Massive global inequality underlies our era of economic and political unrest. The rise of nationalist, populist movements, and the faltering influence of the Davos class of free-trade advocates, have rendered neoliberalism an ideology without committed ideologues. So what will bring about the end of neoliberalism—the left? the right? the incompetence of the professional political class?—and, when it’s gone, what will replace it? We asked five of our favorite minds for their views on the direction we urgently need to go next.
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The dramatic effects of deindustrialization, automation, globalization, and the growing disparities of wealth and income—including by race and region—are undermining political norms in much of the West.
Activists and academics alike have linked these trends to the neoliberal ideology that has guided policy-making over the past several decades. This ideology has resulted in pushing the widespread deregulation of key industries, attempting to solve most social and economic problems through market competition, and privatizing public functions like the operation of prisons and institutions of higher education. Neoliberal ideas were considered such common sense during the 1980s and ’90s that they were simply never acknowledged as an ideology. Now, even economists at the International Monetary Fund are willing to poke holes in the ideology of neoliberalism. Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri wrote in 2016: “The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.”
We know that neoliberalism has now provoked populist responses on the left and the right. But are either of them sufficient to end its rule?
Left populism, if organized, could end the neoliberal order: As espoused by leaders like Pramila Jayapal and Keith Ellison, left populism demands public control as well as redistribution; it is pro-regulation, pro-state, and anti-privatization. These values are inherently at odds with the small-government, anti-regulatory tenets of neoliberalism. If an aggressive left-populist agenda is successfully implemented, neoliberalism would be defeated. The barrier to implementation is the left’s inability to be consistent and organized.
Populism on both the left and right has proved difficult to organize and suffers from a lack of leadership. On the left, the struggle for organization has been playing out in the Democratic Party’s leadership fights. Politicians and activists are attempting to close the ideological gap between the party’s base and its leaders. Without enough trust to allow leaders to set and execute a well-resourced strategy—to say nothing of the resources themselves—the left faces huge obstacles to actually implementing an agenda that spells the end of neoliberal dominance, despite having an ideology that could usher in a post-neoliberal world.