Post-neoliberal US - opportunities & dangers

In the US, many public intellectuals on the left have been discussing how this pandemic has challenged the seemingly inevitable dominance of neoliberal governing regimes and ideologies, and has expanded the conditions of possibility for social democratic or socialist ideas and policies. However, the imagined post-neoliberal era is no necessarily concieved of in the same way.

A couple of helpful examples include:

  • In a widely shared video (2020), Naomi Klein draws on her previous work on disaster capitalism in the Shock Doctrine (2007) to argue not only that “Coronavirus Capitalism” must be resisted, but that there are many social democratic ideas “lying around” that are both crucial to responding to the current public health and economic crisis, and made possible because of the shock to the system. These ideas include the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, canceling student debt, guaranteeing paid sick leave, and providing permanent shelter to the unhoused.

  • Marxist geographer David Harvey wrote an article (2020) for Jacobin magazine that examined the pandemic through the lens of Marxist theory of crises, examining the mutation and transmission of the virus through neoliberal globalization’s production of nature, the failures of neoliberal healthcare systems to respond, and the crisis that the pandemic and its response pose to most forms of consumer capitalism. He contrasts the current COVID-19 economic crisis with the Great Recession, and argues, among other things, that:

…the burden of exiting from the current economic crisis now shifts to the United States and here is the ultimate irony: the only policies that will work, both economically and politically, are far more socialistic than anything that Bernie Sanders might propose and these rescue programs will have to be initiated under the aegis of Donald Trump, presumably under the mask of Making America Great Again.

All those Republicans who so viscerally opposed the 2008 bailout will have to eat crow or defy Donald Trump. The latter, if he is wise, will cancel the elections on an emergency basis and declare the origin of an imperial presidency to save capital and the world from “riot and revolution.”

At least in these articles, Klein is essentially issuing both a warning and an optimistic call to action while Harvey seems to be arguing neoliberalism’s incapacity to deal with this kind of crisis may lead to an embrace of at least some aspects of a “left-leaning” economic policy regime, but one that may well be represented and enacted through a nationalistic lens, likely at the expense of left movements, civil liberties, democratic participation, internationalism/transnationalism, marginalized populations, and migrants.

Harvey, David. 2020. “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19.” Jacobin, March 20, 2020.

Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Macmillan.

———. 2020. “Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It.” Online Video. The Intercept.




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