The best books to move beyond neoliberalism

S.M. Amadae Author Of Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy
By S.M. Amadae

Who am I?

I have been studying neoliberal political economy and its future transformations since I wrote Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy. One major insight has been the deep entanglement of neoliberal political-economic practices with de facto power relations. The liberal normative bargaining characterizing Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations yields to coercive bargaining in which threats of harm are the surest and best means to get one’s way. If one seeks to understand how systems will evolve when governed by strategic competition, then orthodox game theory is useful. However, if one seeks to live in a post-scarcity society in which genuine cooperation is possible, then we can enact solidarity, trust-based relationships, and collective moral accountability. 


I wrote...

Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

By S.M. Amadae,

Book cover of Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

What is my book about?

Is capitalism inherently predatory? Must there be winners and losers? Is public interest outdated and free-riding rational? Is consumer choice the same as self-determination? Must bargainers abandon the no-harm principle? Prisoners of Reason recalls that classical liberal capitalism exalted the no-harm principle. Although imperfect and exclusionary, modern liberalism recognized individual human dignity alongside individuals' responsibility to respect others. Neoliberalism, by contrast, views life as a ceaseless struggle. Agents vie for scarce resources in antagonistic competition in which every individual seeks dominance. Money becomes the medium of all value. Solidarity and goodwill are invalidated. Relationships are conducted on a quid pro quo basis. However, agents can freely opt out of this cynical race to the bottom by embracing a more expansive range of coherent action.

The books I picked & why

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The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution

By Cailin O'Connor,

Book cover of The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution

Why this book?

O’Connor’s Origins of Unfairness uses game theory to provide “how possibly” models for how systemic discrimination and unfair conventions arise. Game theory offers a powerful tool for Realpolitik analysis, which is analyzing states of affairs that reflect agents’ material interests coupled with their power to realize them. Populations with two groups will likely end up in asymmetric conventions as divisions of labor result, and the sharing of rewards is unequal. Grasping the implications of this analysis is crucial for those seeking to go beyond the entrenched interests governing neoliberal political economy. O’Connor provides some remedies in her final chapter, and these incorporate moral awareness and a sense of responsibility.


Getting Our Act Together: A Theory of Collective Moral Obligations

By Anne Schwenkenbecher,

Book cover of Getting Our Act Together: A Theory of Collective Moral Obligations

Why this book?

Neoliberal political economy assumes either a strategic rational actor or an irrational actor who needs to be “nudged” to act rationally. This theory endorses a theory of individualist agency which holds that ultimately all agents must compete against each other. This system of thought emphasizes a lack of alternatives and recommends institutions that accept that actors are narrowly self-interested: people evolved to be machines that survive and propagate. Against this view of human agency, alternative theorists construct theories of action in which individuals can reason together, act in concert, and together be morally accountable. Schwenkenbecher effectively builds this alternative perspective affording possibilities of intentional cooperation and collective moral action.


Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World

By Deirdre Nansen McCloskey,

Book cover of Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World

Why this book?

In Bourgeois EqualityMcCloskey presents one of the most intellectually rigorous, and forward-looking critiques of neoliberalism. She identifies that neoliberal institutionalist economists wholly rely on incentives, and material rewards, to incentivize actors to achieve anything. She argues that for the past two centuries of western liberal capitalism, this neoliberal hypothesis for the Great Enrichment of humankind misses on the one hand intrinsic rewards, and on the other hand virtue. She argues that people are motivated by ideals including freedom and dignity. Economists who believe that these can be reduced to rewards that actors can maximize have entirely missed the grandeur of the last two centuries. Hence the neoliberal solution of institutional design with correct incentives overlooks that ideas and virtuous ideals are powerfully transformative and the basis for human progress.


Reclaiming Development: An Alternative Economic Policy Manual

By Ha-Joon Chang, Ilene Grabel,

Book cover of Reclaiming Development: An Alternative Economic Policy Manual

Why this book?

Since John Williamson’s Washington Consensus and the structural adjustment reforms imposed on developing nations as a condition for IMF and World Bank loans, understanding and criticizing neoliberal development economics is important for a balanced perspective on the international political economy. Chang and Grabel perform this task of an incisive yet graspable critique of neoliberal development theory. Importantly they go further and suggest alternative approaches and policies.


Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will

By Alfred R. Mele,

Book cover of Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will

Why this book?

In order to be moral and responsible agents, our will must be free in the sense that we make choices animated by our individual consciences. Much of the neoliberal consumer world uses big data sets and our personalized digital fingerprints in order to cater to our every wish and desire, and to sell merchandise. Research shows that individuals disregard ethical responsibility when they believe that humans are not free, and that we are instead governed by innate drives and biological functions. Mele challenges recent research that uses cognitive science to argue that the human will is not free and instead exists as an illusion. This book provides a deep analysis of why we have grounds to be confident that we can act freely, governed by our internal beliefs, commitments, and goals.


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