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Neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy. The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 as one of the ultimate results.

Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy. The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 as one of the ultimate results.

The term has been used since 1938 but became more prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and '80s by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics. Advocates of free market policies avoid the term "neoliberal".

The definition and usage of the term has changed over time. It was originally an economic philosophy that emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s in an attempt to trace a so-called 'Third' or 'Middle Way' between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and socialist planning. The impetus for this development arose from a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, which were mostly blamed by neoliberals on the economic policy of classical liberalism. In the decades that followed, the use of the term neoliberal tended to refer to theories at variance with the more laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism, and promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy.

In the 1960s, usage of the term "neoliberal" heavily declined. When the term was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Once the new meaning of neoliberalism was established as a common usage among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of political economy. Scholarship on the phenomenon of neoliberalism has been growing. The impact of the global 2008–09 crisis has also given rise to new scholarship that critiques neoliberalism and seeks developmental alternatives.