A Review of the Left’s Options: Continued Neoliberalism or Justice?

The Nation magazine delivers the views of five of their favorite minds, weighing in on how a leftist, progressive populist movement could craft the next phase of US economic policy, a path beyond capitalism. Some of the policies hearken back to FDR, but surprisingly other policies were advanced by that notable progressive, Richard Nixon. We conclude with two videos on fixing capitalism, one by Robert Reich and the other a Ted talk by Federico Pistono.


Beyond Capitalism:  Thoughts from The Nation

To my mind The Nation is the single most important publication I read. My mother gave me a subscription to The Nation as my high school graduation present. Given that she was a conservative Republican, I can’t help but wonder who told her to do this, as I am quite sure it did not come from her. And until her last breath, she would constantly rebut any radical comment I made with, “The Nation again!” The two things I like most about The Nation are, they have tremendous writers, and all but one feature story each week is about 500-750 words, nuggets of wisdom and clarity. Today, I am highlighting “What Will Kill Neoliberalism,” an article from the May 22/29 Special Double Issue: Out From Under Capitalism. The article is comprised of five essays on the topic and below you will find excerpts and commentary on four of the five.

Populism Ascendant by Joelle Gamble. Gamble frames the primary conflict between left-wing populism and neoliberalism as one of values, with neoliberals favoring privatization, a deregulated, free-market economy, and small government, essentially the US platform since Reagan and supported by Democrats and Republicans to varying degrees ever since. Left-wing populist values are diametrically opposed, favoring a robust public sector and favoring regulations to harness the damage ensuing from unfettered capitalism. Gamble then frames the struggle between these forces and what would comprise a populist victory. “What does all of this mean for the future of neoliberalism, particularly in the American context? I believe there are two futures in which neoliberalism’s end is possible. In the first, the left decides to stop playing defense and organizes with the resources needed to build sustained power, breaking down the policies that perpetuate American neoliberalism. This means enacting policies like universal health care and free college, and ousting the private-prison industry from the justice system. In the second future, a set of political leaders who have been emboldened by Trump’s campaign strategy gain office through mostly Republican means. They could concentrate power in the executive in an organized manner, nationalize industries, and criminalize communities who don’t support their jingoistic vision. We should hope for the first future, as unlikely as it seems in this political moment. We’ve already seen the second in 20th-century Europe and Latin America. We cannot live that context again.”

Take the State by Paul Mason.  Mason’s well-stated thesis is that the most important issue facing us is the development of a progressive post-capitalist economic model predicated on a “low-work, high productivity society” in which income replaces wages that are predicated on productivity. He points to the status quo as “The form of recovery stimulated by quantitative easing boosted the asset wealth of the rich but not the income of the average worker—and rising costs for health care, education, and pension provision across the developed world meant that many people experienced the “recovery” as a household recession”  With the neoliberal rational being, “Everybody wins, ultimately, even if your factory moves to China. That was the rationale.” Time to turn the page on capitalism.

The Crisis of Care by Bryce Covert.  Covert’s premise is that in a world where capitalism requires more and more of our time to earn what we used to earn in far less time, “The result has been that more and more people are being forced to reckon with the fact that capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for labor makes a balanced life impossible.” Covert also points to how other nations have created government-funded systems of quality childcare from birth to age 18, and for aging adults. The US system begins at age 6, leaving working families juggling work and childcare needs. And he points to the aging baby boomers who are beginning to require care and attention from their adult children. For those adults who have children, they will be care-giving on both ends of the age spectrum, while in the majority of families both parents work two jobs. The grinding wheels of capitalism have total disregard for family demands or the very human need for peace and calm. You can’t make a profit on peace of mind.

Universal Income by Peter Barnes.  To my mind, this is the most compelling of the five essays. Barnes’ main point is that in an age with robots, technology, and more efficient productivity, humans simply are not needed for many tasks that once required millions of workers. Rather than lament this as a bad thing with millions consigned to unemployment, we should simply significantly reduce the hours considered a full-time job significantly and supplement the reduced wages with a base income — he suggests about $800/month or a basic income of more like $1000 to $1200/month….for everyone. No stigma involved. This is not a ‘handout,’ it is a redistribution of our national wealth. The added income would provide security and stability and increased spending to drive the need for more production of goods and services. People would have the time to care for parents and children and, God forbid, themselves. But neoliberalism’s priorities are not to support families, but to support corporations and profit. A vast array of technology and infrastructure are needed to support the needs of corporations with a huge proportion of those needs funded by our taxes. Yet when it comes times to use taxes to provide family supports like early childhood care, public health, or affordable housing, politicians point to deficits and insufficient funding as reasons that meeting those needs are impractical.

But there are ways for government to help families address their own needs. From a report by FDR’s Committee on Economic Security, I quote, “The one almost all-embracing measure of security is an assured income. A program of economic security, as we vision it, must have as its primary aim the assurance of an adequate income to each human being in childhood, youth, middle age, or old age—in sickness or in health.”  Guess who else proposed a basic minimum income: Richard Nixon. And it almost became law, as it passed the House. How far we have strayed? And don’t blame just the GOP. Bernie Sanders aside, when was the last time you heard any politician, GOP or Democrat utter something like that? It is time to return to our roots, to turn our backs on neoliberalism and the capitalist system that have turned generosity and kindness into weakness and suffering. We can do better than that. See the 3-minute video below from Robert Reich, who explains how Basic Income is both humanistic and economically feasible. If you have the time, the Reich video automatically flows to a tremendous TED talk by Federico Pistono, who describes in stunning detail the extent of wealth concentration and the disappearance of the middle class and the economic forces that have created this disparity.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Actions, Capitalism

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