Living History

One of the most difficult thing in academia (and life) is to put events into historical context and perspective as they happen. Even recent history is difficult to grasp, because the full repercussions of any event takes time to manifest and unfold.

However, if we do not engage in pontification, then how will pundits make a living?

Every so often, though, an interesting discussion will germinate like a tasty sprout among the weeds. Take this Medium article on neoliberalism and the phases of capitalism by Paul Mason. The year 2008 will take its place in history as a momentous occasion, as it is consensually considered the beginning of the Great Recession. Mason has declared that 2008 is also the start of the fourth phase of neoliberalism:

“The fourth phase of neoliberalism begins in 2008, when they have to abandon the pretence that the market self-corrects, use the state to prop up the banking system, socialising the risks but privatising the gains, and then they design the only stimulus policy available — QE — in a way that enriches the elite first and revives growth much later.”

A quick read of Mason’s writings will tell you that he’s left-leaning. A deeper reading will tell you that he’s probably not a big fan of capitalism. In a speech earlier this year marking the release of Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, Mason said “capitalism is dying.”

If true, the elite that Mason rail against will be doing everything they can to clutch onto their wealth. We should be seeing governmental policies that trend that way, and we have. With theoretical models, evidence is used to both corroborate and shape the model. Mason’s declarations certainly have plenty of evidential support: the increasing wealth of the 1% while overall growth stalls, the trend of union busting around the world, social justice unrest, the arming of the police, among others.

Of course, his model is not perfect, but he is first to concede that. After all, Mason wants an open discussion and as conscientious citizens we should all take part in the conversation. And if we don’t feel like it, there’s social media, pop news and sports to occupy our time.