Hong Kong and the Origins of Neoliberalism

Macabe Keliher, Southern Methodist University

What role did the non-Western world play in the origins of neoliberalism? There are at least four different types of explanations of the origins of neoliberalism, ranging from intellectual challenges to material conditions. Scholarship within each of these types overwhelmingly focuses on America or Western Europe, where the non-West is either something to be acted upon or guarded against. Drawing on government records and legislative debates in postwar London and Hong Kong, this paper argues that the ideas and practices that would come to be known as neoliberalism were first developed in Hong Kong at least a decade before their emergence in the West. Focusing on the intra-capital struggle between finance and industry in Hong Kong in the 1950s-1970s, I show that debates on the role of the state began to question classical liberalism and shift political attitudes towards a more pro-active position that would shape certain markets for certain sectors of capital. The result was the wielding of state power not for an industrial policy, welfare programs, or Keynsian intervention, but rather the creation of a certain kind of free market. I further argue that these developments in Hong Kong not only contributed to a global economy that helped generate the conditions for the emergence of actually-existing neoliberalism, but also influenced the ideas of neoliberal thinkers.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 44. The Neoliberal Moment in East Asia