Utopian market populism

Posted: 28 December 2011 in Uncategorized
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One of the strangest aspects of the Second Great Depression has been the rise of right-wing market populism.

The question is, why, after an economic crash caused the policies inspired by free-market fundamentalism, was populist anger captured by the Right and not the Left?

Thomas Frank, just as he did in his bestselling book What’s the Matter With Kansas? provides at least part of the answer:

Somehow the right captured the sense of anger. They completely captured it. You could say they had no right to it, but they did. And one of the reasons they were able to do it was because the liberals were not interested in that anger.

I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.

So, the Right was able to champion a campaign against the ruling class, by holding up the market as an ideal. That’s the essence of utopian market populism.

The idea that the free market represents a revolt against the political and economic elite is, of course, preposterous but it took the Left almost four years to develop and act on a different analysis of the crisis, which culminated in Occupy Wall Street. The key to the future of the Occupy movement is to combine an attack on the 1 percent elite who created the crisis with its own utopian moment, an alternative that rejects both the right-wing conception of the free market and the liberal idea of merely regulating markets.

That will be an anger both conservatives and liberals will have to deal with.

  1. Magpie says:

    On the more immediate subject, I believe ideologues like Glenn Beck managed to achieve a remarkable feat of sophistry: (1) to portray the banksters as guilty of everything that was wrong, while (2) differentiating them from the other parasites in industry and commerce, who became the good guys and now, job creators, too; and (3) to portray themselves as standard-bearers in the fight against the banksters.

    But there is also the question why the Left, the real left, not the make-believe left (the US Democrats, or Labor/Greens, in Australia) could not capitalize this anger. And I believe Frank is on the money here, too: the truth of the matter is that the “real Left” is not too real, either.

    Here in Australia what we see is that the microscopic “real Left” gets bogged down on cultural non-issues that are unpopular, and that allow conservatives to appear closer to the people, by appealing to the worse in them; and in those “issues” the “real Left” is doomed to fail.

    One example is “equal love”. Don’t get me wrong, I personally have no problem whatsoever with homosexuality and have their rights recognized. However, this is a big issue (or can be manipulated into becoming one) to many low- and middle-income earners and one conservatives take advantage of by opposing these rights and depicting themselves as sharing people’s values.

    Let me be honest: I can’t quantify with statistics how important an issue it is, in terms of how many people really feel gay marriage rights as an existential need. And, frankly, I haven’t seen anybody coming with these figures, either.

    What I do have is anecdotal evidence, as, for work reasons, I happen to know many gay men (not gay women, though, so perhaps with them things are different), and I have asked them if this is important to them, personally. And I’ll be damned, but I am yet to hear the first one saying that this is important. In fact, I’ve heard from them that the already existing civil union provides them with enough security on financial matters.

    So, in practice, the “real Left” alienates low- and middle-income earners, serving them in a silver plate to conservatives, on an issue likely to be of little real relevance, without gaining the support of most gay men. Just great.

    • bcs says:

      All social change requires the support of the working class, effective in the major economic cities.
      But pub-owners, shopkeepers, and small-townspeople are prejudice to it. They feel oppressed, even subjugated to the cities pending the consolidation of the big business over the small.

      The US active working class is… a nervous wreck. They really don’t know who to believe.
      Insomuch as their survival seems threatened they turn to alcohol or drugs.
      They simply don’t have the time to wait around, pitching tents, and peacefully taking a boot to the face by the machine.

      The US active industrial working class is also relatively fewer, likewise disorganized.
      Market fundamentalism has scapegoated unions as a drag on the “natural workings” of the market.
      The Occupy movement is portrayed as a communist plot, as social parasites trying to steal wealth from the “producers”.
      It is winter. OWS won’t easily be able to pitch tents in parks.
      Insomuch as the /immediate/ problems affecting the well being of workers and small-businessmen are not solved, the elements for change that are distinct from OWS will manifest.
      The slogans in the picture in this article are the somewhat similar and more subjective hostilities typical of reactionary puffery. For those who thought having a gun wasn’t important, class war can convince otherwise. They wanted their gun rights not to go hunting, but to kill people. Especially when they feel that threats to big capital represent threats to their small capital.
      The right wing reads Marx. Mussolini read Marx. The devil knows the bible better than its devout followers. Class war is not for the faint-of-heart. It’s no secret conspiracy, that is why there are cameras everywhere and more strict laws with harsher penalties.

      Veterans have been returning from Iraq. If they can’t return in peace they know how to fight.

      The liberals and all who thought capital could be tamed are ineffective and consequently being forced out of all positions of power everywhere in the world.

      There’s only Rand and Marx now.

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