Avner Offer and Gabriel Söderberg (“The Nobel factor: the prize in economics, social democracy and the market turn”) look at the strange death of social democracy at the hands of market liberalism. That death was accelerated by the role of the Nobel prize in economics that conferred to economics an allure of science and that was used to much greater profit by neoliberal economists to push for their version of economic policies.The difference between social democracy and market liberalism can be summarized as a difference in approach.
Offer and Söderberg define social democracy as a continuation of Enlightenment: from equality before God to equality before law, to equality between men and women and races, to equality of entitlements between citizens. Since each citizen goes through periods of dependency (as a child, as a mother, as unemployed, or as an old person) when he/she cannot earn an income, he has to depend on transfers from the working age population. This life-cycle pattern is shared by all, and thus society, in a form of social insurance, sets a system that provides redistribution from the earners to the dependents.
How does market liberalism solves the life-cycle problem? By positing that everyone is a free agent with his endowments of capital and labor. When he cannot work, he uses the proceeds from his capital (assuming of course that he originally either inherited or saved enough wealth to have a capital). It is not a “society” in a true sense of the word, but a group of “agents” who manage own income over the life-cycle. Since returns are to one’s ownership of labor and capital and there is no redistribution, it is a “just world” society where one gets back what he has put in, and where income inequality is never an issue—precisely because income is exactly proportional to one’s contributions.
These are indeed two different views of the world. As Offer and Söderberg write, social democratic view was extremely successful empirically but was not theoretically worked out much by economists. The neoliberal view has exactly the reverse characteristics: empirically it was not much of a success (look at private pension schemes in Chile), but economists have extensively worked on it theoretically…
Market liberalism assumes methodological individualism based on ontological individualism, so that economics can be pursued as an autonomous discipline.
Social democracy assumes that individuals are embedded in social systems, one aspect of which is economic.
Perhaps the most telling difference is that market liberalism assumes that efficiency and economic growth are the chief criteria of economics. Economic" has come to mean efficient.
Social democracy, being based on systems thinking, posits that overall effectiveness of the system in accomplishing its social, political and economic goals is of a higher priority than economic growth and economic efficiency, and that economic efficiency must be brought into balance with systemic resilience.
A chief problem with theoretical economics based on the methodological choices of market liberalism is that the necessity for restrictive assumptions makes much of the theory inappropriate for informing policy.
A second issue is that market liberalism does not consider policy goals but assumes that market efficiency leads to systemic optimization in all major respects, which goes illogically beyond the assumptions and data.
Social democracy begins with desired outcomes and seeks to achieve those outcomes based on historical experience and evidence provided by data as well as social, political and economic theory.
The question of return implies that the answer is historical. History is dialectical, proceeding experimentally and adapting to emergence. There is no categorical "end of history." While history does not repeat itself it does rhyme in the sense that experiment draws on experience.
The dialectical nature of both experience and history is that when one position is posited, its complement, although excluded, is necessarily included as a potential. As anomalies arise with a particular view, since no view is can be a comprehensive account owing to emergence, the complement is called forth as opposing views. The human experiment is never complete.
For example, market liberalism is a political stance that equate political liberalism with economic liberalism.
Social democracy views economic liberalism as only one aspect of liberalism along with social and political liberalism. The challenge is to harmonize this trifecta by acknowledging its paradoxes as they arise and transcending them by innovating the system.
The rest of the post examines how an interest elite intentionally conflated economic liberalism with political liberalism., for example, through by establishing the "Nobel prize in economics."
Milanovic then posits what he views as the four major challenges to the return of social democracy.
I view such challenges to the return of social democracy as it formerly existed as examples of emergence. The next stage of the experiment will not be a return to the past but rather drawing on the past while innovating in order to surpass the deficiencies of the present approach.
MMT speaks to this economically and socially in terms of macroeconomic theory and policy formulation based on the fiscal space that the current monetary system provides to address overcapacity owning to demand deficiency in a market-based world.
These, and perhaps a few other, elements seem to me to imply that a return to the Golden Age of social democracy is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, there is a realization of inadequacy of the neoliberal model that bequeathed a huge crisis (which did not turn into another Great Depression precisely because the key rules of neoliberalism were abandoned in order to save the system). As many times in history, we are now at the point where neither of the two established doctrines seems to provide reasonable answers to today’s issues. That leaves the field open to new thinking and experimentation.Global Inequality
Will social democracy return? A review of Offer and Söderberg
Branko Milanovic | Visiting Presidential Professor at City University of New York Graduate Center and senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), and formerly lead economist in the World Bank's research department and senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace