The Many Faces of Neoliberalism

Yesterday's Richard Cohen column was truly awful. So awful, in fact, that it's led Brad Delong to an unsound level of shrillness:

If anybody is interested, Richard Cohen could have discovered in less than two minutes that the term "neoliberalism" was coined to describe the Washington Monthly's Charlie Peters and his posse, who wanted a reality-based liberalism, an effective liberalism, a liberalism that sought truth from facts and that proposed policies not because they resonated with a liberal interest group but because they were good for the country and the world.


Now, look; the truth of the matter is that "neoliberalism" is a confusing term. Certainly, this is one neoliberalism -- Peters-style efforts to reformulate American liberalism after the disappointments of the 1970s. This neoliberalism is, however, a different thing from the Washington Consensus of the IMF and the World Bank that also goes by the name "neoliberalism." Even worse, these two ideas aren't completely distinct. And out of the points of overlap plus the realities of money, power, and politics comes the third neoliberalism -- the neoliberalism of the "business-friendly" Democratic Party politician. In recent years, to make things even worse, a substantial number of people who want to see major change in US foreign policy have started referring to liberal hawks as "neoliberal" based both on the "neoconservative" appellation and also the general sense of the "neoliberal" as being to the right of the standard liberal.

In short, it's a legitimately confusing term, and while one can (and should!) condemn Richard Cohen for many things, I think he's allowed to find it somewhat confusing.