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01/19/2015

The Beginning of the End of Economism? One View

E.J. Dionne’s latest column:
http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Dionne-What-change-sounds-like-6021317.php
–takes aim at one of the central features of this blog. Dionne claims that we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of economism (which he refers to as neoliberalism).

As President Obama prepares to deliver a State of the Union address which features calls for greater income equality (increased taxes on the richest to counteract tax cuts for the middle class), Dionne is interested in the Republican response. He characterizes that response as a shift from the standard Republican reaction to Obama, which has basically been to ignore the substance of what he is proposing. He cites several GOP leaders as now admitting that income inequality is serious and that something should be done. Their prescriptions are inadequate, but they are at least signaling a willingness to enter into a debate about the issue.

Dionne also goes beneath the latest headlines. He characterizes the Republican position since Reagan as being captive to economism. Economism requires that one ignore the issue of income inequality. The so-called free market, left to its own devices, will spread income around as it should be spread, and that is the end of it. To focus on income inequality as an issue is to pull the rug out from under one of the central features of economism–and to admit that something besides the free market ought to have a say in how goods and benefits are distributed in society.

Dionne is therefore describing recent political events in the US as a major turn away from economism. To follow along the route of the theory he’s sketching, I would argue further that the 2016 presidential race seems a crucial event. If the winner is someone sufficiently like Obama, with the steadily increasing criticism of economism that he’s put forward, then we can expect a considerable if gradual change in the overall political philosophy of the US (and indeed the world). If another person wins, then we can expect things to settle back to the status quo for some time yet.

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