Has Neoliberalism Really Come to an End?
By Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins. The Nation, 14 April 2022
A conversation with historian Gary Gerstle about understanding neoliberalism as a bipartisan worldview and how the political order it ushered in has crumbled.
The term “neoliberalism” is often used to condemn an array of economic policies associated with such ideas as deregulation, trickle-down economics, austerity, free markets, free trade, and free enterprise. As a political movement, neoliberalism is seen as experiencing its breakthrough 40 years ago with the election into office of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And since the 2007–08 financial crisis, an explosion of academic work and political activism has been devoted to explaining how neoliberalism is fundamentally to blame for the massive growth in inequality.
Yet Gary Gerstle—in his new book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era—argues that this understanding of neoliberalism struggles to explain why it has exerted such a profound influence on both the left and the right. Gerstle—a professor of American history at the University of Cambridge—thinks neoliberalism should be understood as a worldview that promises liberation by reconciling economic “deregulation with personal freedoms, open borders with cosmopolitanism, and globalization with the promise of increased prosperity for all.”
My book takes Foucault’s insight as inspiration: It argues that neoliberalism’s career has been marked as much by heterodoxy as orthodoxy, by its capacity to make individuals as different as tech hippies and Ronald Reagan, as dissimilar as Barry Goldwater and long-haired university students who wanted to bring down “the system,” feel as though they held the key to unlocking a future of untrammeled personal freedom.