The Death of Neoliberalism

From John Michael Greer, in January of last year:

The investment class has actually had a bit of a rough time, as many of the investment vehicles that used to provide it with stable incomes—certificates of deposit, government bonds, and so on—have seen interest rates drop through the floor. Still, alternative investments and frantic government manipulations of stock market prices have allowed most people in the investment class to keep up their accustomed lifestyles.

The salary class, similarly, has maintained its familiar privileges and perks through a half century of convulsive change. Outside of a few coastal urban areas currently in the grip of speculative bubbles, people whose income comes mostly from salaries can generally afford to own their homes, buy new cars every few years, leave town for annual vacations, and so on. On the other end of the spectrum, the welfare class has continued to scrape by pretty much as before, dealing with the same bleak realities of grinding poverty, intrusive government bureacracy, and a galaxy of direct and indirect barriers to full participation in the national life, as their equivalents did back in 1966.

And the wage class? Over the last half century, the wage class has been destroyed.

In 1966 an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage could count on having a home, a car, three square meals a day, and the other ordinary necessities of life, with some left over for the occasional luxury. In 2016, an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage is as likely as not to end up living on the street, and a vast number of people who would happily work full time even under those conditions can find only part-time or temporary work when they can find any jobs at all. The catastrophic impoverishment and immiseration of the American wage class is one of the most massive political facts of our time—and it’s also one of the most unmentionable. Next to nobody is willing to talk about it, or even admit that it happened…

It was wholly a product of the global economic dominance the United States wielded in the wake of the Second World War, when every other major industrial nation on the planet had its factories pounded to rubble by the bomber fleets of the warring powers, and the oil wells of Pennsylvania, Texas, and California pumped more oil than the rest of the planet put together. That dominance went away in a hurry, though, when US conventional petroleum production peaked in 1970, and the factories of Europe and Asia began to outcompete America’s industrial heartland.

The only way for the salary class to maintain its lifestyle in the teeth of those transformations was to force down the cost of goods and services relative to the average buying power of the salary class.  Because the salary class exercised (and still exercises) a degree of economic and political influence disproportionate to its size, this became the order of the day in the 1970s, and it remains the locked-in political consensus in American public life to this day. The destruction of the wage class was only one consequence of that project—the spectacular decline in quality of the whole range of manufactured goods for sale in America, and the wholesale gutting of the national infrastructure, are other results—but it’s the consequence that matters in terms of today’s politics…

And that, dear reader, is where Donald Trump comes in.

The man is brilliant. I mean that without the smallest trace of mockery. He’s figured out that the most effective way to get the wage class to rally to his banner is to get himself attacked, with the usual sort of shrill mockery, by the salary class…

The shrieks of the media simply confirm, in the minds of the wage class voters to whom his appeal is aimed, that he’s one of them, an ordinary Joe with sensible ideas who’s being dissed by the suits.

From John Michael Greer, in April of last year:

The reason that millions of Americans have had their standard of living hammered for forty years, while the most affluent twenty per cent have become even more affluent, is no mystery. What happened was that corporate interests in this country, aided and abetted by a bipartisan consensus in government and cheered on by the great majority of the salary class, stripped the US economy of living wage jobs by offshoring most of America’s industrial economy, on the one hand, and flooding the domestic job market with millions of legal and illegal immigrants on the other…

[B]laming the victim makes a convenient substitute for talking about who’s actually responsible, who benefits from the current state of affairs, and what the real issues are. When that conversation is one that people who have a privileged role in shaping public discourse desperately don’t want to have, blaming the victim is an effective diversionary tactic, and accordingly it gets much use in the US media these days.

From JM Bernays, last week:

For almost five full months now, in a weird pastiche-simulation that is equal parts Cold War intrigue, Watergate high drama, and addled, patriotic self-parody that would give Alex Jones a run for his money, the Democratic elite has struggled to heroically uncover the truth, connect the dots, and unravel the conspiracy that could topple a presidency. And it’s still going strong.

As others have well documented, the dauntless pursuit of this crusade, despite a distinct lack of credible evidence, serves multiple purposes. It deflects blame for a historic, humiliating failure; since that failure is conveniently blamed squarely on foreign meddling, it provides a rationale to continue ignoring criticism from the political left; it sustains the meritocratic worldview of the professional-managerial class under the pressure of heavy cognitive dissonance; and it fuels the opportunistic boosterism of Twitter-based media hucksters. Most importantly, though, it provides that one weird trick that could restore the old, enlightened order: If Trump could only be removed through an impeachment for treason, then maybe America can be good again. Never mind the fact that this would just replace the Donald with Mike Pence, or that the Democrats have been so thoroughly crushed politically that they hold no power in Congress or most of the state governments.

But there is something else at work, here, that is more than the sum of these parts. The Trump-Putin obsession is the death rattle of an entire epoch, and the fever dream of a social class whose self-understanding utterly depended upon that era’s basic historical assumptions…

The age of Third-Way liberalism, of technocratically managed economic growth through the promotion of interconnected markets, the free flow of financial capital, and deepening international trade—in a word, of neoliberalism—is vanishing…

Trump is the uniquely bizarre American expression of a visible worldwide trend: the virulent, deepening nationalist backlash against a financially-integrated global economy based on the relatively free movement of commodities and people. His ascent is a death knell for an entire era and the basic assumptions about economic and political life that shape the worldview of contemporary liberals…

Each plank of Steve Bannon’s platform—national sovereignty, economic nationalism, and the “deconstruction of the administrative state” —revolves around the narrative that the current global economic order enriches coastal elites, venal bureaucrats, and foreigners at the expense of “ordinary” (white, Christian) Americans.

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