The First Neoliberal President

“Government cannot solve our problems, it can’t set our goals, it cannot define our vision. Government cannot eliminate poverty or provide a bountiful economy or reduce inflation or save our cities or cure illiteracy or provide energy. And government cannot mandate goodness.”

No, it wasn’t Reagan who said this. It was the first neoliberal American president Jimmy Carter, inspired by his friend and neoliberal muse Ralph Nader.

Of course, now everybody will tell me this is widely known but I had no idea. I’m only finding this out from Gary Gerstle’s book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order.

See? It’s what I keep saying. Political parties aren’t that important. There’s no difference between Carter’s words and Reagan’s later quip about the scariest words in the English language being “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” And guess who started the massive deregulation of the airline, trucking and railroad industries? Also Carter. Then Reagan carried on in the same vein.

It goes in waves. Neoliberal Carter, neoliberal Reagan, neoliberal Bush, neoliberal Clinton, and so on.

I’m only on page 67 out of 406 but it’s an excellent book so far. Reads very easily, no academic jargon at all. I’m on pins and needles to find out how the story ends because I’m now really doubting my earlier disagreements with Gerstle.


5 thoughts on “The First Neoliberal President

  1. “everybody will tell me this is widely known”

    Not as widely as you might expect…. Carter was a disjunctive president, like Trump whose own party largely turned against him and did what it could to undermine him.
    A secondary effect is that what he was actually about and what he tried to do have largely been forgotten and replaced by a few key failures and/or missteps in the general collective memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Carter was a disjunctive president”

      Also he had the eternal Washington outsider problem – he didn’t know how to get things done and he didn’t have contacts and was too reliant on an inner circle he brought with him.


  2. It’s definitely not “widely known,” though it is known by me, specifically because Bauman talked about Carter in Liquid Modernity (though not in great detail.)


    1. I was particularly interested in the Ralph Nader influence and the discussion of how he walked away from the Left’s traditional support for labor by switching his focus from workers to consumers.


      1. The Ralph Nader bit I had no idea about until your post. I have noticed the general switch to a consumer focus. “Consumers of the world unite!”


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