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Never Let A Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown [Kindle Edition]

Philip Mirowski

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 “A fascinating account of how the disastrous failure of mainstream economists to predict the economic crisis put them more firmly in control of policy debates than ever before.” 
DEAN BAKER, Codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research 

“Mirowski exposes the neoliberal takeover of minds and culture with an erudition, style and—dare I say it?—vocabulary that makes deep digging in this Great Bog of Repression almost a pleasure. This book shows how economic ideas caused the crisis. And it demonstrates their enduring triumph, which is that nothing has changed or will change, as we careen from the last disaster to the next one.”  JAMES K . G ALBRAITH, author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too 

“The best and most thorough treatment of the financial crisis’s impact upon the economics profession, and especially its neoliberal wing. Mirowski is an excellent guide to the literature on all sides of this debate.” DUNCAN FOLEY, author of Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology 

“A study guide for those who saw Inside Job and want more. Mirowski has read and digested virtually everything written about the financial crisis. He despairs of the failures of the economics profession to explain it, and especially what he calls the ‘level-headed left.’ Anyone who reads it will recognize the author’s enormous energy and originality.”  DAVID WARSH, author of Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations 

“A raucous, irreverent and highly perceptive analysis of how neoliberal economics not only survived the 2008 financial crisis, but even prospered in its aftermath. Mirowski’s book is a lively and far-reaching discussion of how it got us into this deep mess.” GERALD EP STEIN, Codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 

“It is hard to imagine a historian who was not an economist (as Mirowski is) being able to encompass the economics of the second half of the 20th century in its diversity and technicality.”—London Review of Books

“Philip Mirowksi is the most imaginative and provocative writer at work today on the recent history of economics.”—Boston Globe


After the financial apocalypse, neoliberalism rose from the dead—stronger than ever.

At the onset of the Great Recession, as house prices sank and joblessness soared, many commentators concluded that the economic convictions behind the disaster would now be consigned to history. And yet, in the harsh light of a new day, we've awoken to a second nightmare more ghastly than the first: a political class still blaming government intervention, a global drive for austerity, stagflation, and an international sovereign debt crisis.

Philip Mirowski finds an apt comparison to this situation in classic studies of cognitive dissonance. He concludes that neoliberal thought has become so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince disciples of its ultimate truth. Once neoliberalism became a Theory of Everything, providing a revolutionary account of self, knowledge, information, markets, and government, it could no longer be falsified by anything as trifling as data from the “real” economy.

In this sharp, witty and deeply informed account, Mirowski—taking no prisoners in his pursuit of “zombie” economists—surveys the wreckage of what passes for economic thought, finally providing the basis for an anti-neoliberal assessment of the current crisis and our future prospects.


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5.0 von 5 Sternen An excellent cultural/intellectual history 15. August 2013
Von protestantworkethic - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Short review:

Mirowski's book is one of the best on the crisis: he mixes the eye of an anthropologist or journalist examining our daily lives and then leaps up to 20,000 feet with ease to provide a wider intellectual and historical context. His take is novel, certainly from the Left, but well informed of debates on the Right. Empirical, but with a theoretical lens as well. If you want to understand not just the economics or politics of what happened, but to situate those events within a wider history of the ideas that played in a role in the Recession, Mirowski has an incredibly erudite account.

Long review:

Mirowski is a member of the "Institute for New Economic Thinking", an non-profit aimed to correct the orthodoxies of economics, "neoliberal" ideas in particular. He opens this book with a report from one of the first meetings, which happened to feature "bold and original thinkers" like Ken "Excel for Dummies" Rogoff, Larry Summers and Niall Ferguson. The meeting ended with a timid call to add an extra chapter to standard Econ101 textbooks briefly describing the crisis. Mirowski further rightly groans at hand-wringing over "happiness measurements", morality in markets and peevish complaints of "greedy bankers" (as if avarice has only existed in the past ten years.)

How did this rigidity come to be? Mirowski answers by suggesting that we must understand neoliberalism as a Russian doll. The innermost doll of experts emerged from the Mont Pelerlin Society, an organization that was by design very hierarchical. He describes, for instance, correspondence between Popper and Hayek. Popper, following his philosophy of open debate suggested that MPS should have at least one respectable socialist. Hayek shut down this idea, insisting that agreement on first principles was a necessary condition for membership. This tightly networked group of intellectuals slowly incubated neoliberalism and developed a political strategy for propagating it.

Mirowski further points out that the Neoliberal Thought Collective were excellent sloganeers. Friedman's most famous academic text, for instance, argues that a lack of government intervention caused the Great Depression: a series of rural bank failures caused by an overly tight supply of money. However, when Friedman penned his Newsweek column he claimed with a straight face that the government *caused* the Recession, that is, by a lack of action in expanding the supply of money and reducing interest rates. This is how the Russian doll works: nuance for the insiders, ignorance for the outsiders.

There is a further layer to the doll though. Pivoting off of Foucault's final lectures at the College of France, Mirowski argues that there is an everyday neoliberalism that has emerged. Beyond political theory and public policy, neoliberalism is experienced on a quotidian level and it is on that potent terrain that it has survived the crisis. I, right now, am taking time out of my day to write a book review which I will be paid nothing for, which is in the service of the Bezo empire to sell even more books and probably destroy more local bookshops and which will be used to further quantify me into some bits of data in the sky so I can be marketed to even more heavily. But but but: I am individually expressing myself! How free am I! The neoliberal self is a creature coerced into being a "free" entrepreneur. It is the poor un/underemployed soul who thinks himself to be a failure or inadequate because he was not lucky enough to ride the right wave. The old liberal arts dictum to "know thy self" becomes "express thy self, and monetize it too!" This middle chapter here is the most engrossing part of the book. Mirowski delves into a sundry of sources on our culture and then leverages a novel and erudite analysis of Foucault to bring it all into sharp focus.

In closing, it is truly ironic that the other review of this book is so gravely concerned that Mirowski might be a socialist. We have a wonderful little anthropological artifact here of the NTC at work: "Whatever this book says, it's got 'Red' in a chapter title. I am a Very Reasonable Person and thus must be suspicious." Let me assure him/her: there are no calls for a violent revolution of the proletariat. On the contrary, Mirowski heads out to the outermost layer of the doll and analyzes why neoliberalism won. In particular, he argues that the NTC provided a powerful account of the market as a natural entity that *cannot* be messed with. Consequently, the Recession had nothing to do with the structure of capitalism itself, it was just a "once in a lifetime" moment akin to a natural disaster. An act of God.

Mirowski's careful history here shows that just the opposite is true. There was a concerted effort to propagate a particular ignorance and the Recession itself is by no means removed from that particular effort.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen On the Nonbarking of Dogs 23. Oktober 2013
Von James R. Maclean - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book is exceptionally penetrating in its examination of the neoliberal project. Mirowski has for many years been a persistent scourge of orthodox economics, attacking its ersatz scientism in More Heat than Light (1989), and later its conspiratorial inner circle in The Road from Mont Pelerin (2009). Readers unfamiliar with the "Neoliberal Thought Collective" (NTC) will probably feel overwhelmed with the scope of this book: its etiology of neoliberalism is so relentless, it needs to examine both the moral philosophy and the anthropology spawned by it.

For this reason, he does not see neoliberalism as merely a view of how economies "work"; rather, he shows how its luminaries sought to create nothing less than a permanent empire of motion, in which all human agency was to be subordinated to an all-knowing market. While its votaries deny the very existence of any neoliberal project, the NTC is not only quite active, it is multifarious and ubiquitous. Mirowski briefly reviews some of the organs by which the NTC assures its acolytes influence, prestige, and pelf (1), but mainly focuses on the way in which it built upon, and distanced itself from, the neoclassical economics of the period 1870-1930.

I--In "Shock Block Doctrine" (2), Mirowski explains the outlook of Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) cofounder Friedrich von Hayek (3). Hayek argued that liberalism (never defined in Mirowski's book, alas, but evidently meant to refer to the doctrine of negatively-defined individual rights) was at odds with the doctrine of democracy, and potentially its antithesis (p.57).

Mirowski's analysis, as always, is schematic; he points to efforts by the NTC to replace citizenship with consumerism (e.g., fixing education with school vouchers), and using orthodox economic models to devise policies explicitly to bypass agency problems associated with electoral politics. Some readers will no doubt object to his crash course in Hayek's political philosophy, which is traced directly to the coercive nature of austerity measures adopted following the Global Financial Crisis. However, the schemata does allow Mirowski to inject Carl Schmitt's doctrine of the "exception" into his narrative--an undeniable benefit in view of the austerity mania gripping the developed world right now (4).

II--"Everyday Neoliberalism" bores down to the pervasive character of neoliberalism, in which "market" transactions have gone so far as to redefine what it means to be an individual or to exercise volition.

III--"Mumbo Jumble" and "Shock of the New" explain both the self-apologia of orthodox economics in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis--viz., so "underwhelming" (or defiant and insolent) as to suggest some sort of higher power standing watch over that odious profession--and the structure of that higher power. Heavily larded with quotes from prominent economists and statistics. "Shock of the New" specifically addresses the inadequacies of attempts to incorporate "irrational" behavior (5).

IV--"The Red Guide to the Neoliberal Playbook" explicitly rejects any prescriptive approach, often encountered in crisis literature, and a lot of readers may object to the despairing tone of this chapter. Nearly all of the countervailing movements to the NTC come under withering criticism, none of which needs to be defended here because of the obvious historical outcomes (6).


Mirowski's overview of the literature of his subject is vast, especially if one includes materials discussed in prior works. It's one thing to say that the task he set for himself was to diagnose, and not prescribe; but this division of labor implies that someone else is expected to prescribe, and yet this overview guns down all known ripostes to the NTC. In other words, Mirowski's expertise in taxonomies of economic thought is SO broad that, if he reports no viable counterweight to the NTC, then he probably thinks none exists. This is unlikely to be so.

Another objection is that Mirowski insists on the uniqueness of the NTC as an actor; the NTC is the premier conspiracy, and other forms of the far right are its dupe. Without going into detail, I think Mirowski wanted to tell a story of a preternaturally deft political movement and did so by ignoring prior conditions, rival forms of the political right, and longstanding political verities (e.g., for all recording history, it has been extremely hard to pass legislation over the objections of the economic elites--even when "watered down"). The NTC has been only the latest (?) in a long tradition of aristocrats resisting encroachments on their prerogatives by denouncing "tyranny.
(1) A lot of information is available at Sourcewatch (an "org" domain; URLs are forbidden in Amazon reviews). Mirowski says that he uses the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) as a "Rosetta stone" (p.39) to identify people or institutions that qualify as neoliberal.

(2) The title of the chapter is a reference to Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine(2007). Mirowski's book is a detailed exposition of the personnel and outlook behind the shock.

(3) Along with Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, Lionel Robbins, and a few others (in 1947). Ludwig von Mises later broke with the MPS for being ideologically impure (see Murray Rothbard, The Essential von Mises, p.112). Hayek understood "democracy" as reflecting the outcome of a popular vote, including decisions made by legislators elected by popular vote. Mirowski doesn't mention this here, but Hayek's view of the relationship between liberalism and democracy is explicitly borrowed from Ortega y Gasset (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition, 1960, pp.442-443). See Roland Axtman (1996), p.38.

(4) Carl Schmitt is most famous as a legal theorist who served the Nazi regime, justifying its every public act. His doctrine of the "state of exception," or inherently unforeseeable emergency, was used to explain the urgent need to liquidate democratic institutions. Mirowski mentions the examples of appointed prime ministers for Greece and Italy in order to administer austerity programs there (p.85). Greece and Italy are governed by massive party coalitions that permitted the suspension of democratic selection of the cabinet.

(5) Specifically, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, whose book Animal Spirits (2009) comes under extensive fire (pp.258-259); and architects of TARP. TARP, of course, was actually just one of a vast complex of lending facilities for different types of financial instruments.

(6) Mirowski is sympathetic to OWS, but as of publication, it was a damp squib. Even in European countries, marked as they are by far higher standards of social justice and participatory democracy (and suffering from more violent reversals than those in the USA), protests had the perverse effect of enabling a continent-wide shift to the right.
4 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Discouraging but thought-provoking 22. November 2013
Von A. J. Sutter - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
It's easy to come away with a "resistance is futile" feeling after reading this book -- i.e., resistance to what the author (PM) calls the Neoliberal Thought Collective. PM continually demonstrates that they have a lot more money, own the top economics departments, occupy almost the full range of America's now hyper-narrow political spectrum, and play dirty when it comes to rhetoric. Nonetheless, I was glad to have read the final, rather pessimistic, chapter, in which he points out a wonderful parallel between the neoliberal approaches to climate change and to the financial crisis. Perhaps the NTC's tendency to repeat itself might be turned into a vulnerability.

I've read most of PM's other monographs and edited volumes, as well as some of his uncollected articles, and found this one to be more uneven and often a less pleasant read. PM's style is best when he is marshaling lots of sources and criticizing most of them, while the passages with fewer footnotes sometimes are wandering and tedious. Chapter 4 and parts of Chapter 5, in which PM's targets were better-defined, were more entertaining -- if one can say that about tales of Nobel laureates so rigidly opposed to acknowledging their own mistakes or other aspects of reality. It may be indicative, though, of PM's struggle with this oversized book that his trademark baby-boomer cultural in-jokes here are more strained than Paul Krugman's (compare "Repent, Harlecons, Cried the History Man" @301 with Krugman's "The Night They Re-read Minsky," quoted @292; if you were born after 1960, you may find this comment inscrutable).

Maybe it was desperation at taking on such a gigantic and resilient foe that led its author to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the theme. The book's structure is not transparent (unlike, say, "Machine Dreams," with its von Neumann story arc), and the topics feel very heterogeneous. Excursions such as the one on Foucault in Chapter 3 and the blow-by-blow history of the TARP in Chapter 5, each 10 pages long, make it hard for a reader to stay focused on PM's many truly insightful observations. I agree with another reviewer, though, that the reification of the NTC and the reductivist emphasis on it/them as the sole, ultimate villain of the piece weren't always convincing.

PM's argument is richly sourced, and I expect to be mining his bibliography for months. I read this book not long after finishing Steve Keen's "Debunking Economics," a more technical -- and fiery -- critique of neoclassical macroeconomics. Taken together, the books suggest that while telling neoclassical economists how wrong they are may be an important exercise from an idealistic, justice perspective, it brings only rapidly diminishing returns as a practical matter. More effort is needed both to deepen constructive heterodox approaches and to explain them in an upbeat way to a broad audience.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Challenging An Economic Ideology 23. Oktober 2013
Von Ian Gordon Malcomson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The big idea in this study is that the neo-Liberal agenda - that which preaches the ultimate importance of money in the functioning of society - has infinite ways in which to make its point, thus the author's continual reference to the mulit-layered effect of the Russian doll. By promoting the critical need for freedom in the marketplace, the neoliberals want us to recognize that this self-evident truth then allows them the absolute right to dictate how it will eventually look. Using the economic construct `risk' in the loosest and the most artificial fashion possible, the disciples of Friedman, Hayek, and Strauss preach the need to leave the world of investment capital and technological innovation to those who have brains and the financial means to make it happen. Behind that reasoning is the condescending view that the consumer is best kept in the dark as to his or her unwitting role in making it happen. Case in point, the subprime mortgage market of the early years of this century was a creation of a seriously deregulated financial market predicated on neo-Liberal thinking intent on pushing investments to new limits on the crazy pretext of maximum reward for minimum risk. We all know who ultimately paid for that one. Since the financial crisis of 2008 when the economy went in the tank, the neo-liberals continue to operate as if nothing has happened. Using a modicum of purple prose to make his point, Mirowski takes his readers inside the murky world of neo-liberalism as it continues to unload all kinds of new business concepts on what it hopes is an uninformed consumer and naive investor. Contrary to what society should have learned from the financial debacle of 2008, it seems that governments are still willing to allow markets to regulate themselves.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Devastating description of how the neo liberals took over our hearts and minds 14. Dezember 2013
Von Emer O'Siochru - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Brilliant book. Essential reading for anyone who wants to change the world without wasting their time. It shows how the progressive agenda was beaten by more the organised and ruthless rich elite using their control of the media and their purchase of politics. Only downside is that Mirowski gives little direction on what to do about this rout. Maybe a second book is in the pipeline. One hopes.
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