Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Who is afraid of Neoliberalism? A comment on Mirowski

Way less scary than Neoliberalism

Debate with Mirowski, as promised. From the INET website:
While the Neoliberal movement’s concerns extend into a broad political reorganization of society, it remains intimately connected with neoclassical economic thought.
The idea of a Neoliberal Thought Collective (NTC) being a “completely different school of thought” from neoclassical economics is not quite correct. It is true that Neoliberalism transcends the more limited scope of neoclassical economics with a much broader preoccupation with the political reorganization of society. On the other hand, it is hard to think of any Neoliberal author cited by Mirowski that does not fall within the neoclassical school.
Read my full reply to his paper here.

PS: There is also a response to Mirowski by Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia here, and one by Alessandro Vercelli here.


  1. It is, to me, impossible to talk about neoliberalism without mentioning the massive changes in the US legal profession and it's influence on public policies since the 70's. I state this as someone who used to work on K Street in DC. The division of disciplinary labor on the critique[s] of neoliberalism is epistemically counterproductive at this point....

    1. Hi Eubulides:
      Sure the legal profession plays an essential role. But I doubt that this is specific to Neoliberalism. Presumably is true of the rise of other political ideologies too. There is an interesting twist with the Law and Neoliberalism though. The Chicago School, in particular with the work of Coase, extended marginalist principles to questions of law. Part of what has been termed the imperialism of economics in social sciences. And a good chunk of the deregulation policies of the era, from the 1970s onwards, has been associated to this theoretical developments.

  2. Dear Mr. Vernengo:

    First of all, thank you for sharing your and Polanyi-Levitt and Seccareccia's comments on Mirowsky's assessment of neoliberalism.
    As far as I understand it, there is a basic distinction that needs to be clearly stated: neoliberlism is a political project, whereas marginalism (at least initially) is scientific project. These are intertwined, of course, but also fundamentally different. That is why marginalist scholars are not necessarily neoliberals and some are even leftists. However, at the same time, marginalist scholars are incapable of proposing and supporting truly progressive politics because economic issues, according to marginalism, are governed by the impersonal and 'natural law' of supply and demand.
    That's why the rejection of this 'law' and the construction of another scientific understanding of economic issues is necessary to envision an alternative to neoliberalism. That is why Sraffian economics, which has demolished the 'law', is such an important scientific project.
    I imagine that you also share this view.
    I would like to add a link to a "A Bibliographic Review of Neoliberalism":
    Last but not least, thank you so much for this blog, it is fantastic.
    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Ferran. Yes, and I do say that I agree with Mirowski that Neoliberalism transcends marginalism. That is clearly stated in the first phrase quoted above. The point is that the fundamental theoretical background of all neoliberal policy prescriptions comes from neoclassical economics. It doesn't matter if Hayek, to use Mirowski's example in his reply, didn't think of himself as neoclassical at the end of his career. His policy propositions were still based on marginalism. Many Austrians think they are not neoclassical. That is just confusion. It is not uncommon for mainstream authors to lack understanding of their own theories. I would disagree with you, however, that marginalist authors are incapable of progressive politics. Actually many Old Keynesians, of the Neoclassical Synthesis were quite progressive, and were central for the policies of the Golden Age.