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Henry Grattan Lecture - The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism

  • Speaker: Professor Colin Crouch, University of Warwick, England

  • Date: Wednesday 11 May 2011from 7.00 to 8.30 pm

  • Venue: Jonathan Swift Theatre (Room 2041A), Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin

As part of the 2011 Henry Grattan Lecture Series, Professor Colin Crouch from the University of Warwick, England delivered a public lecture titled the Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism. The talk was chaired by David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.


Presentation Abstract

The financial collapse at the turn of the present decade seemed to mark a major crisis for the set of economic ideas that have ruled the western world and many other parts of the globe since the late 1970s. Those ideas are generally grouped under the name 'neo-liberalism'. The financial collapse challenged these ideas because it involved the world's leading banks. They are profit-maximizers, acting in the purest of markets; how can they possibly not have contributed to the sum of human welfare in all that they did? In 1936 George Dangerfield published a book entitled The Strange Death of Liberal England (London: Constable). It tried to explain the sudden collapse in the early 20th century of the political ideas and political party that had dominated the late 19th century in that country. The equivalent task today is, however, not to explain why neo-liberalism will die following its crisis, but the very opposite; it is emerging from the financial collapse more politically powerful than ever; whereas the crisis concerned banks and their behaviour, resolution of the crisis has been redefined in many countries as a need to cut back once and for all the welfare state and public spending. And the issue today is not limited to a single country, as neo-liberalism is an international, even global, phenomenon. What we have to understand today is therefore the strange non-death of neo-liberalism.

At the heart of the answer is the fact that actually existing, as opposed to ideologically pure, neo-liberalism, is nothing like as devoted to free markets as is claimed. It is rather devoted to the dominance of public life by the giant corporation. It is pointless thinking that we can somehow rid ourselves of these accommodations, as we have no idea how we might manage advanced economies that do not put giant corporations in positions of enormous political influence. All we can do is to look to a fourth force, the busy but small voices of civil society, not to abolish, but to criticize, harry, expose the misdeeds and abuses of the cosy triangle. This in no way promises a different social order from corporation-dominated capitalism, but, provided our societies remain open and vigilant, it can make life far better than states and corporations will do if left to themselves.

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Speaker Biography

Colin Crouch is Professor of Governance and Public Management at Warwick Business School in the UK. He is an economic sociologist, with particular interests in international comparative research at the interface between sociology, politics and the study of work and employment. His writings in comparative political economy constitute a programme of comparative analysis of the regulation of work and employment, the structure and behaviour of organised interest groups, and national governance regimes. He was previously Professor of Comparative Social Institutions at the European University Institute, Florence, and has also held academic positions at Oxford University and LSE. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, member of the Academy of Social Sciences, and External Scientific member of the Max Planck Institute for Social Research at Cologne.

Chair Biography

David Begg became General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in 2001. For five years prior to that he was Chief Executive of Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organisation working in 27 countries and with offices in Dublin, London, Belfast, New York and Chicago. He is also a Director of the Central Bank (since 1995), a Governor of the Irish Times Trust, non Executive Director of Aer Lingus, a member of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), and of the Advisory Board of Development Co-operation Ireland. He also sits on the Executive Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

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Last updated 13 June 2014 .