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Turkish newspaper puts the spotlight on Dr. Nilgün Önder’s new book

By Everett Dorma Posted: February 4, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Nilgün Önder in her office at the U of R.
Dr. Nilgün Önder in her office at the U of R. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography.

The Economic Transformation of Turkey: Neoliberalism and State Intervention by Dr. Nilgün Önder, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Studies in the Faculty of Arts, which was published in December 2015, has received significant attention in the Hürriyet Daily News.

Almost immediately after publication the Daily News contacted Dr. Önder indicating they were planning to publish a review of the book and requesting an interview.  The review and interview was published and a podcast of the interview was posted online in early December.

“I was delighted to have my work profiled in the Daily News, which is the oldest English language daily newspaper in Turkey and is distributed throughout the country and region,” says Önder. “My book explains the role of the state in the neoliberal restructuring of the Turkish political economy from 1980 to the 1990s and beyond and which I contend contributed to the rise of political Islamism from the mid-1990s.”

As Önder explains, although the ideology and policy of neoliberalism extols the virtues of a free market economy unhindered by political interventions, the state was the key agency for the formulation and implementation of neoliberal reforms in the Turkish economy. But, in the process, the functions and institutions of the state as well as state-civil society relations were transformed; authority and decision-making were further centralized and concentrated. A crucial aspect of the neoliberal restructuring was the weakening of the labour union movement through direct political interventions.

The neoliberal economic policies such as privatization, deregulation and liberalization of the financial sector, removal of restrictions on international trade, and reductions in government welfare spending, enhanced the role of the private sector in the economy and further integrated the Turkish economy into the rapidly globalizing world economy in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the neoliberalized economy was marked by structural weaknesses and instabilities; e.g., the Turkish economy and society became further exposed to the speculative types of international money flows, resulting in a series of financial market crises. Furthermore, the neoliberal economic reforms failed to produce the benefits anticipated: real wages declined significantly; small farmers suffered and the economic and social lives of private and public sector workers became increasingly difficult.

As state-provided education, health and social welfare services were scaled back while the demand for these services grew Islamist groups were able to use the vacuum to intercede. By providing health, housing and education services, Islamist organizations began to build strong local networks, which grew into the Islamist political movement’s electoral support in the 2000s.

Dr. Önder says that an important contribution of her book to the literature is its systematic analysis of the international political and economic relations of Turkey with respect to the causes and outcomes of the transformation of the Turkish economy and politics since the 1980s.

The Hürriyet book reviewer William Armstrong, notes in his introduction to the podcast that, “It’s a great and detailed book on some of the paradoxes of the economic reforms passed after Turkey’s military coup of 1980 – rather than rolling back, the authority of the state was substantially deepened by the reforms.” 

The Economic Transformation of Turkey: Neoliberalism and State Intervention’ by Nilgün Önder (IB Tauris) is available from Amazon.ca.