In the last decade or so the cracks in the neoliberal order which dominated much of society in the last 30 years have become increasingly visible across the world. Accompanying this process there has been a surge of literature seeking to critically dissect the central tenets of neoliberalism and the methods it used to gain political dominance.
To its advantage, the timing of this new book could hardly be more favourable. The onset of the global financial crash in 2007-8, which has since grown into an economic crisis of a size not witnessed since the Great Depression of the 1930s, has accentuated the complete failure of neoliberalism to live up to its own promises. The crisis has shown beyond doubt that the neoliberal myth of an economic wonderland – in which capitalism’s previous cycles of “boom and bust” were a thing of the past – was nothing but a chimera.
So how well does The Rise and Fall of Neoliberalism succeed in providing a convincing account of its subject? The answer is: so-so. Setting the tone for the rest of the book, Birch and Mykhnenko state, “To start with, neoliberal economic theories represent an ideological project”. This perception of neoliberalism inevitably leads to emphasis being placed on the ideological and political struggles that shaped neoliberalism’s rise. This results in a lack of discussion of the structural problems of global capitalism since the late 1960s that contributed to the turn to neoliberalism.
The other side of this coin is that the book is full of examples of the ideological and political methods used by advocates of neoliberalism to advance their cause.
He looks at the “dismal science” behind neoliberal theory, the role of elite planning and corporate lobbying in “organising and pursuing capitalist class interests” and the creation of a “corruption industry” to justify neoliberal transformation in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. These provide the reader with telling stories about how the battle for neoliberal hegemony was waged across the world.
Having said this, the book remains unclear on how the monster of neoliberalism could be defeated. The alternative proposed by one of the contributors, who suggests that the way forward for “a genuine socialist and internationalist movement” goes through one single political organisation and its website, sounds not only crude and sectarian, but will also fail to convince a larger audience.
So, while The Rise and Fall of Neoliberalism provides useful insights on the rise to power of neoliberalism to its present state as a beast that lies wounded in front of our eyes, the search for how to kill it off and bring about progressive social change continues.
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