I imagine that most anthropologists greeted the crash of September 2008
with a measure of schadenfreude, tempered in many cases by economic pain and
anxiety. I retired from the British university system in that month and lost a third
of the lump sum I was to receive. Still, it was hard to resist feeling vindicated.
There are not many advocates for neoliberal globalization in our discipline and I,
for one, expected the public profile of free-market economists to be substantially
downgraded. A swing back toward Keynesian macroeconomics seemed the obvious
remedy for the abrupt contraction in demand. It is easy enough, in retrospect,
to identify what prevented these expectations from becoming reality. It is
more difficult to explain why. In this short essay, I seek to place the developments
of the last decade in a broad historical context, focusing on the current and former
Western imperial powers: the United States, France, and Britain. In doing so, I
draw mainly on sources from outside of anthropology.