Sunday, June 12, 2016

Progressivism and the fight against neoliberalism

I was born in the 1960s. I was an ordinary child and an ordinary adult: although in retrospect neoliberalism was already undermining international liberal capitalism, the rot and evils were safely out of view. Based on the information I had, it was more-or-less rational and sensible to look at the similarities between Republicans and Democrats as reflecting support for a system that appeared to work well enough, so their differences became momentous.

Today, of course, nine years into the Lesser Depression, god knows how many years into the ongoing catastrophe of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. ad nauseam, the annihilation of the Greek economy, the massive failure of neoliberalism to meet the needs of ordinary people is, if not blatantly obvious, a lot more apparent than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

It was amusing to watch Scott Lemieux completely miss the point in Rarely Has An Argument Refuted Itself So Comprehensively. Aside from being a smug, self-righteous asshole (like everyone else who writes there, which is why I stopped reading LGM years ago), Lemieux does not understand the Sanders-esque critique again Clinton.

Lemieux asserts, probably correctly, that Clinton will throw us a few more scraps than will the Republicans. And when we're starving, even scraps are important. But we will not have more than scraps until we're willing to sacrifice the scraps.

Yes, the Democrats are not as bad, I suppose, as the Republicans. But Clinton will not make abortion available to all women; she will, at best, slow down the erosion of the effective right of rich white women to an abortion (and do nothing to slow down the erosion for poor women and especially poor women of color). Clinton will not make good health care available to all; she will, at best, prop up Obamacare, which just shifts the rent extracted by insurance companies from a lot collected from a few to a little less collected from a lot more (but not everyone). Clinton will not raise the top marginal federal tax rate to 95 percent or even Nixon's 70 - 77 percent; she will, at best, not cut it below its already absurdly low 35 percent.

Neither Clinton nor Trump will even ameliorate, much less reverse, the mass incarceration and mass murder of black people by the police, courts, and vigilantes. Neither Clinton nor Trump will stop the wars against brown people, the slaughter of men, women, and children, in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Central Asia, nor stop the loss of American soldiers' lives and health to perpetuate these wars. Neither Clinton nor Trump will stop assassination and torture. Neither Clinton nor Trump will house the homeless nor feed the starving. Neither Clinton nor Trump will bring back AFDC. Neither Clinton nor Trump will make good jobs available to all or even most. Neither Clinton nor Trump will strengthen unions and the political power of the working class.

The critique against Clinton isn't (or shouldn't be) about Clinton herself. I'm entirely unimpressed by email servers, Benghazi, Vince Foster, Whitewater, Wall Street speeches, etc. (Similarly, I don't really care about Trump University, and whatever other stupid shit Trump has done). Twenty or thirty years ago, yeah, that might have been important: the system was (apparently) working; the voters just needed to do the ordinary job of vetting and legitimizing officials. But today, that's enough. There's no point in arguing over who is fit to be President when there's nothing good for anyone to be President of.

There are a lot of people, let me attach the arbitrary label "progressives", who think capitalism can be reformed. I don't agree with them, but we disagree mostly over means and not ends. We have the same conception of social justice; we just disagree as to how best to get there. To reform capitalism, we must dismantle neoliberalism.

To be "progressive" does not mean fighting for ever-diminishing scraps from the neoliberal ruling class. It means fighting neoliberalism, in favor at least of the Keynesian capitalism of the middle 20th century.

Sanders, I believe, wants to reform capitalism and fight neoliberalism. He would have lost, he might have lost badly, but he wanted to fight. Clinton does not want to fight neoliberalism. She is, after all, one of its primary architects.

There are good enough reasons to vote for Clinton. But I think if you vote for Clinton, you have no right to call yourself a progressive; at best you are less reactionary than Trump (which ain't chopped liver). That's not a disreputable position, but it's not progressivism.

Take my advice with a grain of salt, because I'm not a progressive. I do not think capitalism can be reformed. I do think that neoliberalism is the inevitable result of any capitalist system. I think that no matter what I do — and no matter who wins the next election — we are heading for a global economic, political, and ecological catastrophe, a catastrophe that could well end in the destruction of all life on Earth. I don't want such catastrophe, but what I want doesn't matter.

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