Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism Info

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Chosen by Pankaj Mishra as one of the Best Books of the
Summer

Neoliberals hate the state. Or do they? In the first
intellectual history of neoliberal globalism, Quinn Slobodian follows a
group of thinkers from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire to the creation
of the World Trade Organization to show that neoliberalism emerged less
to shrink government and abolish regulations than to redeploy them at a
global level.

Slobodian begins in Austria in the 1920s. Empires
were dissolving and nationalism, socialism, and democratic
self-determination threatened the stability of the global capitalist
system. In response, Austrian intellectuals called for a new way of
organizing the world. But they and their successors in academia and
government, from such famous economists as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig
von Mises to influential but lesser-known figures such as Wilhelm Röpke
and Michael Heilperin, did not propose a regime of laissez-faire. Rather
they used states and global institutions―the League of Nations, the
European Court of Justice, the World Trade Organization, and
international investment law―to insulate the markets against sovereign
states, political change, and turbulent democratic demands for greater
equality and social justice.

Far from discarding the regulatory
state, neoliberals wanted to harness it to their grand project of
protecting capitalism on a global scale. It was a project, Slobodian
shows, that changed the world, but that was also undermined time and
again by the inequality, relentless change, and social injustice that
accompanied it.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism:

3

Nov 09, 2018

I visited Stanford University for the first time in years this past summer, and saw that the author was giving a talk on this book at some point. I looked it up and it sounded interesting--why not find out more about this neoliberal impulse that benights those who have had power in Western and especially U.S. politics over the past 70 years? Overall this book was way above my pay grade, but I'll take a stab at summarizing it.

This dense but expertly researched work traces the development of world I visited Stanford University for the first time in years this past summer, and saw that the author was giving a talk on this book at some point. I looked it up and it sounded interesting--why not find out more about this neoliberal impulse that benights those who have had power in Western and especially U.S. politics over the past 70 years? Overall this book was way above my pay grade, but I'll take a stab at summarizing it.

This dense but expertly researched work traces the development of world economic orders from the Hapsburg Empire to the development of the World Trade Organization. Summed up succinctly, it discusses the emergence of neoliberal thought as the process of keeping capitalism safe from democracy. Following the twilight of colonial power, Western metropoles fought to preserve the economic inequities that characterized those relationships, using paternalistic language and coercive development aid and trade as a way of suggesting that the long subjugated and plundered peoples of the world were "radical" and "disruptive" for demanding fairly equitable redistributive equitable measures. Whether through severe sanctions imposed for the nationalization of rapacious extraction industries or their subtle but strong support for the apartheid regime in South Africa, these folks did not want anything to get in the way of free trade at the lowest prices possible, justice be damned.

In addition to this backdrop of reaction to decolonization, Slobodian addresses the other supranational entities that have emerged in the last century, including the EU, that place markets beyond the power of national governments, while granting property rights to individuals outside of the citizenry. He argues that this has largely been a capitalist push, and has marginalized democracy in general and labor in particular as a consequence. Finally, he discusses the role of law in propitiating global capitalism, where "laissez faire" ironically required quite a robust set of rules and regulations as base assumptions.

We tend to view the post-WWII period as one of great prosperity and cooperation, but this book has made me wonder who really benefits, and who loses out because of that cooperation. If our international systems provide more ballast for private interests than mechanisms for rights and equity redress, then how much pride should we be taking in them? I'm not hopeful that a truly equitable system of international economic redress would ever gain traction, but I hope it's at least possible for international legal systems to evolve in a way that they can resist the antidemocratic impulses that have characterized their development over the past century. ...more
4

Aug 30, 2018

The neoliberal order which has dominated most western governments since the 1970s was incubated in the Austrian school of economics and the Mont Pelerin society. The tension between capitalism and democracy was foremost in the minds of people like Hayek and Von Mises. Their project was to protect global markets from democratic influence. The market was the ideal to be protected by the state and international agreements and from the meddling of democracy from below. They saw the crises following The neoliberal order which has dominated most western governments since the 1970s was incubated in the Austrian school of economics and the Mont Pelerin society. The tension between capitalism and democracy was foremost in the minds of people like Hayek and Von Mises. Their project was to protect global markets from democratic influence. The market was the ideal to be protected by the state and international agreements and from the meddling of democracy from below. They saw the crises following World War I the crises of letting populations interfere with the "wisdom of the market". They had a strange view that anything that interfered with the globalized laissez-faire market protected by a friendly state leads to bad outcomes. This vision was not central in Keynesian post World War II period but in the crisis of the seventies the new right seized on there idealization of the market to install the neoliberal order we have had since Reagan and Thatcher. One of the ironies is their austerity prediction has brought about the crisis they wanted to avoid in the 1930s. Their prescription for dismantling labor protections and welfare states is exactly what brings dangerous populist movements that they though free markets would prevent. Demagogues don't arise from avoiding the free market but are a result of pain they inflict on the population. Instead of putting out the fire neoliberalism puts gasoline on it in the name of global capital.
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4

Aug 25, 2019

Neoliberal is a slippery label that is more often used to obscure reality rather than illuminate it. It is usually the domain of various bogeymen and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Given the fact that most vocal critics of "neoliberalism" have little interest in treating libertarian thinkers like Hayek with sufficient respect or scholarly accuracy, this book is a pleasant surprise. This book does not create bogeymen and it does not engage in unsubstantiated conspiracy mongering. Instead, Neoliberal is a slippery label that is more often used to obscure reality rather than illuminate it. It is usually the domain of various bogeymen and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Given the fact that most vocal critics of "neoliberalism" have little interest in treating libertarian thinkers like Hayek with sufficient respect or scholarly accuracy, this book is a pleasant surprise. This book does not create bogeymen and it does not engage in unsubstantiated conspiracy mongering. Instead, it offers a historically factual account of the main ideas and figures of a school of thought.

Slobodian makes a strong case for the unified reality of what he calls the "Geneva School" of neoliberalism, which has its origins in places like Vienna and Freiburg. Although Slobodian is a critic of the movement, his book is one of the fairest and most evenhanded treatments on the subject - and I say that as someone who is deeply sympathetic to the globalist project of the Geneva liberals in general and F.A. Hayek in particular. Slobodian's evenhanded treatment of the motivations and central ideas of people like Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek is surprisingly accurate and nuanced, and his explanation of the link that liberals saw (and still see) between the spontaneous order of the market and the institutions of the rule of law is spot on.

The substantive problems that I have with the main arguments of the book relate to 1) the book's overemphasis on the Geneva link in the classical liberal story of modernity and 2) the tendentious historical connections it makes between the globalist and anti-racist classical liberal tradition and the various 20th to 21st century populist, antidemocratic, and anti-immigrant movements. (EDIT: Upon further discussions with the author, I should emphasize that these problems are mostly absent from the book itself, and they mostly appear in his other writings. But in emphasizing the tension between liberalism and the postcolonial and popular democratic movements, the book creates an underlying emphasis of a narrative that naturally leads to those later conclusions.) In emphasizing these factors, the author has justifiably highlighted some understudied aspects of the liberal movement, but in so doing he has also obscured some essential features of its history - for example the clearly lukewarm interest that Hayek ever had in international organizations, or the crucial role that Keynesians and various non-classical liberal technocrats had in their rise.

Although I deeply disagree with the author's normative framework, I have to admire his commitment to factual honesty. The author sees the story as a narration of the rise of a dangerous ideology, but this normative angle is almost absent from the brutally neutral and non-ideological narration. Although I'm still not a big fan of the neoliberal label, this is the first book-length treatment of (the internationalist dimension of) contemporary economic liberalism that does not commit some wholly embarrassing factual mistake or obvious exaggeration (I'm looking at you, Naomi Klein).

As a consequence, I can recommend the book to critics and friends of liberalism alike. It may help dispel some of the illusions that people on both sides of the debate have about it - and hopefully encourage more people to study the liberal thinkers directly without relying on exaggerated or conspiratorial third-hand accounts. ...more
5

Apr 08, 2018

Speaking as someone who has confronted “anarcho-capitalists” on the other side of the line at counter-fascist demonstrations (including one where these supposed anarchists came out to support ICE), the idea that neoliberalism and empire might have some elective affinities was not a new one to me. But historian Quinn Slobodian opens up some new angles by looking at the “Geneva School,” a circle of mostly German-speaking economists and lawyers and a counterpoint to the much more celebrated “ Speaking as someone who has confronted “anarcho-capitalists” on the other side of the line at counter-fascist demonstrations (including one where these supposed anarchists came out to support ICE), the idea that neoliberalism and empire might have some elective affinities was not a new one to me. But historian Quinn Slobodian opens up some new angles by looking at the “Geneva School,” a circle of mostly German-speaking economists and lawyers and a counterpoint to the much more celebrated “Chicago School” of neoliberal economics and governance.

The Geneva neoliberals — figures like Wilhelm Ropke, Joachim-Ernst Mestmayer, and, Slobodian argues, Friedrich Hayek deserves to be seen in their company as well — come off as a gloomier, more philosophical, continental counterpart to their sunnier, gladhanding fellow travelers based at U Chicago. No PBS specials for them, like you got with Friedman! There’s a certain degree to which the Chicago School got over by sleight of hand- math proves the market, and we don’t need to think that much about the institutions that make it happen (or don’t). The Genevans didn’t think that much of math — Hayek was no friend of modeling — and thought a great deal about institutions. Emerging out of the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and witnessing the rise (and bloody suppression) of Red Vienna, literally out of their office windows in many cases, European neoliberals thought deeply for decades about what could protect the market from those two persistent enemies: states and peoples.

Slobodian depicts the Geneva School as persistently fascinated with two empires: the Hapsburg empire that ran Central Europe when many of them were young, and the British Empire at its height in the nineteenth century. They saw both (pretty ahistorically, fwiw) as benign supranational referees and guarantors of market order, lowering barriers to the free movement of goods, capital, and people. As they and other empires collapsed, and more (and browner) nations began asserting themselves, the Geneva School came to concern themselves less with liberating markets and more with casting about for ways to replace empire in its supranational governance role.

In the interwar period, many looked to the League of Nations; thereafter, they fought amongst themselves as to whether European integration could be turned to their purposes (spoilers: it could), and set up GATT and WTO to play the role empire could not anymore. These were/are all institutions encased from democratic pressure, even the indirect pressure of legislation or diplomacy. More than economics, the Geneva School pit many of its chits on law, especially constitutional law. For Hayek and Ropke as for Schmitt and Machiavelli, the moment of decision — of staking a value claim — was the foundational moment of a given order that determines all else that comes after.

This neoliberalism was generated by fear. First it was fear of the masses in Europe and the industrialized countries, then of the nation-states who might undermine the market to appease them. Finally, and this is what gave them their opening to international influence in the 1970s, fear of the rising decolonized nations, demanding what was due them and attempting to rewrite the rules of the game. Not that the scraggly bearded ancap teens I’ve seen waving the black and gold for ICE would know or care, but in many ways neoliberalism really is about setting up walls against people, so that people don’t set up walls against capital. This includes racial barriers, as shown by the neoliberal activists who condemned South African apartheid for its market distorting aspects only to propose replacing it with various intricate racially-weighted franchise schemes to protect against majority rule.

Along with illuminating neglected corners of the history of neoliberalism, “Globalists” also presents some new angles on the twentieth century more generally. Most of the Geneva School thought the Cold War an irrelevance waste of time- Hayek wrote somewhere about the US and the USSR bidding to fund the socialist experiments of ex-colonies, and if you see any kind of government developing aid as “socialism,” it makes sense. The Cold War US cared less about “free” markets than it did about markets open to itself, attached to states who were amenable to its Cold War goals. Neoliberalism only really came into its own when developing world self-assertion (and developed world reaction) forced the elites of the US and elsewhere to abandon more robust development strategies and find ways to simply contain and discipline developing countries rather than entice them.

Moreover, this work reveals neoliberalism as an art of governance, and as one in a long old European tradition. Rather than the sunny (if clinical) rationalism of the Chicago School, the Genevan neoliberals insisted on a murky, turbulent world. To them, really comprehending the market — or any complex cybernetic system — was both impossible and vaguely wrong to attempt. What created order and allowed for (some version of) progress was continual adjustment under pain of severe negative circumstances, and the key figure of this process — the decisionmaker taking the role of Schmitt’s dictator or Machiavelli’s prince — is the entrepreneur, attuned to the ineffable flows of supply and demand and taking risks on value propositions. This is a strongly philosophical and moral vision, and the neoliberals sought — seek, in many cases — to create constitutional orders to bring that moral vision in to reality (or remove the artificial impediments “special interests” put up against it, in their telling). This doesn’t mean small government or non-intervention- far from it. It’s not hypocrisy, then, for “free market” fundamentalists to support calling out the troops to break up strikes, or force countries to lower tariffs, or separate asylum seekers from their children. That’s what the free market order is. *****

https://toomuchberard.wordpress.com/2... ...more
5

Jul 24, 2018

This is such an important history and needs to be read by all academics and policymakers. It is sort of a revisionist history on neoliberalism--the thesis is that Hayek and others understood that their theories of the economy were aspirational ideals and not reflective of actual reality. They would make them come to pass through laws and so they did. To me, what was particularly fascinating in this account was how the neoliberal turn was rooted in racism (not Hayek, but some later advocates). This is such an important history and needs to be read by all academics and policymakers. It is sort of a revisionist history on neoliberalism--the thesis is that Hayek and others understood that their theories of the economy were aspirational ideals and not reflective of actual reality. They would make them come to pass through laws and so they did. To me, what was particularly fascinating in this account was how the neoliberal turn was rooted in racism (not Hayek, but some later advocates). Specifically, in bolstering South Africa's apartheid regime and in snuffing out the global south's demands for equality. It's not a quick or easy read, but this book will be around for a long time and will foster more research and literature. ...more
3

Oct 07, 2019

Traces the development of neoliberal thinking from the Austrian School of Economics (Baron Ludwig von Mises! I almost don't scream anymore when I hear his name) to the establishment of the World Trade Organization. Posits that neoliberalism starts with the idea the market his the ideal form of social coordination and ends with property rights being elevated over civil and civic rights.

Had some great lines. "Against Roosevelt's Four Freedoms -- of speech, of worship, from fear, from want -- Traces the development of neoliberal thinking from the Austrian School of Economics (Baron Ludwig von Mises! I almost don't scream anymore when I hear his name) to the establishment of the World Trade Organization. Posits that neoliberalism starts with the idea the market his the ideal form of social coordination and ends with property rights being elevated over civil and civic rights.

Had some great lines. "Against Roosevelt's Four Freedoms -- of speech, of worship, from fear, from want -- neoliberals posed the four freedoms of capital, goods, services, and labor." (136).

"Order for Hayek must be as unplanned and spontaneous as the movement of a school of fish in water." (228)

"Neoliberals criticize socialists for their dream of a world economy without losers, but they had their own dream of a world economy without rule breakers and more importantly without idealistic -- or, in their opinion, atavistic - alliances of rule breakers who seek to change the system of incentives, obligations, and rewards. In the mid-2010s, the popular referendum in favor of Brexit and the declining popularity of binding trade legislation suggests that even if the intentions of the neoliberals was to 'undo the demos,' the demos -- for better or for worse -- is not undone yet." (286).

Was hoping for some deeper insights about this ongoing struggle between the idea that civic society should constrain the market and the idea that the market is the ultimate expression of human freedom. But maybe this is all there is.

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5

Jul 08, 2019

This is a headspinning read. A history of the branch of neoliberalism that you probably haven't heard of - the Geneva school. Sounds dry. But seriously, it's a must-read if you want to understand 'the present conjuncture'. All the intellectual strands that came together after the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire to form Reaganism/Thatcherism, the grim international order of GATT, WTO, the International Chamber of Commerce (and the EEC/EU!) and their various offshoots and national representations. This is a headspinning read. A history of the branch of neoliberalism that you probably haven't heard of - the Geneva school. Sounds dry. But seriously, it's a must-read if you want to understand 'the present conjuncture'. All the intellectual strands that came together after the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire to form Reaganism/Thatcherism, the grim international order of GATT, WTO, the International Chamber of Commerce (and the EEC/EU!) and their various offshoots and national representations. The hideous and hugely influential white male consensus that opposed decolonisation, labour solidarity, international development, the spread of democracy and national sovereignty while supporting Pinochet and apartheid and the awful idea of the 'weighted franchise' (more votes for wealthy people). And, of course, the continuining deep influence of this school of thought - the brilliant and persuasive and hateful Heyek, von Mieses and all their awful descendents. The whole bleak context to the collapsing world economic order. Gripping and illuminating. ...more
5

Jul 08, 2019

An absolutely brilliant, field-redefining history of neoliberalism; one of the best works of intellectual history of this century.
4

Apr 19, 2019

This book is a great example of an academic book that could've used a perusal by a non-academic editor. The ideas are fascinating and thought-provoking, ponderous and infuriating, but it needed maybe a slightly more human touch. The narrative thread of the book follows the life of Friederich Hayek and his ideas and work, and while those ideas are particularly human (idiosyncratic, at times baffling, at times contradictory and yet without a doubt wildly influential) Hayek the man comes off as an This book is a great example of an academic book that could've used a perusal by a non-academic editor. The ideas are fascinating and thought-provoking, ponderous and infuriating, but it needed maybe a slightly more human touch. The narrative thread of the book follows the life of Friederich Hayek and his ideas and work, and while those ideas are particularly human (idiosyncratic, at times baffling, at times contradictory and yet without a doubt wildly influential) Hayek the man comes off as an enigma and I'd've liked to see him drawn out a bit more, although I gather that Slobodian is going for an academic history, not a human interest piece. He also repeatedly frames everything in terms of "his argument" which smacks of a kind of academic hubris I've never cared for.

Generally this book gave me a lot to think about, and filled in some historical gaps I've wondered about but never quite had the language to form the question: after the first World War, how did Empires end (if they did at all?) and how did we so neatly become this world where global capital and the global economy become unassailably good? In particular to my mind, where did the virulent racism of Empire go?

The short answer: a group of neoliberals from the 1930s - 1980s set about creating an intellectual framework where the private capital from Empire rebranded itself as "the global market" and there was a concerted effort to protect private capital from democratic oversight or the governments of nations (and these dudes seriously hate democracy and viewed it AT BEST as a necessary evil to legitimate their views on the "human rights" of free-flowing capital) and the creation of supranational organizations (think the EU) to protect and encase that capital and its free flow/extraction etc. (Also, the racism never went away. These guys were unabashedly racist and the idea that governments from the global south would try to use the hand of government to stop corporate extraction of natural and national resources was particularly galling to them.)

It's easy to see in this narrative how Hayek and von Mises' knownothing-ism (no one can ever truly grasp the ineffable beauty of the free market, so why should we ever try to "regulate it" other than creating organizations to protect it?) translates into conservatism (and they did make in-roads to the National Review and William F. Buckley in the '50s).

What's harder to grapple with are the implications of nationalism and the role of the nation-state. Having traveled through Europe and generally accepting that I am privileged cosmopolitan internationalist piece of shit, I can see the internal moral value of free movement as a human right within the EU (or anywhere else for that matter).To recognize that that right has been affixed like drapery to the "rights" of property and unencumbered and un-taxed flow of capital feels... not great. Conversely, as a social democrat-leaning person who values systems of social welfare and uplift, I'm deeply angry that seemingly the only mechanisms we have for capturing capital and redistributing it rely on the absolutely fucking absurd notion of clearly delineated historic nation-states and "firm borders" and all of the racist garbage we can see those ideas truck in. (see: Trump and Brexit)

I don't know, I guess all this means is that I'm an internationalist socialist scumbag and I want a better system that both captures capital and allows for the free movement of peoples and I'm too dumb to know how to design that system or how to begin paving the road to international socialism at all. (yes, kudos to myself for fitting that reference in). ...more
5

Sep 29, 2019

The book is a thoughtful and extensive introduction to neoliberal globalism coming from the 'Geneva School', from its origins in Viennese intellectual tradition through the founding figures such as Mises and Hayek, to its influences on various post-war institutions to present day crisis. It's intellectual history as it should be, highlighting connections and conversations between various thinkers and institutions, and the development of the core idea - that of a global economic law and its The book is a thoughtful and extensive introduction to neoliberal globalism coming from the 'Geneva School', from its origins in Viennese intellectual tradition through the founding figures such as Mises and Hayek, to its influences on various post-war institutions to present day crisis. It's intellectual history as it should be, highlighting connections and conversations between various thinkers and institutions, and the development of the core idea - that of a global economic law and its institutions - which explains a lot of today's conversations and today's struggles. If there is anything to criticise, that will the book's insufficient focus on (a) the relationship of these thinkers to the American neoliberal institutions and thinkers, such as Milton Friedman at Chicago and James Buchanan and his successors at George Mason University; and (b) the reception and diffusion of their ideas on the opposite side of the fence - the Global South - where a new generation of economists adopted many of their ideas and led the drive to 90s' liberalisation. ...more
4

Dec 26, 2018

I think from now on four out of five stars will be my baseline rating for books. You can essentially take it to mean: this book is worth reading, I learned something and/or I enjoyed the experience and I don't regret having spent the time. The reason I preface these comments with that is because Quinn Slobodian's Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism isn't exactly a rip-roaring read. I suspect many people would find it dry and rather boring. I know at times I did. Despite I think from now on four out of five stars will be my baseline rating for books. You can essentially take it to mean: this book is worth reading, I learned something and/or I enjoyed the experience and I don't regret having spent the time. The reason I preface these comments with that is because Quinn Slobodian's Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism isn't exactly a rip-roaring read. I suspect many people would find it dry and rather boring. I know at times I did. Despite that, I'm glad I powered through because this book helped to clarify a lot of vague notions I had swirling around in my head about that dirty word, "neoliberalism."

This is a limited history of the neoliberalist movement, from roughly the fall of the Hapsburg Empire after World War I to the inception of the World Trade Organization in the mid 1990s. It was slightly frustrating to me at first that this book doesn't carry through to the present, as 1995 feels so long ago, an epoch away from where we are now. But Slobodian makes the point that the apotheosis of the neoliberal movement (the birth of the WTO) is also the moment at which a popular backlash starts to form which would come to define the new millenium. These days that backlash has reached a fever pitch, even as neoliberal policy still holds much sway.

Slobodian traces the rise of neoliberal ideology through a handful of European thinkers, namely Ludwig Von Mises, Wilhelm Röpke and Friedrich Hayek. In some ways the point of the book is to dispel myths about what these thinkers advocated, and neoliberalism in general. Before reading Globalists, if someone asked me what the neoliberal program is I might have said: slash regulations, cut taxes on corporations and promote an interconnected, global economy through free trade. In essence, reduce the power of government and increase the power of markets. These things are not necessarily wrong, but they miss important aspects.

While early neoliberal thinkers had an implicit faith in markets, they did not believe in laissez faire. As vital as it was to let competition run its course, neoliberals felt strongly that they had to create a system to protect free markets from the vicissitudes of national politics. They had a profound distrust of democratic government, fearing that the popular vote tended toward protectionist and/or redistributive policy, which would snag the free flow of the world economy. This fear was exacerbated after decolonization, in which dozens of new nation-states were formed, then given a seat at the international table in the United Nations. They worked against these trends in what sometimes amounted to racist proposals in support of, for example, the white Apartheid regime in South Africa. This and their antipathy to democracy is striking.

Slobodian makes clear that neoliberalism was never an ideology set in stone, but one that constantly adjusted to the times. After World War I the neoliberals, eager to better understand global economy, pushed for statistics and other fine measurements of the market, only to watch their confidence in numbers crash with the Great Depression. Hayek, for his part, believed that the world economy was far too complex for anyone to understand, and so efforts should be devoted not to controlling the market but to encasing it (Slobodian's term) in an international system of laws that would prevent countries from hindering its ability to find a natural equilibrium.

Neoliberals wanted the world economy to be an invisible layer that floated above national sovereignty and could not be constrained by it. They sought and helped design international bodies that could enforce the laws of global competition, eventually succeeding (after various hiccups) with the creation of the WTO. The supreme irony, as Slobodian points out, is that the WTO prompted demonstrations from publics who felt that decisions influencing their livelihoods were being made by a supranational body that did not consult them. The invisible world economy became visible. And neoliberalism, a movement which sought to transcend the political, found itself mired in a political backlash that, as I said above, has reached a fever pitch today.

Slobodian doesn't make qualitative judgements about neoliberalism. He skillfully lays out the growth of the movement and its evolving, sometimes hypocritical platform through the writings of its most prominent figureheads. As he says, neoliberalism should be seen as one only one argument for how to design the world among many. It may be impossible now to turn back from a globalized economy, but we're clearly at some kind of inflection point. The cracks in neoliberalism have made it visible, and for this kind of ideology that constitutes something of a defeat. ...more
4

Jul 14, 2019

It's an interesting time to read an intellectual history of neoliberalism and Quinn Slobodian's dense but fascinating book gives a curious reader much to think about. Slobodian's history of neoliberalism focuses mostly on the time period from the beginning of the 20th Century until the 1970s, with some discussion of the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999 at the end. In Globalists, we learn that neoliberalism was not really an economic theory or even a political theory. It was a theory of It's an interesting time to read an intellectual history of neoliberalism and Quinn Slobodian's dense but fascinating book gives a curious reader much to think about. Slobodian's history of neoliberalism focuses mostly on the time period from the beginning of the 20th Century until the 1970s, with some discussion of the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999 at the end. In Globalists, we learn that neoliberalism was not really an economic theory or even a political theory. It was a theory of power and how pluralism should be practiced so that "order" is maintained. I thought Globalists was incredibly fair in its descriptions of the ideas and history that shaped neoliberalism. Hayek and other thinkers believed that the masses and their democratic and national institutions were ill-suited to create progress and that their pursuit of self interest leads to chaos. For progress to happen, so the idea goes, the global economy and particularly global finance must be beyond the reach of the masses. This is not quite as crazy as it seems at first blush. Democratic institutions that lack checks and balances and that are captured by utopianism and radicalism can become very destructive. For neoliberals, the diffusion of power in democracies and nations is an existential threat to the global economy and thus the world. But is this an actual theory of sovereignty and pluralism or is it more like an admission that they do not actually possess the legal, political and social acumen to develop a functioning model of popular sovereignty? It is interesting that the icons of neoliberalism discussed in Globalists were born and educated in old European empires, not the U.S. Classical American thinking on popular sovereignty and the rule of law was probably more utilitarian and dynamic while also being more idealistic than neoliberal thinking on those topics. In any case, neoliberalism's conquest of elite American thinking seems to have been almost total.

The ideas presented in the book beg certain questions about neoliberalism. How did the neoliberals reconcile their theories of state capture by the masses with the threat of state capture by wealth consolidation? Why were the neoliberals resistant the notion that legal and economic institutions could evolve to incorporate the objectives of the post colonial world? Slobodian suggests at different points that neoliberal thinkers shifted their theories as required in order to protect established economic powers. I thought the book could have been clearer on whether the main neoliberals engaged with their critics or not.

Overall, I thought this was super interesting. What's next for neoliberalism? At this moment, it is quite possible that institutions that neoliberalism created to protect the establishment from the will of the masses might result in cascading political turmoil. By creating a kind of anti-politics that insulates elites, they may have brought about the volatility and uncertainty that they professed to abhor. Neoliberals argue that a sclerotic, even dysfunctional pluralistic government is better for society than a democracy that allows the majority to rule. Never before has this theory been as tested in the U.S. ...more
4

Apr 09, 2018

An important read and an excellent historical study of neoliberal thinking and its origins. Probably the most thorough and convincing that I've read on the subject. Slobodian ties neoliberals' thinking to the demise of the Austro Hungarian Empire, and also explores how their ideology responded to and was shaped by the process of decolonization in Africa and Asia later in the century.
3

Aug 24, 2019

Good content, somewhat tediously presented. Worth a read if you're unfamiliar with what a racket neoliberalism is.
5

Jul 29, 2018

Really illustrates what neoliberalism is: a system that devises international institutions and interdependency between national economies as a way to shield markets from democratic pressures.
4

Jul 07, 2019

After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a set of Austrians largely based in Geneva sought to remake it in their own image.

Slobodian argues the idea for these neoliberal acolytes of Hayek was to "encase" the market. By creating a superstructure that would protect the markets from authoritarian or social democratic capital seizure, neoliberals thought they could create a world safe for capital.

In the interesting title "Globalists," Slobodian plays off the right-wing populist attack on After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a set of Austrians largely based in Geneva sought to remake it in their own image.

Slobodian argues the idea for these neoliberal acolytes of Hayek was to "encase" the market. By creating a superstructure that would protect the markets from authoritarian or social democratic capital seizure, neoliberals thought they could create a world safe for capital.

In the interesting title "Globalists," Slobodian plays off the right-wing populist attack on global capitalism. Yet, he shows these globalist neoliberals didn't so much seek a world a free capital global market as they did seek a market where capital was free to bounce from country to country. The nation state was inconvenient when it wanted to redistribute the fruits of the nation but convenient when hot money "needs an out."

The post War era saw these economist move away from economics and into the world of law and constitutional structure. Hayek declared the market too complicated to figure out so we should just follow a few basic signals instead and guarantee that we keep people to the discipline of the market. In fact he felt the great American Neoliberal Milton Friedman spent too much time worrying about the data and facts of the market.

As these neoliberals of the "Geneva School" proclaimed the independence and greatness of the market, they also declared the market was a defender of individual rights. Of course, the examples they proclaimed belied that - Segregationist America, Apartheid South Africa, and Pinochet's Chile.

From 1947 to 1995 their great dream was to make the ad hoc rules of GATT into a formal constitution of the world economy. In 1995 they reached that dream. The WTO would formalize the structures of GATT and force the "golden straightjacket" that Thomas Friedman loved (years before he realized **shockingly** globalization exacerbated environmental damage).

Yet the process of the WTO actually brought the global economy into the forefront of discussions by the non-elites. Grassroots right and left now got to actually see how the global economy worked and didn't work and for whom.

Slobodian argues this brought about the Seattle fiasco to the WTO and the failure of the Doha round. It's odd that a group with so little actual economic evidence was able to push an agenda based on nostalgia for one of the biggest clusterf**k states of all time and walk away with - combined with Milton Friedman - the structure of the post Cold War economy.

But as Alan Greenspan realized, there was a "flaw" with limiting the power of the nation state to regulate its own economy. ...more
5

Jan 22, 2020

Quinn Slobodian starts his narrative of what he calls the "Geneva School of Neoliberalism" in post-war Red Vienna, narrating the historical development of Continental neoliberalism throughout the 20th century, up until the creation of the WTO. His main thesis is that neoliberalism, at least the branch that he is dealing with, is an approach to regulating capitalism (similar to its arch-enemy, Keynesianism, in this sense) that tries to "encase" the global competitive markets against two key Quinn Slobodian starts his narrative of what he calls the "Geneva School of Neoliberalism" in post-war Red Vienna, narrating the historical development of Continental neoliberalism throughout the 20th century, up until the creation of the WTO. His main thesis is that neoliberalism, at least the branch that he is dealing with, is an approach to regulating capitalism (similar to its arch-enemy, Keynesianism, in this sense) that tries to "encase" the global competitive markets against two key challenges: (I) The democratic calls for redistribution and (II) the demand for national sovereignty in the economic sphere.

The solutions that protagonists in Globalists come up with to protect the free movement of capital and goods in the global economy are neither uniform nor necessarily evil, but they share certain features in their institutional design. The core idea is to combat (I) and (II) through a combination of domestic constitutions that lock in a market order, e.g. Chile under Pinochet or plans for Apartheid South Africa to grant suffrage proportionate to one's incomes, and supranational regulative institutions, such as the EU and the WTO, whose main function is limit the ability of social-democratic reformers to implement their agenda by the being "naysayers". EU's fiscal rules, that force national governments to hold national debt and deficit to respectively 3% and 60% of the GDP, thus imposing austerity on member-states.

It might not be a page-turner, but Slobodian has produced a book full of original scholarship and sharp analysis. A necessary read for anyone looking to know more about the roots of neoliberalism, and/or history of economic thought in general. ...more
4

Jun 20, 2019

The first 2/3 of this book deserves five stars, and the final third only three stars, or maybe two. In the first 2/3, Slobodian makes a persuasive, historically rich argument that neoliberals--or more specifically a subset described as "ordoliberals"--saw a crisis after WWI in the collapse of empires and rise of nationalism. They saw democracy as a threat to international trade, and developed the intellectual architecture for a system that defined the global economy as a connected, monolithic, The first 2/3 of this book deserves five stars, and the final third only three stars, or maybe two. In the first 2/3, Slobodian makes a persuasive, historically rich argument that neoliberals--or more specifically a subset described as "ordoliberals"--saw a crisis after WWI in the collapse of empires and rise of nationalism. They saw democracy as a threat to international trade, and developed the intellectual architecture for a system that defined the global economy as a connected, monolithic, apolitical thing outside the purview of legitimate domestic politics. The WTO and the system of international economic institutions that promote free trade and integration are, in the neoliberal/ordoliberal view, the means of protecting the global economy from democratic impulses at the national level. Very insightful, and a lot of evidence to illustrate how neoliberals have historically viewed nationalism v. globalism. But the final third of the book trails off into something of a leftist screed. I don't disagree with much of what he says in this final third, but the sudden shift into invoking the lexicon of the left will be off-putting to many. More importantly, it feels disconnected--as in somewhat unrelated--to his book's core argument in the first 2/3 of the book. Unlike the first half of the book, the latter half is not well substantiated and not well developed; it just kind of traffics in memes and emotional reasoning that's common on the activist and intellectualist segments of the left. ...more
5

Nov 14, 2018

A concise definition of neoliberalism and its historical influence

Anybody interested in global trade, business, human rights or democracy today should read this book.

The book follow the Austrians from the beginning in the Habsburgischer empire to the beginning rebellion against the WTO. However, most importantly it follows the thinking and the thoughts behind the building of a global empire of capitalism with free trade, capital and rights. All the way to the new “human right” to trade. It A concise definition of neoliberalism and its historical influence

Anybody interested in global trade, business, human rights or democracy today should read this book.

The book follow the Austrians from the beginning in the Habsburgischer empire to the beginning rebellion against the WTO. However, most importantly it follows the thinking and the thoughts behind the building of a global empire of capitalism with free trade, capital and rights. All the way to the new “human right” to trade. It narrows down what neoliberal thought really consist of and indirectly make a differentiation to the neoclassical economic tradition.

What I found most interesting is the turn from economics to law - and the conceptual distinctions between the genes, tradition, reason, which are translated into a quest for a rational and reason based protection of dominium (the rule of property) against the overreach of imperium (the rule of states/people). This distinction speaks directly to the issues that EU is currently facing. ...more
3

Jan 24, 2020

A well-chosen topic, but not the greatest approach to it, I think. Slobodian's subtitle hints at the interesting part of his book: neoliberalism as an approach to the economy and government that was well-suited for states leaving behind their empires. That would have been a great journal article, but here it's buried underneath a lot of information that is more easily available in the many other books about neoliberalism (Dardot & Laval's 'New Way of the World', for instance) and chapters A well-chosen topic, but not the greatest approach to it, I think. Slobodian's subtitle hints at the interesting part of his book: neoliberalism as an approach to the economy and government that was well-suited for states leaving behind their empires. That would have been a great journal article, but here it's buried underneath a lot of information that is more easily available in the many other books about neoliberalism (Dardot & Laval's 'New Way of the World', for instance) and chapters that are kind of relevant but mostly just interesting on their own (the stuff on how the global economy was visualized or rendered into data). There's nothing wrong with the book, but it's just too much of a mess and tries to do too many things. Basically, it's absurdly over-rated. This isn't a slur on Slobodian, or the project. But the book is disappointing. Definitely listen to the interview Slobodian did with the podcast, 'The Dig,' and if that's not enough, maybe flip through a library copy of this one. ...more
5

Jan 25, 2019

The five stars are for somebody who wants an intellectual history book, as which Slobodian's "Globalists" is a superb example.

This is the history of Austrian school of neoliberalism, particularly as represented by Hayek and the MPS, formed at Mont Pellerin in 1947. It explains the particular and very human origins of the ideas that drove so much economic policy in the last decades of the 20th century, taught around the intellectual life of MPS founding member Friedrich Hayek.

Of special note : The five stars are for somebody who wants an intellectual history book, as which Slobodian's "Globalists" is a superb example.

This is the history of Austrian school of neoliberalism, particularly as represented by Hayek and the MPS, formed at Mont Pellerin in 1947. It explains the particular and very human origins of the ideas that drove so much economic policy in the last decades of the 20th century, taught around the intellectual life of MPS founding member Friedrich Hayek.

Of special note : from interviews, Slobodian is clearly shown to be a Democratic Socialist with views intensely counter to those coming from the MPS; you would never know it from this book; he describes Hayekians without praise or condemnation, in language that Hayekians would (and, apparently, do) accept as an accurate description of his philosophy. This book engages neither in argument nor both-sideism, simply stating what the neoliberal schools believed and what are the proven outcomes of these beliefs. This is to be particularly applauded. ...more
5

Mar 23, 2019

Though dozed off many times while reading this book, it simply is a delight. So full of nuances and details. I who consider myself firmly on the side of social-justice and used to use neoliberal as a kind of swear word the book was a revelation. Some personal highlights from the book, the geneva school liberal did not consider his primary challenge to be communism but rather populist democracy, mass enfranchisement and end of empire. They did not consider the inequalities in the system as a Though dozed off many times while reading this book, it simply is a delight. So full of nuances and details. I who consider myself firmly on the side of social-justice and used to use neoliberal as a kind of swear word the book was a revelation. Some personal highlights from the book, the geneva school liberal did not consider his primary challenge to be communism but rather populist democracy, mass enfranchisement and end of empire. They did not consider the inequalities in the system as a problem, but generalized all of them as signals and necessary for proper functioning of the economy. They ideal world is where the political world (imperium) did not infringe on the world of properties (dominium). Capital then should not be constrained by national sovereignty. Their quest then became how to encapsulate or protect the economy from the power of democracy (nationally) or from global south countries international organization. Their goal was to weaken the political sovereignty by transferring economic sovereignty upwards to transnational organization, and downwards to the individual. Towards this end they used international treaties and universal rights framework. In their defense their criticism of the national planning was quite valid and prescient. Overall a great read, and i loved the German words peppered around the book my favorite was kampfschriften (fighting documents) ...more
5

Dec 15, 2018

I have been surprised at how interesting and informative this book turned out to be.

The book traces the history of Neo-liberalism from its beginnings in post WW1 Austria - a rump state after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It goes onto give interesting developments of Neo-liberal thought such as supporting Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa and explains that much Neo-Liberal thought is anti-democratic, at least the universal suffrage variety, as democracies by their nature will tend I have been surprised at how interesting and informative this book turned out to be.

The book traces the history of Neo-liberalism from its beginnings in post WW1 Austria - a rump state after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It goes onto give interesting developments of Neo-liberal thought such as supporting Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa and explains that much Neo-Liberal thought is anti-democratic, at least the universal suffrage variety, as democracies by their nature will tend to seek to please their electorates by nationalising the assets of the International Business Class, or enact policies which are against the interests of the International Business Class. From this one can see that the democratic deficit in the EU is by design and a feature not a bug for Neo-Liberals. The author spends some time on the EU, it's history, design and the Neo-Liberal philosophy that lead to its creation and development.

One of the great things about the way it is written is that it is not tendentious or polemical which is what I was expecting after reading an Amazon review. ...more
5

Feb 10, 2019

This is an adept corrective to misconceptions about the nature of neoliberalism, told through careful intellectual history of the “Geneva School,” (Mises, Hayek, Haberler, Ropke, et al.) Slobodian’s Central claims, which I find persuasive, are that neoliberals did not want to dissolve the state, but rather to use it to encase the world economy in order to keep it safe from democracy. As the title suggests, this is also a history of that school’s relationship to the institutions of global This is an adept corrective to misconceptions about the nature of neoliberalism, told through careful intellectual history of the “Geneva School,” (Mises, Hayek, Haberler, Ropke, et al.) Slobodian’s Central claims, which I find persuasive, are that neoliberals did not want to dissolve the state, but rather to use it to encase the world economy in order to keep it safe from democracy. As the title suggests, this is also a history of that school’s relationship to the institutions of global governance, like the EEC, the GATT, and the WTO, and its resistance to the New International Economic Order and the demands of the decolonizing world. In the conclusion, Slobodian brings the story into the post-Seattle era. Altogether, “Globalists” is a n innovative synthesis of intellectual, economic, and diplomatic history and a valuable contribution to a growing historical literature on what neoliberalism is/was. ...more
5

May 07, 2019

Great history that manages to combine storytelling with information density. Left me with a better understanding of the history of the development of neoliberal/globalist thinking, but also a much better feel for what exactly the grounds of current debates on neoliberal ideology should be about. Mostly made me want to read more about Hayek and critiques of Hayek, because I initially find his views persuasive, but am open to the idea that reading more I could swing the other direction. Gave me a Great history that manages to combine storytelling with information density. Left me with a better understanding of the history of the development of neoliberal/globalist thinking, but also a much better feel for what exactly the grounds of current debates on neoliberal ideology should be about. Mostly made me want to read more about Hayek and critiques of Hayek, because I initially find his views persuasive, but am open to the idea that reading more I could swing the other direction. Gave me a much better appreciation for the relationship between law and economics, and made me think the globalist project of figuring out how to arrange international economic/legal power is still very much up in the air, and a real area in which there is opportunity for design & progress akin to early constitutional liberalism's founding. ...more

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