The Chile Project, of which Edwards was a generally sympathetic observer, ranks with Thatcher’s Britain as the paradigmatic case of what I’ve called “hard neoliberalism,” which combines authoritarianism and radical free-market policies …Outside the United States, soft neoliberalism was often described as the Third Way. Its central theme was the idea that the goals of social democracy (or liberalism in the US sense) could best be achieved by embracing market-oriented reforms, and particularly financial deregulation, while maintaining a generally redistributive welfare state.
Edwards sees the protest movement that launched in 2019 as the beginning of the end for Chilean neoliberalism. Taking account of global trends, DeLong marks 2010 as the year when the “slouch towards utopia” slowed to a crawl or stopped altogether. Either way, neoliberalism had gone from unchallenged hegemony at the turn of the twenty-first century to full retreat twenty years later.
DeLong argues, correctly I think, that social democracy was a victim of its own success. Everyone expected accelerating growth in their incomes combined with a continuation of full employment and low inflation. When the system failed to deliver at quite the expected level, neoliberalism promised a return to prosperity. By the time it became clear that this promise would not be realised, expectations had been lowered so much that (for example) a 5 per cent rate of unemployment was seen as a success rather than the disaster it would have been perceived as in the 1970s.
Again taking the optimistic view, we are seeing a gradual rehabilitation of the institutions of the mixed economy, including activist governments, public enterprise and trade unions. At least for the moment, we don’t have to worry that our limited successes will recreate the hubris of the 1960s. Perhaps we can finally put the era of neoliberalism behind us. •
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