Private sufficiency and public luxury

Kwasi Kwarteng: The hapless face of an invisible doctrine and Britain's shortest serving chancellor. 

UK Government
A review of 'The Invisible Doctrine: The Secret History of Neoliberalism' by George Monbiot and Peter Hutchison.


When the UK’s then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng stood in the House of Commons to deliver the so-called mini-budget on 23 September 2022, it was in many senses the most unreformed expression of the ideology we call neoliberalism, exposing a system that dressed itself up as an invisible set of natural laws as openly contemptuous class warfare.

Kwarteng’s plans contained £45 billion of unfunded tax cuts, slashing rates for the highest earners and the wealthiest corporations. The most extreme free-market outriders licked their lips, openly gloating. But almost immediately, the economy went into meltdown, and Liz Truss became the shortest serving prime minister in UK history.

This article first appeared in the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.

George Monbiot and Peter Hutchison’s brilliant little book The Invisible Doctrine tells the story of how this disastrous ideology came to dominate economies, societies, politics and even our inner lives. 


Neoliberalism teaches us to consider all humans as inherently competitive individuals governed by self-interest, an idea that has taken root in almost every area of our lives, from education to employment, and to such a degree that now even clear institutional and societal shortcomings are framed as personal failures.

The subtitle of the book – The Secret History of Neoliberalism – implies an ordered, chronological structure along lines such as the intellectual roots of the ideology being shaped in the post-war period; the first forced implementation into economies through the 1970s; its march through the institutions over the 1980s and 1990s; and then its manifestation in contemporary life.

All of these components of the story are present but delivered in a slightly scattergun approach, racing from the epidemic of loneliness to the billionaire backers supporting neoliberal ideas. 

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Such breakneck handbrake turns can come within the space of a single chapter, despite each chapter being just a few pithy pages long. 

A chapter purportedly about shady lobbyists drifts into a commentary on the policy programmes of successive US presidents. The next chapter takes us back to the origins of the Institute of Economic Affairs. At times it’s the reading equivalent of listening to an album on shuffle.

Still, the sheer breadth and scope of this book are impressive, especially when even in hardback it can still be slipped into the average trouser pocket. It’s an extremely comprehensive and accessible introductory overview to an ideology that has hijacked everything, and to do that so succinctly is no small feat.


The book finds some clearer structure in its closing chapters, concluding with a customary gesture towards how we might get out of this mess. For Monbiot and Hutchison, an economic theory that has taken on the hegemonic quality of total ideology cannot be supplanted merely by an alternative economic theory, but must primarily be displaced by a new narrative. “The only thing that can replace a story is a story,” they say.

Undoubtedly, they are right to look at the hegemonic force of neoliberalism, and its power to shape the very stories we tell ourselves about our own lives, and to conclude that it cannot be willed away by simple reason or ordinary counterforce. 

Happily, they spell out a vision for a new politics, economics and society based on “private sufficiency and public luxury” and a return to the commons. But such is the depth of neoliberalism’s foundations in contemporary life that it can be hard to summon or sustain optimism.

Neoliberalism has endured many crises in its time, only to emerge more entrenched, making the rich richer, and the pathway to any alternative narrower. The 2008 financial crisis. Covid. 

The market meltdown of the 2022 mini-budget. All supposedly heralded the final nail in the coffin of a broken system, its flaws and contradictions finally exposed. Yet still it strides on.

This Author

Russell Warfield is head of communications at the climate charity Possible and books editor for Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, where this article first appeared. The Invisible Doctrine: The Secret History of Neoliberalism by George Monbiot and Peter Hutchison is published by Allen Lane. ISBN: 9780241635902.

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