A Brief History of Neoliberalism

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Harvey is known as a Marxist and he has some controversial quotes up his sleeve. Take this for example: "…Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well…we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life, is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power…" Who is this preferring the freedom evinced by proper security, reasonable leisure and a decent living throughout life ahead of the acquisition of wealth and power?

Roosevelt of course - who these days is a dangerous radical given Neoliberalism's current hold on public debate. It only took the US a few decades to abandon the freedoms Roosevelt spoke about and replace them with the freedom of unregulated markets. View all 20 comments. Jan 23, Sarah rated it it was ok.

A Brief History of Neoliberalism was written shortly before the current economic recession, and has become even more 'appealing' at a time when many are searching for both answers and blame. Critique of the current system and its damage is important. However, this critique falls into the category of 'sloppy and lazy,' and I have a tough time giving Harvey the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his intellectual honesty.

Let me say that I fully appreciate the central criticism of joint A Brief History of Neoliberalism was written shortly before the current economic recession, and has become even more 'appealing' at a time when many are searching for both answers and blame. Let me say that I fully appreciate the central criticism of joint state-corporate power, which has no doubt produced undesirable effects. I found myself nodding my head at each mention of how the state along with big business has corrupted the ideas rooted in the Mont Pelerin Society.

In addition, he has used writing that is pretty accessible, albeit a bit pretentious, for a book about such an intricate subject. In keeping the narrative brief, he has geared the book toward a wide audience, though it will likely catch on most with those already inclined toward his attitude, as his work is simply too weak to be persuasive. So about the only positive comment I have is that the book is readable and at least makes a feeble attempt to discuss corporatism and its lamentable consequences.


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That's where my praise ends. I say 'feeble' because there is no evidence of actual curiosity about the current political-economic framework. He equates neoliberalism with financial disaster, without any economic analysis as to why, instead using a caricature of the wealthy and the non-existent free market as scapegoats. There's no exploration of why 'embedded liberalism' failed, no thought as to why the IMF might impose restrictions on countries in debt, no look into who actually composes that 'capitalist class' he has so vilified.

Harvey tries to hammer it in, on close to every page, that neoliberalism has been a product of a deliberate conspiracy from the individuals of the upper class to maintain their own status while stamping down the lower classes. Harvey makes this claim many times, each without citation, yet speaks as though they are obvious facts. Repetition of a concept does not count as evidence. Furthermore, Harvey blatantly ignores parts of the story that don't enhance his arguments. For instance, he treats the Fed as a tool abused solely by neoliberals 'to make key decisions', when the institution was created in , almost 40 years before the foundation of the Mont Pelerin Society, to which he traces the root of neoliberal ideas and has always been used 'to make key decisions' by progressives and conservatives alike.

A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey and Clive Chafer - Audiobook - Listen Online

Harvey also fails to mention that many of the members of the MPS were against the existence of the Fed in the first place. But I suppose that in a book critiquing the ideas of these men and their implementation by the state, that information couldn't possibly be relevant. Finally, having an entire chapter dedicated to alternatives with no such concrete alternatives to be found weakens this book and its message significantly. It ultimately enables the book to be summed up as, "Neoliberalism is bad, we should do something.

I can accept that 'brief' entails some omissions; I cannot accept such seeming intellectual dishonesty regarding those omissions. View all 5 comments.

On Neoliberalism: An Interview with David Harvey

Jul 08, Szplug rated it liked it. Harvey has performed a rather impressive feat here: in a dimpled gumdrop over two hundred pages he has summarized - with a scope and depth that belies its brevity - the forty years of political-economic development labelled Neoliberalism - or globalism - that has, in fitful and uneven, but always steady, progression, become the dominant meme throughout the world.

Although the focus is upon changes that took place within the United States, the UK, and China, he manages to at least touch upon every important event or development in the drive to return to regular, catastrophic capitalist boom-and-bust cycles with a new goal of making the taxpayers and borrowers completely responsible for mending the disasters by transferring subsidized wealth to prop up the lenders, a central tenet that is but one of the paradoxes that flourish amongst regnant neoliberal practices.

What Harvey stresses is that, seeing as how the re-creation of class structures has been the one consistent result of neoliberal implementation, perhaps we should begin to agree - or at least assess the likelihood - that this was the principal goal of the turn to neoliberalism all along.

Marx provides the proper lens with which to view this system of encroaching and extreme disparity. This is a very good and well-written book on a subject that tends towards aridity; perhaps the fact that I have read this account several times already tempered my appreciation for what the distinguished author has achieved.

The numbers Harvey cites to prove the illusory nature of neoliberalism's claims to be a rising tide have been countered by other pro-market publications; which you choose to believe will likely depend upon which side of the free-market divide you claim as home turf. Although I lean towards accepting the class recreation that claims primacy in Harvey's determination of motivation for implementing a global neoliberal system, I am also leery of the concept. Harvey stresses that class is a nebulous construct, and that he is not advocating any manner of conspiracy theorizing ; but such an admission from the author himself leads me to question what the benefit of establishing such a bifurcation would be.

I am not a free-market cheerleader, and Harvey's account fills me with the proper gloom and outrage over the appalling plunder that has been wreaked upon the world - it is actually quite remarkable how prescient and accurate Harvey has proved to be in his estimations of the potentiality for disaster endemic to the highly-leveraged and corrupt state of global financial institutions. Unfortunately, the solutions and challenges he offers to neoliberalism are a weak tea. This system is now entrenched and heavily supported by government and media elites, especially in North America; furthermore, there is a sizable percentage of the populace that deems the potentiality for entrepreneurial initiative, creative destruction, and freedoms resulting from an uninhibited or lightly regulated market to be a necessary component of the cultural, economic and moral clime that promotes individual responsibility and ensures individual freedom over the enslaving uniformities of collectivity.

Whether or not this segment, a la Thomas Frank, is confoundingly-yet-consistently voting against its own economic interests, it is a very real and active portion who continue to prop up neoliberal policies. It is hard to fathom how this economic powder keg will be challenged or rolled-back absent a clear-cut disaster of sufficient proportion to induce a violent re-assertion of popular rights.


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  • One of the painful pictures Harvey paints is that it has required terrible upheavals to derail past incarnations of free market dominance; I hold out little hope that anything short of another will be able to do the trick this time around. View 1 comment. Jan 06, Sebastien rated it it was amazing. Ok, first off, let me give you a bit of full disclosure. These are essential tenets for me in my economic philosophy. In my estimation globalization and free trade are the best tools in growing economies and maximizing the total wealth pie. That is not a fair marketplace. I also think that protective measures are sometimes warranted when a country is developing, the US used a lot of protective tariffs before its industries had fully developed.

    There is a case to be made against neoliberalism. David Harvey makes it, and he makes it very well. Personally I agree with a lot of his arguments.

    I consider myself a capitalist, but I really think we need to strive for a much more sustainable balanced regulated capitalism with a very strong social safety net and protections for the citizenry. Neoliberalism - with its belief in unfettered capitalism and deregulation and commodification and privatization of every atom in this universe - is decimating large segments of our societies, decimating the environment, and corporations are agglomerating and wielding way too much power in the system.

    These corporations are usurping our governments, in effect controlling and writing laws and capturing the regulators, and creating very unbalanced markets where they make it hard for true competition.

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    This set of circumstances also gives them astounding leverage in their positioning against labor, with the most stark examples coming in countries with weak labor laws and unions. As I see it, yes, globalization, free trade and of course technology like AI, robotics are decimating the working class in industrialized countries but globalization and free trade are growing the world economy at better rate than if everyone stayed in a closed system. It is turbocharging inequality and further marginalizing labor.

    Complete deregulation is a travesty, but is sold under the guise of the freedom philosophy sneaky, but smart. Corporations cannot be trusted without proper controls, they slam our communities with negative externalities like pollution, environmental degradation, and unchecked poisons in our food supply. Without controls they are unaccountable for this devastation. And the unfair market and labor practices which they take advantage of are really incredible.

    Add to that the pure consumerism and commodification of our societies result of neoliberalism , and the belief that every single thing should be privatized and commodified Some industries absolutely need to be treated as public utilities, corporations cannot be trusted with certain industries. David Harvey makes all these points. And he also effectively contrasts various countries, comparing their systems, comparing how much they adopted neoliberal tenets within their societies and the resulting outcomes.

    All great comparisons each featuring different degrees of neoliberal adoption.

    Table of contents for A brief history of neoliberalism / David Harvey.

    The one point where David Harvey falls short imo is he somewhat ignores and gives short shrift to the fact that the implementation of free trade and globalization principles has ended up lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, especially in India and China. The world economy has grown at a great rate due to globalization. We US also benefit in a certain sense because this free trade has provided us with very cheap products and goods.

    Although I won't be particularly keen to say this to a person who has lost their job to outsourcing or robotization! But overall it increases our purchasing power and keeps inflation low, but it decimates our wages for large segments of society which is why I think we need greater safety net, universal healthcare, more fair education system, proper and fair protections and unions for labor, and greater redistribution. Oh, another great point that Harvey focuses on are how the large neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank and also various national governments always focused on protecting and saving the capital investors, which means they always bailed out the elitist lenders and really shivved the borrowers in essence the little guy.

    This means that it was always elite corporations, elite large banking institutions, that would get bailed out, while the borrowers were always getting shivved, getting stuck with ridiculous austerity measures that would decimate the economy and destroy livelihoods and quality of life.