To find insights into how the current crisis might connect to these longer-term trends we need to look not to Marx, Keynes or Hayek but to the work of Carlota Perez, a Venezuelan economist whose writings are attracting growing attention.
Perez is a scholar of the long-term patterns of technological change. One implication of Perez’s work, and of Joseph Schumpeter’s before her, is that some of the old has to be swept away before the new can find its most successful forms. Propping up failing industries is in this light a risky policy. Perez suggests that we may be on the verge of another great period of institutional innovation and experiment that will lead to new compromises between the claims of capital and the claims of society and of nature.
If another great accommodation is on its way, this one will be shaped by the triple pressures of ecology, globalisation and demographics.
Obama should be ideally suited to offering a new vision, yet has surrounded himself with champions of the very system that now appears to be crumbling.
The result is that a large political space is opening up. In the short run it is being filled with anger, fear and confusion. In the longer run it may be filled with a new vision of capitalism, and its relationship to both society and ecology, a vision that will be clearer about what we want to grow and what we don’t.
We need to rekindle our capacity to imagine, and to see through the still-gathering storm to what lies beyond.
When an entirely new and untried political project is sprung upon the people, they are startled, anxious, timid, and for a time they are mute, reserved, noncommittal. The great majority of them are not studying the new doctrine and making up their minds about it, they are waiting to see which is going to be the popular side.
It is desire to be in the swim that makes political parties.