In 2009, Paul Dragos Aligica and I published “The Neoliberal Revolution in Eastern Europe“. In that book we attempted to provide a rigorous account of the importance of ideas in social change, as well as correct several myths relating to the transition process following the collapse of communism. I am in the process of revisiting this topic in a series of academic articles that I wish to present here as a book project.
The contemporary relevance for these concepts is huge. Skepticism or at least outright hostility to neoliberalism is the academic consensus, and I feel that I have the perspective and experience to make useful contributions to the scholarly debate. I am continually bemused that the following positions are controversial:
- The communist experiment failed on its own terms.
- The trauma of the adoption of communism was much greater, for most people, than the trauma of the transition to capitalism.
- The fact that over 200m people went from one economic system to another, in such a short period or time, and with such an absence of violence, is the most peaceful and successful revolution that the world has ever seen.
- A Russian oligarchy would be better for ordinary Russians than a Russian kleptocracy.
- And yet Russia should not be used as the sole focus when assessing the outcome of transition. The people of countries such as Belarus, who avoided shock therapy, should be part of our analysis.
- China should not be used as an example of how economic transitions should take place, on account of the massive restrictions on individual freedom (i.e. genocide is bad and should be avoided at almost any cost).
- We should be skeptical of conspiracy theories that involve elite groups of “experts” who experiment on the general public, and be responsible about how we communicate them. Especially when such conspiracy theories are used by neo-fascists to centralise their power.
- Much of the criticism of neoliberalism is driven by individual researcher’s biases against market order.
But maybe I need to articulate them better. That will be the aim of this book.
Introduction: The neoliberal revolution in Eastern Europe: a remarkable success or the biggest catastrophe since the Great Depression? [To be written]
Chapter 1: What is neoliberalism?
Neoliberalism is a political and economic philosophy that has passed through three distinct phases: the origins; the breakthrough; and the dominance. While some scholars have pointed to the death of neoliberalism, we may be seeing an interesting fourth phase, thus far unarticulated, but which is demonstrated by analytical anarchism and progress studies. This article provides a synthesis of existing work and adds clarity to the study of neoliberalism. Words: 5,319
Chapter 2: What are the arguments against neoliberalism?
I survey an array of contemporary work that has sought to assess and critique the doctrine of neoliberalism and find that what many critics of neoliberalism see as a fundamental contradiction – the necessity of a strong state – is in fact a reflection of the context in which neoliberalism developed. Focusing on the application of neoliberal ideas to authoritarian regimes in Latin America also neglects important examples of when neoliberalism was consistent with democratic government, and the transition experience in Eastern Europe exposes an important intellectual blind spot. Attention is also placed on the role of central banks, the European project, transition economics, the “West”, and sociological studies of how the neoliberal project occurred. By confronting some of the weaker arguments made in this field, this article provides a useful resource in a more analytically robust and intellectually sophisticated treatment of the political and economic philosophy known as neoliberalism. Words: 15,012
Chapter 3: Did shock therapy work in Central and Eastern Europe?
An empirical survey of the success and failure of shock therapy as a transition strategy. [To be written]
Chapter 4: What determines the legitimacy of privatization?
There is a strong consensus amongst economists not only that private property systems are superior to central planning, but that the privatization process in Central and Eastern Europe was a success. And yet it is deeply unpopular amongst the general public. This chapter looks at the empirical record, survey data, and the role of institutions to claim that legitimacy rests on confidence in the market system.
This chapter is based on an article co-authored with Paul Dragos Aligica and forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Private Enterprise. Subject to copyright permission to reuse material. Words: 8,361
Chapter 5: New authoritarianism and Belarus
This article explores the dynamics of modern authoritarian regimes, using Belarus under Lukashenko as a case study. By examining Belarus’ transition from a “competitive authoritarian” regime to a “hegemonic authoritarian” one from 1994-1996, and its further shift from a spin dictatorship to a fear dictatorship in 2020, the study offers insights into the multifaceted nature of dictatorship. The main findings are that using elections as a means to classify regimes doesn’t fully explain their effect on authoritarian vulnerability, and that different classifications of dictatorship, such as spin vs. fear, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Words: 8,475
Chapter 6: On the importance of civil society
If, as argued in Chapter 5, electoral contestability is not the best way to categorise political regimes, how might the concept of civil society be used instead? This chapter takes the concept of democracy seriously and looks at how liberal democracy can be defined, understood, and defended. [To be written]
Conclusion: What we’ve learnt
This project is my attempt to provide academic rigour to the debate about neoliberal transition. I also have a lecture series with YouTube videos that discuss the economic theory, historical record, and more personal views on the debates. It is currently under production and will be released here: https://anthonyjevans.com/transition/