Neoliberalism: A Short Introduction

Neoliberalism has been one of the most influential political ideas of the last century, and it has been especially influential in shaping global policies of international development since the 1980s.

Below is a useful four minute video on 10 things you should know about Neoliberalism, as summarised by Ravi K. Roy, co-author of Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction.

This material should be especially relevant to A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level Sociology.

Neoliberalism and globalisation are contested terms

There couldn’t be two more conflated and confused ideas in both academia and public discourse.

Generally people see neoliberalism as the set of ideas behind globalisation, which is seen as the process.

An assault on big government

Neoliberalism is often seen as a ‘return to the market’ paradigm, a reaction against big welfare state government.

Where does the term come from?

We can trace the term back to post World War 1, maybe the 1930s, when there was an idea to straddle socialism and market liberalism.

Post World War 2 the term is used to refer to more of a pure market approach.

There are a variety of neoliberalisms!

It’s a very varied term, inspired by lots of intellectual traditions and with many different applications under different leaders.

No one calls themselves a neoliberal!

No one who has ever been identified with neoliberal policies has ever called themselves a neoliberal.

But it’s very clear that in the late 1980s and into the 1990s that politicians in power in the UK, America, Canada and Australia were all ‘neoliberals’

Neoliberalism and Internationalism

Neoliberals tend to look to international institutions such as the United Nations to extend their project.

NB – he doesn’t mention the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, but personally I would think these have been more central to pushing a neoliberal agenda globally than the United Nations?!?

Neoliberalism and Nationalism

There are some neoliberals who believe in the idea of a single Europe. There are other neoliberals, like Margaret Thatcher who did not believe in the idea of a single Europe.

We are all neoliberals now

Both Thatcher and Reagan wanted to reduce the welfare state, but Bill Clinton reduced the welfare state far more than either of them would ever have imagined!

Neoliberalism as a practical policy package

The authors of the book have framed the practical polices of neoliberalism as a DLP package:

  • Deregulation
  • Liberalisation
  • Privatisation

Neoliberalism and Postmodernism

Neoliberalism has blurred the boundaries between the economy and the state, so that we now live in a more global form of capitalism where financialisation is at the heart of everything.

Postmodernism (or the new postmodern phase of neoliberalism?) is more about the blurring of the boundary between private and public life.

Find out more…

You might like to read the entire book: Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

Neoliberalism is a core theory of development within the global development module.

Neoliberalism also comes up in the education topic: as outlined in this post: neoliberal education policy.

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