A good month for neoliberalism

It hasn’t been a great year for neoliberalism, which is a word that I am determined to appropriate (like a modern suffragette, without the violence). Donald Trump and Brexit (at least, if it was down to anti-immigrant sentiment, which I'm not sure about) both make it look as if the pendulum is swinging away from pro-market globalism. But September has been quite a good month for neoliberalism.

  1. The Resolution Foundation’s examination of the famous “elephant curve”, which was thought to show that global growth had mostly passed the West’s working- and middle-classes by between 1988 and 2008. It turns out that the seeming lack of growth is an artefact of population shrinkage in Japan and post-Soviet states. If you remove them from the data, income for all groups has risen very healthily across the Western world, especially for the bottom 10% in Britain. Nice one.
  2. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s full-throated defence of free trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal that would bring more countries into the global liberal trading order, and be a huge boon to the poor in places like Vietnam. TPP has taken flak from both Clinton and Trump during the campaign (though Gary Johnson supports it) but it may end up being passed in the lame-duck Congressional session between the election and the inauguration – a way of passing it that won't be electorally catastrophic for those involved.
  3. The news that US household income grew by 5.2 percent in 2015, after years of post-crisis sluggishness. That was the largest single-year rise since records began in the 1960s, and though we can't read too much into single year rises (or falls), many people do – and this is a sign that the Western neoliberal model of relatively low regulation, low market interventions and low taxes might not be quite as useless as some of those people think. 
  4. Lots and lots of banks and other forecasters are revising their UK growth estimates upwards, as the UK economy looks more resilient than we thought. Brexit hasn’t happened yet, and we don’t know what exactly it will look like, but all the hard data we’ve seen so far has been fairly positive. If a big shock was expected we should have been seeing investment and consumption both begin drop straight after the referendum. Maybe becoming a North Sea Singapore really is on the cards for Britain.
  5. Italy’s populist, anti-trade Five Star movement may be facing decline after a long period of rising support. Its candidate was elected mayor of Rome earlier this year, and she has been a disaster – garbage is piling up in the streets and she has “faced the resignations of four top officials, an ongoing scandal about the sanitation chief she chose to clean up the city, and accusations of being a hapless tool of party leaders”. Darn it – looks like electing incompetent populists has its price!

I’m not trying to be panglossian. I’ll be depressed if Donald Trump wins the US election, and only slightly less depressed if Hillary does. Much of the above could evaporate quite quickly. But it does seem as if there’s some fight left in neoliberalism yet.