I’m part way through proofs of a very interesting book, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, by Daniel Stedman Jones. Most visitors to this blog will be familiar with the famous quotation from Keynes (from The General Theory) about practical men being “the slaves of some defunct economist …. some academic scribbler of a few years back.” The point is that when people attain positions of power, they are 25 or 30 years on from the stage at which their intellects and ideas were formed, and pretty much fixed into place.
This new book by Daniel Stedman Jones is about the influence of Hayek, along with Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises, followed by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School, on the triumph of free market ‘neoliberalism’ from the 1980s on. Although Keynes certainly seemed to have beaten their ideas with his own from the 1940s to mid-70s, they had at least as great an influence as he did from then until the current financial crisis. The author sets out two types of influence by these ‘scribblers’ of the 30s and 40s. The first is the ideas themselves, and the key books: The Road to Serfdom, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Bureaucracy. The second influence is the importance of practical organisation for political impact, through the Mont Pelerin society, think tanks, and political activity. I’ve not yet got to that part of the book.
A full review will follow when it’s closer to publication (in October). But it was interesting to reflect on what founding texts for a new dominant political philosophy have been published recently. I can think of some candidates, although none overwhelming – maybe that’s because one can only identify the key thinkers with hindsight, after the political organisation has proven successful.
Any suggestions for the key texts of the unknown movement that will replace ‘neoliberalism’?