Liat Spiro recently sat down with Quinn Slobodian in Cambridge, MA to discuss his new book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Harvard University Press, 2018).
Slobodian, associate professor of history at Wellesley College and currently ACLS Burkhardt Fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University, revealed how neoliberal thinkers developed a vision of global free trade in goods and capital, though not necessarily people, during the crises of the 1930s and the era of decolonization. In Globalists, he argues that neoliberal thinkers did not oppose the state and prize individualism, but rather sought to use rules to encase the market away from democratic governance.
The discussion also presented a chance to explore neoliberals’ interpretations of the nexus between law and economics as well as current debates over the significance of racism to neoliberal thought. Slobodian explained the role of Central Europe in the global history of neoliberalism and the legacy of the Habsburg Empire for neoliberals’ understanding of political economy. Slobodian addressed the critical conflation of neoliberalism, economism, and pretensions to all-knowability in the recent historiography of the “invention of the economy.”
Over the course of this conversation about economists’ and historians’ “trust in numbers,” or lack thereof, Slobodian proposed reviving leftist and heterodox economics. Looking ahead, he presented steps for writing global histories of neoliberalism beyond Globalists, tracing the unpredictable, highly transnational, and strongly contested circuits through which economic concepts get taken up into policymaking.
The interview is illustrated by stills from The Walls of the WTO, a collaborative film project by Slobodian and the filmmaker Ryan S. Jeffery. The film will appear in the exhibition Say Shibboleth! On Visible and Invisible Borders, opening at the Jewish Museum Hohenems in April 2018.
–Liat Spiro (Harvard University)