Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom

Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom

Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom

Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom


In Blazing the Neoliberal Trail, Timothy Weaver asks how and why urban policy and politics have become dominated, over the past three decades, by promarket thinking. He argues that politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher targeted urban areas as part of their far broader effort to remake the relationship between markets, states, and citizens. But while neoliberal policies were enacted in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Weaver shows that there was significant variation in the ways in which neoliberal ideas were brought to bear on institutional frameworks and organized interests. Moreover, these developments were not limited to a 1980s right-wing effort but were also advanced by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, whose own agendas ultimately reinforced neoliberal ideas and practices, though often by default rather than design. The enduring impact of these shifts is evidenced today by the reintroduction of enterprise zones in the United Kingdom by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and by President Obama's announcement of Promise Zones, which, despite appearances, are cast in the neoliberal mold.

By highlighting the bipartisan nature of the neoliberal turn, Weaver challenges the dominant narrative that the revival of promarket policies was primarily driven by the American GOP and the United Kingdom's Conservative Party. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews with key political actors, Weaver examines national-level policies, such as enterprise zones--place-based articulations of neoliberal ideas--in case studies of Philadelphia and London. Through an investigation of national urban policy and local city politics, Blazing the Neoliberal Trail shows how elites became persuaded by neoliberal ideas and remade political institutions in their image.


The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they
are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is
commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.
Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any
intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct
economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are
distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years
back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated
compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

—John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment,
Interest, and Money
, 1936

As New Deal and Great Society liberalism and Keynesianism unraveled in the 1970s amid a stagflationary malaise, a set of neoliberal ideas came to dominate the political landscape in the United States and Britain. Those who came to power at the turn of the 1980s looked to their favored academic scribblers whose ideas, they hoped, would provide solutions where liberals informed by John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith had ostensibly failed. Nowhere was this shift more sharply felt than in cities. the most noted urban impact of the neoliberal turn was the reduction of aid from central government. But the incoming administrations of the right under both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher also had ambitious urban policy proposals that reflected their shared commitment to reconstituting the relationship between the state, the citizen, and the market. For instance, they both offered the enterprise zone, a policy that symbolized their commitment to market forces. in the United Kingdom, local institutions would be further transformed by the creation of urban development . . .

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