Luke Goldstein of The American Prospect reports on Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) recent shift to an explicit rejection of neoliberalism.
I pressed Murphy about why, despite executive actions, Democrats in Congress weren’t able to move forward in the last session on new antitrust legislation, such as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act or the Open App Markets Act, when they controlled both the House and Senate. He didn’t blame it on Senate Republicans or on party leadership, despite ample reporting that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was the main impediment holding up votes on both bills last year.
Did you catch that? The junior Democratic Senator from Connecticut says Democrats in Congress are not being blocked by Republicans, or even by the gerontocracy that unfortunately dominates the Democratic Party. So who or what does the Senator blame?
“I think there is still a sizable portion of the Democratic Party that is sort of stuck in its addictions to neoliberal economics that concentrated and globally integrated markets can deliver prosperity. I still think this party has not made a firm break from neoliberalism,” said Murphy.
If ever there was a cause for hope, it’s someone in a position of power like a United States Senator coming to the realization that what they thought they knew about how the economy works, is all wrong.
“I was guilty of accepting this paradigm we were stuck in and in which we assumed we had to live with this massive concentration of corporate power,” said Murphy. “I had no living memory of government using its power to break up monopolies.”
Let me tell you, back in the early years of the Obama presidency, it was very discouraging to have a discussion on economics here at DailyKos. It had become clear to me that Obama and his advisers were totally under the sway of neoliberal economics, but I repeatedly encountered people here who argued otherwise, and expressed disgust that I wasn’t “clapping louder.”
In fact, there were many people who argued that “neoliberalism” was a phantasm of the left, and did not actually exist as a policy or even an idea. I’m not kidding — that was actually what many people believed in 2008 and after, in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis. Much the same problem still exists: just read some of the comments in dmontaine’s recced story today, The economy sucks - for many of us. There are comments expressing dismay and anger that people are not blaming Republicans for their economic misery, and more than one commenter argues that people should be happy that earnings have grown a few quarters in a row.
Really? The 2020 RAND study Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018 documented that $47 trillion in wealth was transferred upwards to elites in those four decades. There are 167.77 million people in the US labor force. Leave out the top ten percent, and increase every working person’s income by a $1,000 a year and it’s less than $160 billion. It would take over three centuries of $1,000 annual increases to undo the damage done in the past half century.
Here’s another way to look at how much damage was done under neoliberalism. If the average household income had continued to grow at the same rate it had in the three decades before the “Reagan revolution,” household income now would be almost triple what it now is. So, recent “jumps” in income really don’t amount to much. Income distribution must be shifted toward the bottom much more radically and much faster than anything we’ve seen yet.
So take note that Senator Murphy now blames neoliberalism for this popular discontent that has Biden wallowing in dangerously low approval ratings:
“The disease is a really deep, insidious one rooted in the fact that people feel like they have no control over their lives any longer … in politics we often treat the symptoms, not the disease, and that’s what I’m trying to address…. I am very convinced that America is in the middle of a spiritual crisis,”
This is very important. Senator Murphy is not the first person to raise the issue of the soul killing weight of free market capitalism. Goldstein notes that “populist figures on the Catholic right, such as Sohrab Ahmari, author of recent book Tyranny Inc., which offers a conservative critique of the free-market economic paradigm,” have expressed support of Senator Murphy’s idea. In the October 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All), Pope Francis wrote:
168. The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle” – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged “spillover” does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society. It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity”  and makes it possible for jobs to be created and not cut. Financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc….
This is not a new position for the Catholic Church. In May 1891, responding to the worsening economic and social conditions of workers around the world, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum, or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.
And of course, the actual gospels have much to say about economics and social justice, though today’s conservative christianists seem not to have read them. In 1907, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, published Christianity and the Social Crisis (pdf 457 pages).
In July 2014, Salon published an essay by Yale University professor Jim Sleeper, We, the people are violent and filled with rage: A nation spinning apart on its Independence Day, lamenting
a body politic so drained of candor and trust that, beneath our continuing lip-service to republican premises and practices, we’ve let a court conflate the free speech of flesh-and-blood citizens with the disembodied wealth of anonymous shareholders.
Two years after Trump was elected, Salon published Sleeper’s essay again, with the lead, “Four years ago I published this essay in Salon: It predicted the rise of a demagogue, and much of what would follow.”
Has anything been done yet to exorcise the curse of corporate personhood? Has anything been done yet to break the spell neoliberalism has over the Democratic Party?