This brings us to fifth great cost of neoliberalism — authoritarianism and extremism. By now, the average person was in a truly desperate position: flat income, few savings, a broken social contract, little faith for a better future, imploded social bonds, eroded trust. His sense of dignity, fairness, belonging and safety had all been shattered like glass under a boot. To different degrees, to be sure, across classes and countries. And yet neoliberalism seemed to converge here — this was its endpoint. It didn’t seem capable of making life any better, really, for the regular person — only making it worse, endlessly, in a vicious circle of taking everything that mattered to him, whether it was the chance to have a family, or do work that mattered, or enjoy a sense of ease, stability, and peace, in the place where he had spent those long summer days as a child.
The tenet that underwrites representative democracy — that governance is best left to the grown-ups — looks forfeit when the grown-ups start to appear so irredeemably fallible. In this respect, the anti-elitism that was an animating force for Brexit, the Trump election, and the more general upsurge in political extremism that attended 2016 marks an understandable, if dangerous, response to the death of righteousness and all the moral authority that goes with it. Competence has begun to look like a performance art.