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The latter claim shows that even individual concepts can have both optimistic and pessimistic versions.Guy Standing, for example, argues that what he calls “the precariat” is also the new dangerous class, but not, as in the case of Hardt and Negri, because of their potential to overthrow capital, but because of their potential susceptibility to far-right demagoguery.

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After nearly 40 years of neoliberalism the very same solutions are now being offered to the same problems, with the same intended victims.

But this is not an occasion in which “the great events and characters of world history” are repeated “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”; for if the ruling classes do achieve their goals, they will simply extend and deepen the original tragedy, in circumstances where the social welfare provision built up during the post-war era has in many countries already been significantly reduced.

There seem to be two reasons for our suspicion of the term “neoliberalism” to denote a historical period, one valid, the other not.

The valid reason is a response to some of the ways in which certain characteristics of neoliberalism, especially financialisation and debt, have been used to explain the present crisis.

With some exceptions—notably Alex Callinicos and the present author—contributors to this journal, above all the late Chris Harman, have been sceptical about the notion of neoliberalism as anything other than an ideology, or perhaps a set of policies.

The real question, however, is whether neoliberalism is a useful way of characterising the entire historical period from 1973 to 2008 and possibly beyond.

Hobsbawm refrained from making a similar pronouncement in 2008, even though it would have had greater plausibility than its predecessors.

For states throughout the developed world—including those like Britain and the US which had been most committed to neoliberalism—bought massive and in some cases dominant stakes in failing banks, using levels of public spending we had previously been told were no longer available or which could not be used without distorting the market.

Writers unwilling to abandon core tenets of Marxist crisis theory, including several associated with this journal, have argued instead that its origins have to be found in the systemic long-term problem of profitability experienced by the system since the late 1960s.

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