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.