Thursday, December 27, 2007

Swing your partner to the left then dosado

The political pendulum has started its swing back from arch conservatism to social equity. Each swing last around 30 years and each manifestation has its own distinctive style. Even within a set swing there are national variations.

But don’t get these social/economic swings confused with the more frequent boom/bust cycles. They are no doubt coloured by the broader influence, but tend to occur independently of the governing paradigm.

The market economics swing that is just ending began around 1979 with Thatcher in Britain. The Western democracies it seems were ripe for a bit of personal greed, albeit personal for a select few.

But it wasn’t the sole prerogative of the right, in Australia the charge was led by the then supposedly socialist Labor Party. The previous 30 years in Australia had been dominated by John Howard’s very own Liberal Party, who were at the time responding to a largely social economic agenda.

If you find all this confusing, you are probably right. Labels really become fairly useless in the face of the realities. Comedian Mort Sahl was recently quoted: "A conservative is someone who believes in reform. But not now." Historically he might be right, but these outgoing bunches of conservatives are among the most prodigious reformers in history.

I’m not sure what the colour of this next swing to the so called left will be. From what I’m seeing here, and in Britain, I suspect it will be a very slow dismantling of market dominance; accompanied by a steady build up of social equality. Some commentators suggest a decade before we see any real change.

Now to the signs

Leading US conservative philosopher, Francis Fukuyama, argues that the conservative movement in the US has reached a kind of exhaustion.

"Socially and politically, America is ripe for a broad historic shift to the Left," Fukuyama says. It seems to be happening already. The Republicans lost their majorities in both houses of Congress at the 2006 mid-term election, and now seem likely to lose the White House at the election next November. SMH

Former Aussie Foreign Minister Downer knows the exact day on which the fall of the Howard government began. Better yet, he even knows the hour. It was 7pm on March 1, 2006, a year and nine months before the Australian voter consigned the Howard era to history.

Downer could see that the conservative Howard government had implemented its agenda and had nothing left but to manage it. That is the great difficulty for the neo-conservatives; their major reform issues are strictly of the ‘set and forget’ variety.

The basic thrust of market economics governments is to give basic economic management tools to central banks, industry regulators and corporations, leaving fiscal policy (the distribution of the countries various incomes) for themselves.

This is a major area where the Neo-Cons have screwed up big time. They are control freaks: They invariably intervene to ensure welfare is delivered to the corporate sector at the expense of the wider community.

In desperation to hold on to power they will prosecute wars on foreign soil as well as among their own people. Remember Reagan couldn’t simply have a campaign against drugs, it had to be a war. Bush extended that concept to waging war on his own people.

That same desperation will see them go counter to the economic managers in an effort to win back the hearts and minds of the people. Usually this is by means of tax cuts intended to go right back to the corporates. Or alternatively, as my redhead realist, D.K. Raed puts it:

“Today we have Bush consulting Supply-Side Jesus, embracing deficit-spending, not for social good, but for corporate enrichment of his neocon cronies. Meanwhile, the whole world becomes poorer.”

The critical point for the market economics stream is that the agenda is strictly limited. Once it is implemented they have little to offer the electorate. Concepts like social and economic equality simply don’t exist in their thinking. Balance that with an electorate which is increasingly dissatisfied and there can only be one result.

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

For better or worse it isn’t going to be that simple, but then it never is. D.K. Raed (in this comment ) also conjured the name of one of the great practical economists – J K Galbraith (a Canadian as it happens). Galbraith famously took Keynesianism and applied it in that incredibly effective Marshall Plan,

If radical is putting the means of rebuilding into the hands of those most directly affected then Galbraith might be called radical. If the same process could be labelled as reformist then he was a reformer. The fact is, I believe, he was neither of those things. Galbraith simply took the problem as it existed and sought the most effective solution.

This pendulum swing, I predict, will be slow and cautious. Enormous damage has been done over the past 30 years and many of the emerging leaders seem to have a profound sense of the care needed in healing the damage.

There is a rising dissatisfaction over widening social and economic inequality, but it won’t be answered with the knee jerk reactions of the past. The excesses are too well entrenched. As Fukuyama puts it:

“The problem has been getting progressively worse for 30 years. You get none of the idea of noblesse oblige. The Rockefeller Republicans are gone."

At the same time progressives have bought the market economy concept too, though with obvious reservations. As a result I doubt we will see and mammoth pendulum swing very soon. In fact I suspect we are more likely to see the pendulum easing towards the political/economic centre and perhaps gradual movements either way from there.

Optimistic, I know. But given the damage from the excesses of the past few hundred years and a growing sophistication, the time has come. The cycle has reached the point of change, but this change should be more drawn out and softer than some in the past.

I would like to visit some of the discrepancies and paradoxes in all this. Perhaps in the future…


D.K. Raed said...

Oh boy, I sure do hope you are right about this cycle, Cartledge! I must say, I don't "feel the vibe" of any return to liberalism here yet. Maybe the previous cycles didn't go quite so far into no-man's land as this last one has & were therefore easier to claw our way back out of.

Maybe Australia/Canada/Britain can more easily swing back toward social equality because you have a social tradition to build on. Even if it was sorely tested by the conservative crowd, you had the basic social underpinnings. We started to go that way in the 40's with Social Security, but never really got with the whole program. Today, our idea of a social safety-net seems to be a couple of rotten strings, rusty nails & 2 orchard trees far past their prime-production years.

But I remain hopeful. I remember my grandmother telling me about the "freedom of the 1920's" and how similar my teenage years in the 60's seemed to her. So maybe we ARE due for another pendulum swing. It's a very attractive thought.

Now, I don't know which is more complimentary: using my name along with "realist" or "the witch is dead". aaah but then, you know I've been called a red-headed orangutan & thought that was a compliment, too. Thanks for the plug! If only I hadn't slept through economics, I could keep up better with you & Dada. well, as Cheney would say, at the time, I had different priorities.

Cartledge said...

d.k. as much as I shrink from the concept of fatalism there is an historical basis for this trend. But you are right, it isn’t even across nations. There are other factors on play. They are the ambiguities I’d like to research further.
Canada for eg hardly swung right at all, nationally at least. The hard right swing was within the provincial governments there. Thatcher could not dismantle the social underpinnings of Britain, though she tried. In fact Australia came closest to emulating the US but at least has an enduring expectation.
Market economics will be with us for a few years yet, perhaps a decade, but the social aspects will start creeping in. I’m looking at a likely US Admin after next Nov, all Dem possibilities and all essentially conservative. The hard part is reinterpreting left and liberal in the US context.
As for you, I thought your comments were clearly those of a realist. Your insight on using religion to cover fascist excesses was powerful. I only saw the cynical religious right as a cynical political ploy, but you opened up the cynical economic ploy. I felt a debt to you for that one
Thank you

D.K. Raed said...

I agree the US admin change next Nov may still be essentially conservative even if they are called Dems. We have had a shift in conservative-liberal. What used to be conservative is now considered centrist, mildly liberal is now considered far left, leaving the former far left waaaaay out in left field (feeling a little lonely, sniff-sniff).

Now I've got a BIG head & am blushing over your thinking I have any insight! Well, maybe it's just something we are seeing too much of here, this tendency toward theocracy -- which of course affects politics and economics and just about every other 'ics in our lives. I just hope, if the cycle is going to shift, it does so in the forseeable future, when I'll still be around to enjoy it. Maybe then, I'll be in the position of telling my great-neices that the new social gains they are experiencing were very similar to my teenage yrs.

Cartledge said...

d.k. Hope your head has returned to an appropriate size and colour. I’m still not sure what way out in the left is in the US. You don’t seem anymore left than me in your comments and I tend to think of myself of the radical centre. Mind you, the political centre can become a moveable feast.
I expect the difference we are heading into will be essentially economic. That is, I don’t believe the market economics in force now is true economics, as it clearly only enshrines the monetarist aspect and eschews the social. A functional economic system must include both.
So the monetarist aspect might not change substantially, but there will be a greater emphasis on social equity. That is my best guess at this stage.
Equally I would hope that the religious influence in politics will move back to where it belongs. It will never be eradicated but need to reflect the moral prerogatives of a pluralist society.

D.K. Raed said...

I've been meaning to pass along an enjoyable youtube of Supply-Side Jesus, but since I can't figure out how to link in comments, here's a cut'n'paste with my apology for being link-impaired:

Cartledge said...

d.k. thanks, fortunately I can cut n paste :)

enigma4ever said...

this is another great piece, you really are on a roll here...I don;t know much about dancing , but I hope and pray that you are right about the Rythyms and Cycles of Life that persist...