Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Lind argues, the libertarian Reaganite revival is dying out, which is opening back up a further leftward shift

A little bit of Back to the Future. Brilliant piece in the Financial Times. He discusses the historical trends since the 1930s in the US primarily but in the Western world more generally, that have lead to the current political change he sees underfoot. Lind writes:

Whether a Democrat or a Republican is inaugurated in January 2009, the centre of political gravity in the US is well to the left of where it was a decade ago. President George W. Bush’s own contribution to the shift has been negligible. It is the result of long-term, tectonic shifts in political and economic ideology that are affecting all developed countries.

In fact given that a Democrat won the popular vote in 2000 (along with one house of Congress), the 2004 election may be historically considered the outlier depending on the ‘08 result.
The shift is as follows.
From the 1930s, the farther left was identified with statism or communism. The right was weakened (libertarianism, economic laissez faire). The center was held by the New Deal welfare state, calling itself the “Third Way” as a bulwark against further left state control. The right then, was really more the moderate Right: Rockefeller Republicans, Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, even Richard Nixon. They tried to chip away at certain elements of the welfare model but not the model itself. Then:

Between 1968 and 2004, the political spectrum shifted to the right with respect to economic (but not social) issues. Long before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, socialism was discredited as a viable economic alter­native. Parties of the left in the western world abandoned programmes of nationalising the economy for welfare-state liberalism. The disappearance of radical socialist or populist alternatives turned the former “third way” or “centre”, welfare-state liberalism into “the left”.

Neo-liberalism, which as Lind smartly points out, was basically the moderate economic conservatives, in the form of Clintonian and Blair “Third Way” politics, allowed a revival of the Left (now moderate right as Democrat) in the 1990s. Clinton and George HW Bush are basically equivalent in terms of their outlooks.
Now Lind argues, the libertarian Reaganite revival is dying out, which is opening back up a further leftward shift, itself then re-defining who is right and center (relative to the new left):

What formerly was the left – welfare-state liberalism – is once again the ­centre. To its left (in economic, not social, terms) is protectionist ­populism; to its right, neoliberalism.
This comes as a disorienting shock to Clinton-Blair third-way neoliberals. Having positioned themselves as the reasonable mean between the welfare-state left and the economic libertarian right, they have awakened to find that they are now the extreme right. The clever ones are inching their way, ever more carefully, towards today’s new centre.
You can hear the change in what prominent would-be centrists are saying. In the 1990s, when neoliberalism was the centre, the line was: we must slash middle-class entitlements in order to be more competitive in the global free market. Now the line is: in order to save free-market globalism from populists preying on middle-class economic anxieties, we must expand the middle-class welfare state.
The winners – at least for now – are welfare state liberals such as old-fashioned New Dealers in the US and their equivalents in other countries. The position of the original “third way” of 1932-68 always made sense. Middle-class social insurance programmes, by guaranteeing economic security, reduce the appeal of populism, socialism and other kinds of ­radical statism, and make possible broad political support for open and competitive national and global markets. You will hear much more of this line as politicians rush to occupy the new centre in the years ahead.

As someone generally (on economic issues) of the moderate conservative/neo-liberal view, this now puts me in the weird position (if Lind is correct) of being right. Just not (now) farther right. The libertarian argument arose in response to “stagflation” of the 1970s. It succeeded in destroying that, but in a Hegelian-like dialectic, could not deal with the economic prosperity it helped create. It didn’t answer social questions. It has been discredited as a governing philosophy (though perhaps not as economic policy) in light of the failures of the Republican Legislature from 1996-2006 and the Bush II Presidency.
Hence the birth of a neo-protectionist mentality. And in that sense, I would agree with Lind, I would like to see (though little as possible) some dealing on a governmental level with issues like health care and job training because I’m more afraid of the protectionist left. Particularly when it comes in the form of “movement liberalism” a la Daily Kos.

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