Think about it: In the 1930s you had a catastrophe, and if you were a public official or even just a layman looking for guidance and understanding, what did you get from institutionalists? Caricaturing, but only slightly, you got long, elliptical explanations that it all had deep historical roots and clearly there was no quick fix. Meanwhile, along came the Keynesians, who were model-oriented, and who basically said “Push this button”– increase G, and all will be well. And the experience of the wartime boom seemed to demonstrate that demand-side expansion did indeed work the way the Keynesians said it did.
It’s not an accident that Samuelson, even as he was raising the math level of microeconomics, was a key figure in the triumph of Keynesian economics. Nor was it at all an accident that his intro textbook, in its 1948 edition and for a long time thereafter, started with macro, and only got to micro later. The perceived success of macroeconomics did double duty, establishing the bona fides of a model-oriented approach and also suggesting that full employment was not too bad an assumption — given the right monetary and fiscal policies.
Once you have involuntary unemployment, [market optimality] fails. Keynes’ famous thought experiment of burying pound notes in coal mines made the point that an intervention that would be totally absurd in terms of standard microeconomic reasoning might nonetheless help to alleviate a recession and therefore make society better off…. None of the standard conclusions of… microeconomics can be assumed to be valid under conditions of sustained high unemployment. Keynes specifically presented his macroeconomic ideas as making the world safe for neoclassical micro. If governments could stabilise the aggregate economy with fiscal policy, there was no need for comprehensive economic planning of the kind being practised, with apparent success, in the Soviet Union, or for ad hoc interventions like the price-fixing elements of the New Deal…. The failure of macroeconomists and finance economists to provide either a warning of the Global Financial Crisis or any consistent advice on how to deal with the ensuing Great Recession it isn’t just a problem for them. It undermines the whole economics profession. The sooner we realise that the entire discipline is in a state of scientific crisis the sooner we might start to do something about it.
I was smacked up and gacked up and togged up in the nitwit livery of late-Nineties television, a crackhead Harlequin with Hoxton hair, when it came to my attention that Reclaim the Streets had a march on. On learning this, I without a flicker of self-awareness palmed off my shopping bags jammed with consumer treats and headed for the throng. Just before the kettling and boredom, while things were still buzzing, bongos, bubbles and whistles, I was hurt when a fellow protester piously said to me: “What you doing here? I’ve seen you, you work for MTV.” I felt pretty embarrassed that my involvement was being questioned, in a manner that is all too common on the left. It’s been said that: “The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum. It is also a right drag when you’re trying to enjoy a riot.
Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive. Plus a bit too serious, too much up its own fundament and not enough fun. The same could be said of the growing New Age spiritual movement, which could be a natural accompaniment to social progression. I’m a bit of a tree-hugging, Hindu-tattooed, veggie meditator myself but first and foremost I want to have a fucking laugh. When Ali G, who had joined protesters attempting to prevent a forest being felled to make way for a road, shouted across the barricade, “You may take our trees, but you’ll never take our freedom,” I identified more with Baron Cohen’s amoral trickster than the stern activist who aggressively admonished him: “This is serious, you cunt.”
A bit too fucking serious, actually. As John Cleese said, there is a tendency to confuse seriousness with solemnity. Serious causes can and must be approached with good humour, otherwise they’re boring and can’t compete with the Premier League and Grand Theft Auto. Social movements needn’t lack razzmatazz.
The right has all the advantages, just as the devil has all the best tunes. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.
Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of a governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let’s make it clear and explicit here.