Steger, Manfred B., and Ravi K. Roy. Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

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Summary:

This book offers precisely what the title implies: a short, but relatively thorough (given the length of the book), introduction to neoliberalism and the economic policies it has led to. The greatest strength of this book is the historical context it offers towards better understanding neoliberalism, specifically through a brief discussion of neoliberalism’s intellectual genealogy, as well as its different “waves” in the 1970s/80s and the 1990s. Steger and Roy explain that the “neo” in neoliberalism refers to a return to an emphasis on the free, self-regulating market of classic liberalism, but adjusted with an eye for increasingly global markets. In contrast to protectionist measures like tariffs and regulations designed to strengthen and stabilize national markets, neoliberalism advocates the erasure of regulations in order to work towards a single, free global market.

They characterize neoliberalism as having three different dimensions, and thus discuss neoliberalism as an ideology, as a mode of governance, and as a policy package. As an ideology, neoliberalism assumes production and exchange of goods is a key part of human experience and treats a free, global market as key to realizing better economic and political conditions across the globe. As a mode of governance, neoliberalism “encourage[s] the transformation of bureaucratic mentalities into entrepreneurial identities where government workers see themselves no longer as public servants and guardians of a qualitatively defined ‘public good’ but as self-interested actors responsible to the market and contributing to the monetary success of slimmed-down state ‘enterprises'” (12-13). As a policy package, neoliberalism emphasizes policies that follow the “DLP Formula”–that is, policies that deregulate the economy, liberalize trade and industry, and privatize state enterprises. Other neoliberal policy decisions might include tax cuts (especially for business), cuts to social welfare programs, anti-union policies, the establishment of tax havens for foreign investments, dissolution of global trade restrictions, cuts to government size, and programs to integrate global economies. As they cut social welfare programs, neoliberals employ “accountability” and “responsibility” as key catch words, shifting the ideal of responsibility from the government as responsible to care for its citizens to the idea that individuals are (morally) responsible for caring for themselves and their immediate family units.

Steger and Roy explain that the global market advanced by neoliberalism is promoted through five primary claims, which are:

  1. Globalization is about the liberalization and global integration of markets.
  2. Globalization is inevitable and irresistible.
  3. Nobody is in charge of globalization.
  4. Globalization benefits everyone (in the long run…).
  5. Globalization furthers the spread of democracy and freedom in the world. (54)

 

After summarizing the first wave (characterized by Reagan and Thatcher) and the second wave (characterized by Clinton and Blair) of neoliberalism in the West, Steger and Roy offer a handful of examples of neoliberal policies in place in different Asian countries and then in South America and Africa. The primary difference between those neoliberal policies put into place in Asia vs. South America/Africa is that the policies in place in Asia were advanced by the individual countries themselves and tailored to suit the particular national context as much as possible. While these policies have not been universal successes and have resulted in the same increasing gulf between the wealthy and the poor seen in the West, they at least speak more closely to the specific social, political, and economic context of each country. In contrast, neoliberal policies have been instituted in South/Central America and Africa largely through structural adjustment programs designed by the West in a one-size-fits-all model that have has disastrous effects on local economies and done little to successfully rebuild failed economies. These one-size-fits-all programs assume that markets are universal, but this assumption has proved patently false by the way these programs have continually failed. In the book’s conclusion, Steger and Roy wonder about the future of neoliberalism as people begin to feel the economic effects of markets made unstable by a lack of regulation, as well as seriously diminished social welfare programs. They also point to the fact that organizations like the World Bank and the IMF have abandoned their previous structural adjustment programs in favor of programs more tailored to the specific contexts and economies of particular countries.

 

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