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Neoliberal failures and the managerial takeover of governance

Dutta, S. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-6465-4279, Knafo, S. & Lovering, I. A. (2022). Neoliberal failures and the managerial takeover of governance. Review of International Studies, 48(3), pp. 484-502. doi: 10.1017/s0260210521000619


The history of neoliberalism is a messy attempt to turn theory into practice. Neoliberals struggled with their plans to implement flagship policies of monetarism, fiscal prudence, and public sector privatisation. Yet, inflation was still cut, welfare slashed, and the public sector ‘marketised’. Existing literature often interprets this as neoliberalism ‘failing-forward’, achieving policy goals by whatever means necessary and at great social cost. Often overlooked in this narrative is how far actually existing neoliberalism strayed from the original designs of public choice theorists and neoliberal ideologues. By examining the history of the Thatcher government's public sector reforms, we demonstrate how neoliberal plans for marketisation ran aground, forcing neoliberal governments to turn to an approach of Managed Competition that owed more to practices of postwar planning born in Cold War US than neoliberal theory. Rather than impose a market-like transformation of the public sector, Managed Competition systematically empowered top managers and turned governance into a managerial process; two developments that ran directly against core precepts of neoliberalism. The history of these early failures and adjustments provides vital insights into the politics of managerial governance in the neoliberal era.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been published in a revised form in Review of International Studies This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use. Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British International Studies Association
Publisher Keywords: Neoliberalism, New Public Management, Thatcherism, Managerial Governance
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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