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 Is public interest outdated and free-riding rational?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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Cailin O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Origins of Unfairness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In almost every human society some people get more and others get less. Why is inequity the rule in these societies? In The Origins of Unfairness, philosopher Cailin O'Connor firstly considers how groups are divided into social categories, like gender, race, and religion, to address this question. She uses the formal frameworks of game theory and evolutionary game theory to explore the cultural evolution of the conventions which piggyback on these seemingly
irrelevant social categories. These frameworks elucidate a variety of topics from the innateness of gender differences, to collaboration in academia, to household bargaining, to minority disadvantage, to homophily.…


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

Why did I love 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.

By Anne Schwenkenbecher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Getting Our Act Together as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Together we can often achieve things that are impossible to do on our own. We can prevent something bad from happening, or we can produce something good, even if none of us could do it by ourselves. But when are we morally required to do something of moral importance together with others?

This book develops an original theory of collective moral obligations. These are obligations that individual moral agents hold jointly but not as unified collective agents. The theory does not stipulate a new type of moral obligation but rather suggests that to think of some of our obligations as…


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

Why did I love 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.

By Deirdre Nansen McCloskey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Bourgeois Equality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There's little doubt that most humans today are better off than their forebears. Stunningly so, the economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey argues in the concluding volume of her trilogy celebrating the oft-derided virtues of the bourgeoisie. The poorest of humanity, McCloskey shows, will soon be joining the comparative riches of Japan and Sweden and Botswana. Why? Most economists from Adam Smith and Karl Marx to Thomas Piketty say the Great Enrichment since 1800 came from accumulated capital. McCloskey disagrees, fiercely. "Our riches," she argues, "were made not by piling brick on brick, bank balance on bank balance, but by piling…


Book cover of Reclaiming Development: An Alternative Economic Policy Manual

Why did I love 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.

By Ha-Joon Chang, Ilene Grabel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reclaiming Development as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is no alternative to neoliberal economics - or so it appeared when Reclaiming Development was published in 2004. Many of the same driving assumptions - monetarism and globalization - remain within the international development policy establishment. Ha-Joon Chang and Ilene Grabel confront this neoliberal development model head-on by combining devastating economic critique with an array of innovative policies and an in-depth analysis of the experiences of leading Western and East Asian economies.

Still, much has changed since 2004 - the relative success of some developing countries in weathering the global financial crisis has exposed the latent contradictions of the…


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

Why did I love 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.

By Alfred R. Mele,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Free as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Does free will exist? The question has fueled heated debates spanning from philosophy to psychology and religion. The answer has major implications, and the stakes are high. To put it in the simple terms that have come to dominate these debates, if we are free to make our own decisions, we are accountable for what we do, and if we aren't free, we're off the hook.

There are neuroscientists who claim that our decisions are made unconsciously and are therefore outside of our control and social psychologists who argue that myriad imperceptible factors influence even our minor decisions to the…


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