In recent years figures like Jonathan Chait have made it fashionable to deny the existence or salience of neoliberalism as a concept — and this has especially been the case in regard to the term’s use as a descriptor for the (nominally) left of center parties of the United States and Britain.
My personal experience of discussion with those who espouse this view showed differences among those making the case in these respective countries. Those I encountered on social media who denied that Bill Clinton was a neoliberal were never equipped with any facts, only bullying and abusiveness that gave the impression they were professional trolls intent on silencing anyone who publicly espoused such an opinion. That only underlined how they had nothing to say on behalf of a position that even slight familiarity with Clinton’s actual policy record makes appear risible — a line of thought which had me soon finding that there was a scarcity of comprehensive, systematic and thoroughly grounded assessments of that record to make this clear.
The thought of, if only in a small way, redressing that deficiency led to my paper, “Was the Clinton Administration Neoliberal?” and after that a book examining the U.S. policy record from the 1970s on in more comprehensive fashion (The Neoliberal Age in America: From Carter to Trump), both of which endeavor to offer an explicit, testable definition of neoliberalism, and then systematically consider the record of the administrations in question against it.
Those who contested Blair’s labeling as neoliberal, however, assumed a different tone — in part, I suppose, because they did have something to say for themselves. They would point in particular to his establishment of a minimum wage and other rights for British workers that, certainly by American standards, appear very generous; and his funding of social services, which, again by American standards, also appeared very generous at the time. It did, at least, compel me to think about what they said, the more in as I was less familiar with the finer points of Blair’s policy record than I was with Clinton’s, or for that matter, Margaret Thatcher’s, or Harold Wilson’s, or Clement Attlee’s.
In that I do not think I was alone. My impression is that Blair’s domestic record has been overshadowed to a considerable degree by his foreign policy record — above all his supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and bringing Britain’s forces into the invasion along with it even as longtime NATO allies France and Germany (to say nothing of other powers like Russia and China) forcefully and publicly opposed the move. Moreover, critical examination of Blair’s ministership would seem to have been inhibited by, on top of the generally lousy job with these things done by public intellectuals these days, the extreme resistance of the neoliberals in the Labour Party, whose hostility to any change of course was made all too plain in the pathetic lows to which they descended in their campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.
Still, examine Blair’s record I did. And in doing so I saw that the pretense of Blair not being a neoliberal is just as risible as Clinton’s not being a neoliberal, given his not only acquiescing in the profound changes wrought in English economic and social life by his predecessors (privatization, union-breaking, financialization, etc.), but his particular brand of budgetary austerity with its tax breaks for corporations and stringency for the poor, his backdoor privatization of basic services, his hostility to government regulation of business, his embrace of flaky New Economy thinking, and the rest. (Indeed, examining his record, and reexamining that of his predecessors, I was staggered by how much of it I had seen before reviewing the comparable history in the United States.)
You can check out my examination of Blair’s record — which also includes an equally detailed examination of Margaret Thatcher’s record — here at the web site of the Social Sciences Research Network.