Book Review: The Hidden History Of Neoliberalism

Paul Deaton is a lifelong Democrat living in Johnson County whose first political work was for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign.

Thom Hartmann’s latest in the Hidden History Series, The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore Its Greatness, is scheduled for release on September 13. Well-written and timely, it takes a deep dive into neoliberalism with direct application to life in Iowa.

As the guardrails are removed from our democratic republic, it is important to examine how so many Americans came to believe that government should have only a minimal role, if any, in our economic life. Hartmann’s new book fills that need. Not only does he explain what neoliberalism is, he explains why it is time for us to turn our backs on it.

My focus is on Iowa and the recent Republican rout of Democrats by taking the governor’s office and large majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Without saying what they were doing, Governor Kim Reynolds and her GOP allies embraced the neoliberalism principles about which Hartmann writes.

Their policies include reducing taxes, gutting government spending, reducing licensing requirements, and other tactics to minimize the impact of regulations on business and enable the invisible hand of the global free market to work its magic. For goodness’ sake, Grover Norquist even co-authored an opinion piece in the Cedar Rapids Gazette in June to celebrate the latest regressive Iowa tax cuts!

Reading Hartmann brought this aspect of the Republican culture war into focus. It is neoliberalism at its zenith.

If Iowa Republicans had their way, society as we know it would be dissolved, leaving scattered family units headed by white, male patriarchs. Such families would have many children. Women might well take a subservient role to men in public life.

If you listen to Republican rants from the state capitol, they already believe their chosen tribal relationships are in place. If Republicans declare war on trans people, or others who don’t lead what they consider to be a traditional life, they will fight until every one of them has been run out of the state or marginalized. It’s a crusade.

Like all the books in the Hidden History series, The Hidden History of Neoliberalism is a great weekend read with depth of thought hard to find on television or radio. I’ve been reading Hartmann’s series for the last couple of years, and each time his explanations and historical research bring something new to my attention.

For example, I lived through the U.S. plot to overthrow Chilean president Salvador Allende, the C.I.A.-backed military coup by Augusto Pinochet, and the restructuring of Chilean society by Milton Friedman and his gang of Chicago school neoliberals. Hartmann highlights the relevance of Friedman’s work during this fifty-year-old event to today’s Republican governance. “The blank slate of a new Chile offered the perfect laboratory for Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys to try out their exciting new neoliberal experiment,” Hartmann wrote. Neoliberals have been hard at work creating a radical, right-wing culture that seeks to dominate our politics.

According to Hartmann, America could go one of two ways: continue down the road to neoliberal oligarchy, as supported by the GOP, or choose to return to FDR’s Keynesian economics, raise taxes on the rich, reverse free trade, and create a more pluralistic society. The Hidden History of Neoliberalism is a primer on how the United States got to this point.

In a June 29 interview, I asked Hartmann what progressives should do about the clear and present danger of neoliberalism.

“The best way to combat what they are up to is expose it,” he said. If Democrats would speak more loudly, in a consistent enough fashion, they could easily organize people against the Republican policies of supporting great wealth, and white, male supremacy. Hartmann acknowledged getting Democrats to focus on a single thing is complicated.

Hartmann is essential progressive reading and I recommend The Hidden History of Neoliberalism. While readers await the new book, the others in the series can be found at

Happy autumn reading!

Thom Hartmann is a four-time winner of the Project Censored Award, a New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two books, and America’s #1 progressive talk radio show host. His show is syndicated on local for-profit and nonprofit stations and broadcasts nationwide and worldwide. It is also simulcast on television in nearly 60 million U.S. and Canadian homes.

To buy a copy of the Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore its Greatness, click here. The book will be available starting September 13, 2022.

About the Author(s)

Paul Deaton

  • Timely book but...

    I haven’t read this book but I wonder if Hartmann considers how much the mainstream media and the Democratic establishment blithely accept the premises of neoliberalism in their actions to this day. What most Democrats say may be moving away from neoliberal ideas but what politicians actually do in Des Moines and DC still reflects the influence of corporate money. So this book may be a good way to start this conversation but we still need some brave souls to call this out and primary the neolibs in the party.

    • Words have meanings

      This recent trend of calling any Democrats who aren’t sufficiently far left “neoliberals” as a slam renders the term meaningless and is done solely to divide. I have yet to see a “progressive” call another Democrat a “neoliberal” where the person attacked actually espouses economic beliefs closer to Hayek or the Chicago School than to Keynes and Galbraith. Virtually all Democrats who run for or hold officer are Keynesians. They believe in stimulus, they believe in government acting on the economy, they believe is social spending. One can argue whether they have shown adequate grit, toughness and skill in fighting back against Republican obstruction as to those economic interventions, but the fight among those from the center to the left is one of degree – how much intervention — not one of underlying dogma, that is “Keynesian intervention or Hayek’s libertarianism?” It is a disservice to understanding, to the language, and to other’s who share the underlying Keynesian beliefs to call anyone less left a “neoliberal.”

      • Words have meaning

        I have to respectfully disagree with the person who wrote the piece above. In my county (Johnson) we used to have Councils and Boards of Supervisors that were absolutely against the government intervening in the economy (unless it was on behalf of the wealthy), they did NOT believe in stimulus, and resisted social spending. All were Democrats by party registration. I think the label “neoliberal” fits quite well! For more detail, see the recent book written by former Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton called “Co-crafting the Just City.”

  • I'm struck by the use of "magic" in the essay above

    To some of us, the most obvious example in this state of what happens when there are no regulations is the awful quality of Iowa surface waters.

    I attended a public meeting about eleven years ago at which Bill Northey, then Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, declared that Iowa farmers and landowners would do the conservation needed to improve Iowa water even though there were no requirements to do it and even though incentive funding was limited. He said they would do it because they knew it was the right thing to do.

    I had the impression that he believed that himself. It struck me as magical thinking. And what has happened in regard to Iowa water since has been anything but magical.

  • One issue voters

    The author states that Hartmann agreed that getting Democrats to agree on one issue is complicated. It seems to me the Republicans have done that since 2015 with abortion. Trump doesn’t win the election in 2016 if he doesn’t persuade the single-issue voters that he is anti-abortion and Clinton wasn’t. I know too many people in North Iowa who voted Republican for that reason.- straight down the ballot. The other issues didn’t matter much as long as they were assured that Roe v Wade was going to be gone. That worked well for the Republicans but the Democrats should remember what happened to the party after they gave control to the MAGA party. They still vote but they don’t care about policy or politics, they vote for personality. How the Democrats overcome that will be interesting.

  • And here I thought...

    I was supposed to focus my skepticism and distrust on the neocons. There’s a confusing overlap between the two, methinks. Hillary comes to mind.

    But that’s so yesterday, when all our troubles… back then seem so quaint today.

    The word and reality of the present day is fascism. As we look around in this relatively calm period, surveying the damage and fixing a few things, the question is this: Was that a tornado that hit, or are we in the eye of a hurricane? Because a whole lot of those weakened structures are coming down if there’s another wind before the construction crews do the needed rehab and repair.

    Like say a wind like the Orwellian “Honest Elections Project” coming before the Supreme Court (No. 21-1271). If they go there, it’s over. Then nobody will give a shit about neolib or neocon theories or what they might have meant.