“Liberalism in Crisis” Symposium

The Department of Sociology and the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth are holding a symposium on May 6th on “Liberalism in Crisis: US, UK and Ireland”. The conference is free but we are asking that people register before Wednesday April 30th.

Registration form and details at:


Further details of the event below the fold

Department of Sociology, NUI, Maynnoth


Liberalism in Crisis: US, UK and Ireland

Renehan Hall, South Campus, NUI, Maynooth, Thursday May 6th,

9.00 Registration/Coffee

Paper titles provisional

9.30 -11.15 Liberal states and responses to the crisis (Chair: Mary Murphy, NUIM)

Prof Fred Block (Dept of Sociology, University of California, Davis)

  • Global Crisis, US Responses

Prof Colin Hay (Dept of Politics, University of Sheffield)

  • UK and Irish responses to the crisis – a comparative assessment

Prof Seán Ó Riain (Dept of Sociology, NUI, Maynooth)

  • Liberalism, Politics and Capabilities: The Dilemmas of Crisis in Ireland

Coffee 11.15 -11.45

11.45 -1pm Institutional and governance responses to crisis (Chair: Bill Roche, UCD)

Joe Ruane (UCC) The Nature of the Irish Political Economy

Joe Larragy (NUIM) Partnership in Crisis?

Niamh Hardiman (UCD) Politics in Crisis?

1 – 2 Buffet lunch in venue

2-3pm Re-Constructing the political economy (Chair: Seán Ó Riain, NUIM)

Teresa Hogan (DCU) The Smart Economy

John Barry (QUB) The Green Economy

Ann O’Brien (NUIM) The Tourism Economy

3- 4pm Economic restructuring, impact on working lives. (Chair: Peter Murray, NUIM)

Aphra Kerr (NUIM) Working in I.T: Irish Games and Animation Industries

James Wickham (TCD) Migration and Restructuring of the Irish Labour Market

Mary Murphy (NUIM) Unemployment, Activation and Gender

4.00- 4.15 Coffee

4.15 – 5 Roundtable

5-6 Wine Reception

Spaces limited. Free of charge Register by Wednesday 28th April.

Booking form and further information at http://sociology.nuim.ie/LiberalismInCrisis.shtml

21 replies on ““Liberalism in Crisis” Symposium”

As an economist I am not sure what Liberalism means in this context. Nick Clegg did brilliantly in the debate last night and the Liberal Democrats certainly are certainly not in crisis. The op-ed leaders of the New York Times (Kristoff, Krugman, Cohen) are going full-steam with increasing influence under Obama, so US liberals are not in any crisis. Who exactly are the Irish “Liberals” as opposed to whom? To what Liberalism is this conference title referring that is in a crisis? To a hard-headed economist it sounds a bit vague and wholly but perhaps we are not the target audience.

@Gregory Connor

I was struck by the same point. In the US, it is Conservatism that is in crisis, caught between its Tea Party and Moderate Wings. Australia – Labour seem set to win a new election later in the year. France – Sarcozy seems to be reeling in the face of a revived left challenge. Only in Germany does a Conservative government seem to be safely in office. In Britain, Cameron is at ease with liberal positions on gay rights and the environment. Ireland? Where are the PDs, then?

What “crisis”?

There was no shortage of criticism at the INET conference held in Cambridge last weekend [from News n Economics].

Joseph Stiglitz reiterated the sharp divergence between representative agent models and reality.
James Galbraith went the even more aggressive route by suggesting that REH (rational expectations hypothesis), EMH (efficient markets hypothesis), RAM (representative agent models), and DSGE (dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models) be buried beneath a bed of garlic below Keynes’ quarters with guards standing atop the burial site. (This was not a direct quote but very close.)
Simon Johnson pressed the need for more action to relieve the systemic pressures coming from the still top-heavy US banking system.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn charged global policymakers of being complacent with monetary and fiscal policy over the last decade. They were lured in by ostensibly stable growth, when in fact the financial foundation was crumbling below (after, of course, he was disrupted by a globalization protest with the catch phrase “the IMF is the Problem not the solution”).


Think this might be worth a thread – it links to the conference – whatever the perceptions of liberalism on either side of the Atlantic? Who agrees with Galbraith? or with Stiglitz? I won’t mention rationality … or those who recognise the patent limits of neoliberalism in all disciplines.

If James Galbraith and Joseph Stiglitz are not defined as liberals, then as far as I can see the term “liberal” ceases to have any useful meaning. James Galbraith is his father’s son, and continuing his father’s work in many senses. JK Galbraith was the quintessential Kennedy liberal of that generation. Stiglitz is provocative, and very often right when the consensus is wrong, but he is certainly a liberal in any useful meaning of the term.

It would certainly be nice to see a definition of “Liberalism” from the author of the post, who is one of the event hosts.

Or, if I let my inner cynic out, does a Department of Sociology not do definitions? Tsk, tsk…in you go again you cynic you.

Here in France, the République of Liberté (+2), libéralisme means capitalism (laisser-faire), or conservatism! Go figure!

Is not Liberalism a reference to market knows best, Milton Friedman style stuff.
Liberalism coming from liber free in latin i.e free market; rather than liberal in the modern sense where it means anything goes lifestyle wise.

Second point is to anyone who is a left winger has there ever been anything comparable for (further) Left wing analysis considering that certainly left wing analysis is most definitely in crisis and is not delivering on its promises. Is such a conference and review somthing that the left is capable of doing. I fear not.

Anyhow sounds like a nice conference and kudos to those particpating.

@ Greg

I’m afraid liberal means different things to different people. In the US, it means left wing, perhaps in the UK people may associate it with the LibDems (though I doubt it since I’m not sure they stand for any distinctive ideological approach.) In this case, I assume the liberalism is a reference to pro-market policies, as in the term, neo-liberalism.

In my experience, economists by and large don’t use this term. I suspect, but am happy to disproved on this conjecture, that the term is only ever used l

Whoops, hit submit by accident. Here’s what I meant to write.

@ Greg

I’m afraid liberal means different things to different people. In the US, it means left wing, perhaps in the UK people may associate it with the LibDems (though I doubt it since I’m not sure they stand for any distinctive ideological approach.) In this case (and Sean can correct me) I assume the liberalism is a reference to pro-market policies, as in the term, neo-liberalism.

In my experience, economists by and large don’t use this term. I suspect, but am happy to be disproved on this conjecture, that the term neo-liberal is only ever used pejoratively. If I’m correct about this, it raises the question of whether it’s a useful term.

Pejorative terms have their uses Karl!

Nevertheless you’re quite right – liberal means different things in Europe v US. Galbraith and Stiglitz might be called social democrats in Europe. Basically European social democrats and American liberals have converged on similar policy and philosophical positions despite having quite different intellectual heritage (i.e. socialism/Marxism for social democracy, classical 19th century liberalism for American liberals).

John Quiggin offered an interesting analysis of the origins of the term “neo-liberalism”:

“A striking feature of all of these terms [neoliberalism, economic rationalism, the Washington Consensus, Reaganism and Thatcherism] is that they are currently used almost exclusively by opponents of the viewpoint being described, to the point where any use of such terms invariably provokes protests about unfair labelling (this is true even of the most neutral term I can find, “economic liberalism”). Even more striking is the fact that these terms were originally used in a broadly positive sense by supporters of the ideas concerned.”


@ Karl Whelan and James Conran

Yes of course what you say must be correct – “Liberalism” in this context means something like “pro-free-market” . Very interesting James about the different intellectual heritages of social democrats in the US vs. Europe. I had not really appreciated that. It explains why the term “Liberal” sounds so out of place to me in the context of this conference title – I interpret the term differently because of my US education.

Just a quick response for now as I am at a conference with limited time to reply.

Our use of ‘liberalism’ here is most closely tied to the literature in comparative political economy on the ‘varieties of capitalism’ where liberal market economies are just one type of capitalist economy, relying most heavily on hierarchies and markets for coordination, while other forms of capitalist economies rely more heavily on non-market forms of coordination. The particular mix of market and non-market forms of coordination will be very different across these different types.

In the influential Varieties of Capitalism literature (Hall and Soskice, 2001) the distinction is between liberal and coordinated market economies. Pontusson distinguishes between liberal and social market economies (with two varieties within this – Nordic and Continental). This mirrors Esping-Andersen’s influential classification of three ‘worlds of welfare capitalism’ – liberal, conservative / Christian Democratic, and socialist/ social democratic. There is a massive literature here where the term ‘liberal’ is used analytically and where the concern is to identify the varying ways in which capitalist economies organise themselves, the strengths and weaknesses of the various forms of organisation, and the outcomes associated with them. In the conference we want to explore the contemporary crises in such liberal market economies, using the category ‘liberal’ to identify key cases such as the US, UK and Ireland.

Of course, all of these ‘varieties’ fall within the broader category of western liberal societies, based on the notions of individualism, reason, choice etc. But the implication of the ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach is that there are many ways to organise such societies – with ‘liberal market capitalism’ just one of them. It would interesting to discuss in what ways each variety of capitalism realises, or does not realise, the promises of western liberalism more broadly speaking.

Hall and Soskice (2001)

Esping-Andersen (1990)

Jonas Pontusson (2005)


I beg to differ. This is being hosted by a department of sociology, so the term is most likely used in the American sense.

Oh for heaven’s sake. If ever one wanted an object lesson in the ignorance of economists about anything outside their narrow discipline, this thread would be it. That ignorance doesn’t, of course, stop them pretending that they have the keys to the ideal society (about which, apparently, they know little).

“Liberal” in the context of this conference can only be used in the political-economic sense in which we speak of Reaganism and Thatcherism as both “neo-liberal“–laissez-faire–regimes. It cannot be the case that it is being used in the highly idiosyncratic American way as referring to left(ish) politics.

It speaks volumes though that some posters on this blog seriously think there’s a “crisis of liberalism” in the American sense (i.e,. leftism) after what the world economy has just been through. News flash: the current crisis shows irrefutably that neo-liberal ideologies with their downsized government, their deregulation, their worship of private enterprise and treatment of markets as the sole legitimate means of apportioning resources in every domain, are as utterly bankrupt as their poster child, Anglo-Irish.

@Ernie Ball:
“the ignorance of economists about anything outside their narrow discipline”

AND I find that they know very little about Bolinders.



@James Conran

.. think you can pop in early 20th century American Pragmatism with influnences from the 19th century. Bit of overlap across the Atlantic is no harm …

If you’d pause and re-read your own post for a minute you might see exactly why a definition of “Liberalism” for the conference would be so useful.

Neither the original post, nor the conference’s webpage, nor the associated downloadable flyer make it at all obvious that the liberalism of the conference is specifically “the political-economic sense in which we speak of Reaganism and Thatcherism as both ‘neo-liberal’–laissez-faire–regimes”.

Meantime, thanks to Sean for his clarification. However, it still seems that “Liberalism” is being defined for the conference using either (but not necessarily both) of at least two substantially unrelated dimensions, and not mentioning several other potentially important dimensions.

Now, not using dimensions is fair enough but mixing up dimensions seems odd. Market coordination strategies and welfare policies are very different things. It’s all too easy to imagine highly centrally planned system with little or no welfare state, and similarly to imagine a highly devolved or market based system with a very strong welfare state, which welfare state may have several flavors.

To conflate these two different issues into a single definition of Liberalism seems too likely to encourage messy and emotional discussion rather than a discussion where people actually get to agree – or disagree – on explicit points.

Perhaps, because of their own professional background, economists like to try to avoid the vagueness that comes with any social “science”. Try to be patient with them. As the joke goes, macro economists are usually wrong about things in general while micro economists are wrong about specific things….but at least if you have a definition you can understand what you’re wrong about.

@ Ernie Ball

There is no pure market economy and with the exception of the fairytale run by the Workers’ Party of North Korea and possibly Cuba, there is now no pure communist system as it has been brutally experienced in application from 1917.

Countries have had deregulation of for example telco and airline services in well-governed countries such as Denmark and Canada.

Ireland and a few other basket cases are the outliers in the Eurozone.

Other countries, which have robust regulation, have benefited from deregulation.

As for “downsized government” and Bertie Ahern’s version of economics – – you cannot seriously be referring to Ireland.

We got more government, cronyism and poor/zero regulation.

The prime interest of staff of public and private organisations is their own self-interest.

That is not to say that the public interest is not also in the hierarchy of interests or in the case of a private company, responding to customer preferences to maximise sales.

The notion that commissars deciding how many pairs of black and brown shoes were to be produced in the Soviet Union were primarily motivated by the public good, is risible.


First agreeing with Michael’s points, then reiterating something that’s been said a couple of times before..

There can be no market without regulation. Certainly none at any scale, anyway.

The first “regulation” is that it’s a market and not a place for stealing. You could probably call that the “Zeroth Law of Regulation”, or the “Zeroth Law of Markets”, if you’d prefer.

If I bring something of value to a market and want to exchange it for something else, then the first thing that’s important is that I won’t have my product simply stolen from me. Enforcement of this is usually provided by states as a very early step in their development. They often charged an explicit fee for the service too. IIRC the schedule of fees is still on the wall of the market house in Kinsale, and probably in many other places around the world.

Many of the recent issues were fundamentally failures of regulation. These failures allowed much abuse to take place, some criminal, some not. The presumed existence of regulation (in the actual absence thereof) meant that things went on for a lot longer than they would otherwise have done.

I’d say Hayek is turning in his grave over this continued confusion over the meaning of term liberty

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