In the foppish, sweaty, desperately condescending tone of an Oxford Don dressing down an undergraduate in lecture who resisted his leering advances at the pub the night previous, this Financial Times book review tries to defend US political economic policy as “pragmatism”.
If centrist tropes were oil this review would break OPEC’s pricing power.
The tropes are used to oppose a characterization of the US political economy as “neoliberal”, something neither the reviewer or book author being reviewed seem to understand.
Neoliberalism is a contentious term. As a deer hunter in the Michael Cimino style I care about aesthetics, and by far the most aesthetically pleasing definition of neoliberalism is the anthropological one: a set of rhetoric, practices and institutions which trains the self to use metaphors of competition and the market to frame experience.
But whatever. That might not be the right way to analyze neoliberalism or political economy. But definitely one of the wrong ways is the centrist claptrap the Financial Times recites.
Size of the state matters, and “government spending compared to GDP” is an accurate way of measuring it
Size *always* matters (ask an Irish person who lives abroad if you don’t believe me) but spending / GDP is a red herring. The consequences of policy decisions by the state have nothing to do with *amount of spending* and everything to do with *amount of control*. A SNAP program that allows Hormel products and not kale exerts much more control than mailing strings-free checks.
The amount of economic regulation means the state is “interventionist” as opposed to “letting the market take its own course”
Oh god this is the dumbest shit ever.
Exhibit A: The market can’t exist without state regulation on the tiniest, granular level. The Illusion of Free Markets is my favorite explication of this (mainly because of aesthetics again, though Bernard Harcourt can’t really be characterized as a “one deer, one shot” thinker). There is no line past which “regulation” “distorts” “the market”. It’s regulation now, regulation tomorrow, regulation forever.
Exhibit B: The flurry of economic regulatory activity in the last few decades hasn’t even been oriented around containing markets, it’s been about shifting resources and risk.
Exhibit C: the FT review scores an own goal by stating outright “the [economic regulatory] changes are more accurately described as a re-regulation – a change in the forms of regulation and intervention – rather than de-regulation.”
Finally, the big one:
“Even on the level of rhetoric, the ideas of neoliberalism have little purchase. Outside of a few university seminar rooms and think-tanks it is, for better or worse, pragmatism that reigns.”
The greatest trick the Devil tries to continuously pull is that one is acting “without ideology” in a “pragmatic” manner.
The past few decades of US political economic activity – in which public decisions and resources have steadily been shifted to places where no-one in the middle-, working- and precariate classes can benefit from them; risk has increasingly been shifted from the elite to the poor and from private to public; and trillions of dollars in cheap and nigh risk-free money have been transferred directly from the government to the financial sector – is a strange kind of pragmatism.
One which looks exactly as if it’s using the state to de-democratize decisions and put resources in the hands of elite control while shifting risk into everyone and everything that is not a part of that elite.