Monday, May 28, 2012


Consider a middle aged worker living in a factory town in the suburbs of Cincinnati. You were able to work at a local plant and provide more for your family than your own parents were able to provide for you. Thanks to a powerful union, the conditions at your plant were safe, mechanisms were in place to redress grievances, and you earned a living wage. The local community flourished. The neoliberal policy apparatus pushed to remove any structural incentive for corporations to keep the plant going. It closed. Now you are forced to consider shitty jobs with bad benefits, no chance of union representation, and no security of any kind. There are no pensions, only 401(k)s that are subject to the vicissitudes of the market. Your children are unable to find work. The local community has been devastated. For your town, the result has been nothing but bad. Yes, as the neoliberals constantly remind us, you can buy an iPhone if you can afford one. But these material goods do nothing to make you more feel more secure or fulfilled, and don’t help in a culture that (for good or ill) associates a meaningful life with meaningful work.

Neoliberals not only refuse to recognize the human tragedy of all of this, referring to it as “creative destruction” and the necessity of capitalism. (Note, again, that as they are employed at magazines, think tanks, and universities, and thus don’t live with the consequences of these changes, creative destruction is an entirely academic concept.) They not only refuse to define costs and benefits in any terms but monetary ones, and thus pointedly ignore your suffering. They actually insult you for thinking that the situation sucks. They call you fundamentally irrational, nativist, populist, and probably racist. Openly. This is the fundamental political dynamic of our time: working and middle class people have had their working conditions systematically destroyed, and in the face of this, neoliberal elites have reacted with callous disregard. This failure to respond to genuine need has opened up space for conservative ideologues to play on their insecurities and resentments, leading to a political nightmare that makes liberal governance impossible. I don’t excuse the ruinous decisions of those who have turned to the GOP out of feelings of desperation and anger, but you simply cannot understand the dominance of conservatism and the rise of the Tea Party without understanding the failure of neoliberal policy elites to respond to real economic devastation.

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