The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

America and the World in the Free Market Era

Gary Gerstle

The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

America and the World in the Free Market Era

Gary Gerstle






28 Jun 2022




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The most sweeping account of how neoliberalism came to dominate American politics for nearly a half century before crashing against the forces of Trumpism on the right and a new progressivism on the left.

The epochal shift toward neoliberalism--a web of related policies that, broadly speaking, reduced the footprint of government in society and reassigned economic power to private market forces--that began in the United States and Great Britain in the late 1970s fundamentally changed the world. Today, the word "neoliberal" is often used to condemn a broad swath of policies, from prizing free market principles over people to advancing privatization programs in developing nations around the world.

To be sure, neoliberalism has contributed to a number of alarming trends, not least of which has been a massive growth in income inequality. Yet as the eminent historian Gary Gerstle argues in The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, these indictments fail to reckon with the full contours of what neoliberalism was and why its worldview had such persuasive hold on both the right and the left for three decades. As he shows, the neoliberal order that emerged in America in the 1970s fused ideas of deregulation with personal freedoms, open borders with cosmopolitanism, and globalization with the promise of increased prosperity for all. Along with tracing how this worldview emerged in America and grew to dominate the world, Gerstle explores the previously unrecognized extent to which its triumph was facilitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist allies. He is also the first to chart the story of the neoliberal order's fall, originating in the failed reconstruction of Iraq and Great Recession of the Bush years and culminating in the rise of Trump and a reinvigorated Bernie Sanders-led American left in the 2010s.

An indispensable and sweeping re-interpretation of the last fifty years, this book illuminates how the ideology of neoliberalism became so infused in the daily life of an era, while probing what remains of that ideology and its political programs as America enters an uncertain future.


Acknowledgments Introduction Part I: The New Deal Order, 1930-1980 Chapter 1: Rise Chapter 2: Fall Part II: The Neoliberal Order, 1970-2020 Chapter 3: Beginnings Chapter 4: Ascent Chapter 5: Triumph Chapter 6: Hubris Chapter 7: Coming Apart Chapter 8: The End Notes Index


Gary Gerstle , Paul Mellon Professor of American History, University of Cambridge, UNITED STATES

Gary Gerstle is Paul Mellon Professor of American History Emeritus and Paul Mellon Director of Research at the University of Cambridge. He is the author and editor of more than ten books, including two prizewinners, American Crucible (2017) and Liberty and Coercion (2015). He is a Guardian columnist and has also written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New Statesman, Dissent, The Nation, and Die Zeit, among others. He frequently appears on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, ITV 4, Talking Politics, and NPR.




"Fascinating and incisive." -- Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

"Enlightening . . . Gerstle carefully recreates the new order Reagan wanted . . . [and] emphasizes its market side . . . [A] fine book." -- The New York Times Book Review

"It's rare that one can use the term instant classic in a book review, but Gary Gerstle's latest economic history, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, warrants the praise." -- Rana Foroohar, Financial Times

"Gerstle offers a rich and sophisticated discussion of neoliberalism . . . an important and beautifully written book." -- The Washington Post

"His American focus might also finally allow British readers to escape their factional trenches and appreciate the shape of neoliberalism. It is a terrific service . . . . a joy to read." -- Tom Clark, Prospect

"Masterfully blends compelling analysis with a propulsive narrative." -- Irish Times

"Brilliantly conceived, capaciously argued, and written with great clarity . . . For those interested in a meaningful historical perspective on where we are now, I can think of no better book." -- Steven Hahn, The Nation

"A cogent, erudite historical analysis." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[A] splendid and stimulating history of neo-liberalism's rise and possible 'fall.'" -- Australian Book Review

"This book is an interesting account of what is exceptional about "America"." -- Michael Laver, Society

"Essential reading." -- Adam Tooze, author of Crashed

"One of the smartest, most perceptive books I've read in years." -- Christopher Leonard, author of The Lords of Easy Money

"Anyone baffled at how the U.S. could possibly have moved over a half-century from embracing a state-centered New Deal to relentlessly unraveling it will be greatly enlightened by Gerstle's beautifully written, engrossing, and powerful telling of the rise of the neoliberal order. And some may take heart from his claim that it too is in free-fall, albeit leaving behind enduring vestiges of free market orthodoxy. I know no better guide to the complex transformations that have shaped our own times." -- Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Harvard University, and author of Saving America's Cities

"The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order finds a master historian at the top of his craft. By identifying Clinton as the key facilitator, Gerstle is the first historian to so compellingly show how and why neoliberal ideas were installed in a new political order. With no less acuity, Gerstle also shows the neoliberal order cracking up over the last decade. What happens next? I know of no better political history of our times to help answer that question than this gem of a book." -- Jonathan Levy, Professor of History, University of Chicago

"Gerstle's important book offers us an illuminating and rich interpretation of the power and popularity of neoliberalism in America. A true history of the movement, situating neoliberalism in relation to classical liberalism, the New Deal and global Communism. Essential reading." -- Adam Tooze, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History, Columbia University

"Expertly synthesizing a vast body of new scholarshipDLon international trade, the Cold War, race, polarization, Ralph Nader, the labor movement, and the rise of conservatismDLGary Gerstle delivers the most compendious and commanding history of neoliberal America to date. Along the way he opens new windows on the unexpected collaboration between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in deregulating America into the internet future. Gerstle also provides the best account I've read of how "neoliberal" came to be the word of choice for an order that promises liberation and delivers subjection, that divides our two parties on some issues but conjoins them on others." -- Corey Robin, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

"Among the foremost chroniclers of the American past, Gary Gerstle deploys in this bold book the powerful notion of 'political order' to examine our most recent historyDLthe past forty years when the nation fastened its fortunes to marketization, global economic integration, a harsh penal state and sharpening inequality. By charting the rise and fall of the neoliberal order, this fast-paced account helps us make sense of the arch of American history from Ronald Reagan to Bernie Sanders, from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump. A must read for anyone interested in the world we inhabit today, with all its mortal dangers and yet-to-be fulfilled promises." -- Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History, Harvard University

"Gary Gerstle offers a brilliant, engaging, and provocative first-draft history of the last half century, a period sorely in need of scrutiny. With characteristic big-think flair, he shows that the neoliberal wisdom of that eraDLthat markets would bring democracy, that the age of big government was overDLemerged from specific historical forces and circumstances. He also suggests that many of those ideas can and should now be consigned to the past." -- Beverly Gage, Professor of History & American Studies, Yale University

"Just beneath the surface of our fractured and polarized polity, Gary Gerstle argues that there has been a Neoliberal Order under which both parties worked in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even as they bitterly disagreed, the nation's political debate moved far away from the class-based pillars of the New Deal. In another of his characteristically eye-opening analyses, Gerstle takes readers through the rise and fall of the political order that has shaped our leaders and electorateDLthat is, until powerful forces over the past decade, on the right and left, have opened the door to a new era." -- Julian Zelizer, author of Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Gerstle, a political historian specializing in contemporary history of the U.S., provides a comprehensive political history of the U.S. over the past six decades (Gerstle 2022)...Full of revelations." -- Thomas König, Austrian Journal of Political Science

"Southern historians might best use it as a provocation for graduate students regarding the role of the South in the rise and decline of neoliberalism." -- William D. Goldsmith, Journal of Southern History

"Gerstle's book has achieved the rare feat of both critical success and popular acclaim, having been shortlisted for the FT Business Book of the Year Award in 2022. It deserves it." -- The OEconomia