Thursday, December 1, 2016

Say Goodbye to the Unipolar World: The End of Neoliberal Orthodoxy as We Know It

This Sunday two big votes will take place in Europe: Italy's constitutional referendum, and a do-over in Austria of last spring's presidential election. A "no" vote in Italy combined with a win by Norbert Hofer and his far-right Freedom Party will provide further proof of a rising populist tide in Europe that is swamping the old, almost completely discredited governing neoliberal orthodoxy.

An editorial yesterday in The New York Times, "Italy's Turn to Vote," pleads with Renzi to stay on as prime minister (he has promised to resign) if the constitutional referendum fails. The failure of the referendum -- which basically does away with the senate, making it easier to ram through structural adjustments in labor and tax law (the standard neoliberal "Washington Consensus" playbook) -- appears to be inevitable.

A piece in The Guardian yesterday, "Italy referendum: all you need to know about Renzi's crunch vote," summarizes:
You seem to be predicting that Renzi is going to lose. Are you sure?No. But almost all of the available polls show Renzi is behind and the country seems to be fed up with him. You never know, though: a whole host of factors, including a simmering scandal in Sicily about M5S, could diminish turnout for no and hand Renzi a victory. He could also get overwhelming support from up to 4 million Italian voters abroad, which could tip the scales in his favour in a close election. It just seems unlikely.
If he does lose and there is a new election, would M5S win?
There is a strong chance M5S could win based on current polls, but it is not a certainty. The party’s lack of experience could give Italians pause. One senator, Francesco Palermo, thinks that whoever wins – including M5S – would be far to the right of Renzi, putting much more pressure on Italy’s relationship with the EU, and probably leading to big changes in the country’s handling of the migration crisis.
Some of Italy’s biggest banks are in bad shape. How will the referendum affect the banking sector?There is increasing alarm that the political upheaval created by a potential no victory would disrupt plans to recapitalise Italy’s most troubled banks, including Banca Monte dei Paschi of Siena. Shares in Italy’s beleaguered banking sector are down more than 20% since Brexit, in large part because investors are worried about the outcome.
The failure of Renzi is an important moment in the collapse of neoliberalism. Renzi was once the great young hope to reanimate hoary neoliberal shibboleths such as "creative destruction," "competitiveness," etc. (See the Council of Foreign Relation's "A Conversation with Matteo Renzi.") If Renzi loses Sunday, coming at the same time that a lamed Obama vacates the White House and that Justin Trudeau has just approved the expansion of a massive pipeline to transport Alberta tar sands to British Columbia, there will be no telegenic pitchman left to front the neoliberal orthodoxy.

What is to be done?

The elite are desperate. They see no path forward. Europe tucked firmly under the wing of the American eagle is how U.S. global hegemony works. Brexit is a slow-motion crisis for Pax Americana; likewise Trump. The New McCarythism and wails about "fake news" are a "back to the future" Hail Mary to keep the revolting masses fenced in on the neoliberal reservation while the media monopoly hemorrhages ad revenue month in and month out. (The only business model that makes sense for the big daily newspapers is government subsidy.)

The bottom will drop out this spring in France. In a way it already has. The Socialists, who hold their presidential primary in January, are kaput. This means that with the nomination of Francois Fillon last Sunday, the runoff will almost certainly feature two candidates -- Fillon and Marine Le Pen -- who favor ending trade sanctions against Russia.

The U.S. engineered coup in Kiev, part of a strategy to block Germany's Ostpolitik integration of Russian into Europe, can be declared a failure. Say goodbye to the unipolar world.

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