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Monday, June 12, 2006

The Future Is Now - by William Greider

Momentous change is approaching in American politics. Conceivably, the turning point has already arrived, too indistinct to recognize. We are witnessing the demise of the reigning economic ideology. A deep shift of this kind is a very rare event, one that comes along only every thirty or forty years. Economic disorders accumulate that the orthodoxy cannot answer and may even have caused. Eventually, the ideological presumptions are discredited by real-world contradictions.
 
The last time this happened was in the 1970s, when economic liberalism foundered and collapsed. Ossified intellectually, unable to adjust to changed circumstances, the liberal order did not know how to deal with economic consequences like inflationary stagnation. As the long postwar prosperity lost its energy, so did liberal politics.
 
Something similar is happening now to the Republicans. Their problem is the underperforming economy, which must borrow to stay afloat and, roughly speaking, lifts only half the boats. The conservative order--inspired two generations ago by Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek and brought to power by Republican ascendancy--pushed government aside so business and capital would be free to generate more lasting prosperity. But their utopian promise was not fulfilled. Instead, the right's principal product, one can say, was economic inequality.
 
The breakdown won't necessarily produce an immediate shift in power. When the bottom fell out of liberal doctrine thirty years ago, what first unfolded was confusion and political paralysis, then an awkward retreat by the Democrats until they were finally displaced by the aggressive new conservatives under Ronald Reagan. But it does mean that Republicans have lost the political cohesion to advance their more extreme measures (privatizing Social Security, freeing capital entirely of taxation).
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