At the Left Forum: What’s the Alternative to Neoliberalism?

At the Left Forum last month, I was on a panel with Miles Kampf-Lassin, Kate Aronoff and Darrick Hamilton, on “What Would a Left Alternative to Neoliberalism Look Like?” My answer was that neoliberalism is a radical, utopian project to reshape all of society around markets and property claims; if you want an alternative, just look at the world around us. This is an argument I’ve also made in Jacobin and The New Inquiry.

The panel was recorded by someone from Between the Lines. At some point there’s suppose to be a transcript. In the meantime, the audio is here:

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5 thoughts on “At the Left Forum: What’s the Alternative to Neoliberalism?”

  1. Dude, your talk was simplistic.

    “Markets, shmarkets! Corporations are just planning entities. States can plan, too. So we’ll have the government take over the corporations and do all the planning, like in World War II—and we’ll do the planning for the people, not the fat-cats!” Yeah, without the equivocating verbiage it’s really that crude.

    Do you think there’s no difference in the planning processes of state-owned monopolies versus competitive corporations? Do you think corporations that don’t have guaranteed sales, that face fluctuating input prices, that have debts to service and no guaranteed source of capital, that fear rivals and new products that could eat into market share, “plan” exactly the same way a state does? Is it possible that private corporate planning might be radically more decentralized than state planning, radically more autonomous and radically more responsive to consumers? Yeah, state planning is important for many purposes, but the notion that everything is just generic “planning” elides crucial differences.

    And the state-planned economy of World War II, when millions of men were in uniform living in tents, civilian consumption was rationed, there were dire housing shortages, strikes were suppressed, taxes were sky-high and there were patriotic campaigns to buy war bonds, there was vast unused industrial capacity from the Depression available for expansion—is that a realistic model for planning in a civilian economy, or even an appealing one?

    Do you really believe a random second lieutenant could have run Dupont? I know it’s a Marxist article of faith that capitalists are just parasites who don’t earn their keep by organizing production, but seriously?

    Does the history of communist central planning give us confidence that state planning is as good for every purpose as a market economy?

    Yeah, yeah, you’re just marking “a direction of travel, not a final destination.” Translation: you’re just making vague leftward gestures, with no intention of proposing specifics that might give substance to your ideological Marxism. That’s good. There is no destination for Marxism except a cabbage line, and you’re not going there.

    So why not drop the Marxist pose? You are not a Marxist. You are a tepid Keynesian. Your work is tepidly Keynesian, all the specific measures you have ever proposed are tepidly Keynesian, your direction of travel is toward rescuing tepid Keynesianism from Neoliberalism. That’s a worthy goal, so own it. All these rhetorical genuflections to a Marxism that you can’t even articulate just cloud your thinking and talking—and all to impress the Jacobin crowd, for God’s sake.

    1. Keynesian econ with Marx sprinkles on top is exactly what I come here for. To each their own.

    2. Is it possible that private corporate planning might be radically more decentralized than state planning, radically more autonomous and radically more responsive to consumers?

      It’s certainly possible. I don’t know that it’s generally true. Certainly the historical tendency is for corporate decisionmaking to become more centralized over time.

      there was vast unused industrial capacity from the Depression available for expansion

      This doesn’t seem to explain much of the growth in output during the war, though. Something like full employment and normal capacity utilization was already reached by 1940 or so and most of the rapid growth happened after that.

      Does the history of communist central planning give us confidence that state planning is as good for every purpose as a market economy?

      Sure, more or less. The outstanding growth story of the past generation — probably the biggest improvement in living standards in human history — has taken place under a form of communist central planning. The record of Eastern Europe is less impressive but it’s not dramatically worse than in “market economies” (tho of course my point is that this is a misnomer).

      Obviously I see my political project differently than you do.

  2. I didn’t come away thinking that purpose of this speech was to advocate what you say it does, Will. I thought it was an attempt to point out that many services the public has relied on have been provided through public policy, and that when they have been provided through somewhat private means, such as banking, the public can end up having to ensure their provision when the private suppliers have screwed up.

    And that there is a myth that many people hold that says that it is private industry working through markets that has developed most of the major industries in this country all by themselves. J.W. points out many examples, such as airlines, railroads, automobiles, health care, and education. And of course, that great American industry of war provisions.

    I thought it was a good talk and I’m not even a Marxist.

  3. I see that comments are closed on your previous post where we were discussing a job guarantee. If that is because you didn’t want to continue then I apologize for this. But I did want to respond to your last comment there and hope that responding here is not too rude. I will understand if you decide to delete this.

    I’m not comfortable using the term ‘right to an education’ and I don’t believe I have used it. What I am saying is that our country has decided that it will ensure a certain level of education is available to all children at no cost to them, other than their time (which is actually required) and effort (not really required). I believe that the state I live in (Connecticut) has somewhat higher standards for the provision of this education than whatever the Feds require. If there is a ‘right’ to education, it would be the expectation that all children have the ‘right’ to be treated equally by their government- not the ‘right’ to any particular level of education, just the expectation that whatever level we decide to establish is available to all as evenly as possible.

    So theoretically, if we decided democratically that the government would provide only a library card, then that will be the extent of our standard, and that is what the ‘right to an education’ will consist of.

    So it could be the same with a Job Guarantee. We decide to establish a minimum living wage which would be available to all at no cost to them other than their time and effort. If they choose to supply that, as in if they want to work. Society can democratically choose the minimum standards for a living wage, the minimum amount of time the wage earner must sacrifice, the nature of the work, and the minimum effort that must be provided by the wage earner in order to receive the wage. That is my understanding of a ‘Job Guarantee’. If no time and no effort is required to receive the ‘wage’ then it would be a Basic Income Guarantee and almost everyone would opt to receive it. So there are different economic effects between the two ideas.

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