Zombie ideas that just won’t die

7th December 2018 Off By binary
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This post is loosely related to themes such as “The Great Stagnation” and “The Complacent Class”, to cite two recent books by Tyler Cowen.  Also loosely related is Scott Alexander’s epic blog post Meditations on Moloch.  And perhaps “The End of History”.

As time goes by, neoliberalism seems more and more like a immovable force.

Think about it.  The Great Recession seemed to completely discredit neoliberalism.  All the most fashionable intellectuals on the left and the right say so.  Entire governments on the left (Syriza), center (Five Star), and right (Trump) are elected to replace neoliberalism with something better.  Socialism, nationalism, whatever.  The British vote to leave the EU.

But neoliberalism is like the zombie that cannot be killed.  Syriza can’t do much of anything, and Trump’s only major achievement is an ultra-neoliberal corporate tax cut.  Here’s today’s FT:

In practice, Mr Grieve himself has said another referendum is the “only” route to stopping Brexit.  What the advocate-general’s opinion does is open the legal path. Indeed, on Tuesday analysts at JPMorgan doubled their estimate of the possibility of “no Brexit” to 40 per cent — while halving the probability of “no-deal” in early 2019 to 10 per cent.

Are hardline Brexiters worried that no-deal is off the table?

Not outwardly. “It’s full steam ahead,” said one pro-Brexit Tory, who predicted the government would lose Tuesday’s meaningful vote by a margin of 40.

However, supporters of Mrs May’s deal argue that Brexiters have trapped themselves and that parliament, in which a majority favours soft Brexit or no Brexit, is now in control.

“They’ve completely messed it up,” said one Tory MP. “I’m coming to the conclusion that they wanted the [2016 Brexit] referendum only as a way of protesting.”

What!?!?!  There’s still a 40% chance that Bryan will win his bet?  That’s crazy.  It’s as if NIMBYism also applies to entire policy regimes.  No new economic policy regimes in my backyard!  The British public is like that accountant in the Monty Python routine.  They wanted DRAMATIC CHANGE, just so long as nothing in their life actually, you know, changes.  “We want to be like Singapore!” . . .  “Well, maybe not, perhaps we could first try Norway.” . . .  “Er, don’t rush me.”

I never got the Trump phenomenon until I figured this out.  Re-read the last six words of the FT quotation.

I’m a neoliberal, and thus am thrilled with this state of affairs.  But I’m uneasy because I don’t understand why I’m winning.  So what gives—why is neoliberalism so hard to kill?  I await an explanation from my commenters.

PS.  Here’s what happened in 1968, fifty years ago.  First men to orbit the moon.  The Tet offensive in Vietnam.  Two assassinations of US political leaders.  Revolutionary activity in countries all over the world (Mexico, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, etc., etc.) Race riots and student riots in the US. The 747 airplane launched.  Two thousand miles of interstate highway are built—in one year.  Friedman’s natural rate hypothesis. The ATM, 911 lines, and air bags invented. Kubrick’s “2001” released. The White album and Beggar’s Banquet. Fifty years later we have what?  What happened this year? The stupid fight over Kavanaugh?  You might argue that there are all sorts of cool technological developments occurring now.  OK, but consider this:

[Engelbart] went on to considerably more significant accomplishments, including the computer mouse, the graphical computer interface, text editing, hypertext, networked computers, e-mail, and videoconferencing, all of which he demonstrated in a legendary “mother of all demos” in San Francisco in 1968.

That’s from a book entitled “How to Change Your Mind”.  Which modern equivalent of Doug Engelbart came up with that many neat ideas this year?

I miss 1968.

I’m bored.


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