I have been reading Colin Crouch's The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism1. A major theme is that an ideological divide between more reliance on markets and on government misses issues raised by the existence of large - including multinational - corporations. The neoliberal assault on government has been increasing the strength of corporations, not competitive markets. Furthermore, corporations have been taking on the role of government. Crouch mentions, for example, the "seconding" of corporate executives to various ministries; the likelihood that internal policies of a Multi-National Corporation on, say, child labor may be more restrictive than laws in many third world countries; and the role of corporations in setting international standards, where organizations with nation-states may be weak.
But my point in this post is to note Crouch's introduction(?) of a new technical term, Privatized Keynesianism. A contrast between the post-World War II golden age and the later neoliberal era2 is needed to make sense of this term. After the war, in the United States - and, I gather, in other advanced industrial capitalist economies - wages rose with average productivity. Furthermore, governments, under a somewhat Keynesian ideology, saw it as their responsibility to maintain aggregate demand. These conventions came undone in the 1970s. Productivity increased (at a slower pace), but wages failed to keep up, and governments came to emphasize fighting inflation, not unemployment.
Increased inequality, however, did not eliminate the need to manage aggregate demand. Neither consumer spending from wages nor an abdication from fiscal polity by government could fill this lacuna. This period saw the increased availability of debt, the creation of secondary markets for the trading of bets on bets on bundles of debts (derivatives), and the capture of credit rating agencies by sellers of debts. This institutional structure led to the collective, but private, macroeconomic regulation of aggregate demand3. This institutional structure is what Crouch calls privatized Keynesianism4. The irresponsibility of banks, in some sense, produced a (temporary, unsustainable) positive externality.Footnotes
- I might as well note two mistakes I found irritating. Somewhere in one of the early chapters, Crouch, who I gather is British, refers to Eugene McCarthy when he means Joe McCarthy. I also thought that Crouch's account of the role of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac in subprime mortages reflected too much credence for right-wing liars.
- I date the start of the neoliberal era with Nixon ending the fixed exchange rate between the United States dollar and gold, a major element of the Bretton Woods system.
- Is this a non-microfounded, functionalist account?
- From this perspective, the accumulation of private debt was a symptom, not the ultimate cause of the recent Global Financial Crisis, a cause that has yet to be addressed. These ideas seem to me to be close to Thomas Palley's Structural Keynesianism. Has anybody read James K. Galbraith's The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth?