on 17 January 2014
This collection of essays by a variety of eminent scholars in their fields gathered together by the Policy Network seeks to address an apparent paradox, the collapse of turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism in the crash of 2008 and the subsequent re-emergence of neoliberal hegemony. The framework for debate is solidly social democratic, but seeks to learn from economic and social changes of the recent past in a context of economic austerity.
The method of analysis is first to understand the social and economic setting within which we are operating today in the light of the crash and second to offer policy prescriptions which will help overcome the dominance of the neoliberal agenda.
The authors suggest that traditional social democratic policies of redistribution between the classes is no longer the force it was previously as new `cleavages' have open up in society, e.g. inter-generational. Welfare is skewed to the old while young people suffer cuts, e.g. housing benefit in the UK. This is allied to the fact of the decline in traditional industries where class allegiances were held together by a strongly organised working class.
In such a context appealing to traditional class alliances is held to have little resonance. Left policies are harder to implement when there is a sustained attack by the right to portray the collapse of their model as a result of a bloated state and initiative sapping welfare provision. In this context, the task for centre left polities faces a significant number of hurdles. In the words of the old question, what is to be done?
One idea is that of `predistribution'. Instead of redistribution income in a situation where people are seen to be trying to hold on to what they have, changing the reward structure for work to lessen the gap between labour and capital is seen as a possible model. Making the market work for more of us via smarter regulation and social investment e.g. education are mooted as possible was forward.
It is recognised that the task is made so much harder with the rise of cynicism and disillusionment with politics and the perceived ability of governments in an increasing globalised world where capital is footloose and fancy free and highly skilled labour also very mobile. For instance bankers are able to threaten to move abroad if rewards are curtailed. Nonetheless, the book strikes a note of optimism that centre left policies can be constructed to mark a new phase in progressive development.
A couple of remarks may be made here. Overall, the book is thoroughly US and Eurocentric. It may be argued however that this is a consequence of the fact that existing social democracy is largely a phenomenon of these regions and places like China or Africa don't have that kind of politics. Slightly more seriously, the environment and sustainability are given little weight in the overall argument. It could be thought that in a situation of climate change then the distributional consequences of any future constrictions on continued growth could have been analysed.
Given these drawbacks, the book represents one of only a handful of attempts to bring these kinds of ideas together in a structured and coherent way and should be welcomed as such.