The slouch towards dystopia will continue in 2013, predicts Chris Bertram, as neither the economic crisis nor the developing climate catastrophe will be addressed. Part of our series of short contributions from figures on the left looking to the year ahead.
2013 will be shaped by the economic and fiscal crisis in both the Europe and the United States and the developing ecological catastrophe. Mainstream politicians will pay mere lip service to addressing the latter whilst offering variants on the neoliberal project for the former. The dominance of the neoliberal project makes it almost impossible to address problems like climate change, since it depends on promising a world with greater and increasingly individualized consumption. Faced with a choice between shifting to a different model or developing damaging technologies like fracking that can keep business-as-usual running for a bit longer (and promise growth and jobs in the interim), political leaders will opt for the second. This involves a squeeze on consumption for some in the developed world, but politicians will assert that if people just work harder and longer and endure austerity, renewed long-term growth and prosperity will come.
As in a house being eaten away by termites, life can carry on "normally" until the moment when the floorboards give way. Though 2012 saw some serious climate events—droughts in the U.S. and torrential rain in parts of Western Europe—we can never know whether 2013 will see some decisive eruption of the natural order into the social cocoon. At present, the higher food prices predicted for 2013 don't seem to have materialized, though they remain at historically high levels. But making ends meet is going to continue to be difficult for millions for whom food is the biggest part of the household budget, especially since the price of basic foodstuffs (unlike services or manufactured goods) varies little between poor and rich countries.
Expect, then, increased but often chaotic responses by stressed populations to the combined economic and ecological crisis, responses met by yet more dogmatic assertions of the neoliberal model by political leaders. Expect also violence, where required, to contain the immediate discontent and an emphasis on "security" and borders: blame the foreigners, blame the immigrants, but don't question the model. Expect right-wing nationalists to profit from ill-directed discontent. Do not expect anyone in the political mainstream -- least of all Eds Miliband and Balls -- to do other than pretend that things could be made better if only they were setting the budget. And sadly, don't expect there to be a ready mass audience for an egalitarian, green and internationalist alternative. At least not yet.
Chris Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He blogs at Crooked Timber and is the author of Rousseau and the Social Contact.