This is Water (or is it Neoliberalism?)

A meditation on Vercelli, Vernengo and Levitt & Seccareccia

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

If at this moment you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude-but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.

David Foster Wallace [1]

My paper ” The Political Movement that Dared not Speak its own Name” started out as an address to a conference of historians of the social sciences, but seems to have touched a nerve with some economists, judging from many responses of my colleagues and interlocutors. Alas, I lack the rhetorical skills (and a few points in IQ) compared to a David Foster Wallace, and therefore it seems I have not been able adequately alert them to the translucent outlines of a well-organized and semi-coherent political movement all around them, nearly as invisible as water, in particular, it appears, to many of those of a leftish persuasion.

In the context of this symposium, all of my commenters concede that neoliberalism at least exists, thankfully, unlike the great majority of the chattering classes. Nonetheless, I feel the need to bring up this resistance one more time, if only to raise some issues concerning sources of confusion concerning neoliberal doctrines. One such exemplary instance was a recent newspaper column describing Neoliberalism by George Monbiot (2016) in the Guardian: highly simplified, a little superficial, but nonetheless a reasonably faithful summary for the uninitiated. In particular, Monbiot takes the Left to task for not having anything comparably powerful or profound to replace it. Predictably, the blogotariat were roused from their twitchy slumbers to (once again) denounce the very idea of Neoliberalism.[2] This was one telling example:

What do they have in common? It’s certainly not free market ideology. …Ben’s claim that neoliberalism is happy with a big state fits this pattern; big government spending helps to mitigate cyclical risk.

All this makes me suspect that those leftists who try to intellectualize neoliberalism and who talk of a “neoliberal project” are giving it too much credit - sometimes verging dangerously towards conspiracy theories. Maybe there’s less here than meets the eye. Perhaps neoliberalism is simply what we get when the boss class exercises power over the state. [3]

The problem that presents itself here is not so much the apparent contradiction between advocacy of the virtues of the “free market” and active takeover of government structures; it is rather the conviction that all neoliberalism amounts to is yet another in a sequence of random concoctions of bald apologetics for capitalists, so that the ideas themselves really don’t matter. If they subscribe to some version of Historical Materialism (in either it’s Marxist or less rigorous HisMat forms), then all that idealist stuff in the superstructure is just superfluous; the only thing that matters politically for them is raw class power. Given their own political predilections, these bloggers are not likely to be inclined to actually read and study what their opponents preach and do; a quick glance at Wikipedia or a YouTube clip from Free to Choose suffices to convince them they already know their enemies.[4] Another symptom of this latent HisMat is a conviction that everything ‘really’ just boils down to economics, and that one can ignore anything else as just ‘fluff’.[5] Yet I believe it is precisely this disdain for political ideas and simplistic appeals to ‘capitalism’ that has crippled the Left in its search for something substantial with which to challenge the palpable dominance of neoliberal discourse in everyday life, as well as in political mobilizations.

The situation is similar, but not exactly parallel, in the case of the economic orthodoxy. Another person to pronounce on what ‘Neoliberalism’ really is in reaction to Monbiot is Simon Wren-Lewis, a macroeconomist at Oxford University. [6] Like so many other economists, Wren-Lewis reads one historical thing by peripheral members of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, and then confidently proceeds to tell everyone else why they are ‘confused’. He starts off in the usual untutored manner: “I know what I mean when I (occasionally) use the term neoliberal. Neoliberalism is a political movement or ideology that hates ‘big’ government, dislikes any form of market interference by the state, favours business interests and opposes organised labour.” That is not a promising start; but it seems the more glaring error is to counterpose the beliefs of orthodox economists, who judiciously accept or reject various doctrines on the basis of their empirical relevance without bias, to those of the Neoliberals, grounded as they are in an impetuous ‘ideology. [7] Having spent a term at All Souls, I don’t recognize the Oxford he thinks he lives in. Just for starters, I would suggest the NTC enjoys a much larger representation in the modern economics profession than Wren-Lewis imagines. [8] The role that HisMat performs for the nostalgic Marxist, neoclassical microeconomics purportedly mediates for the orthodoxy. “More generally, it is a huge error to think that because neoliberalism invokes a highly selective and distorted view of basic economics, the left must therefore oppose mainstream economics. It is a huge error because using mainstream economics is an excellent way of challenging neoliberal ideas.” Wren-Lewis conjures a Philosopher’s Stone for separating base metal from the right stuff; the only problem is, he cannot point to a single instance in the modern world where this actually is happening. Perhaps the more pertinent narrative is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.[9]

My current commentators clearly do care deeply about ideas and their consequences; where we may differ is how one should make use of history and conceptual analyses in order to buttress an opposition to neoliberal politics. Each rejects a reductionist HisMat, but each have different perspectives on how the war of ideas might be prosecuted. Alessandro Vercelli wants to take up neoliberal appeals to ‘liberty’ as the entry point; Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia [L&S] argue that the work of Karl Polanyi can clarify the relationship of the Neoliberals to classical liberalism; and Matías Vernengo asserts that for political purposes, the Neoliberals can be equated with the neoclassical orthodox economics profession. Although many bloggers will reject this as intellectual hair-splitting, I believe each of these theses would require further clarification, not provided in my original paper.

1. Freedom

Alessandro Vercelli seeks to install the distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ liberty, first promoted by Isaiah Berlin (1958), as the key to understanding the divergence of Neoliberalism from what is sometimes called classical liberalism. (Further confusion arises from card-carrying neoliberals calling themselves ‘classical liberals’, as explained in the original paper.) I recognize this argument well, since I have been known to use it myself as a shorthand in lectures to general audiences, particularly to discomfit those who believe that the words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ are so blatantly self-evident that they need no definition. However, if we are to take history seriously, the first thing we would have to concede is that Berlin was not writing about the neoliberals, even though he was a contemporary of their first generation. His major thesis was a bit of Cold War legerdemain: in caricature, he sought to comprehend that communists and totalitarians could equally appeal to ‘freedom’ for their masses – something that sounded so incongruous to Western ears – if one construed their preferred referent as ‘positive’ liberty as opposed to ‘negative’ liberty, which was the true bedrock of Western ideology . The aspect which rendered his essay so very popular in the Cold War context was his prescription that negative liberty was congruent with democracy, whereas positive liberty was not, since it generally led down a slippery slope to totalitarianism. This sounds vaguely similar to Friedrich Hayek’s own slippery slope thesis in Road to Serfdom; but in practice, they were very different.

Berlin the intellectual historian was mostly concerned with various Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment figures, and thus his primary materials never directly addressed 20 th century political thought.[10] Furthermore, he never really demonstrated that negative liberty wouldn’t morph into its antithesis—he merely asserted that it did not happen. Leftists had been making arguments that negative liberty might easily undo itself—think, for instance, of supposed free market competition resulting in monopoly power—but Berlin was conveniently antiquarian, and did not feel any compunction to confront the challengers to the coherence of negative liberty. In fact, the economic and the sociological played almost no role in Berlin’s tragic narrative; the dominant binary on his stage was democracy/totalitarianism. The Neoliberal Thought Collective, by contrast, was extremely skeptical of the virtues of democracy as a political framework,[11] so their political analyses were effectively pitched at cross-purposes to those of Berlin. If anything, the positive/negative binary was a holdover from the classical liberal problematic of a night-watchman state cordoned off from the civic sphere. The Neoliberals were having none of that.

What I am suggesting is that Berlin’s binary is a poor astrolabe with which to triangulate the political project of the Neoliberal Thought Collective [NTC]. This argument has been made before, primarily by political theorists such as Raymond Plant (2010). In short, there is no doubt that every neoliberal trumpets “liberty” as the premier political virtue; but when one actually enquires what they mean by it, two strange things become evident: (A), there is very little agreement on definitions from one neoliberal to the next; and (B), their personal favored definition often diverges rather starkly from more commonplace vernacular connotations of ‘freedom’. Furthermore, none of them accepts Berlin’s framing of the positive/negative dichotomy.

The thesis that freedom is a many-splendored inconsistent thing for the Neoliberal Thought Collective would deserve a long historical examination in itself; but let me just point to a few instances here. One could start with the star of the NTC, Friedrich Hayek. In his Constitution of Liberty, Hayek spends as much time stipulating what freedom is not as he does trying to pin down what it is. Freedom is not ‘metaphysical’ or Kantian freedom where individual autonomy dictates reason governs emotional or intellectual impulses (2011, p.64). The motive behind this rejection is that Hayek’s psychology suggests hardly anyone is capable of exercising those faculties: freedom is not a power or capacity. Hayek also walls off personal liberty from political liberty; this is the skepticism towards political participation mentioned above. Instead, personal freedom is defined as an absence from “coercion by the arbitrary will of another” (2011, p.58). Ignoring the obvious drawbacks of defining something by a negative, Hayek than spends pages further defining what counts as ‘arbitrary’ and what counts as ‘coercion’. I would especially highlight the idiosyncratic definition of ‘coercion’ as having control over “the essential data of an individual’s action” (2011, p.206). I fear we have probably lost the attention of all the feisty libertarians in the audience at this juncture. One comes to appreciate that, for Hayek, you can only begin to understand freedom if you accept his idiosyncratic definition of what a ‘market’ is: namely, the greatest information processor known to mankind. Only then does it make sense to write the following statement: “the chief aim of freedom is to provide both the opportunity and the inducement to ensure the maximum use of knowledge that an individual can accrue.” Or to translate: no market activity can ever be deemed coercive. I submit that is a very tortured referent for what most people think they mean by ‘freedom’.

Or let us take an important representative of a significant wing of the NTC, the Ordoliberal School, Wilhelm Röpke. In his Humane Economy (2014), he distinguishes two types of freedom: moral freedom and economic freedom. The former he defines as the “opposite of compulsion by others”, but treats this as obvious, and spends little time on it. The thorny freedom he lavishes all his effort on is the latter, which has to be reconciled with the Ordo prescription of a strong state. Röpke’s Shangri-La is a totally autarkic world of isolated self-sufficient farmers; but since that is impossible in a modern society with markets, certain concessions must be made. His ideal for freedom is therefore a state-structured regime of market “competition” in most areas of life; he claims (with little argument) that this ‘competition’ gets modern society closest to the behavior of the ‘self-sufficient peasant’ (2014, p.103). I doubt most people realize that the freedom Ordos want them to enjoy looks like the dull imperatives of the isolated farm.

Let’s not leave out the American members of the NTC. One might here briefly consider James Buchanan, of the Virginia School of public choice. Buchanan admits up front he does not entirely endorse Hayek’s version of freedom. Instead, he distinguishes between individual freedom and collective freedom. The former smacks of the ‘don’t fence me in” attitude of the autarkic situation, but Buchanan spends very little time on that. Rather, most of his work aims to describe “process stability” (hardly the commonplace notion of liberty), which cashes out as a two-level structure for the making of laws, which he elaborates as his constitutionalist-contractarian approach. In effect, Buchanan wishes democratic governments to be severely hamstrung when it comes to making changes in governance—a forced attempt to marry a Hobbesian social contract with a solipsistic rational choice theory. The net consequence is that ‘liberty’, such as it is, seems confined to a rather desiccated repertoire of market purchases.

I could keep going, but I hope the reader gets the trend. Freedom assumes some rather mutant formats in the hands of the NTC. Because Neoliberals privilege the strong state, the stylized libertarian conception of unfettered self-directed Being is never really in the cards. If anything holds the NTC together, it is the inevitable prescription that activity in “The Market” (whatever that may be) is the very pinnacle of “being free”, although the sequence of arguments that get us there are diverse. Little of this maps easily into Berlin’s tendentious dichotomy, which is why I would suggest Vercelli’s intervention does not do the political work he anticipates.

2. Karl Polanyi’s Double Movement

Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia [L&S] write that it is surprising that I don’t mention Karl Polanyi in the article which is the subject of this symposium. In particular, they stress the origins of the neoliberal movement came in attacking the “double movement’ described by the elder Polanyi. I didn’t want to raise the issue there (an address to a general audience), but they are perceptive to realize that the relationship of Polanyi to the early neoliberals certainly deserves consideration, something I attempted in a lecture to the 2014 Sydney conference on Polanyi and Hayek. [12]

The place to start, as usual, was Vienna. It has been de rigueur amongst historians to note that a fierce critique of classical liberalism was happening around the time of Red Vienna, with all manner of thinkers seeking to unearth the internal contradictions of the laissez faire sensibility. One such critique that was developed in that intellectual hothouse was a notion that laissez faire was an ignis fatuus, in the sense that it posited a political state that could never actually exist. Karl Polanyi’s most important political contribution was to import those arguments into the English language context, in the guise that suggested all attempts to impose a market free of all governmental intervention was self-refuting:

Just as, contrary to expectation, the invention of labor-saving machinery had not diminished but actually increased the uses of human labor, the introduction of free markets, far from doing away with the need for control, regulation and intervention, enormously increased their range. Administrators had to be constantly on the watch to ensure the free working of the system. Thus even those who wished most ardently to free the state from all unnecessary duties, and whose whole philosophy demanded the restriction of state activities could not but entrust the self-same state with the new powers, organs and instruments required for the establishment of laissez faire.[13]

Let us call this the “unintended consequences” argument: all attempts to demote the state to night-watchman status end up augmenting the power and size of the state with respect to the market. On the same page, Polanyi indicts liberals “Spencer and Sumner, Mises and Lippman” for perceiving the incongruity, but blaming it all upon “impatience, greed, and shortsightedness” of the politicians, rather than anything specific about the free market itself, which is upheld as some sort of Platonic natural ideal. In other words, according to Polanyi, his opponents all realized that something paradoxical had happened to their political comrades when they sought to institute their program of free markets, but they dismissed it as adventitious, all written off to accidents and weakness of will. Less frequently do modern Polanyites acknowledge that Karl himself pressed the critique one step further, pushing home the irony:

This paradox was topped by another. While laissez faire economy was the product of deliberate state action, subsequent restrictions on laissez faire started in a spontaneous way. Laissez-faire was planned; planning was not.[14]

Let us call this the **reverse English** argument: it upends the usual implications of the opponents’ presuppositions. Reverting to his tendency to equate the unintentional with the Natural, Polanyi therefore combines two arguments: one, unintended consequences, that liberal political attempts to actuate their vision of the market protected from the state just ends up making the state stronger; and two, **reverse English**, that this also sets in motion a ‘Natural’ rejection mechanism of political mobilization in the larger populace to restrict the market expansion. Notice how Polanyi is gratified that he can seemingly invert the commitments of his opponents, who identify the spontaneous with the Natural, but then knock them askew by claiming natural provenance for his own political position of market skepticism and revanchist regulation. However, parenthetically, I would like to point out that there is very little specific empirical evidence cited to support these propositions, especially the second one.

What is intriguing and unexpected is the extent to which Hayek accepts much of this Viennese two-step. This, I believe, is a different way of coming to comprehend the sketch of the evolution of classical liberalism provided in L&S’s Table 1. Of course, one must acknowledge that large swathes of Hayek’s later writings are taken up with a convoluted and rather boring series of attempts to insist there really is something called “spontaneous order’ in history, and that it looks a lot like the market; but those castles in the air have very little to do with the practical political precepts that have been subsequently developed within the Neoliberal Thought Collective. It is not some ‘spontaneous order’ that is conjured at Heritage Action or the Fraser Institute or the Institute of Public Affairs. If Hayek really was so supremely confident in the inherent spontaneity of the market, there would be no rational earthly motivation behind the elaborate political mobilization theorized and then implemented by the neoliberals, especially from the 1970s onwards. [15] Indeed, it is primarily in taking this contradiction to heart that the neoliberals have distinguished themselves from the earlier classical liberals. The confession already rears its head in Road to Serfdom: “In no system that could be rationally defended would the state do nothing. An effective competitive system needs an intelligently designed and continuously adjusted legal framework” (1944, p.39). Hayek’s opponents interpreted these lines as concessions to their belief in the inevitability of the ‘mixed economy’, but they were sadly mistaken.[16] In effect, first Hayek, and then to a more elaborate extent the later neoliberals, affirmed the first half of Polanyi’s Viennese two-step—although without crediting him personally in any manner. “The neoliberals recognized early on that the creation of new markets is a political process, requiring the intervention of an organized power” (Rodrigues, 2012, p.1008). History taught them that the political will to impose “good markets” resulted in a strong state and elaborate regulation; then, so be it. The neoliberals would accept the unintended consequences argument, but rather than taking it as a refutation of their ambitions, they would absorb it as a blueprint for achieving their ultimate ends, by intentional embrace.

The state would necessarily need to expand in economic and political power over time; the only codicil to the trend would be that the neoliberals themselves would need to seize state power, and rewrite the regulations so that they could create the kind of market society they believed was progressive. The unintended consequences of expansion of state power would be overcome through redoubled intentionality, political organization, and conscious intervention. Ideal markets had to be imposed; they wouldn’t just happen. Hayek at certain junctures in his career ranted against the evils of the ‘constructivist’ mentality, but it is difficult to regard this neoliberal embrace of the strong state as anything other than a willful constructivist program. This frame tale is now widely accepted as the correct interpretation of 80 years of the history of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. [17]

How about the second half of the Viennese two-step, the **reverse English** argument? Hayek realized that the great democratic masses might not accept the imposition of the New Neoliberal Order from above; especially in a democracy, neoliberal gains might be quickly reversed at the ballot box. Hayek often complained that the socialists thought they knew what was best for the masses, often absent their consent, but in this regard, effectively, the neoliberals were no different. [18] The one place where Hayek and the NTC diverged from Polanyi was that they could never ever allow that the blowback from markets could ever be considered a ‘natural’ response of the masses. At various points, Hayek would blame the recalcitrance of the populace to ‘market reforms’ on the scurrilous class of intellectuals, or on the self-interest of the politicians, or even upon the fundamental ignorance of the populace about the consequences of their preferences. But, contrary to Polanyi, they took that pushback into account. Polanyi, so besotted with the trope that opposition to encroachment of the market was ‘natural’, never entertained the notion that it, too, could be manipulated. The eventual solution favored by the bulk of the neoliberal thought collective was to render democracy so hamstrung and ossified that it would never prove capable of neutralizing neoliberal market structures erected by the strong state.[19] Their strong state had to come cladded with strong defenses against the will of the governed. “I doubt whether a functioning market has ever newly arisen under an unlimited democracy, and it seems likely that unlimited democracy will destroy it where it has grown up.” [20] This became the watchword of the later Hayek, of Bruno Leoni, of James Buchanan and the Virginia public choice school, of the ‘Washington consensus’, and the architects of the WTO and the European Union and the independence of central banks.

What lesson might we draw from this brief detour into the work of Karl Polanyi? I think that we should come to see there is nothing so very ‘natural’ about the supposed ‘double movement’, once a political project embraces a profound constructivism concerning markets.

3. Neoliberalism and the Orthodox Economist

One thing that has impressed itself over the course of my career is the incredibly blinkered and inadequate understanding of politics amongst many trained economists. I have repeatedly insisted that the rise of the Neoliberal Thought Collective cannot possibly be understood narrowly as an offshoot of ‘economics’ as such; rather, it is a general philosophy of politics and the meaning of life. [21] Reading Professor Vernengo, I despair of ever really managing to get this across to trained economists.

I feel like I have spent my entire life attempting to uncover the actual history of neoclassical economics: its origins in 19 th century physics; it’s curious revulsion from indeterminist currents in the natural sciences; its mutations on both the left and the right; its hybridization with the military and operations research; its symbiosis with the computer; and lately, its conversion to a theory of “information” and an engineering set of ambitions. If there is anyone who appreciates the shape-shifting character of this hybrid ‘orthodoxy,’ it is me. So in one corner, we have this mutant which stridently denies its own hybrid character, and pretends to a fake unified political heritage dating back to Adam Smith. On the other, we have the rise of the NTC, itself an amalgam of three or more individual schools of thought—the Austrians, the Ordoliberals, and the American Chicago School. Now, if anyone wants to make strong reductionist statements about this squirming warring mass of doctrines, to the effect that any conceptual differences don’t matter, then they are welcome to risk their reputation as a serious thinker. In the current climate, where not just doctrinal history but even economic history is banished from the economics curriculum, nothing I can do or say can prevent the further debasement of economic discourse.

However, I agree with Professor Vernengo that the question of the relationship of neoclassical economics to the NTC is both fascinating and important, for many reasons. My response to his own classification is that a little attention to history reveals that most of the early members of the Mont Pelèrin Society ranged from skeptical to outright hostile to neoclassical economics as it existed in the 1930s-50s. Vernengo says few thinkers I cite qualify as non-neoclassical; yet in this short paper alone I have cited Wilhelm Röpke, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Alexander Rüstow and Bruno Leoni: renunciators all. [22] The major exceptions were the Chicago Boys and Lionel Robbins; but even then Chicago was engaged in pitched battle with the rest of the profession as to what ‘good’ orthodoxy encompassed. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that early neoliberalism arose almost entirely separate from the prior neoclassical tradition, in part because they had become extremely suspicious of the political options prevalent amongst neoclassical economists back then, and in part because of their origins in continental traditions opposed to neoclassical economics. However, as the NTC grew more powerful and numerous, I have argued elsewhere that characteristically neoliberal doctrines came to be increasingly absorbed within the heartland of neoclassical microeconomics.[23] Professor Vernengo seeks to support his theses concerning the unity of neoclassical and neoliberal economics in reference to macroeconomics, but the problem there is that even economists in good standing tend to admit that modern macro is just a sequence of faddish enthusiasms, displaying little continuity or intellectual substance.[24] The real key to understanding modern economics is the absorption of the central tenet of markets as superior information processors within the heartland of cutting-edge microeconomics. By the turn of the millennium, the economics orthodoxy had become palpably more neoliberal, even though they themselves had little comprehension of that fact. This goes far to explain why some on the Left reflexively equate the economic orthodoxy with neoliberalism, in order to pronounce a pox on both their houses. Equally, it can begin to explain the obliviousness of someone like Simon Wren-Lewis.

This tendency to conflate the two has the unintended side effect of severely restricting the range of political options in modern discourse. George Monbiot (2016) has captured some of the impasse bequeathed by modern economics:

Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis.

Although the NTC has denounced Keynes as the Devil Incarnate in the past, that does not mean that Keynesianism constitutes any sort of currently viable theoretical position to counteract the neoliberal onslaught. Keynes was the exemplary Classical Liberal of the interwar period; the neoliberal ascendancy has effectively neutralized that political position in a thousand ways in the interim. The Loyal Keynesian Opposition has therefore been a disaster within 21st century economics. Post-Keynesians and other heterodox factions seem not to grasp that effective political mobilization requires a thoroughgoing alternative to the neoliberal definition of what a market is, comprehension of how diverse markets work, and appreciation for what it means to participate in a market society. Endless denunciations of “capitalism” do little more than evoke a thoroughly superseded HisMat, which lacks all relevance to the modern situation. Just as the inspiration for the Neoliberal Thought Collective did not originate within the economic orthodoxy of the 1930s-50s, it seems likely that opposition to neoliberalism will not arise from within modern economics, either.


Bagus, Philip. 2016. “Why Austrians are not Neoliberals,” at:

Blanchard, Olivier; Rajan, Raghuram, et al., eds. 2016. Progress and Confusion: The State of Macroeconomic Policy. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.

Caldwell, Bruce. 2004. Hayek’s Challenge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cherniss, Joshua. 2013. A Mind and its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics. Trans Graham Burchell. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1948. Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1979. Law, Legislation and Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1988. The Fatal Conceit. Ed. W.W. Bartley III. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1994. Hayek on Hayek. Ed. Stephen Kresge & Leif Wenar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. 2011. Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lash, Scott & Dragos, Bogdan. 2016. “An Interview with Philip Mirowski,” Theory, Culture and Society,

McPhail, Edward & Farrant, Andrew. 2013. “Hayek and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Wither the Hayekian Logic of Intervention?” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, (72):966-982

Migone, Andrea. 2011. “Embedded Markets: a dialogue between FA Hayek and Karl Polanyi,” Review of Austrian Economics, (24):355–381.

Mirowski, Philip. 2009. “Defining Neoliberalism” in Mirowski & Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pelèrin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mirowski, Philip. 2013. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste. New York: Verso.

Mirowski, Philip. Forthcoming. “Polanyi vs. Hayek?” Globalizations,

Mirowski, Philip & Nik-Khah, Edward. 2016. The Knowledge We have Lost in Information. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mirowski, Philip; Plehwe, Dieter & Slobodian, Quinn, eds. Forthcoming. More Roads from Mont Pelèrin.

Monbiot, George. 2016. “Neoliberalism—the ideology at the root of all our problems,” Guardian, 15 April, at:

Peck, Jamie. 2010. Constructions of Neoliberal Reason. New York: Oxford University Press.

Plant, Raymond. 2010. The Neoliberal State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polanyi, Karl. 1957 [1944]. The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Prügl, E. 2015. ‘Neoliberalising Feminism’, New Political Economy, 20 (4), pp. 614-31.

Rodrigues, Joao. 2012. “Where to Draw the Line between State and Markets?” Journal of Economic Issues, (46):1007-1033.

Rodrigues, Joao. 2013. “The Political and Moral Economies of Neoliberalism,” Cambridge Journal of Economics. (37):1001-1017.

Röpke, Wilhelm. 2014. A Humane Economy. Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Schnyder, Gerhard & Siems, Mathias. 2012. “The Ordoliberal Variety of Neoliberalism,” in Sue Konzelman & Marc Fovargue-Davies, eds., The Faces of Liberal Capitalism. London: Routledge.

Shearmur, Jeremy. 1996. Hayek and After. London: Routledge.


[1] David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” Kenyon College Commencement Address, 2005, at:

[2] The online version attracted almost 4000 comments in a week, until it was shut down.

[3] Chris Dillow at: . For another example, consult the comments section of: .

[4] Perhaps the reader will pardon a reminder that I started my (2009) with a demonstration of the utterly misleading nature of Wikipedia as a crib sheet for political theory. The Internet is a fetid swamp of misinformation, something that Neoliberals actually praise as a good thing. See (Mirowski & Nik-Khah, 2016).

[5] Getting people to realize economics is not the final determinant in the Neoliberal movement was the contribution of Foucault (2008). Also, here I must apologize for an error in the “Political Movement” paper. On page 10, the person who coined the term “Vitalpolitik” was Alexander Rustow, not Walter.

[6] See

[7] “Economists would just say that both are potentially true and it all depends, which is one reason why many economists find it hard to talk about ideologies that involve their own discipline.” (Wren-Lewis, ibid.)

[8] This argument is made in detail in my (Mirowski & Nik-Khah, 2016).

[9] See (McFail & Farrant, 2013).

[10] For further qualifications, see (Cherniss, 2013), who argues Berlin did not hold to any definitions consistently.

[11] See, for instance, (Brown, 2015).

[12] A somewhat revised version will appear as (Mirowski, forthcoming). This section is excerpted from that paper.

[13] (Polanyi, 1957, pp.140-141).

[14] (Polanyi, 1957, p.141).

[15] This is documented in (Mirowski, 2013). “Hayek [is] much closer than Mises to Polanyi’s (1944) characterization of the paradoxical relation between the state and markets in capitalism: the development of markets demands an expanding state with the power to impose the rules that markets require” (Rodrigues, 2013, p.1007).

[16] One example of this can be found in (Rodrigues, 2012); another in (Caldwell, 2004).

[17] (McPhail & Farrant, 2013; Peck, 2010; Mirowski, 2013; Rodrigues, 2013; 2012; Shearmur, 1996).

[18] The similar stance of Hayek and the socialists is repeatedly stressed in (Shearmur, 1996, p.62, 103, 104).

[19] See (Brown, 2015). One might also suggest they sought to offset the hostility to their program by rendering neoliberalism as a cultural default: see (Mirowski, 2013, chap.3).

[20] (Hayek, 1979, p.77).

[21] See, in particular, (Mirowski & Plehwe 2009; Mirowski, 2013; Mirowski, Plehwe & Slobodian, forthcoming) and (Schneyder & Simes, 2012; Prügl, 2015).

[22] The situation is further complicated by the existence of Austrians who seek to secede from the NTC: see (Bagus, 2016).

[23] See (Mirowski & Nik-Khah, 2016).

[24] For those who find such an assertion intemperate, I would ask them to consult (Blanchard et al., 2016).

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