Benjamin Holtzman, "The Long Crisis: New York City and the Path to Neoliberalism" (Oxford UP, 2021)

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In the 1960s and 1970s, New York City was beset by a host of fiscal and social crises wrought by white flight, federal and state disinvestment, and a declining tax base. The city faced rising crime, dilapidated parks and transit, skyrocketing budget deficits, deteriorating public services, and a dysfunctional and eviscerated municipal bureaucracy. By the mid-1970s, the situation was so dire that financial institutions refused to underwrite municipal bonds and the city faced bankruptcy. The response was a shift towards privatization and neoliberalization – a process that scholars have traditionally associated with political and financial elites.

But Benjamin Holtzman’s The Long Crisis: New York City and the Path to Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2021) shows that neoliberalization was also forged at the grassroots level by ordinary New Yorkers trying to remake and repair their damaged city. Holtzman traces how block associations, nonprofits, and professional organizations turned to private market-based solutions to address problems that the city government seemed unable or unwilling to solve. In a process that Holtzman calls “popular marketization,” New York residents reclaimed buildings that landlords had abandoned, formed neighborhood watch programs to deter crime in the absence of effective city policing, and created new nonprofit organizations to rejuvenate defunded parks. These initatives were not necessarily driven by ideological commitments to marketization, Holtzman argues, but were often experimental and improvisational attempts to restore services that New Yorkers had come to expect from a once robust public sector.

Ben Zdencanovic is a postdoctoral associate at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. He is a historian of the twentieth-century United States and the world, international politics, and political economy, and he has a particular interest in the emerging subfield of the history of social and economic human rights. Zdencanovic is currently working his first book, Island of Enterprise: The End of the New Deal and the Rise of U.S. Global Power in a World of Welfare, 1940 – 1955. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ben_zdencanovic.

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