What is Neoliberalism?

Simone Lawson

Originating in the 1960s and gaining prominence in the 1980s, neoliberalism is a political philosophy that is rooted in classical liberalism but focuses on free markets and economic growth. Some foundational concepts that are supported by neoliberals, who are also called economic liberals, include deregulation, privatization and limiting the government's role in social funding. This economic philosophy is based on the idea that economic growth is supported by allowing businesses to function freely, or relatively freely. Neoliberalism, therefore, is more like libertarianism on economic issues than liberalism is, for example.

Neoliberals are in favor of deregulation, arguing that the market becomes open to a wider range of buyers, in turn making stock markets rise and creating a more competitive economic environment when government control is limited.
Neoliberals are in favor of deregulation, arguing that the market becomes open to a wider range of buyers, in turn making stock markets rise and creating a more competitive economic environment when government control is limited.


Neoliberals are in favor of deregulation, arguing that it allows the market to open to others with little interference and control from the government. By loosening government investments and control, the market becomes open to a wider range of buyers, making stock prices rise and creating a more competitive economic environment. The competitive market, they argue, fosters economic growth. Deregulation also contributes to a competitive market and can help make room for small business and other investors to emerge.

Although deregulation is favored by most neoliberals, complete deregulation typically is not. If corrupt business practices go unaddressed by the free market or regulation, economic growth might be hindered. More commonly, neoliberals support minimal regulation for the purpose of safety and environmental concerns or to protect consumers.


Privatization is another key policy concern in neoliberalism, which takes the position that government funds, such those slated for government-sponsored retirement programs or education, should be given to private individuals or corporate businesses to manage. In other words, national retirement programs for all citizens should be handled by commercial retirement plans, and education should be managed by private educational companies. Privatization might even affect natural resources such as water or natural gas. The idea behind privatization is that putting these services on the free market will self-regulate those industries to an optimal state.

Spectrum of Beliefs

Like most political philosophies, there is a spectrum of beliefs within neoliberalism. Some neoliberals believe in a limited amount of privatization. More extreme views within neoliberalism call for eliminated government-funded social programs such as payments to the poor and public healthcare assistance.

Pros and Cons

Proponents of neoliberalism say that it might be advantageous to economies by creating a more competitive economic climate and allowing for new, cutting-edge business practices to emerge. Opponents, such as classical liberals, typically don't trust that businesses that are free from governmental intervention are capable of regulating themselves in a way that benefits society as a whole. Moreover, opponents argue that the neoliberal philosophy might be detrimental to disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in society.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


The concept of neoliberalism is not bad. But as suggested by few liberals there must be minimal regulation so that there would be check and balance.


@zsazsa56 - George W. Bush and many in his administration famously carried out a neoconservative agenda. Like neoloberlaism, it can be difficult to point to strict beliefs that make up neoconservatives. The absolute definition is elusive. But here are a few broad philosophical trends that neoconservatives tend to advance

-A greater support of social programs than traditional conservatives. Bush grew the size of medicare during his administration

-A desire to spread democracy throughout the the world as a foreign policy agenda. Look at our adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well intentioned but disastrous.

- A move away from Christian conservatism. This may be more politically that philosophically motivated but many new conservatives realize that they can't get elected by appealing only to religious groups.


Can someone tell me what the difference between neoliberalism and neoconservatism is? I have heard both of these terms a lot in the last 10 years, Now I can define neoliberalism but I am still in the dark about how neoconservatism works.


@Icecream17-That doesn't really sound like a neoliberal to me. While neoliberals tend to be more pro-business, they are do not generally favor a completely free market (for good reason in my opinion).

This tension gets to the heart of what is interesting and disappointing about neoliberals. At the heart of their philosophy is the theory that the traditional liberal social agenda of elevating the poor and creating a more just and equal society can best be accomplished through economic means. In some cases this has worked and in others it has been a disaster. For instance, free trade is an idea championed by many neoliberals that has had a spotty track record. In most cases it has done little to improve the lives of American worker, it has shipped thousands of jobs over seas and it has encouraged American companies to turn their back on our nation.

Business has no progressive agenda by its very nature. We can never look to business to make the world a better place because that is the exact opposite of its mission. If we want to see real and meaningful change in our society we need to look to institutions beyond business to promote it. This is where neoliberals fall short.


I that being a neoliberal really lends itself to more balanced point of view. They want a free market, but they also realize that there needs to be some rules in place because not all businesses are honest.

One of the neoliberal capitalism ideas floating around that might work is the idea of privatizing Social Security. If a portion of the funds could be placed in the market it might offset the deficits that we are seeing in Social Security. I am not an economist, but I do think that something needs to be done about Social Security.


Would a person be neoliberal if he or she is in favor of business deregulation, but does not want any limits on business?

My city is going through election campaigning right now for local spots, and I'm trying to figure out if a particular candidate is a neoliberal or not.

Post your comments
Forgot password?