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Market-Driven Politics: Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest

The commodification of public services, and the role of the state in absorbing risk.
With the globalisation of the capitalist economy the economic role of national governments is now largely confined to controlling inflation and facilitating home-grown market performance. This represents a fundamental shift in the relationship between politics and economics; it has been particularly marked in Britain, but is relevant to many other contexts.

Market-Driven Politics is a multi-level study, moving between an analysis of global economic forces through national politics to the changes occurring week by week in two fields of public life that are both fundamentally important and familiar to everyone…television broadcasting and health care. Public services like these play an important role, because they both affect the legitimacy of the government and are targets for global capital. This book provides an original analysis of the key processes of commodification of public services, the conversion of public-service workforces into employees motivated to generate profit, and the role of the state in absorbing risk. Understanding the dynamics of each of these trends becomes critical not just for the analysis of market-driven politics but also for the longer-term defence of democracy and the collective values on which it depends.


  • “... a book of enormous importance. Elegantly written, clearly structured, and powerfully argued, Market-Driven Politics documents the dangers inherent in the increasing commodification of public services and the growing subordination of national policy to global market forces. Colin Leys has written, at one and the same time, a powerful introduction to the forces shaping modern UK politics and a much needed wake-up call to the British Left. ”
  • “... a powerful indictment of the invasion of the public sphere by the market. Closely argued and backed by detailed case studies of health and the media this book is the most searching examination yet published of trends that are becoming ever more dominant in our politics, forcing us to reflect anew on the meaning of the public interest and how markets can be reconciled with it. ”
  • “In this fine and powerful book, Colin Leys gives an incisive and compelling account of the ways in which the pressures of the global market-place are undermining the public domain, and narrowing the scope of democratic politics in the process. His analysis of the disastrous effects of market-driven politics on public-service broadcasting and health care is penetrating, scholarly and unanswerable. This is a book which no one interested in the political economy of twenty-first-century Britain can afford to miss. ”
  • “Neoliberal democracy is arguably the most important political notion of our age, yet it is one that is very poorly understood. Colin Leys has come to our rescue with a brilliant and accessible presentation of the concept, chock full of hard empirical data and case studies. I strongly urge all who are concerned with the future of democracy to read this book. ”


  • Let’s lose interest in elections, once and for all!

    This text by Alain Badiou first appeared on the Mediapart blog. Translated by David Broder.

    I understand the bitterness of those remonstrating after the first round of the elections, particularly those left disappointed by Mélenchonism. That said, whatever they do, or say, there was no particular aberration, no swindle, in this vote.

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  • The Macron Phenomenon

    This piece first appeared in Jacobin

    via Flickr

    The French presidential election later this month will be a major turning point in the country’s political history. Beyond the campaign’s many twists and turns — from François Hollande’s decision not to stand for reelection to the collapse of the mainstream right’s candidate, François Fillon — the fact that the two candidates most likely to face off in the second-round elections — Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen — do not belong to either the Socialist Party (PS) or Les Républicains (LR) represents a historic development.

    Since the Fifth Republic formed in 1958, the PS and LR — or any one of the various Gaullist rights — have alternated power. This year, either social-liberal Macron, from the year-old party En Marche!, or far-right Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) will likely become president. Every pollster predicts Macron will win in a second round runoff.

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  • Benign Neglect and Planned Shrinkage

    The frequency and scale of the spectacular fires that consumed much of the South Bronx and other areas of New York City throughout the 1970s can in large part be blamed on the recommendations for fire service reduction made by the New York City-RAND Institute and HUD between 1969 and 1976. In 1973, urban epidemiologists Deborah Wallace and Rodrick Wallace got access to Rand's fire service reports. Immediately recognizing the flimsy pseudoscience that undergirded their claims, they began to write and campaign against the station closures and the other policies based on Rand recommendations.

    "By 1978," the Wallaces write in their introduction to
     A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled (published by Verso in 1998), "we discovered that the Rand-recommended fire service cuts had triggered an epidemic of building fires and heated up a related epidemic of building abandonment. We submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess public health outcomes of this massive destruction of housing in New York's poor neighborhoods. The NIH did not even review our proposal. That research plan, carried out over a period of fifteen years without federal funding, resulted in this book."

    In the excerpt below, Wallace and Wallace situate the development of Rand's recommendations in the context of the deliberate de-industrialization of New York undertaken by federal and state officials.  

    John Fekner, Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, NY 1980. via Wikimedia Commons.

    Daniel P. Moynihan and Benign Neglect

    Not an arsonist at first glance, Daniel Patrick Moynihan burned down poor neighborhoods in cities across the country as surely as if he had doused them in kerosene and put a match to them.

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Other books by Colin Leys