Review of Resilient Liberalism in Europe's Political Economy

By Pheiffer, Chantel F. | The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

Review of Resilient Liberalism in Europe's Political Economy


Pheiffer, Chantel F., The Journal of Philosophical Economics


Review of Resilient Liberalism in Europe's Political Economy, edited by Vivien A. Schmidt and Mark Thatcher, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 469 pp., $32.99, ISBN 9781107613973

When the financial crisis hit the United States in September 2008, and subsequently reverberated through Europe, there seemed to be a moment of doubt in neo- liberalism as a set of ideas governing our political and economic world order. The Keynesian Moment in which media and economists alike echoed Milton's adage, "We are all Keynesians now" suggested that neo-liberalism was in crisis and teetering in the position of dominance it has firmly held in our hearts and minds since the 1980s. The moment of doubt was fleeting however and passed, not quite as quickly as it had arrived, but it passed nonetheless. There was no regime change to speak of. How do we explain the continued dominance of a set of ideas apparently responsible for the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression? Surely, we would have reconsidered our devotion to neo-liberalism, as we had done with classical liberalism after the Great Depression?

Resilient Liberalismbegins to unpack the resilience, continuity, and dominance of neo-liberalism as a governing set of economic ideas specifically in Europe and the EU. Taking as their definition of neo-liberalism "belief in competitive markets enhanced by global free trade and capital mobility, backed up by a pro-market limited state that promotes labour-market flexibility and seeks to reduce welfare dependence while marketizing the provision of public goods" (p.6), Schmidt et al. take as their point of departure that ideas matter to policy and political processes. Throughout the multi-author 14-chapter volume, the contributors frame their analysis around the concept of resilience to theorize the continuity of neo-liberalism over time despite internal contradictions and external challenges.

Fundamental to this comprehensive analysis is Schmidt et al.'s acceptance of neo- liberalism as set of core, but very general, ideas that can accommodate a multitude of variations but remain fundamentally neo-liberal. Ordo-liberalism (Chapter 4) and liberal neo-welfarism (Chapter 3) are variations distinct from the broad, given definition, but these forms contain principles sufficient (although not all necessary) to be classified as neo-liberalism. Those who prefer a more narrow definition might find themselves at odds with this particular line of argument, but a significant degree of vagueness here is required to explain in great part the adaptability of neo- liberalism to a variety of economic and political situations.

Schmidt et al. provide five theories for the persistence of neo-liberalism in Europe: the first is its ideational generality that permits adaptability. The second, and perhaps most compelling, is the space that exists between the rhetoric and the reality of neo-liberalism, allowing it to embrace and even turn on its head external criticism. An important example of this is the way in which profligate state behavior came to be blamed for much of the financial crisis in Europe, rather than the unfettered deregulation of international capital markets. The third is the relative strength of neo-liberal ideas in policy and politics, and the fourth is an interest-based argument where the winners of neo-liberalism have captured important influence. The final theory is an institutional one: institutions essential to the success of Europe continue to internalize and advocate neo-liberal ideas. …

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