A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Book by David Harvey

Review by Thom Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on September 24, 2007.

Here's the bad news - most Americans don't know what "neoliberalism" is.

But the good news is that David Harvey has written the most brilliant, concise, and clear history of neoliberalism I've ever found. It should be required reading in every civics class in high-school and college in America, and everybody who votes or considers themselves informed about politics and economics (and the intersection of the two) should have a dog-eared copy next to their bed or favorite chair for regular re-reading.

Harvey begins with the imposition of neoliberalism - a radical economic/political theory that everything will work out optimally if only the power of democratic governments are reduced to virtually nothing and the power of economic elites (known as "the free market") hold most power in society - in Iraq and Chile. Iraq was going to be the Great Example for the neoliberals - they were so convinced of their theory that they didn't have a Plan B for any time after the invasion - and it utterly failed. Which is why you only read about the Iraq experiment in neoliberalism in books written by the few people, like Harvey and Naomi Klein, who have noticed it.
In Chile it was forced on the people, through the dictatorship of Pinochet. In The United States it came into being through subterfuge, through an alliance of big business and inherited wealth funding think tanks and media to change the minds and thinking of Americans to accept the notions of the "free market" and the idea that "big government" is a bad thing. It's being peddled in Europe with considerable success (it started in '79 with Thatcher two years before Reagan put it into place here in the US), with France the most recent country to fall with the election of Sarkosy.
While full of facts and figures and details (at least a third of the pages in my copy of this book are dog-eared and marked up), Harvey's "Brief History of Neoliberalism" is marvelously readable. In some ways it almost reads like a thriller - what will these people do next? And over and over again we see not only how they screw things up, but how they work those screw-ups to their own advantage. Neoliberalism, after all, is all about the economic and power elites taking more and more of the resources, income, and small-d democratic power away from the masses. David Harvey has produced a classic book.

It's an absolute must-read. It'll totally change the way you understand the news (particularly the news you'll find in The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times), and your opinion of the behaviors of your elected officials.

Get at least two copies - it's an inexpensive paperback and you'll want one to read, and one to give away ...

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to understand how to respond when they’re talking about public issues with coworkers, neighbors, and friends. This book explores some of the key perspectives behind his approach, teaching us not just how to find the facts, but to talk about what they mean in a way that people will hear."