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Presented at the Mont Pelerin Society Regional Meeting, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, October 2023


In this essay I explore the history of the use of the term “neoliberalism.” I identify two distinctive strains of the concept. I designate the first and by far the most common use as “Pejorative Neoliberalism,” referring to a term of disparagement for Marginalist and free-market economic beliefs. This term traces its origins to the Marxist far-left and National Socialist far-right in interwar Germany as a pejorative for the Vienna-based Austrian School. Since the 1990s, a nearly identical usage has been adopted by the academic far-left as a pejorative label for all free-market economic beliefs. I designate the second use as “Non-Ironic Neoliberalism,” which describes a post-2010 attempt to reclaim the term as a moniker for a set of moderately pro-market economic policy beliefs, albeit one that is also wedded to technocratic state interventions into the economy. This version has more in common with the center-left to center-right “Market Failure” theorists of the economics profession in the mid-20th century than with the critics of the same theories. I conclude with an argument that neither usage of the term “neoliberal” has meaningful explanatory value to offer to Classical Liberal economic theory.