Professor David Harvey defines Neoliberalism in less than six minutes for Left Out. Also listen to this clip on SoundCloud.
Left Out, a podcast produced by Michael Palmieri, Dante Dallavalle, and Paul Sliker, creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists, and organizers on the Left. Left Out is now on Twitter: @leftoutpodcast
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[TRANSCRIPT: David Harvey defines Neoliberalism]
Paul Sliker: Before we get into your newest book on Marx's Capital... you are well known for your book A Brief History of Neoliberalism in which you very clearly say that Neoliberalism was first and foremost a political project devised by the corporate capitalist class towards the late 1960s and early 1970s to consolidate class power. A lot of younger, politically active and progressive people, particularly here in America, like to use that word to criticize a sort of ideology of certain types of politicians, economists, business leaders, members of the media, and so on, that they in one way or another disagree with. But if you really press some of those people to define what they mean by Neoliberalism they struggle to articulate a definition for it.
Briefly explain what you mean by Neoliberalism that might help us understand it better and why it might be such an important and relevant thing for people to understand.
David Harvey: I saw of Neoliberalism as a way of talking about the emergence of a political project. It really sort of had its roots in the 1960s. But I think it became more and more urgent in the 1970s because the capitalist class was losing power and the influence of wealth and I think they wanted to recover what they felt was rightfully theirs. They used the situation in the 1970s to launch a really conscious program. It wasn't a conspiracy in the sense of a few people underground - it was fairly upfront.
It was funding of the think tanks like Manhattan Institute and all of the rest of it to produce a counter-narrative as to what the nature of the problems were--and those problems really focused on that the workers had too much power. They had to be somehow disciplined. And the big question was how to go about doing that. So there emerged then this political project to try to attack working class power. There had been attempts to do so by mobilizing immigration through the immigration reform in this country in 1965. But that didn't seem to work. So then if you couldn't bring in the workers you took capital out to where the labour was... and so you start to get this shift towards pushing towards globalization which was facilitated by some technological changes in transport. And I always think that one of the big things is never talked about is the container ship...
Michael Palmieri: Mr Mclean.
David Harvey: Absolutely. Absolutely wonderful. So, Neoliberalism was about many of those things. Since then people have recognized that there is an ideology which could be constructed behind it which largely comes from looking at Hayek, Friedman, and people like that, and the Mont Pelerin project, and so on. And obviously any political project needs an ideology to back it up. But I always think it's interesting that in practice that ideology was never really manifest. A lot of the ideology was of course about free markets and competition and so on, and actually, of course a lot of the practice was about monopoly control and all of the rest of it.
So there is the ideology. There is the notion you will find in some places which is that it was a set of public policies and public policy people decided to take things in a different direction. People got very upset about levels of debt and wanted to retire the debt and so you get the notion of austerity as a public policy. And then there are all sorts of other things... some people trace neoliberalism back to Foucault and the like.
And one of the things that's disturbed me very much is that I thought there was a very clear way to understand it through class perspective, but a lot writing about Neoliberalism talks about everything except the class perspective. And it's very interesting... I read these books on Neoliberalism and they never mention my book! As a result there's a very peculiar kind of situation where the idea of Neoliberalism has become so confused that some people say "we shouldn't use it because it's just an incoherent project." And that in itself has struck me as a very interesting history.
I still think that if you keep to my definition--when people ask me "has neoliberalism died with the crisis of 2007 and 2008?"-- my answer is no! The project is still alive and well and in fact if you look at who has benefited most from the crisis of 2007-08 - it's been the top 1 percent. The ideology has taken some hits and so it's a bit hard to talk about how efficient market hypothesis and all those kinds of things.
But you what you see is that the project which is about concentrating and accumulating more wealth and power within a very smaller faction of the capitalist class and corporate world… that project is alive as it's ever been.
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Michael Palmieri is a [email protected] contributor and the co-host of LEFT OUT — a podcast that creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists, and organizers on the Left.
Paul Sliker is an editor and commentator at Democracy at Work, and the co-host of LEFT OUT— a podcast that creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists, and organizers on the Left. Follow him on Twitter: @psliker
Dante Dallavalle is a [email protected] contributor and the co-host of LEFT OUT — a podcast that creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists, and organizers on the Left. He's currently a graduate student in Economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Follow him on Twitter: @Drax138