Examining Neoliberalism’s Role in Modern Far-Right Politics

The world is seeing a rise in far-right politics, from Italy, to France, to Brexit, to President Trump. So, how did we get here? And, where exactly are we? Is this authoritarianism, fascism, populism, or something else? These are the questions political theorist Wendy Brown addresses in her talk, Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail: Markets and Morals Where Democracy Once Was.

Brown begins by outlining what she sees as the classical liberal thinking on the subject. The story goes like this: neoliberal economic policies devastated rural and suburban areas taking away decent jobs, pensions, schools, services and infrastructure as social spending dried up, and capital began to chase cheap labor and tax havens in the global south. At the same time, a cultural gap grew between those rural and suburban communities, and urban centers. Rural families were alienated, left behind, and felt like strangers in their own land. This feeling was coupled with enduring racism as immigrant communities transformed some suburban neighborhoods and the politics of equality appeared to the uneducated white male, to favor everyone but him.

Brown says that story is incomplete. She argues it fails to address a key component of neoliberalism: the idea that society and robust democracy disrupt the natural hierarchy of markets and traditional morals. Brown argues that classical neoliberalism seeks to disintegrate society and universal suffrage, leading to a world where those who were historically dominant – the white male in particular – feel that dominance fade. What is left, are feelings of rage and resentment. Brown imagines two possible futures for those feelings, one bleaker than the next. First, she describes world in which politics are based solely on spite and revenge. The second option? A reversal of values, where those who have lost the world they feel historically entitled to seek to destroy it. But, she leaves some room for hope if humanity can draw deeply from our imaginations, courage and grit.

Watch Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail: Markets and Morals Where Democracy Once Was

Working with Artificial Intelligence to Keep Americans Employed

We have all heard the dire warnings. Artificial intelligence is predicted to decimate job sectors already hit hard by outsourcing. Some studies suggest up to half of all work could be automated by 2030. That means factory workers, drivers, even some accountants may find themselves without a job.

Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, knows the pain of job-loss all too well. She witnessed the closing of factories in towns like Greenville, where three thousand of the town’s eight thousand residents worked at the same plant. But, Granholm remains optimistic about the future of employment in the United States. She believes we can make artificial intelligence work for us, not against us.

Granholm uses the autonomous vehicle as one example. While the technology could put five million drivers out of work, it could also create millions of new jobs. We could see the rise of new industries such as mobile motels, or pop-up shops. Driverless cars could eliminate the need for massive parking lots, creating space for affordable housing. But, new industries require a workforce with new skills.

Granholm has five suggestions for creating that workforce. Three of those suggestions focus on investment in training, including apprenticeships and internships. She suggests diverting funds currently used to subsidize unemployment. She also says we need to come up with a way to create portable benefits for people with alternative jobs, such as Uber drivers and other app-based workers. The final suggestion: pay people for their data. Granholm says the tech sector is making billions off our personal information, and there may be a way to share that wealth.

Watch Shaping a 21st Century Workforce – Is AI Friend or Foe?

Looking Toward 2020 with Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

Willie Brown has spent his life in public service. He served over 30 years in the California State Assembly – 15 of those years as Speaker – before becoming the first African American mayor of San Francisco. For the past 10 years, he’s been writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle on politics, movies, art, and anything else on his mind. When he took the podium at the Goldman School of Public Policy recently, he touched on lessons from all those experiences. But, his main focus was the 2018 midterms and the upcoming general election.

Brown began by looking back to 2016, explaining why he predicted Donald Trump would win the presidency. Brown, a lifelong Democrat and friend of Hillary Clinton, says Clinton could have been one of the best presidents in history. But, Brown knew that Trump had the skill and ability to connect with voters in a way Clinton could not. Brown also traces Clinton’s loss across several election cycles, when Democrats lost the House and the Senate during the Obama years.

Trump’s victory however, could be the key to the Democratic Party’s recovery, Brown says. He says Trump has failed to build a coalition beyond his core supporters that voted him into office. That helped Democrats win in states like Michigan and Wisconsin in 2018, where Clinton lost in 2016. Brown also credits Nancy Pelosi with organizing the party to help take back the House. But, in order to keep that momentum going and defeat President Trump in 2020, Brown says Democrats have to identify a strong candidate with the same ability to move voters. He says there are three strong options from California, and one in particular he hopes to see on the ballot.

Watch The Honorable Willie Brown on the 2018 Midterms and Strategy for 2020

Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth

Myths symbolize ideas, values, history and other issues that are important to a people. They may be true or false, mundane or fantastic; their significance is their meaning, not their narrative content.

Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. Its conclusions tentatively may be true or false, but its significance is its explanatory power: one has confidence in the process of science, even though some explanations change over time.

Myth and science thus seem very different, but each has been utilized by proponents of both sides of the Christian creationism and evolution controversy. Understanding this role is essential in comprehending (much less mediating) this persistent conflict.

Eugenie C. Scott served as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an organization that works to keep publicly (though not scientifically) controversial topics like evolution and climate change in the public schools. Her work has involved a mixture of science, communication, religion, education, law, and community activism.

Watch Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth

Why Do People Reject Good Science?

Many people will consider factual information and it will change their understanding. But there are some for whom, “Providing more, accurate information doesn’t seem to change their opinions or make them alter their erroneous views,” says Eugenie Scott, Founding Executive Director of National Center for Science Education. For example, Americans have a much lower incidence of acceptance of evolution than people in any other developed country in the world. The same is true about the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, despite the scientific evidence for both.

What explains this knowledge resistance?

We all view factual information through a filter of ideology, values, and group identification but these filters often make ideas very resistant to change because they prevent us from looking dispassionately at empirical evidence, facts and logic. Scott explores what drives knowledge resistance and what can break it down.

Eugenie C. Scott served as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an organization that works to keep publicly (though not scientifically) controversial topics like evolution and climate change in the public schools. Her work has involved a mixture of science, communication, religion, education, law, and community activism.

Watch Why Do People Reject Good Science?