Bruce Caldwell on The Road from Mont Pèlerin
| Peter Klein |
Don’t miss Bruce Caldwell’s review of Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Harvard, 2009). “Mont Pèlerin” refers, of course, to the Mont Pèlerin Society, the association of classical liberal academics and journalists founded by Hayek in 1947. Bruce finds the volume informative, despite its frequently disdainful tone toward its subjects. He also raises an important general point, one that I’ve wrestled with a lot since the financial crisis: does anybody listen to us?
The second question [raised by the book] has to do with the potency of intellectuals to shape world events or, more narrowly, even economic and social policy. It is evident that members of the Mont Pèlerin Society, for all of their diversity, still preferred some form of liberalism . . . to other ways of organizing economic and political affairs. But how important were they in the emerging global consensus that began in the 1980s in favor of trade liberalization and privatization? Were not, for example, the dismal performance of Keynesian demand management policies in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere in the 1970s; the heavy-handed actions of the trade unions in Britain during the “Winter of Discontent”; the sclerotic performance of countries like India who had embraced a modified version of the planning model for their own; and, of course, the patent economic and political failures of the East Bloc, far more important in turning the tide, however briefly, towards globalization? Was not George Stigler (himself a founding member of the Society) right in his comment about economists that “our influence appears to be powerful only when we support policies ripe for adoption” (Stigler 1987, p. 11)?