Neoliberalism's Fate: Implications for Education
Constructed to popular acclaim upon the social ruins left by the Great Depression, social democracy was flying high through the economic boom decades of the 1950s and 60s until it was diagnosed to be terminally ill in the 1970s. It had been under attack for some time for its failure to deliver on its promise to manage capitalism in a fair way. What really signaled the end, however, was its failure to deal with the economic crisis brought on by the oil shock. Out of the ensuing chaos came clarity. A new programme emerged; one that had an analysis unfamiliar to most, which set out the flaws of social democracy and the Keynesian economic model on which it was based, and proposed a clear set of alternatives. Neoliberalism, its advocates argued, was not simply an alternative to social democracy, it was the only alternative. Announcing itself with the election of Ronald Reagan in the US in 1979 and Margaret Thatcher in the UK the following year1 Three decades after it burst onto the world stage, neoliberalism recently appeared vulnerable for the first time. Just as none of the pulleys and levers of Keynesian economic management could deal with the scourge of stagflation in the seventies, the magic of the markets promised by neoliberalism appeared to be both responsible for and incapable of dealing with the global financial meltdown that was triggered by the collapse of the American sub-prime mortgage market in 2007. , the neoliberal project had transformed almost every human society on earth by the turn of the century. Neoliberalism’s usurpation of social democracy was thorough. It involved radical reform of almost every aspect of society, with education being particularly important. The social democratic model of education had no place in the brave new world of neoliberalism. This paper examines the rise of neoliberalism and its influence over educational theory and policy. In particular, it considers neoliberalism’s attack one of the central aspects of the social democratic model, egalitarianism. It also considers the extent to which the current financial crisis provides an opportunity to move beyond neoliberalism.