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Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

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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.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published March 16, 2018

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Quinn Slobodian

12 books129 followers

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Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
November 9, 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 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.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
437 reviews160 followers
August 26, 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, 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.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
July 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). 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.
537 reviews55 followers
April 9, 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 “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. *****

Profile Image for Matthew Hall.
150 reviews21 followers
April 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 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).
Profile Image for Laura.
1,167 reviews121 followers
December 17, 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 -- 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.

133 reviews6 followers
November 17, 2021
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, very much an expression of the neoliberal consensus) and their various offshoots and national representations. The hideous and hugely influential deep-establishment consensus that opposed decolonisation, labour solidarity, international development, the spread of democracy and national sovereignty - while supporting Pinochet and apartheid and the routine slaughter and imprisonment of opposition groups and indigenous people. 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 descendents. The whole bleak context to the collapsing world economic order. Gripping and illuminating.
Profile Image for Josh Friedlander.
720 reviews103 followers
September 13, 2020
Before hearing Quinn Slobodian (in this 2018 podcast) on the topic, I'd decided that neoliberalism - despite the ubiquity of the term - could be dismissed by a useful intellectual history rule I have: in any "neo-x" (sometimes "x revival"), you can just ignore the prefix (or suffix); the differences are invariably historical but not substantial. So critics of neoliberalism are critics of liberalism - an important debate, sure, but old-hat. This learned, fascinating book is full of interesting details (more in a bit), but since I found the definition of neoliberalism a bit slippery, I will put it here (in my understanding) for the impatient:

1) Historically neoliberalism was a response to the shocks of the entre-deux-guerres in Central Europe, and the Keynesian moment. Neoliberal thinkers differ from classical liberals most markedly in their desire for state structures (an order) to protect the security and stability of the market from the populist pressures of special interest groups. Far from trying to "unfetter" markets, they wish to strengthen the legal structures in which those markets operate against democratic pressures.

2) In recent times, the book focuses on the global application of those principles, via international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation. Just as neoliberals seek to circumvent democratic pressures on a national level by enshrining commercial freedom in law, the international neoliberal institutions seek to replicate the dominating force of empire to protect trade in a world of selfish, unruly nationalism.

The origins of neoliberalism aren't hard to trace back to the Walter Lippmann Colloquium in 1938, where both neoliberalism and ordoliberalism began. From Slobodian's book it seems that the two are largely synonymous: English Wikipedia stresses their differences
Ordoliberals promoted the concept of the social market economy, and this concept promotes a strong role for the state with respect to the market, which is in many ways different from the ideas connected to the term neoliberalism. Oddly the term neoliberalism was originally coined by ordoliberal Alexander Rüstow.
but the German language one disagrees
Der Ordoliberalismus gehört zu einer heterogenen wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Strömung, die unter dem Oberbegriff Neoliberalismus zusammengefasst wird...Die Begriffe Ordoliberalismus und Neoliberalismus werden in der Literatur teilweise aber auch synonym verwendet.
My understanding is that leftist critics of liberalism have tended to indiscriminately label all free-market liberals as neoliberals (Thatcher, Reagan, Milton Friedman...), but see ordoliberals as different; however in truth the differences between ordo- and neoliberals are nugatory compared to their mutual distance from standard liberalism. Slobodian at least chooses to focus on the subgenre of neoliberal most similar to ordoliberals, that of what he terms (parallel to the "Freiburg School" of ordoliberalism) the "Geneva School". (Globalist cosmopolitanism, of course, is very Swiss.)

Geneva Schoolers such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises were involved early on in the collection of statistics on the global economy. (Both attended a 1936 conference to discuss the question "Does the global economy exist?") One of the interesting ideas in the book is that Hayek tended to answer negatively: that the economy was so complex, almost mystical, that no attempts to map or plan it would succeed, contra both Keynesians and socialists. He sometimes borrowed the language of cybernetics (describing prices as a "feedback effect"). Evidence of this (to me) is that highly educated people will argue passionately as to whether Keynesian stimulus is effective, implying that this cannot be definitively answered by empirical means.

Thus the term "ordoglobalism". Order, noted Jan Tumlir (a senior wonk at the WTO predecessor, GATT, and a major figure in the book) can have two meanings: stability, in the sense of "law and order"; and the rules and institutions which create it. Freiburg School ordoliberals saw chaos in postwar Vienna, and sought to use "nomocracy", rule by law, to protect the social order from the demands of the masses. Likewise, as empires crumbled and postcolonial states stepped up to demand more privileges, the Geneva School "ordoglobalists" sought to utilise international law and institutions to curtail that disruption. In Tumlir's words: “International rules protect the world market against governments.”

Early on the book cites a useful distinction made by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, based in Roman law, between empirium (government) and dominium (private property). Schmitt thought it desirable to strengthen the former world at the expense of the latter, but the Geneva School believed the oppposite. Most of them were Austrians who remembered warmly the advantages of the Dual Monarchy, and saw it as a model to try and reproduce. In the words of Röpke (discussed below), they were
the generation which in its youth saw the sunset glow of that long and glorious sunny day of the western world, which lasted from the Congress of Vienna until August 1914, and of which those who have only lived in the present arctic night of history can have no adequate conception.
Chapter Five focuses mostly on Wilhelm Röpke, a heterodox neoliberal (he quit the neoliberal Mont Pelerin society after disagreements with Hayek) who was a notable defender of South African apartheid. However, Hayek and Milton Friedman were also skeptical about boycotts of the regime, emphasising neoliberalism's priority of markets over human rights. (This is basically Friedman's only appearance in the book, adding to the confusion of the term "neoliberal".) Another example is the way the Geneva School supported freedom of movement for capital, but not for people. In the words of Gottfried von Haberler:
The Ruhr Valley would become unbelievably crowded, and the Alps would empty out entirely...One need not be a nationalist for such things to be undesirable...free trade is beneficial for all even when there is no freedom of migration and the peoples remain firmly rooted in their countries.
Slobodian relates how the founding of the European Economic Community, far from being a boon to ordoglobalists, actually worried them. A colonial bloc spanning from "the Baltic to the Congo" meant simply a vast space of imperial protectionism, a trading bloc that would disrupt the natural flow of capital in and out of its borders (while liberating it internally). (In Schmitt's terminology, it was empirium, not dominium, which perhaps can be said of its successor European Union.) In fact some European rearguard defenders of colonialism projected a potential Eurafrique trading zone - but it was not to be. Decolonisation meant a potentially destabilising wave of countries leaving the framework of empire and allowing the particular interests of their populations to threaten global trade. It was in global institutions that neoliberal ideas would now come to expression.

It is a curious fact that while Slobodian's politics are rooted in left opposition to trade treaties and globalisation, the standard-bearers of anti-globalist nationalism are now on the right, the most prominent of whom is in the Oval Office, and it is because of them that this book has probably been read by far more people than its austere prose would predict. This surprising convergence of two worlds has surprised many, myself included, and besides for noting it I won't add to this already long review.

PS I first came across Foucault's Collége de France lectures on neoliberal history when I was researching Walter Lippmann's ideas on democracy and public understanding. Despite (because of?) being a journalist, Lippmann was skeptical about the public's understanding of complex issues, and debated John Dewey on the topic. Dewey advocated expanded citizen journalism, while Lippmann leaned towards technocracy, a view shared by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. The idea of the law as a methodical, slow process which serves as a buffer against the democratic winds of populism, is related, and informs a good deal of why I strongly disagree with Slobodian's politics...

PPS Historian Patrick Iber's review in the New Republic is misled by this book in the same way I was, so I want to clarify. The term "neoliberal" has been criticised (even on the left, as Iber discusses) as signifying basically "all the people I dislike", and rarely a self-appellation. In theory Slobodian restores rigour to the term by focusing on the ideology of those who explicitly call themselves neoliberals. But in fact Slobodian also uses the term for "people he dislikes" (such as Milton Friedman, otherwise completely outside this book's purview). In fact despite the title, the book makes clear that it is only about a narrow corner of neoliberal history. So this is not really a definition of "neoliberalism" as currently used - even by the author.
October 7, 2022
Intellectuele geschiedenis op z'n best, die aantoont dat neoliberalisme niet om een 'terugtrekkende staat' gaat die de markt z'n gang laat gaan, maar om het opbouwen van instituties die kapitaal(markten) maken, bevorderen en beschermen. Dat ik geen vijfde ster geef, is hierom: het was interessant geweest om iets meer aandacht te besteden aan de praktische uitwerking van deze ideeën in de WTO en het IMF. 'Structural adjustment programs' zijn bijvoorbeeld hét voorbeeld waarmee nationale democratieën werden onderworpen aan de mondiale, neoliberale instituties. De plannen van de troika in de Europese schuldencrisis zijn daar een ander voorbeeld van.
Profile Image for David.
78 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2023
An intellectual history of neoliberal thinkers, from the demise of the Habsburg Empire to the end of the Cold War. In the political wilderness for much of the 20th c., these thinkers and their legacy finally came into their own during the Age of Reagan, and only lost credibility with the 2008 Recession. For Neoliberals, protecting global markets and price signals was paramount, and the greatest threats to guard against were the demos and other groups that attempted to circumvent or otherwise distort markets and price signals. Neoliberals came down hard on state sovereignty insofar as it was "captured" by democratic elements within a nation-state or was used by a nation-state to elude market discipline i.e. tariffs, imposed by international institutions. For Neoliberals, postwar decolonization untethered many countries in the Global South from their colonial masters, who then sought to carve out exceptions to global market discipline. And social democracy--frankly most democratic impulses--were anathema to this school. Reading Slobodian also reminded me how international the atlantic trade was in the second half of the 19th c. and how closely political economy was tied to the gold standard.
A very well-written book.
Profile Image for Joshua Rosen.
29 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2021
Hayek thought that the global marketplace was an unknowable God, and that any attempt at studying it would destroy it. In other words, he was afraid of math, and the use of math for any kind of national planning was his version of hell. In his mind, social safety nets and unions, corporate taxes and reparations to the Global South were tantamount to serfdom, enslaving the free movement of capital to the whims of democracy and social justice. Lack of food and housing and jobs and healthcare were unfortunate but necessary sacrifices for the efficient flow of capital.

Along with segregationist William Buckley and apartheid-defender Wilhelm Ropke, Hayek received the presidential medal of freedom from H.W. in 1991. Their shitty books and speculative essays and garbage rhetoric quite literally built the international economic order of the world today. It’s good to know that. This book does of good job of showing how, and why.
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews196 followers
November 18, 2020
Political discourse online has, many people agree, made a night incomprehensible hash of whatever the word 'neoliberalism' might have once meant. I remember hearing of it as a term associated with economic imperialism back in my anarchist days, then came to see it as essentially synonymous with technocratic market progressivism on Twitter. For a while there, before socdem and neoliberal twitter schismed, it seemed like neoliberal was a reasonable term for the outlook I had gravitated toward after leaving anti-civism, listening to a lot of Econtalk and feeling convinced by some of it but not totally on board with the Libertarian anti-progressivism Russ leans to. On top of that, though, there was Hayek: making points I found compelling and ahead of their time on one hand but fairly credibly condemned as a dictator-lover by more orthodox socialists.

What this book makes very clear is that I had just not done my homework on any of this stuff. It certainly validates my decision to never go so far as to actually call myself a neoliberal. The ideological history here is in many ways much more straightforward than I thought. Hayek wasn't a laissez faire libertarian as opposed to intervention-friendly neoliberals. He was a self-identitied neoliberal himself, and he and his colleagues took the term to refer to an ideology that suggested exactly the international institutions modern anti-capitalists smear with the term. I'm glad to have all of that clarified.

Beyond that, though, I was a bit frustrated by what the book had to offer. The content is loaded with historical minutiae--which scholars met at which conferences in which cities in which years, who corresponded with who about what, what positions they took on which trade deals and international institutions, etc--but it doesn't add up to much. Slobodian makes his thesis clear throughout: that neoliberalism isn't a laissez-faire ideology but one concerned with establishing a clear and uniform legal context for the global market. That matches the broad strokes idea of the modern neoliberal twitter ppl as markets harnessed and bounded by smart intervention, except that the subjects of the book meant it far more specifically--eg to exclude Keynesian economic policy as well as mercantilism and Marxism.

The problem is that the exposition of this thesis is extremely superficial in all the ways one might hope an intellectual history should be deep. Slobodian frames it in terms that would with absolute certainty read as explicitly derogatory to anyone coming in with even the slightest bit of anti-capitalist bent, and fairly suspicious to anyone who isn't already friendly to Hayek. As he puts it, neoliberalism is about creating legal frameworks to "protect capitalism from democracy." Elsewhere he goes further. Neoliberals wanted to create "human rights for capital" that would protect investors from nationalization and certain kinds of regulation. And he quotes them saying these things in their own words! Hard to deny he's being accurate here. But it's not entirely clear that he's being fair, because he doesn't give their ideas a hearing at all. Slobodian never bothers to even try to explain why Hayek and his colleagues might have thought such things. He simply allows them to find support for their negative biases--von Mises worked as an overt advocate for big business, Hayek had a special dislike for unions, Rubka(sp?) supported apartheid, etc. Their idea was as bad as it sounds a face value because they had bad motivations.

The problem with this approach is not that Slobodian is wrong, but that for readers like me, who have a charitable reading of Hayek at least in mind that makes the superficial shock of "protecting capitalism from democracy" a lot less shocking and a lot more consistent with progressive principles, there's almost nothing here to inform me as to why and even often to what extent actual neoliberal belief and policy differed from this left-libertarian cousin. I often got the sense that Slobodian wanted us to think neoliberalism was working exactly as intended, because it wasn't a credible and well meaning ideology subverted by business interests so much as a crock of shit made up to justify those interests in the first place.

Slobodian never really discusses at all why any of these thinkers thought these policies were a good idea, what their motivations were, whether they were pleased by the results their policies got when enacted, or anything that would allow us to actually judge neoliberalism per se against the flawed reality. You might argue that that's not the point of a book like this, but aside from the fact that it does give a very unsupported negative impression on the question, I just think that that is wrong. By contrast, for instance, Paul Sabin's book The Bet is an intellectual history that goes very far to explore actual context, motivation, results, etc, and that's the sort of thing I'd like to have gotten here.

I would have quite liked to come away from this book with a better understanding of why Hayek found labor unions so much more of a threat to his ideals than they seem to be to me, especially relative to more obvious threats like corporate lobbying. But that question just doesn't seem very obvious here because it never seems like the neoliberals held principles that might have threatened corporate interests in the first place. And since they certainly did, it's hard to see how that doesn't make Slobodian's portrayal feel misleading.
Profile Image for David Sogge.
Author 6 books19 followers
December 10, 2020
This compelling, careful work of intellectual history makes a deep dive into the origins of the most powerful political ideas at play in recent times. The problem is, they are seriously bad ideas. Roughly speaking, they seek to sideline democracy with its tendencies to respond to citizen needs through public welfare and other kinds of ‘downward’ redistribution. (Meanwhile ‘upward’ redistribution is quietly welcomed.) These ideas spurn national developmental ambitions, especially those promoted with plans. Instead they favour supranational governance with strong, binding laws meant to protect private interests. That is, governance that can neutralize political life of nation-states and their obligations to citizens. Such ideas downplay data and quantitative targets as topics of public debate and policy-making. Instead, they favour non-transparent, go-with-the-flow, de-politicised economic statecraft. Yet when it comes to investments, commerce and the protection of wealth, the rules must be rigorous, binding, and wholly beyond the reach of public politics. All in the name of "freedom".
Sound familiar? These notions are, after all, the conceptual building-blocks of today’s globalized capitalism and its defense forces in corporate law, politically 'independent' central banks, international tax competition and tax havenry, the World Trade Organisation, the European Union and so forth.

Before reading this book I thought I was reasonably well informed about the taproots of neoliberalism, the Mont Pelerin Society and kindred policy lobby networks. But I was mistaken. This book gave me a comeuppance, and a welcome one at that. Thanks to Slobodian’s Globalists, the foundations of today’s corporate-friendly discourse and legal architecture, as revealed in Pistor’s The Code of Capital (see my ***** review here in Goodreads) have been exposed for all to see.
Profile Image for Erik Champenois.
237 reviews5 followers
February 5, 2021
A helpful overview of the Geneva school of neoliberalism, with Mises, Hayek, and Röpke as some of the most prominent figures, and as distinguished from the (Milton Friedman) Chicago school of neoliberalism. Slobodian shows how the Geneva neoliberals were not mere proponents of market fundamentalism in a shrinking state, but were instead focused on designing institutions to protect the market and ensure the free flow of capital in a globalized world. The author also shows the deep suspicions towards democracy held by neoliberals, who wished to design state and supranational institutions to safeguard the market against the masses, including protecting the market against redistributive policies, price adjustments, etc. Neoliberalism has been at least partly successful in the establishment of the World Trade Organization and other international institutions protecting trade and investment worldwide.

This is the kind of intellectual history that is best read in companionship with other books, as the book deals with the 1920s-1970s and doesn't cover the full scope of neoliberal intellectual thought and history - there's only minor treatment or reference to the Reagan-Thatcher era, the seemingly successful decade of globalization in the 1990s, and the crisis of globalization resulting from the 2007-2010 financial crises and later elections of Trump and Brexit. "Neoliberalism" is often used as a catchall phrase, especially on the political left, without there being more of a detailed analysis of what exactly neoliberalism is, what exactly is bad or good about neoliberalism, and what alternatives to neoliberalism there are. I read this book in part to engage these deeper questions and while the book provided me with more background information I will need to find more books to engage my questions more thoroughly.
Profile Image for Raul Vergara.
4 reviews1 follower
July 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.
Profile Image for Eoin Flynn.
179 reviews22 followers
August 24, 2019
Good content, somewhat tediously presented. Worth a read if you're unfamiliar with what a racket neoliberalism is.
Profile Image for Salvatore Genuensis.
40 reviews1 follower
October 25, 2020
This review seeks to articulate my reading of Globalists by Slobodian. The book thoroughly examines the intellectual legacy of a group of neoliberal scholars and their impact on globalization. I would have preferred seeing Geneva as an international network hub during the interwar period. The problem with identifying a heterogeneous group as a school is problematic, but Slobodian recognizes that in his introduction. His narrative focuses on a group of thinkers that shaped post-war institutions.

Positive remarks:
Speaking of which, early in the book captures my attention by taking the reader back in time to Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In Slobodian’s interpretation, back in the day, Vienna’s Ringstrasse represented a symbol of a modern city and its vision of social order. Here, according to him, is neoliberalism's birthplace. Generally, it should not be left unmentioned that Vienna of the 1920s must have been a stimulating city for the intellectually-minded. As ‘The Economist’ wrote in 2016 that “The sceptics were right. Imperial Viennese society could not survive. But the ideas and art brought forth during the fecund period of Viennese history from the late 1880s to the 1920s endured”. The Habsburg Empire did not survive and Austria once a great power became the opposite, a small nation. This shift from Empire to a small nation must have had a big impact on the Austrian scholars. But for the neoliberals of that period, the interwar period was a difficult period. Milton’s quote from “Samson Agonistes” can capture their sentiment perfectly: “But what more oft in nations grown corrupt, and by their vices brought to servitude, than to love bondage more than liberty – bondage with ease than strenuous liberty”. This sentiment is captured and described well by Slobodian, how this unstable period shaped their views. Slobodian rightly points out, that the economism of which neoliberals are often accused, is simply not true. At the very heart of neoliberals is as he puts it of statecraft and law. With reference to Foucault, neoliberals are legal interventionists. Here I want to point out those institutional safeguards and legal constraints to prevent what happened with the collapse of the Empire and the protectionist wave of the interwar period. That may have an impression of thwarting democracy, but one core element is the rule of law (Herrschaft des Rechts) and equity before the law, and not arbitrary legalism. Slobodian has succeeded in placing the aspects of law as an integral part of a neoliberal governance structure. Slobodian (2018: 18) writes that “The essence of this project was multitiered governance or neoliberal federalism. In the wake of the mystification of the world economy, the Geneva School neoliberal’s most important field of influence was not in economics per se but in international law and international governance”. In a similar vein, Slobodian (2018: 240) notes that “In 1979, in a section calling for “the dethronement of politics,” Hayek wrote, “In this century our attempts to create an international government capable of assuring peace have generally approached the task from the wrong end: creating large numbers of specialized authorities aiming at particular regulations rather than aiming at a true international law which would limit the powers of national governments to harm each other”. Also, he succeeds in describing the neoliberals as a heterogeneous group of thinkers, distinguishes them as universalists and constitutionalists (p. 183).

Critical remarks:
As much as I find Slobodian’s book a stimulating read, there is one issue that I have to mention. Slobodian gave numerous talks about this book. One of those was the book presentation that he gave at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. There he used a term speaking of “constitutional fetishism” which I found rather odd. In the book, he refers to as institutional encasement (p. 13). First, the main critique I have is that while he outlined in his introduction this particular term, he did not include his notion of a constitutional design. He, as a historian, should have outlined his own position and placed it in the introduction, regardless of a lack of space. Hence, Slobodian leaves the reader alone where he stands. While his position is against institutional encasement; his position is clear but subtle, arguing that it thwarts the democratic processes in favor of their goals such as property rights, capital mobility, and global free trade. I do understand that some of the highly specialized multinational institutions seem opaque to many of us. What is his alternative? Which concept of democratic participation he has in mind? What is his take on multi-level governance? What I miss is a serious treatment of constitutional theory in general and compared to neoliberal constitutional thought. Constitutional constraints exist to limit the abuse of power under which evil men can do the least harm. Yet, constitutions are man-made institutions that are far from perfect. One example that I can think of, is voting rights, which has been contested throughout US history, and this is one of the oldest democracies.
The discontent with supranational governance, globalization, and trade policies has led to political disruptions. On both sides of the Atlantic the rise of demagogues, Brexit, and the anti-trade rhetoric of Trump has changed the post-World war II order for good. Hence, Globalism is on the defensive, and very few timidly defend the gains from freer trade. But, of course, globalization has produced both winners and losers. On the one hand, the hockey stick of human prosperity of the past two hundred years has lifted ordinary people from dire conditions (see McCloskey 2016). On the other hand, the elephant graph is a result of the third wave of globalization, the winners have been the poor and middle classes in Asia (mostly China and India), and losers the lower middle class of the rich world (see Milanovic 2016). This particular point I just briefly sketched, I have missed at least as a side note in his book. Most importantly, Slobodian does not hide his left-leaning political stance, but throughout the book, I found subtle ideological driven misrepresentation that I must call the “malevolence assumption”. The Geneva network did not have a monopoly within the broader debate. Why? First, is it for Slobodian so hard to accept that even neoliberals are thinking hard about how to achieve progress and the common good? I think both left-leaning and liberal-leaning (in the European sense) stance suggest progress and the common good, only the means to that end differ. Second, what about the influence of Keynes in being a key player of post-war institution building? These are the main criticisms that I have.

Additional thoughts related to the book:
Neoliberals recognize that human beings are far from perfect, we make mistakes, are flawed, we err, and we commit consciously and repeated mistakes. And, of course, this makes markets imperfect as well as all of our man-made institutions. The fear of markets (emporiophobia) is not a good counselor for finding answers to social and economic problems but often stem from institutional deficiencies of a politico-economic framework. The “rules of the game” are crucial institutional preconditions for a social and economic order that is conducive to the commonweal. That is why neoliberals as described in this book, are so eager about thinking in orders. Thinking in orders may sound odd because it suggests orderliness that you’d expect from the German-speaking world. The end of the empire and the interwar period was in for the individual scholars of the Geneva network a decisive event. Neoliberals thought long and hard about smart rules for a robust political economy and how a competitive order should look like. Think of it in terms of a three-legged bar-stool that represents: 1) economic institutions, 2) political/legal institutions, and 3) social/cultural institutions (Boettke 2001: 5).
The book has also shown how world history and their events have an impact on individuals, which is not surprising. Considering this, the fall of the iron curtain, the financial crises of 2007-2009, and the pandemic of COVID-19 had a significant impact. In sum, I highly recommend this book regardless of political leaning. Slobodian’s book provides a stimulating read and contributes to the history of ideas in general and neoliberalism in particular. This book might be capable of promoting an inter-ideological conversation among moderates. Despite the strength of a novel approach and shortcomings in the historical facts, by and large, Slobodian is a fair idea trader, and his book deserves a four-star rating.

Academic book reviews as additional reading:

Kolev, S. (2019). Yet Another Neoliberal School? Geneva and Its Ordoglobalists. ORDO, 2018(69), 523-528.

Roessler, F. (2019). BOOK REVIEW: Democracy, Redistribution and the WTO: A Comment on Quinn Slobodian's book Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism Harvard University Press, 2018. World Trade Review, 18(2), 353-359.

Stöcker, L. F. (2019). Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. By Quinn Slobodian. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018. Pp. 400. Cloth $35.00. ISBN 978-0674979529. Central European History, 52(2), 374-376.
Profile Image for Olan McEvoy.
33 reviews3 followers
January 11, 2021
Slobodian’s history of the ‘Geneva School’ of neoliberalism is a pathbreaking work. Despite being a work of history focusing on the period from 1920s to the 1980s and certain academics, businessmen and politicians, it provides a new way to understand the rise of international economic institutions such as the WTO and the European institutions.

Slobodian is part of a wider group of scholars (including Phillip Mirowski and others) who have rejected the idea of neoliberalism as “market fundamentalism” or largely as a theoretical project. Instead they see Neoliberalism an active political project spanning from the early 1920s to today which wants to “encase” the market away from the pressures of democratic mass society. Slobodian’s novel contribution to the literature with this book is his focus on the effects of the decline of empire on the movement - first the Habsburg and later the British and French. The effects of decolonisation on the thoughts of these actors is essential to understand their process in shaping many of the international institutions we still deal with today.

The book largely on German-speaking economists and lawyers, although Lionel Robbins and to an extent Milton Friedman also feature. The works of von Mises, Hayek, Röpke, Haberler and Petersmann are focused on in some depth with other important thinkers brought in along the way. While this could seem like an intellectual history of the classic sort, Slobodian is focused on their roles in the development of organisations and networks such as the International Chamber of Commerce, the Mont Pelerín Society and Trade Policy Research Centre which had meaningful impact on the development of larger international economic institutions.

Slobodian’s history is essential to an understanding of our current institutions which in often cases ‘encase’ the market from democratic interference, prioritise the sanctity of international property law and see ‘undisturbed’ price signals as the ends of all economic activity. Highlighting the legal focus of this movement, which in many cases after the Second World War ignored strictly economic issues and was led by lawyers, is interesting and shows how the development of international economic law may in fact be the biggest lasting legacy of the neoliberals.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand what neoliberalism is and how it has shaped our current situation. Slobodian writes clearly and in an enjoyable style, which never makes any of the content unnecessarily heavy to endure. Other books which would complement this for additional would be Andrew Gamble’s The Free Economy and The Strong State, and Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis go to Waste.
Profile Image for Adora.
Author 6 books29 followers
September 21, 2020
Pretty gripping intellectual history illustrating the underpinnings of neoliberal thought; Slobodian challenges dominant narratives of neoliberalism as being somehow positioned against rules/institutions, pointing out that Hayek and others envisioned a world with a lot of rules - just ones that enabled the free(r) passage of capital. Though some readers may find it easy to detach judgment I found it difficult not to react to feel a little incensed at some of the Geneva School's preeminent cast of characters. Like Ludwig von Mises, who saw nothing wrong with the violent police reaction to a work stoppage by Social Democrats in Vienna in July 1927 (cops "killed protestors with rifles in the center of the city, and then drove out to workers' housing complexes in the suburbs and killed more. After three days, eighty-nine people were dead and over a thousand injured. The workers' movement was permanently crippled.") Slobodian goes on to write, "The right to kill with impunity under emergency powers met Mises's approval." Because anything goes to protect your beloved ~free economic exchange ~! (At what point, one wonders, does the pile of bodies become high enough to outweigh your desire for unhindered price signaling?) Oh and then there's Wilhelm Röpke, who vocally supported apartheid in South Africa, and for whom white supremacy was an "essential feature of the extra-economic framework securing the world economy" (ended up being bedfellows with the ascendant American right, no surprise there). After these dudes Hayek sounded positively woke by comparison. Ultimately the title of the book's final chapter, "A World of People without a People," sums up the utopia envisioned by these figures: a world economy that transcends projects of social justice and democratic governance in nation-states -- the market only then freed to fulfill its unknowable and sublime potential. (And if you have to back some dictators to get there, nbd!)
Profile Image for Tutankhamun18.
790 reviews8 followers
January 14, 2022
Great book that illustrates the history of the idea of neoliberalism from the 1900s till the 1980s. Demonstrates how the idea morphed through the lense of different thinkers, but the central premise of a unified world market that benefits the flow of goods and capital and favours investors remains.
Profile Image for Grant.
552 reviews3 followers
December 17, 2020
It's dense, well researched and highly informative history of the formation of neoliberal ideology.
Profile Image for Evan Puschak.
32 reviews371 followers
November 20, 2019
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.
Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books10 followers
July 25, 2020
A fascinating look at neoliberalism. Slobodian places the ideology and practice in a larger historical context tracing it back to a group of Geneva theorists pre-1947. He argues that previous interpretations which place the birth of the ideology with the Mont Pelerin Society are too late and that it is necessary to trace the ideas back to the death of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the beginning of the 20th-century.

"U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan put the point most bluntly in 2007 when he declared, "It hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces." To its critics, this looked like a new empire with "globalization substitution for colonialism," it was a world in which goods and capital, if not people, flowed according to the logic of supply and demand, creating prosperity-or at least opportunity-for all. This philosophy of they rule of market forces was labeled 'neoliberalism' by its critics." 1-2

"Historians had focused, in particular, on the Mont Pelerin Society; formed by F.A. Hayek and others in 1947, as a group of like-minded intellectuals and policy makers who would meet periodically to discuss world affairs and the contemporary condition of the political cause to which they were devoted...The clearest-eyed academic observations of the neoliberal philosophy of global ordering have been not historians but social scientists." 4

"I locate a key point of origin of neoliberal globalist thinking within the epochal shift of order that occurred at the end of empire. Decolonization, I argue, was central to the emergence of the neoliberal model of world governance." 5

"Geneva School neoliberals reconciled the tension between the world economy and the world of nations through their own distinct geography. Their global imaginary was sketched by the erstwhile Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt in 1950. Schmitt proposed that there was not one world but two. One was the world portioned into bounded, territorial states where governments rules over human beings. This he called the world of imperium, using the Roman legal term. The other was the world of property, where people owned things, money, and land scattered across the earth. This was the world of dominium. The doubled world of modern capitalism coalesced in the nineteenth century." 10

"Geneva School neoliberals offered a blueprint for globalism base don institutions of multilayered governance that are insulated from democratic decision making and charged with maintaining the balance between the political world of imperium and the economic world of dominium. Dominium is not a space of laissez-faire or noninterventionism but is instead an object of constant maintenance, litigation, design and care."12

"The dominant emotion felt by the neoliberals at the heart of my narrative was not hubris but anxiety. They expended all their efforts in attempting to design fixes to stabilize what they saw as a precarious arrangement." 19

"This means leaving out the all-important question of finance, which was perhaps the single most important transformation in global capitalism since the 1970s." 24

"One of the major ruptures in the neoliberal narrative of the twentieth century was the First World War. Scholars have observed that in the course of that war, all belligerent powers "moved in the direction of organized capitalism and war collectivism." 28

"To the group that would become the neoliberals, the era aft 1918 was marked by an attempt to reestablish what they say as the correct balance between the public world of government and the private world of property and contract. Concretely, this translated into a series of projects of capitalist internationalism. There needed to be a respect for private property that trumped international law. Investment must be able to cross borders back and forth without fear of obstacles or expropriation. Capital needed to become cosmopolitan again." 29

"One challenge for the institutions was to restore free trade; the other was the domestic obstacle of labor unions." 30

"In a telling phrase from 1922, he [Mises] called the state "a producer of security." 33

"One could argue that the "end of the liberal era"-as the advent of a new paradigm of militarized liberalism, later to be called neoliberalism-developed precisely as a response to the growth of mass democracy. This new paradigm was centred, not in the parliament of university, but in the triumvirate of security, finance...A well-armed state and sound money flanked by business were the icons of the ideology taking shape." 34

"The workers themselves were neutral containers of the attribute of labor, as capable of relocation as a chunk of investment capital or a carriage-load of coal." 50

"As the gold standard dissolved, the empire principle, which had suffered a blow after the end of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, revived as the European powers relied on their colonies and commonwealths for raw materials traded behind tariff walls in imperial blocks. To the liberal viewer, the world of the 1930s was in segments." 56

"Neoliberalism was born out of projects of world observation, global statistics gathering, and international investigations of the business cycle." 57-58

"In Europe, neoliberalism emerged in the 1930s less as an economic project than as project of politics and law. The search was on for models of governance, at scales from the local to the global, that would best encase and protect the space of the world economy." 92

"He [Bonn] observed that the Great War had played midwife to two world historical processes. The first was the end of empire, the second was planning. He saw 'modern planning' born in the war, when 'scarcity of commodities and shortage of man power led to an attempt at substituting central state control over production and consumption for consumers' sovereignty.'" 96

"Wartime expediency became peacetime expectation after 1918. The guiding hand of the state in economic affairs became the new normal in both capitalist and socialist states. Varieties of corporatism proliferated." 98

"The goal of federation was to break the link between political citizenship and economic ownership." 102

"The social democratic state was only in utero in the 1930s. It is striking to see neoliberals already devising a scheme to counter it. In their version of federation, the discipline of the world economy would undermine planning and confine the nation-state to the field of the political." 104

"Capitalist society, he said, in an analogy he would use throughout this life, was a 'consumer's democracy...in which every penny represents a ballot paper.'" 108

"Created in 1944 along with the World Bank, the IMF helped ensure relatively stable exchange rates and the possibility of converting money from one currency to another. The GATT, signed in 1947, worked toward the free-trade vision and, in the words of the agreement, the 'reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade and to the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international commerce." 119

"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

"Scholars have shown that business conservatives who organized against the New Deal in the 1930s entered a more public phase of their campaign after Eisenhower's reelection and his embrace of Keynesianism in 1958 under the moniker of 'modern Republicanism.'" 161

"By the early 1980s this manifested in renewed attention to modes of investment protection and third-party arbitration alongside the rethinking of criteria for World Bank aid and IMF assistance that would become known as the Washington Consensus. Equally important was the rise of monetarism, culminating in the so-called Volcker Shock in 1979, which dramatically raised U.S. interest rates-and thus debt service payments for Global South nations-initiating the Third World debt crisis and dealing the 'death blow to the NIEO movement.'" 222

"Cybernetics has its origin in the military research of self-regulating systems during the Second World War, specifically the design of anti-aircraft guys with so-called servomechanisms that could follow a target without human guidance." 226

"In 1971 the Bretton Woods system had ended in its original form when the United States unilaterally ceased exchanging dollars for gold. In 1973, by responding in part to the diligent persuasion of Haberler and other neoliberals, the States let the dollar 'float,' allowing market demand (alongside targeted state interventions) to dictate its value." 241

"Scholars have given various names to the neoliberal fix. One calls it the 'constitutional protection of capitalism.' 266

"Other scholars have described the creation of an 'offshore world' of tax havens through which nations compete to offer the least possible corporate tax, the greatest possible secrecy, and the best incentives for individuals and corporations to flee the clutches of their own redistributive states." 267
65 reviews6 followers
July 20, 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 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.
Profile Image for Andrew Clay Pauley.
16 reviews2 followers
April 25, 2021
Been working on getting through this book for the past month.

Finally finished!

This is an intellectual history of Neoliberalism. Usually leftists like myself use this as a dirty word to describe certain Capitalist policies we don't like, but rarely do we look at its intellectual roots. This book makes the case that Neoliberalism is not about a dichotomy between free trade and state intervention. Neoliberals actually loved the state. The point was to use the state to protect markets against other states. They thought democracy was useful only in that it maintained order but - at least the early ones - were not necessarily against aligning with dictators to protect "the supranational" order. Neoliberals like Ropke even defended apartheid in South Africa. Later Neoliberals looked to the language of Human Rights to protect markets. This book does not say so, but I think we can see how this could lead to things like Citizens United. The book does not follow all Neoliberals. Milton Freidman is mentioned and given some back story, but is not really the main player. That would be Hayek. Hayek thought economics could not be explained with mathematics, a debate which was a source of tension between the Geneva and Chicago School Neoliberals. Instead Hayek looked to the law to enforce order and protect the market from what he saw as the dangers of excessive democracy and nationalism. Hence, the coinage of the term "supranational", in this context taken to mean, beyond the nation.

In reading this I could see many parallels to Neoliberalism and the Liberalism of John Stuart Mill. Mill thought democracy was a great thing for the west and advocated for women's suffrage, while at the same time proclaiming Indians were not civilized enough to run India. Neoliberals such as Ropke took Mill at his word and used this to justify racial inequality. Ropke was more on his own in that respect, but later Neoliberals also did not apply their language of Human Rights fully to the Global South. They though less developed countries just wanted free aid, when in reality many of those countries actually did advocate for free trade. I felt this last point could have been elaborated upon. It's also possible I did not read that section of the book carefully enough.

This book was very interesting and I feel I learned much I did not know about Neoliberalism and just history in general. It also has been given high praise by actual Chicago School Liberatrian and Postmodern economists like Deirdre McCloskey.

In short, Neoliberalism is not about free trade. It is not just about austerity and tax cuts. Neoliberalism is about using the state and different world organizations to creat and enforce laws meant to encase markets. Neoliberalism has less to do with economics than it does the law and the state. So from now on I don't want to hear any more about this dichotomy between free trade and the state from libertarians. The two are inextricably intertwined. Whether this is a good thing or not the author does not say. One can see his leftist perspectives showing through at points in the writing, but the author really did attempt - and mostly succeeded - to remain as objective as possible.
Profile Image for Jesse Morrow.
101 reviews1 follower
July 7, 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 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.
Profile Image for Doctor Moss.
475 reviews18 followers
September 17, 2022
Reading a review of another book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, I found a recommendation for this book as the “authoritative intellectual history of neoliberalism.” Although not without a point of view, I found Slobodian’s book as much of a dispassionate intellectual history as I’m likely to find on a divisive topic.

Just to make sure the terms are understood, “liberalism” here is meant in the classical context of a political ideology that favors free market economics, limited government, and individual freedom (not its popular meaning in American politics). “Neoliberalism” branches into, to my mind anyway, more specific forms and goals, including free trade, globalization, and a preference for privatization of what otherwise might be public services and goods.

Slobodian’s book begins with the fall of the Habsburg Empire and the First World War. The rationale for this is that the end of empire ushered in a wave of breakups of the larger imperial states (esp. Hungary and Austria) and at least eventually the wane of colonialism, notably in Africa but elsewhere as well. New borders with new nations and newly independent nations meant a rethinking and reordering of the global political and economic world.

Slobodian’s focus is directed to Austria (and, later, Geneva) as intellectual birthplaces — the homes of leading neoliberal thinkers, including Gottfried Haberler, F.A. Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises.

The core theme around which Slobodian organizes neoliberal thought and debate is the proper relationship between the economic and political worlds.

Of course, you could question whether these are actually, or should be, two separate “worlds.” Historically, though, for the neoliberal thinkers, this distinction looks to have been part of the reality to be dealt with. The political world is one of states, each, perhaps ideally, self-determining, with its own laws and institutions. The economic world, though, again perhaps ideally, should not be burdened by national boundaries — capital and commerce should flow freely across the globe. Prosperity and economic stability are best served by such an unfettered economic world.

The simplest form of a solution, a “double government” in Hayek’s terms, would provide for the co-existence of the two worlds. Nation-bound political governments would in principle sit beside a global economic structure. The question then becomes how the two could be made compatible without sacrificing the one or the other.

World War I brought a challenge to the co-existence of these two worlds. It exposed the vulnerability of global economic structures — private property, investment, trade — to national boundaries that may not respect those structures to the same extent or in the same way. What’s more, the exigencies of war disrupted market economies with over-riding national demands for war resources.

Mises in particular answered the challenge with a vision of a global economy built on free trade. Politics (and economic policy) at the national level was seen as a disruption in the free flow of capital, goods, and labor across this global free market, encumbering the efficient flow and growth of trade and prosperity.

There would be costs. The price of labor would need to equalize across international boundaries, meaning that European workers would need to accept significantly lower wages than they currently received. Of course prices would also equalize (accounting for transportation costs, etc.), potentially lowering prices in Europe. Mises opposed, in his own Austria, labor unions as a counterforce to equalization of wages. He also supported free immigration and emigration, and of course no trade tariffs or price supports or subsidizations for domestic production.

Mises’ positions suggest a hands-off free market libertarianism, but like other neoliberal thinkers, a very much hands-on approach to government’s role in protecting and enforcing free trade and a global economic structure. That includes enforcement of laws regarding such things as private property, organized labor, and forms of market manipulation (e.g., predatory pricing and other manipulations of the market).

In the wake of the Great Depression, business cycle research, which had already become a centerpiece of neoliberal research, became an even greater focus, with Mises and Hayek’s Austrian Business Cycle Research Institute in the forefront. By the end of the 1930s, though, quantitative approaches to economic theory had taken a major hit. The complexity displayed by the Depression left gaps and uncertainties that could not be filled. The Depression, to the neo-liberals, had clearly demonstrated the global nature of the economy, that national economies were in a strong sense illusory. But any correct model or theory of that global economy was another matter.

Hayek in particular became extremely skeptical of any potential theory of a global economic system, maintaining that that system, when functioning well, functioned independently of any theoretical understanding of it, and was in fact enabled by a lack of knowledge — economic equilibrium exists “only because some people have no chance of learning about facts which, if they knew them, would alter their plans.” The very attempt to model and predict could be a danger to the health of an economy.

This skeptical position set up a strong opposition between the neoliberals, or at least the Mises/Hayek branch of neoliberalism, and the economists of economic planning, regardless of its political stripe, in America, Europe, or the Soviet Union.

Antipathy towards economic planning did not however mean that the functioning of the global economy should not be actively protected against the politics of autonomous nations, or that the global economy should be simply left alone to function in a laissez faire manner. Mises and Hayek remained staunch proponents of international (or supranational) standards regarding private property, taxation, trade, migration, and the value of currency.

From this activist globalism, Slobodian traces a series of international scale projects to protect and support the global economy.

Just as they had come to accept the undeniable reality of the global economy, neoliberal thinkers came to accept, maybe grudgingly, the complementary reality of political nations, with accompanying political sovereignty. What was needed was a reconciliation of the two.

One reconciliation would be the “double government” solution backed by Hayek and Lionel Robbins. The scope of national governments and national politics would be “culture,” and the scope of supranational government would be the global economy.

Where the dividing line between the two — culture and economics — would fall, of course, is not so clear. And increasingly the neoliberals saw national politics as inimical to global economic health, particularly as democratic processes often favored the economic interests of national constituents (“special interests”) in matters involving taxes, tariffs, wages, and prices. Some, including Robbins and Hayek, suggested that more authoritarian national governments could tame the disruptions caused by such democratic processes.

International bodies and agreements did come, of course, especially during and after World War II. The IMF (1944) and GATT (1947) responded to some of the neoliberal calls for protection of the international economic structure, although certainly not all. The United Nations itself definitely did not, in so far as it recognized and promoted national sovereignty and self-determination, as well as economic measures to aid developing countries.

Postwar international politics and the UN in particular provided a flashpoint within the neoliberals, who had coalesced under the Mont Pèlerin Society, or MPS. The MPS included Mises, Hayek, and others focused on more or less purely economic issues, but also economists like Wilhelm Röpke, whose advocacy for a global economic structure turned strongly against attempts to aid the non-industrialized world via loans and development programs, and then more openly against democracy movements that sought to empower black populations in European-settled Africa.

Foreign aid and supported loans were part of the UN’s view of its own role, but such things did not serve, certainly in Röpke’s eyes, the protection of a free market of trade and investment at the global level. These were disruptions at an international level as much, or even more as were the disruptions produced by national economies.

What Röpke saw as misguided and destructive efforts to aid development in African (and other non-industrialized) counties coincided with distrust of democracies at national levels, and with views of non-white, non-western peoples as unequipped for full membership in either national democracies or the global economy. Those African countries in particular would be better served, and the global economy better served, by continued white European-descended leadership.

This did produce a split within the neoliberals, with Mises and Hayek not taking the same path, and with Röpke (and others more in agreement with his views) leaving the MPS.

Despite the split between those remaining in the MPS and those leaving, all were united in opposition to foreign aid, loans, pro-industrialization development projects, and also to one-man-one-vote democracies in the decolonializing African countries.

The next milestone in building a global economic structure was the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community in 1957.

It was a triumph for “tiered” if not “double” government. Not all neoliberals were fans, but the EEC established a supranational structure to govern trade within Europe and (some) non-European countries, notably African (hence the term “Eurafrica”). Key to the design of the EEC was its own enforcement regime, supervening national sovereignty. Businesses (and individuals) could be held to account independently of national politics and law.

The EEC of course was not global, and it was opposed by “universalists” among the neoliberals, including Röpke, Michael Heilperin, and Gottfried Haberler. After all, a regional, or partial, rather than global economic structure could just repeat the conflict between national autonomy and the global economy at the level of regional autonomy and global economy.

And it’s not as if there wasn’t external opposition as well, especially from the non-industrialized “Global South,” who saw the economic structure advocated for by the neoliberals as perpetuating political and economic gaps between richer and poorer nations.

The “G-77” (developing countries) rebelled, sending through the UN resolutions on a “New International Economic Order” (NIEO) to level the playing field of economic power and provide for opportunities for non-industrialized countries to industrialize. Those resolutions, including regulation of transnational corporations, aid to developing countries, etc., were anathema to neoliberals — disruptions to free trade and to the “international division of labor.”

GATT had long been a kind of anchor for neoliberal economics. Its intention was to provide a global structure for that free movement of capital, trade, and labor that inspired neoliberalism in the first place. But the structure had eroded with exceptions for “neo-protectionist” measures taken by industrialized nations to fend off rising competitors, and by preferences given to developing nations, exemplified in the NIEO.

GATT reform was therefore in order.

The NIEO was a “degenerative development” in the global economic system, in the words of Jan Tumlir, one of if not the intellectual leader of the GATT reformers. It was not only a distortion of the system of free trade, it was an attempt at deliberate planning, which to the neoliberals was destructive of the more emergent order of economies in a free market.

What was missing in GATT was what was present in the EEC — a reach into the legal world of nations themselves. The supervening constraints in the EEC that applied not to voluntarily participating nations, but to individuals and corporations within treaty-bound nations would close the door on exceptions.

The resolution (and the endpoint of Slobodian’s history) was GATT’s successor, the World Trade Organization, established in 1995. I won’t say that the WTO was the “solution” in the eyes of neoliberals, because, like all other treaties and agreements in the history, the absolutists will always be disappointed, and the WTO is obviously not without problems, either in conception or execution.

Nevertheless it is a culmination of sorts, for the neoliberal goal of establishing a supranational economic structure, with enforcement capabilities. For Slobodian, the key to the WTO was the neoliberals’ adoption of a constitutional legal strategy, i.e, a binding of the structure into international and national law, rather than a dependence on the ongoing voluntary agreement of sovereign nations (which again, would be subject to the winds of democratic (and non-democratic) national processes and aims).

That is where Slobodan’s history ends.

As I said, he is not a passive reporter of the history he recounts, and his sensitivities are there to see.

On one large conceptual issue, Slobodian points to an inherent conflict in the thought of Hayek in particular and neoliberals in general. On one hand, they claim the market to be unknowable — that deliberate interventions, e.g., to pursue social justice goals, depend on an unattainable knowledge of how the market works and what the intervention will produce. On the other they claim to know the rules that safeguard the functioning of that unknowable market.

I say “tension” although Slobodian might use a stronger word. It’s not clear to me that there is an actual contradiction between the two claims, only that the one compromises and constrains the ability to make the other.

I’m grateful to Slobodian for his job of intellectual history. He has definitely deepened my understanding of the rationale behind a line of economic and political thought that, if not dominant in US and western thinking, suffuses all debates.

Of course, that rationale provokes more questions.

To go back to the central theme that Slobodian identifies as inspiring neoliberal thought — the general conflict between the political autonomy of nations and global economic structures — that conflict can be looked upon as an optimization challenge from either side. The neoliberals tend to view it as a challenge for optimizing global economic structures, with resulting constraints on the political autonomy of states. It could be looked at, seemingly just as legitimately, as a challenge for optimizing the political autonomy of states, with resulting constraints on global economic structures. Or it could be looked at as something other than an optimization problem at all, but rather as one of reconciling two legitimate goals.

Also, of course, the conflict between global economic structure and political autonomy is not the only conflict at play. Individual autonomy, cultural traditions, and interpersonal values can exert pressure against the means of economic globalization. Attraction to “home” or family can restrict the mobility of labor. Charity and welfare, whether practiced through private or public means, can dilute the effects of price and wage dynamics in the market.

Curiously, a similar point appears to have been raised, albeit with their own distinctive aims, by Röpke and Alexander Rüstow (and to some extent by Walter Lippmann) in the 1930s. They argued that a “narrow economic conception” of humanity overlooked other aspects, including community relationships, family, and religion.

Extending the same line of questioning, we have to come back to the idea of “social justice,” a term at the center of the conflicts between advocates of neoliberal global structures and advocates for developing economies.

The term, as I understand its use, refers to outcomes and distributions. “Prosperity” is one thing — its distribution is another. As recounted above, neoliberal economists opposed measures to aid and support industrialization in developing countries. What would that mean for the distribution of prosperity?

The choice by neoliberal thinkers to optimize a global economic structure as against national politics and any form of disruption or intervention into the workings of that global structure is antithetical to deliberate efforts at social justice. The neoliberals certainly didn’t run from that conclusion — they embraced it as critical. Deliberate interventions in the global structure in the name of social justice, like those of the NIEO, were destructive of the healthy functioning of that structure.

Following Hayek, the economic order worked best when it worked invisibly and autonomously — “In order to interfere successfully on any point, we would have to know all the details of the whole economy, not only of our own country but of the whole world.” Social justice, if it is to exist, must then be emergent, not deliberate. Actually aiming or adjusting for a just distribution of prosperity would be a mistake. That’s a conclusion not easily swallowed.

Or, in arguing for the neoliberal position, you might fall back on an entirely procedural theory of social justice, whereby all outcomes of a “just process” (in this case, the workings of the global free market) are rendered just by virtue of that just process. That would be a difficult position to take for someone like Hayek, given his claim that knowledge of the global economic system, and presumably therefore the justice of that system, is always imperfect.

I won’t try to go into arguments for and against an entirely procedural conception of justice — that’s a good open question, as I think are all of these questions of the priority of the global economy over national sovereignty, the separability of economics from the proper scope of national sovereignty and “culture,” and the general question of the role of social justice at the global scale.
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