Retro-Neoliberalism: Elite Counter-Protest in Latin America, 1940-1975
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This research challenges the origin story of neoliberalism in Latin America. Drawing on archival data from the Mont Pèlerin Society and the personal archives of leading but neglected figures in the post-war push to rebuild economic liberalism, I present a historical geography of elite counter-protest that both predates and broadens the generally accepted “birth” of neoliberalism in 1970s Chile. Beginning in the 1940s, Latin American elites found common cause with key figures from economic liberalism’s most radical wing: the Austrian School. While existing literature links the onset of neoliberalism in Chile to the Austrian School, particularly with respect to the School’s influence on the early Mont Pèlerin Society, this dissertation is the first comprehensive inquiry to place the Austrian tradition in the ideational and organizational landscape of Latin America. Embracing a new mission that promised to save the soul of Western civilization, Latin America’s retro-neoliberal leaders collaborated with transnational actors to build a network of Austrian-inspired think-tanks and institutes of higher learning in the region. These organizations, in turn, served as recruiting mechanisms to found the Hispanic quarter of the Mont Pèlerin Society, which was dominated not (as might be assumed) by Chileans, but rather by retro-neoliberal elites from Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, and Venezuela. By 1975, when scholars began analyzing how a run-of-the-mill economics department had been transformed into a bastion of free-market thinking in Chile, an entire neoliberal university was up and running in Guatemala, exposing all students, regardless of discipline, to the Austrian tradition – the crowning achievement of Latin America’s retro-neoliberal network. Investigating, and accounting for, the development and impact of this initiative sheds new light on the neoliberal landscape in Latin America, and raises important questions for the study of neoliberalism more broadly.