The 2008 global financial meltdown, commonly called the ‘Great Recession’, was the most serious crisis in capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and a fundamental repudiation of neoliberal governing assumptions. This paper focuses on the contexts that informed two governmental responses to this economic crisis — restoration and retrenchment through public austerity. It explains that these responses were contingent, experimental, inequitable and, in the end, unsuccessful. Restoration and retrenchment, however, were entirely consistent with previous neoliberal crisis-responses and the abiding ambitions of this governing project. As the economic crisis crawled into the second half of a decade, the idea of inequality was increasingly identified as an underlying cause of crisis and its amelioration as a necessary part of rebuilding economies and communities in a post-crisis era. The paper tracks the case for the revival of equality politics and policies in the early twenty-first century.