Friday, September 15, 2017

There's No 'Maytag Man' to Fix Neoliberalism.

I recently went through a slow death experience involving a flatscreen Sony TV. It would work, sort of, after a while of whinging. At first it only took a few minutes, then 10 and 15 followed by half an hour before the screen finally became clear. It got to the point where I would turn it on before I cooked dinner.

Then the day came where 30 minutes didn't do it. I sat patiently for another half hour and then I left to attend to other things. I came back at hour two - still dead.  No real grief, I was waiting for the end from the day I discovered that, of the three main circuit boards that made that Sony do its magic, precisely none of them was still available. Not one, nada. 

That faithless Sony reminds me of what's going on with neoliberalism and our government's obsession with clinging to it even as it steadily fails us. It's broken and it can't be fixed no matter how much Trudeau claims to otherwise. That's just his inner drama teacher talking.

Which brings me to William Davies' timely review of George Monbiot's new book, "Out of the Wreckage."

The capacity for democracy to throw up surprises, such as Britain’s 2017 general election result, is mesmerising. Brexit may be a famous act of economic self-harm, but something new will be born one way or the other. Still the danger persists and may be growing.
That this is happening now, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, is a direct consequence of the disintegration of the economic policy framework that has held sway in Britain, the US, the European commission and many multilateral institutions for much of the previous 40 years. That framework is often referred to as “neoliberalism”, even if the term irritates a certain class of pundit, for whom it is some sort of swearword without any clear referent. Its disintegration is producing conflicting sympathies, as many on the left come to realise the xenophobia that can be unleashed in the absence of stable market-based rules.
The grand global difficulties of neoliberalism are plain to see. The financial crisiswas testimony to the stupidity of deregulation, while the inability to move on from it demonstrates that orthodox economic policy tools no longer work. Solutions to climate change are hamstrung by the need to respect existing corporate and financial strategies. But Monbiot also details considerable psychological and biological evidence for how the ethos of individual competition harms us all, running counter to our innate needs and instincts. Loneliness and distrust are not just the defining social problems of our age, but increasingly posing risks to our health.


It is far from certain that democracy – even thriving, inclusive democracy – will produce the happy social and environmental outcomes Monbiot expects it to, including a respect for science. The indeterminacy of popular power is both its thrill and its danger. At one point Monbiot writes expertly on how to combine music, “energisers” and speakers to convert the vitality of protest marches into more lasting campaign outcomes. “The energiser would bring back the musicians to lead the crowd in an anthem: there’s no better way of generating a sense of solidarity and shared emotion,” which sounds as much like a Trump rally as the ones that attract Monbiot’s sympathies.

Monbiot might well respond that severe dangers have already been realised, in the form of climate change, political corruption, psychological distress and inequality. Why live in fear of emerging enemies, when the established ones are already running amok? Out of the Wreckage is partly an activists’ manual, which aims to coordinate and energise those who want a different world. You don’t build an evocative story out of warnings and fears. I hope it succeeds.

But if the Brits are imagining a post-neoliberal order, what are we doing in Canada to find our own alternatives to this faithless, duplicitous orthodoxy? Apparently next to nothing. We are, after all, a petro-state, not because it's the dominant part of our national economy but because it's how we have chosen to cast our identity. Remember when Harper boasted bitumen would make Canada an "energy superpower" or when Ignatieff called Athabasca, "the beating heart of the Canadian economy for the 21st Century"? 

Think about it. It wasn't that long ago that we were being told these things and, while Trudeau stops short of the same boastful pronouncements, he nonetheless is still bitumen's handmaiden. For him it's a race to get bitumen to "tidewater" and off to Asian markets before they dry up, before someone bursts the Carbon Bubble and bitumen becomes a stranded asset - yet again.

Maybe when we're no longer held hostage to Harper's and Ignatieff's and Trudeau's orthodoxy we'll be able to do what the Brits are doing now and reimagining the future, a viable future of Canada and our people. Maybe.


Lorne said...

Breaking free from that orthodoxy is the real challenge here, isn't it, Mound? Until or unless we can get some of the political class, supported by strong movements on the ground, to start treating the electorate as adults instead of children eager for soothing fairy tales, I see no reason to be optimistic.

The Mound of Sound said...

We've got to keep plugging away at it, Lorne. That begins by seeing the demise of neoliberalism as inevitable, a matter of time. Sort of like the Greens and climate change. It may not be a priority of any of our mainstream political parties but it's certain to worsen and eventually reach the top of the priority heap. We may not be able to do much more than nudge that process along but those nudges matter so long as you believe that change is inevitable, eventually.

John B. said...

I'm beginning to understand why it's become so important to the masters of the commanding heights that nations surrender any sovereignty they might yet retain over food security.