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Neoliberalism Was Never about Free Markets

Neoliberalism Was Never about Free Markets

From the beginning, it was about watering down classical liberalism.

One of the most accusatory and negative words currently in use in various politically “progressive” circles is that of “neoliberalism.” To be called a “neoliberal” is to stand condemned of being against “the poor,” an apologist for the “the rich” and a proponent of economic policies leading to greater income inequality.

The term is also used to condemn all those who consider the market economy to be the central institution of human society as being against “community,” shared caring, and concern for anything beyond supply and demand. A neoliberal, say critics, is one who reduces everything to market-based dollars and cents and disregards the “humane” side of mankind.

The opponents of neoliberalism, so defined, claim that its proponents are rabid, “extremist” advocates of laissez-faire, that is, a market economy unrestrained by government regulations or redistributive fiscal policies. It calls for the return of the worst features of the “bad old days” before socialism and the interventionist-welfare state attempted to abolish or rein in unbridled “anti-social” capitalism.

The Birth of Neoliberalism: Walter Lippmann and a Paris Conference

He warned of the complementary danger from “creeping collectivism” in the form of the regulatory and interventionist policies.

The historical fact is that these descriptions have little or nothing to do with the origin of neoliberalism, or what it meant to those who formulated it and its policy agenda.  It all dates from about eighty years ago, with the publication in 1937 of a book by the American journalist and author, Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), entitled, An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society, and an international conference held in Paris, France in August of 1938 organized by the French philosopher and classical liberal economist, Louis Rougier, centered around the themes in Lippmann’s book. A transcript of the conference proceedings was published later in 1938 (in French) under the title, Colloquium Walter Lippmann.

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