The fuss over "Neoliberalism"

I'm finishing up my review of Scott Sumner's The Midas Paradox, and I see he uses the term "neoliberalism" to describe the intellectual movement represented by Friedman and Hayek, and embraced (at least rhetorically) by Thatcher and Reagan.

Because it was a new intellectual current, hence "neo," and it was a variety of liberalism, hence "liberalism."

This shouldn't be too controversial, but I've seen a fair number of libertarians going nuts over the term. Their main complaint seems to be, "Well, people use it as a term of disapprobation."

Yes, they do. Opponents of intellectual movement X will often use 'X' as a negative word. Think of how, say, libertarians use "socialist" or "statist." Or how almost everyone uses fascist. Do we have to stop calling Mussolini a fascist because the term  is often used disapprovingly?

I note that Sumner describes himself as a neoliberal. And when he uses that term (in a positive way!) I get a quick, general idea of what policies he supports: free trade, liberal immigration, freely set market prices, central bank aggregate demand management, and a simple social safety net. (Of course, not every person described as neoliberal supports every neoliberal policy, but the same is true for most such labels.)

The term is useful, and that is all we should ask from such a label.


  1. In my opinion, the problems classical liberals have with the term "neoliberalism" are very similar to those that orthodox preterists have to being called "partial preterists".

    1. That's going right over my head, Karl.

  2. Strike that - change "opinion" to "judgment"!


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