Damien Cahill, Lindy Edwards and Frank Stilwell (eds.) Neoliberalism: Beyond the Free Market, Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, 2012; 288 pp: 978-1781002346, 67.50 [pounds sterling] (hbk)
Neoliberalism: Beyond the Free Market comes at a time of major economic crisis. This very timely book addresses the nature of neoliberalism as part of, and a consequence of, the global financial crisis. The book is structured in four parts, each exploring neoliberalism from the perspectives of a range of inter-disciplinary schools. These include historical institutionalists, regulation theorists, Foucauldians, Marxists, Polanyi-inspired scholars, and experts on the history of ideas. These approaches provide a useful contextual framework for understanding the concept of neoliberalism.
The book commences with important discussions concerning the ascent of neoliberalism as a particular ideological resumption of classical liberalism. By definition, as scholars of neoliberalism are well aware, the priority of markets and their associated practices of individualism, laissez-faire competition, private property rights and a belief that free capitalist expansion improves the prosperity of everyone, form part of these assumptions. The book makes careful note of the simplicity of such approaches by positioning a strong argument upfront that economic markets remain, and are always, socially embedded. In other words, transactions in the economy are shaped and constructed by their particular cultural, political and social contexts. The book conceptualises these across the perspectives outlined above. Using these conceptual and thematic frameworks also gives a greater appreciation of the uneven nature of neoliberal practice because, as the authors argue, neoliberalism diverges as its ideological and terminological assumptions are operationalised in practice. This often leads to contradictory impacts and outcomes across a wide range of political and policy contexts. The authors note some of the characteristics of the nature of neoliberal practice. These include: (1) a collection of political ideas; (2) a political movement; (3) a set of policy practices; and (4) a way of organising the capitalist economy (Edwards et al. 2012: 6). This is a schematically appropriate framework and approach because, as the book argues, neoliberalism can be seen in a variety of ways through various dimensions. Given that many governments both in Australia and overseas embarked on such neoliberal proposals, the sheer diversity and variety of theory and practice raises more questions than answers. It does, however, give scholars a wide range of understandings of how neoliberalism transforms society, as market exchanges become hegemonic over other areas of social life.
Part 1 commences with an examination of neoliberalism's interpretation. The second chapter by Peck, Theodore and Brenner contends that neoliberalism lost one of its nine lives in the global financial crisis, but remains a contradictory phenomenon, at best described as static while churning with a crisis-driven forward momentum. More specifically, in the third chapter, Dumenil and Levy position the current crisis in its historical context. They note the structural crisis the world is now experiencing, reminding us that overproduction, speculation, unemployment etc. form part of the inherent instability of capitalism that Marx noted nearly 120 years ago. This is important because it provides a framework with which to understand the current crisis in areas such as the financial markets. These markets represent particular hegemonic class alliances, reminding the reader that the notion of individualism and freedom associated with neoliberalism remains ideologically dogmatic. Neoliberalism was always a class divisive project, embarking on breaking down the post-war social democratic consensus set out, in the main, by Keynesian political economy, full employment and the welfare state. The section concludes with Martijn Konings's analysis of neoliberalism and the state, concluding that the relationship of the two is deeply connected to the motivations of markets. …