Over at some other blog I stumbled upon a comment which said:
“The most efficient economic policy is free markets + subsidies.”
That is such an elegant description of neoliberalism on so many levels.
On the one hand, it captures the hegemony of neoliberalism in public policy in the sense that almost all political parties from the right through to the left view free markets as the primary mechanism of distribution and subsidies as the ex post remedy for the gross inequalities generated there from. The only debate is over what constitutes a gross inequality, what form the subsidy should take and, only sometimes, who should pay for it.
On the other hand it also captures nicely the way that in practice neoliberalism as hegemonic accumulation strategy has often involved regulatory capture and either direct or indirect subsidies to entire sectors of the economy. The US financial sector being the super star example. The Alberta oil sands being another A list celebrity.
The next time someone asks you to define neoliberalism just respond: Free Markets + subsidies = Neoliberalism.