Jacobin Italia propone un’intervista – pubblicata originariamente su Jacobin Magazine – all’economista studioso delle disuguaglianze Branko Milanovic, autore del saggio Capitalismo contro capitalismo.
When it comes to the reduction of inequality, I think what played a role was the realization by the capitalist class — or what people call the bourgeois bloc of parties — that they really had to be very careful, lest they be overthrown. People should remember that, for example, in 1947 the French communists were in government. They were quite a powerful party, as they were in Belgium. In Italy in 1973, the communists became the largest party in the country. But they were actually pushing the sort of right-wing or bourgeois parties to be much more conciliatory, because they actually wanted to preserve capitalism against various threats.
And then, likewise, there was a very strong opposition coming from the socialist and communist parties, which were connected with the trade unions. On top of that, there was a Fordist system of production in which you could actually organize workers at the point of production. Essentially, all these factors made the capitalist class more likely to entertain the ideas associated with social democracy or the welfare state. I’m of course emphasizing Germany, France, Italy, but obviously similar processes, though not exactly the same, happened in the Nordic countries.
And then, to answer your other question, there came the neoliberal turn. That was basically driven by growing dissatisfaction with the role of the welfare state and particularly with the slowing of growth after the 1973 oil crisis. I think Margaret Thatcher really captured the mood by essentially saying: “We want to grow faster, we have to get rid of all these things that are impeding us.”
So the welfare state, which had been perceived very favorably in the 1960s, started to be seen as a drag on economic growth in the late 1970s. That was a dramatic change, although maybe slightly more dramatic in language than in reality. If you compare the size of the welfare state today and then, it has not really changed that much. It has become less redistributive, that much is certain. But neoliberalism has not been able to overturn the welfare state in the way that they claim to have done.
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