‘Survival capitalism’ and the Big Bang

Culture, contingency and capital in the making of the 1980s financial revolution

Author:
Emma Barrett
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The 1980s financial revolution placed the UK at the vanguard of neoliberal free market reforms and is celebrated on the Right as a high point in capitalism. Usually, it is understood as the inevitable outcome of New Right ideas, global economic shifts, new technologies and free-flowing capital. Using archival sources and dozens of in-depth interviews, Barrett brings to life the people and processes involved in the making of the financial revolution. Survival Capitalism demonstrates the high stakes for capitalist institutions and unfolding responses to existential threats and opportunities. It offers insights into struggles and alternative possibilities and shows just how contingent outcomes were. Ultimately, reforms were driven by the authorities but shaped significantly by City practitioners as they navigated and contested change, informed by their cultures and traditions. Although financial reforms are associated with the Thatcher government’s supply-side reforms, Survival Capitalism shows how the Government’s quest for autonomy and monetary credibility, when faced with problems of selling debt, impacted the stock market mechanism. It therefore exposes the macroeconomic concerns which drove reforms in parallel with microeconomic drivers. The two converged, but this focus affirms that international capital and new technologies were not merely catalysts for change; they were harnessed by the nation state to support the domestic agenda. By restoring intent to this history, Survival Capitalism offers new perspectives on Thatcherism and its legacies. The focus on people and processes de-mystifies the perception of the ‘inevitable’ march of market forces and explains the survival of the cultures of capitalism.

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