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Are we living in late capitalism?

The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties by Paul Collier, Harper, US $29.99, Pp 248, December 2018, ISBN 978-0062748652

Every time capitalism faces a serious crisis, economists and philosophers have been wondering if capitalism would survive or reinvent itself to survive in a different shape. Capitalism and social democracy are once again facing a serious crisis in the developed world. We are again speculating about the future of capitalism. In The Future of Capitalism, Paul Collier discusses the current crises of capitalism and social democracy and tries to speculate on their future. Collier says that deep rifts are tearing apart the fabric of capitalist societies. This is bringing new anxieties and new anger to the people, and new passions to our politics. The social bases of these anxieties are geographic, educational and moral. It is the regions rebelling against the metropolis; northern England versus London; the heartlands vs the coasts. It is the less educated rebelling against the more educated. It is the struggling workers rebelling against the ‘scroungers’ and ‘rent-seekers.’ Collier argues, “The less-educated, toiling provincial has replaced the working class as the revolutionary force in society; the sans-culotte replaced by the sans-cools.”

Paul Collier says that the old ideologies have promptly answered these anxieties, returning us to the “stale and abusive confrontation” of left and right. An ideology offers an attractive combination of easy moral certainties and an all-purpose analysis, providing a confident reply to any problem. The revived ideologies of nineteenth-century Marxism, twentieth-century fascism and seventeenth-century religious fundamentalism have all already lured societies into tragedy. Collier argues because the ideologies failed, they lost most of their adherents, and so few ideologue politicians were available to lead this revival. Those who belonged to tiny residue organizations: people with a taste for the paranoid psychology of the cult, and too blinkered to face the reality of past failure. In the decade preceding the collapse of communism in 1989, the remaining Marxists thought they were living in ‘late Capitalism.’ The public memory of that collapse has now receded sufficiently to support a revival.

Social democracy as a political force is now facing an existential crisis. The last decade has been a roll-call of disasters. Collier says, on the center-left, mauled by Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton lost against Donald Trump; the Blair-Brown British Labor Party has been taken over by the Marxists. In France, President Hollande decided not even to seek a second term, and his replacement as the Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, crashed out with merely 8 percent of the vote. The Social Democrat parties of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain have all seen their vote collapse. This would normally have been good news for the politicians of the center-right, yet in Britain and America, they too have been lost control of their parties, while in Germany and France their electoral support has collapsed. Collier says that it happened because the social democrats of the left and right each drifted away from their origins in the practical reciprocity of communities, and became captured by an entirely different group of people who became disproportionately influential: middle-class intellectuals.

Faced with the new anxieties, it should be evident that the pertinent economic menace is the new and virulent divergent in geographic and class fortunes. Faced with the rise of extremist religious and ideological identities, it should be evident that the pertinent social menace is the fragmentation into oppositional identities sustained by the echo-chambers of social media. Collier says that after Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump it should be evident that the pertinent political menace is exclusionary nationalism. By eschewing shared belonging, and the benign patriotism that it can support, liberals have abandoned the only force capable of uniting our societies behind remedies. Inadvertently, recklessly, they have handed it to the charlatan extremes, which are gleefully twisting it to their own warped purposes.

The Future of Capitalism tells us what is wrong with the contemporary version of capitalism and how it can be fixed. With his impeccable scholarly credentials as an economist, Paul Collier dissects the crises of capitalism and social democracy. It is packed with creative proposals to help capitalism reinvent itself and save social democracy in the age of Brexit and President Trump. Paul Collier is a powerful voice to revamp the global political and economic system before it collapses. This can be done by restoring a moral sensibility to the current version of capitalism. It is a well-researched and brilliantly-argued book. It is a compelling and must-read book to understand the current global political and economic system.

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