No 2138 Posted by fw, January 7, 2018
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In my synopsis to Section 1, Tim Jackson’s Introduction to Chapter 10, “The Progressive State”, the author declares that our quest to achieve a lasting prosperity must be achieved within limits determined by the ecology and resources of a finite planet. In a consumer capitalist society, living within limits would mean rolling back our insatiable consumer appetites. As Jackson sees it, we have three existential choices: 1) cling to business as usual and hope for the best; 2) accept the inevitable – climate change, inequality, inevitable collapse – by adopting a dog-eat-dog, survivalist life style, or 3) resort to revolution.
There is an alternative to these three bleak options, says Jackson – Create a new vision for the role of the state. But can we, he asks, envision a new role for government to thrive in a resource-constrained, warming world?
Below, in my synopsis to Section 2, Jackson summarizes the ideological positions of the opposing right and left sides in contesting the manner in which the state will be governed.
Considering the current dominance of the ruling oligarchs, the prospects for envisioning a new role for government to thrive in a resource-constrained, warming world would seem dim indeed.
Arguments about “more government” vs “less government” often flow from a debate about whether a free and open market is the fairest way to allocate scarce resources and to meet human needs. Free market proponents declare the state should “get out of the way” and let markets operate without intervention.
For decades, free-market, neoliberal capitalists have prevailed. In Jackson’s words:
“This idea has achieved an almost unrivalled supremacy in contemporary economics and it has been used to particularly pernicious effect both in the liberalization of financial markets and in defence of the subsequent austerity (Chapter 2).”
Free marketers point to the collapse of communism as evidence that “Big government is bad for prosperity.”
Jackson, citing political scientist Peter Hall, reported that the financial crisis of 2008 led to “reconfiguring the role of government in the economy and conventional wisdom about the appropriate relationship between the public and the private sector”
However, in rushing to bailout “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions, “governments, in fact, failed to respond to the lessons of the crisis.” It became clear that the state, far from reducing risk in financial markets, was once again acting in the interests of the few and neglecting the interests of the many.
“Once this protective role of the state begins to privilege powerful corporations, as it has done at various points in history, not least in response to the financial crisis, then it corrupts the ‘social bond between individual human rights and private property [which] lies at the centre of almost all contractual theories of government’”
In the fallout from the crisis, the government has come under fire from both sides:
The right, these champions of “less government”, without an ounce of shame, demanded government come to their immediate rescue. And once stability was restored, they quickly resurrected the language of government inefficiency, calling for austerity in public spending — but no regulation of markets.
The left, with their expectations of the state “as a crucial agent in the protection of social goods” shattered, now perceive it “as corrupted by private interest and impotent to act in the interests of ordinary citizens.”