Ask a K Hack: What’s the Difference Between the Capitalism and Neoliberalism?


Welcome to the first installment of our new column, Ask a K Hack! Send us your kritik questions, and we’ll get you an answer from a top coach who is also an expert on the literature base you’re wondering about.


This week, several of you wrote to us wondering what the differences are between the neoliberalism kritik and the capitalism kritik. Let’s dive in!


Question: “Don’t judge me, but I still don’t know what the difference between neoliberalism and capitalism is, and does it really even matter?”

 “What’s the real distinction between Cap and Neolib? If I handled a Neolib k as a Cap k, what would I miss on the Neolib intricacies?”



Answer:  (from Eugene Wolters of


“That’s actually a great question, thanks for asking!


The short answer is yes, they’re different, and yes, it matters.


Neoliberalism is a flavor of capitalism. Capitalism is a broad definition. To keep it succinct, it’s an economic system that revolves around commodity production (iPads, Cheetos, etc.) and the exploitation of the labor of the proletariat (working classes) by the bourgeoisie (rich people).


Neoliberal capitalism is also centered on commodity production, but in its own unique way. It advocates for free, open markets. Its advocates usually believe deregulation (less government involvement in the market) is the solution to most of our problems. It is important understand that, despite the name, neoliberalism is not the same as American political liberalism (in the sense of being progressive or leftist). Rather, it refers to classic liberalism (which involves the belief that economic matters should be shaped by private citizens, rather than governments).


There are also other flavors of capitalism. One of the other other major “schools” of capitalist thought is Keynesianism, named after the economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes believed capitalism was inherently unstable, and needed strong state intervention to function. Until the 1970s, Keynesianism  was the go-to economic theory for many policy makers. Neoliberalism, in contrast to Keynesianism, prefers less state involvement in the economy.


So if “generic” capitalism is vanilla ice cream, neoliberalism is chocolate. And while they may look and taste different, they’re both still bad for you (or so the K would argue).


But in reality, it’s hard to refer to any country of economy as 100% neoliberal or 100% Keynesian (or something else). There is not some magical switch that lets a country turn off the neoliberalism and turn on everything else. It’s more like a chocolate and vanilla swirl. And everything sort of melted together, so it’s kind of hard to tell the difference at this point.




First, many “state interventions” may be intervening for the sake of propagating neoliberalism. Even neoliberals believe that some bare minimum regulation needs to exist. So, for instance, the state does tons of things neoliberals love – using the police to protect property rights, defending intellectual property and getting involved when there is absolutely no other alternative.


Scholars like Henry Giroux point out that our social protections (public housing, minimum wage, and “the welfare state”) have been rapidly eroded since the era of Reagan. But, Ronald Reagan also increased the size and spending of the US government. Complicated, right? Throw in social policies that still exist – social security, labor laws, etc – and you’ll see our current economic engine is 90% neoliberal and 10% spare parts that were lying around from before.


Now, to the good part. Why does this matter for debate?


Here’s a fun fact: if you run a neoliberalism K against the affirmative and their response is 8 minutes of “capitalism good” with no “no link” arguments, you just won the round. Assuming you have the proper Marxist chops, you can just concede that capitalism is good, but neoliberalism is still bad.


At this point, you’re just saying capitalism works better with heavy state regulations, and the 1AR is probably too late for them to bring up new answers. Make sure you say that part in the block: they could have clarified in cross-ex, in the same way cross-ex is for clarifying which branch of the USFG the aff uses.


Be warned though, your link will need to be that much more specific. Saying “they use the economy, that’s cap” won’t cut it here.


Example: The aff says trade liberalization in Mexico (or any country, for that matter) is good. Neoliberalism and trade liberalization, get it?


The problem with the aff, you should argue, is that this sort of trade liberalization will open up formerly protected markets to rampant exploitation of American companies. Does that mean capitalism is bad? No (well, maybe, but that’s a different argument). It means huge multi-national conglomerates and American corn putting Mexican farmers out of business is probably bad news bears.  So the alternative? For one, leave existing state protections that don’t allow American businesses to invade X country’s economy.


Similarly, because neoliberalism is a sub-type of capitalism, reading “neoliberalism good” cards doesn’t necessarily answer a generic capitalism kritik argument.


For more, check out…

Recommended Reading:

A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey (book)

This book review of a Henry Giroux book that criticizes neoliberalism– I wrote it!”



(The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Debate Central or its contributors.)


Got a burning kritik question? Submit it to our panel of K Hacks! Or, leave your follow-ups in the comments below.


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4 Responses to Ask a K Hack: What’s the Difference Between the Capitalism and Neoliberalism?

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  3. Reena Manilla says:

    Is there any way you should say a k? Like, do you say “Fem K” and then just read, or do you just read?

    • Rachel Stevens says:

      As with all separate off-case arguments, I would encourage you to verbally flag when you are moving from one argument to the next. So, if you are finishing up reading a disad and moving on to a Fem K, you would say “Next is the kritik” (or “next is the feminism kritik,” if you’re reading more than one separate kritik). This helps signal to the judge that they should move to a new sheet of paper, and begin listening for a new tag and citation.

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