The Ezra Klein Show
Neoliberalism and its discontents
Oct 24, 2019 · 1 hr 35 min
Play episode

“Neoliberalism” is one of the most confusing phrases in political discourse today. The term is often used to describe the market fundamentalism of thinkers like Milton Friedman and Frederich Hayek or politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. At the same time, critics often place more progressive figures like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and even Elizabeth Warren under the neoliberal banner. This raises an important question: what the hell is neoliberalism?

I decided to bring on two guests today to help us answer that question. Wendy Brown is a professor of political theory at UC Berkeley, author of Undoing the Demos and In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, and one of the foremost critics of neoliberalism, not only as a set of economic policies but a “governing rationality” that infects almost all aspects of our existence. Noah Smith is an economist, a columnist at Bloomberg, and is known for his robust defenses of some (though not all) neoliberal positions, which earned him the prestigious title of Chief Neoliberal Shill of 2018. We discuss:

- The differences between neoliberal theory and “actually existing neoliberalism”

- Neoliberalism as not only a set of economic policies but a form of “public reason” that influences our very conception of what it means to be human

- How neoliberal thought came to dominate almost every aspect of our lives

- Whether neoliberalism is an inherently anti-democratic project

- The relationship between neoliberal economic policies and traditional morality

- The differences between New Deal liberalism and Obama-era neoliberalism

- Whether a growth-driven economic model is compatible with our planet's ecological limits

Book recommendations:

How Asia Works by Joe Studwell

Law Without Future by Jack Jackson

Democracy in Chains by Nancy McLean

My book is available for pre-order! You can find it at

Want to contact the show? Reach out at

You can subscribe to Ezra's new podcast Impeachment, explained on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or your favorite podcast app.


Producer and Editor - Jeff Geld

Researcher - Roge Karma

Engineer - Topher Routh

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu