Academic journal article New Formations

Show Me the Money: The Culture of Neoliberalism

Academic journal article New Formations

Show Me the Money: The Culture of Neoliberalism

Article excerpt

Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2012, 303pp; 22.95 [pounds sterling] cloth

Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture, Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011, 360pp; 22.95 [pounds sterling] cloth

Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2012, 418pp; 24.95 [pounds sterling] cloth

The question implied by the title of Colin Crouch's The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism--the need to understand how the ambitions of neoliberalism appear to have been strengthened by a devastating crisis in its very heartlands--lies behind the host of recent histories of the movement. Yet whereas Crouch, a sociologist and political scientist, answers the question by pointing to the monopolising centrality of financial corporations ('we are increasingly told to welcome "more market" in our lives but "more market" really means "more giant firms"') these historians turn to the archives in order to detail the origins of neoliberal thought and the nature of its transition into the mainstream of political life. (1) They share the assumption that neoliberalism's tenacity cannot be wholly accounted for by either the left's analysis of class elites nor by the right's proclamations about the self-evident efficiency of the market itself: they offer instead a reading of its historical development and complexity. Yet what is necessarily left out from this historical approach--an understanding of how neoliberalism migrated into the discourses and mimetic assumptions of everyday culture--is also key to understanding its longevity. By way of a conclusion to this review, then, we will contrast these historical accounts of neoliberalism with a brief survey of 'post-crash culture': of the novels, plays, documentaries and artworks that offer a different kind of political commentary for neoliberalism's role in the contemporary moment.

One of the most celebrated of this recent clutch of books is Daniel Stedman Jones' new and careful history, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. The first chapters of the book spell out neoliberalism's philosophical beginnings, the middle trace the committed work of those 'ideological entrepreneurs' and activists who gave it cultural form and substance, and the final give an account of its political breakthrough in the early 1970s and hegemonic success in the following decade. Whereas the story told in the middle section of the book is now increasingly familiar, also covered by the work of Philip Mirowski and Angus Burgin, it is in Stedman Jones' accounts of neoliberalism's origins--both its philosophical debt to the thought of figures such as Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises and the nature of its initial entry into mainstream political debate--that his contribution to the field is most marked. (2)

In the book's first section Stedman Jones demonstrates how profoundly influenced the early "writers of the movement were by their escape from 1930s Fascism and suggests that their shared 'target was not simply collectivism or even, more simply, communism, socialism or Nazism. Instead they saw in the encroachment of state intervention on every aspect of social and economic life a creeping totalitarianism' (p36). Secondly, and probably more influentially, Stedman Jones argues that it wasn't this aversion to state intervention that first brought neoliberalism to the attention of those with elected political power but rather the political expedience of those governments faced with the apparent failure of Keynesianism in the early 1970s. It was the 'simple and optimistic message' of monetarism 'that a stable operation of monetary policy and a controlled expansion of the money supply would right all ills' (p223) that led to the rising credibility of Milton Friedman's economics in particular. …

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