Politics got weird because neoliberalism failed to deliver
[This, in my opinion, is the simple truth. *RON*]
Ian Welsh says that the USSR collapsed because its promises -- "a cornucopia and a withering away of the state" -- conspicuously failed to materialize; now, neoliberalism's promises ("If the rich have more money, they will create more jobs; Lower taxes will lead to more prosperity; Increases in housing and stock market prices will increase prosperity for everyone; Trade deals and globalization will make everyone better off") are likewise being shown to be lies, and so we're in crisis.
Welsh argues persuasively that this accounts for a host of weirdnesses, like the "fake news" epidemic ("the press lied to them repeatedly, it is the original fake news") or economists' predictions about Brexit ("why should they, most economists missed the housing bubble").
In a way, this is the rupture that Thomas Piketty predicted: as capital accumulates into fewer and fewer hands, the rich will have an increasingly outsized influence in setting policy, and will not allow any policies that undermine their further capital accumulation -- hence climate denial, mass surveillance, privatization of public goods from education to health care, violent suppression of oppositions and protest movements. This leads to increasingly worse outcomes for everyone who isn't in the elite (socialized losses, privatized gains) and political instability, which eventually becomes more expensive to put down than it would be to remediate through fairer policies. Though, of course, cheap, high-tech mass surveillance moves the "economically rational" point for redistribution over suppression, by making suppression a lot cheaper.
As Graeber pointed out in The Utopia of Rules, the west used to point to the USSR's failings by talking about the long lines, the endless paperwork, and the depressing sameness of everything. In today's world of privatized health-care, "accountability" movements in education, migration crackdowns, monopoly telecoms, and winner-take-all franchise capitalism, the west has become the land of long lines, form-filling, phone support queues, and malls that all sell the same things.
Welsh's list of neoliberalism's failed promises is an important and compact reminder of what's going on right now, one that we should have ready to cite in discussions of whether capitalism is sustainable.
The world order we live in was born in 1979 or 1980, with Thatcher and Reagan. It made a few core promises:
- If the rich have more money, they will create more jobs;
- Lower taxes will lead to more prosperity;
- Increases in housing and stock market prices will increase prosperity for everyone;
- Trade deals and globalization will make everyone better off.
These core promises all turned out to be lies. It’s that simple. For most of the population, the last 40-odd years were either an experience of stagnation, or an experience of decline.[Ian Welsh] (via Naked Capitalism)