Weekend Reading

27th June 2021

A subscriber drew my attention to an absolute scholarly treasure on Substack, Ebla to E-Books: The Preservation and Annihilation of Memory by Kathleen McCook. The concern of her mostly historical Substack is “The annihilation of books, ideas, and free expression.” The title is a reference to the city of Ebla, which was set on fire in 2300 BC, in which thousands of texts were lost in the oldest known library destruction in history. Yesterday’s post was on William Morris and his Kelmscott Press. This weekend the William Morris Society is celebrating Kelmscott Press Day, commemorating the 130th anniversary of the founding of the press and the 125th anniversary of the William Morris illustrated edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Her links and the Society’s links here to resources marking the anniversary are well worth a look. For the sectarian among you, my own love of Morris is not a narrow political statement, but certainly a celebration of a powerfully expressed vision that opens up the mind to the possibility of merging the egalitarian with the beautiful. My banner and logo designs on here were inspired by Morris.

The world after lockdown

I just came across this video of some of my favorite writers discussing the question “Has lockdown changes us forever?” It features Aris Roussinos, Helen Thompson, Maurice Glasman and Mary Harrington and the host Freddie Sayers. Glasman suggested we’re in for a summer of hate, which I think is likely and Roussinos made the event particularly interesting with his suggestion that all the things the post-Liberals wanted are already being set into motion. We’re seeing the return of the nation state and of sovereignty, the possible end of neoliberalism and the opening up of new possibilities as something else takes shape and the beginning of the end of American hegemony, he says.

Nils Gilman, an editor at Noema magazine discusses this question further here.

While on an overt policy level the 2010s were a time of policy drift and political recrimination, it was also a time of tremendous intellectual growth of post-neoliberal economic ideas. Empirical work by economists like Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley and Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics returned the question of inequality to the center of the economics profession’s agenda, while repudiating the neoliberal commitment to low taxes on the rich. Neo-institutionalists like Carlotta Perez and Mariana Mazzucatto at University College London developed arguments for much more activist government investment strategies, repudiating the neoliberal contempt for industrial strategy. An environmental economists like Kate Raworth of Oxford and Cambridge pioneered new economic models focused on balancing the pursuit of essential human needs with the need to respect planetary boundaries. Stephanie Kelton of Stony Brook University has been the driving force behind Modern Monetary Theory. As in the 1970s and 1980s, much of this new heterodox thinking has been attacked by the old guard as dangerous nonsense, but it has unquestionably fed the Biden administration’s radical change of economic policy direction. 

If this comparison of the 1970s and 2010s turns out to be right, it also clarifies the economic significance of the Trump presidency. It means that Trump will end up having played the same role in the transition out of neoliberalism that Jimmy Carter did in the transition out of New Deal corporatism and into neoliberalism. While Carter’s political enemies on the right have long preferred to cast him as the last of the perfidious and foolish New Deal Democrats before the arrival of Saint Ronnie, the truth is that many of the policies today associated with neoliberalism began under Jimmy Carter, including deregulation and the commitment to fighting inflation at any cost. Likewise, when future historians write about the transition out of neoliberalism, many will note that while the decisive break took place with the coming of the Biden administration, it was in fact under Trump that some of the key shifts began, including the embrace of deficit spending and the rejection of free trade.