I typically use this blog to discuss original ideas, but I mostly wanted to take the opportunity to put my ideas about the left vs. center-left debate all in one place, in part to explain why I feel the way I do. None of the information I’m presenting is particularly interesting or new, but the reasoning with which I’ve constructed my worldview I think is worth discussion, at the very least so that the reader can better understand me.
The first thing I have to say is this: Loose money tends toward concentration. Call it market concentration, call it wealth inequality, call it labor income inequality, or just call it capital accumulation, the fact remains: in any market, the rich necessarily get first dibs on new sources of wealth, even in the best of times, which results in concentration of money at the top.
Neoliberalism rejects this premise. It’s a bit of a mushy term, but Neoliberalism, which arose as a rejection of the post-war Keynesian economic consensus, generally holds the market as the best and final decision maker in all arenas of life, based on the assumption of rational expectations. In particular, Neoliberals reject wholesale the argument that markets tend towards monopolization. This consensus has been able to hold so long for two reasons, one natural and one unnatural.
The natural one is that markets indeed have benefits. They are the most efficient creators of wealth overall in the history of humankind. The countries that have opened their markets the most in the last 50 years have seen the greatest rates of growth in wealth (e.g., the United States, Chile, and China). That’s indisputable. And this is hypothetically good enough in industries where physical resources are not the limiting regent, such as technology (consider the internet: professional success stories abound). Unfettered wealth accumulation accompanied by inequality becomes a problem ipso facto when physical resources are limited because most people can actually buy less than they used to even while making more. For example, in real estate, wages aren’t keeping pace with the price of homes, which means fewer people can afford homeownership despite increasing wages. Add to that the fact that the nearer we get to monopolies, the more companies can price gouge, which brings about even more ways in which people can actually be poorer despite making more money (even adjusting for inflation).
The unnatural reason why Neoliberalism is still the consensus in DC is that our political system–both left and right–has been captured by corporations. This point is easier to say than it is to give examples of–not because examples are hard to come by, but because the examples often hit close to home. The instances on the right go without saying, but our heroes of the resistance–Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and…Barack Obama–all have clear ties to corporate America, through the company they keep, the money they receive, or the laws they pass.
It’s especially clear Democratic leadership has been captured by Neoliberalism in times of economic precariousness, including the 2008 Wall Street bailout and the current 2020 crisis. Few people would disagree that we needed to keep our banks afloat in order to save our economy in 2008. But there was no reason the government assistance shouldn’t have come with heavy restrictions. We gave away taxpayer money mostly unconditionally to corporations, and what was the result? Asset concentration. Companies didn’t stabilize their wages to workers or prevent layoffs; they bought back their stock and increased executive compensation. The richest banks exited the crisis even richer, in both relative and absolute terms. It’s fairly clear that the 2008 bailout was corporate welfare, but we forgive the political powers that facilitated this transfer of taxpayer money to corporations under the belief that *things could have been much worse*. In the same vein, today, leadership in both parties tied the mainly unconditional COVID-19 corporate bailout (which voters wouldn’t have wanted passed in its current form if it were alone) to the aspects of small-business and worker relief, a decision that was not at all necessary. In the modern age, bipartisanship is not a victory; it means the corporate consensus has won.
Joe Biden was right when he said in the last debate that things could have been much worse in 2008, but by god things could have been so, so much better. In fact, economic downturns are the only times we have the opportunity to rein in the market and tip the scale in favor of workers, an observation that Thomas Piketty has made a career out of. The most obvious example is the Great Depression, which provided the groundwork for FDR and his New Deal. You know that time period Trump wants America to return to–the 50s and 60s during a time of booming middle-class-dom–it exists in the shadow of New Deal legislation. Do you know why it has since disappeared? Consistent deregulation by both Democrats and Republicans since the 1980s.
This is not to say we need to abandon capitalism (although given that the current situation ma be the logical endpoint of capitalism, that is a discussion also worth having). What I reallywant to make evident is that capitalism is currently completely unchecked, and restoring our country to the pre-Trump status quo is not enough in a time when the net worth of an average millennial is $8,000, the leading cause of bankruptcy is medical issues, as many as 74% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and the cost of college is growing 8 times faster than wages. These problems existed before Trump.
To me, this is why Bernie Sanders vs. Joe Biden is the actual fight. It’s not because I see Trump as a tolerable option, but rather because I see Joe Biden as the other side of the same pervasive problem. If Trump is the effect, Joe Biden’s brand of Democrat is the cause. Republicans never promised worker rights. Democrats did, and since 1980, many workers have increasingly found that there is no home for them in the political system. In fact, in 2016, for the first time in modern history, the percentage of Democratic voters in the top 10% of incomes was greater than the percentage of Democratic voters in the bottom 90%. Furthermore, since 1980, the percentage of Democratic voters in the top 10% of education has been greater than the percentage of Democratic voters in the bottom 90% of education. The Republican party has always been the party of the rich elite, and now the Democratic party is officially the party of the educated elite. Where do workers fit in?
This is not just an economical problem. I find myself using the overly esoteric word ‘etiological’ often–meaning the study of causation rather than symptoms. In layman’s terms, it boils down to cause vs. effect. If we want to fix an issue for good, we need to look at the cause. For example, while it is indeed necessary in the current world to have a Supreme Court that protects women’s right to choose, wouldn’t it be better to have a social consciousness in America that opposes abortion restrictions so that this issue doesn’t have to be decided again and again by the courts? The Supreme Court stays away from consensus on identity issues. Just look at gay marriage: every conservative justice interviewed has expressed no interest in relitigating that point because most Americans are fine with it now. But back to abortion: Americans have long been basically split between being pro-choice and pro-life. But if you look deeper, the primary opponents of abortion rights are the less educated and those making under $40,000/year. Pick any social justice issue, and you’ll get the same result. So how do we get consensus on the right side of any identity issue? We give poor people better jobs and opportunities for education.
I care about identity issues. I care about racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and all the other -isms. And that’s precisely why I find Joe Biden so difficult to accept as my candidate. He, like all other establishment Democrats, is a bandaid on a gaping wound that he helped create in the first place. Joe Biden is not an incrementalist; he’s a corporate hack who’s not even good at playing the surface-level identity game (I’ll remind you that his voting history on everything except guns is sketchy at best). That’s not to say I won’t vote for him in the general–he’s undoubtedly better than Trump–but if it comes down to Trump vs. Biden, Neoliberalism has already won.