Martin Wolf dramaturge: ‘The long and painful journey to world disorder’, a comment by Almost Marx

In sum, and I’m foreshortening Wolf’s self-serving ramble through most of the 20th and 21st Centuries economic/political history: this is one of the ‘core arguments’ of that potted history, that he reconstructs, eliding what is inconvenient, in his melodramatic essay: The long and painful journey to world disorder’ :

The Middle East is in turmoil. Mass migration has become a threat to European stability. Mr Putin’s Russia is on the march. Mr Xi’s China is increasingly assertive. The west seems impotent.

These geopolitical shifts are, in part, the result of desirable changes, notably the spread of rapid economic development beyond the west, particularly to the Asian giants, China and India. Some are also the result of choices made elsewhere, not least Russia’s decision to reject liberal democracy in favour of nationalism and autocracy as the core of its post-communist identity and China’s to combine a market economy with communist control.

Mr. Wolf identifies the enemies of The New Cold War as revanchist Russia under the leadership of autocrat Putin, and China as subversive because of its State Capitalism under the Communist banner, the combination of For Profit and Communism is antithetical to Wolf’s Free Market sensibility.What goes unmentioned is China’s  ‘belligerence’ in the South China Sea!  The two new enemies are tersely sketched out, the potted history the framing device that lends credibility to this propagandistic reductivism.

Mr. Wolf lacks the capacity for candor. He mentions the political rise of Neo-Liberals Thatcher and Reagan, yet utterly fails to connect the Crash of 2008, and its economic/political watershed in the rise of The Rebellion Against The Elites, to that very Neo-Liberalism. Which was not only about the apotheosis of the Market, but the active destruction of the Welfare State, that has exacerbated the predations of that Crash and its reverberations into the present moment. The Populists were born of that 2008 Crash, and the failure of the technocratic elite to bring about the return of economic prosperity. Yet he recognises the problems of that Crash, and its aftermath, in his careful re-description while hewing to the Party Line. The imperative: do not connect Neo-Liberal policies and its actors to that Crash and the dismal economic present:

Western economies have also been affected, to varying degrees, by slowing growth, rising inequality, high unemployment (especially in southern Europe), falling labour force participation and deindustrialisation. These shifts have had particularly adverse effects on relatively unskilled men. Anger over mass immigration has grown, particularly in parts of the population also adversely affected by other changes.

Some of these shifts were the result of economic changes that were either inevitable or the downside of desirable developments. The threat to unskilled workers posed by technology could not be plausibly halted, nor could the rising competitiveness of emerging economies. Yet, in economic policy, too, big mistakes were made, notably the failure to ensure the gains from economic growth were more widely shared. The financial crisis of 2007-09 and subsequent eurozone crisis were, however, the decisive events.

So much more to be said about Mr. Wolf’s essay, whose outsize ambition isn’t quite realized, even though it is long by Financial Times standard. Let me quote the first paragraph of Chris Hedges essay of January 1, 2017 at Truthdig. Sure to raise the hackles of Mr. Wolf and his readers:

The final stages of capitalism, Karl Marx predicted, would be marked by global capital being unable to expand and generate profits at former levels. Capitalists would begin to consume the government along with the physical and social structures that sustained them. Democracy, social welfare, electoral participation, the common good and investment in public transportation, roads, bridges, utilities, industry, education, ecosystem protection and health care would be sacrificed to feed the mania for short-term profit. These assaults would destroy the host. This is the stage of late capitalism that Donald Trump represents.

Almost Marx

(January 08,2017) Further thoughts:

I read, for the second time, Mr. Wolf’s essay and was surprised by its clumsy and uneven presentation. It is composed of parts of an argument, that takes the form of notations, thoughts strung together that were/are germane to the topic, but lack integration into an argumentative whole. Wolf extemporizes on the Decline of the West, in all its doom and gloom: a West whose gift was/is Capitalism, in its most pristine form, that has not just been subject to its perennial and periodic crises, but to what  Mr. Hedges characterizes as:

The final stages of capitalism, Karl Marx predicted, would be marked by global capital being unable to expand and generate profits at former levels.

In the final section titled ‘Free trade and Prosperity’ , one wonders at Wolf’s faith in the Capitalist Party line of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ to engage in vulgar reductivism. Two questions occur: what happened to the myth of the ‘Self-Correcting Market’? In the thought of Hayek the ‘Market’, and its winnowing mechanisms, has epistemological primacy.  And to engage with the real world, as opposed to policy questions, like the fate of ‘The West’ ,the ‘Liberal International Order’ and the ‘Fate of Capitalism’ three cornerstones, in danger from the dread Populist Insurgency: how might Wolf address the question of poverty in Great Britain.

The UK has 3.9 million people in “persistent poverty” according to a report released from the Office for National Statistics today.

This essay is enlivened by the charts Mr. Wolf finds indispensable to his essays.




About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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