In the months following the economic meltdown of 2008, it looked, for a second, as if neoliberalism, or whatever one wanted to call the latest version of un- or under-fettered global capitalism, might come to an end. Titans of the creed paraded themselves before Congress; measures unthinkable in another age—bank nationalization, for one—became the basic fodder for newspaper columnists. Images of Marx appeared on one magazine cover after another. “Another ideological god has failed,” Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf wrote in 2009. “The assumptions that ruled policy and politics over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism.”
By 2010, of course, these ambitious hopes looked embarrassingly premature, as much of the world turned to austerity, rather than to stimulus, to address the crisis’s lingering effects. It’s partly because of the thorough, decades-long expulsion of alternatives to capitalism that the zombie-like survival of this hyperliberalized variant now feels so easy to take for granted. But it is in fact unprecedented. The two comparable crises of capitalism in the 20th century both led to major transformations in governance. The Depression gave rise to Keynesian tools of fiscal and monetary macroeconomic management; oil and stagflation in the 1970s overturned that regime, as the developed world traded a Keynesian orthodoxy for a market one.