Edward Luce – The Retreat of Western Liberalism

Chapter One: Fusion

  • Since 2009, the US economy expanded by 2% a year. Yet it took until 2015 for the median income to regain the level it enjoyed before the Great Recession.The median income in 2007 was below what it was in 2002, at the start of the business cycle that lasted for most of G.W.Bush’s presidency. What is good for Apple may not be good for America. The Bush expansion was the first on record where middle-class incomes were lower at the end of it than at the start.
  • Daniel Bell: “Economic growth has become the secular religion of advancing industrial societies.” He was right. It follows that in its absence, many people lapse into the equivalent of atheism.
  • Tyler Cowen: “We are using the acceleration of information transmission to decelerate changes in our physical world.” The biggest ‘ideological carriers’ of the new complacency are the millennials – [they] are the least angry generation in society.
  • In the US, the more liberal a city’s politics, the higher the rate of inequality.
  • Europe and America’s populist right wants to turn the clock back to the days when men were men and the West ruled. It is prepared to sacrifice the gains of globalisation to protect jobs that have already vanished. Populists have little to say about automation, though it is a far larger threat to people’s jobs than trade.

Chapter Two: Reaction

  • It is no accident that the heyday of stable Western party politics coincided with the post-war golden decades of the rising middle and working classes. Starting with the Third Way in the 1990s, voters ceased on any real scale to participate in the political process: instead they become consumers. The new left’s chosen politics was a form of anti-politics in which ‘whatever works’ had apparently replaced ideology. All of which would have been fine if the blue-collar classes had disappeared. The left-behinds looked more numerous than the cosmopolitans had supposed.
  • The populist right only began to do really well at the ballot box after they began to steal the left’s clothes. Populists broke with centre-right orthodoxy to argue in favour of a government safety net. Donald Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee to promise to increase spending on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
  • (One Dutch scholar) Western populism is an ‘illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism.
  • Evgeny Morozov: sometimes the illusion of freedom is all people need.

Chapter Three: Fallout

  • Kissinger: Both the US and China see themselves as exceptional. But China has rarely sought to export its model by force or colonise other lands
  • In the late Soviet era, no one believed in communism any more but they were forced to carry on their lives as if they did. Now they live in a society of simulations in which the pretence of democracy has replaced that old set of beliefs
  • America’s democracy has been linked to its foreign policy. Even where it proved hypocritical, the idea of America proved greater than its faults. Trump is inverting that link

Chapter Four: Half Life

  • Most of the West is moving either towards populism or plutocracy. The US is falling into a kind of hybrid pluto-populism that looks increasingly Latin American. Trump’s plans to deregulate Wall Street are a perfect illustration. In the meantime, he plans to satisfy the populist urge by demonising illegal immigrants and Muslims

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