The State: The Bête Noire of Neo-Liberalism or its Greatest Conquest? - Sciences Po Access content directly
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The State: The Bête Noire of Neo-Liberalism or its Greatest Conquest?


Neo-liberalism has had one central message for the state: scale back, cut back, cut out, transform. This brings to mind Winston Churchill's reply to an opponent who asked, ‘How much is enough?’ to Churchill's repeated push to spend increasingly more on defence in the 1930s. Churchill's rejoinder came in the form of a story about a Brazilian banker with whom he had just had lunch. The banker had received a cable informing him of the death of his mother-in-law and asking for instructions. He cabled back: ‘embalm, cremate, bury at sea; leave nothing to chance’. This take on neo-liberalism – as burying the state – is certainly exaggerated because neo-liberalism comes in many different forms with many different policy applications. Only the recommendations of the most radical strands come close to the Brazilian banker's response to his mother-in-law's death. Yet the story as a metaphor for neo-liberal views of the state nonetheless somehow rings true. This is largely because neo-liberals have been more anti-state in their rhetoric than in their actions. The state has been neo-liberalism’s bête noire, as its main focus of attack, because neo-liberals – whatever their differences – have viewed the state as consistently doing too much in the wrong ways with the worst consequences not only for the markets but also for democracy, by endangering individual freedom through its interventions. As a provider of public goods, the state had to be scaled back to leave room for the market, which would assure more efficiency. However, the state has also been neo-liberalism’s greatest conquest, as its main locus of action, because it has been primarily through the state that neo-liberals have been able to realize their vision(s).
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hal-02393512 , version 1 (04-12-2019)



Vivien A. Schmidt, Cornelia Woll. The State: The Bête Noire of Neo-Liberalism or its Greatest Conquest?. Vivien A. Schmidt; Mark Thatcher. Resilient Liberalism in Europe’s Political Economy, Cambridge University Press, pp.112 - 141, 2013, 9781107613973. ⟨hal-02393512⟩
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