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Spring 2024


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Melinda Cooper interviewed in The Baffler
Extravagances of Neoliberalism

For The Baffler, Benjamin Kunkel speaks with Melinda Cooper about her new book Counterrevolution: Extravagance and Austerity in Public Fiance. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full interview. An excerpt appears below:

“BENJAMIN KUNKEL: The title of your book is Counterrevolution. In what way did the Keynesian regime, even if it didn’t quite constitute a revolution, amount to something in that direction, such that there could then be a counterrevolution?

MELINDA COOPER: There’s an interesting thesis that was contemplated by only a few on the left at the time—but widely anticipated by theorists on the right, beginning with Austrian economist [Joseph] Schumpeter in the 1910s. The idea was that the welfare state itself, if pushed beyond the framework of consensus or mediation, could be an alternative route to revolution. That is, the expansion of social spending beyond the Keynesian consensus would lead toward another kind of revolution than that which we associate with classical Marxism. We’re no longer talking about an external seizure of the state. We’re talking about an intensification of the Keynesian redistributive promise beyond the limits that are tolerable to capital.

The fiscal expansionism of Keynesianism is necessarily limited because it can never go so far as to endanger profits. There is always a margin of the working class that is defined as surplus or lumpen and so excluded from the public spending remit of the Keynesian state. But this exclusion also tends to express itself in the form of already established social hierarchies of gender and race. What you see in the 1970s is an incredible efflorescence of militant labor politics on the one hand, but you also have all these minorities who are making demands on the fiscal state, minorities that were explicitly excluded from the New Deal social contract. You have women claiming equal wages at the same time that working-class men are pushing up the industrial wage, single and African American women claiming equal rights to welfare, and public sector workers engaging in wildcat strikes. The exclusion or marginalization of these minorities was what maintained the fiscal and monetary equilibrium of the Keynesian state. When it is disturbed, you have a real threat to the Keynesian project of mediation between labor and capital. There is a definite note of hysteria in right-wing fears of hyperinflation and unsustainable debt burdens during this period. But there is also a simple recognition that business interests only bought into the New Deal social contract because its beneficiaries were limited in number.”