning.[19]:14–5 The impetus for this development arose from a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, which were mostly blamed by neoliberals on the economic policy of classical liberalism. In the decades that followed, the use of the term neoliberal tended to refer to theories at variance with the more laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism, and promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy.

In the 1960s, usage of the term "neoliberal" heavily declined. When the term was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.[3] Once the new meaning of neoliberalism was established as a common usage among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of political economy.[3] Scholarship on the phenomenon of neoliberalism has been growing.[20] The impact of the global 2008–09 crisis has also given rise to new scholarship that critiques neoliberalism and seeks developmental alternatives.[21]



The German scholar Alexander Rüstow coined the term "neoliberalism" in 1938 at the Colloque Walter Lippmann.[19]:12–3[22][23] The colloquium defined the concept of neoliberalism as involving "the priority of the price mechanism, free enterprise, the system of competition, and a strong and impartial state".[19]:13–4 To be "neoliberal" meant advocating a modern economic policy with state intervention.[19]:48 Neoliberal state interventionism brought a clash with the opposite laissez-faire camp of classical liberals, like Ludwig von Mises.[24] While present-day scholars[who?] tend to identify Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand as the most important theorists of neoliberalism, most scholars in the 1950s and 1960s understood neoliberalism as referring to the social market economy and its principal economic theorists such as Eucken, Röpke, Rüstow, and Müller-Armack. Although Hayek had intellectual ties to the German neoliberals, his name was only occasionally mentioned in conjunction with neoliberalism during this period due to his more pro-free market stance.[citation needed] Neoliberal theory argues that a free market will allow efficiency, economic growth, income distribution, and technological progress to occur. Any state intervention to encourage these phenomena will worsen economic performance.[25]

Another center-left movement from modern American liberalism that used the term "Neoliberalism" to describe its ideology formed in the United States in the 1970s. According to David Brooks, prominent neoliberal politicians included Al Gore and Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party of the United States.[26] The neoliberals coalesced around two magazines, The New Republic and the Washington Monthly. The "godfather" of this version of neoliberalism was the journalist Charles Peters[27] who in 1983 published " A Neoliberal's Manifesto."[28]

Shermer argued that the term gained popularity largely among left leaning academics in the 1970s "to describe and decry a late twentieth-century effort by policy makers, think-tank experts, and industrialists to condemn social-democratic reforms and unapologetically implement free-market policies."[29]

During the military rule under Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990) in Chile, opposition scholars took up the expression to describe the economic reforms implemented there and its proponents (the "Chicago Boys").[3] Once this new meaning was established among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of political economy.[3] According to one study of 148 scholarly articles, neoliberalism is almost never defined but used in several senses to describe ideology, economic theory, development theory, or economic reform policy. It has largely become a term of condemnation employed by critics, and suggests a market fundamentalism closer to the laissez-faire principles of the paleoliberals than to the ideas of those who originally attended the colloquium. This leaves some controversy as to the precise meaning of the term and its usefulness as a descriptor in the social sciences, especially as the number of different kinds of market economies have proliferated in recent years.[3]

Current usage[edit]

According to Boas and Gans-Morse, neoliberalism is commonly used as a catchphrase and pejorative term, outpacing similar terms such as monetarism, neoconservatism, the Washington Consensus and "market reform" in much scholarly writing.[3] Jones, a historian of the concept, says the term "is too often used as a catch-all shorthand for the horrors associated with globalization and recurring financial crises"[30]:2 Currently, neoliberalism is most commonly used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as "eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers", and reducing state influence on the economy, especially through privatization and austerity.[3] Campbell Jones, Martin Parker, René ten Bos note that neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.[4]

There are several distinct usages of the term that can be identified:

Sociologists Block and Somers claim there is a dispute over what to call the influence of free market ideas which have been used to justify the retrenchment of New Deal programs and policies over the last thirty years: neoliberalism, laissez-faire or "free market ideology."[31] Others, such as Braedley and Luxton, assert that neoliberalism is a political philosophy which seeks to "liberate" the processes of capital accumulation.[11] In contrast, Piven sees neoliberalism as essentially hyper-capitalism.[32] However, McChesney, while defining it as "capitalism with the gloves off," goes on to assert that the term is largely unknown by the general public, particularly in the United States.[33]:7–8 Lester Spence uses the term to critique trends in Black politics, defining neoliberalism as "the general idea that society works best when the people and the institutions within it work or are shaped to work according to market principles."[34]

Early history[edit]

Colloque Walter Lippmann[edit]

Per capita income during the Great Depression[35]

The worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s brought about high unemployment and widespread poverty, and was widely regarded as a failure of economic liberalism. To renew liberalism a group of 25 intellectuals organised the Walter Lippmann Colloquium at Paris in August 1938. It brought together Louis Rougier, Walter Lippmann, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow among others. Most agreed that the liberalism of laissez faire had failed and that a new liberalism needed to take its place with a major role for the state. Mises and Hayek refused to condemn laissez faire, but all participants were united in their call for a new project they dubbed "neoliberalism."[36]:18–9 They agreed the Colloquium into a permanent think tank called Centre International d’Études pour la Rénovation du Libéralisme based in Paris.

Deep disagreements in the group separated 'true (third way) neoliberals' around Rüstow and Lippmann on the one hand and old school liberals around Mises and Hayek on the other. The first group wanted a strong state to supervise, while the second insisted that the only legitimate role for the state was to abolish barriers to market entry. Rüstow wrote that Hayek and Mises were relics of the liberalism that caused the Great Depression. Mises denounced the other faction, complaining that Ordoliberalism really meant "ordo-interventionism".[36]:19–20

Mont Pelerin Society[edit]

Neoliberalism began accelerating in importance with the founding of the Mont Pelerin Society, in 1947, by Friedrich Hayek. The Colloque Walter Lippmann was largely forgotten.[37] The new society brought together the widely scattered free market thinkers and political figures.

Hayek and others believed that classical liberalism had failed because of crippling conceptual flaws and that the only way to diagnose and rectify them was to withdraw into an intensive discussion group of similarly minded intellectuals.[19]:16

With central planning in the ascendancy world-wide and few avenues to influence policymakers, the society served to bring together isolated advocates of liberalism as a "rallying point" – as Milton Friedman phrased it. Meeting annually, it would soon be a "kind of international 'who's who' of the classical liberal and neo-liberal intellectuals."[38] While the first conference in 1947 was almost half American, the Europeans concentration dominated by 1951. Europe would remain the epicenter of the community with Europeans dominating the leadership.[19]:16–7

Post-WWII neo-liberal currents[edit]


In the 1960s, Latin American intellectuals began to notice the ideas of ordoliberalism; these intellectuals often used the Spanish term neoliberalismo to refer to this school of thought. They were particularly impressed by the social market economy and the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) in Germany, and speculated about the possibility of accomplishing similar policies in their own countries. Neoliberalism in 1960s meant essentially a philosophy that was more moderate than classical liberalism and favored using state policy to temper social inequality and counter a tendency toward monopoly.[3]

In 1976, the military dictatorship's economic plan, led by Martínez de Hoz, was the first attempt at a Neoliberalist plan in Argentina. They implemented a fiscal austerity plan, whose goal was to reduce money printing and thus inflation. In order to achieve this, salaries were frozen; however, they were unable to reduce inflation, which led to a drop in the real salary of the working class. Also, aiming for a free market, they decided to open the country's borders, so that foreign goods could freely enter the country. Argentina's industry, which had been on the rise for the last 20 years since Frondizi's economic plan, rapidly declined, because it wasn't able to compete with foreign goods. Finally, the deregulation of the financial sector, gave a short-term growth, but then rapidly fell apart when capital fled to US in the Reagan years.[citation needed] Following the measures, there was an increase in poverty from 9% in 1975 to 40% at the end of 1982.[39]

From 1989 to 2001, another Neoliberalist plan was attempted by Domingo Cavallo. This time, the privatization of public services was the main objective of the government; although financial deregulation and open borders to foreign goods were also re-implemented. While some privatizations were welcomed, the majority of them were criticized for not being in the people's best interests. Along with an increased labour market flexibility, the final result of this plan was an unemployment of 25% and 60% of people living under the poverty line, alongside 33 people killed by the police in protests that ended up with the president at that time, Fernando de la Rúa, resigning two years before his time as president was completed.[citation needed]


In Australia, neoliberal economic policies were embraced by governments of both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party since the 1980s. The governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating from 1983 to 1996 pursued economic liberalisation and a program of micro-economic reform. These governments privatized government corporations, deregulated factor markets, floated the Australian dollar, and reduced trade protection.[40]

Keating, as federal treasurer, implemented a compulsory superannuation guarantee system in 1992 to increase national savings and reduce future government liability for old age pensions.[41] The financing of universities was deregulated, requiring students to contribute to university fees through a repayable loan system known as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and encouraging universities to increase income by admitting full-fee-paying students, including foreign students.[42] The admitting of domestic full fee paying students to public universities was stopped in 2009 by the Rudd Labor Government.[43]


Further information: Crisis of 1982 and Miracle of Chile
Pamphlet calling for a protest in 1983 following the economic crisis attributed to neoliberal experimentation[44][45]

In 1955, a select group of Chilean students (later known as the Chicago Boys) were invited to the University of Chicago to pursue postgraduate studies in economics. They worked directly under Friedman and his disciple, Arnold Harberger, while also being exposed to Hayek. When they returned to Chile in the 1960s, they began a concerted effort to spread the philosophy and policy recommendations of the Chicago and Austrian schools, setting up think tanks and publishing in ideologically sympathetic media. Under the military dictatorship headed by Pinochet and severe social repression, the Chicago boys implemented radical economic reform. The latter half of the 1970s witnessed rapid and extensive privatization, deregulation, and reductions in trade barriers. In 1978 policies that would reduce the role of the state and infuse competition and individualism into areas such as labor relations, pensions, health, and education were introduced.[3] These policies resulted in widening inequality as they negatively impacted the wages, benefits and working conditions of Chile's working class.[39][46] According to Chilean economist Alejandro Foxley, by the end of Pinochet's reign around 44% of Chilean families were living below the poverty line.[47] According to Klien, by the late 1980s the economy had stabilized and was growing, but around 45% of the population had fallen into poverty while the wealthiest 10% saw their incomes rise by 83%.[48]

In 1990 the military dictatorship ended. Hayek argued that increased economic freedom had put pressure on the dictatorship over time and increased political freedom. Years earlier he argued that "economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends."[49] The Chilean scholars Martínez and Díaz rejected this argument, pointing to the long tradition of democracy in Chile. The return of democracy required the defeat of the Pinochet regime, though it had been fundamental in saving capitalism. The essential contribution came from profound mass rebellions, and finally, old party elites using old institutional mechanisms to bring back democracy.[50]


Neoliberal ideas were first implemented in West Germany. The economists around Ludwig Erhard drew on the theories they had developed in the 1930s and 1940s and contributed to West Germany’s reconstruction after the Second World War.[51] Erhard was a member of the Mont Pelerin Society and in constant contact with other neoliberals. He pointed out that he is commonly classified as neoliberal and that he accepted this classification.[52]

The ordoliberal Freiburg School was more pragmatic. The German neoliberals accepted the classical liberal notion that competition drives economic prosperity, but they argued that a laissez-faire state policy stifles competition as the strong devour the weak since monopolies and cartels could pose a threat to freedom of competition. They supported the creation of a well-developed legal system and capable regulatory apparatus. While still opposed to full-scale Keynesian employment policies or an extensive welfare state, German neoliberal theory was marked by the willingness to place humanistic and social values on par with economic efficiency. Alfred Müller-Armack coined the phrase "social market economy" to emphasize the egalitarian and humanistic bent of the idea.[3] According to Boas and Gans-Morse, Walter Eucken stated that "social security and social justice are the greatest concerns of our time".[3]

Builders in West Berlin, 1952

Erhard emphasized that the market was inherently social and did not need to be made so.[36] He hoped that growing prosperity would enable the population to manage much of their social security by self-reliance and end the necessity for a widespread welfare state. By the name of Volkskapitalismus there were some efforts to foster private savings. But although average contributions to the public old age insurance were quite small, it remained by far the most important old age income source for a majority of the German population. Therefore, despite liberal rhetoric, the 1950s witnessed what has been called a ″reluctant expansion of the welfare state″. To end widespread poverty among the elderly the pension reform of 1957 brought a significant extension of the German welfare state which already had been established under Otto von Bismarck.[53] Rüstow, who had coined the label "neoliberalism", criticized that development tendency and pressed for a more limited welfare program.[36]

Hayek did not like the expression "social market economy", but stated in 1976 that some of his friends in Germany had succeeded in implementing the sort of social order for which he was pleading while using that phrase. However, in Hayek's view the social market economy's aiming for both a market economy and social justice was a muddle of inconsistent aims.[54] Despite his controversies with the German neoliberals at the Mont Pelerin Society, Ludwig von Mises stated that Erhard and Müller-Armack accomplished a great act of liberalism to restore the German economy and called this "a lesson for the US".[55] According to different research, however, Mises believed that the ordoliberals were hardly better than socialists. As an answer to Hans Hellwigs complaints about the interventionist excesses of the Erhard ministry and the ordoliberals, Mises wrote, "I have no illusions about the true character of the politics and politicians of the social market economy." According to Mises, Erhard's teacher, Franz Oppenheimer, "taught more or less the New Frontier line of" President Kennedy's "Harvard consultants (Schlesinger, Galbraith, etc.)".[56]

In Germany, neoliberalism at first was synonymous with both ordoliberalism and social market economy. But over time the original term neoliberalism gradually disappeared since social market economy was a much more positive term and fit better into the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) mentality of the 1950s and 1960s.[36]


Following the death of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping led the country through far ranging market centered reforms, with the slogan of Xiǎokāng, that combined neoliberalism with centralized authoritarianism. These focused on agriculture, industry, education, and science/defense.[57]

United Kingdom[edit]

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher oversaw a number of neoliberal reforms including tax reduction, reforming exchange rates, deregulation and privatization.[58] These reforms were continued and supported by her successor John Major but although opposed by the Labour Party at the time, were largely left unaltered when the latter came to power in 1997. Instead the Labour government under Tony Blair finished off a variety of uncompleted privatisation and deregulation measures starting with handing over to the Bank of England the ability to set and control interest rates.

United States[edit]

David Harvey uses the term neoliberalism to describe Lewis Powell's 1971 confidential memorandum to the US Chamber of Commerce.[57] A call to arms to the business community to counter criticism of the free enterprise system, it was a significant factor in the rise of conservative organizations and think-tanks which advocated for neoliberal policies, such as the Business Roundtable, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academia and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. For Powell, universities were becoming an ideological battleground and recommended the establishment of an intellectual infrastructure to serve as a counterweight to the increasingly popular ideas of Ralph Nader and other opponents of big business.[59][60][61]

Neoliberalism gained prominence in the United States in 1981 with policies put into place by the Reagan Administration which included tax cuts, increased defense spending, financial deregulation and trade deficit expansion. Congress followed Reagan's basic proposal and cut federal income taxes across the board by 25% in 1981.[62][63]

During the 1990s, the Clinton Administration also embraced neoliberalism by supporting the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, continuing the deregulation of the financial sector through passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act, and implementing cuts to the welfare state through passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.[63][64][65] The neoliberalism of the Clinton Administration differs from that of Reagan as the former purged it of neoconservative positions on militarism, family values, opposition to multiculturalism and neglect of ecological issues.[58]:50–1[disputed ]


Austrian School[edit]

Main article: Austrian School

The Austrian School is a school of economic thought which bases its study of economic phenomena on the interpretation and analysis of the purposeful actions of individuals.[66][67][68][69] It derives its name from its origin in late-19th and early-20th century Vienna with the work of Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser, and others.[70]

Among the contributions of the Austrian School to economic theory are the subjective theory of value, marginalism in price theory, and the formulation of the economic calculation problem.[71] Many theories developed by "first wave" Austrian economists have been absorbed into most mainstream schools of economics. These include Carl Menger's theories on marginal utility, Friedrich von Wieser's theories on opportunity cost, and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk's theories on time preference, as well as Menger and Böhm-Bawerk's criticisms of Marxian economics. The Austrian School follows an approach, termed methodological individualism, a version of which was codified by Ludwig von Mises and termed "praxeology" in his book published in English as Human Action in 1949.[72]

The former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, speaking of the originators of the School, said in 2000, "the Austrian School have reached far into the future from when most of them practiced and have had a profound and, in my judgment, probably an irreversible effect on how most mainstream economists think in this country."[73] In 1987, Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan told an interviewer, "I have no objections to being called an Austrian. Hayek and Mises might consider me an Austrian but, surely some of the others would not."[74] Republican U.S. congressman Ron Paul stated that he adheres to Austrian School economics and has authored six books which refer to the subject.[75][76] Paul's former economic adviser, investment dealer Peter Schiff,[77] also calls himself an adherent of the Austrian School.[78] Jim Rogers, investor and financial commentator, also considers himself of the Austrian School of economics.[79] Chinese economist Zhang Weiying, who is known in China for his advocacy of free market reforms, supports some Austrian theories such as the Austrian theory of the business cycle.[80]

Chicago School[edit]

The Chicago school of economics describes a neoclassical school of thought within the academic community of economists, with a strong focus around the faculty of University of Chicago. Chicago macroeconomic theory rejected Keynesianism in favor of monetarism until the mid-1970s, when it turned to new classical macroeconomics heavily based on the concept of rational expectations.[81] The school is strongly associated with economists such as Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Ronald Coase and Gary Becker.[82]

The school emphasizes non-intervention from government and generally rejects regulation in markets as inefficient with the exception of central bank regulation of the money supply (i.e., monetarism). Although the school's association with neoliberalism is sometimes resisted by its proponents,[81] its emphasis on reduced government intervention in the economy and a laissez-faire ideology have brought about an affiliation between the Chicago school and neoliberal economics.[83][84]


Political freedom[edit]

In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek argued that "Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends."[49]

Later, in his book Capitalism and Freedom (1962), Friedman developed the argument that economic freedom, while itself an extremely important component of total freedom, is also a necessary condition for political freedom. He commented that centralized control of economic activities was always accompanied with political repression.

In his view, the voluntary character of all transactions in an unregulated market economy and wide diversity that it permits are fundamental threats to repressive political leaders and greatly diminish power to coerce. Through elimination of centralized control of economic activities, economic power is separated from political power, and the one can serve as counterbalance to the other. Friedman feels that competitive capitalism is especially important to minority groups, since impersonal market forces protect people from discrimination in their economic activities for reasons unrelated to their productivity.[85]

Amplifying Friedman's argument, it has often been pointed out that increasing economic freedoms tend to raise expectations on political freedoms, eventually leading to democracy. Other scholars see the existence of non-democratic yet market-liberal regimes and the undermining of democratic control by market processes as strong evidence that such a general, ahistorical nexus cannot be upheld. Contemporary discussion on the relationship between neoliberalism and democracy shifted to a more historical perspective, studying extent and circumstances of how much the two are mutually dependent, contradictory or incompatible.

Stanley Fish argues that neoliberalization of academic life may promote a narrower and, in his opinion, more accurate definition of academic freedom "as the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to expand it to the point where its goals are infinite." What Fish urges is "not an inability to take political stands, but a refraining from doing so in the name of academic responsibility."[86]


Neoliberalism has received criticism both from the political left as well as the right, in addition to myriad activists and academics.[87]

Class project[edit]

David Harvey described neoliberalism as a class project, designed to impose class on society through liberalism.[88] Economist David M. Kotz contends that neoliberalism "is based on the thorough domination of labor by capital."[14]:43 The emergence of the 'precariat', a new class facing acute socio-economic insecurity and alienation, has been attributed to the globalization of neoliberalism.[89]

Sociologist Thomas Volscho has argued that the imposition of neoliberalism in the United States arose from a conscious political mobilization by capitalist elites in the 1970s who faced two crises: the legitimacy of capitalism and a falling rate of profitability in industry. Various neoliberal ideologies (such as monetarism and supply-side economics) had been long advanced by elites, translated into policies by the Reagan administration, and ultimately resulted in less governmental regulation and a shift from a tax-financed state to a debt-financed one. While the profitability of industry and the rate of economic growth never recovered to the heyday of the 1960s, the political and economic power of Wall Street and finance capital vastly increased due to the debt-financing of the state."[90]

The invisible hand of the market and the iron fist of the state combine and complement each other to make the lower classes accept desocialized wage labor and the social instability it brings in its wake. After a long eclipse, the prison thus returns to the frontline of institutions entrusted with maintaining the social order.

Loïc Wacquant[91]

Several scholars have linked the rise of neoliberalism to unprecedented levels of mass incarceration of the poor in the United States.[2]:3, 346[92][93][94][95] Sociologist Loïc Wacquant argues that neoliberal policy for dealing with social instability among economically marginalized populations following the implementation of other neoliberal policies which have allowed for the retrenchment of the social welfare state and the rise of punitive workfare, increased gentrification of urban areas, privatization of public functions, the shrinking of collective protections for the working class via economic deregulation, and the rise of underpaid, precarious wage labor is the criminalization of poverty and mass incarceration.[93]:53–4[96] By contrast, it is extremely lenient in dealing with those in the upper echelons of society, in particular when it comes to economic crimes of the privileged classes and corporations such as fraud, embezzlement, insider trading, credit and insurance fraud, money laundering, and violation of commerce and labor codes.[93][97] According to Wacquant, neoliberalism doesn't shrink government but instead sets up a centaur state, with little governmental oversight for those at the top and strict control of those at the bottom.[93][98]

In expanding upon Wacquant's thesis, sociologist and political economist John L. Campbell of Dartmouth College suggests that through privatization, the prison system exemplifies the centaur state:

On the one hand, it punishes the lower class, which populates the prisons; on the other hand, it profits the upper class, which owns the prisons, and it employs the middle class, which runs them.

US incarceration rate per 100,000 population 1925–2013.[99][100]

In addition, he says the prison system benefits corporations through outsourcing, as the inmates are "slowly becoming a source of low-wage labor for some US corporations." Both through privatization and outsourcing, Campbell argues, the US penal state reflects neoliberalism.[101]:61 Campbell also argues that while neoliberalism in the US established a penal state for the poor, it also put into place a debtor state for the middle class, and that "both have had perverse effects on their respective targets: increasing rates of incarceration among the lower class and increasing rates of indebtedness—and recently home foreclosure—among the middle class."[101]:68

David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, argues that while expenditures on social welfare programs have been cut, expenditures on prison construction have increased significantly during the neoliberal era, with California having "the largest prison-building program in the history of the world."[102] The scholar Bernard Harcourt contends the neoliberal concept that the state is inept when it comes to economic regulation but efficient in policing and punishing "has facilitated the slide to mass incarceration."[103] Both Wacquant and Harcourt refer to this phenomenon as "Neoliberal Penality."[104][105]

Global health[edit]

The effect of neoliberalism on global health, particularly the aspect of international aid involves key players such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. According to James Pfeiffer,[106] neoliberal emphasis has been placed on free markets and privatization which has been tied to the "new policy agenda" in which NGOs seen as being able to provide better social welfare than governments. International NGOs have been promoted to fill holes in public services created by the World Bank and IMF through their promotion of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which reduce government health spending, and which Pfeiffer criticized as unsustainable. The reduced health spending and the gain of the public health sector by NGOs causes the local health system to become fragmented, undermines local control of health programs and contributes to local social inequality between NGO workers and local individuals.[107]

In 2016, researchers for the IMF released a paper entitled "Neoliberalism: Oversold?," which stated:

There is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda. The expansion of global trade has rescued millions from abject poverty. Foreign direct investment has often been a way to transfer technology and know-how to developing economies. Privatization of state-owned enterprises has in many instances led to more efficient provision of services and lowered the fiscal burden on governments.

Member nations of the International Monetary Fund

However, it was also critical of some neoliberal policies, such as freedom of capital and fiscal consolidation for "increasing inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion."[108] The authors also note that some neoliberal policies are to blame for financial crises around the world growing bigger and more damaging.[109] The report contends the implementation of neoliberal policies by economic and political elites has led to "three disquieting conclusions":

  • The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.
  • The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.
  • Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.[110]

The IMF has itself been criticized for its neoliberal policies.[111][112] Rajesh Makwana writes that "the World Bank and IMF, are major exponents of the neoliberal agenda."[113] Sheldon Richman, editor of the libertarian journal The Freeman, also sees the IMF imposing "corporatist-flavored 'neoliberalism' on the troubled countries of the world." The policies of spending cuts coupled with tax increases give "real market reform a bad name and set back the cause of genuine liberalism." Paternalistic supranational bureaucrats foster "long-term dependency, perpetual indebtedness, moral hazard, and politicization, while discrediting market reform and forestalling revolutionary liberal change."[114]

Rowden wrote that the IMF’s monetarist approach towards prioritising price stability (low inflation) and fiscal restraint (low budget deficits) was unnecessarily restrictive and has prevented developing countries from scaling up long-term investment in public health infrastructure, resulting in chronically underfunded public health systems, demoralising working conditions that have fueled a "brain drain" of medical personnel, and the undermining of public health and the fight against HIV/AIDS in developing countries.[115]

Neglect of infrastructure[edit]

Nicolas Firzli has argued that the rise of neoliberalism eroded the post-war consensus and Einsenhower era Republican centrism that had made possible the massive allocation of public capital to large-scale infrastructure projects throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in both Western Europe and North America: “In the pre-Reagan era, infrastructure was an apolitical, positively connoted, technocratic term shared by mainstream economists and policy makers […] including President Eisenhower, a praetorian Republican leader who had championed investment in the Interstate Highway System, America’s national road grid […] But Reagan, Thatcher, Delors and their many admirers amongst Clintonian, ‘New Labour’ and EU Social-Democrat decision makers in Brussels sought to dismantle the generous state subsidies for social infrastructure and public transportation across the United States, Britain and the European Union, focusing instead on the faux modernity of ‘information highways’, social media and video-games start-ups, real estate speculation fueled by massive public subsidies, generous tax holidays for corporate raiders (the vulture capitalism of Lakshmi Mittal who destroyed the steel mills of France and England with Brussels’s blessings) and toxic credit-derivatives passing for ‘financial innovation’.”[116]


Mark Arthur has written that the influence of neoliberalism has given rise to an "anti-corporatist" movement in opposition to it. This "anti-corporatist" movement is articulated around the need to re-claim the power that corporations and global institutions have stripped governments of…". He says that Adam Smith's "rules for mindful markets" served as a basis for the anti-corporate movement, "following government's failure to restrain corporations from hurting or disturbing the happiness of the neighbor [Smith]".[117]

Political opposition[edit]

Opponents of neoliberalism commonly argue the following points:

  • Globalization can subvert nations' ability for self-determination.[118]
  • The replacement of a government-owned monopoly with private companies, each supposedly trying to provide the consumer with better value service than all of its private competitors, removes the efficiency that can be gained from the economy of scale.[119]
  • Even if it could be shown that neoliberal capitalism increases productivity, it erodes the conditions in which production occurs long term, i.e., resources/nature, requiring expansion into new areas. It is therefore not sustainable within the world's limited geographical space.[120]
  • Exploitation: critics consider neo-liberal economics to promote exploitation and social injustice.
  • Negative economic consequences: Critics argue that neo-liberal policies produce economic inequality.[2]:7
  • Mass incarceration of the poor: some critics claim that neoliberal policies result in an expanding carceral state and the criminalization of poverty.[2]:3, 346[95]
  • Increase in corporate power: some organizations and economists believe neoliberalism, unlike liberalism, changes economic and government policies to increase the power of corporations, and a shift to benefit the upper classes.[121][122]
  • Anti-democratic: some scholars contend that neoliberalism undermines the basic elements of democracy.[123]
  • There are terrains of struggles for neoliberalism locally and socially. Urban citizens are increasingly deprived of the power to shape the basic conditions of daily life.[124]
  • Trade-led, unregulated economic activity and lax state regulation of pollution lead to environmental impacts or degradation.[125]
  • Deregulation of the labor market produces flexibilization and casualization of labor, greater informal employment, and a considerable increase in industrial accidents and occupational diseases.[126]
  • Mass extinction: according to David Harvey, "the era of neoliberalization also happens to be the era of the fastest mass extinction of species in the Earth's recent history."[57]:173

Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.

Robert W. McChesney[33]:11

American scholar and cultural critic Henry Giroux alleges neoliberalism holds that market forces should organize every facet of society, including economic and social life, and promotes a social darwinist ethic which elevates self-interest over social needs.[127][128][129]

According to the economists Howell and Diallo, neoliberal policies have contributed to a U.S. economy in which 30% of workers earn low wages (less than two-thirds the median wage for full-time workers), and 35% of the labor force is underemployed; only 40% of the working-age population in the U.S. is adequately employed.[130]

The Center for Economic Policy Research's (CEPR) Dean Baker (2006) argued that the driving force behind rising inequality in the U.S. has been a series of deliberate, neoliberal policy choices including anti-inflationary bias, anti-unionism, and profiteering in the health industry.[131] However, countries have applied neoliberal policies at varying levels of intensity; for example, the OECD has calculated that only 6% of Swedish workers are beset with wages it considers low, and that Swedish wages are overall lower.[132] Others argue that Sweden's adoption of neoliberal reforms, in particular the privatization of public services and reduced state benefits, has resulted in income inequality growing faster in Sweden than any other OECD nation.[133][134] In the 2014 elections, Swedish voters rejected the neoliberal policies of the center-right government which had undermined the social safety net and put the left-leaning Social Democrats back in power.[135]

The rise of anti-austerity parties in Europe and SYRIZA's victory in the Greek legislative elections of January 2015 have some proclaiming “the end of neoliberalism.”[136]

In Latin America, the "pink tide" that swept leftist governments into power at the turn of the millennium can be seen as a reaction against neoliberal hegemony and the notion that "there is no alternative" (TINA) to the Washington Consensus.[137]

Notable critics of neoliberalism in theory or practice include economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Michael Hudson,[138] Robert Pollin,[139] Julie Matthaei,[140] and Richard D. Wolff;[122] linguist Noam Chomsky;[33] geographer and anthropologist David Harvey;[57] Marxist feminist Gail Dines;[141] author, activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein;[142] journalist and environmental activist George Monbiot;[143] Belgian psychologist Paul Verhaeghe;[144] journalist and activist Chris Hedges;[145] and the alter-globalization movement in general, including groups such as ATTAC. Critics of neoliberalism argue that not only is neoliberalism's critique of socialism (as unfreedom) wrong, but neoliberalism cannot deliver the liberty that is supposed to be one of its strong points.


In protest against neoliberal globalization, South Korean farmer and former president of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation Lee Kyung-hae committed suicide by stabbing himself in the heart during a meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. He was protesting against the decision of the South Korean government to reduce subsidies to farmers. Prior to his death he expressed his concerns in broken English:[4]:96

My warning goes out to the all citizens that human beings are in an endangered situation that uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of bit WTO members officials are leading an undesirable globalization of inhuman, environment-distorting, farmer-killing, and undemocratic. It should be stopped immediately otherwise the failed logic of the neo-liberalism will perish the diversities of agriculture and disastrously to all human being.[4]:96[146]

See also[edit]


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    • "Neoliberalism represents a set of ideas that caught on from the mid to late 1970s, and are famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States following their elections in 1979 and 1981. The 'neo' part of neoliberalism indicates that there is something new about it, suggesting that it is an updated version of older ideas about 'liberal economics' which has long argued that markets should be free from intervention by the state. In its simplest version, it reads: markets good, government bad."
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    • The term is generally used by those who oppose it. People do not call themselves neoliberal; instead, they tag their enemies with the term.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Online lectures[edit]