It is an understatement to say that the world is in crisis. Indeed, from climate change to gross inequality and wide inequities to conflicts and war creating desperate refugees and the present pandemic, there are no dearth of problems and crises befuddling the world. At the root of all these crises is the neoliberal capitalistic tendency to put profit before everything else and the rapacious greed and the sheer craziness of neoliberal market fundamentalism is such that naysayers and even those doubting the “system” are dismissed as cranks and worse, shunted out and persecuted as heretics. So, if we have to find solutions to our problems, we have to start with reforming the way our societies are ordered around the insatiable quest for money at the expense of everything else.
Loony Lefties, TINA Factor, Dream Hoarders, the Dying American Dream
Before I am dismissed as a Leftist Crackpot dreaming of revolution, let me say that I have been a part and parcel of the very model and I too have benefited from it. Moreover, there is also the TINA (There Is No Alternative) to neoliberal capitalism argument, of which I agree to some extent. In addition, I am not a Luddite who sees technological innovation as anti life or who is upset with the very deserving individuals getting their just rewards due to the inherent democratizing impulse that is a feature of capitalism. However, what I am against is the notions of the market as the sole arbiter of economic and social activity as well as the belief that more growth is the only panacea for the ills plaguing our world. Of course, I also have a bone to pick to those who are dismissive of “lazy” workers and the underprivileged being undeserving of affirmative action.
So, where do I stand in the rather one sided debate over neoliberalism? To start with, what I have cribs about is the fact that neoliberal capitalism is terrible at equitable distribution of wealth. The “winner take all” system under which we operate where the median pay gap between the CEOs and the rank and file employees is so wide that even a “yawning” gap characterization is wholly inaccurate. Indeed, our neoliberal approaches have widened the wealth disparity to such an extent that the Top 1% now owns more wealth than the combined half of the pyramid. Worse, ever since the Great Recession of 2008, the “hoarding” of wealth and opportunity have become so pronounced that one author titled his book, The Dream Hoarders, to draw an analogy about how the American Dream is being turned into a nightmare. The eminent linguist and author, Noam Chomsky, puts a more nuanced point in his book about A Requiem for the American Dream.
A Case for Compassionate Capitalism
Instead, what I suggest is something that many on all sides of the political and economic spectrum have been talking about i.e. a more compassionate capitalism or an economic and political order with a “heart” that reduces the present inequalities and inequities. Some experts have laid a case for policies such as an Universal Basic Income, wherein everyone gets some money from the state. This is again something that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the US is proposing under the many spending plans being debated or passed. Of course, as I pointed out earlier, there is really no reason to call out workers and those getting this subsistence benefit as “freeloaders” who do not want to work since the dole is anyway generous.
Of late, we have been hearing this charge against the workforce unwilling to return to full time employment as are those part of The Great Resignation, or the trend of Americans quitting their jobs en masse. Indeed, Economics 101 would teach us that making people work for money is far better than giving money free. However, it is also the case that low wages are a disincentive and hence, a case for a Basic Income, enough to cover subsistence needs can be an incentive to work, rather than laze, especially in these pandemic times, when Millions are struggling to put food on the table. In other words, provide money for basic needs and raise the minimum wage to encourage full time work. The focus should be on incentives that spur productivity and employment, rather than propping up artificial barriers to keep the many out.
The Pandemic has Left Us with no choice, but, to Reform the Neoliberal Order
Turning to the hot button issue of the pandemic. There really can be no justification for continuing with the neoliberal status quo, especially after what we have gone through over the last couple of years. If the state cannot even tend to people struggling to get even an Oxygen cylinder and where patients die in the parking lots of hospitals waiting for beds, then it would be a genocide against its own citizens. This is where I feel that the time has come to put neoliberalism in the dock and focus on finding the mix of policies and processes that would address the problems of the world.
Never Let a Good Crisis Go Waste
The present situation is reminiscent of the time after the Great Depression and the Second World War when the task of rebuilding societies ravaged by war spurred the New Deal, Marshall Plan and other such initiatives. Joe Biden likes to compare himself to FDR, the proponent of the New Deal and for him to live up to that comparison, he does have to ensure a more equitable social safety net. Of course, all this can happen only when he can get his flock together and that too in time. Already, there are shrill, and even cacophonous voices screaming about socialism and hence, he has his task cut out. In a way, the prospect of imminent death makes us focus on our priorities, and hence, we should not let this crisis go waste by finding solutions before it is too late.
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