H – Knowledge production

Towards a global history of neoliberalism

Event Details

  • Date

    Friday, 26 June - 14:00 – 16:00

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    H – Knowledge production
Convenor
  • Hagen Schulz-Forberg (Aarhus University)
Chair
  • Hagen Schulz-Forberg (Aarhus University)
Commentator
  • Katja Naumann (Wissenschafts Campus EEGA)
Panelists
  • Hagen Schulz-Forberg (Aarhus University)
  • Isabella Weber (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
  • Tobias Rupprecht (University of Exeter)
  • Martin Beddeleem (Aarhus University)

Papers

  • Hagen Schulz-Forberg
    Neoliberalism, Normative Statehood and Global Governance

    Neoliberalism, Normative Statehood and Global Governance

    Since its inception in the 1930s, neoliberalism has been a vision of the state, concerned with making governments govern well and function in global contexts. Breaking with nineteenth-century laissez-faire, it really was about good governance, about the way in which the state might best set the framework and rules for markets via an economic constitutionalism to allow the unfolding of a competitive order. Markets are not seen by neoliberals as self-fulfilling entities but identified as the optimal tool for operationalizing a moral order. The main features of a self-declared neoliberalism designed for both national and international order and their mutual sustainability were first expressed in the ‘Agenda of Liberalism’ at the Walter Lippmann Colloquium in Paris, in August 1938. The key ideas expressed in the agenda had been developed in a transnational web of knowledge- and policy-making. Among the conundrums addressed by these early neoliberals were questions related to the value basis of the competitive order. Equally crucial was the question of the very design of the market framework that both guards and marshals the market. Neoliberal normative statehood thus rested on a dual normativity. It was normative in regard to the definition of its fundamental values, located above the national level as a basic norm. And it was normative in regard to the guidelines market societies must live by within nation states. The transnational origins of neoliberalism as a concept for global governance still need to be recognized, however.
  • Isabella Weber
    China’s Dance with Neoliberalism

    China’s Dance with Neoliberalism

    The most common research question in the literature on China and neoliberalism is whether China is neoliberal or not, i.e., whether we can classify the Chinese political economy in its totality or some of its elements as neoliberal according to some definition of what neoliberalism might actually be. Given China’s scale and pace of economic development, on the one hand, and China’s social conflicts and ecological challenges, on the other, the answer to this question is ultimately always political and thus highly contested. In fact, the case of China is a very telling prism for a critical assessement of the state of the art in the study of neoliberalism. There are both scholars sympathetic as well as scholars critical of neoliberalism who conclude that China is indeed neoliberal – and neoliberal here always equates simply the existence of free markets and private property. At the same time there are scholars from both ideological camps who find China not to be neoliberal. And convinced neoliberals blame China for not obeying the laws of the market and for not granting sufficient protection of private property, while the distortions resulting from an excessive role of the state are found to be the cause of massive trade imbalances, bubbles, social injustice and an overuse of scarce natural resources. Those critical of neoliberalism, in contrast, argue that China’s breaking out of underdevelopment, its rapid industrialization and economic growth was only possible because China resisted neoliberal development policies as codified in the Washington Consensus. This enabled China to lift millions of people out of poverty, make the greatest contribution to the millennium development goals and ultimately challenge the neoliberal world order. How can we move beyond the essentialising dichotomy of whether or not China actually is neoliberal (or not)? This paper tries to take some steps in this direction.
  • Tobias Rupprecht
    The 'model chileno'. Neoliberalism between peripheries

    The 'model chileno'. Neoliberalism between peripheries

    Most accounts of neoliberal practices begin with Margret Thatcher’s economic reforms in the UK and Reaganomics in the US in the 1980s. The first country to implement a neoliberal programme, however, was military-ruled Chile from the mid 1970s. General Pinochet and his technocratic governments usually only appear as recipients of neoliberalism in most scholarly assessments, as a passive ‘laboratory’ of Western economic ideas. Yet Pinochet and the 'Chicago Boys' themselves became a source of inspiration for prospective economic reformers across the socialist world. What was now seen as a success story of a peripheral country overcoming socialism with the means of an authoritarian type of capitalism seemed to many an attractive development model with more practical relevance than that of the developed West. Chilean economic concepts were studied, and Chilean economic advisors and even Pinochet himself were welcomed visitors from Warsaw and Prague to Moscow and Beijing in the 1990s. Politically, Chile provided legitimacy for a seemingly successful authoritarian type of capitalism in Russia and China; economic elements of the ‘modelo chileno’, such as the privatised pension system, were emulated in several post-socialist countries.
  • Martin Beddeleem
    The political epistemology of neoliberalism

    The political epistemology of neoliberalism

    This paper proposes an assessment of the history of neoliberal epistemology. Competition over the production and distribution of knowledge is a key concern of neoliberal social theory. From the critique of economic planning in the 1930s to trade agreements over intellectual property or the privatization of education worldwide, neoliberals treat knowledge as intrinsically fungible, a commodity that ought to be priced on the market. Its sophisticated theory of knowledge transforms economic agency into epistemic production and vice-versa, making the politics of knowledge inextricable from socio-economic configurations. Yet, a conundrum remains: neoliberalism presents itself both as a body of scientific theories – especially in economic science – and as a normative project, one that promotes a competitive order. Knowledge claims are both beyond competition, and prime objects for competition on the ‘marketplace of ideas’. This epistemological paradox, far from impeding the diffusion of neoliberalism, has greatly contributed to its dynamism. Throughout its implementation, its first objective of a scientific reform of a global liberal order has evolved into a militant alignment of local epistemologies onto one normative model. Epistemology has become a key site of contention, one where norms, rules and methods bearing on what is true, thinkable or feasible have been contested. As neoliberal epistemology has moved beyond its Western birthplace, revendications of epistemic justice’, or ‘epistemic inequality’ from the periphery have challenged the performative effects of its socio-economic expertise, revealing its conventional – and thus arbitrary – foundations. In each case, mapping the local implementations of neoliberal reforms brings to light the intricate negotiations and hierarchies at stake between various epistemic actors, which enables or opposes the deployment of neoliberal norms of veridiction.

Abstract

Neoliberalism is everywhere. As a critical concept it still informs the social sciences and political thought as it is identified as one of the main reasons for today's crisis of capitalism - an ideology based on seemingly naively conceptualised free market agency best left completely to private contractors only. Yet things are more complicated than that and recent histories dealing with neoliberalism and neoliberals have shown the various origins and trajectories of the concept and its manifold semantic shifts as well as its various adaptations in policy since the end of the Second World War. What emerges from the literature is a history of neoliberalism that grows ever more intricate and complex. Ten years ago, the first broad strokes of this history saw a movement of self-organised liberal economists founding the Mont Pèlerin Society in 1947 and dealt mostly with the spreading of this society and with the ideological takeover of two of the most powerful politicians of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And the first histories of political thought dyed neoliberalism in market radical colours. Yet, while this strand of research has also found more historical substance recently with Quinn Slobodian's Globalists, what is still missing - quite astonishingly, given the prominence of the topic - is a global history of neoliberalism. Not the allegedly globalist claims by neoliberals, but a thorough historiography based on the approach developed within the field of global history. As such, both in the social sciences and in history, neoliberalism is merely a Western story and still focused on the thought of a handful of economists and their friends and enemies. A global history of neoliberalism might then help addressing questions that still remain ignored by the field despite their glaring obviousness. Here are only some: How can the 'homegrown neoliberalism' within many Central and Eastern European countries be explained? Why did self-declared neoliberals believe that neoliberalism actually existed in the 1950s in Belgium, West Germany, England, Italy, Sweden and Portugal? What is the role of international organisations in the making of neoliberalism? How did neoliberalism globalise? What emerges on closer inspection is a doctrine of normative statehood that originated in the days of the League of Nations and within a transnational governance network destined to design a sustainable and peaceful global order. Neoliberalism was deep-seated within the policy networks of international organisations, from the League to the OECD, the Bretton Woods Organisations, UNESCO and more. Not as an isolated ideology, but as a set of ideas and convictions that lived in dialogue and in contestation with other ways of addressing prominent issues of world order. It is helpful to see neoliberalism as a global history that unfolded on national and transnational levels simultaneously and interdependently, and not as an essentialised history originating somewhere in 'the West'? Rather, the normative agency of neoliberals as reconstructors of Western civilisation (as they imagined it) needs to be scrutinised. Starting from the historical perspective on neoliberalism that provides arguments for a period of early neoliberalism from the 1930s to the 1960s and a following period of late or contemporary neoliberalism beginning in the 1970s and reaching into the present, the papers of this panel strive to address this broader global historical question by focusing on the cases of China, Latin America, and Russia, on the important role of neoliberal epistemology and its political quality and on global governance.