The Moscow Consensus: The Soviet Union and the Origins of "Neoliberal" Development Policies

This research project explores the origins of “neoliberal” economic development and foreign aid policies toward the third world.

Most historical research into the emergence of economic development and foreign aid policies toward the third world have focused on exploring the American origins of such trends, whether in the US government, in international institutions such as the IMF, or in universities. However, the Soviet Union has also embraced policies of balanced budgets and cuts to industrial subsidies during the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike the West, Soviet scholars reached these conclusions using the language of Marxism-Leninism, and by thinking of the Third World in terms of class analysis. This research project calls into question our understanding of the forces that drive change in economic thinking and suggests that political perceptions play an important role in the formation of economic ideas.

This research proceeds from a surprising discovery from Russian archives: the Soviet Union also embraced foreign aid and economic development policies that would be termed “neoliberal” in other contexts, yet they did so without referencing conservative American economists. Existing America-centric accounts of the origins of ‘neoliberal’ aid policies are inadequate. Historians seeking to explain the most important shift in economic thinking since Keynes need to grapple with the seeming paradox that the world’s Marxist-Leninist superpower embraced austerity and balanced budgets in its development economics as vigorously as did America. In shedding light on this unexpected paradox in Soviet history, the project provides an alternative explanation for the origins of similar policies in the West, too.