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Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds), The Road from Mont Pèlerin. The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective

Pedro N. Teixeira
p. 626-629
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Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds), The Road from Mont Pèlerin. The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2009, 480 pages, ISBN 978-067403318-4

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Crédits : Harvard University Press

1Over the last decades, the term neoliberalism has been very prominent in the political and social debates. Nonetheless, this visibility has not been followed by a corresponding effort to understand its origins and the process that led to its preeminence. This collective book focuses on one of the pivotal organizations in the international ascendancy of neoliberalism: the Mont-Pèlerin Society (MPS). Founded in 1947, its membership included many of the key actors in that process and it established links with other important organizations among the neoliberal networks. The volume attempts to cover the various geographical and intellectual origins of neoliberalism, a significant sample of the variety of topics addressed in those meetings, and to provide a few relevant examples of the international political influence of neoliberal ideas. In the introductory and concluding chapters of the volume each of the editors attempts to frame the conceptual complexity of neoliberalism and the importance of the MPS in understanding its international ascendancy. In his particular insightful introduction, Dieter Plehwe underlines the multiple threads that formed the fabric of neoliberalism and the importance of the MPS as a trans-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and trans-academic venture, visible in its diverse membership. In his afterword, Philip Mirowski tries to identify commonalities among the varieties of neoliberalism.

2The first part of this volume analyses four national traditions that have been very relevant in shaping neoliberal ideas. In chapter 1, François Denord presents French neoliberalism from the 1930s to the 1960s, starting with the important Colloque Walter Lippmann and the divisions among French liberals. He then traces the growing radicalization and marginalization faced by neoliberals in France in the third quarter of the twentieth century. In the following chapter, Keith Tribe analyses liberalism and neoliberalism in England from the interwar period to its political triumph in the late twentieth century. In his chapter he points out how much this triumph was nurtured outside academic circles and with growing estrangement between political and business increasing neoliberal inclinations on the one side and academic strong negative attitude towards rising neoliberalism on the other side. In chapter 3 Ralf Ptak revisits the historical trajectory of ordoliberalism in Germany from interwar period to postwar social market economy, highlighting that the differences between ordoliberalism and neoliberalism were less pronounced than is usually asserted. In the final chapter of this first part, Philip Mirowski and Rob Van Horn analyze the rise of the Chicago School of Economics and its prominent role in the promotion of neoliberalism in the U.S. In their chapter they underline the role played by somewhat lesser-known figures such as Henry Simons and Aaron Director and emphasize the importance awarded by that group to political effectiveness over academic robustness in the promotion of neoliberal ideas.

3The second part of this volume comprises a set of chapters addressing topics that were heavily discussed in the early series of meetings of the MPS. In chapter 5, Yves Steiner focuses on the role of unions, which became an increasing neoliberal concern in mid-twentieth century in view of the rapid rise of unionization in many Western countries and the postwar attitude of many Western governments by promoting collective bargaining as an instrument to manage labor relations and conflicts. Steiner points out divisions among neoliberals regarding the attitude to adopt towards these historical events, with an initial majority group favoring some kind of compromise being replaced by a more critical view of unions—promoted by Chicago economists—that regarded them as a kind of monopoly power that should be dismantled. In chapter 6 Rob Van Horn focuses on the early developments of Chicago economists’ view about monopoly and the role of corporations. Through the analysis of two important projects (the Free Market Study and the Antitrust Project), both funded by the increasingly important Volker Fund, Van Horn shows how the Chicago views have evolved from a classical liberalism’ attitude that feared that monopoly could suppress competition to a more benign view about corporations that expected that competition would eventually suppress monopoly. In the following chapter, Dieter Plehwe analyses the views of neoliberals in the 1950s about the then emerging field of development economics. He points out the existing divisions among the members of the MPS on this issue and their defensive position in the face of the dominant inclination among newly independent countries towards adopting government planning. He underlines the important intellectual influence of Peter Bauer in providing neoliberals with the intellectual confidence to start developing a distinctive view about development economics. In the final chapter of this part, Kim Philips-Fein discusses the somehow difficult relationship between the MPS and several groups of Business Conservatives in the US. By analyzing the decision to organize the first meeting of the MPS to take place in the US (1958) and its preparations, she describes the mistrust among business conservative organizations in the US such as the Foundation for the Economic Education and the American Enterprise Association (which would later become the American Enterprise Institute).

4In the third part of the volume we find a set of chapters analyzing the impact of rising neoliberalism in very different geographical and political contexts. In chapter 9, Karin Fischer discusses the influence of neoliberals in Chile before, during and after the Pinochet’s regime. Although there has been no lack of study of the links between neoliberals and Chile’s Pinochet, especially with regard the Chicago connections, her chapter places those links in a wider historical perspective and underlines the persistent influence of neoliberals in that country even after the fall of the Pinochet’s regime. In the following chapter, Jennifer Bain analyses the influence of several development economists associated with the MPS in challenging United Nation’s efforts to promote a New International Economic Order. In another example of the effective articulation of intellectual skills and institutional support, she shows how a group including Gottffried Haberler, Karl Brunner, Peter Bauer and Deepak Lal combined efforts with institutions such as the Heritage Foundation to influence international organizations’ views about the third world and international development policies. In the final chapter of this part, Timothy Mitchell discusses the Urban Property Rights Project developed in Peru in the 1990s under the patronage of local MPS-linked groups and international organizations. Besides differences about the apparent results of the project, his chapter is particularly illustrative of the political and intellectual effectiveness of many MPS affiliates in using certain natural policy experiments as a vehicle for the dissemination of neoliberal ideas.

5This book represents a valuable attempt to improve our knowledge about the rise of neoliberalism and the important role that the MPS has played in this respect. Most of the chapters are supported by extensive archival research and make a good job in portraying the pluralism (and even the tensions and divisions) within neoliberalism. The authors in this volume also make a convincing case about the importance of MPS within a wider network or individuals and organizations that articulated effectively in the promotion of neoliberalism

6Despite its achievements, some criticisms seem in order. One of the main problems is that most of the authors are so much concerned with the importance of the MPS that they end up doing kind of a negative hagiography. Although no one would question the important role played by the MPS in the ascendancy of neoliberalism, some of the chapters of the volume sometimes seem to imply that it was all a product of a master plan developed among its membership. Another problem of the book is that the links between the different parts of the volume seem less connected than one would have hoped for. Although this is frequently the case in collective volumes, there is insufficient dialogue between the various chapters and, with a few exceptions, it looks more like a set of chapters about themes related to the MPS than a collective volume aimed at the identification of the threads developed by neoliberalism from the interwar period to the late twentieth century. Finally, the topics covered in the volume are also less innovative than previous work developed about neoliberalism and the MPS. Most of the country case studies covered are the usual suspects (Anglo-Saxon countries, Latin America) and the thematic topics as well, with a predictable dominance of certain economic topics. These criticisms are not intended to diminish the interest of this volume, but to encourage its authors to pursue further their work, applying their historiographical skills to other (less-known) chapters of the complex history of the international ascendancy of neoliberalism.

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Pedro N. Teixeira, « Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds), The Road from Mont Pèlerin. The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective », Œconomia, 1-4 | 2011, 626-629.

Référence électronique

Pedro N. Teixeira, « Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds), The Road from Mont Pèlerin. The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective », Œconomia [En ligne], 1-4 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2011, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : http://oeconomia.revues.org/1434

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Pedro N. Teixeira

University of Porto

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Les contenus d’Œconomia sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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