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A Brief History of Neoliberalism [Paperback]

David Harvey
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 8 2007 0199283273 978-0199283279 1
Neoliberalism - the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action - has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Its spread has depended upon a reconstitution of state powers such that privatization, finance, and market processes are emphasized. State interventions in the economy are minimized, while the obligations of the state to provide for the welfare of its citizens are diminished. David Harvey, author of 'The New Imperialism' and 'The Condition of Postmodernity', here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage. While Thatcher and Reagan are often cited as primary authors of this neoliberal turn, Harvey shows how a complex of forces, from Chile to China and from New York City to Mexico City, have also played their part. In addition he explores the continuities and contrasts between neoliberalism of the Clinton sort and the recent turn towards neoconservative imperialism of George W. Bush. Finally, through critical engagement with this history, Harvey constructs a framework not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.

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`Review from previous edition 'With characteristic brilliance, David Harvey offers a razor-sharp analysis of the history and current condition of neoliberalism. A must read if you want to know the state we are in and how to change it.'' Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, University of Oxford

`'This is a succinct account of what neoliberalism is, where it came from and where it is going.'' Morning Star

`'presents a concise but extremely well-documented economic history of the last three decades, encompassing not only the usual G7 countries but the entire world, with a particular emphasis on the US and capitalist China'.' Interactivist Info Exchange

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2 tables, numerous figures --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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For any way of thought to become dominant, a conceptual apparatus has to be advanced that appeals to our intuitions and instincts, to our values and our desires, as well as to the possibilities inherent in the social world we inhabit. Read the first page
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The author gives an explanation of what could best be described as "neoliberal" ecopolinomics (Political economics? Economic politics?) and its history. Not difficult to read for a well-read person. This book exposes the root causes of the world wide capitalistic failures, especially the current financial one. It is not anti-capitalist; it just shows how the dominance of world affairs by relatively few powerful capitalists has been to the detriment of this planet and its life forms. Humans are no different from other creatures in their quest to survive, even at the expense of their fellow creatures.

I give it 1 star short of 5 stars because it is not suitable for general public reading. Get your dictionary out for unusual words on about every 3rd page.

The International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO at Simpol.org) provides a profound worldwide solution to worldwide abusive capitalism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of neoliberalism July 31 2010
Format:Paperback
I watched David Harvey in an online video interview. He made several interesting points about the nature of our social system with special reference to how economic concerns of elites had, through manipulation of non-elites, trumped all other concerns. Curious to know more, I purchased this book. I was not disappointed. Harvey is a smart fellow with a good grasp of both history and economics. His analysis of the rise of liberalism, neoliberalism, and neoconservatism is detailed and persuasive. While I recommend the book, I confess that at times I felt he was too academic, preferring to match some often important insight he was making with his strict Marxist outlook. These moments are few and the book is not the worse for them. If you can, please search him out online for interviews, forums, and such. He is a better, more interesting, speaker than a writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A whole new look at History Feb. 11 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book disects the history of where Capitalism has come from and where it is now. One might not like what is being written because it is not nice to the people who have accumulated money with disregard for particularly the have nots and why unemployment is so high. It actually is a preview of why the big meltdown of big banks happened but does not give confidence that things will get better without drastic changes.
Gordon Garrett
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
187 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Critical Look at the Post-Keynesian Era June 15 2006
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The term neoliberalism is usually heard in the pejorative sense, often coming from Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. The term refers to an international economic policy that has been predominant in policy-making circles and university economics departments since the 1970's. The four faces on the cover of this book (Reagan, Deng, Pinochet, and Thatcher) are considered by David Harvey the primemovers of this economic philosophy. Reagnomics, Thatcherism, Deng's capitalism with Chinese characteristics, and Pinochet's free market policies marked the beginning of new era of global capitalism.

Neoliberlism as a philosophy holds that free markets, free trade, and the free flow of capital is the most efficient way to produce the greatest social, political, and economic good. It argues for reduced taxation, reduced regulation, and minimal government involvement in the economy. This includes the privitization of health and retirement benefits, the dismantling of trade unions, and the general opening up of the economy to foreign competition. Supporters of neoliberlism present this as an ideal system. Detractors, such as Harvey, see it as a power grab by economic elites and a race to the bottom for the rest.

In this short, but very well researched book, Harvey charts the capital flows of the last thiry years. In the 1970's, there was the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, with its fixed exchange rates, tariff barriers, and capital controls. It gave way to floating currencies and high trading volumes. Capital started searching the globe for comparative advantage. Proponents claimed that this routed out corruption and inefficiencies, while opponents saw instability and exploitation. Indeed, Harvey produces ample statistics showing how the rich got richer and the poor stagnated. More surprisingly, he points out that the aggregate economic growth during the years of Keynesian management (the decades between World War II and the 1970's) was greater than during the neoliberal era (the 1970's to the present). The neoliberal era benefitted mainly the wealthy. In the US, the richest 1% now control 15% of the wealth as opposed to 8% at the end of World War II.

When Reagan and Thatcher came to power in the late 1970's and early 1980's they used their control of the IMF and World Bank to impose neoliberal policies on the developing world - especially Latin American countries. In the case of Chile, Pinochet - after violently ousting the Allende government - instituted free market policies as prescribed by the Chicago school, and was relatively successful. Other Latin American countries were not so successful, and it created a backlash of populist nationalisms in the form of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The section on China is one of the best in the book: "Neoliberalism with Chinese Characteristics". Harvey points out that China is not a pure neoliberal state. There is still heavy state intervention in the economy and management of the currency. And as a further criticiem of neoliberalism, he reminds us that China has produced some of the highest growth rates - 9 to 10 percent annually. On the downside, the gap between the rich and poor is growing, and because their currency is held artificially low they are building dangerous overcapacity.

Neither does the US, for that matter, operate according to neoliberal principles. Even as it is urging other countries to maintain minimal goverment and balanced budgets, it is running huge deficits and issuing ever more t-bills to cover its excess spending.

With China and the US - two linchpins in the world economy - not playing according to the rules of the game a crisis is bound to happen. One country is totally geared toward producing and exporting, while the other is content with importing, consuming, and creating more debt. Harvey believes that the global economic readjustment that is going to take place will be painful and possibly violent.

Harvey's excellent little book illustrates, once again, that the perfect market, presupposed by neoliberalism and classical liberalism, does not exist. Unfortunately, he does not offer any remedies to rectify the current situation, nor does he offer an alternative system. Nevertheless, this book is very insightful.
82 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deconstructing neoliberalism's peculiar definition of 'freedom' Sept. 28 2006
By Malvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"A Brief History of Neoliberalism" by David Harvey is a concise and razor-sharp deconstruction of the neoliberal movement. Mr. Harvey convincingly demonstrates that neoliberalism is an ideology that has been wielded to enshrine elite privilege at the expense of people and the environment. Assiduously researched and cogently argued, Mr. Harvey offers a jargon-free and readable text that helps readers gain a greater understanding about the political economy of our neoliberal world and what this might hold for us in the future.

Mr. Harvey explains that neoliberal propaganda has succeeded in fixating the public on a peculiar definition of 'freedom' that has served to conceal a project of upper class wealth accumulation. In practice, the neoliberal state assumes a protective role for capital while it sheds as much responsibility for the citizenry as possible. Mr. Harvey details how neoliberal theory is ignored whenever it comes time to bail out corporate interests from bad decision making while the safety net for the working class has been gradually eviscerated. The author effectively intersperses the text with graphs to illustrate how thirty years of neoliberalist policies has resulted in rising inequality, slower economic growth, higher incomes among the upper class, and other measures that serve to convincingly support and prove his thesis.

Mr. Harvey's history of how neoliberalism has gained ascendancy mostly treads through familiar ground but also highlights some key events that are sometimes overlooked by others. For example, Mr. Harvey relates the well-known stories of how the Chilean coup in 1973 opened the door for Augusto Pinochet to implement the first national experiment in neoliberalism, followed by Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the U.S. in 1980. However, we also gain greater appreciation about the importance of the New York City bankruptcy in the 1970s. We learn how the city's financial crisis allowed for the imposition of neoliberal reforms in a manner that would prove to be a familiar template around the world: the rollback of labor rights, the privatization of public assets, cuts in public services, and increased policing, surveillance and political repression of a markedly polarized population.

Mr. Harvey surveys neoliberalism around the world to discover connections and to analyze its effects. He finds that the U.S. economy has benefited immensely from its ability to extract tribute from other nations, including the U.S. financial community's probable engineering of crises in developing nations in order to scoop up devalued assets on the cheap. The author discusses how economic restructuring programs imposed on poor countries has benefited U.S. and other foreign investors while it has bolstered or created a small but powerful class of wealthy individuals in Mexico, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. In China, Mr. Harvey remarks about the ease with which neoliberalism has found a home in an authoritarian state where the political elite have amassed their fortunes by exploiting a defenseless working class. The author is particularly concerned about the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the U.S. and China and muses about the potentially catastrophic financial situation that the two countries' mounting debts might pose for each other and the world economy.

In the final chapter, Mr. Harvey writes passionately about the need to continue building diverse democracy movements within the U.S. that are dedicated to social and economic justice. Although it is true that Mr. Harvey does not detail precisely what must be done, his thorough dissection of neoliberal ideology empowers us to effectively challenge those who hide behind false rhetorical devices in service to privilege. And for that, we should be grateful.

I give this outstanding book the highest possible rating and strongly recommend it to all.
63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Freedom for some, crumbs for others Feb. 19 2007
By E. David Swan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
On the first anniversary of 9/11 President Bush made a speech saying, `Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world... as the greatest power on earth we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.' Spreading freedom is the primary function of neoliberalization but as George Lakoff stated in `Whose Freedom?' freedom can be a very subjective term. The freedom of neoliberalism is the glory of unfettered, free market economics and the rights of corporations and financial institutions over individuals and governments. It's the freedom to fully exploit resources and workers.

From its founding America's wealthy have feared democracy recognizing that the majority, being poor and middle class, could vote to redistribute wealth and reduce the control held by the elites. After World War II, the middle class in the United States grew dramatically somewhat flattening the countries power base. As a reaction to this dispersal of power the early 1970's saw the formation of groups like The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEO's who were `committed to an aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation'. As the author writes, `neoliberalization was from the very beginning a project to achieve the restoration of class power'. The neoliberal plan was to dissolve all forms of social solidarity in favor of individualism, private property, personal responsibility and family values. It fell on well funded think tanks like The Heritage Foundation to sell neoliberalism to the general public using political-philosophical arguments.

At the same time a group of economists were working on economic theories that developed into the `Washington Consensus'. These followers of Hayek and Friedman just happened to create economic blueprints for growth that matched up exactly with the goals of the wealthy business elites. The plans were based on the superiority of the marketplace in making wise decisions but also assumed perfect information and a level playing field for competition. As the author writes, `...eminent economic theorists [...] argue that all would be well with the world if only everyone behaved according to the precepts of their textbooks' The neoliberal economists have become so focused on growth that they seem to take a decidedly amoral approach to human suffering. Above all countries needed to focus on privatization and low taxes and definitely avoid deficit spending. What has happened is a widening of the gap between the wealthy and poor. The author suggests that rather than an unfortunate byproduct of neoliberalism or a temporary situation this is the intended result.

The great irony is that the U.S., the world's number one proponent of neoliberalism, generally finds itself breaking the rules. With high deficit spending and massive subsidizing particularly in consumerism and defense spending the United States has generally taken a `do as I say, not as I do' stance. With the amount of political appointee/lobbyists shuttling back and forth between business and government Adam Smith's `Invisible Hand' looks more and more like a crushing fist.

This was not the book I expected. This is a devastating critique of neoliberalism. I didn't agree with everything the author wrote and there are most definitely many positives that have come from globalization but the corporatization of the world has the potential to by an enormous threat. Global Warming has to be the poster child for neoliberal extremism with short term economic growth trumping the welfare of the entire world. David Harvey has a decidedly liberal stance but he backs up his views with sobering facts. Despite being a book on economics I found it extremely readable and recommend it wholeheartedly.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable for understanding how the world works today Feb. 22 2006
By Gary L. Olson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I don't know of a better, more accessible treatment of this subject. Harvey shows how, starting in 1947, a small group of philosophers, scholars and economists took an obscure, marginal and largely discredited set of ideas and transformed them (with major financial help) into the paradigm that now rules the globe. Free market fundamentalism became mainstream and people were persuaded, in Margaret Thatcher's words, that There Is No Alternative. One of the many merits is Harvey's analysis of who wins and loses under this system and yet why so many people -- especially in the U.S. -- have remained in the dark for so long about how neoliberalism functions as a class-based ideology. The author brilliantly lays out the inherent contradictions within the doctrine that may well prove its undoing, or at a minimum, reveal neoliberalism as the tool that restored class power. I believe this book will contribute to neoliberalism's rapidly crumbling facade and I plan to use it for my intro courses in international politics.

Gary Olson, Bethlehem, PA.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful primer Nov. 2 2005
By Originalexplorer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
David Harvey's "A Brief History of Neoliberalism" does a masterful job of analyzing and historicizing neoliberalism -- whats more impressive is that he does it in so few pages. His chapters on the neoliberal state and China's opening are particularly excellent. He provides an amazing succinct and detailed account of china's political and economic development since Deng. Also how he explains the New York City bankrupcy in the 70s is equally rewarding. His book properly views neoliberalism as a project which has fundementally increased elite class power. The book succeeds in being both challenging and engaging/introductory at the same time. I plan on distributing the book to all of my friends.
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