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Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics [Hardcover]

Daniel Stedman Jones
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Sep 2012

How did American and British policymakers become so enamored with free markets, deregulation, and limited government? This book--the first comprehensive transatlantic history of the rise of neoliberal politics--presents a surprising answer. Based on archival research and interviews with leading participants in the movement, Masters of the Universe traces the ascendancy of neoliberalism from the academy of interwar Europe to supremacy under Reagan and Thatcher and in the decades since. Daniel Stedman Jones argues that there was nothing inevitable about the victory of free-market politics. Far from being the story of the simple triumph of right-wing ideas, the neoliberal breakthrough was contingent on the economic crises of the 1970s and the acceptance of the need for new policies by the political left.

Masters of the Universe describes neoliberalism's road to power, beginning in interwar Europe but shifting its center of gravity after 1945 to the United States, especially to Chicago and Virginia, where it acquired a simple clarity that was developed into an uncompromising political message. Neoliberalism was communicated through a transatlantic network of think tanks, businessmen, politicians, and journalists that was held together by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. After the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971, and the "stagflation" that followed, their ideas finally began to take hold as Keynesianism appeared to self-destruct. Later, after the elections of Reagan and Thatcher, a guileless faith in free markets came to dominate politics.

Fascinating, important, and timely, this is a book for anyone who wants to understand the history behind the Anglo-American love affair with the free market, as well as the origins of the current economic crisis.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (16 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691151571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691151571
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.2 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 392,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Finalist for the 2014 Presidents' Book Award, Western Social Science Association

Shortlisted for the 2012 Gladstone Prize, Royal Historical Society

"[I]ntelligent."--Kenneth Minogue, Wall Street Journal

"In impressive fashion, Jones analyzes the impact of free market economics and deregulation on political leaders in Washington, D.C., and London since the 1970s. . . . [A]nyone intrigued by the intersection of economic theory and political affairs will appreciate this learned, detailed book."--Publishers Weekly

"A cerebral, pertinent exegesis on the thinking behind the rise of the New Right. . . . [A] valuable study that helps flesh out the caricature of conservatives as only believing 'greed is good.'"--Kirkus Reviews

"[I]mportant. . . . [A] beguilingly erudite old-fashioned read."--Stephen Matchett, Australian

"Stedman Jones . . . describes the scene with remarkable accuracy, including its financial underpinning and its ties with conservatism."--Karen Horn, Standpoint

"Mr. Stedman Jones offers a novel and comprehensive history of neoliberalism. It is tarred neither by a reverence for the heroes, nor by caricature, for he is a fair and nuanced writer. This is a bold biography of a great idea."--Economist

"[A] lucid, richly detailed examination of the evolution of the free market ideology since the end of World War II."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"[A] good read. . . . The deep history of neo-liberal thought is fascinating."--Andrew Hilton, Financial World

"Clearly written and relevant to a wide audience."--Daniel Ben-Ami, Financial Times Wealth

"Masters of the Universe is a firm brief for the independent, causal power of ideas to shape history. . . . [It] does much to help explain the aftermath of 2008 and the ways in which political responses that might have defined another era seem unthinkable in ours."--Jennifer Burns, American Prospect

"His lengthy exposition of the views shared by these outstanding economists might encourage many to pay attention to their works."--Alejandro Chafuen, Forbes

"This is a timely history of the Anglo-American love affair with the market and the origins of the current economic crisis."--Keith Richmond, Tribune (U.K.)

"[T]his is an insightful, substantive historical account of the Anglo-American political economy underpinning the conservative economic agendas of the Thatcher and Reagan administrations."--Choice

"Jones gives us the best kind of intellectual history, showing the interplay of ideas, ideology and nascent political movements. The book should be lauded for illustrating that the history of ideas is not straightforward, and a big idea can be bent towards something that its originators might not have imagined."--Joel Campbell, International Affairs

"[T]his ambitious book is one of the very best histories we have of the development of neoliberal ideas and ideology before the era of Thatcher and Reagan."--W. Elliot Brownlee, Journal of American History

From the Inside Flap

"Daniel Stedman Jones has an unusual talent--making the history of economic thought fascinating and significant. In tracing the evolution of neoliberal ideas and their implementation in public policy in Britain and the United States, he does a superb job of helping us understand both the last half-century of Atlantic history and the origins of the current crisis. No book could be more timely."--Eric Foner, Columbia University

"Daniel Stedman Jones captures brilliantly the interaction between ideas and events in this compelling history of the rise of Thatcherism and Reaganism. He displays a willingness, unusual in a historian, to treat economic ideas seriously, and not just as weapons in a political struggle. In the light of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, the intellectual debates of the 1970s and 1980s, brought so vividly to life here, are as fresh as they were at the time."--Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: Return of the Master

"Daniel Stedman Jones shows how neoliberalism gained ascendancy in both the United States and the United Kingdom. This timely book is a model of calmness, lucidity, and reasoned argument, intent on understanding neoliberalism rather than celebrating or condemning it out of hand."--Sean Wilentz, author of "The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008"

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Undigested Curate's Egg 30 Sep 2013
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The term "neoliberal" crept into mainstream journalism over the past two decades without being clearly defined. In the first and for me most effective chapters, Daniel Stedman Jones sets about redressing this omission by exploring Popper's focus on individualism, Von Mises's attack on state bureaucracy, and Hayek's rejection of government intervention and central planning, not merely in "collectivist" Communist states but also in Roosevelt's "New Deal" and the Keynesian demand management of the US and the UK post-war up to the 1970s. Although very repetitive, this approach serves both to reinforce points and to assist students using this as a reference book.

After a dry chapter on the growth of "think tanks" as a means of embedding neoliberal belief in the free market for adoption by governments when the time is ripe, Stedman Jones moves on to compare Keynesianism with the monetarism favoured by neoliberals. He relies heavily on quotations from the neoliberal Friedmann without supplying basic explanations of say, the relationship between the money supply and interest rates, or the quantity theory of money, all necessary for readers with a rudimentary or rusty grasp of economics. The author is described as a barrister and PhD in history. This does not preclude a grasp of economics and a multi-disciplinary approach may give breadth and balance, but I found his economic analysis either lacking or unclear.

The "Neoliberal breakthrough of 1971-84", describing how even the left-wing governments of Callaghan and Carter introduced attempts to control the money supply, is more readable, but here again there are too many lengthy quotations and not enough definitions e.g.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful 4 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
All the detail from a historical stand without political bias. Was on Thinking Allowed 16/01/2013, still available on BBC Thinking Allowed website.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mastering the Masters 4 Dec 2012
By bazza
This is a wonderful book. It is a thoughtful, well written and (most importantly) balanced view of the history of neo-liberalism. Stedman Jones has a thorough grasp of the underlying economic theory and sets it out clearly - but he goes further than that and is at his most acute when analysing how that theory translated into politics and policy making. This book is a timely intervention and is likely to remain indispensible for anyone with an interest in this area for some time to come.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange gap. 30 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is a very well written and informative book. Unfortunately it does not deal with the old objections raised by the Bank of England on the manipulation of the data allowing the "correlations" of Friedman and Co. . The name of N. Kaldor is never mentioned. Read this book after having red Kardor. The scourge of monetarism.Of course Kaldor and his respect for facts was not worth a "Nobel" in economics. The cisis goes on.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Reading of the Trans-Atlantic Neoliberal Movement 1 Dec 2012
By David S. Wellhauser - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An excellent reading of Neoliberalism from 1950 to 1980, however it is also a very good history of the intellectual movement in general. It is, though, dry as dust and the author includes far too many quotes which are much bulkier/longer than necessary. Would have been better with more analytical interpretation and less from the original sources. If you've not read these they will be useful, if you have -- you will feel they may be little more than filler.

Still and all, I would highly recommend this book for someone looking for an intellectual history of the movement.
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect companion for anyone interested in understanding the dominant war of ideas. 4 Jan 2014
By paul - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
By far one of the most important and informative books I've read, ever in my life! I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the struggle of ideas in the world around us... The world in which we live.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schools of Economics 29 Dec 2012
By David Capek - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good book regarding the struggles between two schools of economics in the twentieth century. Excellent history of the correspondence between Keynes and Hayek. The changes in thinking of Milt is enlightening. Ignoring the technical jargon which is minor does not detract from the over read.
12 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apotheosis of Centralized Planning 12 Dec 2012
By Penny R. Nixon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is well written through the first six chapters, with a well documented history of the Chicago School of Economics. In his concluding remarks, however, he concluded that the financial crisis of 2007-8 was the result of the apotheosis (deification) of free markets, a conclusion not supported by his own reporting. In addition, he ignores the effects of government intervention in markets. For example, he dismisses the impact that federal pressures to issue loans to un-creditworthy borrowers had, as well as the enormous overall benefits of two and a half decades of growth fueled by liberalized markets. The writer completely ignores the hugely negative impact of government intervention in markets, both in the 1929 case and the current case, arguably the apotheosis (deification) of centralized planning.

He quite correctly points out the greed of bankers in creating CDO's, CDS's and other financial instruments of dubious value, but fails to even mention the greed of homeowners, borrowers, traders, savers, investors and politicians who advocated or bought with the infantile notion that wealth is effortlessly created out of nothing.

In seemingly British fashion, he also heaps scorn on the Tea Party movement without mentioning that we opposed the majority of the excesses directly responsible for the crisis, as we have since the founding of the republic. He implies that only "well funded state universities" could work in the UK, and completely dismisses without discussion the notion that parents should form their own schools in response to failing government schools, or that privatized schools have significant benefits to the overall level of education. His assumption that only "universal high quality publicly funded education and health care systems" provide value seems characteristic of European left wingers, and is not borne out by the history of the United States prior to the long, painful, and increasingly unaffordable and ineffective introduction of these programs.

In the end, this financial crisis was similar to the '29 crash; borrowed money chasing phantom profits, fueled by greed and ignorance. The names and technology are different, but the results are those of men uninformed by morality and history.

In the main however, this book is well worth reading, I highly recommend it.
15 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The history of neoliberalism sliced in a very narrow manner 26 Dec 2012
By Jackal - Published on
This is an interesting book but definitely not a must-read. The author seems to think that neoliberal ideas somehow were grafted onto a pre-existing society by stealth. The ideas trickling down from academic thinkers to eventually reach politicians. Kind of implying that had Friedman and Hayek not existed or had the crisis in the 70s not made politicians look for new ideas, then we would not have a strong neoliberal movement. I do not think that neoliberal ideas were not grafted onto society. Instead the ideas are an organic part of our society.

There are real forces in society like economics and technology that plays a role too. Left-wing ideas (eg 80% marginal tax rates) created the stagflation in the 70s. The oil crisis was a trigger, but there would have been another trigger for a smaller government movement. Instead, the author takes the very naive view that had the crisis not happened, we might not have had a neoliberal movement. Likewise, technology (eg many television channels) made it more difficult in the 80s for the establishment to control society. It is obvious that individualistic ideas would follow. The author does not give any credit to these factors.

With these limitations in mind the author provides a quite interesting story of how certain political ideas spread from academia to society at large. It is not a big picture story but as story focused on a few "great men" and mostly political ideas. Many reviewers have praised the book for being balanced, but I cannot fully agree. There is no anti-neoliberalism propaganda in the book, but I find it sufficiently annoying that it is clear that the author does not like neoliberalism at all. An author with a PhD in history should know better than to write in such a style - even if he is not writing a scholarly history. I am lead to believe that he is writing in this way because he is eyeing some UK left-wing think-tank job; but here I am just speculating. Since I am speculating I also wonder whether right-wing The Economist gave the book a glowing review because of elite Oxbridge connections between author and journalist.

The book is worth three stars. If you read a lot of books, I think you should read it. If you do not have a lot of free time, this is not a book worth reading.
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