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Neoliberal propaganda has succeeded in fixating the public on a peculiar definition of 'freedom' that has served to conceal a project of upper class wealth accumulation. In practice, the neoliberal state assumes a protective role for capital while it sheds as much responsibility for the citizenry as possible.
Neoliberal theory is ignored whenever it comes time to bail out corporate interests from bad decision making while the safety net for the working class has been gradually eviscerated. The author effectively intersperses the text with graphs to illustrate how thirty years of neoliberalist policies has resulted in rising inequality, slower economic growth, higher incomes among the upper class, and other measures that serve to convincingly support and prove his thesis.
By MalvinVerified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Hardcover)"A Brief History of Neoliberalism" by David Harvey is a concise and razor-sharp deconstruction of the neoliberal movement. Mr. Harvey convincingly demonstrates that neoliberalism is an ideology that has been wielded to enshrine elite privilege at the expense of people and the environment. Assiduously researched and cogently argued, Mr. Harvey offers a jargon-free and readable text that helps readers gain a greater understanding about the political economy of our neoliberal world and what this might hold for us in the future.
Mr. Harvey explains that neoliberal propaganda has succeeded in fixating the public on a peculiar definition of 'freedom' that has served to conceal a project of upper class wealth accumulation. In practice, the neoliberal state assumes a protective role for capital while it sheds as much responsibility for the citizenry as possible. Mr. Harvey details how neoliberal theory is ignored whenever it comes time to bail out corporate interests from bad decision making while the safety net for the working class has been gradually eviscerated. The author effectively intersperses the text with graphs to illustrate how thirty years of neoliberalist policies has resulted in rising inequality, slower economic growth, higher incomes among the upper class, and other measures that serve to convincingly support and prove his thesis.
Mr. Harvey's history of how neoliberalism has gained ascendancy mostly treads through familiar ground but also highlights some key events that are sometimes overlooked by others. For example, Mr. Harvey relates the well-known stories of how the Chilean coup in 1973 opened the door for Augusto Pinochet to implement the first national experiment in neoliberalism, followed by Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the U.S. in 1980. However, we also gain greater appreciation about the importance of the New York City bankruptcy in the 1970s. We learn how the city's financial crisis allowed for the imposition of neoliberal reforms in a manner that would prove to be a familiar template around the world: the rollback of labor rights, the privatization of public assets, cuts in public services, and increased policing, surveillance and political repression of a markedly polarized population.
Mr. Harvey surveys neoliberalism around the world to discover connections and to analyze its effects. He finds that the U.S. economy has benefited immensely from its ability to extract tribute from other nations, including the U.S. financial community's probable engineering of crises in developing nations in order to scoop up devalued assets on the cheap. The author discusses how economic restructuring programs imposed on poor countries has benefited U.S. and other foreign investors while it has bolstered or created a small but powerful class of wealthy individuals in Mexico, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. In China, Mr. Harvey remarks about the ease with which neoliberalism has found a home in an authoritarian state where the political elite have amassed their fortunes by exploiting a defenseless working class. The author is particularly concerned about the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the U.S. and China and muses about the potentially catastrophic financial situation that the two countries' mounting debts might pose for each other and the world economy.
In the final chapter, Mr. Harvey writes passionately about the need to continue building diverse democracy movements within the U.S. that are dedicated to social and economic justice. Although it is true that Mr. Harvey does not detail precisely what must be done, his thorough dissection of neoliberal ideology empowers us to effectively challenge those who hide behind false rhetorical devices in service to privilege. And for that, we should be grateful.
I give this outstanding book the highest possible rating and strongly recommend it to all.
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By Izaak VanGaalen on June 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified PurchaseThe term neoliberalism is usually heard in the pejorative sense, often coming from Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. The term refers to an international economic policy that has been predominant in policy-making circles and university economics departments since the 1970's. The four faces on the cover of this book (Reagan, Deng, Pinochet, and Thatcher) are considered by David Harvey the primemovers of this economic philosophy. Reagnomics, Thatcherism, Deng's capitalism with Chinese characteristics, and Pinochet's free market policies marked the beginning of new era of global capitalism.
Neoliberlism as a philosophy holds that free markets, free trade, and the free flow of capital is the most efficient way to produce the greatest social, political, and economic good. It argues for reduced taxation, reduced regulation, and minimal government involvement in the economy. This includes the privitization of health and retirement benefits, the dismantling of trade unions, and the general opening up of the economy to foreign competition. Supporters of neoliberlism present this as an ideal system. Detractors, such as Harvey, see it as a power grab by economic elites and a race to the bottom for the rest.
In this short, but very well researched book, Harvey charts the capital flows of the last thiry years. In the 1970's, there was the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, with its fixed exchange rates, tariff barriers, and capital controls. It gave way to floating currencies and high trading volumes. Capital started searching the globe for comparative advantage. Proponents claimed that this routed out corruption and inefficiencies, while opponents saw instability and exploitation. Indeed, Harvey produces ample statistics showing how the rich got richer and the poor stagnated. More surprisingly, he points out that the aggregate economic growth during the years of Keynesian management (the decades between World War II and the 1970's) was greater than during the neoliberal era (the 1970's to the present). The neoliberal era benefitted mainly the wealthy. In the US, the richest 1% now control 15% of the wealth as opposed to 8% at the end of World War II.
When Reagan and Thatcher came to power in the late 1970's and early 1980's they used their control of the IMF and World Bank to impose neoliberal policies on the developing world - especially Latin American countries. In the case of Chile, Pinochet - after violently ousting the Allende government - instituted free market policies as prescribed by the Chicago school, and was relatively successful. Other Latin American countries were not so successful, and it created a backlash of populist nationalisms in the form of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
The section on China is one of the best in the book: "Neoliberalism with Chinese Characteristics". Harvey points out that China is not a pure neoliberal state. There is still heavy state intervention in the economy and management of the currency. And as a further criticiem of neoliberalism, he reminds us that China has produced some of the highest growth rates - 9 to 10 percent annually. On the downside, the gap between the rich and poor is growing, and because their currency is held artificially low they are building dangerous overcapacity.
Neither does the US, for that matter, operate according to neoliberal principles. Even as it is urging other countries to maintain minimal goverment and balanced budgets, it is running huge deficits and issuing ever more t-bills to cover its excess spending.
With China and the US - two linchpins in the world economy - not playing according to the rules of the game a crisis is bound to happen. One country is totally geared toward producing and exporting, while the other is content with importing, consuming, and creating more debt. Harvey believes that the global economic readjustment that is going to take place will be painful and possibly violent.
Harvey's excellent little book illustrates, once again, that the perfect market, presupposed by neoliberalism and classical liberalism, does not exist. Unfortunately, he does not offer any remedies to rectify the current situation, nor does he offer an alternative system. Nevertheless, this book is very insightful.
By E. David Swan VINE VOICE on February 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified PurchaseOn the first anniversary of 9/11 President Bush made a speech saying, `Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world... as the greatest power on earth we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.' Spreading freedom is the primary function of neoliberalization but as George Lakoff stated in `Whose Freedom?' freedom can be a very subjective term. The freedom of neoliberalism is the glory of unfettered, free market economics and the rights of corporations and financial institutions over individuals and governments. It's the freedom to fully exploit resources and workers.
From its founding America's wealthy have feared democracy recognizing that the majority, being poor and middle class, could vote to redistribute wealth and reduce the control held by the elites. After World War II, the middle class in the United States grew dramatically somewhat flattening the countries power base. As a reaction to this dispersal of power the early 1970's saw the formation of groups like The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEO's who were `committed to an aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation'. As the author writes, `neoliberalization was from the very beginning a project to achieve the restoration of class power'. The neoliberal plan was to dissolve all forms of social solidarity in favor of individualism, private property, personal responsibility and family values. It fell on well funded think tanks like The Heritage Foundation to sell neoliberalism to the general public using political-philosophical arguments.
At the same time a group of economists were working on economic theories that developed into the `Washington Consensus'. These followers of Hayek and Friedman just happened to create economic blueprints for growth that matched up exactly with the goals of the wealthy business elites. The plans were based on the superiority of the marketplace in making wise decisions but also assumed perfect information and a level playing field for competition. As the author writes, `...eminent economic theorists [...] argue that all would be well with the world if only everyone behaved according to the precepts of their textbooks' The neoliberal economists have become so focused on growth that they seem to take a decidedly amoral approach to human suffering. Above all countries needed to focus on privatization and low taxes and definitely avoid deficit spending. What has happened is a widening of the gap between the wealthy and poor. The author suggests that rather than an unfortunate byproduct of neoliberalism or a temporary situation this is the intended result.
The great irony is that the U.S., the world's number one proponent of neoliberalism, generally finds itself breaking the rules. With high deficit spending and massive subsidizing particularly in consumerism and defense spending the United States has generally taken a `do as I say, not as I do' stance. With the amount of political appointee/lobbyists shuttling back and forth between business and government Adam Smith's `Invisible Hand' looks more and more like a crushing fist.
This was not the book I expected. This is a devastating critique of neoliberalism. I didn't agree with everything the author wrote and there are most definitely many positives that have come from globalization but the corporatization of the world has the potential to by an enormous threat. Global Warming has to be the poster child for neoliberal extremism with short term economic growth trumping the welfare of the entire world. David Harvey has a decidedly liberal stance but he backs up his views with sobering facts. Despite being a book on economics I found it extremely readable and recommend it wholeheartedly.
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