Hope

by John Quiggin on April 19, 2010

One reason that many on the left of politics preferred Obama to Hillary Clinton is that his rhetoric, at his best, promised something more than incremental reform, a promise summed up by slogans like “Change we can believe in” and “Yes we can”.

Given the political realities of the US, and the obvious fact that Obama is instinctively a pragmatist and centrist, it was never likely that this would translate into radical policy action in the short run. Still, it seemed at least possible that an Obama presidency would begin a renewal of a progressive project of transformation, setting out the goal of a better world. One respect in which this hope has been fulfilled, for me, is in Obama’s articulation of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and in the small but positive steps he’s taken in this direction.

I plan to talk about the specific issue of nuclear disarmament in more detail in a later post. The bigger point for me is that after decades in which the left has been on the defensive, it’s time for a politics of hope. We need hope to mobilise a positive alternative to the fear, anger and tribalism on offer from the right. Centrist pragmatism provides nothing to match the enthusiasm that can be driven by fear and anger, as we have seen.

What the politics of hope means, to me, is the need to start setting out goals that are far more ambitious than the incremental changes debated in day-to-day electoral politics. They ought to be feasible in the sense that they are technically achievable and don’t require radical changes in existing social structures, even if they may set the scene for such changes in the future. On the other hand, they ought not to be constrained by consideration of what is electorally saleable right now.

Over the fold, I’ve set out some thoughts I have for goals of this kind. At this stage, I’m not looking for debate on the specifics of these goals or the feasibility of achieving them (again, more on this later). Rather, I’d welcome both discussion of the general issue of what kind of politics the left needs to be pursuing, and suggestions of other goals we ought to be pursuing

  • Ending extreme poverty in the world. There are still a billion or more people living on less than $US1/day. If the developed world allocated 2 per cent of its income to poverty relief and development aid, instead of about 0.2 per cent, it would be possible to end the worst of poverty
  • Ending and reversing global warming. It’s still possible to stabilise global CO2 concentrations somewhere between 450 and 550 ppm by 2050, if we get concerted action in the next few years. After that, assuming plausible technological progress, it would be possible to gradually reduce concentrations, ultimately back to pre-industrial levels
  • A decent opportunity in life for every child. This would begin with much more intervention in early childhood for those at high risk. Then good quality schools and a commitment to universal high school completion (or an equivalent in apprenticeships and other kinds of technical training). Finally, an entitlement to a post-secondary education or some equivalent aid to establish a small business. (More on the economics of this to come).
  • Reversing the growth of inequality in most developed countries over the past thirty years (I’ll argue for the feasibility of this later on).

Writing this kind of thing, I can sense the feeling that it’s naive/utopian/pointless. But I think it’s precisely this kind of feeling, hammered into us by years of retreat that we need to overcome.

{ 80 comments }

1

Ben Alpers 04.19.10 at 8:55 pm

I agree that it’s high time for the left to assert itself. But I think an organizational and/or electoral strategy is at least as important as policy goal-setting. Look at the teabaggers. There’s much disagreement about what they want, but nobody can doubt their existence. Bodies in the streets or votes on election day are ultimately more important than well-formulated manifestos.

And, like it or not, the Hope meme is now 100% associated with Obama and his centrism, so we may need to look elsewhere for a unifying theme.

2

politicalfootball 04.19.10 at 9:12 pm

Yeah, Hope and Hate are covered.

3

politicalfootball 04.19.10 at 9:16 pm

Writing this kind of thing, I can sense the feeling that it’s naive/utopian/pointless.

There was a time when starry-eyed idealists like Reagan advocated arbitrary violence as a tool of foreign policy, and proposed the massive redistribution of wealth to the top 1%. Sometimes these things take awhile. It took Bush II to truly realize The Dream.

4

Alex 04.19.10 at 9:18 pm

Obama’s articulation of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons

Centrist pragmatism provides nothing to match the enthusiasm that can be driven by fear and anger, as we have seen.

Unfortunately, Obama’s articulation has also included the co-option of fear and anger, such as fear-mongering on Iran. And I say this as a Brit, but I don’t think I’d want my politicians to be choosing which people get the rule of law.

5

weserei 04.19.10 at 10:19 pm

“I agree that it’s high time for the left to assert itself. But I think an organizational and/or electoral strategy is at least as important as policy goal-setting. Look at the teabaggers. There’s much disagreement about what they want, but nobody can doubt their existence. Bodies in the streets or votes on election day are ultimately more important than well-formulated manifestos.”

Well, right, there are still elections to win, and one vote equals one vote, etc. But putting a huge premium on electoral organization and ignoring the development of a good system of public policy is pretty much exactly the Obama for America playbook. If the left shouldn’t blindly follow President Obama, then likewise it shouldn’t try to raise up a clone of him to follow blindly.

6

mpowell 04.19.10 at 10:31 pm

Yeah, the teabaggers are going to be an electoral force, but a force for what? We know that they don’t want to cut entitlements and also want to cut taxes, but that’s not going to lead into better policy-making. It’s not like they’re true believer libertarians. If they elect Republicans, they may get some emotional satisfaction out of it, but it sure as well won’t result in policy making that actually provides them with the financial and medical security they desire.

7

Martin Bento 04.19.10 at 10:38 pm

Let me add: developing an alternative financial system. Something that can take over piecemeal, rather than all at once. The financial wizards screwed us, left us no choice but to bail them out, and now the talk is of how to save that same system with, at best, regulations to hopefully prevent the need for another bailout. Instead, every aspect of that system should be re-evaluated in terns of whether it is actually creating value for the general public or not. It controls a huge share of international wealth, and the utility of much of it is very questionable.

8

Stuart 04.19.10 at 10:56 pm

“But I think an organizational and/or electoral strategy is at least as important as policy goal-setting. Look at the teabaggers. There’s much disagreement about what they want, but nobody can doubt their existence.”

So what the left needs is some rich guy to buy lots of media outlets so they can direct them to concentrate on the sort of protests they approve of, and ignore events as much as feasible that don’t fit their ideology?

9

novakant 04.19.10 at 11:04 pm

Destroying the military-industrial complex for starters, then the multinational capitalist behemoths.

10

John Quiggin 04.19.10 at 11:10 pm

@Martin A good suggestion, thanks

11

Alex 04.19.10 at 11:17 pm

Oh, and learning from these guys might help:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=113749985304255

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Ben Alpers 04.19.10 at 11:38 pm

So what the left needs is some rich guy to buy lots of media outlets so they can direct them to concentrate on the sort of protests they approve of, and ignore events as much as feasible that don’t fit their ideology?

I certainly don’t think that right-wing organizational models can be slavishly followed by the left. But I do think that serious organizing is called for, though it needn’t be electoral organizing.

And I don’t object at all to writing manifestos. It’s just that the left (such as it is) has, over the last quarter century, done a lot more manifesto writing than actual organizing, at least in this country. So I’m more concerned about getting up to speed in the area of organizing/movement building than I am about defining goals.

13

Salient 04.19.10 at 11:46 pm

But putting a huge premium on electoral organization and ignoring the development of a good system of public policy is pretty much exactly the Obama for America playbook.

I really can’t agree to this. One of the fairly satisfactory aspects of the Obama administration^1^ is the swiftness with which it pursued meaningful policy details; the small stuff which doesn’t get airtime. I am thinking of the re-toothing of regulation agencies, in particular the retoothing of OSHA. And I remember his public policy proposals website, in the election season, being fairly well-stocked with details.

^1^(not balanced out by his decision to sustain and even amplify human rights abuses in anti-terrorism and war)

14

Joshua Mostafa 04.20.10 at 12:57 am

Of the ones you listed, global warming should be top priority. But there are things that are easier: ending US imperialism (its troops are stationed in 150 countries) – very simple at a practical level, just the logistics of getting all those people onto planes home.

15

Tim Dymond 04.20.10 at 1:04 am

How about reviving the idea of a shorter working week? I know the French Socialist attempt to reduce the working week was criticised for not providing the employment dividend which the government decided to make the key selling point. However there are other justifications for less working time. All the talk of reviving community, volunteerism, family friendly society etc falls flat if people don’t have the actual time to participate in ‘social’ activities after spending too long at work. The flipside for the unemployed is that they have the time but not the resources

For example, the late Andre Gorz advocated a ‘1,000 hour year':

“If the working week were reduced to under twenty-five or thirty hours, we could fill our disposable time with activities which have no economic objective and which enrich the life of both individual and group: cultural and aesthetic activities whose aim is to give and create pleasure and enhance and `cultivate’ our immediate environment; assistance, caring and mutual-aid activities which create a network of social relations and forms of solidarity throughout the neighbourhood or locality; the development of friendships and affective relationships; educational and artistic activities; the repairing and production of objects and growing food for our own use, `for the pleasure’ of making something ourselves, of preserving things we can cherish and hand down to our children; service-exchange cooperatives, and so on. In this way it will be possible for an appreciable proportion of the services currently provided by professionals, commercial enterprises or public institutions to be provided on a voluntary basis by individuals themselves, as members of grassroots communities, according to needs they themselves have defined. “

http://www.antenna.nl/~waterman/gorz.html

16

kevincure 04.20.10 at 1:42 am

I know Sachs and the like disagree, but I think the vast majority of development economists, at least, do *not* think that 2% of western income would in any sense end poverty. The experience of many East Asian countries suggests that poverty traps do not really exist – there are now many examples of countries moving out of extreme poverty without a “jumpstart”. The biggest barriers to growth in poor countries seem to be demographic (in general, growth takes off after population growth falls, which would be good news for many poor countries given how far birthrates have fallen around the world recently) and institutional (bad institutions can very quickly cripple even rising stars – compare Zimbabwe’s government both pre-and-post Rhodesia with Botswana, for instance).

There is certainly a welfare gain to be had from aid, but I think the largest gains are coming from things like public health and sanitation, where far less than 2% of global income would suffice. There might be a case for better infrastructure as well. Note, though, that even here there is extensive evidence that foreign donation of health/infrastructure spending tends to result in reduced domestic government spending on these same things, so the case is not clear cut.

I think, at least in the US, though to some extent in Europe’s exurbs and “new cities”, a grand liberal project would be a rethinking of land use law. Changes in zoning and land use to encourage more human-scale, more environmental, more friendly towns and cities seems like it would produce massive welfare gains. Also, Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs already explained what needs to be done, so we have a nice template!

17

P O'Neill 04.20.10 at 2:06 am

Sort of related to your 4th bullet, getting people to think of something other than the percentage pay increase/adjustment factor as the default way of changing wages, salaries, and pensions. A more efficient way of preserving relative inequality and increasing absolute inequality has never been found. And unions play along with it as much as anybody.

18

Sebastian 04.20.10 at 2:57 am

In Germany, “Das Prinzip Hoffnung” – The Principle Hope – by the late Ernst Bloch (a professor of Philosophy at Tübingen) is a pretty big deal – (I guess was more than is – this was one of the major works of the 1970s – now only lefty intellectual types know about it) big enough to be translated – I think the general idea is similar – if maybe somewhat more radical in its overall political outlook.

19

David 04.20.10 at 3:14 am

He could start reclaiming some meaningful credibility in my eyes by nominating Diane Wood to the Supreme Court instead of Kagen. Not holding my breath.

20

terence 04.20.10 at 3:25 am

I don’t have any solutions/suggestions but I do have what I think are the two key problems/challenges to be overcome:

1. The right (or at least its tea-partyists; climate deniers; etc) feel no compunction about being dishonest. And it’s really hard to debate/persuade movements whose allegiance to a particular narrative is much stronger than their allegiance to the truth.

2. Progressive politics is always played against an uphill slope. i.e. it’s much harder to convince people to be altruistic, or to trust the other, than it is to coax them to suspicion, judgment and fear. Harder isn’t the same as impossible but it does make the job more difficult.

21

Peter Wood 04.20.10 at 3:26 am

I don’t think that it is utopian or pointless to try to think of some major goals. It is a useful exercise because then one can work backwards to work out how to get there – a process sometimes known as critical path analysis (in project management) or backwards induction (in game theory).

I would like to suggest as a goal that we manage (and ultimately end) the mass extinction that the earth is experiencing at the moment.

22

KFB 04.20.10 at 3:35 am

“Writing this kind of thing, I can sense the feeling that it’s naive/utopian/pointless. But I think it’s precisely this kind of feeling, hammered into us by years of retreat that we need to overcome.”

Thanks for putting yourself out there. The call for hope and a better world could have been made at any time in the past; however, the present circumstances have the virtue of more fully engaging us in the process of clarifying to ourselves what we consider important and what we think the present and the past tell us about what our world wants to be. Yes, the current situation makes demands on all of us–some immediate and insistent. Some of us feel like artists, experiencing the pull of both hope and frustration, as we attempt to simultaneously try to come to understand and internalize the programmatic and necessary requirements of the project and creatively move forward in our design–inarticulate and groping and despondent at times, to be sure, but with faith and hope that our task is neither naive, utopian, or pointless. Sometimes, a blog, like your’s, is the little encouragement needed.

The five points you made, and Martin’s point, as well–these should be definitely part of the program . I believe one of the programmatic elements that should be added to the list is the principle of pluralism and cultural diversity. Just like bio-diversity, it is important to create spaces for different cultural communities and ways of life. Anyway, it’s the only way we ever truly get a handle on “to big to fail”. I hope to follow and contribute to this discussion.

23

Eli 04.20.10 at 4:22 am

As a teacher, I’d like to emphasize the 3rd point, “A decent opportunity in life for every child.” As a matter of constitutional principle, this could not speak more to every promise our nation was built upon.

Yet we are failing it big time. A simple thought experiment: what will the average life be like for a young boy growing up A)in a middle class home, with educated parents who love him and guide him for the first 18 years of his life, or B)in a ghetto home with a father gone or imprisoned, little family education and likely drug use or violence in or near the home? The obvious answer is two very different lives.

Yet for 10,000’s of children, these are the statistical facts. Aside from the purely moral problem, these children are an economic tragedy. Not only a lost opportunity for productivity, they will grow into adults who do not possess the social capital (emotional, cognitive, social, etc. skills) to be successful. They will burden the economy with higher health care costs, criminal justice costs, and ultimately a perpetuation of the cycle as their children enter the system in Kindergarten.

I promise I say this with all due respect – I have had these students in my class. I have hugged them and comforted them after they fought. I have stayed in with them during lunch. I have called their parents at home and tried to explain in broken Spanish how they might help their children succeed. The parents are trying their best. But they themselves were never given a fair chance.

Sadly, the current momentum in education reform is no where near to addressing in a real way this problem. Arne Duncan’s main talking points are: teacher performance, content standards, charters, and accountability. None of that is going to do much at all without serious structural reform.

The good news, is that we know what we have to do. The bad news is we lack the political and philosophical will to do it. We need to readjust our resources so that they heavily target the neediest schools. We need to follow evidence-based practices that have proven to effect change in these populations. The parents need to be pulled in, and these communities need to be nurtured.

I don’t want to take up too much more space here – getting into policy details would go on for much longer. For those interested I blog regularly on these issues at http://supervidoqo.blogspot.com/

I really appreciate the whole concept – this is why I voted for Obama and despite my disagreements with his administration on education policy I actually think he, on some level, “gets it”. But this is a movement that still has decades to go. NCLB was in many ways only the beginning.

24

Claremont 04.20.10 at 5:55 am

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was, “You need to learn how to walk before you can run.”

Before society even begins to consider how it should to go about accomplishing big picture goals like those, it needs to demonstrate the ability to rectify the easy to solve problems. Not only would pursuing those goals require massive amounts of resources, a large obstacle in and of itself, even if we had those resources, it is not at all clear how we would get from point A to point B. Say the developed world did come up with 2% of its resources to dedicate to the first cause… then what?

This is not to say that things like that aren’t important to keep in mind or worth thinking about, but before we tackle things like that we need to fix things that roughly fall under the category of “first do no harm”. We could improve society in so many ways by simply phasing out failed policies and not shooting ourselves in the foot. End the drug war? Stop occupying foreign countries that do not seriously endanger us? Stop detaining people without trial? Cease warping and distorting our agricultural system by ending utterly stupid farm subsidies? I could go on. Not that we could smoothly accomplish those things by snapping our fingers, but these would be substantially easier than “roll back global warming”.

I am not disagreeing with the idea that it is a good idea to orient towards much more ambitious goals, but choose the much more ambitious goals which involve “not doing counterproductive things” instead of “come up with a plan to fix the entire education system”. If we can’t cease doing the stupid destructive things we have been, we are never going to get to a consensus on how to implement the really complicated solutions.

Unfortunately, I really don’t see any of this happening any time soon. The part of Obama’s campaign which led people to believe that his presidency would at least begin some sort of progressive renewal was just a calculated sales pitch, and really nothing more. Initiating a “progressive renewal” is not seriously on the agenda of the decisionmakers in this administration, and never was. I don’t mean this as a personal indictment of Obama, most of this is out of his control. Apart from being a quite effective advertising/PR campaign, the idea of hope, change, and transformation you describe is basically stillborn right now.

25

mcd 04.20.10 at 6:20 am

JQ: The goals you list are admirable of course, just as they were in the 1960s, and in the 1930s. The Left hasn’t really changed- what changes is the receptivity of the public (and of elites) to these ideas.

One dispiriting thing now is to see that “health for all”, a very good goal, has the ability to get lots and lots of Americans (extent unknown) enraged and taking up guns to meetings and marches.

And, like #15- “40 hours pay for 30 hours work.”

And finally, can the Left come up with slogans or pithy goals that can’t and won’t be co-opted by the Right. “Let the people decide” won’t work any more.

26

alex 04.20.10 at 7:38 am

How about “Death to the capitalist oppressors!” – snappy, direct, and very tough to conservatize?

27

alex 04.20.10 at 7:39 am

…unless, of course, your vision of “capitalist oppressors” is jewboy banksters, as it may well be for some…

28

Es-tonea-pesta 04.20.10 at 7:46 am

One dispiriting thing now is to see that “health for all”, a very good goal, has the ability to get lots and lots of Americans (extent unknown) enraged and taking up guns to meetings and marches.

That’s because they think it’s an impossible goal. If Obama spent a year saying his goal was “world peace”, something virtually everyone claims to want in theory, people would be perplexed and agitated as well.

And finally, can the Left come up with slogans or pithy goals that can’t and won’t be co-opted by the Right. “Let the people decide” won’t work any more.

No. The media doesn’t take anything the Left does seriously. Period.

29

JoB 04.20.10 at 7:47 am

What 9 said: less sexy but more leverage.

Also, 1 thing of what John said: education, all foreign policy/development aid should be about 1 thing only: education.

But most importantly, the left should stop being so damned shortsighted. I mean it is only six or so months ago that at the mere mention of Obama a pouring of hate would happen on the left on which they could compete with some Tea Baggers. You can be ambitious without going around making hysterical claims of ‘Injustice! – Injustice!’.

In the end the original message of the left is one of liberation: one of educating people to make it to making their own mind up. The left should stop meddling with what people should think – and be content with the fact that more people dó think.

30

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.20.10 at 8:07 am

There’s a huge difference between being on the left and being a do-gooder.

31

Jack Strocchi 04.20.10 at 8:10 am

Pr Q said:

I’m not looking for debate on the specifics of these goals or the feasibility of achieving them (again, more on this later). Rather, I’d welcome both discussion of the general issue of what kind of politics the left needs to be pursuing, and suggestions of other goals we ought to be pursuing.

Writing this kind of thing, I can sense the feeling that it’s naive/utopian/pointless. But I think it’s precisely this kind of feeling, hammered into us by years of retreat that we need to overcome.

Not at all. Whats refreshing about Pr Q’s shopping list of hopeful policy aims is that it is progressively Left-wing without being reflexively liberal. No more cultural “isms” please if you want to bring the general populus and realistic socio-biologists along with you!

Far from being “naive/utopian/pointless” many of the suggested goals are already on the path to achievement. Partly because retrogressives have failed and partly because their is a giant engine of progress now on-line.

A minor cause for hope is that the Anglophone Right-wing is in intellectual and ideological dissarray after the colossal failures of the noughties, particularly in it home-ground advantage issues of national security (Iraq) and economic prosperity (GFC) issues. Bush, Goldman-Sachs, neo-cons, who can think of them without a shudder of horror. So the Right-wing adversary, whilst not on the canvas, is definitely on the ropes.

A major cause for hope is that the ancient Oriental civilization of China is developing into a pretty decent superpower. It has a rich tradition to draw on, a huge reservoir of intelligent and co-operative people and a fairly sensible management team. It is focused on largely rational and useful goals that will lift its own and associated populations to higher levels of development. One cheer for the CCP, two cheers for the PRC.

Points #1 (ameliorating global poverty) and #3 (enhancing educational opportunity) are orthodox Left-wing aims that were uncontroversial among Johnsonian Great Society progressives about fifty years ago. They are achievable. In fact they are being achieved.

Asian imperialism is already making great steps to reduce poverty in Africa. The PRC is investing hundreds of billions into African industry and farming. A fair amount is trickling down, certainly better than aid. Africans will benefit by learning management and technology skills.

Universal education is alot more doable now that the internet is being laid down. Wireless hand-held technologies are alot more user-friendly for Less Developed Countries and people. Again this is already happening in Africa.

Point #2 (mitigating global warming) has teething problems. But it has wide-spread political support amongst voters, universal support amongst scientists and, most of all, it can’t be fudged by spin. Chinese people, in particular, yearn to breathe clean air. And again, I forsee the PRC coming to the rescue with carbon sequestration and renewable technologies.

Point #4 (reducing economic inequality) is a harder sell for obvious reasons. Alpha-males will not be keen on giving up their advantages. And they have the support of beautiful women. But focusing on dismantling the institutionalised kleptocracy of financial markets is bound to tap into every ones instinctive distrust of money changers. Just keep talking about Goldman Sachs and watch the MoU squirm.

The big thing missing from the shopping list is foresight on emerging key technologies that can reform human nature ahead of social structure. We know that gadgets are always being hyped which tends to dampen hope over time.

But progressives, whether Right- or Left-wing stripe, should keep one eye focused on revolutionary technology. In particular technologies that can reform or restore the human person at different scales:

genotype: recombinative genetics, eg gene therapy
phenotype: regenerative “cytotics”, eg stem cells
memotype: re-cognitive cybernetics, eg robotics, mind-brain interface

It is inherently difficult to predict the likelihood of these technologies emerging. (How many social scientists in the eighties predicted the internet in the nineties?) And it is easier for journos like Horgan to make a living taking cheap shots at techno-futurists.

But the odds are that some revolutionary technologies will come to fruition in the next decade or so. And when they do they will make many the social effect of economic policies look lame and feeble by comparison. So it is important for rational progressives to hasten this date and be on their toes when the fateful days come.

32

NomadUK 04.20.10 at 8:13 am

I would be more upbeat about Obama’s drive to reduce nuclear weapons if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that what he’s really aiming for is a world free of weapons that can threaten the United States, and thus a world free of weapons that can deter US forces (along with those of any whores coming along for the ride) from doing whatever the hell they please.

33

Thomas Jørgensen 04.20.10 at 8:38 am

Foreign aid does not have a very good record of actually making things better, and arguably, very often makes things worse, by making corruption worse, because crooked officials stealing from foreign ngo’s do not piss of the locals as badly as crooked officals stealing from them. The only example of outside intervention actually making things better, is the Acquis communautaire, which was constructive by providing a blue print for how to build a functioning state – The EU accession process worked amazingly well, in that regard. (Economic crisis or no, compare the eastern EU states with those that eh, did not go through that process. Its a very sharp contrast).
Question being, how the heck do we apply that success to the rest of the world? “Union universalis?”

34

Guy 04.20.10 at 9:22 am

I think the first, third and final suggestions raised can pretty much be boiled down to one word – equity. Sustainably is probably a good catch-all guiding principle for issues relating to climate change and the natural environment more broadly.

35

Tim Worstall 04.20.10 at 10:02 am

“Ending extreme poverty in the world.”

This seems to already be happening. I’m sure we can all argue about the cause (is it that horrible neo-liberalism? Is it NGOs? Government action? Infant industry protection? Take your pick) and even that we’d like it to be happening faster.

But as Sala i Martin keeps pointing out (along with others) the last 30 years have seen the greatest reduction in such poverty ever and the process doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. Whatever it was that we ought to have done we do seem to have actually done it.

“After that, assuming plausible technological progress, it would be possible to gradually reduce concentrations, ultimately back to pre-industrial levels”

My day job’s on the periphery of these technological processes (the weird metals that some of them use). I don’t think that it’s “possible”. I think it’s absolutely certain. I really don’t think that the world in general has quite woken up to how quickly non carbon energy generation (and storage etc) technologies are advancing. Or decreasing rather, decreasing in price.

John Hempton for example has been showing how Solar PV (the cells, rather than the installations as a whole) have been decreasing in production cost by 4% a quarter. It reaklly doesn’t take long with that sort of cost reduction for a new technology to become cost effective.

My own work is more to do with solid oxide fuel cells but there are similar, if not in fact greater, changes happening there as well.

36

basil 04.20.10 at 10:03 am

I really am not sure why even now, so late into his presidency, many want to insist on the portrayal of Obama as essentially different than his predecessors, that he is pushing an agenda that anyone on the left would want to be excited about.

Most glaringly, his efforts on healthcare reform and on climate change, do not even exhibit the ambition, let alone the passion, that would give anyone any hope at all.

Is the prefix before right intended as euphemism?

37

Alex Prior 04.20.10 at 10:59 am

Bearing on this is the extreme reaction of the right. To an outsider (Australian) it appears that there is very little room for rational debate. I understand the mechanisms of American politics – the emotional context continues to escape me.

38

soru 04.20.10 at 12:03 pm

But the odds are that some revolutionary technologies will come to fruition in the next decade or so. And when they do they will make many the social effect of economic policies look lame and feeble by comparison. So it is important for rational progressives to hasten this date and be on their toes when the fateful days come.

To me, that is a relevant and persuasive point.

I can’t help noticing that there seem to be a lot of other people who would disagree. They have every attitude you would associate with the liberal left, except for one: an unshakeable belief that the good times were in the past, and the best that can possibly be hoped for is, given heroic effort by some Great Man, another 20 or 30 years of mediocrity before things get really bad.

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about _Liberal Fascists_, but I do think there is a bit of a recent tendency to give prominence to people who could accurately be called _Liberal Reactionaries_.

39

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.20.10 at 12:04 pm

$854 Billion Removed from Africa by Illicit Financial Flows from 1970 to 2008:
Examining data for a 39-year range from 1970 to 2008, key report findings include:
* Total illicit financial outflows from Africa, conservatively estimated, were approximately $854 billion;
* Total illicit outflows from Africa may be as high as $1.8 trillion;
* Sub-Saharan African countries experienced the bulk of illicit financial outflows with the West and Central African region posting the largest outflow numbers;
* The top five countries with the highest outflow measured were: Nigeria ($89.5 billion) Egypt ($70.5 billion), Algeria ($25.7 billion), Morocco ($25 billion), and South Africa ($24.9 billion);
* Illicit financial outflows from the entire region outpaced official development assistance going into the region at a ratio of at least 2 to 1;
* Illicit financial outflows from Africa grew at an average rate of 11.9 percent

40

mark 04.20.10 at 12:38 pm

what Alex @32 said…emotions play a huge role in politics, and it is disheartening to observe the power of irrational fears, and politicians who play to these fears. I do not know if “Obama is instinctively a pragmatist and centrist,” but I think that it is necessary that he be so in order to achieve anything.

41

basil 04.20.10 at 3:21 pm

I posted a comment but it does not seem to have made it through. I am hoping it was not deemed offensive in any way.

My larger point, the letdown that is Obama aside, is that the manifestoes and the organisation have both existed, but that both are undermined by a willingness of the leaders elected to execute on this agenda, to fold under pressure of some unseen forces/ new realities once they find themselves in office.

This not only breeds a lasting cynicism in the electorate, but more perniciously makes ideas such as are listed in JQ’s opening post seem extreme or utopian.

42

James Kroeger 04.20.10 at 3:33 pm

John Quiggin:

Writing this kind of thing, I can sense the feeling that it’s naive/utopian/pointless. But I think it’s precisely this kind of feeling, hammered into us by years of retreat that we need to overcome.

Yes, John, but can you handle the shrill accusations of utopianism that even ‘centrist’ economists would heap on ANY suggestion that some desirable ultimate goals might be achievable?

Anyone giving voice to such ideas would be attacked with an unprecedented amount of scorn, derision, and ridicule. I frankly have my doubts that you have the soul to withstand such attacks. After all, you have written little that suggests to me that you are willing to risk being the target of such criticism.

But if you are actually serious about your yearning for more hope, then I would suggest that you try giving some due consideration to some ideas that you may have considered a little too hopeful in the past….

Let it be known that it is possible to articulate an economic agenda that would—if it were executed faithfully—achieve the following list of optimal economic outcomes:

It would…

(1) eliminate the unemployment problem forever,

(2) optimize any nation’s production (and consumption) of real wealth,

(3) optimize the amount of real economic INVESTMENTS taking place in the economy,

(4) create the type of economy that would ideally serve the interests of the working class, which would include…,

(5) providing the citizenry with the optimal amount of economic SECURITY that they could ever realistically desire,

(6) create an economy that would—at the same time—ideally serve the interests of The Wealthy.

It is not necessary to hedge these claims, for if the economic agenda were executed according to design, then all of those optimal outcomes would unfold. Yes, it is true that a tolerance for higher levels of measured inflation would be necessary in order for society to achieve all of these optimizing goals, but the benefits of doing so would vastly exceed the real costs involved.

Of course, such an agenda would most certainly be attacked (perhaps by you) as too “naive/utopian/pointless”, but that surely wasn’t your intention when you introduced this discussion, was it?

Yes, it is true that this agenda would not have a chance of being accepted by the leadership class unless a large minority of professional economists were to put their reputations behind it. In order to discuss the merits of this agenda at all, one must imagine: WHAT IF it were embraced by a majority of ‘left-leaning’ economists, and a good number of politicians decided to advocate it in the political arena?

Even if the forces of evil are too great for an idea this hopeful to overcome, there is still good reason to hope that such an “extreme” left-wing agenda might succeed in moving the political “center” several giant steps to the left. An important lesson from the Right: start by demanding that your most idealistic goals be met, and then settle for a ‘compromise’ that significantly improves the status quo for your constituents.

Good luck.

43

James Kroeger 04.20.10 at 3:38 pm

Let’s try that “economic agenda” link one more time:

http://nontrivialpursuits.org/printer_friendly_unemployment.htm

44

ScentOfViolets 04.20.10 at 4:40 pm

How about reviving the idea of a shorter working week? I know the French Socialist attempt to reduce the working week was criticised for not providing the employment dividend which the government decided to make the key selling point.

I’m an agnostic when it comes to SF like artificial intelligence, but it seems reasonable to believe that automation will continue to take bigger and bigger bites out of the available jobs. At the far end you can think of most people working ten- or twenty hour-weeks, or alternatively, hordes of starving masses, a much-diminished “middle class” whose productive output can’t be automated, and a de facto hereditary aristocracy consisting of 0.1% of the population.

That’s assuming the rich just don’t kill us all of course, once we’ve built their self-maintaining self-reproducing manufacturing base and their robotic police.

45

ScentOfViolets 04.20.10 at 4:44 pm

I plan to talk about the specific issue of nuclear disarmament in more detail in a later post. The bigger point for me is that after decades in which the left has been on the defensive, it’s time for a politics of hope.

I think a big part of the problem here is that “the left” refuses to take yes for an answer. On a good many issues that people use to rate themselves as liberal, the majority of the American public agrees with them. Being against school vouchers, or for a public health care option is not the sin qua non of the liberal, but instead the moderate view held by most people.

The sooner this elementary fact soaks in and is accepted, the sooner the real work can get started.

46

Miriam 04.20.10 at 5:12 pm

Women’s rights. Pay equity for women. That would be huge and would go a long way towards ending poverty.

47

gmoke 04.20.10 at 5:37 pm

MIT’s Center for Collaborative Intelligence has a site that allows people to design their own greenhouse gas reduction strategies and compare them:
http://www.climatecollaboratorium.org/

My own particular contribution is a zero emissions policy starting NOW. Even that seems to mean a 2º C rise in temperature by 2100 according to the projections. If you want to vote for or comment on my proposal, I’d appreciate it.

I like this initiative, especially since the ingenuity and invention I’m seeing coming out of Africa is blowing me away:

“Our fellows in the first world often come to visit and give us their well intentioned but often very problematic “solutions”. We thought, why don’t we pay back? Dx1W is a competition for designers, artists, scientists, makers and thinkers in developing countries to provide solutions for First World problems.”

http://designforthefirstworld.com/

48

gmoke 04.20.10 at 5:44 pm

Alex Prior wrote, ” I understand the mechanisms of American politics – the emotional context continues to escape me.”

The emotional context is a declining middle class whose real wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. There is real and justified fear where the majority of people are one or two paychecks away from the street. That fear is manipulated by politicians and media personalities in order to push through their regressive policies disguised as rugged individualist “freedom.”

49

James Kroeger 04.20.10 at 6:17 pm

Alex Prior wrote, ” I understand the mechanisms of American politics – the emotional context continues to escape me.”

All of the ‘emotion’ that you see at Tea Party rallies is intentionally orchestrated by Republican Party strategists who know quite well from past experience that the best way for them to win the votes of Swing Voters is not via logical arguments, but through displays of emotion which serve to reduce the “us” vs. “them” decision to the simplest of terms.

Who, Mr. and Mrs. America, do you want to identify with? Us good Americans or those America-haters who are such a great threat that they arouse great anger and resentment in good people.

That is to say, they are modelling the kind of feelings/behavior they want the Swing Voters to feel/carry out. Demonizing the Democrats with strong emotion is a favored strategy that has always worked quite well on the local and regional level.

There is no other form of politics that they trust any more to get themselves elected.

50

alex 04.20.10 at 7:25 pm

All of it? The whole tea party phenomenon is a GOP front-operation?

51

James Kroeger 04.20.10 at 8:17 pm

Alex:

All of it? The whole tea party phenomenon is a GOP front-operation?

Of course not all of it.

The organizers have been able to rely on a great many easily-led anti-abortion activists to swell attendance; individuals who have little worry about re: potential tax hikes, but are more than happy to serve God by angrily denouncing those abortion-loving liberals.

Then add a sprinkling of pure party-identity enthusiasts who have accepted whole the demonizing rhetoric of Beck, et al., and who are always happy to take a loud vocal stand against those damned liberals at any invitation. It’s really not all that difficult to rally most of the local party activists to a given rally on a given date.

52

someguy 04.20.10 at 8:37 pm

The means and the ends are already all tangled up in your goals presentation.

Since everyone is asking for a Unicorn.

For 3 & 4 – Happy stable 2 parent families for our kids. A better means and ends.

53

James Conran 04.20.10 at 8:44 pm

This post, and in particular JQ’s stipulation that “feasible in the sense that they are technically achievable and don’t require radical changes in existing social structures, even if they may set the scene for such changes in the future. On the other hand, they ought not to be constrained by consideration of what is electorally saleable right now” is obviously resonant with Erik Wright et al’s “Real Utopias” project.

Speaking of which, universal basic income is an idea which seems like it could be leveraged to help achieve all of JQ’s goals plus the reduced working time advocated by several people in the thread.

54

JoB 04.20.10 at 8:46 pm

Why not all of it – there were only 2000 people at the last national rally.

Yes – universal basic income!

55

Tim Wilkinson 04.20.10 at 10:31 pm

Corporations no longer to be accorded legal personality.

56

James Conran 04.20.10 at 11:24 pm

By the way I’m not sure I agree that the Left either doesn’t or shouldn’t use fear or anger (whatever about tribalism) to mobilise support. These are often rational (though not sufficient of course) emotions which have their role to play in motivating progressive change.

57

Sebastian 04.20.10 at 11:25 pm

I’ve never really understood how a universal public income doesn’t just immediately cause large enough inflation to dramatically undermine its effectiveness.

58

Bill Benzon 04.20.10 at 11:56 pm

From a paper of mine on cultural evolution:

Culture is a domain unto itself, separate from biology, but interdependent with it. Culture has allowed human beings to create artifacts and processes allowing them to live beyond the warm tropics, to cover the earth, and even to make tentative steps beyond the earth. Less tangibly, culture can give life through the simple fact of giving hope for a future, a point Leonard Sagan (1987, p. 184) makes in the following passage:

The history of rapid health gains in the United States is not unique; the rate at which death rates have fallen is even more rapid in more recently modernizing countries. The usual explanations for this dramatic improvement—better medical care, nutrition, or clean water—provide only partial answers. More important in explaining the decline in death worldwide is the rise of hope … [through] the introduction of the transistor radio and television, bringing into the huts and shanties of the world the message that progress is possible, that each individual is unique and of value, and that science and technology can provide the opportunity for fulfillment of these hopes.

To the extent that hope is engendered within a specific cultural framework, that hope weakens when that framework begins to deteriorate. Those memes and traits which engender hope will be more likely to survive in the long run than those which do not.

Sagan, L (1987) Health of Nations. New York, Basic Books.

59

Salient 04.21.10 at 1:31 am

Of course not all of it.

This poll is the tea party primer folks should prime themselves with :)

“Tea Party supporters’ fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in … the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.”

That matches my Unassailable AnecData[TM]. Also, a common sentiment:

Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”

Yeah, I hear that kind of thing a lot, but not often so explicitly. More frequently, statements like “he’s not a Christian, how can he be?” followed by some kind of reference to a chain email or rumor or whatnot. The ‘he didn’t get sworn in for realz on a Bible’ thing is really popular.

60

Ian Milliss 04.21.10 at 2:52 am

Just as a start to dealing with many other social/cultural issues, (consumerism, widespread narcissism and social hostility, etc) wouldn’t a complete ban or at least severe curtailment of consumer advertising – ie the manufacture and manipulation of false “needs” – be a progressive objective? That’s the only sort of censorship I might consider favourably.

61

JoB 04.21.10 at 7:26 am

57- if that were true, many Western European countries would be unsustainable as what we do have is something close to a de facto basic income.

62

alex 04.21.10 at 8:28 am

@57 – because you take it back [effectively] by not allowing tax-free income – what you are doing is ending the ‘poverty trap’ where people risk losing money by going to work. If their ‘handouts’ are [say] $200 a week and they lose them by taking a $300-a-week job, that’s a real obstacle to self-development. [Even more so if someone is pushing them to take a $150-a-week job...] If their ‘basic income’ is $150, and they can keep that, they’re better off taking the $300 job, or even the $150 one, even though they’ll also be taxed [say] 15-20% on everything they earn.

You can tweak the figures so the whole thing’s basically revenue-neutral, and of course make huge gains by not having to support a handout-administering means-testing bureaucracy. YMMV nationally, of course, especially in countries too primitive to have a proper social-benefits system in the first place…

63

Hidari 04.21.10 at 8:35 am

#59.

‘When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.

And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”’

Of course, this above quote demonstrates one of the key findings of modern social science, which is that some people are really fucking stupid.

64

ajay 04.21.10 at 9:41 am

62: as (I think) Paul Krugman said, when trying to understand the finances of the US government, it is best to think of said government as a really big insurance company with an army. Everything else is too small to notice.

65

Pete 04.21.10 at 12:52 pm

“Corporations no longer to be accorded legal personality.”

I’ve heard this idea floating around for a while, and finally realised what’s stupid about it:

The corporation is no longer able to assume liability for anything if it doesn’t have a legal personality. Limited liability is ended. If you buy a product and it goes wrong, you have to make your legal claims against the individuals involved in its manufacture and distribution. It becomes impossible to work as a checkout clerk without professional indemnity insurance (which you have to buy from a rich individual, as there would no longer be insurance companies).

66

Salient 04.21.10 at 1:12 pm

The corporation is no longer able to assume liability for anything if it doesn’t have a legal personality.

Good point… but there does not exist liability in the way we’d like to see it. You can’t imprison or execute a corporation for misconduct, no matter how egregious. Fines? When we start assessing fines and fines alone for all crimes committed by human beings, maybe I’ll accept fines-and-only-fines as meaningful liability.

Now, if shareholders in / owners of the corporation can be held criminally responsible severally for any misconduct attributable to the corporation, we evade the problem of employee responsibility. Laws which assert that only human beings may hold assets in a corporation, and assert any individual holding assets in a company can be held criminally responsible for misconduct performed by any agent or agents of the company acting in their official capacity, would establish a far more satisfactory legal liability. Compare to the laws on conspiracy, which (broadly speaking) allows for all individuals who colluded to be tried for a crime committed by one. The corporate charter has been abused long enough, right?

(Shrug. I’m not actually advocating this.)

67

Barry 04.21.10 at 1:21 pm

Heck, how common is it for boards of directors to be held responsible for corporate misdeed? And theoretically, they are the people responsible to the stockholders for running a corporation – they appoint the CEO, and (I think) approve his choices for other top executives.

68

chris 04.21.10 at 1:47 pm

Corporations should arguably retain their entity status in economic contexts, but they shouldn’t be accorded *civil* rights like free speech, privacy, privilege against self-incrimination, etc.

On the other hand, withdrawing equal protection from corporations seems questionable to me. Maybe we ought to go down the whole list of rights accorded to actual people, and examine each for whether it should be extended to corporations. But some more well-thought-out approach than “just treat it like an artificial immortal person” seems to me like a good idea.

Compare to the laws on conspiracy, which (broadly speaking) allows for all individuals who colluded to be tried for a crime committed by one.

Each individual has to be aware of the criminal purpose in order to be convicted, AFAIK. Dupes get a pass — as they ought, IMO. In most cases, most of the stockholders of a corporation are going to be unaware of its illegal activities (because otherwise they might blow the whistle — the *actual* conspirators are aware that they are conspirators).

The shield of limited liability has some useful purposes — without it, many people might fear to invest at all, and so their savings would effectively be removed from the economy.

IMO, breach of fiduciary duty should be a crime, which law-enforcement agencies are empowered to investigate and prosecute. Expecting the shareholders to do all their own enforcement through tort suits is unrealistic and permits too much managerial corruption. Furthermore, anyone convicted of it could be barred from holding fiduciary positions in the future.

69

Arion 04.21.10 at 3:31 pm

Enough of this “naive, Utopian pointless! We need a ringing manifesto and a determined, non negotiable stance. Raise high the banner. A las barricadas! As Mother Jones said, “let’s go and the get the sons of bitches”.

70

Omega Centauri 04.21.10 at 4:38 pm

Other than a few references to global warming, I see no references to limits to (physical) growth, and the relentless pursuit of economic growth. I think this is the eight billion ton gorrila in the room that no-one wants to talk about. We are reaching the supply limits of a lot of industrial and agriculturl inputs, stuff like oil, iron ore, fertilizers, water etc., and the constraints that these limits impose upon us in the near future are going to be severe. But, no one with a serious political agenda wants to talk about this, as it inevitably entails suggesting we do with less.

The other area in huge need of an upgrade, is public epistemology. Why is politics based upon raw emotion and deliberate disinformation? Shouldn’t we make the teaching of some basic epistemological principles universal, rather than accidental? Without this the body politic is susceptible to being led by demagogues.

71

soru 04.21.10 at 5:12 pm

Because, obviously, if you believe any of that end-of-progress stuff, you can’t be a progressive. You might want to be one, might hang round with that crowd, but it’s just a logical contradiction, like a Christian Buddhist or something.

Someone who happens to believe there’s is going to be an inevitable total race war, and the only societies that survive will be those who reorganise their society on military lines under a competent leader might be in all respects a nice person, and could well not self-identify as a fascist. But they can’t be a liberal. Not because of the things they would identify as their values and assumptions, but because of the things they think to be simply factually true.

I think there were a lot of such people in the 19430s, just as there a lot of the new liberal reactionaries now. Hopefully it’s just a passing phase.

72

Omega Centauri 04.21.10 at 5:59 pm

soru I don’t agree. We clearly have a bunch of physical ecological limits that are going to bite us quite badly in the near future. To have any hope that a liberal order will prevail through/after the inevitable transition to something like a steadystate economy, requires that we plan for it ahead of time. Simply reacting to the stresses as they arise will lead to disaster. This is clearly not something that conservatives will do, they will simply blame all limits on treehugger obstructionism. Progress, in a spiritual and societal sense should be possible in a steady state (wrt. overall physical size) society. There probably isn’t a nearterm limit on knowledge, but there almost certainly are limits on physical resources. Planning for, rather than reacting to the likely changes is going to be essential.

73

chris 04.21.10 at 6:52 pm

What if you want to *avert* a race war brought on by global resource scarcity? Does that make you a non-progressive because you aren’t boundlessly optimistic about the future?

Also, I think the two points at 70 are linked. You can’t have a serious political agenda and propose making do with less because too much of the electorate petulantly reject inconvenient truths. If they had more respect for truth and truth-seeking you might be able to get further politically by taking on big challenges instead of bowing to the desire to pretend they don’t exist.

74

Diomedes 04.21.10 at 10:30 pm

I’d like to see us go to a needs based economy, rather than the desire/faith based economy we have now.

People need jobs. Businesses need workers. But the owners of businesses don’t need to make 430 times as much as their employees. The owners of the largest 100 corporations don’t need to make 1000 times as much as their employees.

And all of that plays a huge roll in overall poverty here and around the world. There is no escaping the fact that capitalism is all about pushing surplus value up to the very top of the food chain, at the cost of everyone below that top. We feel it less in America because we also have many outlets for cheap, imported goods, and we have a decent safety net of sorts, thanks to liberal and progressive activism, with an assist from socialists, etc. But those cheap important goods, while they help us deal with our stagnant wages, while they make us believe we have more real buying power than we actually do, mean millions of people around the world make pennies on the dollar and live in squalor.

Not to mention the costs to the planet itself.

In reality, we did this thing backwards. For thousands of years, the rich have exploited the poor, kept them poor. Even in our so-called democracy, the rich exploit the working class at work and at home, flood our homes with everyone we supposedly must buy but have no need. We have no say in the matter, and that’s not democracy at all. We also have no national plan regarding any of this, and that’s just flat out stupid. We should have national plans, strategies, and methods for alleviating inequalities and ending our economic apartheid.

We should have started out with needs, fulfilled them, and if folks wanted to create surplus beyond that point, good for them. But everyone should at least have their basic needs met first, and that should be set in stone, before anyone gets the chance to race ahead of the rest. As long as people go hungry, die of lack of health care, have no home, can’t get a decent education, live in dangerous environments, etc. then letting others accrue massive amounts of wealth is simply immoral.

Take care of the needs first. Make a plan. Set goals. Get r done.

75

Pete 04.22.10 at 9:22 am

“Laws which assert that only human beings may hold assets in a corporation”

Abolish pension funds, insurance companies and investment banking? Unwinding that will be messy..

I note that the UK has managed to establish the crime of “corporate manslaughter”, although I don’t know much about its actual impact. Litigation in the Trafigura case is still pending and still secret.

76

alex 04.22.10 at 9:56 am

Nice to see people firmly rejecting the argument that to be ‘progressive’ you have to believe that material resources can be conjured up by magic. It really requires some effort not to acknowledge that capitalist societies have been freakishly lucky/extremely hardworking [you choose] in discovering new basic resources just as other ones trend towards exhaustion – wood, coal, whale oil, petroleum, phosphates, etc etc. But we are running out of new chemicals to exploit as cheaply as we managed to exploit these. One need not scaremonger about the more extreme versions of ‘Peak’ this and that to recognise, as the exploration and mining companies themselves do, that getting more and more of these resources will in the future take a higher proportion of the economic value that they bring. They will no longer be cheap. The consequences of this for anyone who wants to have a technological urban civilisation do require very careful thought.

77

Robert Wiblin 04.22.10 at 12:11 pm

Suggestion: get out of politics and get into a field where a marginal person can make a big difference.

78

Barry 04.22.10 at 12:50 pm

Suggestion: please provide supporting reasons for one’s suggestions.

79

Western Dave 04.23.10 at 1:26 am

Diomedes your faith in high modernism is certainly charming, but you should really check out Seeing Like a State by James Scott.

One of the problems to deal with is Americans usually want their children to have a better life then they did. This is usually measured not by how the kids will measure success but by how the adults measured it. Thus, “why would you live in the city near lots black people, when I spent my whole life trying to get away from them.” for folks my age who grew up in suburbia and moved back to the city that our parents (or grandparents) left. I’m already intent on my children having more financial stability than my wife and I have because we invested in cultural capital (advanced degrees in art and humanities) and are paying a far steeper economic price than we anticipated because we failed to see a) the introduction of Photoshop and b) the collapse of tenure track jobs. I’m going to push them far harder to get high paying careers. Likewise, a plumber doesn’t want to hear about equity, he wants to hear about how to make more money so his kids can go down the shore next summer at a house at LBI instead of motel in Wildwood. (Insert your own appropriate beach references here). He wants his kid to be able to get a union card like his dad without having to be on a wait list for the training program for a number of years. There’s a working mom who doesn’t want to work, and a stay at home mom who wants to go back but can’t afford the childcare. Equity arguments, fairness arguments are going to fall on deaf ears. As anybody with kids will tell you, “it’s not fair” gets old quick.
Which is why something like “everyone deserves a chance, even you” might work.

80

chris 04.23.10 at 1:54 pm

@79: to pick out just one detail, if you don’t get involved in public affairs pretty darn quick *nobody* in the next generation is going to be able to get a union card.

The more I look at the various problems in our society the more I think most of them are reflections of the same problem: class. Classes are too far apart, too difficult to move between, and have too much influence on our lives, and they’re carried down from generation to generation.

And from the viewpoint of the overclass, all these things are features, not bugs, so class conflict is inevitable.

I guess this is one of the few places where I won’t throw myself out the Overton Window by saying that Marx was at least partly right (although I certainly don’t want to follow in the footsteps of Russia or China and a study of what went wrong in those cases seems like a prudent idea).

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