Interview: William Davies and Nicholas Gane on Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism and the Ethos of Competition:
William Davies and Nicholas Gane in discussion
In this interview for the TCS Website (18 December 2013), William Davies and Nicholas Gane discuss competition, monopoly, markets, neoliberalism and Foucault.
NG: You have a forthcoming book in the TCS book series called The Limits of Neoliberalism. Could you tell us what this book is about?
WD: Initially my interest which led to the book came from when I was working in a policy think-tank – the Institute for Public Policy Research – about nine years ago now. I became very interested in the notion of competitiveness as a concept within public policy discourse because it struck me that nearly any policy could be justified on the basis that it was good for national or urban competitiveness or the competitiveness of communities or regions. One of the things that interested me about that was that clearly it wasn’t simply about opening up the market. It wasn’t simply just about saying that we must have more free trade or deregulation, but that there was a positive aspect of competitiveness. This is what Jamie Peck calls the ‘roll-out’ aspect of neoliberalism, for instance that we should invest in things like broadband infrastructure and other facilities and public spaces which are pro-competitiveness. Clearly this has big implications for universities as well in terms of the knowledge economy and so on. So, in quite a naive, untheorized way, it struck me that something was going on that only much later did I refer to as neoliberalism: that an ethos of competition and competitiveness was an organizing principle and driver for a lot of public policy decision making in ways that weren’t simply about the market in a simpler liberal, classical, Adam Smith sense of the market. That is what led me to do a PhD, which initially looked at discourses of competitiveness. I was particularly interested in notions of competitiveness as developed by the Harvard Business School guru Michael Porter. I then became more interested in how other traditions of economics conceived of competition and competitiveness, such as in the Chicago School, and then how these different concepts fed into policy making apparatuses, regulators and state agencies. This research, much of which has gone into this book, involved me going and meeting experts and economists who advised governments on competition and competitiveness, and then also trying to do more of a genealogical study of where these ideas came from. A crucial moment for me, and many of us who are interested in neoliberalism, was the English publication in 2008 of the Foucault lectures on neoliberalism. This happened just as I was completing my PhD but I had enough time to think hard about the implication of these lectures, particularly what Foucault said about the connection between economics and sovereignty. This really helped to shape my thinking and the focus the book.