Neoliberalism, or neo-liberalism,[1] is a term used to describe the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with free-market capitalism.[2]:7[3] A significant factor in the rise of conservative and libertarian organizations, political parties, and think tanks, and predominately advocated by them,[4][5] it is generally associated with policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, austerity and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society;[6][14] however, the defining features of neoliberalism in both thought and practice have been the subject of substantial scholarly debate.[15][16] The term has multiple, competing definitions, and a pejorative valence.[17] In policymaking, neoliberalism often refers to what was part of a paradigm shift that followed the failure of the Keynesian consensus in economics to address the stagflation of the 1970s.[18][19]

English speakers have used the term neoliberalism since the start of the 20th century with different meanings,[20] but it became more prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and 1980s, used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences[21][22][23] as well as by critics.[24][25][26] The term is rarely used by proponents of free-market policies.[27] Some scholars have described the term as meaning different things to different people as neoliberalism has "mutated" into geopolitically distinct hybrids as it travelled around the world.[28][29][7] Neoliberalism shares many attributes with other concepts that have contested meanings, including representative democracy.[30] The definition and usage of the term have changed over time.[8] As an economic philosophy, neoliberalism emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s as they attempted to revive and renew central ideas from classical liberalism as they saw these ideas diminish in popularity, overtaken by a desire to control markets, following the Great Depression and manifested in policies designed to counter the volatility of free markets, and mitigate their negative social consequences.[31]:14–15 One impetus for the formulation of policies to mitigate free-market volatility was a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, failures sometimes attributed principally to the economic policy of classical liberalism.

When the term entered into common use in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, it quickly took on negative connotations and was employed principally by critics of market reform and laissez-faire capitalism. Scholars tended to associate it with the theories of Mont Pelerin Society economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan.[8][32] Once the new meaning of neoliberalism became established as a common usage among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of political economy.[8] By 1994, with the passage of NAFTA and with the Zapatistas' reaction to this development in Chiapas, the term entered global circulation.[7] Scholarship on the phenomenon of neoliberalism has grown over the last few decades.[22][23]