Most people, including me, would date the origin of leftism’s link to neoliberalism to the alliance of Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin in the early 1990’s. However in this Atlantic piece, Matt Stoller dates it much earlier, to the early 1970’s.
Liberalism came to mean something a lot different in the 1960’s than it had before. Leftists had always been in favor of protecting the lower classes economically. But as the 20th century went by, they became more and more concerned with what have to be considered moral issues, although they weren’t always framed as such.
Civil rights was sometimes presented as a matter of good governance, the full participation of citizens, but was mostly presented as a matter of morality. The Vietnam War was sometimes presented as a bad policy choice, but was usually criticized as just evil. Sexual liberation, from contraception to the decriminalization of homosexuality, was sometimes a libertarian issue of maximum personal freedom but was usually presented as a moral necessity.
Affluent people slowly went from being businessmen who were mostly interested in making money to professionals who were in the business of telling people how to behave. Widespread prosperity meant the working class didn’t need much help, so economic issues became almost irrelevant by the end of the Vietnam War.
At the same time though their increasing affluence made progressive professionals see things like libertarian businessmen- the economy should be free, to serve them.
Jimmy Carter was the most annoyingly moralistic man to be President, and his record is regarded poorly by most. A journalist who worked for him, James Fallows, posted a thread on Twitter recently listing Carter’s accomplishments.
What they were, were things like appointing Paul Volcker to the Fed chairmanship- the first monetarist in the job, who crushed inflation by crushing the economy- and airline deregulation. I can’t find the thread and don’t remember the complete list, but it was all neoliberal economic policy.
This seems strange for a liberal, but this economic consensus was there before Ronald Reagan, and he only pushed it a little farther.
So for decades liberals have been forcing the problems created by one bad group or another down our throats, while laughing all the way to the bank. But what can’t go on forever, won’t go on forever. They have run out of victims to bother us with- people can stomach gays, but not transexuals, and are long past tired of blacks. “Free market” policies that benefit only the rich have also reached their logical end, since people are now too broke to buy anything.
The next left will be economic and only as rainbow-colored as it has to be. Wall Street will not call the shots any more. The age of bourgeois liberalism is over.