I am writing in the wake of the Republican “convention,” where, intermixed with the carnivalesque moments, vintage George Wallace law-and-order rhetoric, rank xenophobia and 1930s-era isolationism, came ideologically threadbare calls for the same old, same old: “freedom” from taxes and government regulations, and, as the platform insists, the need to “rein in out-of-control spending.”
There’s just one problem with this. Deregulation, limits on state and federal governmental spending, the privatization of basic services — what academics call “neoliberalism” — has been a proven and massive failure, except for one group: the top 1%. Widespread anger at being left behind, even screwed, by these policies has fueled support for Sanders and Trump, although with very different imagined solutions. Even a research wing of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in a recent article titled, “Neoliberalism: Oversold?,” admits that some neoliberal policies have “increased inequality.” Indeed, the top 1% of the world reportedly now has as much wealth as the rest of the planet. When the other 99% can’t buy as many goods and services as they used to, it stalls economic growth. One solution? “Redistribution” by relying on “taxes and government spending,” especially to minimize the impact of neoliberal policies on “low-income groups,” the IMF researchers write. In addition, instate “predistribution policies” — such as increased spending on education and training — “to [expand] equality of opportunity.”
In his convention speech, Paul Ryan noted that “people want a big change in direction for America.” But the “changes” Republicans propose rest on a return to discredited policies of yore: 1920s-style rabid anti-immigration (although this time with the infamous border wall that could cost an estimated $25 billion), the blindered isolationism of the 1930s, the anti-black “law and order” crack-downs of the 1960s (and beyond) and the trickle-down economics of the 1980s.
We do need a change, just the opposite of what the GOP proposes. So, dear Hillary, we need you to take up the charge initiated by Bernie Sanders and drive a stake in the heart of neoliberalism. Except please don’t call it that. Aside from being jargony, it suggests that somehow liberalism is at the core of these greedy, heartless policies when it isn’t. It’s market fundamentalism.
You’ll have to repudiate various of your husband’s policies: welfare “reform” (where now some people only have food stamps to live on), the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall that led to the 2008 financial crisis, the now-infamous 1994 crime bill that led to skyrocketing mass incarceration (especially of people of color). And then there are your own ties to Wall Street and neoliberal economic advisors (Larry Summers) and a record of partially or wholly market-based policy proposals (healthcare). Indeed, one of the reasons many progressives don’t trust or support you is because of your and your husband’s complicity with advancing the interests of elites — and “the market” — over everyday people.
But with the 35-year run of market fundamentalism revealing its moral and economic bankruptcy, the American people need you to challenge this failed ideology. Despite neoliberalism’s conquest of much of the Democratic Party, we hoped Obama could change course given how the Great Recession exposed the ravages of unchained capitalism. He made some progress, however compromised, with the stimulus package, Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. But the 2010 elections put an end to that hope and change.
Hillary: The time is now. We need you to rebrand taxes and government spending as investments in the country and our future. We need new bridges and roads, reinvigorated public schools and universities, job training and retraining programs, a much more robust safety net for the poor and vulnerable, that $15 minimum wage, student debt forgiveness and more low-interest student loans, paid parental leave, and much more. And we must, must reverse the march toward ever-greater income inequality.
With the Republican Party in shambles, it is exactly the time to expose market fundamentalism for what it is: policies by elites, for elites. They have damaged the country, our politics and too many people for too long. And wouldn’t it be great if it were a woman who had the guts to do it in?
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Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.