Dystopian Dream Girl

I meant to flag this a few days ago, but Michael Lind penned a few truly disturbing predictions for TNR in the wake of the bailout (emphases mine):

In democracies, temporary spending programs tend to become permanent, so the “normal” government share of GDP in the U.S. may rise to 35 or even 40 percent. This will not be the end of the world, but it will be the end of America’s small-government exceptionalism.

Another likely consequence is a shift of welfare benefits onto business. Confronted with a national debt that may exceed GDP, Congress will avoid creating expensive new social programs. Instead, politicians may use unfunded mandates or tax credits to pressure corporations into doing the job of the welfare state.

The results of this predicted realignment promise to combine all the worst features of mid-century Leftism and the modern GOP:

The U.S. economy a decade from now may be dominated by a few huge universal banks and a small number of gigantic corporations, all of them “too big to fail.” In return for implicit government bail-out guarantees, these swollen private-sector Leviathans will abandon “greed is good” rhetoric for noble sentiments about corporate responsibility. The emerging system might be called “lemon corporatism.” A managerial state dominated by oligopolies and monopolies, where government encourages employer paternalism as an alternative to public welfare spending, would resemble contemporary Japan and the dystopian America of “Rollerball.”

Barring new, unavoidable conflicts, the Pentagon is also likely to be downsized, following the reduction of the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. will remain the leading great power, but there will be no new American century, nor will Europe, hit even worse than the U.S., be a plausible partner in a Pax Atlantica. As in the 1970s, the U.S. will find itself in a multipolar world, struggling in both the commercial and the military arenas.

Something similar was suggested by National Review’s Robert Conquest in 2000:

In any case, at the political level, we see a meld of state and capitalist bureaucracies into something resembling a corporatist society. And it may be noted that this type of corporatism, with a capitalist element merged into (and controlled by) the state machine, is the sort of order that seems to be emerging in China. If so, we see an aberrant and paradoxical confirmation of the old “convergence” theory advanced by John Kenneth Galbraith and others. Such a corporatism, if established in Western societies, is bound to lead to a degeneration of democratic habits, civic relations, and, in the long run, mental independence, and so to an inability to cope with world or other problems.

Incidentally, I part ways with Lind on his predictions of American military decline. In a relative sense, the emergence of powerful strategic competitors could reduce the United States’ global influence, but I find it very difficult to imagine either party challenging the military-industrial complex. Obama is widely-derided as the most liberal presidential nominee in recent memory, but he’s done nothing to reduce our absurd defense expenditures, and his vision of the United States’ foreign policy is also quite expansive. Instead of cutting military spending, our political class will probably use their incestuous relationship with the defense industry as a template for “reforming” the rest of the economy.

Per Conquest, a corporatist approach to governance and social welfare will erode popular accountability on a massive scale. The results of the bailout debacle presage an elite consensus that is particularly damaging participatory democracy. Rule by technocrats and insiders will become the only way to plausibly navigate our Byzantine web of private sector institutions and public sector regulations. Much of this will take place at the transnational level – just now we’ve learned that the United States and Europe are considering massive cash infusions in return for nationalization “partial ownership stakes” in several major banks. The exigencies of the situation, we’re told, foreclose the possibility of careful deliberation. We must sit back quietly while the experts determine the best course of action. Things are simply too complicated for the voters to get involved.

None of this is entirely unprecedented, but Lind’s vision of the future is downright frightening. I’m not sure how any democracy can survive when its citizens are shut out of the deliberative process.

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Filed under Economics, Participatory Democracy

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