Hewlett Foundation announces new, five-year $50 million Economy and Society Initiative to support growing movement to replace neoliberalism

Governance – Theory

Hewlett Foundation announces new, five-year $50 million Economy and Society Initiative to support growing movement to replace neoliberalism
December 8, 2020
Menlo Park, Calif. — The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation today announced a five-year, $50 million commitment to help develop a new intellectual paradigm to replace neoliberalism—the framework that has dominated our economic and political debates for more than forty years. The new Economy and Society Initiative will help develop a new “common sense” about how the relationship between governments, markets, and people should be structured to meet society’s biggest challenges.

“Neoliberalism’s emphasis on free-market absolutism has outlived its usefulness, as evidenced by the fact that it’s worsening some of our biggest problems, like skyrocketing wealth inequality and the unfolding climate crisis. But addressing problems like these requires more than one-off policy ideas, activist pressure, and incremental change. We need a new way of thinking about policy, law, and the proper role of government to shift the underlying terms of debate and open up space for solutions that neoliberalism is currently choking off,” Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer said.

The Hewlett Foundation undertook an exploratory grantmaking effort two years ago to learn more about growing movements to forge alternatives to neoliberalism. It found academics, think tanks, advocates, and others—on both the right and left, in the United States and internationally—advancing such ideas. Proposals being investigated included the end of unchecked free trade; renewed interest in industrial policy and antitrust; “pre-distribution” rather than redistribution efforts; and solutions to climate change that go beyond what markets can do. But these ideas and their proponents have yet to cohere into a holistic intellectual framework and movement in the way neoliberalism did a half century ago. So, in addition to funding the generation of creative new ideas, the Hewlett Foundation will work to tie these ideas together into a coherent intellectual framework and movement to supersede neoliberalism, one better capable of addressing society’s most pressing problems, from economic and racial inequality, to climate change.

In launching this new initiative, the Hewlett Foundation is mindful of how an earlier generation of funders helped create, nurture, and promote neoliberalism. The remarkable success of their philanthropic effort was enabled by their focus on big ideas, and it offers valuable lessons for our work today. Just as philanthropy effectively spurred the development and ascendance of neoliberalism, the Hewlett Foundation will support an ideologically diverse set of ideas and thinkers capable of leading a shift every bit as widespread and profound.

“The Hewlett Foundation’s Economy and Society Initiative is joining a growing movement of ideas. We want to support the people and organizations building a new understanding of how the economy works, the aims it should serve, and how it should be structured to serve those aims,” Jennifer Harris, director of the Economy and Society Initiative, said. “It’s not our job to come up with the final form of a successor to neoliberalism, it’s our job to seed the debates, ideas, and iterative thinking that can get us there.”

The Hewlett Foundation is joined by a growing group of funders interested in nurturing a movement to supersede neoliberalism.

Since 2018, the Hewlett Foundation’s exploratory effort to develop new ideas in economic and political thought has awarded nearly than $20 million in grants to a diverse set of recipients, including Oren Cass of American Compass, Rev. William Barber II’s Repairers of the Breach, and the Roosevelt Institute, led by Felicia Wong. The new Economy and Society Initiative will continue to support the cultivation of ideas for replacing the current paradigm—wherever they come from. The Initiative will fund thinkers and organizations in the United States and abroad, with the aim of supporting ideas that reach beyond America’s shores.