So is liberal capitalism dead?

Sure enough, the columnists are having a field day. If tweets are narrow- focus and the medium of choice for Trump and the alt-right, ( I don’t mean you dear),  those prophetic souls who are favoured with space are laying it on thick with the broadest of  brushes. Right now  this is preferable  to the pointillism  of shifting policy. Hillary was always yesterday’s woman ; the Donald, monster that he is, tapped into reality.

Oh,  and “liberal capitalism” is dead.

Just a tad  over the top,  I say, unless we lose it entirely and want a world depression.  In the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the struggles between protection and free trade  led to armageddon. That would do the rust bowls from Pittsburg  to Middlesborough no good at all.

With all the glaring faults that are continually be identified since 2008 if  not all yet rectified,  we nevertheless have a greatly improved world system today that is flexible enough to respond, with prodding.    Nevertheless, what are columnists for, except to broaden the horizons?   Here is a small selection of some of the best food for thought today.

Patrick Cockburn in the Indy, writing from near Mosul

Nation states are returning to relationships based on rivalry and friction when the trend was meant to be in the opposite direction. The internal unity of country after country is under stress or has already broken down. Governments and universities used to set up institutions to study greater integration and cooperation, while in fact they might have been better looking at how things fall apart.

It is an age not just of disintegration but of extremes, with proponents of the status quo either weakened or discredited, as shown by the Brexit vote in Britain. The beneficiaries are mostly on the right: from the 1980s on, the mainstream left in Britain, France and Germany abandoned socialism for liberal free market capitalism as the proven recipe for human happiness, which meant that after 2008 they had no alternative system to advocate and could no longer provide a credible vehicle for protest. The political beneficiaries of disillusionment with things as they are have almost invariably been on the right as with Trump who, along with other rightist insurgencies, can plug into resurgent loyalty to the nation state in the wake of discredited globalisation.

There is no consensus on what to do. Travelling to Britain from the Middle East, it is striking how the political, social and geographical divisions expressed by the Brexit vote have only deepened with time, whatever pretences there are to the contrary. Political commentators in the UK and US who endlessly proclaimed that, whatever the rhetoric, elections were won by those who seized the centre ground turned out to be wrong because there was not much centre ground to seize.

Jenni Russell in the Times (£)

It wasn’t the quality of the candidates or the prejudices about gender that mattered most in this campaign. It was the message. Our lives matter. That is the message of the Trump revolution, delivered with a roar of anger by people who have had enough of seeing their jobs, communities, identities and futures torn apart by the rapacious currents of unfettered capitalism.

For 40 years they have been sold the promise that free trade deals and the flows of people and capital around the world will bring them prosperity. Instead their incomes have stalled, industries have collapsed, towns and cities have decayed, unfamiliar faces and cultures have appeared in their streets, and the rich have got much, much richer. Yet no one prioritised their loss and anguish until a billionaire channelled their voice.

This is a seismic change because it means the age of liberal internationalist capitalism is coming to an end

The system is rigged, Trump told them, and the truth is that it is, although not perhaps in the sense he meant. Since the 1970s American society has grown radically more unequal, as union power has collapsed, competition increased and shareholders and managers awarded themselves the lion’s share of income. Workers’ pay has risen by 11 per cent in real terms in that time, while CEO pay has risen by almost 1,000 per cent. Workers no longer get the rewards from increased productivity. The top 1 per cent are taking 95 cents in every dollar, compared to 50 cents just 20 years ago.

The price that people are paying isn’t just a financial one. It is psychological and cultural, which is why the voters who backed Trump go all the way up the income scale. Brexit times ten was what Trump promised, and now he has delivered it. Just as in Britain, this is a vote to reject an economy that prioritises turmoil and profits over the human need for stability, meaning, community and hope.

This is a seismic change because it means the age of liberal internationalist capitalism is coming to an end.

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian,  for the defence, her version.

Social democracy is not dead because it remains the only way to live in decent, peaceful reasonably fair societies. The NHS, decent housing, infrastructure investment, good schools, good jobs and social security are essentials to be paid for from taxes, the best off-shouldering most. Climate change will fry us unless the world works together. These bedrock ideas proved the most economically effective as well as the most socially productive way forward. But in Britain, as in the US, the state is in retreat on every front, cutting and undermining the basics of civilisation.

Paul Mason, neo-Marxist and the most radical, but a humanist.

The US “won” the global recovery after 2008. It stabilised its banks and opted strong and early for monetary expansion. Real wage growth has wavered around the 4% line for the past five years.

And that was not the only source justifying confidence for Hillary Clinton. Her pollsters noted the inexorable demographic surge supporting liberalism: huge numbers of single-female households, rising black and Hispanic populations, gay marriages, historically high numbers of college graduates.

What they underestimated was the fragility of their own ideology and the deep reserves – even among educated men in crisp, white shirts – of fear and hatred.

This is not some two-dimensional revolt against poverty and wage stagnation. It is a three-dimensional revolt against the impacts of neoliberalism – both positive and negative.

But neoliberalism no longer works. It is broken. If it survived it would have delivered at best zombie growth fuelled by central bank money and at worst stagnation. But it will not survive. Last summer I predicted that if we do not break with the economics of high inequality, high debt and low productivity, populations will vote to dismantle the global order. With Brexit and Trump that process is inexorable – and the next wave of the tsunami will hit Italy and Austria in their plebiscites on 4 December.

In the next weeks, our denial reflexes will be in full swing. Like Auden’s generation we will “cling to our average day”. But one set of people now faces a moment where only honesty will suffice. It is the economists, journalists, civil servants, bankers and policy wonks who have rubbished the idea of the existential threat.

They claimed the capitalism of the past 30 years was merely the inner essence of the system revealed, unimprovable unless by the privatisation of the last hospital and the decline of union density to zero. They were wrong; they need to place their intellectual firepower and resources – as their counterparts did in the era of Keynes and Roosevelt – in the service of designing an alternative system.

An FT editorial, (£),  with the mainstream defence for liberal capitalism- with changes

 
Donald Trump’s victory
 marks a thunderous repudiation of the status quo. The most powerful nation on Earth has elected a real estate mogul with no experience in government, a self-styled strongman, contemptuous of allies, civil discourse and democratic convention. Barring a protean change of personality, Mr Trump’s victory represents, at face value, a threat to the western democratic model..

There is an alternative narrative that highlights the resilience of the US economy, its capacity to innovate and produce world-class winners, especially in technology as epitomised by Silicon Valley. But Mrs Clinton, remote and often robotic, failed to counter with a compelling vision of change.

There is also a more accurate story to tell about American openness to the world. The global security order is underpinned by clear US commitments to its allies. The Nato Alliance in Europe, the US-Japan Security Treaty, and the US commitment to South Korea are backed by both law and US troops stationed abroad. Bringing these commitments into question, as Mr Trump has done, recklessly ignores 70 years of relative peace and stability over large parts of the globe.

Similarly, the free movement of capital, goods, and labour is one of the great achievements of the postwar era. Globalisation has lifted millions out of poverty, especially in Asia. The US has been a mainstay of the multilateral trading system since the end of the second world war. TTP is dead. If Mr Trump, as he has threatened, turns his back on the World Trade Organisation and Nafta, starting tariff wars with global partners, the world will be poorer as a whole. The effects on inequality are unlikely to be the ones that Mr Trump’s working-class supporters expect.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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