That neoliberalism won out was due neither to the failures of the welfare state nor to a “master plan” pushed by the agents of capital. The story Stedman Jones tells is considerably more nuanced. He shows neoliberalism’s ascendance to be the result of a series of more or less ad hoc moves on the part of politicians, activists, media figures, and economists in response to a series of political and economic shocks that began in the 1970s. The image of a dramatic face-off between neoliberals and proponents of the postwar center-left consensus is largely an artifact of retrospective right-wing propaganda, which the left seems to have accepted in its essential features.
Monetarism is a government policy for manipulating the economy. The free market is the vision of an economy liberated from government control. Understanding how a rather technical policy approach came to be identified with the love of free markets opens an entirely new approach to the fundamental economic and political transformation of our time. And understanding how this identification came to be resisted allows us to understand the longevity of the biggest zombie of all: the tendency to blame government for everything that’s wrong with the economy.
I often find myself in discussions of neoliberalism and have implored others to consider a more detailed story of events, which this book seems to aim for. But Clune fails to mention the deregulation that occurred elsewhere in the economy, not just in monetary policy. Telecommunications, airlines and alcohol were all “deregulated,” the effect being lower prices and higher quality goods. Of course there have been problems, but the larger point is that a free market philosophy is more nuanced than even this reviewer is willing to admit.