Trying to define relative position on a left-right political spectrum is wasted effort. It’s fair to say, though, that I have a set of beliefs that are not quite in tune with John Cole, most of the Balloon Juice crew, or what I take to be the consensus of the commenters around here. But I am consistently encouraged by the insistence around here not just on what is good for workers and the lower classes but what empowers them.
There’s a troubling form of liberalism that is increasingly found in the wonky, think-tank-and-establishment-media blogosphere that is so influential these days. I’ve called it, in the past, globalize/grow/give progressivism. Mike Konczal of Rortybomb has referred to it as pity charity liberalism. (I hope you all are turned on to Rortybomb; it’s essential reading.) Whatever you want to call it, this vision of the liberal project defines itself through the social safety net. Its orientation is towards expanding and protecting a redistributive social welfare system. Meanwhile, it is at best uninterested in (and often downright hostile towards) worker organization, unions, regulation, and other attempts to empower workers in relation to capital and poor people in relation to the rich. The idea is that, if you get the economy going well enough, you can redistribute enough money to the poor that they’ll be alright, even while you’ve undermined their ability to collectively bargain, raise the value of their labor, and exercise power.
Obviously, this tends to come with a lot of other ideological and policy baggage, usually oriented towards “free market” reforms and antipathy to regulation and unions. I don’t want to refight the neoliberalism wars. Whatever the particular content of the policy preferences that come along with this kind of purely redistributive liberalism, I think it’s a huge mistake. You can’t meaningfully divide people’s welfare from their power, and you shouldn’t ask them to.
The first problem with pity charity liberalism is that the people advocating it tend to be far more optimistic about getting the social welfare state they want than they should be. I’ve been using the example of health care reform: a decent health care system has to be a part of a minimally fair social welfare system. We had a president with a serious mandate who campaigned explicitly on health care reform, majorities in both houses of congress, a uniquely favorable political moment, and an objective that broad majorities of Americans have supported for years. We just barely got a compromised bill through, and it is under perpetual legal and political threat. If those are the conditions that we’re going to have to defend the welfare state under, I don’t see how anyone can be confident in purely redistributive liberalism.
Contrast that with the history of the American labor movement. Check the record: on every issue of worker rights and protections, workers went first. They didn’t ask politicians to give them safer conditions, cleaner conditions, higher wages, shorter hours, more bargaining power, and a better system to redress their grievances. They demanded those things from the bosses, and they did so with the threat of shutting the whole operation down. Only after they had won those things did they eventually become codified in law. (It’s for this reason that May Day– a joke here, I’m afraid, but celebrated passionately in much of Europe and South America– is specifically a celebration of Haymarket square and American unions.) If we’ve lost those gains since, it’s been because of a very well-funded, coordinated and consistent effort by people in power to undermine unions and refuse to enforce existing labor law.
Even if you could guarantee a certain minimal welfare state, the idea of poor and working people depending on the largesse of the rich and powerful is obscene. Sometimes, people have to live under the charity of others. But nobody wants to in perpetuity, because they then are not in control of their own lives, and because having to do so leaves many feeling robbed of personal dignity. As long as economic security is a gift of those at the top, it can be taken away. And if the last several decades have shown us anything, it’s that for the richest, what they already have will never be enough. No matter how income inequality spirals out of control, no matter how absurd the gap between those on top and everybody else grows, they’ll look to take more. And the more that you make the people on the bottom dependent on charity, the less they’re able to protect their own interests.
Forgive the Marxian cant, but politics is about the competition for power, and economics the competition for scarce resources. Democracy doesn’t presume some cordial relationship between people of different social classes and levels of power; it sets them against each other in balance so that no group captures the process. Giving up all checks on the moneyed classes won’t satisfy them. It will only ensure that there is nothing to stop them when they decide to take more.
It’s impolite to say, but I have to think that these well meaning young wonks (and they are well meaning) believe in the long-term viability of pity charity liberalism because of their own inexperience with material need. They are, for the most part, well-to-do, educated and upwardly mobile young white people. They can’t imagine the problem with the social safety net as the endpoint of the liberal project because they’ve never experienced the daily, grinding fear and degradation of living at the burden of the state. They also know that this is a condition they’ll never have to labor under themselves.
If the left is not fundamentally in the business of empowering workers and the poor, as well as improving the material condition of their lives, it not only has no business calling itself the left; it has no business, at all. It might as well close up shop. And for all of the many issues that confront the left– liberal, progressive, whatever– this is the most fundamental, most paramount one. Do we proceed on a basic philosophy of empowerment and dignity for those on the bottom? Or do we want to pursue redistribution as a substitute for self-determination, control over one’s own life? Some say we don’t have a choice, that an empowered workforce is a relic of the past. The beauty of Wisconsin is that it shows, win or lose, that things can change when people finally get fed up and organize to control what’s theirs. It’s worth fighting for.
Now, to endear myself to the passionate Balloon Juice community, here is a picture of my dog, Miles.
I like you. Please stick around. And the guy who buys your dog food and gives you a comfy bed writes well, too, so I think we should keep him.
I hate the term “neoliberal.” Neoliberalism is really crypto-conservatism in that same vein of Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain,” while unleashing derivatives traders on an unsuspecting world. All else in your post I agree with heartily and Miles is a beautiful hound.
Welcome aboard! You do realize that front-paging here means that you can never again be a Serious Person. No more links from Andrew Sullivan for you!
I’m not sure why we can’t both encourage unionisation and provide a basic social safety net. I mean, why is this an either / or?
So this bodes well…
Well, howdy Freddie! And welcome Miles!
Helluva a good post, man! Most dems/liberals lost this sort of attitude that you have long ago.
Unfortunately, it is going to take the bloodshed of the Labor Movement of years gone by to regain what has been lost due to corporate influence and brainwashing. That entails a crash to the bottom as well.
Until then, we have the Obots here that will praise the Private Insurance Expansion Act (otherwise known as ACA) as groundbreaking policy.
I think the term “neoliberal” is a good one. Remember all these guys like Hayek insisted that they not be described as “conservative”. I think that was sincere, they thought of themselves as pointing towards a new, better, different tomorrow, whereas conservatism stands athwart history shouting stop.
Neoliberals are different from conservatives. They support gay rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, etc. They may suck but they suck in a different way than conservatives do.
Hi, Miles. You’re a cutie!
Actually, some of us here enjoy a good Marxian POV.
And no, the upper crust can never be satisfied. I think that perhaps having stuff is nice but getting stuff is addictive.
I don’t see a contingent of the left opposing unions or workers rights, including those who want a much thicker safety net. So I’m not sure what you’re saying. Are you referring to the so-called free trade agreements that Clinton supporters (including Krugman) lauded at the time? Or…?
What Cronin and LM said above. Also, Freddie: exactly which important politicians and/or thinkers do you consider to be guilty of “pity charity liberalism?”
Write on Freddie … Right on
I wonder if Doug J will reconsider reading the posts of one not wed to working for an Obama reelection?
@Comrade DougJ: Not when they choose as their spokespeople persons such as Mickey Kaus, who was violently anti-union, anti-teachers, anti-safety net. And as our new front pager just pointed out, if you give away the argument on economic power, you have given away the entire liberal argument.
@James Gary: Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Robert Reich (although he is coming around), anyone who held an economic policy post in Clinton/Obama.
How’s that for starters?
@Linda Featheringill: Ha! This reminds me of Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” after they lose their millions. “I don’t care about the money but do we have to give back all the stuff?!!”
Good post. A lot to think about. ETA: I bookmarked your blog.
Miles is a good looking doggie… it looks like he has bed privileges. (It is a good thing.)
It’s impolite to say, but I have to think that these well meaning young wonks (and they are well meaning) believe in the long-term viability of pity charity liberalism because of their own inexperience with material need. They are, for the most part, well-to-do, educated and upwardly mobile young white people. They can’t imagine the problem with the social safety net as the endpoint of the liberal project because they’ve never experienced the daily, grinding fear and degradation of living at the burden of the state. They also know that this is a condition they’ll never have to labor under themselves.
Throw in the basic inability of a professional writer to use a spell checker, and that’s the perfect description of Matt Yglesias.
Freddie – nice opening. Your views sound a bit Anarcho-syndicalist to me, and I think that’s a good thing. (Maybe I’m mis-characterizing your post, though.)
I’m almost there with you, except I find that while this perspective is better than think tank liberalism, which is better than neoliberalism, which is better than neoconservatism, etc. it still misses a major point.
That point is the one that Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy is about – that beyond simple inequality and power struggle, there’s the fundamentals of the planet, and the happiness of individuals in localized communities. Certainly the labor movement helps those, but often it’s unaware of them.
Really? I’m thinking, no, saying, bullshit.
I’m just going to go all fanboy and say how excited I was to pull up BJ! and see your byline, Freddie.
I already read L’hote and hope that John invites you to blog over here regularly.
In other words, welcome.
Nothing of substance to add – just glad to see you over here.
Hmmm, I must have missed a memo. New front page puppy. Oh, and welcome to your human, too.
Edit to add: By showing your sheets, you do realize you’ve opened yourself up to both criticism and decorating advice. Wrapped in concern about your ability to get laid regularly.
What a way to start here. A hot-air filled clap-trap balloon.
Just a nitpick.
I only stop reading individual posts that say that, not all of the work of anyone who says that.
Freddie, great post. Can I suggest a shorter? Have you seen the Bill Mahrer “The Rich are Like Pinatas” clip?
BTW, now that you’re on the front page, and you’ve proven that you can write thoughtfully and well, you can begin trolling us and insulting our national elites, like all the other front pagers here. I suspect you’ll do it well.
This is all kinds of awesome: the comment and the new FPer. Good luck wading through the comments of your first post, aka New Hire Orientation, Freddie! :)
I don’t think any group voluntarily chooses Mickey Kaus as their spokesman, do you?
wait until m_c starts stalking you.
Worst fucking dog on balloon juice ever, ya fucking moron.
How’s that for a welcome?
As for social safety net vs worker power– I believe in both. I just think that only having the former is a recipe for disaster.
As for who I’m talking about, if you check out the two links you’ll see who I’m talking about. Yglesias is certainly the most open and enthusiastic in this regard, but there are many others. Ryan Avent, Dylan Matthews, Brad Delong.
Hey cool! My favorite non-BJ blogger on BJ! Cake with permission to eat!
@Comrade DougJ: I certainly wouldn’t, but I heard no outcry condemning him for misrepresenting the neoliberal position when he was filing at Slate for what seemed like forever.
Though Jonathan Alter did do a righteous takedown of Mr. Kaus in one of those Blogging Heads pieces.
How’s that for a welcome?
Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
Did he describe himself as “neoliberal”? I never read his blog, I don’t know.
the juicers should know we have already met.
have you found your sass yet?
I’m not sure I’ve read any of those as being particularly anti-Union, although some of the other stuff you say is accurate.
Freddie, I just started reading your blog on the recommendation of a friend. Your writing is wonderful. Excellent to see you here.
@Comrade DougJ: Yes, he did. Someday, someone must fill me in on the goat business, because I read so many comments about this when he chose to run for Boxer’s seat.
I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone of consequence openly advocating for anything like “pity charity liberalism”—either implicitly or explicitly. I think what is described here is the unfortunate side effect of the total abandonment of liberalism by the party that once stood for it, and the unencumbered rise of corporatism and and the swift and total demonization of any politician or pundit who tries to get in the way.
Or, is the point that settling for the scraps that fall from the top 3% the unstated goal of these “pity charilty liberals?”
As much as this skewering is deserved, they’re each worth a million of the OTHER type of well-to-do, educated and upwardly mobile young white people like Megan McCardle who have willingly chosen to serve the powerful in return for crumbs off the table.
@Freddie: In that sense, then, I’d agree. Having only the safety net without worker empowerment would lead to the kind of social stratification we’re seeing now, and, ultimately, likely lead to the overclass doing away with the safety net.
Oh, hey, what is it republicans are trying to to again?
Hey, Freddie, I like you! I like your empowered workforce thing and your snarking about pity charity liberalism. And there’s no one I love more than the Dems in Wisconsin.
But, um, well, Madison aside, where is this workforce? Where was it last November? How many of us who are lucky enough to BE union members voted for Scott Walker, John Kasich, Rick Scott and Tom Corbett? You’re bein’ a bit hard on those youngish, earnest, suburban-bred pity charity liberals. At least they’re liberals, and at least they’re promoting income redistribution, which we once thought Obama would do, but never mind that …. and their brand of liberalism is all we have at the moment.
Last fall I campaigned for Patrick Murphy, a progressive-ish freshman Dem congressman. In the trailer parks and ranch-house neighborhoods where I tracked down registered Dems, I can’t tell you how many of them growled at me because they were having such a hard time, and it was all Patrick Murphy’s fault, and they were working two jobs now to support the federal government … and Murphy lost. Oh, shit, well, good luck to you. Keep it up.
Welcome, Freddie! You’re a fantastic and welcome addition to the BJ front-pagers.
I, for one, would love to see more democracy in our economic system and less plutocracy in our political system. I don’t even think that’s “leftist”: Everyone other than the lunatic fringe the GOP has become ought to be able to get behind that cause.
In the meantime, I also think it’s nice that 32 million of the poor and ill can have health insurance.
@Freddie: I am interested in your socio-economic explanation for the neoliberal position, because it is what I have long complained about re: the news business. It used to be that newspapers were staffed by lower to middle class hustlers who knew what poverty and/or economic uncertainty was first hand. They had a personal stake in comforting the afflicted an afflicting the comfortable. Now when news people hear about tax cuts for the rich they are like, “Great! We can go to the Caymans this year!”
If any of you read DeLong, I think Freddie’s post probably rings really true. I started doing so the past few months. As Freddie said, he seems eminently well meaning; but his view of how stable the welfare state is can be somewhat curious when looking back at the past 30 years. Also, I’m not a Marx fanboy, but his annual post about how Marx was intellectually vapid and wrong about everything is…well, it never gets better.
. cite please. Random freemarket handwaving fuckery will not be tolerated here.
Welcome aboard. Love the post! It’s nice to see someone speaking from this point of view. It’s also nice to see someone pointing out that Junior Villagers, despite their best intentions, almost always come from a background that doesn’t include much of that kind of experience.
With Yglesias in particular, there’s a long recent history of defining the task of liberalism entirely in terms of a redistributive welfare state. Here’s a good post of his that demonstrates the extent to which he defines the liberal project as a project of redistribution:
As I said over at my own blog, Matoko, I genuinely have no earthly idea what your current complaint towards me is, or what you are asking me, so I have no way to respond.
Cap and Gown
I have no basic disagreements with the original post, but I do think it perhaps goes too far in its characterization of some members of the left commentariat and their goals.
First, neo-liberal is not meant to refer to a new direction in American liberalism. Rather, it is meant to distinguish people who hold classical liberal views (which in today’s world would be considered libertarian) from American liberalism. Neo-liberals in the American context would just be called liberals in Europe. In other words, neo-liberal believe in both J.S. Mill and Adam Smith, the original liberals.
Second, I think you are discounting the extent to which a robust welfare state is empowering of working people. People who have a right to health-care, day-care, old age pensions, etc. are less subject to the raw power of market forces and are able to better bargain for superior working conditions. Indeed, since the rise of the CIO in the 1930s, American labor unions have well understood that a robust welfare state would help them achieve their work place goals. Thus, they have supported the constant expansion of the welfare state to empower workers. Not only does this serve the class interests of workers, but it also serves the institutional interests of unions.
Rather than assuming that free-market liberals are supporting a pity-charity type of liberalism, I think perhaps you should consider that perhaps they also have a worker empowerment agenda that they believe can best be fulfilled through and expansion of the welfare state. Certainly, Kevin Drum is sympathetic to labor unions. And I believe most of the other writers you seem to have in mind, such as Yglesias, are sympathetic as well.
Welcome to BJ.
@phillygirl: I don’t know Freddie’s take but I’d say to this that the working class in America’s been rather fractured and decimated during the past 30+ years. It’s not like there’s a ton of these people out there that just need help mobilizing; the framework for worker empowerment itself is either gone or being assaulted. And, obviously, this won’t be solved by anyone but them (but we can cheerlead and pitch in where we can).
@Freddie: Well, it’s good to see you here – get a little perspective from a real lefty at BJ (El Cid has only so much time).
Oh, hell, we’ve been wondering that for quite a while here. It’s SOP, WAI.
Davis X. Machina
@phillygirl: Did Rep. Murphy have a truck? Because Scott Brown has a truck, and two of my brothers, both union members, in the bluest state in the union, both voted for Brown. They loved the truck.
We live in the Saudi Arabia of false consciousness — world’s largest producer, world’s largest proven reserves.
Building institutions based on mutuality and solidarity means playing against a mean uphill lie.
Belafon (formerly anonevent)
Interesting first article. Luckily I picked up your comment about not being against a safety net because I was getting that impression in your article. I haven’t really noticed any people arguing that they only wanted to build a safety net. I think we all know that’s unsustainable. The idea is to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, and spend the money on things like education and food for the poor in hopes that they can climb out of their position and contribute more back to society. (Kind of like me on free lunches as a child, who probably pays the amount I ate back every 3-6 months.) I do consider some amount of redistribution to be essential to our society, even if it’s mostly in the form of taxing the rich at a higher rate to pay for essential services.
@Cap and Gown: Ultimately, I think it’s a question of priorities. If you check the history of many of these people on Wisconsin– and Drum is, as you say, definitely on my side on this one, and has agitated in the same direction– there is a sympathy for unions, but an ambiguity about the future of unions. Many have explicitly called unionism an outdated model. Certainly, Yglesias, Delong, and Avent have questioned the place of unionism in the future, and it’s worth pointing out that there tends to be a fair amount of liberal-liberaltarian symmetry on this issue. See Will Wilkinson or Tim Lee.
Davis X. Machina
@Freddie: Yglesias au fond I suspect, is the last Disraeli-era, one-nation Tory. Only something that old, can sound that new.
Hi Freddie! It looks like some folks here already know you. You’re new to me but I like what you wrote. It is something to think about.
Very cool post. I guess I’ll have to wait to see other posts of yours for the stuff that’s “not quite in tune” with the prevailing views around here. :)
I was never aware that one could be considered leftist and anti-union (or neutral toward unions) at the same time. I’ve always considered concern for the working class in general to be one of the fundamental hallmarks of leftism, and in the cold hard real world that means supporting the right to organize, because employers sure ain’t gonna grant rights out of the goodness of their hearts.
Oh look, matoko has another blog vendetta playing out in her special little mind. It must be a day that ends in ‘y.’
But what is a Real Muslim like herself to do when faced with this oppressive culture of free market fundamentalist proselytization*?
/* Doesn’t actually exist. Cudlipz!
Oh. Shit. It’s already started! Bring on the popcorn.
You had me at Marxian cant.
No the first problem is getting the middle class out of the ginormous hole the invisible hand dug for us all.
The base problem endemic with glibertarians, conservatives, neo-liberals, soi disant libertarians, liberal-tarians, crypto-conservatives and post-modern conservatives is that the initial conditions of what ever random freemarket fuckery they are proposing are totally deformed by 10 years of freemarket policies. So IMHO a generous helping of social justice is necessary just to get working familes heads back above water.
I don’t think that link supports you position. Matt Y. writes, “The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done.”
And besides it is 13 months old. A lot has changed since he posted it.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
I think you overstate the extent to which the policy wonk liberals are anti-union and, especially, anti-regulation. I identify with that group, so I’ll use the term ‘we,’ though it overstates my own importance.
We aren’t anti-regulation, per se. We think that there are a lot of silly, counterproductive regulations out there that we should get rid of. Not only do they do direct damage, but they discredit the idea of regulations in general. It is incumbent on those who support vigorous regulations to also be aware of the ones that don’t work and advocate their demise.
I’ve found the bashing of Matt Yglesias for pointing out stupid regulations to be trite and short on thinking. I think he’s basically right about barber shops, and definitely right about land use regulations. I’ll save more on that for later.
We are in favor of free markets, but you have to keep in mind that we think of them rather differently than the conservatives do. For one, we recognize that, while free markets are the best platform for trading most goods and services, there are exceptions where they lead to undesirable results, and so need to be either modified or junked. Health care and education are two big examples that come to mind.
Junking the free market, though, doesn’t mean that you can stop paying attention to incentives. Like it or not, people are self-interested, and you had better figure out a way to harness that self-interest to improve things, because otherwise, it’s going to wreck them. I find that a lot of thinkers on the left spend zero time really thinking through how the incentives created by their policies might lead to bad unintended consequences.
In many ways, I think you are arguing against a picture of what the policy wonk liberals *used* to be like. At this point, I can’t think of any that I read that are opposed to unions. Quite the opposite. I think that unions are an essential part of a free market system. It would be different if we lived in a world made up entirely of small enterprise that is prevented from forming cartels, as Adam Smith envisioned. Then, I think, unions wouldn’t be necessary, because employers wouldn’t hold all of the advantages in labor negotiations. But that’s not the world we live in, and strong unions are necessary. I would argue, though, that trying to bring them back is every bit as fanciful as positing a fully functioning safety net.
However, supporting labor and unions in general does not justify supporting every union all the time. Some of them really do stand in the way of necessary change. The NEA gets a lot of flak for this, and it’s deserved. The passage of the horrible fiscal emergency bill in Michigan can be traced directly to the way that the Detroit public schools and its unionized teachers have blocked every attempt to reform what is a disastrous system. Absent that, the bill would never have generated the momentum needed to clear the legislature.
Now, what is true is that the policy wonk liberals generally don’t focus on issues of union organization. Our primary interests lie in other areas. That doesn’t mean that we are anti-union, just that there are lots of things we need to focus on. There is nothing wrong with making one’s focus of interest something else.
I absolutely reject your argument that that’s what we all need to be doing. It may be true that we don’t have any experience with grinding poverty, so we don’t appreciate the burdens it places on people. It is also true that there are people out there without access to health care right now that would be better off if they could get it. There are children receiving crappy educations right now that would be better off if we could figure out a way to improve the schools. There is a lot of value in long term projects, such as recreating power for labor, but there are also a lot of short term crises that people need solved now. Your argument basically boils down to the idea that we should ignore the short term crises and focus on the long term project. I think that that’s asinine, and every bit as contemptuous of working class and poor people as what you accuse us of being. It is not all about rebuilding the power of unions. It can’t be all about that, or we turn into moral monsters. It’s not that policy wonk liberals are buying into what you derisively call “pity liberalism”. That’s an insulting statement on your part, and it is not that we are opposed to what you are advocating should be done. It’s that some of us are focused on trying to help people now. We won’t ever make the safety net perfect. I think all of us know that. But we can improve it, and help people who need help now, not whenever labor manages to regain enough power to accomplish things.
We really have a lot more in common than you portray. The problem isn’t with the policy wonk liberals. It’s with a media system that focuses on that group exclusively when it wants to talk to liberals. The message of those working on the long term project doesn’t ever get out. That’s not our fault, and there really isn’t anything we can do about it. If those of us who get media exposure tried to make those arguments regularly, the media would stop talking to them and find someone else.
Your attack consists mostly of caricatures of what the wonks think, or things that I refuse to apologize for. If you want to have a civil discussion, I’m prepared to do that. If you spend your time insulting me, I won’t bother.
I skimmed the first iteration of this debate, and forgive me if you think you’re saying something different in this post, Freddie.
I know where you think you’re coming from, but I honestly can’t get past it when you say words like “pro-union”, and “pro-labor” and “welfare state”. Because these are all words that have had different meanings in different groups, in different countries, in different eras, and I get a very strong feeling that despite the fact that you are positing yourself as being against a “neoliberal” framework, you are very much using the dehistoricized, and therefore neoliberal, definitions for those words.
You are not defining, for example, the historical circumstances of why labor unions in this country have had a hard time incorporating the interests of working class and/or poor people of color which may have led to some of the bifurcation between liberal wonks of today and what you see as “progressivism” or “leftism’. Also, to you, labor unions are about positing workers against the ravages of the “market” when, historically speaking, they have also sought to protect the value of the workers’ product within the marketplace. Unions are quite pro-capitalist and only the neoliberal and conservative POVs would posit them as being anti-capitalist.
And yeah, the whole “competition for scarce resources” is acceptable framing for Marx 101, but if you want your “liberal” wonks to follow your lead in extending knowledge of “leftist” ideology, you might have to provide a better starting point.
FWIW, I think that the “liberalism” or “neoliberalism” you’re trying to describe here is the expected product of the country after 1) Jim Crow 2) the Civil Rights Movement 3) economic globalization and post-WWII territorial expansion and 5) Nixon/Reagan and the supposed “collapse” of the LBJ/Great Society ideals. A lot of people have had a lot of different ideas about why certain progressive movements stalled or stopped. I agree that a lot of it is due to the politics of race in this country, but it also has to do with leftist politics being mostly confined to symbolism as it was shunted off to the university (willingly or by outside economic or political forces?), about young liberals of today having to deal with (read: rationalize) the territorial/economic expansion after WWII because they do recognize that so much of their daily life (their energy, their food, the clothing off their backs) depends on that imperial relationship.
But you don’t really delve into any of this, and so it’s really hard for me to feel like your writing here is a good starting point for interrogating anyone’s view of the “left”.
Ah, here’s a good one re:Yglesias.
There’s much worse attitudes, of course. I’ll take him over 90% of the people writing on the Internet. But I think the fatalism about labor unions is unfortunate.
@Freddie: As for Matoko, no one here can figure out wtf she’s trying to say most of the time either, so you’re in good company.
How many front pagers are we going to have around here? It’s not a complaint. I kind of enjoy the special kind of balance that “respect the vagina”/goddam do I still hate Republicans but seriously, Democrats, what the fuck with the emo? / Marxian cant brings to the place. More media should have that sort of balance.
I’m not sure I’d call it “pity-charity-liberalism.” I think I know the phenomenon you refer to, and it’s more like a arrested infantilism, in which the State is an all-bountiful parental figure and The People never have to do a lick of work for any reason at all. This viewpoint sees all market-oriented economic activity as inherently exploitative, and therefore the only “valid” economic model is redistributive.
I had a short, baffling conversation a few years back with some young people – themselves from families wealthy enough to send them to Europe for a school term – who consistently referred to anyone who ran a business as a “profiteer.” I could not begin to understand how they thought economies worked; they seemed to believe that all profit was theft, and if only all profit could be confiscated, there would be true economic justice for all.
Another problem with this viewpoint is that it does indeed see living on the dole as a basic right that should be available to everyone, rather than a stopgap measure to keep the bills paid while you do what you have to, to get back on your feet. The idea that being on welfare could be one’s “career” is what really infuriated a lot of people back in the 70s and turned them against liberals. I remember it very well, because I was a young, idealistic left-winger and even I got pretty pissed off at people who thought they had an open-ended right to be supported by taxpayer dollars. (And, oh yes, I encountered quite a few such parasites.)
However, it should be pointed out that not very many liberals still advocate for that kind of perpetual dependency on the dole – and the ones who do generally are as hostile towards normative economic activity as they are ignorant of how it works.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I don’t understand your argument that left-neoliberals are devoting their time towards tackling imperative ASAP issues. I’m struggling to think of a hobbyhorse of this group that could be described as such where there’s been any significant actions undertaken…but you’re clearly very passionate about this and involved, so you probably could give me some examples?
Davis X. Machina
@Ash Can: Non-union, or positively anti-union, left radicalism was commonplace in the 60’s.
The trade union movement was seen as wrong on the war, wrong on gender issues, wrong on race, and engaged in a a retreat into its own tree-house, complete with pulling up the ladder. George Meany was considered every bit as large an obstacle to the creation of the New Jerusalem as Richard Nixon.
This assumes that economics is zero sum. I don’t buy it. We have fewer “resources” (in the physical or natural sense of the word) than we ever had, yet we’re better off than our ancestors ever were.
Speaking as someone who has been unemployed before, but has never been in any sort of union (because I’ve never worked in a unionized industry, and I’ve always lived in a right-to-work state), I believe in pity-charity liberalism because those are the safety nets I see myself using.
…and frankly, I think your vision of what liberalism should be is flawed. WRT organized labor, differing laws across different states, industries, and countries presents a global prisoner’s dilemma. You would have to organize labor everywhere, all at once to get result you seem to desire… but as soon as one player decides not to play by the rules you’ve established (say, 6 work days instead of 5), the whole thing falls to pieces.
You’re living in a fantasy land, my friend.
I just read that, and though it seems laughably triumphalist given how things have turned out over the last 12 months, I don’t think it says anything anti-Union.
@Cap and Gown
yes, what you said 100%.
This is going to be fun! Welcome, Freddie. I give you a week before you’re fighting with the other FPs about Obama. (Do they know about your one reason post? I’m totally with you, but others here will not take kindly to it.)
I think you’ll be a good addition here, and I’m glad a voice like yours is getting a bigger platform.
@jrg: It doesn’t assume that economics is zero sum. It only assumes that economics is not always non-zero sum.
@jibeaux: Oh, I don’t know how much I’ll post around here. Up to Mr. Cole, I suppose. Just every once in awhile would be my guess.
@duck-billed placelot: Precisely why I was asked, I think, and precisely why I said yes. I like to argue.
I enjoyed your rant, Freddie, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
@Comrade DougJ: I only stop reading individual posts that say that, not all of the work of anyone who says that.
Walk it back, brother. :)
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
I don’t read Brad Delong very often, but this is another mischaracterization of what has been said. It’s not so much that the union is an outdated model. It’s that we think that they aren’t coming back. We’ll see if what has happened in Wisconsin prompts change, but too much of the working class itself is hostile to unions at this point. Given that, I just don’t think that it’s likely that you’ll succeed in your goal. That’s the sense in which I think the union is an outdated model.
That said, I don’t have a better idea. I wish I did, but I don’t. Given that, I have no problem supporting you in your crusade, even though I think you’re tilting at windmills. An unlikely idea beats no idea at all every time. I’m with you, but, if you don’t mind, I’m going to spend more time working on projects that I think can be accomplished. As I said, the safety net won’t ever be perfected, and even if it is, it’s a suboptimal world if workers don’t have any power. However, “pity liberalism” is better than no liberalism at all, and it’s where I think we’re more likely to make a difference.
@Elia Isquire: Welfare state (“pity-charity liberalism”) as opposed to liberalism based on organized labor.
This smacks of readership capture.
Welcome and kudos to JC for bringing you here.
Ahem, dipshit, can you read anything with a reading grade level higher than “My Pet Goat”? FFS.
Welcome, Freddie and Miles. I’ve never read you before, but I enjoyed this.
@Freddie: Ha! Cole totally invited you because you gave St. Klein a sad (see note). Yeah, your particular brand of eloquent, personal outrage will be fun with this crowd.
(Note: I like Ezra’s writing, and on some days I think that he’s admirably working from inside the system. Other day I think he’s [un]remarkably calm about a system of power that has rewarded him very, very well.)
Hi, Freddie! Since you have such a lovely dog, I’m not going to berate you and mention that “alright” is not a word.
Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937
There’s a great article in Mother Jones that discusses some of these themes from a recent historical perspective. You may not agree with all of it (New Left abandoned labor as it extended its influence on the Democratic party) but it is thought provoking.
@Elia Isquire: Actually, I do think the framework for worker empowerment could be shored up a bit by Democratic elected officials. Unfortunately, they all seem to be unavailable, frozen and immobile under the dining room rug. Remember card-check? Heh, heh. Perhaps our president could utter a few peeps about the Repub govs’ assault on public workers. Heh, heh.
I like the cut of your jib.
@jrg: No, I know, but the quoted section seems like a non-sequitur to me. I also don’t understand the either/or mindset…
Add Michael Lind to this list. He’s been pretty explicit about saying that the time of unions is over, but you can still have American liberalism without them, a point that I fervently disagree with him on.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Sure, there’s things that can and should be done now, and policies that should be put in place that help people regardless of whether they’re in a union. Social welfare liberalism and unionism aren’t mutually exclusive; ideally, I’d say they go hand in hand, as a vibrant labor community helps a lot in getting and maintaining support for social welfare policies. I think the problem in recent years is that there’s been some fissures between the professionalized liberal class and working-class liberals which stems in part from this nation’s embrace of neoliberal economics. Those fissures can be closed, but it’s going to take some better communication within the American left-liberal coalition. Which means when folks like Michael Lind say the time of unions is over, we don’t need them, etc., they should be challenged. Note that I didn’t say “ridiculed” or “condemned”, because I think people like him are ultimately on the right side of things. But they do need to be responded to.
Full disclosure: I work for a labor union, so feel free to take what I say with a pound of salt.
Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937
I couldn’t agree more.
Ugh, true enough. Not voting for Obama for one reason, even a goddam good reason like that one, isn’t “pushing” as he describes in the comments. Blogs don’t push, and staying home doesn’t push. It’s not about voting for the good guys, it’s about voting against the worse guys.
I don’t get what the two sides of a debate are supposed to be here. Or that there is a debate, or sides. There are some liberals who think that people in trouble should just get handouts and call it a day (really? there are?)? And there are other liberals who want to do some other thing that you can call “power”? OK, so what is that other thing?
At first blush this sounds like a vaguely left-ish version of a “welfare leads to a cycle of dependency” argument. At second blush it sounds like a grab-bag of hortatory words like “power” and “dignity” and “struggle.” What’s the there there? What is it that you then _do_?
@phillygirl: I think you’re right but I also think the way EFCA went down tells us a lot about how many Democrats sincerely want to help organized labor, and it’s not as many as you & I would like. So this is sort of why I see the framework right now lacking — when it comes to actually advocating for labor’s rights and empowerment, they have no party (they have 1/2 or maybe 2/3 of a party…but that’s not enough in the Senate).
I’ve been reading a lot of Theda Skocpol lately — specifically her stuff on civic-minded organizations vs. advocacy organizations. I think that there’s some really promising ideas there; but, again, from my vantage this seems like a long term project. I just don’t fully understand why some of the more enthusiastic Yglesians believe that means it is an effort inevitably in vain. In my mind, it took a long time for us to get here, and it’ll take a long time for us to get out, and the longer we put it off, because it seems daunting, and look for some magical new system or whatever, is just the longer it’ll take in the long run.
Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of all time. Just throwing that out there.
As someone who probably identifies more with the “young policy wonk” side of this debate, I wonder if you’ve read Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation?
Basically, he makes the argument that broad, shared prosperity in the era of high unionization was due to a unsustainably high rate of innovation that Americans had an unsustainable monopoly on due to WWII. In other words, for a period of 10-20 years, the US was the only nation capable of industrializing achievements in basic science (as we were the only nation with a significant industrial base; it didn’t exist or had been destroyed in other countries).
It’s a compelling argument, and its obvious implication is that these high margins made it better for manufacturers to voluntarily redistribute some profits to labor than to go out of business. As a manager, it’s pretty easy to acquiesce to labor demands if you have no real competition. Declining rates of unionization and accelerating rates of income disparity in the US date from the 1970s – precisely when Japanese manufacturers began to compete in earnest with ours.
Now, I don’t think that’s all of the story, and agree that right-wing governance has accelerated the decline of labor. But what if the era of labor dominance was the by-product – not the cause – of previous prosperity?
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Elia Isquire: If you really can’t think of any hobbyhorse of the wonks on which there has been significant action, I need to revise my estimation of you downwards. What do you think that whole fight over health care reform was? That’s a quintessential hobbyhorse of a large chunk of the liberal wonks.
The liberal wonks put a lot of time into arguing for stronger financial regulation. We got a bill that does some of the work, but doesn’t go as far as I’d like. The problem is that, if you aren’t a wonk, you don’t really understand the bill. It’s technical, it’s arcane, and if you don’t understand the technical details, you’re likely to mischaracterize it as useless. It’s not. It just phrases things in technical terms without using the buzzwords you try to look for. The same is true of the health care bill.
The wonks have been arguing strongly for lots of things, on some of which there has been major movement.
That’s what this is? What does it mean to be “based on organized labor”? Sometimes organized labor has priorities that are at odds with the objectives of other liberals. Who goes first then? I don’t get where this leads. Sounds like what feminists call the Oppression Olympics.
I think unions could probably get away following the Actors / Screen writers Guilds out in Hollywood. They work in the same kind of short-term work environment that IT guys and other college professionals find themselves. Having a “Society” that sets agreed upon general rates, offers member services, and sets general employment guidelines would give people more flexibility while maintaining the same level of industry-wide support.
Make unions into something more like a nationwide hiring agency.
See, as a committed trade unionist, this worries me because if enough allies decide that the recovery of labor unions is in vain, their ultimate demise becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the irony in that is that labor unions are pretty vital in getting the kind of people elected that do the things people like Yglesias want. There’s no comparable institution on the American left (broadly speaking) that puts feet on the pavement in the service of liberal candidates as much as organized labor does.
Freddie, good to see you here. FWIW I think a strong safety net and worker empowerment need to go hand in hand with one strengthening the other. You are probably right that over the past 30 years or so, liberals have concentrated too much on the safety net. How would you propose going about reversing it?
@jibeaux: What? No, I disagree. I’m with Freddie, that voting for the lesser of two evils leaves us powerless and led by freaking evil. If the fear of a Palin presidency is used by Democrats as carte blanche to behave like, well, not Democrats, then it must be stopped. A left that is captive only to fear will never make any progress. Primaries work, sometimes, or slowly building up a separate/interior-opposition party over the course of decades (or, like, months, if you’re the Tea Party).
In brief: Take courage, young man! Go left!
I don’t see it as either/or, I simply believe there are limits to what organized labor can do, particularly in industries that are not “stranded” in a particular location (as an example, unionization of teachers makes more sense to me than unionization of say, factory workers, who could work anywhere).
I’m basically trying to make the same point that @Corey is making, but I’m doing a clumsy job of it.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I’m sorry but didn’t the health care effort take somewhere upwards of 40 years?
I mean, your post isn’t really addressing my question. You were implying that wonks can’t be bothered too much with unionization because they’re putting out fires left-and-right. Financial regulation and health care reform don’t convince me, for the reason I mentioned above and for the second reason that many of these same wonks argued in favor of deregulation. And I’ll assume that, for whatever reason, this topic has got you very heated up and you didn’t mean to defend the “wonks” with the “people just aren’t as smart as me” argument that I read there.
@Corey: There’s some merit to Cowen’s argument but it resides in a universe wherein there’s little to no such thing as politics, i.e., class doesn’t exist, groups don’t compete, etc. It’s pretty unexceptional for a libertarian to make such an argument, but I’m still not buying it; I think it’s rather absurd on its face, frankly.
And labor hasn’t exactly helped it’s own cause by routinely giving the GOP 1/3 of their vote in national elections.
@FlipYrWhig: Oh Flip. This is going to be difficult for you.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
This I agree with, but I have no idea what it has to do with the policy wonk liberal writers described in this post. The people that made it impossible to pass EFCA were primarily from the southern and prairie states, and despite their rhetoric, don’t really have any commitment to free markets at all. They are pro-business, but that’s not at all the same thing.
(Which is something else that often gets lost about free markets, both by their most vocal proponents and by their most vocal opponents. Both sides are actually arguing about something else that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with free markets no matter what they think.)
The policy wonk liberals I know and read were all in favor of EFCA. We were just so skeptical of being able to pass it even with a large Democratic majority that we didn’t think it was worth spending much effort on, no matter how valuable it would be if it did pass.
Welcome aboard, Freddie.
A good post, marred (for me anyway) by multiple uses of redistribution/redistributive, a term that I really dislike. Unless you have a tax system that simply asks an equal amount of every single citizen, you’re redistributing wealth. The term has now become a pejorative, much like “entitlement”. Both are technically true, I guess, but they push my buttons.
I was also taken aback by the first line of the linked Rortybomb post:
It’s difficult for me to see the “liberal welfare state” at work in a reform that relegated millions more to the tender mercies of the for-profit health care industry.
count me in your column again.
This sounds like a labor-centric version of E.D. Kain’s 20-something self-important naivete to me.
I don’t either, honestly. I’m just questioning the viability of organized labor as a basis for improving the conditions of the US working class. I see fewer such problems with “pity-charity liberalism”.
I must say, I don’t understand what it means for liberalism to be “based on organized labor”. That sounds like a niche sector of society, not a platform for social change.
I guess I align with the young wonks, because I believe that Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is the most compelling moral arrangement of society. As a young, upwardly mobile and (luckily so far) successful person, what place do I have in a liberal movement “based on organized labor”? That world has nothing whatsoever to do with me. It’s removed from first principles. My basic liberal principles are utilitarian, emerging from a basic deserve to improve the welfare of the most amount of people by the most I can. I truly believe this is what underlies basically all liberalism (and frankly all conservatism also, but that’s an argument for another day).
Labor unions and workers are just a segment of the political fight. I don’t understand how these “young wonks” are supposed to be so thoroughly dismissed simply because they focus their efforts on improving society in other ways. Not everyone has to have a slavish devotion to the same parts of social change. Some people care about unions. Some about the environment, or political corruption, or the death penalty. There’s no need to be parochial about your specific hobbyhorse of liberalism.
Well, for one thing, he really glosses over differences in what specific ideas mean in the U.S. what they might mean somewhere else.
For ex., France’s labor policies create a lot of security for middle- and working-class folk, but I’ve heard people complain that it tends to leave out young folks, recent immigrants or the children of recent immigrants. Don’t know enough about France to tell if they’re right, but still …
@Elia Isquire: You have to understand that JMN has a near irrational hatred of unions.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Well, just to clarify I wasn’t even remotely thinking of wonks as the reason it failed. I’m not viewing this through quite as adversarial a lens as I’m probably projecting. Sorry about that.
@Cronin: Absolutley agree with this. We are not a perfect country, but we have a much better safety net and stonger legislative support for the workers (our union movement is suffering too). It is possible to have both. Oh and we have public & private health care.
@Corner Stone: Am I supposed to know who this person is or something? I truly don’t know what he’s talking about. People around me are talking about how they’re happy to see him and he’s such a lovely writer. What am I missing? Enlighten me.
@duck-billed placelot: Careful, that kind of talk will get you labeled a firebagger.
@Bob Loblaw: JAFI
@jrg: The history of improved conditions of the US working class goes hand in hand with labor being a strong force in America. Clintonian ‘Third Way’ shenanigans trying to promote policy while dismissing labor doesn’t work nearly as well in defending the social net…as the last few years SHOULD have pointed out.
@Linda Featheringill: I think that perhaps having stuff is nice but getting stuff is addictive.
That, and the general thrill of power (for those who are thrilled with such things) that comes with lots of money.
As for Yglesias, he more or less said he’s trying to carve out a niche as a classical liberal for marketing reasons. He just manages to be a gliberal, though.
@jrg: Maybe if there was a political party where people who thought the labor struggle was the fundamental issue of liberalism could link up with people who thought the struggles of racial and ethnic minorities were that… and people who thought that about the struggles of sexual minorities… then that would be a force to reckon with!
As long as they don’t disagree.
@FlipYrWhig: I don’t get where this leads.
Where what leads? Freddie is offering a distinction in how people view liberalism, and that embracing one view of it at the expense of the other isn’t a good practical or ideological idea. Why does that comment have to lead anywhere? Ie., is it true or false?
Once the distinction is granted and sides are taken, however, advocacy for the principles embraced will take one form or another.
@DamnYankees: There’s a lot of empirical proof that strong unions improve wages and working conditions for all workers — including those not unionized. And vice versa.
Further, I don’t think we can organize society based off of theories from the academy.
I thought it was get free haircuts from whatever you call the barber equivalent of a gypsy cab. Man alive, a guy who has like a quarter inch of hair and a bike sure puts a lot of thought into barbers and parking lots.
Well written, sir. But, in fact, I believe in a fair society where there a strong safety net, an strong and intelligent government and, last but not least, the workers are politically active and fighting for their rights.
@suzanne: lawl, Freddie and I go waaay back…back, back to Culture 11, that elegant decarian math that the conservative slines burned to the ground on the same day Big Hollywood sprang to its vile pustulant simulacrum of half-life.
But Freddie actually is infinitely better than the other LoOGies on most things.
He has written some excellent stuff. But that was when he still had his sass and before he became a quitter.
Have you ever attended a local Democratic LD meeting and gotten a whiff of the sheer distaste oozing from good affluent liberals like the CB DeMille plague in Moses when some caricature shop steward “labor thug” type gets up to pitch the union line?
Have you ever witnessed the short sightedness of good earnest state legislators coming up with really great innovative social programs while insisting that the costs be piled on top of a creaky regressive tax system that everybody hates but has been afraid to get out of, cowed as they are by the right and the eternal lure of cutting taxes?
Do you not despair that the true tragedy of the 111th Congress was the abject kicking to the side of the road Card Check, or anything like it? Have you not despaired that ‘good liberals’ have actually argued AGAINST card check?
Have you never read anything by Thomas Geoghegan?
As a polity, our nation has consciously decided to shit on the labor movement. Triangulating Democrats have joined in with enthusiasm.* The results speak for themselves, and to deny it is simply a flight from reality.
Other than that….we have a great deal in common.
*and the anti-regulation bent of these kinds of liberals is so painfully obvious that for you to deny it is frankly an embarrassment.
@FlipYrWhig: I just don’t think you improve conditions for ethnic/racial minorities without having a more economically equal society. Our culture is certainly more liberal than it used to be, but upward mobility is the worst it’s been in a very long time (and that in itself is a word that is a catch-all for tons of important liberal projects like education, health, employment practices, conditions etc.) and many, many minority citizens are on the lower-end of the economic spectrum…
@Elia Isquire: I get that unionization improves wages and working conditions…but doesn’t that then mean the goal should be improving wages and working conditions, not unions? The goal is the quality of life, not the specific method we use to get there. And I don’t see why someone should feel in any way wrong for spending their time pushing hard for, say, improved health care systems which add a huge amount of comfort to the life of an average person rather than pushing for union rights.
It’s the framing that bothers me. It’s so essentialist, as if unions and labor power is all there is. And I see no compelling reason to believe that.
PS: If you don’t think labor union power is just as rooted in academic theory as any other movement, I don’t know what to tell you.
@Corey: I don’t know if I buy the idea that the post-war U.S. industrial monopoly cleared a space for employers to “voluntarily redistribute some profits to labor than to go out of business.”
Unionization levels in Germany remain, today, among the highest in Europe, and I believe their industrial base was somewhat adversely affected by World War II.
Isn’t there a real correlation — whether in the U.S. or in Europe — between the “threat” of socialism and the strength of labor unions? I would suggest this is why, as a generalization, unions were never as strong in the U.S. as they were in Western Europe, and why unions have been waning in Europe since the fall of communism.
In the U.S., then, the decline of unions have paralleled the accelerating trend toward privatization, deregulation, and globalization of capital. It’s all about the policy.
That’s totally unobjectionable and… I dunno, sort of obvious, no? Liberals need to realize that liberalism is multifaceted. OK, done, realized.
Do you also have a cat, or a photo of a cat that is held by a significant other?
@Mandramas: salaamu aleykum brother.
I too believe those things. However, I do not believe this.
I asked for a cite. Does Freddie have one?
@Freddie: And Freddie cher, like I said on your blog, you are a quitter and a firebagger now. You are not voting for Obama because of a single issue.
@Hermione Granger-Weasley: She wasn’t asking if you know any SAT words.
@FlipYrWhig: So what were you objecting to then?
@FlipYrWhig: If anything, it seems to me Freddie is the one who needs to realize liberalism is multifacted. For him, it sure seems like its labor or nothing.
Left Coast Tom
I’d go along with this even replacing “ideally” with “often”.
But I remember labor unions were among the several opponents of the single-payer system that was on CA’s ballot in the 1990s, in no small part from a “I’ve got mine” approach.
What do you do, keep a log of every comment ever made on this site?
Also, just to check in, who’s winning the leftier-than-thou competition?
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Yes, but most of the people targeted by the post aren’t even 40 years old. The people Freddie is talking about came into all this very late in the game, when it was just a short-term push to get major health care reform. That it took 40 years (I’d actually say 100 years) to get health care reform says nothing about the the long-term vs. short-term priorities of the people being discussed. It’s an argument for why both sets are needed. As you get closer to the finish line of something, the more wonkish the discussion gets.
So? Some of us learned a lot over the last ten years. If you plan to castigate everyone who got something major wrong, you had better start warming up your vocal chords, because we’re all guilty of that. Even those who were right about deregulation[fn1] have gotten other things badly wrong. The proper response is to see if they’ve learned anything from it.
That was probably poorly phrased. It isn’t that I’m smarter than everyone else. It’s that education about the details is important in these things. There are a lot of really smart people who don’t have enough technical knowledge to really grasp what is in the financial regulation bill. That’s fine, because most of them, at least that comment around here, have put those smarts to use doing something else. There are probably a couple of dozen, maybe more, people who post at Balloon Juice with whom I would never consider having an argument over technology and computer stuff, save for things that are purely aesthetic taste. I don’t know the technical details at all. Other than a very narrow range of things that I studied, I’d never consider arguing the finer points of legal matters with, say Omnes Omnibus. He knows a hell of a lot more about it than I do.
What some people don’t seem to grasp is that finance is like those other subjects. I do know a fair bit about it. I’ve taken a course in the very specific subject of how to read financial regulations and the laws that give rise to them. That means I have some idea of what I’m talking about. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t disagree with me, but it does mean that I expect serious disagreements to come with some greater understanding than someone very smart but trained in a different field usually starts the debate possessing. They can learn it. With regards to a single bill, it doesn’t take anything like a semester to get up to speed. However, I have actually had multiple commenters on this blog explicitly argue that anyone that possesses technical understanding of the subject of finance inherently can’t be trusted, and what they say should be ignored. They think a reading by people who don’t have any training is more reliable. I’d call people out specifically, but I can’t remember who they are. Stuck doesn’t do that, but he does remain pigheadedly ignorant about specific aspects of it.
Is that a better explanation of what I mean?
As for being heated up, that’s probably more the Asperger’s popping up than anything else. I write long, tendentious posts because I find myself wanting to follow every detail that comes up. You should have seen what my first post in this thread looked like before I edited large chunks out of it. I saved them in Notepad, though, so don’t think you’ve escaped them entirely.
[fn1] Which I probably think is a smaller group than you do, as I think a lot of the critics now, and especially at the time, were wrong about which deregulating would cause the problems and what the problems would be. Being right in a vague way isn’t very helpful if you completely blow the specifics. I even think a lot of the people pointing back in retrospect aren’t all that accurate about what the problems really were.
@Elia Isquire: I think ignoring confounding social and cultural factors is a pathology of economics in general, not just libertarians. I suppose I’m just not convinced that the class struggle piece of all this is anything but marginal, serving to accelerate something that was going to happen anyway.
@DamnYankees: I don’t understand this argument, really. If I’m trying to get from point A to point B, and I used to do it with my car, and then someone took my car and I can’t do it, wouldn’t it be sensible for my goal to be to get my car back? I could sit and try to devise some new manner of transportation, I suppose, but what would the need to do that be–especially if there were cars around me (albeit less than in the past).
to your second point, you think unions sprung out of the academy? there weren’t unions before there were professors writing about them?
@Bob Loblaw: That’s what I was wondering. I attribute it to a bloggo-graphic memory.
@Stillwater: I have a good memory in general. And I also make some kickass home made chicken nachos.
Everyone on the broad-spectrum left believes that people should have improved material conditions and greater equality. The disputes are all over whose claims “go first” conceptually. People who put class first deemphasize race, gender, and sexuality. People who put race first deemphasize gender and sexuality. People who put gender first deemphasize class and race and, sometimes, sexuality. Etc. Greens put ecology before all of those. They all have sound principles and coherent sets of claims. You can’t put them all first, because they conflict. Is this the magic bullet, to say that class/labor trumps all the rest? Because that’s not something a couple of paragraphs are going to resolve once and for all. And inviting everyone to come together is both overly hopeful and pretty much meaningless.
@Left Coast Tom:
I’m not familiar with that, so I’ll take your word for it. I know my union has supported a single-payer system for quite some time. Sometimes, even labor unions (like any human institution) take wrong-headed positions. But on the whole, they stand for what’s right.
Which leads me to…
You shouldn’t feel wrong, because I would say that something like pushing for improved health care systems is a good, solid, liberal thing to do that helps people. I don’t expect that every left-liberal person is going to feel as strongly about unions as I do. What I would expect is the recognition that workers’ right to organize, collectively bargain, and hence exercise power in the workplace is also a good, solid, liberal value. You don’t have to be a labor activist, but you can be an ally.
@Elia Isquire: It might be sensible for you to try to get your car back, but it also might not be. It really depends on the situation. I live in New York. If someone stole my hypothetical car, it might make a whole lot of sense to say I really don’t need to get a car, better to use that money on a subway pass.
The point is we need to judge these things on a case by case basis, as they relate to the facts. And I just haven’t heard that from Freddie (whom I’ve read talk about this issue quite a bit). Almost everything I hear from Freddie on this is an emotional plea about the “dignity” and “power” of workers. And don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of those things, and I think they are noble things to fight for. But if you’re asking me to prioritize my interets, you need to give me some evidence, something empirical, to make me think that it’s going to help people more to fight for unions than to fight for other things. And I just don’t see it. I think fighting for health care is better for people. I think fighting for a growing economy is better for people. I think fighting for improved education is better for people.
If this was 1890 or 1930, I might be more on your side. And call me young and glib, but I do tend to side with people like Yglesias in seeing unions as less relevant to the welfare of the average person than I might have a few generations ago. If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to be convinced otherwise. But calling people out as not real liberals, or insulting them as young and wonky as though that’s a bad thing, is a really bad way to go about these things. (I’m not accusing you of doing this, by the way, it’s an impression I get from Freddie’s myriad posts on the matter).
As for the academy, I don’t think its worth getting in to. I’ll just say I believe in the proposal of theory being tested by empirical reality – you know, science. I don’t think calling something academic or theoretical is an insult.
@Stillwater: The apparent pointlessness, if the idea is that there are many kinds of liberalism. The apparent smugness, if the idea is that labor-oriented liberalism is the One True Kind of liberalism.
@Corner Stone: YouTube or it didn’t happen.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): That was more helpful and I don’t see anything in there to disagree with. Thanks. I can’t speak for Freddie but I can just say that those elements of his argument that I’m sympathetic to are, in my eyes, more about emphasis, not about a strict either/or much less a kind of purity test. I think wonks are on the whole OBVIOUSLY a positive–and we live in an increasingly professionalized and complicated world; they’re needed–but I do wish there was more of a recognition that class exists and matters among some members of the left-wing blogosphere. It’s kind of nitpicking, I admit (I agree with 80% of what they do most of the time but want 95+%), but it is what it is. To be honest I think what annoys me more is when some (some!) of these wonkish types spend far more time talking with/lauding etc. libertarians than with more typical leftists with a less academic focus. It’s just a subjective preference, really — I just get annoyed when it feels like the liberal blogosphere is one big college dorm room.
P.S. Long tendentious posts are fine (as long as it’s on a subject I think is interesting!) :)
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Well, no, but thanks for playing. I think that unions often have the wrong priorities and end up hurting people in them and around them. Then again, that just makes them like every other institution, and usually better intentioned than most. My problem is people who defend unions lock, stock and barrel and don’t want to criticize them for what they do wrong. I think that’s an approach that leads to a lot of other people irrationally hating unions, because they know people who have been hurt by them and then watch unions’ most vigorous defenders ignore the problems.
@Linnaeus: And who disagrees with this? Seriously, can you name anyone who is anti-union and liberal? Even the dreaded Yglesias sounds pretty pro-union to me, all things considered. He just doesn’t think its a panacea.
@Omnes Omnibus: I just made the dang things, I didn’t have sex with them.
Plus, my Astros have finally put one solid game together tonight. And it is joy.
Welcome aboard! Don’t know you but I agree with a lot of what you say and eagerly anticipate hearing what we disagree about. I consider myself an old school liberal who has aged enough to be quite realistic about the art of the possible. I fervently wish for a more left, really quite left, swing in American politics, but I know that most Americans are too afraid, after 30 years or more of Reaganism smoothly morphing into Randism, to even begin to see things my way without a media to point that out. And the media have been captured by Broderism, so we can expect no help from them. The one Ray of hope for a revival of the ideas I most fervently believe has been the rallying of what I had thought was dead, unionism. Unionism is what I grew up witnessing in my every day life, a community, the only way most people had of wielding political and economic power. It can create a new narrative today, a contrast to the free marketers. It will take time and much persistence and patience on our part to convince most people to look past their fears. That is why I am patient with Obama and things like the ACA. It’s progress and, as long as we keep the fight going for the ideals of the unions in WI and OH and here in PA, I am cautiously optimistic that many Americans will see their own best interests are served by banding together. But it ain’t gonna happen over night. Not while the Reagan and Rand zombie lies keep their stranglehold on our national agenda.
@DamnYankees: Just quickly to your last point, I don’t either and I didn’t mean to sound like I do (which I did). My previous post probably gives you an idea of where I’m coming from in that regard.
Actually, I think my last post would probably explain my perspective vis-a-vis your first point, too!
@Elia Isquire: Organized labor would be grateful for half of a party, at least in Congress, and the framework we’re talking about is down to a few popsicle sticks. (I’m not really a huge fan of unions; my own is run by dopes who would never bother elected officials for fear of getting into politics. But they’re the only worker-empowerment vehicle on the road just now.) Anyway, we don’t need statutory action so much as public acknowledgement that we proles are getting screwed. That’s not a long-term project. That just calls for some public figures to say out loud that Goldman Sachs is not our friend. If lil’ Ezra Klein can say so — and my original comment only meant to give him and his pals some credit — how come Obama can’t? Don’t answer that question. Meanwhile, I might get desperate enough to read Theda Skocpol.
And to start with, I think that is a false dichotomy. why do we have to choose? I think WI is pro both social justice and organized labor. It seems like a sketchy psuedo justification of the same free market ideology that has nearly destroyed this country. Its like you are desperately grubbing around to find some rationalization for the “innovation of the market.”
But I warmly welcome you and look forward to crossing blades.
You are truly a great addition to BJ. I think Cole has chosen wiser that he knows.
But right now I must swim away before some asshole steals my skin again.
@Elia Isquire: I agree. I frankly think there’s very little disagreement on these issues among liberals, which is why Freddie’s crusade on this issue is so confusing to a lot of us. It’s much ado about nothing – we all basically agree! But there’s seems to be this urge to distill liberalism to a single thing – not even a single thing we agree about, but a single thing we care most about!
It just seems silly and unnecessarily divisive.
I wasn’t accusing you or anyone else of being anti-union, nor am I arguing that unionism is a panacea. What I am saying is that labor is a key component of the American liberal coalition and that investment in its revival is worthwhile; sometimes I get a fatalistic sense about the end of labor from folks like Yglelsias that I don’t think is warranted. It doesn’t mean that I think he has to go out and become an organizer.
” Its orientation is towards expanding and protecting a redistributive social welfare system. Meanwhile, it is at best uninterested in (and often downright hostile towards) worker organization, unions, regulation, and other attempts to empower workers in relation to capital and poor people in relation to the rich. ”
But… can’t we have both of these?
Instead of bitching at the idiocy of the left, how about we try to persuade others we’re right without calling them fucking morons or questioning their dedication to the cause?
The left is not all one. It’s rather a coalition of people who believe a lot of different things, most if not all of which are seriously preferable to what the right believes.
However, they generally are temperamental and as such, get outvoted in off year elections.
So then, when thee Republicans get power and force bad changes, everyone ends up sniping at each other over whose ideas are more pure. It’s a stupid, destructive process that resolves nothing and only encourages meaningless arguments where no one is ever allowed to empathize with anyone else.
So here’s me: I like unions. I like the social safety net too. I like growth too. This is not generally complicated and I don’t see any contradictions.
Moreover, there’s not a hell of a lot of liberals, here or elsewhere, who actively want to take unions down. There’s some who don’t appreciate their institutional value, but there’s people who don’t understand the institutional value of any institution anywhere. The remedy is talking up the institution and to get people to understand its value, not to yell about how people are too stupid to understand it.
And you know what’s not persuasive in getting people to agree with you? Calling them names en masse in the most sneering way possible.
There is no one perfect liberal. I know this stings. I know it hurts. But different people and different demographics have different priorities which result in different ideologies.
Your ideology Freddie is certainly a part. But so is what you call pity charity liberalism. My liberalism is somewhere in middle. And there’s tons of others too. This is the same thing as ABL’s feud with Joan Walsh. Anyone that claims they on the left are the REAL BASE and everyone else isn’t is really missing the point: we don’t agree. But we have to act together – that’s the value of solidarity.
You really think the Christian evangelicals and Wall Street executives have a lot in common? Not really (we can say something cute like evil ruthlessness, but that misses the point). No, they understand the concept of solidarity – sticking together to get ahead.
So in that spirit Freddie I reach my hand out to you asking to put away the sword and deal with that not everyone agrees, but we need each other to get the policy achievements we each want.
And if the time comes when that’s no longer true, then we can have this argument. Now? It’s all academic. What we need now are inspirations to cross such divides, not invections that such divides exist. Of course they do.
Maybe I’m just dopey at the end of a long day, but isn’t the argument here a distinction between labor and capital? The neolibs see capital as an adequate substitute for labor whereas old-school libs generally do not.
That is, the safety net stems from work, not financial actions. That historically has been the foundation of the pension state – you work, and the more you work the more deferred income you accrue. Pensions are not free rides – you have to earn them, and stability and loyalty in the workplace is rewarded. The neolib and Republican safety net stems from investment. It has nothing to do with work. Make the right bet on your 401K and 40 years later you can live the high life, no matter what you do in the intervening years, or the collective payroll taxes are dumped into a community pool that everyone draws from equally.
The distinction on the latter (Social Security) is that it’s the safety net of last resort, but not meant to be the primary one. Basically is is to only serve to keep you out of abject poverty, it’s not your retirement plan. That’s where the pension came in – that one you worked for, that you earned. You give an employer 80,000 hours of your life for a fair but not excessive wage and in return you get security thereafter.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
So, you like “free markets”
Is it possible to have free markets without regulation?
To me “free markets” are to commerce, what somalia is to “less government”
when I see or hear “free markets” I think of motherfuckers who didn’t understand micro econ and elesticity of demand and instead loved the libertarian smugness of the econ professors in undergrad.
When it comes to selling labor, people will sell at whatever they can get which is enough, or near enough to keep body and sould together, that’s the “market clearing price”
and when it comes to health care like cancer surgery and chemo, the price-eleasticity of demand, is basically whatever the patient has available to pay, given the equation is pay or die…
to truly have freedom, to do shit like make contracts, or walk the street you need a government, which by definition makes you less free than no government.
“free markets” are really less “free” than well regulated markets.
“comparative advantage” in labor costs rests with Chinese prison labor, me, I’d like fair trade markets, not free markets where my labor is priced with a prisoner’s
Fair enough. Just seems like this is a very standard level of disagreement among ideological compatriots, and Freddie’s forcefulness on this particular issue is just a little confusing to a lot of us.
Wonks of the world, unite!
Left Coast Tom
I don’t really disagree, which is why I was happy to replace your “ideally” with “often”, but it’s sometimes the case that labor unions oppose liberal coalition movements (Dingell’s (MI) environmental “record” would be an especially obnoxious case in point).
I think (remembering back, it was a while ago) that my biggest fit of apoplexy at the time of the single-payer vote came from the response of PG&E’s unions. More recently I’ve seen FP posts from Kay that, in the midst of her fight on behalf of collective bargaining rights, noted unions (notably public safety) having endorsed the same midwestern governors who are now attacking those internationally-recognized human rights. It’s nice that they’re now walking that back, but the basic problem of a labor union endorsing Kasich should have been bloody obvious before November.
@DamnYankees: Here, here.
And just for the record, I’ve been a daily Yglesias reader for probably 5 years now? Since the Atlantic, however long ago that was. He’s great.
Glad to hear. I used to be a huge conservative, and it was people like Yglesias who really turned me around on many issues through his rather dispassionate and empirical view of things. People might mock him for his analysis of “small” issues like parking or barbershop licensing or whatever, but its little things like that which makes readers like me thing “this guy is on top of his shit”. It was so refreshing from the pomp and bombast of conservative “policy analysis”, it really turned me around. There’s no need to turn on each other as liberals – it takes all kinds, so lets embrace all kinds.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Open thread, please? I have something depressing I want to vent about, and you folks are nominated. (Please feel free to skip it, Corner Stone.) This thread has stayed remarkably on topic, though, so I don’t want to put it here.
Likewise, that’s fair, too. Let me reiterate that I don’t think there needs to be an either/or choice when it comes to the various priorities in American liberalism. At best, they work together; not always smoothly, but they work together.
Welcome to the site, but this really wasn’t a good first post. It’s completely unconvincing because it’s unclear, at least in the post, what you’re trying to convince us of, other than “labor movement good, unnamed, young, out of touch liberals bad”. Oooookaaay.
First of all, who the heck are you talking about? In the post, you cowardly fail to mention anyone by name and go out of your way to avoid mentioning any specific instances of the people you are talking about being “uninterested in (and often downright hostile towards) worker organization, unions, regulation, and other attempts to empower workers in relation to capital and poor people in relation to the rich”. Certainly these sound like bad people who don’t get it, but in your post, they’re just straw men, and I’m left wondering exactly what the point of your post was. (A rule of thumb for next time: if you’re thinking about writing a post that’s so generalized that you’re not going to bother with any actual details or facts to back up what you’re saying, go take Miles for a walk instead.)
You finally give some examples of what you’re talking about in comments, and it seems to me that you’re misreading what your targets are saying. Matt Yglesias says:
and you translate that as him saying that labor politics don’t matter. We haven’t had a national debate over ending unions or even making it easier to form a union year after year after year. But one of the major political parties harangues us every year about “big government”, as code language for welfare programs. The other major political party has, for example, wanted to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care (and it’s not just young, out of touch liberalish bloggers who have been demanding this). We’ve had two major bills expanding health care coverage in the past decade. That doesn’t mean that stuff hasn’t been going on regarding labor. Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, no one’s been enforcing labor law, and the UAW threw younger workers under the bus and basically focussed on stuff that was good for car companies in the short term and bad for everyone else, including themselves, in the long term (incidentally, it was the dastardly Matt Yglesias to brought my attention to the very different, and seemingly healthier, relationship labor has with managers in German corporations). Maybe you think that we should have been having different political battles over the last 30 years (and I’d certainly be open to that argument), but we haven’t, and it’s not Matt Yglesias’ fault because he observed that we haven’t.
If your point is that our national debate should be focusing more on labor rights, or that we should be doing more to build up a new labor movement in this country, then WRITE THAT. Tell us what you think we should be doing. If you have a problem with specific things that other bloggers write, then tell us what’s wrong with what they’re saying. But making generalized attacks on other unnamed bloggers is lazy and a waste of our time.
But, heck, you got me to write a looong comment critiquing your post, so that’s a win, right?
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Something depressing? From you?
Stop the presses!
Davis X. Machina
We need some recognition that there actually are actual, non-criminal, if-you-cut-us-do-we-not-bleed, taxpaying proles, for starters.
No small degree of the current predicament is due to the wrong side having more and better stories.
Moderately OT: Depressing piece on Mark Kleiman’s blog by Jonathan Zasloff, “If Korematsu Were Decided Today” about the reactions his one-L’s have — widespread support for the landmark 1942 Japanese internment case today.
Not all movement is progress.
Like many people have said, the two aren’t exclusive: they’re both very necessary. Back in the Gilded Age, you had a very motivated union movement (gave the Pinkertons plenty of target practice), but not much of a welfare state. Since the eighties, you’ve had a welfare state, however weakened, but not much of a union movement.
You need a strong welfare state, and a strong union movement, and strong regulations, as after the New Deal, in order to have any real economic justice.
@Left Coast Tom:
Agreed, and if what was going on in Ohio’s labor halls was at all like what was going on in labor halls in my neck of the woods, those unions were getting a lot of grief from other unions. Disputes between unions can get pretty spirited, let me tell you.
@Davis X. Machina:
Don’t take too much from an anecdote. Not a single person really defended that decision in my 1L class a few years ago.
The Iron Triangle of Liberalism Theory?
@Davis X. Machina: Fascinating, but I must admit I’m not so shocked. I’m an undergrad for about 5 more weeks, so this wasn’t in law school, but I did have a Con Law class a year or so ago and we did discuss both this ruling and Schenck v. United States, and in both cases far more students than one might expect (I go to a famously left-wing school) were sympathetic to a Security Above All argument.
The amount of arguing I had to do in defense of affirmative action, however, shocked and saddened me…
I have been beating the drum for protectionism for years, so I naturally favor Freddie’s viewpoint. Protectionism isn’t perfect and it doesn’t solve everything, but it does bring back economic power to workers in this country – from which meaningful gains can be accomplished and eventually shared by all. There is, however, a variant strain of liberalism, seen most clearly in Brad DeLong who explicitly states that he’s comfortable with workers losing out here if it means workers abroad move up a step or two. Many, many members of the “globalize/grow/give progressivism” crowd use that argument to defeat calls for protectionism. My position is that such an approach is a losing game until all countries reach a similar level of productivity, labor-demand, and so forth. Which means, basically, waiting for forever. Or close to forever. I know someone in that neoliberal/free-trade camp who is comfortable waiting for that time to arrive, even if it means taking 100 years (literally). I wonder what BJ commenters think about the DeLong counter argument to Freddie’s position. DeLong says he’s a liberal, and many agree. Do you?
Freddie’s dead on. I’ve been thinking along the same lines for about the last year. Progressives, liberals, Democrats, whatever pretty much have the policy agenda down. It’s the power agenda that’s lacking. The policy agenda will go nowhere without power. A power agenda would include things like:
corporate voting power for 401K/IRA owners
publicly financed campaigns
trying to win Senate seats with popular politicians instead of putting them in the cabinet
DC and PR statehood
I really thought Obama got this from the way he organized his campaign but as far as I can tell the power agenda isn’t on his radar at all.
@Corner Stone: That was an awesome catch.
@Elia Isquire: Hmmm….I realize this is anecdotal stuff….but shouldn’t we remember this sort of stuff when we wonder why the population elects Blue Dogs and other right leaning officials?
Welcome. This post was thought-provoking. I’ve worked in the welfare system for 20 years. I’m not sure which end of the divide I wind up in under this dichotomy. I believe that welfare, food stamps, medical care, etc are crucial to protect human dignity and will fight for these programs.
And yet, these programs can and often do lead to demeaned and diminished citizens. The welfare system is capricious and humiliating for any number of reasons. Work and independence are the long-term solution to poverty, not government ‘assistance’ with a thousand strings attached.
As you indicated, this is a very difficult and defining issue for the ‘left.’ Thank you for raising the issue.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Gian: Clearly, you missed the part where I said that most of the people who think they are arguing about free markets are really arguing about something else that they call free markets. There is nothing about the Republican coalition that indicates they even know what free markets actually are, let alone support.
No, it is not possible to have free markets without government regulations. For one thing, you need to capture externalities, and those have to be priced by some outside force. Oddly, this is something that Hayek understood. Most of the people who claim to love him forget this part, and most of the people who argue against them never learned it.
This should not be confused with me saying that I am totally in agreement with Hayek, I’m not. However, I think his central point is both critical and often missed: you have to get the prices right. If prices don’t truly reflect costs, the economy won’t work. For most goods and services, a free market lightly regulated is the best way to arrive at the best price. For some, a more heavily regulated free market is best; the energy sector falls into this category, with its need to price in a lot of externalities. For a very few things, a market leads to morally unacceptable outcomes, and you have to move to a different model. The default assumption for something should be that a lightly regulated market is best until there is real evidence that suggests otherwise.
Davis X. Machina
@Quiddity: I’m not sure you couldn’t use the price consequences — and while the magnitude of those consequences may be debatable, their existence really can’t — of protectionism as a wedge to split the bottom two quintiles and turn them against each other, not fifth-against-fourth, but people who primarily think of themselves as consumers v. people who primarily think of themselves as workers. Protectionism split political parties long before globalization as we know it.
Which is positively fiendish, if you’re the top centile, and want other people to act as your free hired muscle.
@gwangung: Sure! But actually what experiences like this have done towards my thinking on this stuff is cause me to look at things through a class perspective and to treat post-material liberalism with some trepidation. These were all kids who thought they were liberal — probably even very liberal — but they were also overwhelmingly upper-middle class (at least) and seemed to have no concepton of liberalism being an ideology that’s about more than believing in evolution and finding homophobia distasteful. It’s the reason why I sometimes under-appreciate these kind of “new left” issues, really, because I just get so frustrated with an exaggerated focus on what I consider at times to be a by-product of the larger problem of inequality.
Agreed. I tried to get at this in my super long comment too.
Left Coast Tom
@Davis X. Machina:
That was a very noticeable difference between having grown up in Michigan (where protectionism was, and remains, very popular) and living in the SF Bay Area in the ’80s. It took me no time at all to realize what people thought of even Reagan’s weak ‘voluntary import quotas’ for Toyota and Honda. In CA it was essentially a tax, with Japanese cars going for above MSRP. The proceeds, of course, went to Toyota and Honda rather than the public.
Well, it seems from the comments here that people either don’t know or forgot that “unions” themselves have pretty contentious histories regarding race and gender. So whether they could use this knowledge in electoral politics is debatable.
Hell, it appears they forgot about 2008, in which union leaders had to try to convince some of their rank and file to vote for Obama.
that is a policy agenda. Calling it a different name doesn’t mean a whole bunch of people will make it a priority.
This isn’t about messaging, it’s about persuasion.
By design, as you know better than I. The people who hate it, and want to kill off the system have been playing a grand bargain with “welfare” proponents for some decades now.
Hence we see evolutions like orange cards for use at grocery checkout, etc.
Absolutely they do have a contentious history; it’s understandable that broader trends and histories would be reflected in the internal histories of institutions like labor unions.
@Freddie: I just read the post. I immediately was prompted to recall why I stopped reading Yglesias.
There’s an argument that the ‘losers’ of economic change need social welfare to cushion them and so forth. And that’s what the government’s role should mainly be in the economy.
There’s also a nice presumption that somehow the economy will keep going and growing such that there’s plenty of money to fund this system.
And that economic developments will lead to lots of new and great jobs which those unfortunate losers will be able to recapture once they’ve retrained.
It’s not necessary, apparently, to have any idea where the economy is headed, or that it actually will lead to some situation in which things are going great for most working people and only a few fall behind and need social support.
So, you know, stuff will happen, lots of new good jobs will always keep coming, and only a few people will fall behind, and we need a good social support system so that those who need help get it until such time as they’re able to get one of these new good jobs that we’re presuming will be available.
Well, what does your comment mean? Because between your acknowledgment and the specific fissures that people highlight here — about protectionism, immigration, global labor vs. local labor — I tend to think that sweeping generalizations about being “against/for” “unions” become rather meaningless when you take into account specific contexts. Depending on how you look at a situation, unions were not always the positive force. And unions themselves are divided in re their leadership and their rank-and-file.
My point is that Freddie isn’t really saying anything useful here about who “the left” should support because he doesn’t provide context and name names.
The cynicism from politicians of all stripes is astounding when it comes to welfare. From conservatives who want to control every aspect of recipient’s personal lives to some liberals seeking to funnel bodies (and funding) through training programs, the dignity of poor people is continually trampled. Most people get off of welfare while they are still eligible because the benefits of a few extra bucks aren’t worth living as second-class citizens.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
It’s late for me, and the two little ones are off to sleep (I had no idea how lord of the flies kindergarten could be, but I digress)
at the sucking down strong coffee stage talking things out I can see where (neomarxist) Habermas was going way back when. The gist of that argument was that when people realize that they’ve been screwed by a system that makes sure we don’t hurt the delicate feelings of the rich, they will revolt and install a marxist inspired governmant (gross oversimplication) (he writes about sperscructer and stuff, the gisst is that governments have intervened and when the intervention fails, revolution will happen,
and for me? sleep will happen shortly
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
This I disagree with, intensely. In effect, it’s an argument that the low productivity countries should never become wealthier, or at least take a long, long time to do so. That’s wrong. It’s also an argument that will keep the countries that are more productive poorer, as it will mean that there are a lot of people stuck in low productivity jobs and whose wages can’t keep up.
I am a big believer in free trade. Almost an absolutist about it. However, there are some things that a lot of opponents of protectionism fail to grasp. I’m no longer convinced that unilateral free trade is a good idea; it has to be mutual, at least in the world that we have now. It’s different in a world where you have one country (or bloc of countries) that is so disproportionately wealthy that it can afford to do so. That world disappeared in about 1900, reappeared with a different protagonist in the wake of World War II, and disappeared again around 1990.
Currency manipulation is a barrier to free trade. If you are going to have free trade, money must be a part of the deal. The major East Asian countries violate this one. The Germans sort of do, too, though they launder the process in a way that makes it largely invisible; it still has the same effect, though it doesn’t lead to a weak currency per se. (Let’s just say that there was a reason it was German banks that were in so much trouble during the financial meltdown and are still in a lot of trouble in the sovereign debt crisis.) You can’t have free trade with a country that artificially keeps its currency low. Protectionism is a valid response until they are actually willing to trade freely.
While countries don’t have to be equally productive for free trade to work, they do have to all operate under similar legal regimes. Local laws can vary, quite a bit, but there has to be some shared ground. Labor markets must be free, and that includes the right to organize in unions. Workers may not take that opportunity, but it must at least be there for them to pass up.
The countries must all be on fairly similar ground when it comes to environmental protection. Strictly speaking, free trade can work if they all have complete disregard for environmental damage; that may be a really sucky world, but it isn’t free trade that’s causing the problem. There has to be a consensus as to whether or not environmental regulation is valuable and enforced.
It is perfectly acceptable to impose trade barriers against countries that have radically different ideas about these, and some other legal concerns. There’s nothing wrong with a country having a trade advantage in various goods over another. That’s why free trade works in the first place. There is something wrong with a country having a trade advantage that is based upon immoral principles and actions.
Note, of course, that the two examples I gave might provide justification for the Europeans to impose sanctions against the US. Technically, the second one could give the Chinese one as well, but I really don’t want to hear it from them, at least their government.
@Paula: Really. That’s what I mean about how there’s nothing there. By the same logic, “Careerist liberals don’t care enough about [issue]. I think they should stop doing that. [Issue] is the defining issue of our time, and they should keep that in mind. But they don’t, on account of their limited personal exposure to [issue], and did I mention they were careerists?” Front page, please!
I think it’s possible for one to support the general principle of the right to organize and collectively bargain and at the same time be critical of labor institutions on particular issues or point out ways in which they could better live up to their own ideals. My point was that it’s not surprising that the divisions within labor unions mirrored the divisions in the broader society of which they were a part.
Hi, Freddie. Welcome aboard. Miles is very cute. I find myself on the side of others saying, “Yes, and?” Some liberals prioritize unions. Some liberals prioritize healthcare reform. Some liberals prioritize equal rights enforcement. But, I think most liberals are pro-all of the above. By definition, the Democratic Party is big tent. We’re not going to agree on everything. Some days, we agree on nothing. And so it goes.
Any economic theory sounds really stupid when you put “or something” after a really bad caricature of what it says.
more marxist, or even marxist-ish, please.
@Corner Stone: In our forgotten history, we are unaware that in the early 1960s political leaders were aiming to liberate people from poverty, rather than provide entrapping support.
In the 1960s there were a variety of plans for support for the poor and unemployed involving creative methods aimed at self-support and growth.
Lyndon Johnson started out with a really positive approach dedicated to helping the poor take control of their own lives, ‘democratization’ of aid as it were.
This followed efforts by local leaders such as North Carolina’s Governor Terry Sanford’s “North Carolina Fund”.
People here would simply not believe the progressiveness of that program. Before the Civil Rights Movement, which aimed at aiding the economic development of NC’s black population.
Conservatives, of both parties, flipped out. Partly because this might lead to putting n****** on the path to owning homes and having good jobs. And partly because this would drive up wages for employers.
And partly because they actually wanted a system in which recipients of welfare were limited and easily stigmatized.
Anyone curious simply MUST visit this site connecting the Fund’s history with the broader development of both the initial anti-poverty programs and the later ‘welfare’ programs. Based around a book by two famed historians, To Right These Wrongs.
Here’s a free chapter of that book. Most people won’t believe all this actually happened.
Or listen to this interview with the authors, Pr. James Leloudis of UNC-Chapel Hill and Pr. Robert Kornstadt of Duke University.
This is the sort of history we’re supposed to forget. We never had better approaches. The government sucks. Politicians only oppress the poor and workers, so why even try.
Does this sound familiar? (Same online chapter.)
The notion that there really were better ideas which actually began making it into policy, only to be destroyed and then worsened by the economic and social reactionaries.
Your ideas intrigue me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
ISTM that some people aren’t understanding the fundamental question of the left.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): You really are an Ygleisidiot. You think wage arbitrage is comparative advantage. It is not. So you just don’t give a shit about 200 Million of your fellow citizens, but you’re still a smart guy with good intentions. Freddie is talking about exactly you.
Villago Delenda Est
What really hacks me off about modern “conservatives” is that they’ve stolen that name and are turning it into mush.
They should be all about promoting social stability, but they actively seek to destabilize society. Dismantling the social safety net we’ve got, such as it is (far inferior to anything in Europe) is just asking for trouble that is not good for the long term survival of a parasite overclass. But then again, our parasite overclass is totally focused on the short term…beyond the current fiscal quarter, who cares?
I enjoyed your comment and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
@chrismealy: This. in 205 responses to Freddie, what you are all missing is that unions are organizations that form peer groups that go out on Saturdays and knock on doors and hold signs on freeway overpasses and raise money and make phone calls and drive old ladies to the polls. Unions win elections. Neoliberals don’t. Period.
Want to know how much power? Why do you think Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana are happening?
Republicans spend all their time forming these groups- fundamentalist churches, fraternities, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, College Republicans, Federalist Societies, Liberty Universities, etc., etc. The power of the peer group gives people more motivation to be more active, provides ideological reinforcement, and provides career paths.
People in groups are much more powerful than JMNs writing blog posts, and much more powerful than lame gay or feminist identity politics that splinter groups rather than unite them. Unions organize. Unions mean power. And nobody can enact policy without power.
That’s “union” in the sense of “organization,” though, not labor unions in particular. Plenty of groups organize. Organization is vital. But that’s a defense of grass-roots politics in general. What gives labor the pride of place Freddie anoints it with?
@Dollared: And, by the by, your little gambit in the end to say that “identity politics” are “lame” in contrast to labor unions is precisely why a lot of the rest of the left isn’t that eager to swallow this notion that labor has a unique capacity to unify.
You think card-check is more important than same-sex marriage? I know a lot of people who would disagree with that vociferously. Which is why the bid to bring together left/liberal groups is always going to be volatile, and putting class “first” isn’t going to work out any more smoothly than putting anything else “first” would. Think about race-based vs. class-based affirmative action. Is one a better policy than the other? Is that answer going to be discernible without a horrendous fight?
Hmm, seems “the fundamental question for the left” ain’t quite so easy as it looks.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
I disagree. Europa, and later America, has been disproportionately wealthy, since at least 1600’s.
Also, wealthy countries always used their power to maintain this status quo. And wealthy countries needs a cheap laborforce to maintain their incomes; America used to have the inmigrants, and now is offshoring all their industrial capacity. England used to offshoring to America at the 1850-1900.
It’s far too deep into the night to have a thought-provoking comment to add, but I do wish to say welcome to the site and I look forward to a little bit more “Marxist cant” in the future. Cheers!
The battle is between capital and labor (organized or not). Capital is well funded and well represented, labor is represented partially by unions.
As an example of the disregard for labor I’ll bring up a nasty little subject – illegal immigration and it’s wink and a nod enforcement post St Ronnie’s amnesty. (no, this is not about fence bullshit) With StR’s amnesty those workers quickly moved out of the jobs they had been trapped into leaving holes quickly filled. Cheap exploitable labor has value. New holes were opened to utilize the increasing flow, jobs previously exempt were included. Labor surpluses work to depress wages, a great benefit to some. Wages can be further depressed when the competition is in no position to complain about substandard wages and conditions. Anyone willing to violate toothless employment laws gained a competitive edge, particularly if they also avoided items like FICA/SS, minimum wage, etc.
Employment laws remained toothless, a reliable check system remained a figment, wages depressed, and in its place fence debates broke out – to the benefit of a very few. On the most basic question of all – who gets to work – capital wins.
As for “free market” and “free trade” I cannot begin to express my disdain for anyone who seriously uses those phrases. I want one instance of their existance since Adam Smith and then I’ll relent regarding it’s asshattedness.
While I agree with Freddie on most points, I have to dissent when he writes:
The record is mixed. Certainly, workers went first in lots of places, but there was also simple politics that helped out at times. Think of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that happened 100 years ago. As a result of that and the subsequent public outcry (with the press playing a big role), working conditions were improved through the passage of laws mandating workplace safety.
So maybe it’s worker-groups (aka unions) doing half and the general political rhythms that do the other half. Or some other ratio. But to lose the worker-empowerment part is losing a whole lot, and so we should try and keep it around.
Seriously? I’d think that, uh, Marxist views would tend to posit unions as being anti-capitalist, or at least potentially so.
Following the links, I came across this post:
Anytime I read statements like that, I’m reminded of reading about scientists around 1900 who thought all the major problems of physics were just about answered and then came along relativity and quantum mechanics. Considering how liberalism has been losing for the last thirty years, I’m taken aback by the presumptuousness of the statement.
And welcome Freddie! I look forward to more posts from you.
Whoops, forgot to link the post I was talking about.
In re conversation with @Dollared, coalitions win elections. Arguing over who has the longest penis in that coalition is, understandably, pointless. Arguing why we should scratch each others’ back is, shockingly, useful. I still don’t understand the need to tear down. Reagan was onto something when he said not to criticize a fellow Republican. That’s obviously extreme and all, but there’s a germ of truth in that.
When we talk levels of abstraction, we can bitch and moan, but on the policy level, there’s not much difference, especially considering the blasé type of Democrat who dominates Congress.
We can have this discussion a million times, but does anyone think Ben Nelson (or the next version of him) cares?
By the way, if unions win elections, you’d think the Democrats in Congress would have a few more representatives who fought hard for union goals like card check.
The Democrats are a coalition with really crappy solidarity. The response to this, predictably, has been an endless pissing contest on who is more important. Good god, get over yourselves and talk about why you can help each other.
Robbing Yglesias of his context is sort of important there. He’s not talking about nothing to fight for, he’s talking about there currently not being giant government programs of economic intervention on the table in new areas for liberals to try to implement: they are there.
And unless you want to portray climate change legislation as that (it’s environmental legislation) there’s nothing else currently on the table. (Moreover, cap and trade would add money, not cost money).
Even you aren’t naming some program of social intervention. Again, sure, maybe such a program will exist, but it sure isn’t widespread now.
And guess what, when you don’t know anything else you need to do, you don’t plan on doing anything else. The social welfare state is basically set unless another plan emerges. The ACA/medicare/medicaid could turn into single payer but that’s just a change in form, not expanding fundamentally.
In sum, Yglesias is just saying liberals need to play defense on social issues in terms of justifying that sort of intervention in those sectors of the economy. Which is sort of exactly what you are saying. So I’m not sure why you’re attacking him.
So, Freddie, who exactly are you?
I mean, I get that you’re a guy with a blog with a name that requires Character Map to type on an American keyboard.
But who is Freddie DeBoer? What’s the story of Freddie?
I’ve learned as a community organizer that if you start with your Story of Self, it establishes your credibility with a new audience, and makes them more receptive to your theories and prescriptions.
I’d love to hear more about your work in the trenches with the working folk of the US, listening to their stories, learning from them, then educating them on the value of organizing into unions and guiding them successfully into collective bargaining agreements with their employers.
I mean, you didn’t come by all this expertise on the American people by critically reading what other intellectuals have written about them, did you?
He wasn’t arguing that there aren’t any big government programs on the table right now; he was arguing that the “era of big government liberalism is over.” Since I think some of the biggest problems we face (exploding health care costs, global warming, peak oil) are going to require heavy doses of government, I don’t agree with that statement.
Granted, we might just elect Republicans and blue dogs and end up not doing shit about any of these problems until it’s too late, but I don’t think we can stay on that path for very long. Big government liberal solutions are going to make a comeback.
Along those same lines, I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who starts off with saying that’ the fundamental question is why doesn’t everyone stop agreeing with the idiots and start agreeing with me.’ A little humility would be nice.
@ExistentialFish: Sadly, Freddie appears to be the early-to-bed type, so we will probably have to suffer in ignorance of his credentials until next time…
The key concept is “lock it in place”.
This is with regard to labor unions and social programs.
If every gain is going to be immediately threatened, then it is necessary to always fight, to use whatever power is necessary to lock the gain in place, and move forward as the price for not moving backward very fast.
Social Security and Medicare were untouchable for years as they were “locked in place” by being general programs not pity programs.
Labor unions have not been successful in this country largely because they did not “lock in place” their gains through organizing the South.
To Matt Yglesias, this is distasteful rent-seeking.
Again, that’s kind of a simplistic spin on the role “worker collectives” HAVE ACTUALLY PLAYED, historically speaking, in the promotion of their products along with their workers in helping to develop what we now call a “capitalist” exchange or goods. While the Industrial Revolution and the resulting degradation of laborers definitely moved Marx to pose workers against capital in THEORY, the historical idea of “worker collectives” in Europe was old even by that time and has always had an ambivalent relationship to aristocrats and the rising bourgeoisie who were, after all, their clientele.
In other words, you like puppies, Freddie likes puppies, I like puppies — why do other people hate puppies?
I hadn’t realized from the length and angst evident here that what we were really discussing was sentiment rather that, oh I don’t know, something substantive. Because I’m sure conservatives believe in the right of the people to organize at the grass roots level to agitate for their interests, too, which I’m sure they would also characterize as being “pro-worker”. It doesn’t really say anything about the “left” when we say we support it.
Hi Freddie, and welcome. I think this is a great question. I have the answer! Just kidding.
I don’t (and haven’t) read politics long enough or broadly enough on the internet to weigh in on the “young wonks”: I only read one of them.
The question is too broad for me, so I’ll pull out this part and narrow it a bit.
I think you’re on to something with that. I don’t think we’re reaching them where they are now. As an example, no one I know believes that retraining is the answer (they’ve all retrained and retrained, over and over, and they’re just falling further behind) and no one I know has any idea what “green jobs” means. When I hear Robert Reich tell them to “retrain” my heart just sinks; he must not know they’re on like Round Three of “retraining” and all retraining means is an interruption in wages and debt and huge family stress. Maybe he should retrain, right? He seems to be stuck in 1994:)
How are they supposed to 1. keep climbing out of each hole, and 2. get anywhere?
Those are the only two “empowering” things (things people can do themselves) that liberals and Democrats are offering, as far as people’s working/home lives, and we’ve been spouting the same bullshit since 1980.
@Sam: As the grandson of an IBEW union organizer in West Alabama, I assure you that it is not the labor unions’ failure to organize in the South that did anything. The unions were here.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
FWIW, I agree with you that there are problems with unions. I think it’s delusional to say there aren’t, and I say that as a former union member.
Politically, union interests often don’t align with “liberal” interests, the most glaring division here is environmentalism. It’s huge.
Unions, too, often didn’t and don’t serve their members well. They traded wage increases for more and more health insurance, for one thing, and that was a bad trade. An elaborate insurance policy that promises payment in the future (perhaps!) is a bad trade for real current wage increases, but they all did it, because the oldest (demographically) members have the most clout, and they use the most health care. I also wonder if union leaders were somewhat captured by insurance interests in the negotiation process, because something funny is going on there. Some of these policies they accepted in lieu of wages don’t make sense. No one in their right mind trades all current wages for an insurance policy. It’s just a bad deal.
I don’t think we should romanticize them. They are what they are, and it’s not all wonderful.
@Chuck Butcher: You are correct that the “free market” is just a shibboleth for the bankstahs and the glibertarians. And by glibertarians I mean soi disant libertarians (because they are not really), neo-liberals, liberal-tarians, etc.
What they actually really mean is deregulated (or very lightly regulated) capitalism. The free market is a fantasy construct.
Now free market solutions are what has landed this country in a world of hurt.
The Econopalypse that Ate Americas Jobs, offshoring, the BP oil spill, 25th world standing in math and 20th in science, these are the negative results of free market solutions to problems.
I think it would be fine to front load organized labor. I do not think social justice engineers are “hostile” to labor like Freddie bizarrely claims. I think they recognize that free market solutions perpetrated on the working class over the last ten years especially have dug a hole that the middle class needs help climbing out of.
I am not adverse to free market solutions that work.
But I haven’t seen one yet.
IMHO the two sides are social justice engineers vs freemarketeers.
And you are correct that the freemarketeers do not actually understand the concept of a free market.
I’m like a reality show contestant.
I’m like a reality show contestant.
you confuse Democrat with liberal. As the DLC and many Democrats have proven over and over the two are not the same. Substitute ‘Democrat’ for ‘liberal’ in your note & it is closer to the truth.
The labor movement abandoned the Dems for Nixon and Reagan. As a result those “smart” Ds at DLC have no reason to propose or defend labor issues – no votes & little money in that.
@Freddie: nah, more like Ninja Warrior.
Step up your game dude.
This isn’t the LoOG.
Paul in KY
Quote from post: ‘Whatever you want to call it, this vision of the liberal project defines itself through the social safety net. Its orientation is towards expanding and protecting a redistributive social welfare system. Meanwhile, it is at best uninterested in (and often downright hostile towards) worker organization, unions, regulation, and other attempts to empower workers in relation to capital and poor people in relation to the rich. The idea is that, if you get the economy going well enough, you can redistribute enough money to the poor that they’ll be alright, even while you’ve undermined their ability to collectively bargain, raise the value of their labor, and exercise power.’
Whatever the above is, it is not ‘progressivism’ or ‘liberalism’. Support for the working man & unions in the USA predates any concept of a social safety net, IMO.
Jamey: Bike Commuter of the Gods
@Mr. Furious: Thanks, I was going to comment about this gratuitously condescending straw-man argument made by FdB, but you saved me the trouble. As have others hereabouts who point out FdB’s flawed premise that liberal automatically = democratic
@Freddie: here is a good explanation of what a free market is. Maybe Chuck Butcher can weigh in, he seems to know his stuff.
I see you met Hall Monitor Allan.
Paul in KY
@Chuck Butcher: Excellent comments, Chuck. Right on!
@Paul in KY: /high five
Paul in KY
@Hermione Granger-Weasley: Thanks, HGW! Looks like we have a more touchy-feely version of EDK here.
Jamey: Bike Commuter of the Gods
@Belafon (formerly anonevent): And it’s this practice–paying more for the privilege of being either more fortunate, or better able to take advantage of the stability and security of America’s political, social, and economic structures–that used to be the bulwark of conservative thought during what was arguably America’s halcyon era. Still, FdB seems comfortable calling this sort of structure, “pity charity.”
Only when we started letting the most fortunate off the hook and creating a society that venerated aspirational economics (Joe the Plumber, who made >40K/annum whinging about what will happen to him when he starts earning >$250k) did paying one’s fair share–meaning: To effect good outcomes; that people aren’t dying from a lack of access to health care, or losing their livelihoods because the plutocrats have finagled US gov’t subsidies for off-shoring of capital and economic activity–become interchangeable with “wealth redistribution to subsidize young bucks’ Caddilacs.”
Here’s how I define redistribution: Everyone pays, but some get more. Right now, the latter sure ain’t the lower 97 percentile earning brackets.
Either I live in a hole in the wall, or your description of some liberals is whacked. I don’t know anyone who describes himself as a liberal and expouses what you described here, I just don’t.
Jamey: Bike Commuter of the Gods
@Quiddity: Take down the cause and you lose the effect.
Leaving aside the obvious–that workers aren’t human chattel–there’s a vast social benefit to reforms initially pushed by organized labor. Since Triangle, ALL deaths by fire, residential and industrial, have plummeted to a small fraction of their pre-1911 rate. And there are countless other advances that were created by the fight to secure more humane working conditions.
@Mark S.: Again, there’s a subject lying behind the discussion of the ‘social welfare’ system and whether or not to have ‘new’ ‘social’ programs.
Do we just sit back and hope that there’s an economy to drive all that? Do we just assume that said economy will be providing jobs such that
Other governments (as ours) not only try to actively anticipate possible future economic developments but intervene to try to achieve some.
Maybe this isn’t always *possible* in any given case, but it’s certainly breezy and dismissive to just talk about how there will always be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the job force in the short term, thus some redistributive / aid program to help them through.
It’s certainly a distinct possibility that the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the ordinary working population are only ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in a very relative sense, while in an absolute sense, all of them are ‘losing’.
If the big assumption behind such social welfare ‘free’ marketism is that the market will provide such an economy and jobs with minimal direction and intervention, because it just will, and we just need to have sensible supports for those not benefiting as much, then it’s a pretty stupid assumption.
And it doesn’t reflect the history of US or other nations’ economic development in reality.
Thus, the basic questions: Where is this economy that is to bring the jobs to the US which don’t appear to be coming, such that we’ll be able to fund this social welfare system?
Where is the justification that the offhand dismissal that moves toward consolidating ‘trade’ and other large national economic transactions into locked agreements favoring capital but not labor will lead to an economy which will fund this social support system but not need to with the overall workforce?
We heard this bullshit about how ‘free’ trade (there is no such thing as free trade agreements, just various trade agreements with various winners and losers) would, sure, knock out lots of jobs but these would be replaced by ‘other’ stuff. And of course, any questioning of such ‘positive’ developments do not lead to a broader questioning of the whole context, just a response that such interrogation means one desires autarky and fears Mexicans or some such.
Lost jobs to be replaced by, you know, high tech stuff, and ‘financial innovation,’ and other bullshit called into existence by handwaving and based upon obviously temporary phenomena like the Clinton-era boom. (Yes, it was pretty damned obvious at that time. The “dot com bust” failed to surprise a lot of people, just like even ordinary people like me saw the housing bubble, if not in those terms.)
And ‘training’ would fix that, somehow, leading people to all these new jobs which would be assumed to arrive on their own. And if you questioned that, then the response is that such a hope is necessary and otherwise you’re Cuba or whatever.
So breezy handwaving replaces both immediate concerns for what these awesome cool economic developments are doing to the work force now as it ignores any concerns that the awesome onrushing improved economic future will provide for all that.
Thus a pie-in-the-sky callousness backed by a lazy assumption that you’d just politically hang together a program of benefits up there, and if those social supports were made law and arrived, great, and if not, oh, well, at least we hoped it would.
And if the economy to come didn’t fund all that, and the assumed new jobs to be filled by a newly ‘trained’ workforce didn’t arrive, oh well, it’s for someone else to think about sometime.
DeLong has on more than one occasion had nice things to say about Alan Greenspan. ‘Nuff said.
@Paul in KY: nah, freddie is orders of magnitude better than EDK.
For one thing, he doesn’t pander to his audience.
And even if he did start blogging as a McMegan fanboi.
@El Cid: well said, el Campeador.
Do you think the basic problem is the changing of the guard between White Patriarchy Social Cohesion Model and Social Democracy Model?
Hah! Snerk. FTW.
I don’t understand Freddie’s hostility towards those advocating social safety net/welfare state/pity charity liberalism or whatever you want to call it. This is the short term solution for the people suffering RIGHT NOW. The empowerment of the labor movement etc etc is the long term solution, to prevent future suffering. Both parts are important. Why shouldn’t some people focus on the short term, while others, presumably Freddie and his ilks, focus on the long term? Wouldn’t his time be better spent on advocating for the long term solution, rather than making ad hominem attack on the people focusing on the short term solution? Honestly, having read his blog, I find his obsession with the so-called liberal wonks like Yglesias, Klein etc very baffling. Dude, in the scheme of things, those guys aren’t even very important or influential Certainly not as important as the Brooks, Friedman or Krugmans of the world. Why not focus your fire there? Or is there some “professional jealousy” involved here?
Yawn. The biggest problem with this discussion is that it assumes government does, and should, redistribute wealth downwards. On the contrary—as a matter of “is”, not “ought”—government massively distributes wealth upwards, in the form of creating licenses to steal, aka opportunities for rent collection.
The biggest instance is land ownership in the absense of extremely high land taxes. Land rent in the US is probably 10–20% of GDP. Since people who own land (particularly commercial land) tend to be wealthier, on average, that’s a massive redistribution upwards.
Another example is the banksters. There’s absolutely zero evidence that the massively increased share of GDP devoted to FIRE has done anything to improve productivity. So that increased share is all economic rent.
Finally, there’s things like Microsoft, which benefit from a government-created monopoly in the form of copyright, etc.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): “The passage of the horrible fiscal emergency bill in Michigan can be traced directly to the way that the Detroit public schools and its unionized teachers have blocked every attempt to reform what is a disastrous system. ”
Yes, because the GOP hasn’t done similar things in every state that they could this year. Wisconsin, Florida, Maine, New Jersey – in each state a GOP governor was elected, and immediately put forth insane right-wing bills and policies, many aimed directly at disempowering the opposition.
I agree with those goals to start with. So does Yglesias.
That’s why the next sentence – the one you don’t quote – is so important. “Future public policy has to be about ways to maximize sustainable economic growth, and ways to maximize the efficiency with which services are delivered.”
I want single-payer, but it’s only going to be viable if it makes sense economically, not purely as a moral issue which costs a hell of a lot. If it’s more efficient way of delivering what the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs already does, then it will be pursued.
Regarding climate change / peak oil (really the same – energy) that’s not expanding big government either. We’ve already funded alternative fuels, and doing more, or having a cap and trade program where we sell permits or even a carbon tax would be a more efficient (and revenue positive) way of addressing the issue.
The point Yglesias is making is not that big government is over – he it’s not. He said that liberalism isn’t going to be about expanding the general size of government any more. That’s a questionable statement, I agree, but it’s a far, far less controversial statement than you’re implying it is. You seem to think Yglesias is throwing in the towel on a number of things, but I don’t think his work before or after (given that you disagree with part of it) reflects that.
Given what Democrats have accomplished in the past ~100 years, it’s time to play a little defense and make sure it’s sustainable and strong. Surely we can all agree on that in general.
(And given the immediate circumstances of tonight, talking about how to raise revenue is very, very salient as a long term political problem.)
@Freddie: Thanks for that biographical sketch. Now I know exactly how credible your opinions are.
I wasn’t talking about (metaphorical) puppies at all, but I’ll leave it at that since this thread is quite done. I’m sure a similar conversation can be continued in the future.
@Allan: wallah, you are such a prig. take that broomstick out of your butt and lighten up.
This is teh interwebs, not a graduate seminar.
Nice to see that Cole has brought one of those ‘true progressive’ jackasses to the site. Enjoy having someone who’s actively trying to undermine the Democrats here.
I think it’s pretty clear our current health care system is the worst in the developed world. We spend a sixth of GDP on health care and don’t cover 50 million Americans. The rest of the industrialized countries spend on average half of that and cover everybody. Nearly all of these countries have higher life expectancies. The idea that our politicians will change this if it is pointed out that that Policy A is more efficient is doubtful because our politicians are almost all corporate whores.
Energy policy will require a huge investment in infrastructure. Ironically, this is an issue Yglesias is passionate about, and he writes a lot about how cities need to become denser. The vast majority of our urban areas are based on everyone having cars, i.e. based on cheap oil. I’ve visited friends and family living in suburbs where it’s a fifteen minute drive just to get to a goddamn convenience store, let alone a grocery store or something useful. That can’t last forever. I’ve read some interesting articles about how suburbs will someday become ghost towns.
@Barry: This. JMN is a Kochster who voted for Clinton.
Paul in KY
@Hermione Granger-Weasley: I will take your word on that.
@Comrade Kevin: awwww….Freddie isn’t nearly as awful as EDK. Cole’s favorite thing is trolling his own blog i think.
well said freddie.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
I agree with you about making sure that “externalities” need to be priced in. BTW, I hate the term “externalities”. An economic model which blithely dismisses real costs and problems as “externalities” is invalid, and it’s one of the problems when dealing with a lot of glibertarians, to whom externalities don’t seem to exist.
Another thing that’s seriously skewed in our economic system today is how we compensate people. Ideally, compensation would be based on 1) level of skill required to perform the job, and amount of training or education needed to achieve that skill; 2) overall worth to society (garbage collectors really should be well-compensated); 3) longevity. I know there are some other factors worth considering as well but my foggy brain isn’t coming up with them right now.
I put longevity as no.3 because I think it deserves inclusion in compensation to some degree but shouldn’t be the sole factor.
I forgot a very important aspect: inventiveness. If an idea leads to a product, or the idea itself, leads to advancing the human condition, that should be well-compensated and that compensation should go primarily to the person or team which came up with the improvement.
I need not point out just how screwed our current compensations are, and how little deserving those at the top end are of their “earning”.
However, I have no clue as to how to bring about compensation which is actually related to worth of work.
Is there a policy proposal here that you want to debate?
@Matthew Yglesias: I doubt policy can even touch this issue.
@Matthew Yglesias: yeah Matt. All you glibertarians have free market fantasy poisoning.
Free market solutions are what created the econopalypse and americas rank as 20th in science and 25th in math.
We need a new social compact.
And it needs to be social justice, not more freemarket fuckery.
How about instead of endless wanking about market-based “solutions” you guys come up with some social justice based solutions?
I think that Freddie et al‘s identification of Yglesias as anti-union is factually incorrect. It’s not one of his hobby-horses like, say, free parking, but I distinctly remember when EFCA was a current topic, he made a lot of VERY pro-union arguments on his site. Maybe you could hammer him about misplaced priorities if you have that much free time on your hands, but to call him a safety net-only neo-lib simply does not jibe with what his published opinions are.
I’m late in commenting on this, but I just have to say I am so happy to see this post, and I am so happy to see this getting voiced on Balloon Juice.
I am with you 100% on this. I’m been thinking the same time for some time.
I think liberalism is too much defined by those who’ve adopted “left” politics as a career path, and it’s always about what “professionals” and politicians and institutions can do for people. They think politics is a debate about policy. The elite see it as a war, and the state is their weapon. The working class has lost power, and they are not going to gain it at the ballot box. They are going to gain it by building civil society organization that can exercise real power to fight in their interests.
And while we are at it, can we stop pretending that working people are “middle class” just because they are not starving? There is a real anti-working class bias deeply ingrained in our culture, IMO. People need to wake up — if you support yourself by earning a paycheck from someone else, you are working class!