Hospice of the Creative ClassRoundup
tags: capitalism, coronavirus, 2008 financial crisis
Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.
It also feels like the end of an era. The belle epoque of neoliberal capitalism may be sputtering out. Since the 1970s, liberalized trade and new technology made the world ever more interconnected; most of the former Communist world was swept into the global market system. Hundreds of millions in countries such as India and China rose out of dire poverty, even as deindustrialization, offshoring, and automation gutted the stability that the working class and middle class in North America and Western Europe had come to expect in the years after World War II.
Everything was faster, cheaper, more efficient, and more innovative, and anyone who complained about the new order needed to get back in line. “There is no alternative,” neoliberal icon Margaret Thatcher said in the 1980s. “The world is flat,” intoned the mustachioed tribune of elite conventional wisdom in the 2000s. (Curiously, the original cover of Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book shows old-fashioned ships sailing off a cliff – a more fitting metaphor than the author perhaps realized.)
The 2008 financial crisis was the first big shock to the system. The Great Recession showed how rapacious greed and a state too attenuated or unwilling to regulate it could cause the infrastructure of global capitalism to buckle and nearly collapse. The United States government rushed to shove hundreds of billions of dollars into its financial institutions and stave off a crisis of Great Depression scale – and American capitalism essentially returned to business as usual during the presidency of Barack Obama. His successor could crow about a go-go economy in early 2020, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its highest ever value (29,551.42) on February 12th. With a historically low unemployment rate, the sitting president seemed like a formidable incumbent in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
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