In 1980 the World Bank extended its first structural adjustment loans. Scholars and activists have argued that structural adjustment policies, and the neoclassical economics that legitimates them, destroyed Keynesianism, developmentalism, and socialism. In contrast to the view that structural adjustment began as a clear neoliberal project, I argue that the second and third worlds, in fact, demanded structural adjustment, which, in response, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund sought to realize but in a way fundamentally different from what was demanded. In this article, I examine economists’ ideas about structural adjustment across socialist eras—from 1920s Weimar Germany and the Soviet Union to midcentury socialist Yugoslavia and the post-1964 UN Conference on Trade and Development—and explore the origins of what we know today as structural adjustment policies.

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