The Nine Lives of Market Liberalism: New Economy Short Cut with Quinn Slobodian

In our last Short Cut, we discussed with historian Quinn Slobodian how market radicals dream of a world without democracy.




30. NOVEMBER 2023



The heyday of the market liberal paradigm appears to be over. Whether combating rising inequality or shaping industrial policy, the state is increasingly taking on a more prominent role. On the other hand, Quinn Slobodian in his presentation provocatively suggested that not only do cats possess nine lives, but so do neoliberal ideas, as demonstrated by the surprising election of the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist Javier Milei in Argentina.

Slobodian’s exploration of how libertarians and champions of free markets have sought to constrain the state over recent decades challenges three prevailing notions about the post-Cold War order. First, the supranational thesis of ever-increasing vertical integration; second, the end of history with liberal capitalism as the sole player in the game; and third, the telos of nation-states.

Our conventional perspective often revolves around a dichotomy: a globally organized world economy versus politics organized within sovereign nation-states. This tension between globalization and nationalism is akin to a pendulum swinging between two extremes. However, Slobodian introduces a new geographical unit – the zones. These are distinct economic spheres where the market reigns supreme while the state takes a back seat. Examples include China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the creation of Freeports along the British coastline, resembling miniature Hong Kongs. These zones, spanning the globe, puncture and fracture the conventional boundaries of nation-states.

In his commentary, Max Krahé (Dezernat Zukunft) draws a parallel between the globalization-nation state dualism and the classic tension between democracy and capitalism. While democracy means a vote for all, capitalism translates to wealth for the few. One strategy employed by the elite to safeguard their wealth against the many is in Hirschman terms the act of ‘exit’ from the state — either through the globalist strategy within the supranational capitalist infrastructure or by the creation of the aforementioned zones.

"The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters."
Antonio Gramsci, 1930

Drawing on Gramsci’s insight, one wonders if phenomena like the election of Javier Milei are transient occurrences within a paradigm shift. Could the pendulum be swinging from the old market liberal paradigm to the realm of sovereign democratic states? In contrast to this notion emphasised by Thomas Fricke, Slobodian appeared to be more pessimistic in the discussion.

"The nation is not thought about as something internal that is in essence a kind of expression of the desires of the people who live in it. The zone logic was that the policies of the nation are designed for an external audience: it is not the people that make the nation, but the desires for foreign investment, creditworthiness, and credit ratings."
Quinn Slobodian, 2023

Rewatch the whole discussion here:



After three decades of poorly managed integration, globalization is threatened by social discontent and the rise of populist forces. A new paradigm will need better ways not only to compensate the groups that have lost, but to distribute the gains more broadly from the start.