David Harvey's Neo Liberalism

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David Harvey's Neo Liberalism


Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. What we learn in David Harvey's impressive, condensed history of neo-liberalism, however, is that we need to delve much more deeply into the recesses of neo-liberal practice than the first instance, if we are to get a grip on its origins, trajectory, and implications across the globe since the 1970s.


Among the many insights offered up in Harvey's analysis, two principal and related arguments stand out. First, there exists a tense relationship between the theory and practice of neo-liberalism. In choosing to interpret the last three decades of neo-liberalization "either as a utopian project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism or as a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites," (David, 19) we are well advised by the evidence to conclude that "the second of these objectives has in practice dominated." (David, 19) A cursory glance at aggregate growth rates before and during the neo-liberal period--approximately 3.5 per cent in the 1960s, 2.4 per cent in the 1970s, 1.4 per cent in the 1980s, 1.1 per cent in the 1990s, and 1 per cent since 2000 (David, 154)--illustrates that in terms of spurring capital accumulation internationally neo-liberalism has been an abject failure. The predicted results of the utopian neo-liberal theory, of a rising economic tide that would lift all boats, were not realized. At the same time, the neo-liberal project has had roaring-to-moderate success in the restoration of class power to ruling elites in many advanced capitalist countries such as the United States and, to a lesser degree, Britain, while fostering capitalist class formation in countries as diverse as China, India, and Russia (David, 156). Not since the 1920s has global capitalism facilitated such grotesque concentrations of wealth and power.

If this was the intent of capitalist classes beginning in the mid-1970s, then their successes were bigger and better than most would have dared to imagine at the time. Harvey shows convincingly "that when neoliberal principles clash with the need to restore or sustain elite power, then the principles are either abandoned or become so twisted as to be ...
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