The following comment was made on Crooked Timber by a friend (Tim Scriven). After speaking about it with him I’m reprinting it here with slight modifications as requested:
“I have a take on Neoliberalism- it’s pretty poorly informed, but then a lot of people have pretty poorly informed takes on this subject.
There are actually three phenomena that masquerade under the name Neoliberalism:
A) A situation of class power in which elites are claiming an unusual portion of the spoils.
B) A special strategy by which that unusual portion of the spoils is extracted of policies built on privatization, deregulation, (selective) tax cuts and market forces.
C) An ideology that justifies B.
I think C) has fallen, although it retains a pallid existence in economics departments for want of a clear alternative.
B) has not entirely fallen, but has come under severe pressure, as elites have become more willing to adopt extractive strategies which clearly aren’t even pretending to be market based.
A) on the other hand is doing fine, though perhaps a tad more nervous now than in the past.
Whether phrases like “national neoliberalism” make sense will depend on what you identify as the essential heart of the beast. Is it the ideas, the policies, or an overall balance of class forces that you identify with “Neoliberalism”?
I think calling a specific balance of class forces that does not favor the working class “Neoliberalism” is too much of a stretch on the original meaning of the term- which clearly concerned a specific ideology and strategy. On that basis, I would say that Neoliberalism is dead or dying, and has been replaced with something far more openly venal. The unusually complete dominance of the ruling class has not (yet) diminished, but its accouterments have changed entirely.
Indeed venality seems to be the dominant feature of the ruling class in this period- a kind of dissolute uselessness that, somehow, is associated with no visible diminishment of power. On that basis I propose that the GFC marked the beginning of the Venal Age.”