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Near the end of Capitalism and Freedom (1962), Milton Friedman states the central thesis of his influential book: “Equality comes sharply into conflict with freedom; one must choose. One cannot be both an egalitarian . . . and a liberal.” What Friedman calls “liberalism” is the market fundamentalism that is now commonly called “neoliberalism.”
Friedman’s argument, radical in 1962, became the country’s guiding public philosophy with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Its power as public philosophy owed less to the compelling force of its economic analysis than to its success in recruiting the value of liberty—our “equal right to freedom”—to its cause. Recruiting liberty, while dismissing equality and subordinating the civic liberty associated with democracy.
We are now living with the consequences of this experiment: a socially pathological concentration of income and wealth; a decades-long assault on the capacity of public institutions to address our most fundamental problems, including climate catastrophe; a collapse of working-class communities, black, brown, and white; a blame-the-victim philosophy of “personal responsibility”; and an assault on the commitments to civic equality, public reason, and shared responsibility that are essential to a flourishing democracy.
Some people—including newly self-styled “nationalist conservatives”—blame the “left” for all this damage. On Earth, things look different. We live in a world made by neoliberalism, with its hostility to equality and democracy. It is time to stop.
This issue of Boston Review—published with generous support from the Hewlett Foundation—suggests new directions. It explores the destructive impact of shareholder primacy, the role of law in con- solidating unequal power, and the importance of public communication of economic ideas in democracy. Its core is the debate generated by three influential economists—Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman—who argue that economics must break decisively from the anti-egalitarian, antidemocratic market fundamentalism of the neoliberal revolution and embrace an economics of “inclusive prosperity.” Their essay, the project they have launched, and the rich debate they have provoked may be the start of something new and important—we are calling it Economics After Neoliberalism.