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.
From scaling the very highest rooftops to political scandal through the eyes of Alexander Cockburn, we bring you our seasonal highlights for 2013.
THE CITY / URBAN EXPLORATION
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City
Bradley L. Garrett
"Garrett perceives the city like no one else I know. Seen through his eyes, it is newly porous, full of “vanishing points”, “imperfect joinings” and portals – service hatches, padlocked doorways – that you wouldn't usually notice... The city's accessible space extends far down into the earth (sewers, bunkers, tunnels) and far up into the air (skyscrapers, cranes), with the street level only serving as a median altitude." – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian
"[Combines] erudite references (Montesquieu, Walter Benjamin) with compelling photographs of men in hoodies in strange places." – Rowan Moore, The Observer Architecture Books of the Year
Philip Mirowski’s new tour de force of contemporary economic ideology, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, is a blisteringly clear-sighted exposition of the central tenets of neoliberalism, and an impassioned polemic against those very same values. On BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed this week, Laurie Taylor talks to Mirowski about his analysis of why neoliberalism survived, and even prospered, in the aftermath of the financial meltdown of 2008. According to Taylor, one of the essential contributions of Mirowski’s analysis is that it ‘chronicles the genesis of neoliberal thought’ and demonstrates how we have all internalized its logic.
Mirowski gives an introduction to the central characteristics of neoliberal ideology, differentiating it from classical economics. He details the attempts to open up new markets and to use markets in a new way from the 1970s onwards as well as the paradoxically strong uses of state intervention in this period. He notes that neoliberalism’s conception of the market as an ultimate ‘hidden hand’ and perfect information processor is a dogma that it is important to contest. He argues that:
"The way to fight neo-liberal ideology is that we have to change the idea of what markets do. … The left needs a different story about what markets do."
Listen to Mirowski on Thinking Allowed here.
Mainstream economics has not come up with any fresh ideas, or new methods of investigation after the gigantic crisis of 2008-9. Nothing has fundamentally changed, and suggestions that something is not quite right with the discipline are usually met with bafflement. The real issue, however, is not to point out the weaknesses, or the intellectual rigidity of mainstream economics, a task that has been repeatedly performed in recent decades. It is, rather, to produce analysis that is genuinely different from the mainstream, while remaining true to economics as a discipline.
In this light, the kind of economics that I find persuasive would have the following features: