2 Trump 2 Neoliberalism

At New APPS, Gordon Hull has a good response to my post on Trump and neoliberalism, where he argues that Trump can be construed as broadly neoliberal due to his emphasis on branding and competition. There is nothing in the post that I would strongly dispute, and I think that in part it’s a terminological question. Certainly I wouldn’t claim that Trumpism is intellectually robust enough to constitute a radical break with the logic of neoliberalism, so I can understand calling him a mutation rather than something else. When I said that Trump personally isn’t neoliberal, I meant that he’s basically too ignorant to be a principled, self-conscious neoliberal, which does not exclude him being shaped by neoliberalism in the ways Hull lists.

As I ponder Trump’s infrastructure plan, which Krugman critiqued yesterday, I think that we could say that Trumpism is where neoliberalism shades over into open corruption. It always looks like corruption, but Trump’s vision takes the “public-private partnership” to a new level in terms of supporing rent-extraction by wealthy capitalists. That makes sense once you realize that Trump is basically nothing but a corrupt property developer, and if Trumpism’s corruption produces a public outcry while (as is likely) failing to deliver the promised economic boom, that does increase the likelihood of a return to “normal” neoliberalism if no serious left option is on the table.

The problem, as I see it, is that at a conceptual level, all the options for managing capitalism have been done. Whether we’re talking about Keynesianism, neoliberalism, or outright “crony capitalism” — which were all conveniently personified in this election by Sanders, Clinton, and Trump, respectively — all of them are models that presume that capitalist accumulation will be taking place and use specific strategies to promote it while redirecting the proceeds in some way. Capitalist accumulation is a very powerful engine for creating material plenty and technological progress, but we are increasingly reaching the point of diminishing returns when it comes to just letting the thing run and using its leftovers for socially important goals. The undiscovered country is a model that would actually direct production, that would determine that certain things need to happen regardless of whether surplus value can be extracted from them.

5 thoughts on “2 Trump 2 Neoliberalism

  1. Recalling some of your previous blogposts, is China an example of this undiscovered country? …just riding out the engine of capitalist accumulation since the 1970s?

  2. I’m not sure what China’s long-term goals are anymore, nor if they are sure themselves. Something like socialist planning would be the undiscovered country. The biggest long-term experiment with it delivered mixed results, but then our current trajectory of just letting capitalism run indefinitely leads to the extinction of humanity. Might be worth a shot.

  3. Do you think that Trump not being ‘intellectually robust enough’ will mean that he is unable to meet the demand of his supporters, who along the lines of your previous post, are advocating a new relationship between race/nationality and the economy?

  4. I’ll post a a reply post at some point when I catch up from Thanksgiving – but yes, I think you’re onto something very important on the loss of distinction between “neoliberalism” and “crony capitalism.” Trump clearly embodies the latter, and his infrastructure project suggests that he’s managed to already blur the line between them.

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