Neoliberalism died today. Its passing occurred the moment Trump became the president of the United States.
Neoliberalism didn’t begin with Ronald Reagan (US) and Margaret Thatcher (UK), leaders on the right, but with their respective predecessors, Jimmy Carter (US) and James Callaghan (UK), leaders on the left.
Carter’s appointment of Paul Volcker to chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1979 can be seen as the official start of neoliberalism (otherwise known as globalization).
With Volcker, the importance of full employment, with all of its problems, was displaced by inflation targets and managing the price of money. This system was thrown into confusion by the crash of 2008. It has never recovered.
Obama is the last neoliberal president.
But how is Obama a neoliberal, and Trump not?
This distinction exposes what neoliberalism’s leftist critics failed to properly understand and address: its commitment to cosmopolitan values.
Though its pro-market economics could be expressed in racial terms in a society that had a history of racism, neoliberalism was not, in spirit, racist. It just manifested in racist ways because of income inequality, privatization of public services, and the replacement of welfare with mass incarceration.
But the left never properly appreciated this complicated picture. And, so we had a black president and said, at the same time, that the economy, organized around the principles of neoliberalism, was still racist. But it was not so simple.
Being against racism is not the same as being against neoliberalism: one of the leading figures of Black Lives Matter (the most progressive black movement of this generation), DeRay Mckesson, is a neoliberal.
Cosmopolitanism and tolerance exposed neoliberalism to real leftist programs aligned with working-class struggles—especially, civil rights, which Trump and his like, attacked as "identity politics." Neoliberalism failed to resolve this and other contradictions, and as a result, rural principles and urban principles grown further and further apart. They will soon be completely different animals.
This separation between rural and urban principles is why we have Trump today.
Why can’t neoliberalism convert to a form of Trumpism? Because it's a world system whose processes of accumulation and wealth creation do not just depend on cheap labor (Marx), but heavily on experts (Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello). This is the city you see rising around you in Seattle where, for example, some of city’s experts have started a news site, Presterity, for the sole purpose of fact-checking Trump.
My point: These experts, who tend to be white, have increasingly aligned their votes with urban working-class minorities. As the Obama years passed, the alliance actually strengthened and began to threaten the core concerns of neoliberalism. Democracy has become louder.
Bernie Sanders is the living expression of these demands. He is hugely popular with urban experts. This rising democratization of cities combined with the loss of legitimacy of markets after the 2008 crash proved to be fatal for neoliberalism. (Globalization after neoliberalism will locate its capital in Berlin, which may have to consider switching its 40-year social market and ordoliberal policies for an openly socialist one to keep the Eurozone from collapsing.)
What to expect now? In a planet of cities, neoliberalism will be converted into an urban social democracy. The world system will still depend on experts who, it must be noted, are not as greedy as the one percent.
Trumpism will not resolve the problem that neoliberalism tried fix when Carter was president: falling or low profits. Trump will, however, reduce the GOP base, which is rural, to a form of capitalism that existed before 1914, before capitalism was devastated by two wars and the 1929 market crash. This was a capitalism without a middle class.
Trumpism will not live as long as neoliberalism; but what will come after this new disaster?