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Crisis, Continuity and Change: Neoliberalism, the Left and the Future of Capitalism

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Abstract:  This essay's point of departure is the coincident economic and environmental “crises” of our time. I locate both in the dynamics of capital accumulation on a world-scale, drawing on the ideas of Marx, Karl Polanyi and James O’Connor. I ask whether the recent profusion of “crisis talk” in the public domain presents an opportunity for progressive new ideas to take hold now that “neoliberalism” has seemingly been de-legitimated. My answer is that a “post-neoliberal” future is probably a long way off. I make my case in two stages and at two geographical scales. First, I examine the British social formation as currently constituted and explain why even a leading neoliberal state is failing to reform its ways. Second, I then scale-up from the domestic level to international affairs. I examine cross-border emissions trading—arguably the policy tool for mitigating the very real prospects of significant climate change this century. The overall conclusion is this: even though the “first” and “second” contradictions of capital have manifested themselves together and at a global level, there are currently few prospects for systemic reform (never mind revolution) led by a new, twenty-first century “red-green” Left.

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