I spent several days in New York last week with students from around the country who were preparing to head into the heartland to help organize Walmart workers for better jobs and wages. (Full familial disclosure: My son Adam is one of the leaders.)
The New Deal is responsible for such a large share of the nation’s infrastructure that it is, in some ways, a victim of its own success—pervasive but invisible. Its most famous legacy, Social Security, transformed life for the elderly in the United States—a landmark achievement in itself. But the New Deal also transformed life for the entire nation in ways that we now take for granted. Its programs built thousands of roads, bridges and buildings that are still in use, created and improved a vast number of public parks and utilities, and e
Whether conservatives in Washington like it or not, the key to having a strong economy and a strong nation is having a strong middle class. It’s not just a coincidence that during a time when the American middle-class is the smallest it’s ever been our economy is also in the gutter. That’s because middle-class consumption is the demand engine that drives an economy.
Fortunately, while America might look more like a third-world nation today than a global power, there’s plenty of time to turn things around. And that starts by saying enough is enough to 33 years of failed Reaganomics, and putting in place the economic policies that will allow the middle-class to grow and thrive. From our trade policies to our tax policies to our labor policies and to the way that we handle big business and banksters, we need to roll back the Reagan Revolution.
Neoliberalism has many forms, but these forms share a number of characteristics. Not only is it the latest stage of predatory capitalism, but it is also part of a broader project of restoring class power and consolidating the rapid concentration of capital, particularly financial capital. More specifically, it is a political, economic and political project that constitutes an ideology, mode of governance, policy and form of public pedagogy. As an ideology, it construes profit making as the essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market cannot only solve all problems but serve as a model for structuring all social relations. It is steeped in the language of self-help, individual responsibility and is purposely blind to inequalities in power, wealth and income and how they bear down on the fate of individuals and groups. As such, it supports a theater of cruelty that is scornful of any notion of compassion and concern for others. As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects, and ways of life driven by a survival of the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual, and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to accrue wealth removed from matters of ethics and social costs.
My son asked me one day, ‘Dad, what’s hell?’ … So, I said, ‘Well, if God is love, then hell is the absence of God’s love. And, can you imagine how great it is to be loved? Can you imagine how great it is to be loved fully? To be loved totally? To be loved, you know, beyond your ability to imagine? And imagine if you knew that was a possibility, and then that was taken from you, and you knew that you would never be loved. Well that’s hell—to be alone, and know what you’ve lost.’
Aggressive growth is impossible ecologically and implausible economically. We need economic strategies at the local, state and national levels that prioritize community benefit over corporate gain, and which presume a need for local resiliency instead of depending on uncontrolled growth. We also need to develop new strategies to democratize wealth in the face of extreme inequality. Like the programs developed in “the state and local laboratories of democracy” that led to the New Deal, numerous experiments percolating across the country in the “new economy” — building cooperative and community-owned businesses, developing locally focused supply chains at a municipal and regional level, building new forms for public ownership of essential services like banking and power generation — may just point the way. The end of growth poses a long-term systemic challenge, and such explorations suggest that a new direction may be quietly being explored in the midst of economic and ecological degradation. It is a direction that is likely to accelerate as economic and social pain of the decaying economic system continues to force Americans to explore solutions that take us beyond the tired nostrums of the past.