Academic journal article Theory in Action

Towards a Case for a Second American Revolution

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Towards a Case for a Second American Revolution

Article excerpt


"I think it must also be admitted that there are cases in which revolution is justifiable"

- Bertrand Russell, 1949


Historical context - As a comparatively young nation, the United States has been through many important developments since independence was first declared in 1776. Since then the colonies won a revolutionary war against Britain, ratified a new constitution, fought a civil war and abolished chattel slavery, extended its territory to the Pacific Ocean, expanded the right to vote, underwent an industrial revolution, took on corporate monopolies and political machines during the progressive-populist era, experienced the 'Roaring Twenties' followed by the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, and fought in two World Wars before emerging as the most powerful country on earth.

U.S. international relations in the decades following World War II were largely overshadowed by the Cold War. Prominent institutions during the post-war era include the Bretton Woods international agreement, the gold monetary standard, Keynesian economic policies, a mixed economy (notably in Britain) and the Glass-Steagall firewall separating commercial from investment banking. The post-war era in the United States has come to be known as the 'golden age of capitalism' characterized by egalitarian income growth coupled with high levels of financial-sector stability.

However, a constellation of events in the 1970s-the breakdown of the Bretton Woods international monetary order, rising inflation and unemployment, stagnating economic growth, and two major oil shocks- set the stage for a major paradigm shift towards the era of neoliberal globalization. In theory, neoliberal ideology is characterized by the doctrine of neoclassical supply-side economics and its various policy objectives: privatization of state-owned assets and social services, liberalization of trade and finance, deregulation of business activity, the weakening of labor unions, and the minimization of macroeconomic imbalances such as inflation, debt and deficits.

Early signs of the onset of neoliberalism can be found in events such as the early assault on California's system of higher education by then governor Ronald Reagan, the rise of Pinochet in Chile in 1973 and the passage of Proposition 13 in California in 1978. However, the election of British premier Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and U.S. president Ronald Reagan in 1980 set the stage for a definitive paradigm shift towards neoliberalism (Levy, Kagan & Zysman 1997; Campbell 1998; Sisson & Hartmann 2014, 220).

Backed by the Washington Consensus, neoliberalism became a globally dominant economic system, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. During the neoliberal era, the IMF and World Bank, using structural adjustment loans and abutted by various forms of U.S. intervention and diplomatic pressure, were able to pressure many developing countries to adopt neoliberal policies. Meanwhile, global competition has pressured many countries in the developed world to adopt neoliberal reforms as well, although the extent to which European and Japanese capitalism is converging on the more liberal variety practiced in the U.S. and Britain has been the subject of ongoing debate among comparative political economists.

Critical juncture - The era of neoliberalism coincided with many years of economic growth in the United States and in several regions of the developing world, especially Asia. Despite this, in the United States and beyond an extensive list of policy problems (enumerated below) have become increasingly apparent. Indeed, one can reasonably posit that the United States today stands at a critical juncture in its historical development, a situation itself embedded in a larger global critical juncture. For instance, referring to the current global ecological crisis, political scientist Manfred Steger observes, "Humanity has reached yet another critical juncture-the most important in the relatively short existence of our species" (Steger 2013, 136). …

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