20.2.17

WHEN ELITE CONSENSUS FAILS.

If, emulating Hayek, we contemplate a Fatal Conceit, then there must be a time for morbidity and mortality to render futile what the Wise Experts aspire to do.  And when the signs of decline set in, suggests John Judis, they might manifest themselves among the people as a populist insurgency.  Thus comes his The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics.  It's a Columbia Global Report, and yet a readable, tightly argued product for Book Review No. 3.

There are many manifestations of populism, some from the left, and some from the right, but when the Political Consensus breaks down, and the usual medicine of a Realignment Election doesn't keep enough of the Consensus in place, then comes an insurgency.  But the term "populism" misleads, in that often there is a vanguard, or perhaps a Pied Piper, and in the United States, the last two Pied Pipers were named Sanders and Trump.  And Mr Judis submitted his book for publication after one Hillary Clinton had won the Democrat nomination and she looked to be a lock for the presidency.

Thus, perhaps, the current Elite Consensus is in worse shape than he would have his readers believe.  That noted, there is much in the book to reward careful study, including the observation that, no matter how outrageous some elements of populism, left or right, appear to be, those elements emerge in response to real pain inflicted on real people by the prevailing consensus: banks bailed out, but not householders or pensioners; diversity celebrated in principle but in practice an ethnic dependent class appears; imports mean overseas cash to finance public spending.  Then comes the harder task of ameliorating the pain and replacing the failed institutions.  That's a task for another book.

Mr Judis suggests that the right populist movements are ascendant in part because leaders of those movements are more effectively pointing out the shortcomings of Political Consensus.  That's likely true.  But some upwellings from advocates of a left populism suggest that there are limits to vanguardism from the left.  Consider this assertion by philosopher Nancy Fraser, in Dissent.
Trump’s victory is not solely a revolt against global finance. What his voters rejected was not neoliberalism tout court, but progressive neoliberalism. This may sound to some like an oxymoron, but it is a real, if perverse, political alignment that holds the key to understanding the U.S. election results and perhaps some developments elsewhere too. In its U.S. form, progressive neoliberalism is an alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end “symbolic” and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other. In this alliance, progressive forces are effectively joined with the forces of cognitive capitalism, especially financialization. However unwittingly, the former lend their charisma to the latter. Ideals like diversity and empowerment, which could in principle serve different ends, now gloss policies that have devastated manufacturing and what were once middle-class lives.

Progressive neoliberalism developed in the United States over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Clinton was the principal engineer and standard-bearer of the “New Democrats,” the U.S. equivalent of Tony Blair’s “New Labor.” In place of the New Deal coalition of unionized manufacturing workers, African Americans, and the urban middle classes, he forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, suburbanites, new social movements, and youth, all proclaiming their modern, progressive bona fides by embracing diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights. Even as it endorsed such progressive notions, the Clinton administration courted Wall Street. Turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization. What fell by the wayside was the Rust Belt—once the stronghold of New Deal social democracy, and now the region that delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump. That region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit as runaway financialization unfolded over the course of the last two decades. Continued by his successors, including Barack Obama, Clinton’s policies degraded the living conditions of all working people, but especially those employed in industrial production. In short, Clintonism bears a heavy share of responsibility for the weakening of unions, the decline of real wages, the increasing precarity of work, and the rise of the two–earner family in place of the defunct family wage.
That's what unstable governing coalitions look like.  But in a USA Today column, Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds quotes Richard "Belmont Club" Fernandez, on precisely how that governing coalition revealed itself as anything but populist.  "The elites lost their mojo by becoming absurd. It happened on the road between cultural appropriation and transgender bathrooms."

I'll have to keep reminding people that you can have a family wage, or you can have female labor force participation, but you can't have both.

To Professor Fraser, however, it's not about populism at all, it's about getting the theoretics right.
Neoliberals gained power by draping their project in a new cosmopolitan ethos, centered on diversity, women’s empowerment, and LGBTQ rights. Drawing in supporters of such ideals, they forged a new hegemonic bloc, which I called progressive neoliberalism. In identifying and analyzing this bloc, I never lost sight of the power of finance capital, as Brenner claims, but offered an explanation for its political ascendance.

The lens of hegemony also sheds light on the position of social movements vis-à-vis neoliberalism. Instead of parsing out who colluded and who was coopted, I focused on the widespread shift in progressive thinking from equality to meritocracy. Saturating the airwaves in recent decades, that thinking influenced not only liberal feminists and diversity advocates who knowingly embraced its individualist ethos, but also many within social movements. Even those whom Brenner calls social-welfare feminists found something to identify with in progressive neoliberalism, and in doing so, turned a blind eye to its contradictions.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is doubling down on the country being governed by stupid people, and the legacy press carrying water for the hegemons.  But he's saying "lying press."  That's more likely to be the "political earthquake [to overturn] neoliberalism and realign the parties" Mr Judis contemplates.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

No comments: