After Neoliberalism

For the past 40 years, the United States and other advanced economies have been pursuing a free-market agenda of low taxes, deregulation, and cuts to social programs. There can no longer be any doubt that this approach has failed spectacularly; the only question is what will – and should – come next.

The neoliberal experiment – lower taxes on the rich, deregulation of labor and product markets, financialization, and globalization – has been a spectacular failure. Growth is lower than it was in the quarter-century after World War II, and most of it has accrued to the very top of the income scale. After decades of stagnant or even falling incomes for those below them, neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried.
Vying to succeed it are at least three major political alternatives:
  1. far-right nationalism,
  2. center-left reformism, and the
  3. progressive left (with the center-right representing the neoliberal failure).

And yet, with the exception of the progressive left, these alternatives remain beholden to some form of the ideology that has (or should have) expired.

The center-left, for example, represents neoliberalism with a human face. Its goal is to bring the policies of former US President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair into the twenty-first century, making only slight revisions to the prevailing modes of financialization and globalization. Meanwhile, the nationalist right disowns globalization, blaming migrants and foreigners for all of today’s problems. Yet as Donald Trump’s presidency has shown, it is no less committed – at least in its American variant – to tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and shrinking or eliminating social programs.

By contrast, the third camp advocates what I call , which prescribes a radically different economic agenda, based on four priorities. The first is to

  1. restore the balance between markets, the state, and civil society. Slow economic growth, rising inequality, financial instability, and environmental degradation are problems born of the market, and thus cannot and will not be overcome by the market on its own. Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets through environmental, health, occupational-safety, and other types of regulation. It is also the government’s job to do what the market cannot or will not do, like actively investing in basic research, technology, education, and the health of its constituents.
  2. The second priority is to recognize that the “wealth of nations” is the result of  – learning about the world around us – and social organization that allows large groups of people to work together for the common good. Markets still have a crucial role to play in facilitating social cooperation, but they serve this purpose only if they are governed by the rule of law and subject to democratic checks. Otherwise, individuals can get rich by exploiting others, extracting wealth through rent-seeking rather than creating wealth through genuine ingenuity. Many of today’s wealthy took the exploitation route to get where they are. They have been well served by Trump’s policies, which have encouraged rent-seeking while destroying the underlying sources of wealth creation. Progressive capitalism seeks to do precisely the opposite.
  3. This brings us to the third priority: addressing the growing problem of concentrated . By exploiting information advantages, buying up potential competitors, and creating entry barriers, dominant firms are able to engage in large-scale rent-seeking to the detriment of everyone else. The rise in corporate market power, combined with the decline in workers’ bargaining power, goes a long way toward explaining why inequality is so high and growth so tepid. Unless government takes a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes, these problems will likely become much worse, owing to advances in robotization and artificial intelligence.
  4. The fourth key item on the progressive agenda is to sever the link between economic power and political influence. Economic power and political influence are mutually reinforcing and self-perpetuating, especially where, as in the US, wealthy individuals and corporations may spend without limit in elections. As the US moves ever closer to a fundamentally undemocratic system of “one dollar, one vote,” the system of checks and balances so necessary for democracy likely cannot hold: nothing will be able to constrain the power of the wealthy. This is not just a moral and political problem: economies with less inequality actually perform better. Progressive-capitalist reforms thus have to begin by curtailing the influence of money in politics and reducing wealth inequality.3

There is no magic bullet that can reverse the damage done by decades of neoliberalism. But a comprehensive agenda along the lines sketched above absolutely can. Much will depend on whether reformers are as resolute in combating problems like excessive market power and inequality as the private sector is in creating them.

A comprehensive agenda must focus on education, research, and the other true sources of wealth. It must protect the environment and fight climate change with the same vigilance as the Green New Dealers in the US and Extinction Rebellion in the United Kingdom. And it must provide public programs to ensure that no citizen is denied the basic requisites of a decent life. These include economic security, access to work and a living wage, health care and adequate housing, a secure retirement, and a quality education for one’s children.

This agenda is eminently affordable; in fact, we cannot afford not to enact it. The alternatives offered by nationalists and neoliberals would guarantee more stagnation, inequality, environmental degradation, and political acrimony, potentially leading to outcomes we do not even want to imagine.

Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron. Rather, it is the most viable and vibrant alternative to an ideology that has clearly failed. As such, it represents the best chance we have of escaping our current economic and political malaise.

NASA scientist Jen Heldmann describes how the Earth’s moon was formed

NASA scientist Jennifer Heldmann describes the most popular theory of how the solar system and Earth’s moon was formed. Below you can watch a short four minute video of her explanation of the accretion theory, see a computer simulation of the hypothesis, or watch the whole 45 minute video as recorded during the “Ask a Scientist” event in San Francisco, CA, on Oct 7th, 2008.

How Did the Moon Form? We May Need a New Theory

There may be much more water on the moon than we thought. And that could change everything.

How did the moon become the moon? Where did it come from? How did it first form?

We don’t know in any fully satisfying way, but we do have a compelling theoryin the form of the giant impact hypothesis. Per the theory, early in Earth’s history — when Earth was still, technically, proto-Earth — an object the size of Mars slammed into the planet. The impact of the collision generated a ring of debris — and the planetary detritus coalesced slowly (very slowly: over the course of millions of years) into the gray, glowing spheroid that has since been a source of fascination to scientists and poets alike.

.. Here’s the problem, though: A string of recent research has suggested that there’s more water on the moon than we previously thought. (Though liquid water can’t persist on the moon’s surface, scientists can search for “water” in the form of ice, and also in the form of hydrogen and oxygen atoms extant in the lunar landscape.) In 2008, Space Ref notes, an analysis of Apollo lunar samples conducted by ion microprobe detected indigenous hydrogen in the moon rocks. And in 2009, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite slammed into a permanently shadowed lunar crater, ejecting a plume of material that ended up being rich in, yep, water ice. Hydroxyls — chemical functional groups consisting of one atom of hydrogen and one of oxygen — have also been detected in other volcanic rocks and in the lunar regolith, the layer of fine powder that coats the moon’s surface.
.. The team found about six parts per million of water — quantities large enough to suggest that the water didn’t just come from elements in errant comets or asteroids. “The surprise discovery of this work is that in lunar rocks, even in nominally water-free minerals such as plagioclase feldspar, the water content can be detected,” researcher Youxue Zhang put it. And given the age of the sample and the amount of hydroxyl discovered, the scientists say, the water-forming elements must have been on the moon since its formation. “Because these are some of the oldest rocks from the moon, the water is inferred to have been in the moon when it formed,” Zhang told TG Daily.

The team’s findings — “Water in lunar anorthosites and evidence for a wet early Moon” — were published this weekend in the journal Nature Geoscience.

.. None of that means the impact formation theory is invalid — that the moon theory is moot. It means, though, that the giant impact theory now has another layer of complexity, in the form of evidence that would seem to contradict it. We’ve long known of the presence of water — and of water-forming elements — on the moon; the question is how it got there. Previous research suggested that those elements might have been brought to the moon from outside sources like comets and meteorites after the moon’s crust formed and cooled. But evidence of water-forming elements in lunar-native rocks complicates that theory. “I still think the impact scenario is the best formation scenario for the moon,” study leader Hejiu Hui, an engineering researcher at the University of Notre Dame, noted, “but we need to reconcile the theory of hydrogen.”