Over the fold, some concluding comments from a chapter I’ve written about the rise and decline of neoliberalism. I’m drawing on the “three-party system” analysis I’ve put forward before, in which neoliberalism (in both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ forms) is increasingly breaking down under pressure from tribalists on the right, and from an amorphous, but still resurgent left.
This is just a snippet, which I hope will evolve into a more extensive discussion of the policies and political strategies the left should adopt in response to the breakdown of the neoliberal order.
The failure of neoliberalism poses both challenges and opportunities for the left. The greatest challenge is the need to confront rightwing tribalism as a powerful political force in itself, rather than as a source of political support for hard neoliberalism. Given the dangers posed by tribalism this is an urgent task. One part of this task is that of articulating an explanation of the failure of neoliberalism and explaining why the simplistic policy responses of tribalist politicians will do nothing to resolve the problems. The other is to appeal to the positive elements of the appeal of tribalism, such as solidarity and affection for long-standing institutions and to counterpose them to the self-seeking individualism central to neoliberalism, particularly in the hard version with which political tribalism has long been aligned.
The great opportunity is to present a progressive alternative to the accommodations of soft neoliberalism. The core of such an alternative must be a revival of the egalitarian and activist politics of the postwar social democratic moment, updated to take account of the radically different technological and social structures of the 21st century. In technological terms, the most important development is undoubtedly the rise of the Internet. Thinking about the relationship between the Internet economy and public policy remains embryonic at best. But as a massive public good created, in very large measure, by the public sector, the Internet ought to present opportunities for a radically remodeled progressive policy agenda.
In political terms, the breakdown of neoliberalism implies the need for a political realignment. This is now taking place on the right, as tribalists assert their dominance over hard neoliberals. The most promising strategy for the left is to achieve a similar shift in power within the centre-left coalition of leftists and soft neoliberals.
This might seem a hopeless task, but there are positive signs, notably in the United States. Although Hillary Clinton, an archetypal soft neoliberal, has won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency and seems likely to win, her policy proposals have been driven, in large measure by the need to compete with the progressive left. There is reason to hope that, whereas the first Clinton presidency symbolised the capture of the Democratic Party by soft neoliberalism, the second will symbolise the resurgence of social liberalism.
The era of unchallenged neoliberal dominance is clearly over. Hopefully, it will prove to have been a relatively brief interruption in a long term trend towards a more humane and egalitarian society. Whether that is true depends on the success of the left in putting forward a positive alternative.