The Apostles of the Market Economy: Swiss protagonists and networks of global neoliberalism (1969-1995)

Workshop at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1990 (© WEF)

During the period from 1969 to 1995, which began with the start of monetary deregulation and the collapse of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, most countries of the global North and South experienced the growing influence of policies to strengthen the market economy. Generally described as neoliberal by research, these reforms are characterised by the privatisation of public sector companies, the deregulation of markets (economic, financial, and labour) and by a paradigm shift away from the Keynesian welfare state.

This project aims to participate in the current renewal of the history of neoliberalism. In particular, it investigates new aspects of these reforms and focuses on the protagonists outside of the Anglo-Saxon world. So far, no major historical study has examined the specific role of Swiss actors and networks - politicians, business associations, think tanks, etc. - in the international rise of neoliberalism. Our research aims to fill this gap by exploring a large collection of unpublished sources.

While conceptualising neoliberalism as a political project, we adopt a multi-archival methodology based on a transnational social history approach, supported by prosopography and network analysis. Our research is structured around three thematic axes and a transversal part.

Axis 1, investigated by Margaux Lang, aims to shed light on the actions of Swiss employers and their transnational networks. It will focus on groups that are less well known than traditional business associations or political parties, namely bourgeois interest groups. Lang will notably focus on the Redressement national, which was formed in 1936 by far-right, anti-communist, and business organisations and played a crucial role during the years from 1969 to 1995. By analysing the connections between these interest groups and the neoliberal project, this first axis of our project will enable us to study the means of action, positioning, and funding of the main neoliberal players in Switzerland.

Axis 2, examined by Hadrien Buclin, involves tracing the origin, in business associations, political parties, official institutions, and public debate, of the neoliberal reforms undertaken by Swiss authorities. These reforms were implemented in the areas of social insurance, fiscal and monetary policy, privatisation of public enterprises, and market deregulation. The aim is to study the impact of the neoliberal turn on Swiss public policies in order to measure its scope as well as the international circulation of policies inspired by neoliberalism.

Finally, Axis 3, investigated by Gabriella Lima, examines Switzerland's participation in the global neoliberal project promoted by international financial institutions in peripheral countries in the context of the debt crisis of the 1980s. In this context, Swiss actors, both public and private, took part in the activities of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the Paris Club, and the Institute of International Finance (IIF). These institutions used debt rescheduling negotiations to pressure the indebted countries to adopt a series of neoliberal measures. In this way, it will be possible to shed light on the role of Swiss actors in a key episode of the international neoliberal turn.

Finally, a transversal part of the project, led by Janick Marina Schaufelbuehl, will systematise the study of the relationship between business associations and neoliberal networks at a global level. This will provide a better understanding of the way in which neoliberal networks operate, their interaction with the public and the government, and the economic and social determinants of the neoliberal turn. To this end, we adopt a transnational perspective which, while not neglecting the global dimensions of these processes, highlights the particularities of Switzerland and serves to shed light on a complex and significant moment in contemporary Swiss history that has been little studied until now. We hope that the two PhD theses, different planned publications, and conferences, will allow us to widely share the results of our research.

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