Masters of the Universe (2012) documents the history of neoliberalism

Update: A Nov. 30, 2020 London School of Economics article is entitled: “Book Review: Anti-System Politics: The Crisis of Market Liberalism in Rich Democracies by Jonathan Hopkin.”

An excerpt reads:

Hopkin, quite rightly in my view, is pretty clear that ‘rather than dismissing anti-system politics as ‘‘populism,’’ driven by racial hatred, nebulous foreign conspiracies, or an irrational belief in ‘‘fake news,’’ we need to start by understanding what has gone wrong in the rich democracies to alienate so many citizens from those who govern them’ (3-4). If the goal is to explain ‘why anti-system politics is on the march, and why different forms of anti-system politics prosper in different places and among different types of voters’ (3), then Hopkin argues it is necessary to also look at the transformation of institutions during the neoliberal era. In brief, one tendency was delegating the management of markets to experts and their spreadsheets, while concurrently politics increasingly devolved into which party offered better administrative competency.


A previous post refers to Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (2012).

Masters of the Universe (2012) addresses how neoliberalism is defined, and how it functions as a noun.

Two statements – on p. 12 and p. 15 – are of interest.

Memoir/journalism vs. historical analysis  (p. 12)

“Until recently, the debate about neoliberalism was dominated by memoir and journalism, which treated it as a political and economic fact rather than as a historical phenomenon in want of explanation.”

There is value in seeking to understand some topics as “historical phenomena” that are amenable to historical analysis, as distinguished from the analysis that is available through the “lens” of memoir and journalism – however valuable memoir and journalism may be.

Ideological infrastructure and international network (p. 15; I have broken the longer text into shorter paragraphs)

“The nuances of postwar neoliberalism, the relationship of its political and organizational character to the thought of its main academic representatives, and the way such ideas were mediated through an ideological infrastruc­ ture and international network have yet to be fully explored by historians.

“The transatlantic character of neoliberalism has often been taken for granted without its origins and development being properly excavated.

“The extent to which neoliberal policy insights differed from neoliberal political philosophy and the ways in which neoliberal ideas took hold in left mainstream politics have not been taken seriously.

“The degree to which neoliberalism is seen as the ideology of a malevolent globalization by critics has prevented an under­ standing of the sources of its broad popularity, as it was dressed up in the rhetoric of the Republican and Conservative Parties, among electorates in the United States and Britain.”

[End of excerpt]

Blurb for Masters of the Universe (2012)

Marshall McLuhan remarked that the future of the book is the blurb.

As with many aphorisms, what McLuhan says is true and it’s not true.

The blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website addresses the attraction to policymakers of “free markets, deregulation, and limited government.”

This book is described as “the first comprehensive transatlantic history of the rise of neoliberal politics,” based upon “archival research and interviews with leading participants in the movement.”

According to the blurb,  “there was nothing inevitable about the victory of free-market politics. Far from being the story of the simple triumph of right-wing ideas, the neoliberal breakthrough was contingent on the economic crises of the 1970s and the acceptance of the need for new policies by the political left.”

Reviews of Masters of the Universe (2012)

Los Angeles Times

1) A Los Angeles Times review of the book can be accessed here.

The review is of interest. It’s long enough to outline arguments that are not possible to be outlined in shorter texts.

The Los Angeles Times review concludes: “We may very well conclude not that free market ideology has coopted the left, but that resistance to actually existing capitalism now takes a form inassimilable to the political positions of the early postwar period. Perhaps Jane Jacobs is different from Milton Friedman after all. Perhaps there are two visions of the free market, left and right, and we will one day look back on the postwar period as the emergence of a new form of ideological struggle. For now, the scale of the problem is visible only in the distortions it causes in so sober a history as this one.”

London School of Economics

2) A review of the above-noted book at the London School of Economics website can be accessed here. The review is of interest but the lack of consistency in hyphenation – there’s a reference to ‘neo-lberals’ and to ‘neoliberalism’ – is what stays in mind for me. If a publication can’t address details of this nature, the content of the review is going to have limited traction. Or perhaps there is a reason, that I am not aware of, for the variation in hyphenation. In time, I may return to the LSE review, having studied the available texts in greater depth, to see whether the content has, or lacks, traction.

The Economist

3) A review at The Economist website can be accessed here.

This is a briefer review, with the advantages and disadvantages of having a limited amount of space to communicate key ideas.

The review notes: “Thus was neoliberalism founded. One hitch with writing about it is that the word is frequently misused today. Leftists use ‘neoliberal’ to describe people whom they essentially do not like. Mr Stedman Jones seems to think the word should not be ditched; the original pugilists against state control happily went by that name.”

The review concludes: ” ‘Masters of the Universe’ is a little thin on character sketches and economics. But it is a strong work. Mr Stedman Jones offers a novel and comprehensive history of neoliberalism. It is tarred neither by a reverence for the heroes, nor by caricature, for he is a fair and nuanced writer. This is a bold biography of a great idea.”


A Huffington Post article, downloaded July 19, 2015, is entitled: The Myth of the Ethical Shopper. We’re still trying to eliminate sweatshops and child labor by buying right. But that’s not how the world works in 2015.

Also of interest: The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (2004).

A Nov. 1, 2002 This Magazine article is entitled: “The Rebel Sell: If we all hate consumerism, how come we can’t stop shopping?”

Of related interest: Alternative Media in Canada (2012).

A July 16, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: Merkel ‘gambling away’ Germany’s reputation over Greece, says Habermas: Intellectual figurehead of European integration says efforts of previous generations put at risk by Angela Merkel’s hardline stance on Greece.”

A July 24, 2015 Guardian article by Pankaj Mishra is entitled: “How to think about Islamic State: Islamic State is often called ‘medieval’ but is in fact very modern – a horrific expression of a widespread frustration with a globalised western model that promises freedom and prosperity to all, but fails to deliver.”

“In an irony of modern history, which stalks revolutions and revolts to this day,” in Pankaj Mishra’s take on things, “the search for a new moral community has constantly assumed unpredicted and vicious forms. But then the dislocations and traumas caused by industralisation and urbanisation accelerated the growth of ideologies of race and blood in even enlightened western Europe.”

A journalistic take on things provides one form of analysis; my own preference is for the kind of evidence-based historical analysis demonstrated in Masters of the Universe (2012) and Extremely Violent Societies (2010).

A July 30, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans? How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force.”

A Jan. 29, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Was there ever a time when so few people controlled so much wealth?”

The following post adds background to the discussion:

Voter anger explained – in one chart – March 15, 2016 Brookings Institution article

An April 20, 2017 Institute for New Economic Thinking article is entitled: “America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People: A new book by economist Peter Temin finds that the U.S. is no longer one country, but dividing into two separate economic and political worlds.”

The Age of Selfishness (2015)

Also of interest, as a resource, is The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis (2015)

A blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website notes:

Tracing the emergence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism in the 1940s to her present-day influence, Darryl Cunningham’s latest work of graphic-nonfiction investigation leads readers to the heart of the global financial crisis of 2008. Cunningham uses Rand’s biography to illuminate the policies that led to the economic crash in the U.S. and in Europe, and how her philosophy continues to affect today’s politics and policies, starting with her most noted disciple, economist Alan Greenspan (former chairman of the Federal Reserve). Cunningham also shows how right-wing conservatives, libertarians, and the Tea Party movement have co-opted Rand’s teachings (and inherent contradictions) to promote personal gain and profit at the expense of the middle class. Tackling the complexities of economics by distilling them down to a series of concepts accessible to all age groups, Cunningham ultimately delivers a devastating analysis of our current economic world.

[End of text] 

An Aug. 21, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics: Martin Jacques – In the early 1980s the author was one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism in the west. Here he argues that this doctrine is now faltering. But what happens next?”

A June 19, 2017 Aeon article is entitled: “The bloodstained leveller: Throughout history, plagues and wars have left greater equality in their wake. Can we get there again without violence?”

A Sept. 26, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “Is Neoliberalism destroying the world?”

The following individuals are quoted in the above-noted article:

Philip Mirowski is a historian and philosopher of economic thought at the University of Notre Dame.

Sam Gindin is the former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers union (now called Unifor) and an adjunct professor of political science at York University, and co-author of “The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, (2012).

Yanis Varoufakis is a Greek politician, economist and author, and former finance minister of Greece

Anat R. Admati is a professor of finance and economics at Stanford University and author of “The Bankers New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to do About It, (2013).

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