Monday, May 14, 2012

Nostalgianomics

On a fundamental level, I believe in pluralism and the need to constantly question our own beliefs and hidden assumptions. By listening to the best arguments of our opponents we can learn new things and together we can work to make liberal democracy possible. At the same time, just a minute or two of internet discourse is often sufficient to make one feel profoundly misanthropic and disillusioned about the prospects of democracy. It is sad, because more than ever we need people who genuinely believe in democracy and its institutions. It is also sad because, instead of fuelling further class-conflict or “agonism”, we need new visions of shared prosperity and growing global equality.

Yet, sometimes, you come across well-written texts that hint at the deep underlying differences. Like this one, in The Atlantic written by Megan McArdle in January after Obama gave his State of the Union speech:

“I think the speech made it even clearer than other speeches have that the president's vision of the world is a lightly updated 1950s technocracy without the social conservatism, and with solar panels instead of rocket ships.  Government and labor and business working in tightly controlled concert, with nice people like Obama at the reins--all the inventions coming out of massive government or corporate labs, and all the resulting products built by a heavily unionized workforce that knows no worry about the future”

As readers of this weblog know, I may not have much nostalgia for either the 1950’s or technocracy but I definitely have strong feelings of nostalgia for the 1980’s in Sweden and for the idea of progress through social investments. Having experienced first-hand the benefits of this system, and also seen where the conservative alternative leads (read Italy or Japan), it is not difficult to fall victim to “nostalgianomics”. At the same time, we shall never forget that the circumstances we face today are new, that the kind of moderate structural change that we saw in the 80’s is a thing of the past (and even then, it ultimately failed as the rate of social investments became lower than the rate of wage inflation). In the future, there will be difficult trade-offs, stark choices and the need for radical new ideas. But that should all be a case in favour of liberal democracy, not against it.

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