The talk deals with the intellectual history, the political practice and the social consequences of neoliberalism. The main pillars of this ideology are an idealization of unrestrained, free markets, in the belief that they create an equilibrium for all sorts of market imbalances, an irrational faith in the rationality of market agents, and a libertarian antipathy toward the state, as expressed in the myth of “big government”. It also includes some elements of traditional laissez-faire capitalism such as the concept of the “hidden hand”, adding a metaphysical dimension whereby the market is regarded as a last judgment over all commodities. On the practical side, neoliberalism is based upon a standard economic recipe consisting of austerity, privatization, liberalization and deregulation that was codified in the “Washington Consensus” in 1989.
Neoliberal reforms were at first implemented in the 1980s in Chile, Great Britain and the United States. With the demise of state socialism in 1989, neoliberalism gained global hegemony and transformed Central and Eastern Europe. While neoliberal reforms focused initially on the privatization of state-owned companies and the downsizing of national governments, the second wave since the late 1990s was about the privatization of key state competences such as health care and pension systems, and the deregulation of international financial markets. This led to the global crisis of 2008/09, which hit Eastern Europe particularly hard. Finally, the paper proposes possible focuses of and approaches to historical research on neoliberalism, using it consciously as a neutral and not a normative term.