Francis Fukuyama: A return to the future
Francis Fukuyama in his new Foreign Affairs piece (no longer available for free) has held off positing for sure what the end of history will be (like he did back in 1989), instead plumping for situating a series of challenges that may knock off existing liberal democracy as it exists today.
In the piece he notes that the left, particularly in the US and Europe, have failed to hone in on where capitalism has seemingly failed us. Further, in the marketplace of ideas, where historically liberal democracy has come up trumps, business-as-usual is threatened, and that something new is needed because the sharp elbowed elites are knocking aside the middle classes worldwide.
For Fukuyama, the left have only really been able to make a case for an “unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy”. (Has the American academic not read In the Black Labour?). What he spends too little time doing, in this article at least, is understanding those movements that have not only challenged the staus quo by way of occupy movements, but also acknowledge how good the powers that be are at flogging what is essentially a dead horse, i.e. lightly regulated financial systems.
Further on this point, though he does at least tip his hat at mentioning those social conservatives who are also feeling the pinch, but would sooner cut their noses off than stand on the streets handing out leftist leaflets, he doesn’t make any effort to understand or acknowledge the capacity of conservative anti-capitalism – something very small at the moment, but which will play a part in the oncoming shift in the marketplace of ideas (at odds with the prevailing tea party movement).
On global challenges to western capitalism, Fukuyama mentions the two hot potatoes: China and Iran/ Saudi Arabia. With the latter, their rejection of liberal democracy is in turn a promotion of Islamic theocracy, but Fukuyama writes that off as a “dead end” model (neglecting to mention its global reach). China, for him, is the threat. Combining a partially marketised economy with an authoritarian government, the Chinese may have started touting their model as an alternative model to the American one, but it is a sub-model of capitalism. If anything the Chinese model is the one that sits at a dead end. As Fukuyama says himself, later on in the essay after some time to forget an obvious contradiction, “it is unlikely that a spreading middle class will behave all that differently in China from the way it has behaved in other parts of the world [and further] there is little chance that much of the world will look like today’s China 50 years down the road.”
The proof of the supremacy of western liberal democracy is not in the pudding, but in the eating. The pudding, here, is the Middle class, and for Fukuyama the bit that really provides the proof is that they are getting better off. Nobody can stop the middle class now. Fukuyama says:
Marx believed that the middle class, or at least the capital-owning slice of it that he called the bourgeoisie, would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies. What happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism.
This seems only to have posed a problem for socialism, if one’s socialist politics are predicated on the race to the bottom. Looking beyond the fact that Fukuyama seems to confuse the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie in the same paragraph (carelessly writing “middle class more generally”), there is more to the left wing challenge than simply saying we want to see a growth in how many people can call themselves middle class.
The gap between the rich and the poor in the US, where Fukuyama is, is growing rapidly. Recently the Congressional Budget Office said that the richest one per cent of the U.S. population saw its income jump 275% over the past three decades, while the poorest one-fifth gained just 18 per cent.
Furthermore, the “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show[ed that] the wealthiest one-tenth of U.S. society has an income 14 times the size of that of the poorest one-tenth.”
Closer to home in the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that “workers in the worst paid jobs – such as dinner ladies, hairdressers and waiters – have seen their pay fall sharply in real terms” and the “bottom tenth of earners saw their pay creep up just 0.1% between 2010 and 2011 while the top tenth saw their pay grow 18 times faster.”
Added to that, on a global scale, tax evasion accounts for more than $3 trillion, or about five per cent of, world gross domestic product, and the UK is losing £69.9bn a year to tax evaders.
Real incomes of the middle classes will stagnate, too.
As is typical of Fukuyama, his latest piece is bluster. Of course, he is correct to say the left haven’t acted on this global crisis, but before posing his ultimate question – what is there in the wings that can save us today? – he denounces socialism, as he always does. I say, there is nowhere else to turn but socialism.