Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Pendulum Swing

The Globe and Mail ran an obituary and tribute to economist Alex McLeod last week. He was one of the last of the robust Keynesians, a true believer in interventionist liberal economics.

He had reason to be; as a system Keynesianism had a stunning run of success and surging standards of living for most of the industrialized world. When the chugging economic engine began to sputter in the stagflationary 70's McLeod reluctantly agreed that some retrenchment was necessary but was appalled when the elites took the opportunity to roll back and denigrate all attempts to alleviate capitalism for decades.

Now all that's left of Keynesian economics in the US is Military Keynesianism. Bullets just seemed more fun than butter.

The pendulum had started to swing back - among the public if not among the elites - before 9/11 warped the public discourse away from bread and butter issues on a global level and to a facile us and them 'Look, it's terrorists who hate our freedom!' paradigm that certain political figures still wish we could be distracted with.

But politically the 9/11 distraction appears to have begun to lose it's power. For that we may have the stunning level of grotesque incompetence in the Bush White House to thank. Recent polls in the US show a dramatic sea change in a huge drop in support for the Republican Party and the neo-conservative agenda. In 2000 Ralph Nader got a lot of flack for suggesting that a Bush administration might be a good thing because it would 'heighten the contradictions' it's beginning to appear he may have been 100% right. It's a shame of course so many thousands of Iraqis and Americans had to die before the American people could begin to adjust their thinking.

Here in Canada we've watched a far right neo-conservative party lurch into the mushy middle, publicly of course, much as Schwarzenegger in California and the Moderates in Sweden have. Harper, in accord with the better strategic minds of the conservative movement worldwide has concluded that the next few years will not be kind to the extremes of right wing thought.

He's right.

The pendulum is swinging, strategically the most important job for progressives in the next few years is to define the center as far to the left as possible, both politically and more importantly economically. The reflexive hostility to the shibboleths of interventionism and activist government will stalk the debate of the media and political elites for some time to come. For the rest of the population we need to be ready to argue the real economic and social benefits of the macro-economic view.

There will be more real receptivity in the next few years to changing the basic terms of the debate than there has been in decades. The fight has just started.

1 comment:

Daniel Aldana Cohen said...

That's a good point. But some progressives also need to stay out of the partisan scrum. Rather than, themselves, dragging the center to the left with slick marketing, etc, there need to be people more focused on long-term solutions. Advocating a 90% cut on carbon emissions by upping the planning aspect of our economy dramatically won't win votes -- but it's an intellectual foundation, based on real science, for the house we need to build in the medium and long term.

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