"Neoliberalisms", Left and Right: Hoisted from the Archives

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Hoisted from the Archives: From 2015: _"Neoliberalisms", Left and Right: Today's best piece I have read on the internet is by the extremely sharp John Quiggin: The Last Gasp of (US) [Left-]Neoliberalism: "US neoliberalism is... closer to Blair’s Third Way than to Thatcher....

...[US] neoliberalism maintained and even extended ‘social liberalism’, in the US sense of support for equal marriage, reproductive choice and so on. In economic terms, its central claim was that the goals of the New Deal... could best be pursued through market-friendly policies that would earn the support of the financial sector.... [The] signature issues for US neoliberals were free trade, cuts in ‘entitlement’ spending, and school reform... a ‘grand bargain’, in which Republicans would accept minimal increases in taxation in return for the abandonment of most of the Democratic program. The Clinton administration was explicitly neoliberal.... And, while Obama’s 2008 election campaign was masterfully ambiguous, his first Administration neoliberal through and through.... But developments since then, including the global financial crisis, the failure of school reform and increasing awareness of entrenched inequality have destroyed the appeal of neoliberalism...

I think that John Quiggin is largely correct—if you correct "abandonment" to "reconfiguration".

Thatcherite right-neoliberalism is the claim that social democracy was one huge mistake–that it created a North Atlantic of takers who mooched off the makers. It holds that if we got rid of social democracy, we would have a utopia because the makers wouldn’t have to carry the takers on their backs and the takers would shape up–or if the takers did not shape up, serve them right! The moochers would then wallow in their much deserved squalor and misery. And the makers would not have to, as they do now, suffer the pain of watching the moochers live tolerable lives.

Right-neoliberalism is alive and kicking.

(Bill) Clintonian left-neoliberalism makes two twin arguments.

  1. Addressed to the left: market mechanisms–properly-regulated market mechanisms–are more likely than not a better road to social democratic ends than command-and-control mechanisms.

  2. Addressed to the right: Social democracy is the only political system that can in the long run underpin a market economy that preserves a space for private property and private enterprise. Therefore the right had better shut up and try to make social democracy work, or else.

The true underlying problem with left-neoliberalism, I think, is that with the Brezhnevite stagnation of the Soviet Union the second claim addressed to the right was no longer convincing. Hence the right went into its dismantle-social-democracy mode. And once the right was committed to dismantling social democracy, the ability to construct and maintain the proper regulations needed to make market mechanisms tools to achieve social democratic ends fell apart as well.

This leaves those who want to present electorates with a broader menu of political choices than simply right-neoliberalism and its even more conservative relatives with the task of figuring out another political-economic agenda to repair the flaws in the post-WWII Fordist economic regulation model that led to the original development of left-neoliberalism in the first place. But I am at my wit’s end as to what alternative political-economic agenda could both (a) work technocratically and (b) be sold to North Atlantic electorates politically. Hell, our failure to maintain political coalitions to even implement Milton Friedman’s cures for depression, let along John Maynard Keynes’s, is terribly depressing.

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