“Worlds Apart,” on neoliberalism and Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists, in The New Republic

mont_pelerin_audio201106291741I have a review/essay of Quinn Slobodian’s excellent book Globalists in The New Republic. This was both a challenge and a pleasure to write, and I’m proud of how it turned out.

It is difficult to consider the state of the world in 2018 and not feel a sense of vertigo. Humanity has greater capacity for production than it has ever had before, and simultaneously, the ability to destroy the world many times over. The products we rely on—whether for food, fuel, communication—are woven together in supply chains that have the complexity of medieval tapestries. Some people can make unimaginable fortunes in microseconds, while others still scratch a living out of the dry ground. Eight men, it is calculated, hold as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet: 3.6 billion people. A global system underlies this vastly unequal distribution of wealth and power. But what to call this system? What is its name?

It is not enough to call it capitalism, since capitalism has been around for hundreds of years and transforms itself with great dexterity. The term “late capitalism” acknowledges that, but it presumes something about the future that we cannot know. What can be identified is a shift, usually dated to the 1970s, when rich countries moved away from a regulated economy of mass production and mass consumption, organized within nation states. David Harvey, writing in 1990, saw it being replaced with “post-Fordism”: an economy built on just-in-time production, the internationalization of capital, the deregulation of industry, insecure labor, and the entrepreneurial self. In the years since, these trends have only accelerated due to improvements in, and the spread of, information technologies. But few call this “post-Fordism” any longer. They mostly call it “neoliberalism.”

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