Economic Ideas in the Transition from Communism
New Thinking in Political Economy series
Chapter 1: Economic Ideas: Demarcations and Schools of Thought
Many discussions of the profound transformation taking place in Western Europe, Latin America and Eastern Europe use implicitly or explicitly models, conjectures and theories in which ‘neoliberalism’ represents a key variable. Sometimes seen as an independent variable, sometimes as a dependent one, sometimes introduced as a ‘key variable’ and sometimes as part of an analysis of the facilitating conditions, the recourse to the ‘neoliberal’ factor is more often than not a signiﬁcant theme. Yet, the visibility of the concept is misleading. In reality its use hinders rather than helps the analytical eﬀort: despite its salience, it remains an under-conceptualized and under-operationalized notion. As Ray, Denzau and Willett (2007, p. 21) put it, neoliberalism ‘is a term often used in political economy very broadly and vaguely to refer to market-oriented policy ideas and strategies in the second half of the twentieth century’. But besides that, ambiguity and confusion reign. Indeed something called ‘neoliberalism’ is invoked in many studies, but especially when it comes to Eastern Europe, somehow manages in most cases to slip and escape a clear conceptualization. The unit of observation and the speciﬁcation of the phenomenon in question vary from author to author. Authors sometimes employ it to refer to theories and schools of thought (such as ‘neoclassical economics’, ‘Washington consensus’) and sometimes they add an ideological overtone (as in ‘market ideology’, ‘market fundamentalism’); in some cases they focus their approach on speciﬁc policies or public policies (‘privatization’, ‘deregulation’, ‘stabilization’), while in other cases they...
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