Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bruce Wilder 11.30.15 at 6:45 pm

JQ: a consensus of the political class. But if you take an issue like privatisation, it hardly ever commanded majority support anywhere.

dsquared: People didn’t like privatisation per se – who doesn’t want to keep assets? But they preferred it to the alternatives, which would have involved higher taxes. Pro-privatisation parties consistently won elections.

The dog that didn’t bark plays a big part in the political dynamics. Neoliberalism, as an ideology or rhetorical engine of the political class is an epiphenomenon of the collapse or corruption of institutions and organizations, representing and mobilizing mass interests.
Charles Peter’s Neoliberalism: A Manifesto is a root document of an important thread in American neoliberalism, and it is also a pretty clear statement of the desire to abandon what seemed in 1983 to be a tired stalemate of politics cleaved across class lines. The economic reforms of the late 1970s and 1980s — deregulation and trade liberalization were possible because the liberal professional classes were ready to abandon labor unions as racists and Reagan Republicans, but also because those organizations were in manifest decline as the general decline in social affiliation in American society and culture took hold. A vicious cycle took hold: deregulation and trade liberalization, along with a general decline in mainstream religious and other social affiliations destroyed the institutions that gave the liberal classes an economic base, as Chris Hedges lamented in The Death of the Liberal Class.

The expansion of the financial sector, at least in the U.S., was accompanied by a deeply corrupting homogenization, as giant bank holding companies assembled themselves and subsectors, which had previously pursued conflicting political agendas in Washington and State Capitals, as well as competing economic strategies in the marketplace, were subsumed. That’s a huge and underappreciated fact: both politically and economically, neoliberal policy permitted a loss of diversity that undermined the politics and economics both.

Projecting that “they” (voters) didn’t “like” some (proffered?) alternative of public ownership and finance, supported by sufficient and effective taxation, slides over the problem of political organization and mobilization. There is No Alternative (TINA) is the central challenge presented by neoliberalism, as political parties of the Left have repeatedly failed to find ways to mobilize mass support to sustain any alternative vital critique and program.

It does seem to me that attributing too much to the overawing strength or evil of the Finance Sector misses the abject weakness of any potential political mass movement, whether of the populist or neo fascist Right or liberal or socialist Left.

Even comparatively feeble efforts show how little it takes, I think. The successes of Elizabeth Warren are a remarkable demonstration, in a way, of how little it takes to push back. (That’s not a criticism of Warren, who does her homework and is amazingly professional and incisive — I’m just saying, she’s not atop a well-disciplined mass movement with real political muscle; she’s just good at the job she’s taken on, and that’s enough sometimes to have effect. Because the corruption she goes after has a guilty conscience and is not atop a mass movement either, and fears any potential mass movement for good reason will eventually want heads on pikes.)

There is No Alternative is a racket and a ratchet downward, ever downward. But, it isn’t backed with great political power, so much as it is backed by the absence of political power among the mass of people, who are no longer readily mobilized or even informed. And, also it represents a narrow homogenization of interests, so not much political conflict surfaces for politicians to manage: a politician cannot make himself independent without conflict — the only job available in this environment is spokesmodel. Most people are not well-informed politically — even the news junkies, who might seem superficially well-informed about politics have little capacity to think critically. They just react like Pavlov’s dogs and, for all practical purposes, if they vote at all, they might as well be voting at random. (A friend in China explained to me recently, that China tells itself that it is a democracy, and the voters are presented with a ballot in municipal elections, but no one knows even half the names on the ballot. I told him it sounds like voting in Los Angeles. I wasn’t joking.)

It takes a lot of political organization and mobilization, including education and some careful thinking about programs and policies, before a polity can make genuinely “hard” choices (to use ironically, the fatuous neoliberal rhetoric for doing something stupid, cruel and corrupt). I mean to accept short-term pain for long-term gain, but also to accept the short-term pain necessary to impose costs and accountability on elites and to dismantle existing systems.

Genuinely reforming the financial sector would be an act of altruistic punishment. It would be costly in the short-term even for those wielding the knives and tying the hanging rope. In the U.S., it would mean shrinking substantially employment in some of the highest income sectors of the economy — not just in finance, itself, but in the corporate C-suites and big sectors of the economy, like health care, where insurance has jacked up prices and incomes, drawing in excess resources.

Absent a partial collapse of society, directly affecting elites, it is hard to imagine organizing or motivating a politics of altruistic punishment. The U.S. can just barely manage to mobilize some outrage, by invoking the hot button of race, but that’s wearing thin surprisingly fast, I think and easily side-tracked into purely symbolic b.s., at least among the youngest political activists.

I don’t object to pointing out that the Clintons are political opportunists, or that Tony Blair was a political opportunist for that matter. That their moral sense is deranged seems like a valid point. But, the thing about opportunists is that they are not handicapped by convictions; if there were a reliable and loyal political movement available to lead, they would happily lead it, I think. It would have to be a remarkably resilient movement, before any sane politician would tackle shrinking the UK financial sector, because the immediate economic feedback is likely to be severely negative for any effective measures taken in advance of some self-created crisis or collapse. Ditto in the U.S.

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