We Have Never Been Neoliberal

We Have Never Been Neoliberal

A Manifesto for a Doomed Youth

How to understand the crisis and stop the top 1% all at the same time.


A number of people have claimed that the ongoing financial crisis has revealed the problems with neoliberal thought and neoliberal policies in the 'Atlantic Heartland'. However, if we look at the history of the 'Heartland' economies then it becomes evident that they were never neoliberal in the first place - that is, the economic policies and discourses in these countries did not follow neoliberal prescriptions. /We Have Never Been Neoliberal/ explores this divergence between neoliberal theory and 'neoliberal' practice by focusing on the underlying contradictions in monetarism, private monopolies, and financialization. The book finishes by proposing a 'manifesto for a doomed youth' in which it argues that younger generations should refuse to pay interest on anything in order to avoid the trap of debt-driven living.


‘Down with neoliberalism’ seems to be an almost ubiquitous cry from activists who position themselves on the ‘left’ (the diminishing merit of using a left-right spectrum is for another time). Decrying neoliberalism seems to nicely encapsulate people’s unease and anger with the inequality, precarity, privatisation, and consumerism spawned by Anglo-Saxon varieties of capitalism. Slogans have their place, but what if this particular one is founded on a theory not borne out by reality? In his new book, geographer Kean Birch – someone more than sympathetic to those seeking to transform capitialism from its extractive mode – points to a raft of evidence showing that not only does the mode of capitalism we’re now seeing pre-date the intellectual ascendancy of neoliberalism, it also does not conform to the theoretical axioms text books would lead us to expect.... Webpage: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/03/24/we-have-never-been-neoliberal-a-manifesto-for-a-doomed-youth/ ~ Katherine Trebeck, Bella Caledonia website

We Have Never Been Neoliberal (hereafter WHNBN) is a fresh contribution to swirling debates about neoliberalism, the nature of contemporary capitalism (in the “Anglo-American” advanced-capitalist heartlands of North America and the UK–Birch is careful to circumscribe his treatment in this respect), and about the distinctiveness or otherwise of capitalism in its putatively neoliberal form. Fully aware that the field is already awash with critical readings of the politics, economics and political economy of neoliberalism, Birch, to his credit, tries to do something a little bit different–to make the debates in question both comprehensible and of interest to a readership not steeped and saturated therein, while advancing, in the process, his own particular “take” on neoliberalism and on existing readings thereof. Written in a style situated somewhere between the scholarly and the journalistic, the book assuredly delivers exactly the type of text championed by Birch’s publisher, Zero (or is it Zer0?) Books–“intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist”, as its website puts it. In this respect it is somewhat comparable to Geoff Mann’s (2013) Disassembly Required, which also tries to write about capitalism in a different way and for a different set of audiences. Webpage: http://antipodefoundation.org/2015/03/30/we-have-never-been-neoliberal/ My response: http://antipodefoundation.org/2015/04/07/critical-dialogue-birch-christophers/ ~ Brett Christophers, AntipodeFoundation.org

Kean Birch argues that today’s economy is not organized around the free markets of neoliberal fantasy but through a financialized system of corporate monopoly – a system neoliberals actually promoted in contradiction to their stated commitments to free markets. Along the way, he provides accessible introductions to the history of neoliberal thought, monetarism, the causes and consequences of ballooning public debt, the growth of internationally mobile capital, the relations between asset values and corporate governance, and the dire straits of individuals in our current debt economy. His conclusions suggest ways of making our economies more just and equitable that deserve careful attention from both scholars and activists. ~ Joshua Barkan, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, USA

Kean Birch has a written a fresh and fascinating account of the relationships between neoliberalism, economic power and crises. Cutting incisively through the accepted, but largely mistaken, nostrums surrounding neoliberal rhetoric and reality, his book makes a valuable contribution to understanding the continuing grip of a corporate elite on the global economy and the devastating consequences that flow from it. ~ Andrew Cumbers, Professor of Political Economy, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, UK

Kean Birch has written a book that is accessible to his target audience: young, inquiring minds wanting to know why this is happening to them, but not quite knowing where to begin looking for answers. This timely book is the beginning of an important conversation that today’s youth must have about the practical possibilities for coping with the present economic crisis. ~ Eddie Nik-Khah, Department of Economics, Roanoke University, USA

Framed by an energetic and engaging prose, Kean Birch has written a compelling book that challenges us to reexamine what we think we know about neoliberalism. Much more than a mere volte-face to the contemporary tide of academic thought on the topic, Kean instead offers a deeply reflexive and appropriately provocative reassessment that brings the corporation back into view to demonstrate how neoliberalism is riven with contradictions that cannot be easily resolved by simply citing hybridity and process. ~ Simon Springer, Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Canada

Kean Birch tackles a key question of the moment: how should we, and how shouldn’t we, understand the ubiquitous term of neoliberalism? Written in a clear and accessible style, that is often both amusing and angry, Kean shows that the current crisis cannot be understood when neoliberalism is understood purely in terms of a history of ideas, focused on the development, especially within academic economics, of a set of free market principles. Instead, he directs our attention to the structural transformations to the political economy in recent decades – transformations that often bear little direct resemblance to supposedly ‘neoliberal’ policy prescriptions. His discussion of the assetization of the economy is a crucial contribution to our understanding of the current conjuncture, while the key insight that the crux of these systemic problems is that we stopped taxing the rich and started borrowing from them should be the political slogan of the moment. This is an important book, and it should be read by anyone concerned about constructing a progressive alternative to the destructive and dysfunctional politics of the present. ~ David Tyfield, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, UK

Kean Birch
Kean Birch Kean Birch left the UK in 2011 to take up an academic post at York University in Toronto. He is particularly interested in a range of areas ...
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