You are here:   Features > Social market liberals of the world, unite!

Fifth, there is globalisation, free trade and migration. At a time when incomes for the low-skilled have been held down by the effects of the crash, they have been put under further pressure by the availability of even cheaper labour in emerging markets. This has played into the latent xenophobia of those who seek protection from the competition of “those bloody foreigners who are taking our jobs”. Against the background of the effects of the crash and of the widening gap between the returns on skilled and unskilled labour, it is hardly surprising that the Brexit campaign in the UK, and Trump in the US, should have been successful in turning such latent feelings into kinetic effects at the ballot box.

Sixth, there is the democratic deficit. Most of the phenomena that have afflicted those who were “just about managing” up until the crash can, to one extent or another, be laid at the door of international entities that are described as being “beyond our control”. And the demographic shift makes these non-democratic international organisations particularly electorally toxic because, to many among the older part of the population, they represent not a settled arrangement with which they have grown up but a constitutional outrage with which they are disinclined to put up.

Together, these six phenomena more than adequately explain — indeed, as Louis Althusser would have said — they “over-explain” the rise of the demagogues of Left and Right across much of the Western world. However, once they are set out calmly, it also becomes evident that they are historically contingent. These problems and challenges and tensions were present long before 2008. And yet, they didn’t generate anything like the massive wave of resentment which we are at present witnessing until the latent feelings were given real force by the long-lasting effects of the 2008 crash on lower-skilled workers and the less well-off elderly.

This suggests, in turn, that the power of the illiberal politics of Right and Left that we have seen unleashed in various forms across the West is itself historically contingent — a temporary reaction to a set of economic events. The political reaction provoked by the events of 2008 can and very likely will dissipate once the economic effects of 2008 are overcome — at least if those of us attached to social market liberal democracy hold our nerve.

But, to sustain democratic support for social market liberal policies, we need to make the case for them all over again. Nowhere is this more true than in Britain.
Beneath the superficial catastrophes of the Conservative 2017 election campaign, the deep defect was the complete absence of any serious argument in favour of the social market. There was no attempt to illustrate why free markets, inward investment and the entry of skilled labour can generate (and have generated) sustained economic growth, underpinning jobs and prosperity. There was no effort to explain how, through sharing the proceeds of such growth, we can — and can alone — sustain the fine public services and the properly structured welfare system through which a social market economy delivers social justice.
View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.