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on 14 December 2013
This book is exceptionally penetrating in its examination of the neoliberal project. Mirowski has for many years been a persistent scourge of orthodox economics, attacking its ersatz scientism in More Heat than Light (1989), and later its conspiratorial inner circle in The Road from Mont Pelerin (2009). Readers unfamiliar with the "Neoliberal Thought Collective" (NTC) will probably feel overwhelmed with the scope of this book: its etiology of neoliberalism is so relentless, it needs to examine both the moral philosophy and the anthropology spawned by it.

For this reason, he does not see neoliberalism as merely a view of how economies "work"; rather, he shows how its luminaries sought to create nothing less than a permanent empire of motion, in which all human agency was to be subordinated to an all-knowing market. While its votaries deny the very existence of any neoliberal project, the NTC is not only quite active, it is multifarious and ubiquitous. Mirowski briefly reviews some of the organs by which the NTC assures its acolytes influence, prestige, and pelf (1), but mainly focuses on the way in which it built upon, and distanced itself from, the neoclassical economics of the period 1870-1930.

I--In "Shock Block Doctrine" (2), Mirowski explains the outlook of Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) cofounder Friedrich von Hayek (3). Hayek argued that liberalism (never defined in Mirowski's book, alas, but evidently meant to refer to the doctrine of negatively-defined individual rights) was at odds with the doctrine of democracy, and potentially its antithesis (p.57).

Mirowski's analysis, as always, is schematic; he points to efforts by the NTC to replace citizenship with consumerism (e.g., fixing education with school vouchers), and using orthodox economic models to devise policies explicitly to bypass agency problems associated with electoral politics. Some readers will no doubt object to his crash course in Hayek's political philosophy, which is traced directly to the coercive nature of austerity measures adopted following the Global Financial Crisis. However, the schemata does allow Mirowski to inject Carl Schmitt's doctrine of the "exception" into his narrative--an undeniable benefit in view of the austerity mania gripping the developed world right now (4).

II--"Everyday Neoliberalism" bores down to the pervasive character of neoliberalism, in which "market" transactions have gone so far as to redefine what it means to be an individual or to exercise volition.

III--"Mumbo Jumble" and "Shock of the New" explain both the self-apologia of orthodox economics in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis--viz., so "underwhelming" (or defiant and insolent) as to suggest some sort of higher power standing watch over that odious profession--and the structure of that higher power. Heavily larded with quotes from prominent economists and statistics. "Shock of the New" specifically addresses the inadequacies of attempts to incorporate "irrational" behavior (5).

IV--"The Red Guide to the Neoliberal Playbook" explicitly rejects any prescriptive approach, often encountered in crisis literature, and a lot of readers may object to the despairing tone of this chapter. Nearly all of the countervailing movements to the NTC come under withering criticism, none of which needs to be defended here because of the obvious historical outcomes (6).

A MINOR CRITICISM

Mirowski's overview of the literature of his subject is vast, especially if one includes materials discussed in prior works. It's one thing to say that the task he set for himself was to diagnose, and not prescribe; but this division of labor implies that someone else is expected to prescribe, and yet this overview guns down all known ripostes to the NTC. In other words, Mirowski's expertise in taxonomies of economic thought is SO broad that, if he reports no viable counterweight to the NTC, then he probably thinks none exists. This is unlikely to be so.

Another objection is that Mirowski insists on the uniqueness of the NTC as an actor; the NTC is the premier conspiracy, and other forms of the far right are its dupe. Without going into detail, I think Mirowski wanted to tell a story of a preternaturally deft political movement and did so by ignoring prior conditions, rival forms of the political right, and longstanding political verities (e.g., for all recording history, it has been extremely hard to pass legislation over the objections of the economic elites--even when "watered down"). The NTC has been only the latest (?) in a long tradition of aristocrats resisting encroachments on their prerogatives by denouncing "tyranny.
__________________________________________
(1) A lot of information is available at Sourcewatch (an "org" domain; URLs are forbidden in Amazon reviews). Mirowski says that he uses the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) as a "Rosetta stone" (p.39) to identify people or institutions that qualify as neoliberal.

(2) The title of the chapter is a reference to Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine(2007). Mirowski's book is a detailed exposition of the personnel and outlook behind the shock.

(3) Along with Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, Lionel Robbins, and a few others (in 1947). Ludwig von Mises later broke with the MPS for being ideologically impure (see Murray Rothbard, The Essential von Mises, p.112). Hayek understood "democracy" as reflecting the outcome of a popular vote, including decisions made by legislators elected by popular vote. Mirowski doesn't mention this here, but Hayek's view of the relationship between liberalism and democracy is explicitly borrowed from Ortega y Gasset (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition, 1960, pp.442-443). See Roland Axtman (1996), p.38.

(4) Carl Schmitt is most famous as a legal theorist who served the Nazi regime, justifying its every public act. His doctrine of the "state of exception," or inherently unforeseeable emergency, was used to explain the urgent need to liquidate democratic institutions. Mirowski mentions the examples of appointed prime ministers for Greece and Italy in order to administer austerity programs there (p.85). Greece and Italy are governed by massive party coalitions that permitted the suspension of democratic selection of the cabinet.

(5) Specifically, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, whose book Animal Spirits (2009) comes under extensive fire (pp.258-259); and architects of TARP. TARP, of course, was actually just one of a vast complex of lending facilities for different types of financial instruments.

(6) Mirowski is sympathetic to OWS, but as of publication, it was a damp squib. Even in European countries, marked as they are by far higher standards of social justice and participatory democracy (and suffering from more violent reversals than those in the USA), protests had the perverse effect of enabling a continent-wide shift to the right.
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on 21 March 2014
My feelings regarding Mirowski's "Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste" are decidedly mixed, on the one hand there is much fascinating information and analysis with regards to both Economists and the Financial Meltdown, on the other... well imagine Thomas Franks (of One Market Under God &Pity the Billionaire fame) mainlining a hefty load of hard-core academic jargon, and you have some idea of the style Mirowski writes in and the minor headache I developed from time to time while reading it.

Some of it is brilliant, Mirowski has read up on his Hayek and Friedman and the rest of the Mont Pelerin folks (spreading out to those with varying degrees of connections into what Mirowski terms the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective), and their thoughts and methods; his examination of the links between Macro Economists and the Federal Reserve and with Wall St throws much light on the reasons for the almost total lack of innovation in their responses to the Financial Meltdown. But even these insights have to be teased out from the heavy load of academic terminology that he has larded this book with.

This should have been (and perhaps will be if someone does a plain English translation) one of the best books written on the Financial Meltdown of 2007 onwards, and certainly the best one on Economists and the Meltdown, but instead Mirowski's raucous riff-a-rama of esoteric academic terminology means that he may as well have erected a 'Keep Out!' sign for the general reader, at least he would have saved himself receiving the one-star reviews which I in part sympathise with.
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on 8 October 2013
There is something quite deliberately riotous in this book. It is, of course, a serious work, recapitulating the author's previous scholarly works on neoliberalism and economics in a more digestible, polemical format. But it is also something of an arcade, an ensemble of rococo stylings, flights of sarcastic humour, polemical asides and sustained critical forays into philosophy, economics and cultural criticism. This will be too discursive, too prolix, not 'clear' enough for some people; but there's no reason why everyone has to sound like an ad copywriter in their prose.

More to the point, it contains: 1) a tragicomic reading of how the economics profession squandered any chance to develop a new perspective beyond the gentrifying corsets of marginalism after the crisis, and how this intellectual conformity helped underpin the responses of national states as they bailed out the banks; 2) original and sharp analyses of the institutional and political origins of 'the Neoliberal Thought Collective' - that Russian Doll-like infrastructure of think tanks and lobbies and councils and academic journals which propagate neoliberal ideology; 3) an original engagement with Foucault's analyses of neoliberalism, in what is to me the most useful chapter, on 'everyday neoliberalism'. This chapter explains in ways that other authors do not the ways in which neoliberalism filters into everyday life, structuring people's experiences of the world, penetrating culture, and thus making itself more accepted; 4) a lucid analysis of the credit crunch and the responses to it.

I have read many useful accounts of the crisis - the credit crunch and ensuing recessions and debt panics. Albo, Gindin & Panitch have written well, in their book In and Out of Crisis, about why it is that the banks got their way. Mark Blyth has dissected austerity politics well. And Froud et al, in their book After The Great Complacence, have provided a subtle analysis of the 'elite debacle' that led to the credit crunch. But this one opened my eyes more than the others, and for that reason I consider it the best on the crisis to date.
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on 16 August 2013
Dazzling and gripping -- sets a new benchmark for the issues. I don't think there is anyone with a better grasp of the intellectual movement aspect of the crisis. The writing is compelling: There is something important virtually on every page here and the sympathetic reader is swept along, though he/she need to be reasonably well-informed. Three aspects are particularly novel:

1. The sadistic/ruthless dimension of neoliberalism.
2. A detailed study demonstrating the financial and career dependence of monetary economists on the Fed.
3. The concept of agnotology. One wishes for a more self-explanatory term. The idea is that much of the neoliberal argument is not undertaken in good faith, is not intended to persuade and is not underpinned by credible arguments, but is meant to sow confusion and doubt. Examples are the debates about tobacco and global warming, but the neoliberal project overall is surrounded by obfuscation of this kind.

Full disclosure: the author is a friend and even a collaborator -- but I would be writing this anyway. That's why he is a friend.
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on 15 May 2014
My feelings regarding Mirowski's "Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste" are decidedly mixed, on the one hand there is much fascinating information and analysis with regards to both Economists and the Financial Meltdown, on the other... well imagine Thomas Franks (of One Market Under God &Pity the Billionaire fame) mainlining a hefty load of hard-core academic jargon, and you have some idea of the style Mirowski writes in and the minor headache I developed from time to time while reading it.

Some of it is brilliant, Mirowski has read up on his Hayek and Friedman and the rest of the Mont Pelerin folks (spreading out to those with varying degrees of connections into what Mirowski terms the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective), and their thoughts and methods; his examination of the links between Macro Economists and the Federal Reserve and with Wall St throws much light on the reasons for the almost total lack of innovation in their responses to the Financial Meltdown. But even these insights have to be teased out from the heavy load of academic terminology that he has larded this book with.

This should have been (and perhaps will be if someone does a plain English translation) one of the best books written on the Financial Meltdown of 2007 onwards, and certainly the best one on Economists and the Meltdown, but instead Mirowski's raucous riff-a-rama of esoteric academic terminology means that he may as well have erected a 'Keep Out!' sign for the general reader, at least he would have saved himself receiving the one-star reviews which I in part sympathise with.
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on 15 September 2013
This is an utterly infuriating and ultimately self-defeating book. I was determined to finish it, but eventually had to concede defeat half way through the penultimate chapter, `The Shock of the New', which was, to me, merely a `Shock', and incomprehensibly opaque to the intelligent lay person. Although there are a few moments of lucid writing, the effort involved in simply wading through the English is almost not worth it. I resent any professor, however brilliant, requiring a well-educated person to read their tome alongside a dictionary, especially when the text is littered with smart-alec, high-falutin', rapid-fire, smug American academic slang. Actually, I can pinpoint the exact word where I finally gave up the unequal struggle: `donnybrook' on page 278, which apparently means a brawl, and which was an appropriate point of departure.

If this is the best that the American academic left can do to counter the all-pervasiveness of Neoliberalism, then the world is finished, perhaps almost literally. Along his lumpen way, Mirowski dumps on pretty well everyone in the field who has a decent command of proper English and has made a reasonable attempt at a critique - Naomi Klein is dismissed in a phrase, Thomas Frank in a few paragraphs, presumably because they don't do mathematics. He must have developed piles from sitting on the fence over Stitglitz' position. The majority of the book consists of microscopic nit-picking about theoretical models which Mirowski himself seems to think are largely useless because they illuminate nothing, and cannot be used to predict anything other than retrospectively the principles of Neoliberalism. When they don't fulfil their universe masters' preconceptions, there is an infinity of futile pseudo-mathematics that will keep these charlatans in the arithmetic equivalent of the snake-oil business until doomsday. They are the economic equivalents of the management consultants, and deserve about as much trust. Miroswki is too embroiled himself in this silliness to stand aside and declare what shouldn't take 300 pages (though in fairness he goes much further than any other economist I have read): that a significant proportion of academic economists are mendacious peddlers of greed and as furious riders of the revolving door as any of the other inhabitants of the world of Neoliberalism. Using Mirowski's concept of the Russian Doll of Neoliberalism should place most of the so-called `Nobel' prize winners in economics (not an original Nobel prize, funded by a bank, no less, and established only in the late 1960s) as another component of both a small and large doll, given that not far off 40% of the recipients of the prize are card-carrying Neoliberal Chicago economists (Mirowski does acknowledge this). The prize clearly is valueless except as a pseudo-imprimatur for peddling more right-wing nonsense as incontestable `science'. It should be abolished forthwith: actually this simple move would probably do more to prick the inflated bubble of Neoliberalism than anything.

Mirowski doesn't seem to understand that Neoliberalism means almost nothing to the public. I know this, because I have asked countless medical students who I teach; they don't know the word, never mind understand its concepts. The few who do commonly regard it as a nasty name that jealous lefties call people who have made mountains of cash. The left-leaning economists would do well to put their considerable intellects together to coin a set of terms to replace `Neoliberalism' that could sequentially be abandoned in favour of the next one, much as the politically correct have dealt with the wearing out of race terms that all become tarnished at some stage.

The subtitle: 'How neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown' is of course not the same as why it survived, though we could have reasonably expected a few of Prof Mirowski's verbose diversions to cover the topic. The result is a book rather similar to Colin Crouch's `The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism' though Crouch's language is elegant and comprehensible. Neither, however, tell us convincingly why they believe Neoliberalism emerged from the 2008 crisis largely unchanged and in most respects more resilient than ever. Mirowski skirts around cognitive dissonance, but that's about as far as he gets. Fundamentally a true critique of the crisis, and more importantly an idea of a way forward, requires philosophers of politics, sociologists and psychologists to get stuck into the problem. Crouch should be able to delve farther than he does in the last few pages of his books, where he appeals to creative tension between state, market, corporation and civil society, which I'm afraid sounds like the tired stuff we'd expect from a Professor of Governance. I don't know whether Mirowski discusses any redress in the last bit of his book, and I probably wouldn't understand it if he did. Regardless, I don't think any amount of discussion of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis or the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium model is going to give us the tiniest clue how to emerge from this mess in any kind of alternative way.

My personal cynical view is that there is no solution, and that human nature in general doesn't want one. Neoliberalism opened up multiple vistas of human greed and selfishness, and elevated them first to acceptability, and latterly, during the 2008 crisis, to moral and financial unassailability (intermittently sane Neoliberals such as Julian Le Grand at least concede as much, though I haven't read anything post-2008 by him). The toxicity of Neoliberalism has been cemented not, I would say, by Mirowski's Russian Doll, but its even more pernicious bedfellow, Neoconservatism, both at their most pervasive and to many persuasive in two of the most demonstrably unequal countries in the world, the UK and the USA. Neoconservatism isn't even mentioned by Crouch or Mirowski, which is strange, as its precepts are much easier to appreciate, don't require any mathematics at all, and may explain why regimes that effortlessly combine prying and nannying authoritarianism with populist moralism and relativism may be able to divert their citizens' attention from the real hazards of Neoliberalism. Frank, in particular, has much of value to say about the phenomenon.

This valiant but unsuccessful book demonstrates that Neoliberal economic pseudo-science cannot be countered by yet more pseudo-science, which constrains its academic antagonists to the politeness of scientific discourse rather than the more comprehensible rough-and-tumble of political discussion. The economists who have not been wholly taken in by the Neoliberal market in economists (including, creditably, of course, Mirowski himself) should let go a bit and work with the social scientists of inequality to attempt to bypass this sterile impasse. The latter, I think, have made a markedly greater impact than the economists; but their own science now needs translating into politics. How, though, other than by invoking ultimate Neoliberalism to encourage takeover of the UK by Scandinavians?
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on 27 August 2014
The subject of this book could not be more important – the process whereby a doctrine (neoliberalism), assumed in 2008 to have been totally discredited, has managed not only to survive but to become the only game in town…
I have (carefully) read 358 pages of text; glanced at 52 pages of notes; and noted with interest a 41 page bibliography. And I have also turned up at least a score of fairly long reviews some of which you can see on my blog whose url is nomadron.blogspot.com.
The book's (mercifully short) conclusion poses these questions-
• What were the key causes of the crisis?
• Have economists of any stripe managed to produce a coherent and plausible narrative of the crisis, at least so far? And what role have heterodox economists played in the dispute?
• What are the major political weaknesses of the contemporary neoliberal movement?
• What is the current topography of the “Neoliberal Thought Collective”?
• What lessons should the left learn from the neoliberals, and which should they abjure?
• What would a vital counternarrative to the epistemological commitments of the neoliberals look like?

But the book touches (and briefly at that) only on the second and fourth of these questions – the others he suggests “demand lavishly documented advocacy and lengthy disputations” and maybe an alternative left project.
His book, he concludes with surprising modesty for such a pyrotechnic writer, simply “dispels some commonplace notions that have gotten in the way of such a project”.

He then goes on to a final one-page summary of the 6 reasons why “neoliberals have triumphed in the global economic crisis” –
• Contrary evidence didn’t dent their world view
• They “redoubled their efforts to influence and capture the economics profession”
• “everyday neoliberalism” which had “taken root in our culture provided a bulwark until The “Neoliberal Thought Collective” (NTC) could mount further responses”
• The NTC developed the black art of “agnotology” (see below) and –
• “coopted protest movements through a combination of top-down takeover and bottom-up commercialisation and privatisation of protest activities and recruitment”

and… finally…..wait for it…..
• ”The NTC has displayed an identifiable repeating pattern of full-spectrum policy responses to really pervasive crisis which consists of short-run denialism, medium-term imposition of state-sponsored markets and long-term recruitment of entrepreneurs to explore scientific blue-sky projects to transform human relationships to nature”…….

GOT IT?
I really am trying to be fair to this guy – but he really does hoist himself with his own petard.
And, dear reader, you should know that I studied economics for 4 years at university – and then attempted to teach the subject to students….
Furthermore, I pride myself on my vocabulary…..but I was stumped by so many words –
"Ambagious, apophenia, “all the Finnegan that is needed”; perfervid, quiddity (a favourite); astralobe, scofflaws, epigones, fugleman, lucubrations, bombinate, deliquesce, Nascar, echolalia, echoic, ukase, catallactic, hebetude, cunctuation, coadjurancy, snafus, non-ergodicity, defalcation, hazmot, political donnybrooks"

He was, however, kind enough to proffer (at page 226) a definition of“agnotology” (to which an entire section is devoted) - namelythe “focused study of the intentional manufacture of doubt and uncertainty in the general populace for specific political motives”.
And he does also explain a couple of other neologisms – “murketing” and “buycott” (both of which my automatic speller annoyingly tries to correct)
“Dissention” at page 243 presumably is “dissension”. You see, Reader, the efforts to which I have gone for you!

I am glad to report that I am not the only person to be appalled at Mirowski’s style – a year ago an Economist columnist took issue with the book for this reason and sparked off quite a discussion thread.

Avoid this book. Its bibliography is the only useful thing in it....
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on 28 November 2015
An interesting book, well written, interesting cover. Would read again.
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on 7 April 2014
Beautifully written though sometimes the erudition and the anger get in the way of understanding. Among the revelations: Bernanke a neo-liberal all along.
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on 20 September 2013
Despite many insights, the book is almost unreadable as the author seems to insist on language trying to impress rather than to phrase things simply and directly. A chore to read.
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