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(43,058 posts)
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:06 PM Dec 2023

Sen. Chris Murphy: 'This Party Has Not Made a Firm Break From Neoliberalism'


“I am very convinced that America is in the middle of a spiritual crisis,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told the Prospect over the phone. It was an unexpected entry point for him to explain the impetus for a new interview series the senator launched on social media earlier this month, focused on monopoly power and its various ills. The topics of the first three episodes—the merger between airline giants JetBlue and Spirit, and the monopolization cases against Google and Amazon—don’t exactly come off as matters for a theological seminary. However, this unsecular turn in Murphy’s thinking is not entirely surprising if you’ve followed any of his speeches and signature policy issues over recent months. To Murphy, the issue of corporate concentration runs deeper than just consumer pricing and equitable growth. It strikes at the core of why Americans feel powerless about the fate of the country.

People have a palpable, though not always articulable, sense that the most crucial decisions governing their daily lives are now being made far away from their communities in corporate boardrooms, rather than by elected officials in the halls of government or by extension themselves. Many of the country’s morbid symptoms, in Murphy’s estimations, trace back to this friction between the public and their corporate overlords. “The disease is a really deep, insidious one rooted in the fact that people feel like they have no control over their lives any longer … in politics we often treat the symptoms, not the disease, and that’s what I’m trying to address,” Murphy said, evoking themes akin to the “malaise speech” from President Jimmy Carter in 1979, who, ironically given the first episode of the series, actually deregulated the airlines, paving the way for today’s industry consolidation.

So far, he has held discussions with former Biden competition czar Tim Wu, airline expert William McGee, and Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-director Stacy Mitchell. The interview series is part of a political transformation Murphy has undergone recently, marking such a stark departure that it reads as though he himself is perhaps experiencing some kind of spiritual restlessness. Since taking office in 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting, Murphy has primarily championed gun control legislation and dovish foreign-policy views, fairly standard issues for a liberal senator. One reason for that is his committee assignments. He does not sit on the Judiciary or Banking Committees, which are more central in legislating matters involving corporate power. Most recently, he has helped lead negotiations with Republicans on a border security deal.

But his work of late is now colored with a recurring theme of the psychic damage to the country wrought by “forty years of neoliberal policies,” which he’s derided in numerous op-eds. “He’s really trying to rethink philosophy … and understand why everyone is so miserable,” said Matt Stoller, policy and research director of the American Economic Liberties Project, whom Murphy quotes in a Substack post introducing the interview series. “That led him to question neoliberalism, and then to center that questioning on monopoly and finance.” Over the summer, Murphy received national attention, and raised a few eyebrows, for making a pilgrimage of sorts from his home state Connecticut to visit Boone, North Carolina, in the heart of Appalachia. The trip was meant to feature the core problems with neoliberalism that have left swaths of the country behind. Those include deindustrialization, business-friendly trade policies, declining unionization rates, and runaway poverty.

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(2,229 posts)
1. To me it began with the Dems during Clinton and
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:18 PM
Dec 2023

DLC. He felt Wall Street could not be ignored. Hasn't been ignored since.


(43,058 posts)
6. It started before then:
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:50 PM
Dec 2023
Democrats, neoliberalism, and the Third Way

These days, the meaning of “neoliberal” has become fuzzy. But it has a long history of association with the Democratic Party.


The fallout from the 2016 election has created many surreal moments for historians of American politics and parties, but surely one of the oddest has been the introduction of the term neoliberal into the popular discourse. Even stranger still is that it has become a pejorative largely lobbed by the left less at Republicans and more at Democrats. As neoliberal has come to describe a wide range of figures, from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Ezra Klein and Ta-Nehisi Coates, its meaning has become stretched thin and caused fuzziness and disagreement. This muddle of meanings creates an opportunity to seek a more precise understanding of what I call “Democratic neoliberalism.” It is actually not the first time Democrats have been called neoliberal. In the early 1980s, the term emerged to describe a group of figures also called the Watergate Babies, Atari Democrats, and New Democrats, many of whom eventually became affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). In this iteration, the term neoliberal was embraced not as opprobrium. Rather, it used a form of self-description and differentiation to imply that they were “new Democrats.” In 1982, Washington Monthly editor Charles Peters published “A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto,” which aimed to lay out the core principles of this group; two years later, journalist Randall Rothenberg wrote a book called The Neoliberals that sought to codify and celebrate this cohort’s ascendency.

The DLC and its allies have largely received attention from political historians for their electoral strategy instead of their policies. Yet, even more than electoral politics, this group had an impact on shaping the ideas and policy priorities of the Democratic Party in key issues of economic growth, technology, and poverty. They also created a series of initiatives that sought to fuse these arenas together in lasting ways. The realm of policies is where parties can have an impact that reaches beyond elections to shape the lives of individual people and intensify structures and patterns of inequality. It thus points to the importance of expanding the study of US political parties writ large, beyond simply an examination of political strategy and electoral returns and instead thinking about the ways in which parties come to reflect and shape ideas and policy. It also demonstrates the importance of treating neoliberalism less as an epithet and more as a historical development.

Unlike their counterparts in fields like sociology and geography and even in other historical subfields, historians of the United States were long reluctant to adopt the term “neoliberal.” Many still argue that the neologism has become, in the words of Daniel Rodgers, “a linguistic omnivore” that is anachronistic and potentially “cannibalizing.” In the past few years, scholars of 20th-century American political history, however, have increasingly embraced neoliberalism and sought to understand its historical evolution. Building and drawing on the work of influential theorists like David Harvey, these inquiries have been important in the efforts to understand the relationship between capitalism and politics and the power dynamics with them. Yet these accounts have largely depicted the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s as inextricably intertwined with conservative ascent and the Reagan Revolution, and situated the Clinton era and the rise of the New Democrats as a piece of a larger story about the dominance of the free market and the retreat of government. This approach flattened and obscured the important ways that the Clintons and other New Democrats’ promotion of the market and the role of government was distinct from Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and their followers.

The principles and policies Clinton and the DLC espoused were not solely a defensive reaction to the Republican Party or merely a strategic attempt to pull the Democratic Party to the center. Rather, their vision represents parts of a coherent ideology that sought to both maintain and reformulate key aspects of liberalism itself. In The Neoliberals, Rothenberg observed that “neoliberals are trying to change the ideas that underlie Democratic politics.” Taking his claim seriously provides a means to think about how this group of figures achieved that goal and came to permanently transform the agenda and ideas of the Democratic Party.

From Watergate Babies to New Democrats..........


A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto

By Charles Peters; Charles Peters is the editor of The Washington Monthly.

September 5, 1982



NEO-LIBERALISM is a terrible name for an interesting, if embryonic, movement. As the sole culprit at the christening, I hereby attest to the innocence of the rest of the faithful. They deserve something better, because they are a remarkable group of people. The best known are three promising senators: Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gary Hart of Colorado and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. The ones I know best are my fellow journalists, including James Fallows and Gregg Easterbrook of The Atlantic, Michael Kinsley and Robert M. Kaus of Harper's, Nicholas Lemann and Joseph Nocera of Texas Monthly, and Randall Rothenberg of New Jersey Monthly. But there are many others, ranging from an academic economist like MIT's Lester Thurow to a mayor like Houston's Kathy Whitmire to a governor like Arizona's Bruce Babbitt. There's even a cell over at that citadel of traditional liberalism, The New Republic.

While we are united by a different spirit and a different style of thought, none of these people should be held responsible for all of what follows. Practicing politicians in particular should be presumed innocent of the more controversial positions. When I use the first person plural, it usually means some but not all of us, and occasionally it may mean just me.

If neo-conservatives are liberals who took a critical look at liberalism and decided to become conservatives, we are liberals who took the same look and decided to retain our goals but to abandon some of our prejudices. We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

We have found these responses not only weren't helping but were often hampering us in confronting the problems that were beginning to cripple the nation in the 1970s: declining productivity; the closed factories and potholed roads that betrayed decaying plant and infrastructure; inefficient and unaccountable public agencies that were eroding confidence in government; a military with too many weapons that didn't work and too few people from the upper classes in its ranks; and a politics of selfishness symbolized by an explosion of political action committees devoted to the interests of single groups.


A Neoliberal Says It’s Time for Neoliberals to Pack It In


My fellow neoliberal shill Brad DeLong has declared that it’s time for us to pass the baton to “our colleagues on the left.” As it happens, I agree with him in practice because I think it’s time for boomers to retire and turn over the reins to Xers and Millennials, who are generally somewhat to the left of us oldsters. Beyond that, though, there’s less here than meets the eye. DeLong says there are three reasons he thinks neoliberals should fade into the background:

Political: The original guiding spirit of American neoliberalism was the idea that Democrats had moved too far to the left and gotten punished for it with the election of Ronald Reagan. For years, neoliberals believed that if the party could be moved toward the center, it would be possible to make deals with Republicans that would lead to better governance. Needless to say, that didn’t work: Republicans, it turned out, were simply emboldened to move even further to the right. They showed absolutely no intention of compromising in any way with Democrats.

But this is old news. Charlie Peters, the godfather of political neoliberalism, conceded it publicly long ago. For at least the past decade, there’s been no reason at all to believe that the current Republican Party would ever compromise with Democrats no matter how moderate their proposals. Anyone who has believed this since George W. Bush was president was deluding themselves. Anyone who has believed it since 2009, when Obamacare was being negotiated, is an idiot. There’s nothing about this that separates neoliberals from anyone else these days.

Policy: DeLong suggests that the folks to his left are basically just social democrats like him who “could use a little more education about what is likely to work and what is not.” But with the unfortunate exception of its jihad against organized labor, neoliberals have been social democrats from the start. Bill Clinton tried to pass universal health care, after all, and I think Barack Obama would have done the same if he’d thought there was any chance of passing it.

So this is nothing new either. The question is, does DeLong intend to go along in areas where his neoliberal ideas are in conflict with the AOC wing of the Democratic Party? He plainly does not.

The world has changed: “We learned more about the world. I could be confident in 2005 that [recession] stabilization should be the responsibility of the Federal Reserve. That you look at something like laser-eye surgery or rapid technological progress in hearing aids, you can kind of think that keeping a market in the most innovative parts of health care would be a good thing. So something like an insurance-plus-exchange system would be a good thing to have in America as a whole. It’s much harder to believe in those things now.”

But has the world really changed? I don’t think so—not yet, anyway. I’ll bet DeLong still believes in these two things, but now understands that Republicans will undermine them at every opportunity. That makes it Job 1 to destroy the current incarnation of the GOP, and the best way to do that is to have unity on the left. But if and when that’s been accomplished, I’ll bet he still thinks the Fed should be primarily in charge of fighting recessions. We just need FOMC members who agree.

At the risk of overanalyzing this, I think DeLong is still a neoliberal and has no intention of sitting back and letting progressives run wild. He has simply changed the target of his coalition building. Instead of compromising to bring in Republicans, he wants to compromise to bring in lefties. Now, this is not nothing: instead of compromising to the right, he now wants to compromise to the left. But I suspect that this simply means DeLong has moved to the left over the past couple of decades, just like lots of liberals.


Third Way

The Third Way is a position akin to centrism that tries to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics by advocating a varying synthesis of some centre-right and centrist economic and some centre-left social policies. The Third Way was created as a re-evaluation of political policies within various centre-left progressive movements in response to doubt regarding the economic viability of the state and the overuse of economic interventionist policies that had previously been popularized by Keynesianism, but which at that time contrasted with the rise of popularity for neoliberalism and the New Right. The Third Way is promoted by social liberals and some social democratic parties.

Major Third Way social democratic proponent Tony Blair claimed that the socialism he advocated was different from traditional conceptions of socialism and said: "My kind of socialism is a set of values based around notions of social justice. [...] Socialism as a rigid form of economic determinism has ended, and rightly". Blair referred to it as a "social-ism" involving politics that recognised individuals as socially interdependent and advocated social justice, social cohesion, equal worth of each citizen and equal opportunity. Third Way social democratic theorist Anthony Giddens has said that the Third Way rejects the traditional conception of socialism and instead accepts the conception of socialism as conceived of by Anthony Crosland as an ethical doctrine that views social democratic governments as having achieved a viable ethical socialism by removing the unjust elements of capitalism by providing social welfare and other policies and that contemporary socialism has outgrown the Marxist claim for the need of the abolition of capitalism. In 2009, Blair publicly declared support for a "new capitalism".

The Third Way supports the pursuit of greater egalitarianism in society through action to increase the distribution of skills, capacities and productive endowments while rejecting income redistribution as the means to achieve this. It emphasises commitment to balanced budgets, providing equal opportunity which is combined with an emphasis on personal responsibility, the decentralisation of government power to the lowest level possible, encouragement and promotion of public–private partnerships, improving labour supply, investment in human development, preserving of social capital and protection of the environment. However, specific definitions of Third Way policies may differ between Europe and the United States. The Third Way has been criticised by certain conservatives, liberals and libertarians who advocate laissez-faire capitalism. It has also been heavily criticised by other social democrats and in particular democratic socialists, anarchists and communists as a betrayal of left-wing values, with some analysts characterising the Third Way as an effectively neoliberal movement.


Charlie Peters and the Odyssey of Neoliberalism



Where Peters’s contrarianism went astray was in his fervent embrace of what he named neoliberalism. And Peters’s use of the term, as opposed to its meaning in economics, is the source of untold confusion. For economists, going back to Friedrich Hayek and then Milton Friedman, neoliberalism is the idea that despite what seemed to be the lessons of the Great Depression as informed by the insights of John Maynard Keynes, free markets were perfectly efficient after all if government would just leave them alone. The 1980s were the heyday of those beliefs in the academy and in public policy.

For Peters, who published “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto” in 1982, initially as a Washington Post piece and later expanded into a book, neoliberalism meant a less bureaucratic form of liberalism, true to verities but willing to challenge old orthodoxies. He held the labor movement to blame for wage-driven inflation. He was willing to add income tests to Social Security.

..................Peters’s ideas ended up giving aid and comfort to those Democrats who thought that they should move right with the times. It was that premise that the Prospect was founded to challenge. To regain credibility and power, we argued then and now, Democrats and progressives needed to be better updated New Dealers, not a second center-right party. These arguments antedated and informed the creation of the Prospect. In May 1985, Mother Jones published a cover piece titled, “‘But Charlie …’ ‘Now Bob …,’ Charles Peters & Robert Kuttner Battle for the Soul of Liberalism,” featuring the two of us as representatives of two dueling concepts of how to revive American liberalism.

With the ascendancy of “New Democrats” and the presidency of Bill Clinton, the two rather different meanings of neoliberalism had an unfortunate convergence. Clinton both embraced the Peters critique of statism and implemented aspects of the neoliberal economic formula, such as deregulation and free trade. In recent years, as both forms of neoliberalism have proven a debacle for working Americans and the Democratic Party, the Washington Monthly has moved away from either brand of neoliberalism.


Some things that are associated with the Democratic Party (and to a degree some other things Tony Blair pushed for in New Labour in the UK) :

Democratic Leadership Council (long defunct)

Atari Democrats (in the 1980s and 90s, who championed Big Tech at the expense of elements of the FDR New Deal)

Public/Private Partnerships (certain types, especially those that injected the profit motive in previously government run projects/initiatives/legislation)

The 3rd Way (both the political philosophy as espoused to varying degrees by the Blairite and Clintonian governments/administrations and also the think tank of the same name)

Triangulation (at certain interlocks of governmental practices and projections, such as so-called 'welfare reform' in the 1990s)

Erecting healthcare and pharma superstructures like the ACA that maintain the centrality of the profit motive in the US healthcare system.

Banking/Tech/Media deregulation (examples: The 1996 Telecommunications Act, the repeal of Glass-Steagall (which was enacted under FDR) via The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (which disastrously re-legalised long-outlawed (outlawed by the FDR administration) forms of derivatives, etc etc)

Certain types of Free (but not fair) Trade Agreements (NAFTA, TPP/T-TIP. etc etc) that maintain a lot of systemic corporate supremacy, even extending to power over sovereign nation states via investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms that are asymmetrically tilted towards the multinational firms, the evergreening of patents, etc.

etc etc


(2,229 posts)
7. Yes, and all that. But it was, in my estimation
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:03 PM
Dec 2023

Clinton who transformed the party towards neoliberalism on the front page. Most people had no idea what neoliberalism was. Most thought it progressive, but Clinton opened the book and read it to us.
That following persists to this day.


(43,058 posts)
8. fair enough, I just always strive to do a comprehensive (as much as is reasonable here on DU) historical review
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:10 PM
Dec 2023

but your points are well taken


(2,229 posts)
9. You are on it. Background, evidence. When I see
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:15 PM
Dec 2023

your posts, I learn. And the breadth.
You must be ensconced in the thinker's world.


(43,058 posts)
12. My familial upbringing, my academic background, my current profession, and simply living in Sweden (and before that
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:23 PM
Dec 2023

west London), plus my constant global traveling. and last, but most definitely not least, the wonderful human force of nature who is my wife all have greatly aided my continued ensconcement in the thinking world.

DU has played a role as well!


(2,229 posts)
15. Enjoy the run. May it last forever.
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:37 PM
Dec 2023

As an aside, been thinking about how neoliberalism got its start.
If I remember, the argument at one of those post war gatherings of economists was that we should put the force of profit into the rebuilding efforts after the war. Governments were too slow and corporations knew best how to build. The conflict was what made fascism successful could, but would not rear its head because we had learned from those mistakes.
It set the wheels in motion in the anti government 80's that widened the chasm between what was a reasonable spread of wealth into the serious need of rebuttal by the likes of Murphy.
We shan't say ill of a Democrat here, but money pays for elections.

Fiendish Thingy

(15,544 posts)
10. To clarify, Neoliberalism is not the same as Centrism
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:18 PM
Dec 2023

Although many centrists are also Neoliberals.

Neoliberalism is an economic ideology, not a Left/Right political ideology.



(130,708 posts)
2. *To Murphy, the issue of corporate concentration runs deeper than just consumer pricing and equitable growth.
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:25 PM
Dec 2023

It strikes at the core of why Americans feel powerless about the fate of the country.

People have a palpable, though not always articulable, sense that the most crucial decisions governing their daily lives are now being made far away from their communities in corporate boardrooms, rather than by elected officials in the halls of government or by extension themselves. Many of the country’s morbid symptoms, in Murphy’s estimations, trace back to this friction between the public and their corporate overlords.'


(22,338 posts)
4. Neoliberalism was the response to the devastating victories of Reagan/Thatcher economics
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 06:35 PM
Dec 2023

Labour and New Deal policies born out of the great depression were seen to no longer resonate with the populace. The challenge for the electoral left was to acknowledge this while presenting a more humane alternative, rethinking what it meant to be a liberal. Clinton and Blair embodied this response.

We now have generations for whom Reagan and Thatcher are figures in history books, and who have seen the wealthy amass great wealth and power while workers' wages have stagnated.

Murphy is turning to a pre-New Deal anti-monopoly progressivism. I wish him luck.

Fiendish Thingy

(15,544 posts)
11. Neoliberalism is an economic ideology, not a Left/Right political ideology
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:22 PM
Dec 2023

Reaganomics was pure neoliberalism. Clinton’s version was a kinder, gentler neoliberalism.


Interesting to hear moderate Murphy espousing this and talking about anti-trust…


(43,058 posts)
14. It goes beyond mere economics. It contains many elements of sociology, philosophy (political and otherwise),
Mon Dec 4, 2023, 07:35 PM
Dec 2023

anthropology (especially cultural), and psychology (especially mass) etc etc, as well.

It is a way of arraying power utilising a multiplicity of different constructs.

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