23 February, 2008

Neoliberalism

I agree with Spencer that a) blogging has been dragging and b) I'm going to try to get away from so much election-only type blogging at least for a while. I too think it is clear that barring some catastrophe, Obama will be the Democratic candidate, and I think Clinton's restrained debate performance demonstrated (mercifully) that she is not prepared to wage a scorched earth campaign to win the nomination. My sentiment, and I think it may be widely shared, is: look, the Republicans have a nominee, and have already begun their general campaign. The only way that Clinton can win the nomination at this point is to take this to the convention, which would be horrible for Democrats, especially as Clinton has in effect teamed up with McCain to attack Obama from the experience argument. Let's recognize that our continued division has become a severe liability, and get behind our candidate as soon as possible. And while I'm a sometime resident of the Obamanation, I'm pretty sure I would be saying the same thing if their positions were reversed.

So, in that spirit, now for something completely different. Have any of you wondered what Elliot actually does during all that time locked away in the library working towards his obscure-sounding degree? Well, more or less apropos of my ongoing debate with Brad Delong (as soon as he responds, of course...) on the topic of Latin American political economy, I decided to post one of last semester's papers. It is too long to paste in, so I have linked to it here. Thats the best way to link to a .pdf file that I could find; feel free to let me know if there is a more direct way.

Anyway, the paper is just a critical review of what people are saying regarding the intersection of politics and neoliberalism, generally and with regards to Latin America. For those not acquainted with the subject, neoliberalism is most basically a constellation of philosophies that seek to radically alter state-market relations in favor of the market. It was applied in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s mostly by US-educated economists in the wake of the statist or socialist-inspired economies of the post-WWII era, and has been deeply controversial both for its debated economic performance and for its effects on the political organization of society. Its corollary in the developed world is the neoliberal "trickle-down" revolution of Reagan in the US and Thatcher in England. ("Liberalism" in this sense means the classical liberalism of the 19th century which sought completely unbridled markets, and which was largely deflated by the arrival of Keynesianism.)

Anyway, in the paper I consider critiques of neoliberalism from neomarxist to the neoliberals themselves (maybe...neoneoliberals?) and consider the cases of Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. It will probably be too general for the economists and too specific for the general public, but oh well.

5 comments:

brad said...

I would prefer to say that "neoliberalism" is an attempt to attain largely social-democratic ends through means that actually work, and that in Latin America it took the form of trying to shrink an over-mighty and corrupt anti-developmental state that was the tool of various groups of oligarchs.

You need to inquire into what the state is, and who runs and owns it, before you can even begin thinking about what should be done by the state and what should be done by the market...


Brad DeLong

Elliot said...

First of all, thanks for stopping by our humble blog. My comment about you responding was meant to be funny because of its unlikelihood, but, well, there you go.

With regards to neoliberalism, I will say a couple things. First, I would just note that your and my definitions differ on nothing but the emphasis. Mine says what it does (for it indeed does seek, at least in the Latin American context, to radically alter state-market relations) while yours says why it does it.

Second, my review or critique of neoliberalism is in no way defending the ISI model that came before, which by your comment you seem to suspect that I am. Clearly that was economically unsustainable and, as you say, merely took control of the state from a landed oligarchy and transfered it, generally speaking, to an urban/industrialist oligarchy.

But having said that, the point that I come to in my review is that while the radical liberalization that Latin America underwent was necessary, it has so far failed to demonstrate that it is also sufficient to produce, as you say, social democracy that actually works. In most cases, states are shrunk to the point that they simply don't have the capacity to provide social-democratic safety nets commensurate with the needs of their populations, and growth has so far been disappointingly unable to suck up the large swaths of informality that still exist. This seems to be borne out by the numbers on inequality and poverty, which have increased more in the more liberalized economies.

Again, not that the remedy is protectionism and state-owned industry (unless its Chilean copper or Mexican oil...) Just that, at least in Latin America with its high levels of poverty and inequality, neoliberalism has yet to fulfill its promise of creating social democracy.

spencer said...

After perusing your paper, I guess my reaction is that I find it weird how you people talk about things. For example, the personification of "global capitalism" is striking, at least in the first section. I can't think of a possible sense in which "global capitalism" can be seen as a single united force with a cohesive goal. There are so many actors involved that it must be seen and studied as an emergent, aggregate phenomenon.

Elliot said...

Right, I included that book from the far left just to make things interesting, and to try to critique it. I probably should have been harder on him, but I didn't want to spend all my time on that. Most of "us people" don't really think about global capitalism as a club that meets each Tuesday to plan strategy.

spencer said...

Shows how little you know! It's actually Wedne-- er, I mean, I'm glad we agree about this.