Whether or not “free trade” continues to grow under the rubric of the WTO, the doctrine of neoliberalism is dead. Its proponents may persevere, but there will probably be no new young scholars rising up through the ranks, and my guess is that even its old proponents, to the extent they accept empiricism, will at least have to modify their beliefs a little.
The reason is simple. The 25 word version of the doctrine now seems horribly passé–naive, even. Even if some detailed kludge model can satisfy critics in fifty pages of Foreign Affairs, the Outer Party enablers of this doctrine don’t buy it anymore. The idea that utopia, or progress at least, will come through the unfettered elimination of trade barriers, by growing things where they grow best, as the line goes, simply isn’t real. This is why the latest round of WTO talks failed–the opposition has evidence and isn’t merely a collection of fringe elements and college students trashing Seattle.
And there is only one commodity needed to demonstrate this: oil. You see, oil “grows best” in only one place: Saudi Arabia. In the neoliberal utopia, oil would only be pumped there because that is where it can be most cheaply extracted. But even the purest of heart at the Economist must realize that Saudi Arabia is too politically unstable for the world to extract its single most important commidity from.
Neoliberalism mutated into Neoconservatism. The standard story is that this is not the case, that Neoliberalism will remake the world with free trade, as opposed to Neoconservatism which wants to remake it with unipolar force. Certainly, the origins of these two movements are different, but in the sick broth of latter day Washington DC, one has emulsified in the other and the agenda as carried out, far from the aspirational forecasts in academic journals, is the unquestioning, unbending, relentless push towards worldwide free trade as an end in itself. Neoconservatism just adds the sword.
Generous interpretations put forth the notion that Neoconservatism seeks to spread “democracy.” In fact, it seeks to spread globalized market economies. As with Neoliberal disasters in South America and Africa, Neconservative disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown little concern for the actual constitution of the new governments and far more interest in their trade policies. Democracy now is free trade, and nothing more.
If America can’t figure out how to engage the world in an emprical, practical way it should disengage. Not only have these two doctrines (championed, by the way, with equal force by both political parties) hurt the world, they have hurt America.
Polemic identifies as a way to find a new progressive ideology. The idea was to replace the whiny, defeated liberalism of the 70s that still governs the minds of many on the left. Since that time, a new progressive movement has begun, but it is largely without ideology. That ideology is taking shape, but is still skeletal because at this point in history opposition is the priority.
Two issues will dominate this century. Climate change/environment and untangling the neoliberal mess. These two are intrinsical entwined. Undoing the oil economy in order to save the planet will change the dynamics of trade throughout the world, and the lessons of global warming will counsel a stronger approach to environmental issues, and, accordingly may well finally put the kinds of protections into trade agreements that will make them somewhat tolerable.
More to come…