Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Neoliberalism and the left (1)

Michael Lind is a former conservative long since turned Democratic liberal/progressive, on economic issues, at least. He is currently with the New America Foundation, a generally Obama-true Democratic advocacy group and writes regularly for Salon. Lind is particularly talented in decoding conservative and far-right ideologies, as he did in his classic analysis of Pat Robertson's New World Order paranoid conspiracy theory of history that I discussed in Pat's paranoia - and bigotry 07/15/03. And in his book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush And The Southern Takeover Of American Politics (2002). And more recently in Glenn Beck's partisan historians Salon 04/05/10.

On the other hand, he is chronically nervous that Democratic positions on "culture war" issues will drive voters away. That nervousness is on display in Open borders or high-wage welfare state Salon 05/04/10, in which he makes the exagerated argument that "many progressives have gone beyond denouncing the obnoxious component of the Arizona statute [SB1070] and the bigotry of many right-wing nativists who defend it to implying that enforcement of any federal immigration law is racist." Actually, progressives are working for comprehensive immigration reform because the country needs a workable and enforceable system of immigration.

His anti-immigrant notions as well as vague worries about European far-right nationalism also show up in Will the great recession lead to World War IV? Salon 05/11/10. But his decription of the problems presented by the embrace of neoliberal economic dogma by the US Democratic Party and European left parties is a good summary:

The decision in the last generation of the Third Way "progressives" to be more pro-banker and pro-business than the right is one reason that the center-left in the U.S. and Europe is incapable of rising to the challenge of the economic crisis. Having mortgaged their parties to donors in Wall Street and the City of London, the Democratic and Labour Parties cannot engage in more than token reform of the bloated and dangerous financial sector without biting the hands that feed them.
He sketches the background of this situation by reference to two reasons he sees for the conservative trend in European politics in particular, a trend which he may be overestimating. But he starts from the reasonable assumption that the parties most identified historically as advocating for ordinary workers, the Democratic Party in the United States and the social democratic parties of Europe, should be able to attract voters during economic hard times:

One is the success of the Third Way. The Third Way was the transatlantic project that united Clinton Democrats, Blair Labourites, and many European and Latin American parties of the left in a common enterprise of reinvention. The transatlantic center-left distanced itself from statism, turned its back on organized labor and embraced the financiers of Wall Street and the City of London, who showered them with campaign donations. With the zeal of converts, the leaders of center-left parties like Blair and Brown and Clinton and Obama sang the praises of free markets, free trade, privatization and deregulation. These so-called neoliberals abandoned working-class voters who looked to government and unions to protect them against economic upheaval, and sought a new constituency among the liberal rich and upscale members of the professional class who combined free-market conservatism with tolerant social views and support for means-tested government charity for the poor.

The other reason is bad timing. The neoliberals adopted a modified version of libertarianism just a few years before the Crash of 2008 exposed the fallacies that justified it. Most politicians, however, are influenced by the worldview of their formative years, not their mature years, so that when they assume power they are usually a decade or a generation out of date. Barack Obama, for example, was shaped by the experience of the Reagan and Clinton years, when Democrats were on the defensive and sought to distance themselves from mid-century New Deal liberalism, as Bill Clinton did when he declared: “The era of big government is over.” Expecting the Blairites and Clintonites who have populated the cabinets of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama to rethink their obsolete 1990s neoliberalism in the 2010s in response to real-world events is like expecting an oil tanker to turn on a dime. [my emphasis]
As a general Western trend, the embrace of "free market"/free-trade neoliberalism by parties of the left took strong hold after the fall of the Soviet Union and the eastern European Communist regimes.

If we use that as a reference point, we are about 20 years into this trend, whose bankruptcy (in the literal as well as figurative sense) became glaringly apparent with the current Great Recession.

However, it didn't necessarily become obviously politically bankrupt, a situation that Lind addresses in the above. And with the drift of the Obama administration, it most likely will not until they suffer some real political setback.

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