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Posts Tagged ‘neoliberalism

“Wouldn’t economics make a lot more sense if it were based on how people actually behave, instead of how they should behave?”*…

Behavioral economics aims to accomplish exactly that. Its approach has been to catalogue the dozens of cognitive biases that stop us from acting “rationally.” Jason Collins argues that instead of building up a messier and messier picture of human behavior, we need a new model…

From the time of Aristotle through to the 1500s, the dominant model of the universe had the sun, planets, and stars orbiting around the Earth.

This simple model, however, did not match what could be seen in the skies. Venus appears in the evening or morning. It never crosses the night sky as we would expect if it were orbiting the Earth. Jupiter moves across the night sky but will abruptly turn around and go back the other way.

To deal with these ‘anomalies’, Greek astronomers developed a model with planets orbiting around two spheres. A large sphere called the deferent is centered on the Earth, providing the classic geocentric orbit. The smaller spheres, called epicycles, are centered on the rim of the larger sphere. The planets orbit those epicycles on the rim. This combination of two orbits allowed planets to shift back and forth across the sky.

But epicycles were still not enough to describe what could be observed. Earth needed to be offset from the center of the deferent to generate the uneven length of seasons. The deferent had to rotate at varying speeds to capture the observed planetary orbits. And so on. The result was a complicated pattern of deviations and fixes to this model of the sun, planets, and stars orbiting around the Earth.

Instead of this model of deviations and epicycles, what about an alternative model? What about a model where the Earth and the planets travel in elliptical orbits around the sun?

By adopting this new model of the solar system, a large collection of deviations was shaped into a coherent model. The retrograde movements of the planets were given a simple explanation. The act of prediction became easier as a model that otherwise allowed astronomers to muddle through became more closely linked to the reality it was trying to describe.

Behavioral economics today is famous for its increasingly large collection of deviations from rationality, or, as they are often called, “biases.” While useful in applied work, it is time to shift our focus from collecting deviations from a model of rationality that we know is not true. Rather, we need to develop new theories of human decision to progress behavioral economics as a science. We need heliocentrism… 

For a thoughtful critique of current thinking and a set of four “features” that might inform a new approach: “We don’t have a hundred biases, we have the wrong model,” from @jasonacollins.

* Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions


As we dwell on decisions, we might spare a thought for someone who would probably have had little patience for ideas like these, Rose Friedman; she died on this date in 2009. A free-market economist, she was the wife and intellectual partner of Milton Friedman– a father of the “Chicago School” of neoclassical economic thought that underlies the neoliberlism so dominant of late [see here], of which behavioral economics is a corrective/critique– with whom she co-wrote papers and books (e.g., Free to Choose and Capitalism and Freedom) and co-founded EdChoice (formerly the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation), with the aim of promoting the use of school vouchers and “freedom of choice” in education.

When her husband received his Medal of Freedom in 1988, President Ronald Reagan joked that Rose was known for being the only person to ever have won an argument against Milton.


“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'”*…

A couple of weeks ago, (Roughly) Daily took a look at the fall of neoliberalism. What’s to come? The estimable Noah Smith has a suggestion…

For years now, I’ve been thinking about what the next big organizing principle of U.S. political economy will be. By “political economy” here I mean the type of economic policies we carry out, and the ways that we expect those policies to reshape our economy. This will be the first in a series of posts laying out my predictions for what the new paradigm will look like.

From the late 1970s through the middle of the 2000s, our organizing principle was what some people call “neoliberalism” — deregulation, tax cuts, free trade, and the shift of the welfare state towards in-kind benefits and work requirements. The reasons we went down this road were complex, and the results were mixed. This replaced an earlier paradigm that people called “the New Deal”, which started to emerge during the Great Depression but really solidified during and just after WW2. That paradigm involved large-scale government investment, heavy regulation, high taxes, social insurance, and the encouragement of a corporate welfare state.

Ever since the financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008-12, we’ve been looking for a new organizing principle. Obama didn’t really try to give us one; with the exception of Obamacare, he was mostly focused on crisis recovery and damage control (stimulus, financial regulation, boosting the welfare state incrementally along largely neoliberal lines).

But everyone knew a new paradigm was needed. The question was what it would be…

[After carefully considering, then sadly rejecting climate change as a candidate…]

So if it’s not climate change, what will be the thing that forces us to come up with a new policy paradigm? If it’s not the moral equivalent of war, perhaps it’ll be the threat of actual war…

The War Economy,” Part 1

In a second post, he elaborates on how the U.S. and its allies might stack up against a “New Axis.” He dives into relative demographicc, economic, and social strengths, concluding…

I can’t say whether or not the New Axis is the most formidable military competitor that the U.S. and its allies have ever faced. The original Axis was certainly fearsome, and the USSR had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons ready to roast the world at the touch of a button. But I think that the comparisons above show that the New Axis certainly represents an economic competitor like none the U.S. and its allies have ever faced. And the reason is simply China. Russia is mainly a gas station with nukes. But China has three things going for it:

  • China has far, far more workers than the original Axis or the Soviet bloc.
  • China has advanced manufacturing technology that probably rivals the original Axis in relative terms, and far exceeds the Soviet bloc.
  • China has the world’s largest manufacturing cluster, making it the “make everything country”, which neither the Axis nor the USSR managed to be.

He continues…

This is simply a unique situation in modern history. The Industrial Revolution began in Europe and spread to the U.S. and the East Asian rim. The aftermath of WW2 saw central Europe and the East Asian rim incorporated into a U.S.-led alliance that dominated global manufacturing in a way that the communist powers could never threaten. Now, with the rise of China, world manufacturing is divided roughly in two.

Much of the War Economy in the U.S. (and its allies) will therefore be about rediscovering the manufacturing capabilities they neglected during China’s meteoric rise…

The War Economy, Part 2: Sizing up the New Axis

The Brookings Institute recently published its own (and very resonant) assessment of U.S. readiness, “The Sources of Societal Competitiveness.” And Nathan Gardels followed with a trenchant reminder that consensus on national security is a double-edged sword…

In the end, the enduring vitality of any country must be built primarily on the wherewithal within, not on the shaky foundation of menacing adversaries without. George Kennan, architect of the containment strategy against the Soviet Union, understood that lasting vigor comes from the inner confidence of a nation that thrives on its own terms and doesn’t rely on enemies to hold it together. External threats may spur a welcome renewal, but it will remain fragile if that becomes its purpose.

Kennan believed correctly that the West would ultimately be victorious in the Cold War not on some battlefield but through the organic strength of a robust society that no adversary could match.

The same perspective applies today with respect to the challenge of assertive autocracies, especially China. The most important contribution democracies can make to fostering more freedom in the world is to demonstrate through their own institutional integrity and innovations how a governing consensus can be reached by non-authoritarian means.

When Domestic Unity Is Built On Foreign Enemies

We live in interesting times. Eminently worth reading all of the links in full.

* J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring


As we return to first principles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent telegrams to the Allies (by way of Max Grässli at the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs ) announcing that Japan would accept the Potsdam Declaration. The surrender of the Empire of Japan was announced by Japanese Emperor Hirohito on 15 August and formally signed on 2 September 1945, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close.

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), 2 September 1945. Lieutentant General Richard K. Sutherland, U.S. Army, watches from the opposite side of the table. Foreign Ministry representative Toshikazu Kase is assisting Mr. Shigemitsu. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 10, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”*…

Three considerations of Gary Gerstle‘s important new book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era: First Robert Kuttner ponders why Democratic presidents embraced an economic credo that annihilated their own public philosophy and its appeal to the electorate…

Beginning with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a succession of Democratic presidents joined Republicans in turning away from the New Deal model of regulated capitalism toward what has come to be known as neoliberalism. The neoliberal credo claims that markets work efficiently and that government attempts to constrain them via regulation and public spending invariably fail, backfire, or are corrupted by politics. As public policy, neoliberalism has relied on deregulation, privatization, weakened trade unions, less progressive taxation, and new trade rules to reduce the capacity of national governments to manage capitalism. These shifts have resulted in widening inequality, diminished economic security, and reduced confidence in the ability of government to aid its citizens.

The Republican embrace of this doctrine is hardly surprising. Given the lessons learned about the necessity of government interventions following the 1929 stock market collapse and the success of the Roosevelt administration as a model for the Democratic Party, the allure of neoliberalism to many Democrats is a puzzle worth exploring.

The term “neoliberalism” itself is confusing, because for at least a century “liberalism” in the United States has meant moderate left, not free-market right. Neoliberalism in its current economic sense draws on the older meaning of liberalism, which is still common in Europe and which holds that free markets are the counterpart of a free and democratic society. That was the claim of classical liberals like Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson.

Only in the twentieth century, after the excesses of robber-baron capitalism, did modern liberals begin supporting extensive government intervention—the use of “Hamiltonian means” to carry out “Jeffersonian ends,” in the 1909 formulation of Herbert Croly, one of the founders of The New Republic. This view defined the ideology of both presidents Roosevelt and was reinforced by the economics of John Maynard Keynes. In Britain, the counterpart in the same era was the “radical liberalism” of social reform put forth by the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George.

The term neoliberalism also gets muddled because some on the left use it as an all-purpose put-down of conservatism—to the point where one might wonder whether it is just an annoying buzzword. But neoliberalism does have a precise and useful meaning, as a reversion to the verities of classical economics, with government as guardian of unregulated markets…

Free Markets, Besieged Citizens

Brian Kettenring worries (with Gramsci, as quoted in this post’s title above) that the transition to what’s next could be treacherous…

In a contest among global models, one option is the state-authoritarian capitalist model represented by China. A second one would be a neoliberalism retooled for the 21st century. But because neoliberalism has failed on its most central promise (growth) and other important tests (climate, inequality, and race), it is increasingly marginalized, if still persistent in the public imagination and the structures of important national and international institutions. A third option—which seems ascendant—is the ethno-nationalism of Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and company. The economic track record of ethno-nationalism in power has often proved anti-neo-liberal—especially on trade, but often on public investment, the social safety net, and even industrial policy—but that hasn’t foreclosed tax cutting or deregulation. And while the racialist and exclusionary politics of ethno-nationalism are disqualifying, its record of governance is, with some exceptions, poor.

None of these geopolitical arrangements will serve America or the world well in the third decade of the 21st century. For those who share Gerstle’s critique of neoliberalism, the task is to chart a fourth way that is inclusive, sustainable, and consonant with strong democratic governance and pluralistic societies. At present, this fourth way appears to be the harder road. That said, Rise and Fall offers guidance for how it might still win the day. 

Gerstle reminds us that geopolitics can have unpredictable economic side effects. The war in Ukraine has accelerated inflationary dynamics in the global economy, increasing the price of everything from energy to wheat. It’s too soon to assess the long-term consequences of the Russian invasion. Still, one optimistic reading of the potential by-products of the war might be accelerated investments—at least in Europe—in the green energy sector…

Neoliberalism Is Dying. What Comes Next?

And L. Benjamin Rolsky considers the moral– and spiritual– baggage that it carries…

… A moral code accompanied the neoliberal order to protect itself against its worst excesses and moral failures. Many Americans were perfect matches for neoliberalism’s entrepreneurial politics, its promises of unbridled freedom once remade in the image of homo economicus; many were not. For Gerstle, the neoliberal order produced two interrelated modes of citizenship within the body politic: conservative neo-Victorianism and liberal cosmopolitanism. The former encouraged self-discipline in the name of market austerity and the proverbial Christian family. The latter privileged diversity, self-expression, and socioeconomic mobility. As Gerstle describes, “It celebrated the cultural exchanges and dynamism that increasingly characterized the global cities — London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Toronto, and Miami among them — developing under the aegis of the neoliberal order.” This much is most certainly true circa 1975: the beginnings of neoliberalism’s deregulatory ascent.

Within the same moment, however, neoliberalism would also help give birth to additional forms of religiosity including the “Prosperity Gospel,” replete with global communication networks, acts of spiritual exuberance, and larger-than-life television personalities. While this tradition of health and wealth dates back to the late 19th century, it found its domestic stride in the United States within the postindustrial conditions of the neoliberal order in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that prosperity gospel healer Paula White-Cain has rekindled her relationship with former president Donald Trump’s communications team speaks to the intimate relationship between neoliberal success, political freedom, and spiritual prosperity in American political life — especially in 2022.

The rise and fall of the neoliberal order has curtailed some religious ideals and formulations in the name of neo-Victorian morality, but it also cultivated equally powerful forces that promised to liberate true believers from their respective experiences of spiritual captivity. Until such forces of neoliberal freedom are understood and diagnosed as complex forms of economic captivity themselves, there is no telling how much longer the neoliberal order can remain fractured yet deeply informative of our collective political imaginations…

Religion of the Market: On Gary Gerstle’s “The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

How neoliberalism rose, fell, and what might replace it: @rkuttnerwrites, @bkettenring, and @LBRolsky on a powerful new book by @glgerstle.

* Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks


As we compose our selves for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Bob Dylan was booed off stage at the Newport Folk Festival during his first public performance with electric instruments (and a band that included Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper)… The cat-calling began with his opening number, “Maggie’s Farm,” and continued through three more songs, after which Dylan left the stage. As a peace offering to Pete Seeger and other aggrieved organizers, Dylan returned later to do two acoustic numbers… but the die was cast; thereafter, his career was electrically-powered… and both folk and rock music were forever changed.


“Disruptive movement must come from within”*…

Disruption can be the engine of deep and rapid change to industries, political systems, or indeed societies. As COVID reminds us, some of those disruptions are involunatry. But many aren’t. Indeed, on the back of champions like Clayton Christensen and his promotion of “disruptive innovation,” disruption has become a go-to strategy– if not the go-to strategy– for entrepreneurs (and some intrapreneurs) around the world. And it has begun to define the strategies of social and political actors/movements as well.

Disruption can be a powerful approach to solving problems that have been allowed to fester (e.g., in-grown, oligarchical markets; climate change.) But Santiago Zabala warns us that as disruption has become more dominant, it risks losing any purpose beyond simply “winning” the game (the market, the election) in question…

… “disruption,” according to its Latin origin, signifies “rupture,” tearing apart, and violently dissolving continuity. As a metonym for progress, since the nineties it has spread the illusion that innovation is always an improvement regardless of its social consequences. Its association with Silicon Valley and business culture in general has led us to disregard the reckless adverse effects of progress without responsibility. In fact, this indifference is vital to understanding the meaning of disruption and our fascination with a notion that is constantly deployed to exploit our hope that innovation will save us. “Disruption,” as Bernard Stiegler noted, “radicalizes the reversal of all values,” whether technological, political, or religious.

Like other concepts whose meanings are eroded by overuse, such as nihilism, postmodernism, and populism, disruption requires a philosophical elucidation. In recent decades, technological disruptions were heralded as collective life-shaping events, but is necessary to question this disruption is seen as a value worth pursuing even though its worship is tearing apart the possibilities for a sustainable future…

Disruptive innovation, as [historian Jill] Lepore illustrates, holds out the hope of salvation from the very damnation it encourages because the idea of progress has been stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment. The West in the eighteenth century embraced the idea of progress; in the nineteenth, evolution; and in the twentieth, growth and innovation. And the problem today is that the idea of disruption dominates the rhetoric of not only Silicon Valley but also other industries and contemporary societies all over the world. Disruption has taken over as a common language in which to project not just success but also a future of unforeclosed possibilities. This success is premised on technology’s capacity to continuously offer cheaper alternatives to established products—and on the promise that innovation is always an improvement, regardless of its consequences.

Disruptive innovation in journalism, education, and medicine has emerged as an all-purpose replacement of traditional methods with new ways that value novelty and speed. This valuation of progress without quality has allowed these pillars of democratic nations to be further subverted by capital, prey to market drives that ignore the value of the product for the value to shareholders. The belief that companies and industries that failed were somehow destined to fail is at the heart not only of Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation but also of a neoliberal age that holds that government should play no role in restraining corporate behavior. Giving corporate behavior a free pass has facilitated the application of disruption’s indifference to arenas that affect society, politics, and culture. Numerous conferences, centers, summits, and labs established even in just the most recent decade demonstrate that “disruptive” has become an admiring adjective, a positive valence, even a brand.

In order to resist disruption it is not enough to demonstrate that its benefits are based on shaky evidence. This has been the approach taken by Lepore (“Christensen’s sources are often dubious and his logic questionable”), Michael Porter (“disruptive technologies that are successful in displacing established leaders are extremely rare”) and Andrew A. King and Baljir Baatartogtokh (“only seven of the 77 business case studies covered by Christensen’s fit his own criteria of what constitutes disruptive innovation”), among other scholars. While these analyses are useful to debunk the illusion that innovation is always an improvement, they do not modify the widespread enthusiasm for it. “Exaggerated claims for disruption,” as Mark C. Taylor points out, “usually result from a failure of memory, which is symptomatic of a preoccupation with the present in a culture addicted to speed.”

This addiction can be overcome by thinking through longer stretches of time…

… and the social and cultural hopes and values that should guide us. Disruption can be a force for altogether positive and overdue kinds of change… but only if its aims are higher than simply the bottom line.

A critical look at what we talk about when we talk about “disruption”: “Disruption: Neither Innovative nor Valuable,” in @LAReviewofBooks.

See also: “‘Disruption’ Is a Two-Way Street.”

* Leo Tolstoy


As we contemplate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that a disruptive force was named and energized: Adolf Hitler delivered “the Hofbrauhaus speech,” in which he gave a crowd of nearly 2,000 members of the German Workers’ Party a twenty-five point platform and a new name– the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” or Nazi, Party.

Hitler was, at the time, the head of publicity and propaganda; the next year, he became the Party’s head. The event was sufficiently momentous that the Nazi Party celebrated it founding at the Hofbrauhaus each year thereafter.

Hitler in the early 1920s


“A fair day’s-wage for a fair day’s work: it is as just a demand as governed men ever made of governing.”*…

As low-wage employers struggle to find workers, it seems as that labor– which has been left behind over the last several decades, as the economic benefits of growth have flowed to executives and owners– may be about to have its day. But will it? And what might that mean?

In her first statement as Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen said that the United States faced “an economic crisis that has been building for fifty years.” The formulation is intriguing but enigmatic. The last half century is piled so high with economic wreckage that it is not obvious how to name the long crisis, much less how to pull the fragments together into a narrative. One place to start is with the distribution of national income between labor and capital (or, looked at another way, between the wage share and the profit share of national income). About fifty years ago, the share of income going to labor began to decline, forming a statistical record of the epochal collapse of working class power. Episodes of high employment in the 1990s and the late 2010s did not reverse the long-term pattern. Even today, with a combination of easy money and fiscal stimulus unprecedented since World War II, it is unclear what it would take to reverse the trend in distribution.

Few would seriously dispute that hawkish Federal Reserve policies have played a direct role in the decline of the labor share since the 1970s. This is the starting point for thinking about monetary policy and the income distribution, but many questions remain. Today’s expansionary program extends beyond monetary policy to include fiscal stimulus and even industrial policy, but the first sign of an elite rethinking was the Fed’s dovish turn around 2016. (The Fed chair then was Yellen, whose current tenure as Treasury Secretary has been marked by close coordination with her successor, Jerome Powell.) In a fundamental sense, the entire Biden program hangs on the Fed: low interest rates made possible a reevaluation of the cost of massive government debt, which has in turn opened new horizons for a would-be activist government. 

If the age of inequality was the product of a hawkish Fed, could a dovish central bank reverse the damage? Today, there is more reason to speak of a “pro-labor turn” than perhaps at any time over the last half century. But history is not so easily reversed. The new policy regime is not a simple course correction to decades of misguided neoliberalism. There is evidence that the current experiment was made possible by a recognition that workers had suffered a secular defeat—specifically, that they had lost the ability to increase or even defend their share of the national income. What would happen if labor became stronger?…

Tim Barker (@_TimBarker) explores: “Preferred Shares,” in Phenomenal World (@WorldPhenomenal).

On a related note: “The economics of dollar stores.”

[Image above: source]

* Thomas Carlyle


As we re-slice the pie, we might send acquisitive birthday greetings to Claude-Frédéric Bastiat; he was born on this date in 1801 (though some sources give tomorrow as his birthday). An economist and writer, he was a prominent member of the French Liberal School. As an advocate of classical economics and the views of Adam Smith, his advocacy for free markets influenced the Austrian School; indeed, Joseph Schumpeter called him “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived”… which is to say that Bastiat was a father of the neo-liberal economic movement that’s been central to creating the situation we’re in.


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