August 21, 2016


The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics (Martin Jacques, 8/21/16, The Guardian)

After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world. [...]

Large sections of the population in both the US and the UK are now in revolt against their lot, as graphically illustrated by the support for Trump and Sanders in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. This popular revolt is often described, in a somewhat denigratory and dismissive fashion, as populism. Or, as Francis Fukuyama writes in a recent excellent essay in Foreign Affairs: "'Populism' is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don't like." Populism is a movement against the status quo. It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.

Brexit is a classic example of such populism. It has overturned a fundamental cornerstone of UK policy since the early 1970s. Though ostensibly about Europe, it was in fact about much more: a cri de coeur from those who feel they have lost out and been left behind, whose living standards have stagnated or worse since the 1980s, who feel dislocated by large-scale immigration over which they have no control and who face an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market. Their revolt has paralysed the governing elite, already claimed one prime minister, and left the latest one fumbling around in the dark looking for divine inspiration.

The wave of populism marks the return of class as a central agency in politics, both in the UK and the US. This is particularly remarkable in the US. For many decades, the idea of the "working class" was marginal to American political discourse.

Except, of course, that Brexit itself is a rebellion against the transnationalism of the Second Way and the political landscape of the UK and US is defined by the utter futility of the Second Way leader of the Labour Party and the retrograde Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, the neoliberal leaders of the two nations are virtually unopposed and will be (have been) succeeded this year by other neoliberals, while no one will seek to rerun the Corbyn nor Trump experiments, particularly because of their catastrophic results in local elections/primaries. 

Meanwhile, the most distinctive thing about the 2008 credit crisis turned out to be how easily we rode it out and recovered thanks to the universal neoliberalism of the Anglosphere/Scandinavia, especially by contrast to the Second Way approaches to the Depression. 

Posted by at August 21, 2016 8:17 AM