How to understand the time we are living through

Allan Larsson

Abstract


The article seeks to understand the long wave of neoliberal economic policies over the last thirty years and its impact on social conditions and the political situation in the West. The financial crisis of 2007-8 marks the end of this long wave, when some of the basic theories imploded, particularly the  financial deregulation and the trickle down theories. The end of this wave opened an “empty room”, a period without direction and destiny. Governments and political leaders have been stuck in “unfettered globalization” and austerity policies, unprepared to present new policies for widely shared prosperity. The insecurity and the growing inequalities have been exploited by political forces inside and outside the leading political parties, offering simple solutions in the form of building walls and “taking back control”. Thus, in the absence of a strong progressive policy response from the established parties, the “empty room” has become “an explosive empty room” of neo-nationalism and regressive policies.

While our societies have moved to the right in terms of economic and social policy, they have moved left in terms of values such as gender equality and individual rights. A combination of economic stagnation and social decline, “insecurity in times of change”, and progress in civil rights and gender equality, has triggered the kind of political and populist revolts that we now see in the US and in many parts of Europe, exploited by conservatives and far-right parties. This can be described as “discontent of declining expectations”. Democracy and democratic institutions are at risk.


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