With Bernie Sanders officially out of the 2020 presidential race, the left has no immediate prospects for taking power at the federal level. This leaves a lot of Sanders supporters wondering what, politically, they can do going forward. There is no energy or enthusiasm for Joe Biden or the national Democratic Party, and rightly so. This pushes folks back toward local politics. Local politics has a number of advantages–it takes less money and less manpower to be competitive at the local level. The two parties are less attentive to the ideological leanings of their candidates. It’s easier to use primaries to infiltrate them–they are much more permeable. But there are major limitations to this approach, too. It’s easy for oligarchs to move jobs and investment out of cities that attempt to move to the left. Many cities behave opportunistically, offering the oligarchs tax breaks and special treatment. How can we prevent the oligarchs from pitting cities against each other in an endless death struggle for investment? That’s what I want to explore here.
Now that the Bernie Sanders movement is comprehensively failing, it is time for those of us who supported it to take a step back and reflect. We can only learn from defeat if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise it as such. This post is more autobiographical than most of what I run here. The aim is to do some hard introspection about how I came to support the Sanders movement and where its downfall leaves me, politically.
As the coronavirus crisis drags on, it has become popular to declare this to be the death of neoliberalism. If neoliberalism were simply noninterference in the economy, the large stimulus packages passed around the world would seem to signify its end. But neoliberalism was never simply about noninterference. Neoliberalism is characterised by economic integration without political integration. Low trade barriers make states compete with each other for investment and jobs, and that pushes states to lower taxes, cut spending, deregulate, deunionise, and push down wages. By globalising the economy, neoliberalism creates a race to the bottom. It subjects states to a global market without creating a global polity to govern that market. We end up governed by an impersonal market logic which frequently conflicts with our needs and interests.
The main difference between small-c conservatism and Marxism is the level of optimism. Both conservatives and Marxists despise capitalism and the individualism it produces. But socialists believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that by going through the upheaval we can come to a better place. Old-fashioned conservatives think we are only going to fall ever further away from ancient virtue, and they fight to obstruct or delay that process in whatever ways they can. They defend the status quo not because they like capitalism, but because they think the future can only produce ever worse iterations of it. For this reason, I have always enjoyed reading old-fashioned conservatives and greatly prefer them to the libertarians who straightforwardly champion capitalism and relish in its intensification. In this vein, I find myself reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Read the rest of this entry »
Coronavirus puts elected governments in a sticky situation. If they appear to fail to solve the public health crisis, they will lose the next election. If, in the process of solving the public health crisis, they create an economic crisis, they will also lose the next election. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. It all reminds me of Bernard Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees”. Mandeville’s bees live luxurious, decadent lives, and their drive for ever greater pleasures pushes them to build an extraordinarily elaborate economy to keep up with their excesses. One day, a divine intervention rids the bees of their vices, leaving them full of modesty and virtue. But this collapses demand and destroys the bees’ economy, annihilating their living standards. The fable serves to highlight one of the paradoxes of capitalism–the welfare of the poor becomes dependent on the vices of the rich. If the rich stop spending money on frivolous nonsense, the poor lose their jobs and go hungry.