Readers may have noticed that the British Labour Party has gone kind of mad this week, and decided to make the question of whether Adolf Hitler was a Zionist a key issue in the local election campaign. I’ve written in the past on Crooked Timber about why I think it is that the general question of Israel and Palestine is so unfailingly nasty and full of toxic bullshit. But I think it’s also worth looking at why this is specifically a problem for left wing politics in the UK. Below the fold, a loooong attempt at a structural explanation of a persistent phenomenon.

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Chairs by St Augustine's Reach

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Neoliberalism: A Quick Follow-up

by Corey Robin on April 29, 2016

My post on neoliberalism is getting a fair amount of attention on social media. Jonathan Chait, whose original tweet prompted the post, responded to it with a series of four tweets:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 3.46.41 PM

The four tweets are even odder than the original tweet. [click to continue…]

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A data point on minimum wages

by John Quiggin on April 28, 2016

I’m currently working on a section of my Economics in Two Lessons book dealing with minimum wages in the context of predistribution policies, so I thought I would compare Australia with the US, where the idea of a $15/hour minimum wage is currently a hot topic. In Australia there are two kinds of minimum wage. The PPP exchange rate is estimated at $A$1.30 = $US, which is fairly close to the market exchange rate at present, so I’ll give both $A and estimated $US equivalents

The standard minimum wage for workers aged 21 or over is $A17.29 hour ($US13.30) applying to employees under standard award conditions. These include four weeks annual leave, sick leave, employer contributions to pension plans and so on.

More comparable to the situation of US minimum wage workers are “casual” workers, employed on an hourly basis. Casual workers get a loading of at least 25 per cent, bringing the wage up to at least $A21.60 an hour ($US16.60), to compensate for the absence of leave entitlements. In addition, they have entitlements including:

  • “Penalty” rates for weekend and night work (usually a 50 per cent loading, 100 per cent on Sundays)
  • For workers employed on a regular basis, protection against unfair dismissal.

The policy question is: what impact have these high minimum wages had on employment and unemployment. That’s too big a question to answer comprehensively, but we can look at the obvious data points: the official unemployment rates (5.7 for Oz, 5.5 per cent US) and the 15-64 employment population ratios (72 per cent for Oz, 67 per cent US). So, it certainly doesn’t look as if the Australian labor market has been crippled by minimum wages.

Note: I’ll respond in advance to the widespread misconception that Australia is a special case due to mineral resources. Mining accounts for about 2 per cent of employment in Australia, and (because most mines are owned by multinationals) its contribution to Australian national income is also so, probably around 5 per cent.

  • Workers aged 18 get about 70 per cent of the adult minimum, equivalent to around $US11.50 for casuals. But the great majority of US minimum wage workers (about 80 per cent) are 20+.

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Nakul Krishna on Malory Towers

by Harry on April 28, 2016

I was a late reader (late enough to cause considerable worry, I now understand). But when I did read, it was all I wanted to do. I read every comic I could get my hands on (I stayed with the Beano till I was 13 or so—my dad let me get a weekly delivery of Thunder [1] (which quickly merged with Lion, which quickly merged with Valiant, which…) on condition that I also get Look and Learn (which I devoured as enthusiastically as I did Thunder, so it was a smart move). Jennings and William were the cordon bleu of children’s writing, obviously, and later on I got to Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece, John Rowe Townsend, Penelope Lively, Jill Paton Walsh, Peter Dickinson; and all of those were, rightly, approved of by all adults. But I read everything Enid Blyton wrote. Including the Malory Towers books which, I vaguely realized, must have been aimed at girls (being books about girls in a girls boarding school), but just didn’t care. They were so embedded in my head that when, in my teens (early, not late, I’m glad to say), I graduated from the Beano to Marvel comics, I wondered (and still do) whether Peter Parker’s girlfriend was named after the awful (but pitiable) Gwendolyn Lacey. What was so appealing about them? Nakul Krishna has a wonderful, contemplative and adoring, but sharp analysis, at Aeon, which explains it all. Read it there, but feel free to discuss it here (I am really curious how many of our readers read the Malory Towers books in childhood).

[1] Link is to a site with almost every single Adam Eterno strip. Mergers of comics were frequent, but Lion and Thunder was a rare case in which the junior, second billed, comic, provided most of the stories to the new title—several survived into Valiant and Lion, even after Lion’s name was off the masthead. Most notably, the brilliant Adam Eterno.

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Over the fold, an extract from my book-in-very slow-progress, Economics in Two Lessons. I’m getting closer to a complete draft, and I plan, Real Soon Now, to post the material so far in a more accessible form. But for the moment, I’ll toss up an extract which is, I hope, largely self-sufficient. Encouragement is welcome, constructive criticism even more so.

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Yesterday, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait tweeted this:


It was an odd tweet.

On the one hand, Chait was probably just voicing his disgruntlement with an epithet that leftists and Sanders liberals often hurl against Clinton liberals like Chait.

On the other hand, there was a time, not so long ago, when journalists like Chait would have proudly owned the term neoliberal as an apt description of their beliefs. It was The New Republic, after all, the magazine where Chait made his name, that, along with The Washington Monthly, first provided neoliberalism with a home and a face.

Now, neoliberalism, of course, can mean a great many things, many of them associated with the right. But one of its meanings—arguably, in the United States, the most historically accurate—is the name that a small group of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians on the left gave to themselves in the late 1970s in order to register their distance from the traditional liberalism of the New Deal and the Great Society. The original neoliberals included, among others, Michael Kinsley, Charles Peters, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Bill Bradley, Bruce Babbitt, Gary Hart, and Paul Tsongas. Sometimes called “Atari Democrats,” these were the men—and they were almost all men—who helped to remake American liberalism into neoliberalism, culminating in the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.

These were the men who made Jonathan Chait what he is today. Chait, after all, would recoil in horror at the policies and programs of mid-century liberals like Walter Reuther or John Kenneth Galbraith or even Arthur Schlesinger, who claimed that “class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved, because it is the only barrier against class domination.” We know this because he recoils in horror today so resolutely opposes the far more tepid versions of that liberalism that we see in the Sanders campaign.

It’s precisely the distance between that lost world of 20th century American labor liberalism and contemporary liberals like Chait that the phrase “neoliberalism” is meant, in part, to register. [click to continue…]

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At last some justice for the 96

by Chris Bertram on April 27, 2016

Yesterday’s verdicts that the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed is a complete vindication for their families who have campaigned for justice for 27 years. It is also a total condemnation both of South Yorkshire Police and of their friends among the tabloid press, the pundits and the politicians who first blamed the victims and then spent years treating the bereaved with contempt. I’ll not say more about the facts and the history here, since there are plenty of links that people can follow. I just want to say a few general things. First, there is the lesson that sometimes people who campaign against injustice, who stubbornly stick to their task over the decades can win, even against the state and its supporters. Second, we need to notice, again, how injustice comes about and persists where the victims are people who don’t matter in the eyes of the powerful. In 1989, Scousers in general and football fans in particular were people who didn’t count, who didn’t matter, who could be stigmatized and stereotyped as feckless, violent, drunken, workshy and blamed for their own misfortune. Later they were whingers with a “victim mentality”. Third, for all that pundits ridicule “conspiracy theories”, there are sometimes conspiracies by the state and its agents, perpetrated against “people who don’t matter”, and aided by those same journalists and commentators with their contempt for the victims, their lack of interest in the facts, and their deference to the official version. Everywhere, “people who don’t matter”, whose interests are ignored and whose pain is ridiculed, can take heart from what the Hillsborough families have achieved. The next step for justice should be the prosecution of those responsible.

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John Palattella: A Writer’s Editor

by Corey Robin on April 26, 2016

Last week, an announcement went out from The Nation that, while barely mentioned in the media-obsessed world of the Internet, echoed throughout my little corner of the Internet. John Palattella will be stepping down from his position as Literary Editor of The Nation in September, transitioning to a new role as an Editor at Large at the magazine.

For the last nine years, John has been my editor at The Nation. I wrote six pieces for him. That may not seem like a lot, but these were lengthy essays, some 42,000 words in total, several of them taking me almost a year to write. That’s partially a reflection on my dilatory writing habits, but it also tells you something about John’s willingness to invest in a writer and a piece.

John is not just an editor. Nor is he just an editor of one of the best literary reviews in the country. John is a writer’s editor. [click to continue…]

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Brad DeLong is Seeing Red

by Henry on April 25, 2016

Brad DeLong has a post where he looks to be trying to resurrect the Left-neoliberalism wars, issuing minatory warnings about the dangers of a perspective in which:

There is a Movement, the Movement is good because the Movement is supported by the class whose interest is the general interest and by Correct Ideological Thought, and all progressives must support the movement.

He furthermore quotes an old post of mine so as to revive his previous suggestion that I’m a card carrying member of this purportedly disastrous tendency. I’m a genuine admirer of much of Brad’s work – but not of when he gets on his full Redbaiting (which usually seems to happen when he is personally exercised, or when someone says something that could be construed as being rude to Larry Summers). Some clarifications, in response to Brad’s post: [click to continue…]

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San Francisco - car and houses, Haight-Ashbury

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I’m reading Russell Muirhead, The Promise of Party In A Polarized Age: [click to continue…]

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Today is Krauthammer Day #13

by Henry on April 22, 2016

Again, it’s Krauthammer Day. Today is the unlucky thirteenth anniversary of the day when the prominent pundit announced:

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

As of today, we’ve had five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months, and another month on top of that of Charles Krauthammer’s credibility problem. He’s still opining.

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I have a piece up on the New Yorker blog, on the same theme as Damien Hirst’s 1991 shark-in-formaldehyde artwork[1], as applied to big banks and their remarkable inability to write contingency plans for what they would do if they needed to declare bankruptcy, despite being point blank ordered by the regulators to do so.
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Branko Milanovic advocates reinventing apartheid

by Chris Bertram on April 21, 2016

In an op-ed in the Financial Times, the economist Branko Milanovic advocates that in order to fight global poverty, we should introduce explicit systems of differentiated citizenship in wealthy countries under which immigrants (and their children? and their children’s children?) would be entitled only to a reduced package of rights. He argues that we should

redefine citizenship in such a way that migrants are not allowed to lay claim to the entire premium falling to citizens straight away, if at all. Restricting the citizenship rights of migrants in this way would assuage the concerns of the native population, while still ensuring the migrants are better off than they would be had they stayed in their own countries. As happens currently in the Gulf states, migrants could be allowed to work for a limited number of years, or to work only for a given employer, or else be obliged to return to their country of origin every four or five years. They could also be made to pay higher taxes since they are the largest net beneficiaries of migration. Despite such discriminatory treatment, the welfare of migrants and their families would increase, while native populations would not be made to share their entire premium with incomers.

Gastarbeiter with second- or third-class status, perhaps forever. Now, I’ll say one thing for this proposal, which is that it would formalize something that currently exists, since in all wealthy countries there exists a layer of poor people (including many migrants) who enjoy only semi-citizen status (as Elizabeth Cohen has documented ). And this layer, though many individuals pass through it and come out the other side, looks like a permanent feature of our societies. Up to now, however, few people have thought of this, and the consequent denial of rights to individuals and their vulnerability to domination and exploitation, as a good thing. Milanovic wants us explicitly to abandon the liberal and democratic principles of legitimacy that those who are subject to the laws of a society should (in time in the case of migrants) get to have the right to make those laws. In doing so, he goes far beyond similar proposals (for example from Martin Ruhs that have been explicitly temporary in nature and have largely focused on labour-market rights. Milanovic’s lack of commitment to the norms of liberal democracy also comes across in the fact that he holds up illegitimate and tyrannical states, such as the Gulf kleptocracies, as models for his proposed policy. Part of what’s going on here is the economist’s perspective on policy, which just focuses on net improvements in well-being or utility, with income serving as a proxy, and which doesn’t, therefore, see human beings as possessed of basic rights which it is impermissible to violate. Rather, all and any rights can be sacrificed on the altar of income improvement, just in case someone is poor and desperate enough to make a deal (who are we, paternalistically, to stop them?). The road to hell is paved with Pareto improvements.

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