Neoliberalism: Laissez-Faire Revisited?

  • Paul OrlowskiEmail author
Part of the Explorations of Educational Purpose book series (EXEP, volume 17)


This chapter was written after the worst financial crisis in Western nations since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Media reports pointed to the deregulation of the American financial industry that first occurred in the 1980s as a major factor for the crisis. The response by the American government was to give over $1.4 trillion of tax dollars to the financial institutions of Wall Street. Given the general lack of class consciousness among the American citizenry (see Chapters 6 and 8), it is not surprising that the federal government determined that the best strategy to deal with the crisis was to give massive amounts of public monies to the very corporations that caused the crisis in the first place. This chapter outlines the major economic debates that occurred in Western nations, especially between the liberal John Maynard Keynes, the social democrat Karl Polanyi, and the nouveau laissez-faire economic theories of Friedrich Von Hayek. Unfortunately, the major economic theory guiding American economic policy since the 1980s was further developed by a disciple of Von Hayek, Milton Friedman. The main premise of this theory is that government should not intervene in the economy of the nation unless it is to protect private wealth or engage its military to support American interests in other countries. The economic rationale underlying this philosophy is called neoliberalism, and its basic tenets are deregulation, privatization of the commons, and union-busting. Neoliberalism is currently the biggest force to overturn the hard won victories that helped build the social welfare state in Western nations that occurred from the 1930s to the 1970s. Neoliberalism promotes the notion of the self-interested individual, a person who does not feel it is the responsibility of the state to help citizens in need. In this way, neoliberalism undermines democratic initiatives around the globe. This chapter also asks whether globalization is a contemporary version of the colonial project of the past. Neoliberalism has had a profound and deleterious effect on the public education systems of the United States and Canada. The chapter includes the strategies used by neoliberal politicians and journalists to undermine public education. The chapter ends on a hopeful note, however, as it points out that the neoliberal project is breaking down on the domestic front and internationally.


International Monetary Fund World Trade Organization Political Ideology Charter School Western Nation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Saskatchewan/SaskatoonSaskatoonCanada

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