Last night I took part in a panel discussion on the upcoming German elections from a US perspective. Organized as part of the German Consulate’s “Konsultations” series, the conversation centered around the parties, the campaign, and what role German leadership should play in the future. Consul General Ralf Horlemann moderated the panel discussion with myself and Stephen Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
On Wednesday, July 12, I gave a talk entitled, Has Neoliberalism Gone Too Far? And if so, where do we go from here? as part of a panel discussion at the Bank of England on the theme of “The Big Political Economy Questions of the Next Five Years.” The event was sponsored by The Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI), and the purpose of the special event and reception, hosted by Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England, was to celebrate SPERI’s work over the last five years and to explore new ideas to shape SPERI’s agenda for the next five years.
I was joined on the panel by Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive of the Resolution Trust, and Dawn Foster from the Guardian. Prof. Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, chaired the event.
Neoliberalism has gone too far: it has undermined democratic capitalism—by which I mean both liberal capitalism and liberal democracy. We are experiencing the backlash today in the rise of populism, reflective of citizen discontent. The question is: what will replace neo-liberalism? Where do we go from here?
To answer, we begin by where we are coming from: the neo-liberal sources of current discontents.
The political economic sources come from the continuing resilience of neo-liberal ideas about how to govern the economy. This began with a focus on global free trade and ended with the triumph of financial capitalism and ‘hyper-globalization.’ Neoliberalism has pushed deregulation too far (viz. the Grenfell tower tragedy), and still lacks adequate international regulation (viz. Apple’s sweetheart tax deals in Ireland, or the very rich in Panama tax havens). Financial market liberalization is responsible for the financial crisis of 2008—and will be for the next one, coming soon? from shadow banking? It is also to blame for the sovereign debt crisis, where the Eurozone’s ‘ordo-liberal’ response of ‘governing by rules and ruling by numbers’ only made things worse, taking austerity and structural reform much too far.
The socio-economic sources of discontent follow from the political-economic, and include the massive rise in poverty and inequality—at levels we have not seen since the early 20th century—combined with the increasing numbers of people left behind with lower incomes, stagnant wages, worse jobs, ever since the 1970s…and no end in sight.
The socio-cultural sources of discontent, following from the socio and politico-economic are apparent in the growth of a politics of identity uncomfortable with the changing ‘faces’ of the nation, which targets immigration in particular. This includes a nostalgia for a lost past together with fear of the ‘other,’ and anger that ‘others’—immigrants, non-whites, women—are ‘cutting in the line.’
There are also purely political sources of discontent—clear in a populist upsurge not seen since the 1930s. As neo-liberal globalization (and Europeanization) has moved decision-making up to the supranational level, national governments find themselves caught between being responsive to citizens’ demands and being responsible for upholding supranational agreements. This means, in particular in the Eurozone, that governments may promise great new initiatives in campaign mode, and then deliver exactly the same as their predecessors. This has left citizens with a sense of loss of control along with growing distrust of governing elites and a loss of faith in their national democracies as well as in supranational governance. Put together, this helps explains the increasing turnover of incumbent governments, the high rates of abstention in elections, and the turn to populists.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in the UK, the Leave campaign slogan ‘Take back control’ resonated so much, as similar such slogans have across Europe. Or that Trump’s ‘America First’ did the same in the US, despite unfortunate echoes of a nastier past.
But populism is not the answer. In the UK, Brexit is a self-inflicted wound that used the EU as a scapegoat for very national problems linked to neo-liberalism gone too far—as evidenced by the anti-austerity focus of opposition in the snap election, and the ‘dementia tax.’ And let’s not talk about Trump in the US…with his curious mix of anti-neo-liberalism on trade and ultra neo-liberalism in his anti-regulation agenda, tax reduction for the rich, and benefits reduction for the poor.
So how to move forward? We need to tackle the problems at the sources of discontent. We need more equality, less poverty, more ‘social justice’, fair wages, a reining in of the financial markets, to make them work better for the ‘real economy,’ and did I forget to mention climate change? Plus, we need more decentralization, giving more power and responsibility back to national, regional, and local levels, even as we intensify coordination at supranational regional and global governance levels.
How do we get there? There is no appetite for global governance, and yet some things can only be done at the international level. At the national level, new governments could be elected with new majorities able—if they are willing—to tackle the national sources of the problem. At the regional level, in particular the EU, where there is no ‘government’, have to hope for new national governments to provide EU leadership.
But for all of this, need new ideas that challenge neo-liberalism and a globalization gone too far. There is no going back to 19th Marxian ideas…or to authoritarian ones. So how do we get there? In 2009, everyone waited for the paradigm shift that never came. And don’t hold your breath for a new positive revolution…Polanyi’s ‘counter-movement,’ that arose in response to classical neo-liberalism, may have gotten it right in the US, but got it wrong in Europe, with the rise of fascism and Nazism…
The way forward is the hard work of incremental change in ideas… where we don’t know what the new is until we have been living it for a while…only years later, looking back, was FDR’s bricolage in the US 1930s labeled neo-Keynesianism.
In other words, the way forward requires new rhetorical leaders and ideational entrepreneurs—to win elections with a new set of ideas. Not a Trump—there are no new ideas here, just bad, VERY BAD old ones (to use his language, and hand gestures)—but possibly a Macron…whose bricolage of ideas from the left and the right, to make something new, might be just the ticket.
But where does Macron get his ideas? Or any new political leader? For the specifics, they need technical entrepreneurs in expert networks and state administrations working out the intricacies of new policies. Here too, incremental change is key. We can see the beginning signs of new incrementally developed ideas…for example, as Central Banks develop and circulate ideas about macroprudential regulation; as sustainable growth has become the buzzword everywhere (except in Trumpland)
As for the Eurozone, here too there has been significant incremental change: the EU Commission went from ‘governing by rules and numbers’ in 2010 to 2012 in the European Semester to reinterpreting the rules ‘by stealth’ to allow for more flexibility from 2012-2015, and since then to the politics of flexibility, with more legitimizing debates with the Council and the member-states. We could imagine that in the near future that the EU will be seen to have gone from its original ‘paradigm’ of ‘expansionary fiscal contractionism’—the ideas behind austerity and structural reforms (Dellepiane-Avallaneda 2015)—to a new paradigm of ‘expansionary stability,’ or ‘stable expansionism,’ in which the stability rules have been made truly compatible with growth-enhancing policies. As for the governance processes, why not flip the European Semester, from hierarchical top-down instrument of deficit and debt control to a bottom up member-state instrument of industrial policy for national growth and prosperity?
Politics in fact is also necessary—with bottom up political movements, and social movements provide of new ideas, and as new ideas bubble up from the bottom. It is tremendously important for liberal democracy, and not just liberal capitalism, to give back control, meaning give national governments power over their economies, with more control over market forces, and allow much more regional and local autonomy, international and national … since cities and sub-national regions are often where experimentation and innovation begins. Open markets, yes, but not just with recompense for the losers, but ways to turn losers into winners.
This is the last chance for western industrialized democracies that have pushed capitalism too far. We need a renewable of liberal capitalism combined with a renewal of democracy. And for these, we need to ensure the incremental change in good new ideas…otherwise, thing will be, to paraphrase Trump, A DISASTER!!!
I was asked the following questions recently by the Spanish national newspaper LA RAZÓN. See my responses below.
1. Could Macron´s labour reform be the reason for the failure of his legislation?
It could be. But if he does not do it, he will fail in his ambitions to make French grow again economically. And if he fails to bring about successful reform, he also loses out in his attempt to appear more ‘credible’ to Germany, so as to be able to get reforms of Eurozone governance and policy that will help all Eurozone members to do better.
2. Macron promised to renew French politics, would you say he is on the right path to it?
Macron has the best chance to renew French politics. Mixing policies deemed on the ‘right’ because they liberalize labor markets, increasing flexibility in hiring and firing, and on the ‘left’ because they provide new security for individual workers through unemployment insurance and retraining programs is an appropriate mix. It is key to get both sets of policies through, also in the interests of ‘social justice’, given the dualization of the French work-force that has ensured continuing high levels of unemployment (altho nowhere near the Spanish level) and youth who find themselves unemployed or in part=time or temporary work for much too long. The reality is that these reforms won’t do much in the short-term although they are likely to in the medium-term. But they are certain to raise business confidence immediately, which will get the economy going through more hiring and investment, help reduce unemployment, and make France again able to help lead in Europe.
3. Considering his majority in the government, will the opposition to Macron be on the streets?
Yes, the opposition will be on the streets. Here, the big question will be whether citizens support Macron or the protests. My guess is that they will support Macron, who has the legitimacy based on his clear statement that he would engage in these kinds of reforms, and his massive win in the Presidential elections and majority in the legislatives. 4. His predecessor, François Hollande, wanted to change European politics, will Macron be more successful?
Yes!!!!! There are big differences between Macron and Hollande, the ‘normal’ president who reversed his electoral promises almost immediately, who did little to challenge rules that didn’t work for France, other than to promote a discourse of ‘growth,’ and did very little to push for greater EU solidarity. Hollande had little credibility on the European stage, Macron already has a great deal, as a new phenomenon, having won election with an entirely new party, pledging to renew French and European politics.
Here is the link to the Spanish article, which was published yesterday.
See my comments on Le Pen’s defeat in Monday’s Boston Herald. I said, “Le Pen is not going away, but this is a major defeat for her.” As the article notes, I attribute Le Pen’s success to her charisma and name recognition and said it will be tough for another nationalist to pick up her momentum. “This is a family enterprise, in many ways.”
I was quoted at length today in the Washington Post on the French elections and why populism did not triumph there. I helped to make the case that compared with Britain and the United States, the countries history explains why the center held in France.
There is likely to be higher turn out in the first round, if only because there has been so much build up with real debates between the many different candidates. Macron and Melenchon are most likely to attract undecided voters. Le Pen voters have been committed for quite a while, even if her rhetoric has ramped up in recent days, and may enable her to pick up disenchanted Fillon (center right) voters.
Anything is possible in this race. The question is, if Melenchon is the second man, is Le Pen the first woman? That is what most analysts suggest, and established politicians fear, because they think that will mean that Le Pen is elected. ‘Strategic’ thinking among voters may mean that they pull back from Melenchon in the end, and vote Macron. If the contest is Macron/Le Pen, Macron wins. If, however, Fillon comes from behind, to make it a Fillon/Le Pen race, then the abstention on the left could mean a Le Pen victory.
My thoughts on how the challenges facing the EU from populism, and how progressives can fight back, in particular by rethinking how to do with governance of the Euro and how to re-envision the EU:
In recent years, the European Union has suffered through a cascading set of crises, including the Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, the security crisis, and Brexit. But rather than bringing the EU together, with concerted responses that would demonstrate its common values on its 60th anniversary, these crises have revealed cross cutting divisions among member states. What’s more, they have been accompanied by major crises of politics and democracy for the EU as well as its member states.
At EU level, questions are increasingly raised not only about the (lack of) effectiveness in solving the various crises but also democratic legitimacy. The causes are EU governance processes characterized by the predominance of closed-door political bargains by leaders in the Council and by a preponderance of technocratic decisions by EU officials in the Commission and the European Central Bank, without significant oversight by the European Parliament. At national level, concerns focus on the ways in which the EU’s very existence has diminished elected governments’ authority and control over growing numbers of policies for which they had traditionally been alone responsible, often making it difficult for them to fulfill their electoral promises or respond to their voters’ concerns and expectations.
On Friday, March 31, I was quoted in another Washington Post article on the upcoming French elections. Making the case that the anti-European sentiment in France closely mirrors that of the Brexit and Donald Trump phenomena in Britain and the United States, I pointed out that it’s the same discourse of globalization gone too far, of outrage over high unemployment — and especially youth unemployment. As the authors of the article point out, “the general unemployment rate in France has hovered around 10 percent for years, and the youth unemployment rate is about 26 percent.” But the phenomenon is also sociocultural. People really feel a loss of control, political and otherwise. Le Pen gives people a nostalgia for a vanished past, a past most people don’t even remember.
The Washington Post asked experts on French politics for their observations on the upcoming elections and their “guesstimates” of the first-round winner and final result. My comments appeared in yesterday’s issue as part of a feature entitled “The Guesstimator: Predict the French presidential election and win a free Post subscription!” Here’s what I had to say:
First-round winner: Le Pen, 32 percent; final results: Macron 57 percent, Le Pen 43 percent. “Le Pen’s base is no more than 40 to 45 percent,” while Fillon and Macron are competing for a realigning electorate. Hurting Le Pen further is that the French are “appalled” by Trump. Finally, Schmidt notes, the “fake jobs” scandals facing Fillon and Le Pen will help Macron. If Fillon does survive the first round, Schmidt predicts Le Pen will pick up some votes from the left due to her strong defense of welfare and her anti-globalization stance.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation asked a number of academics and politicians how to keep the EU together. Is it time for more or less EU integration? What does the EU look like in 60 years? The answers recall the peace project Europe or advocate an EU integration of different speeds – see my contribution below!