How Financial Crisis, Economic Inequality, Social Media, and More Brought Revolutions in 2011--and Changed Us Forever
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So the strategic question for the West is, do we want to race to the bottom, meet China halfway? In some American states it already feels “third world,” the infrastructure is crumbling, the rule of law is tenuous, you've got attempts at defiance of federal legislation. But if the answer is no, we want a distinctive lifestyle that rewards the skills and education of people, globalization has got to be radically reconfigured.
Increasingly you're getting people to come clean about what the neoliberal answer is. Tidjane Thiam, who is the head of a big global insurer called Prudential, he said we just abolish minimum wage in Europe. You might get growth but it's growth on the backs of penury for the young.
So what's the alternative?
SJ: That's where we get back to the lack of any leadership among the liberal to social democratic parties. We didn't expect global financial meltdown and we weren't expecting, in 2011, to be talking about revolutions and uprisings across the world, but it seems that leaders didn't either.
PM: Let's just for a minute go back to the Arab Spring, because a lot of people object to me speaking about the Arab Spring in the same sentence as a bunch of student demonstrations.
First off, the detonator is often the same, it's the graduate without a future. Secondly, social media is not a causal thing, but social media is a great weapon if you are facing a decrepit dictatorship or, as in America, a media that doesn't want to take issues of social justice seriously. Social media allows you to swarm around it, you can swarm at them or you can swarm around and organize yourself.
I think one has to acknowledge the specificity and the bravery of the Egyptian and Tunisian and Libyan youth. I always argue that maybe, it's because the Egyptians could see an achievable goal. There are a lot of people around the world who can't see an achievable goal. Greece is a good example.
But suddenly those Greek youth are, far from saying it's all over when the bailout goes through, they're saying it's all going to begin, we're going to achieve something. A lot of the time they're forced into the horizontalist style of politics by the sheer lack of reaction of official politics. The strength of horizontalism doesn't just derive from the fact that it's a good idea: it's the only option.
The really frightening thing—I'm 52, I remember the collapse of Keynesianism, state capitalist economics. I remember the end of the miners' strike, miners who'd literally been on strike for a year, the next time I saw one of them he was in a pinstriped suit and had become a financial adviser. Though they didn't like it, there was a story. The old story is over, the new story is selfishness, financial capitalism.
What is the story now? Can you tell me what the story is that capitalism has to offer in the developed world other than a race to the bottom on wages? Because if it is only that, we're probably facing a bigger ideological crisis than the 1930s, because at least in the 30s there was an alternative.
Now both intellectually and policy-wise, we're four years into the crisis and there's very little.
SJ: And then we get back to capitalist realism, which maybe you can elaborate on a bit for those who haven't read Mark Fisher?
PM: Fisher borrowed the phrase from Frederic Jameson, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”