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While the last few decades of political economic history give the impression that the logic of neoliberalism is inexorable, this article argues that once we look further backwards and dig into recently declassified archives documenting the early days of neoliberal theory and practice, we find a messier picture. Economic policymakers in Thatcher and Reagan’s administrations in the early 1980s did not set out to ‘fail forwards’ by generating a crisis that would enable a statist kind of neoliberalism. The key ideas that they drew on and the policies that they used to put them into practice sought to transform the economy indirectly, through a set of performative policy devices that they believed would generate a dramatic shift in people’s inflationary expectations, lowering inflation without provoking a major recession. Archival records make it clear that these efforts were not only a failure, but also one that policymakers were acutely aware of at the time. By examining these quiet failures in economic policy, we can better understand how these governments simultaneously failed in their early efforts to introduce neoliberal economics and yet ultimately succeeded in transforming their economies in important respects – and in legitimising those transformations by narrating failure as a kind of inevitable success.
Jacqueline Best, Professor in the School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
Juanita Uribe García, PhD candidate in International Relations/Political Science and Research assistant at the Global Governance Centre, the Graduate Institute
Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, Professor of International Relations/Political Science and Director of the Global Governance Centre, the Graduate Institute
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