One-dimensional chess

by John Quiggin on November 14, 2010

The big issue to be decided by the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend Bush’s tax cuts for the very rich[1]. This is a one-dimensional chess game, with the obvious zero-sum property that if the tax go through, the Republicans win and (at least in standard political terms) the Democrats lose by an equal amount.

There seems to be a near-universal consensus that
(i) The game is a forced win for the Dems (pass a bill extending the cuts for everyone but the rich and dare the Repugs to oppose it)
(ii) The Dems opening move will be to resign

This analysis certainly gives support to the idea of unobserved dimensions, presumably monetary

fn1. The option of not extending them for the well-off, and doing something serious about the deficit without too much impact on demand is way outside the Overton window.

{ 72 comments }

1

Ilya Lozovsky 11.14.10 at 7:51 am

Using a word like “Repugs” just cheapens your post and makes it look like you have nothing substantive to say. Why do you want that?

2

Charles S 11.14.10 at 9:48 am

Weirdly, I think the invisible dimension is media rather than money. Basically, when the Dems try to pass a tax cut for everyone on their first $250,000 of income, the Repubs will filibuster the bill, and the press (pulled by the nose by Fox) will treat this as a sign of weakness on the part of the Dems and make nothing of the Repubs filibustering a giant tax cut. Then, after the lame duck session ends, the press will blame the Dems for not extending the Bush tax cuts and will call it the Obama tax increase. Then, the new Republican house will pass a full extension of the Bush tax cuts, and the Dems will try to filibuster it, but the press will treat this as the Dems supporting tax increases, and a dozen conservaDems will vote to end the filibuster, and a giant tax cut will go to Obama to sign or veto. If he vetoes it, the press (led by Fox) will treat this as Obama increasing taxes on the middle class.

So (i) is wrong. The Repubs will take that dare and the Dems will fail to pass a bill and the Repubs will pay no penalty with the public (the Dems still control the legislature, so whatever happens is their fault in the public mind). Thus (ii).

3

Jack Strocchi 11.14.10 at 10:00 am

Pr Q said:

The big issue to be decided by the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend Bush’s tax cuts for the very rich[1]. This is a one-dimensional chess game, with the obvious zero-sum property that if the tax go through, the Republicans win and (at least in standard political terms) the Democrats lose by an equal amount.

I don’t mean to carp (still less snark) but didn’t Pr Q suggest not so long ago that the Big Issue for the next congress would be the REP’s threat to shut down the government unless health care was repealed?

Obama and his aides plan a series of pre-emptive capitulations, after which the Republicans will demand the repeal of the healthcare act (or maybe abolition of Social Security). When/if that is refused, the Repugs will shut down the government, and this time they will hold their nerve until Obama folds.

On this reading the normally gloomy Pr Q seems to have lightened up substantially, given that a government shut-down is now presumably no longer on the REP agenda. Hence the exhilaration of moving from a negative-sum zero-dimensional chess point to a zero-sum one-dimensional chess line. Or is it too early to count that chicken?

My prediction at that time, FWIW, was that the victorious REPs would demand contractionary budget cuts in return for co-operation on appropriations, which would probably trigger a double-dip recession. On a brighter note I predicted that the REPS would not “go ballistic” and bluff a shut down of the federal government because their key constituents (Red-state voters and Blue-state donors) depend on federal money.

One things for sure, the REPs are more interested in political failure of Obama rather than policy success for themselves. That is, according to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, they aim to “make Obama a one-term President”, with the implied threat of sabotaging all efforts at successful governance. Although he seemed to step back from this threat a few days later.

My prediction is that Obama will hold fast on health care and the REPs will step back from the brink on government shut-down. But that the DEMs will probably roll over on extending Bush tax-cuts and slashing discretionary spending, tossing the Tea Party some red meat. The US economy will limp along for another couple of years and Obama’s chances of re-election will probably slide.

Not exactly Armageddon but not “hope and change” either.

4

Robert Waldmann 11.14.10 at 10:19 am

The Senate is not a game of chess. In Chess, a player must move (typically withing 3 minutes) or lose. The Democrats can’t force a vote in the Senate. There are only 56 of them plus two independents. They need 59 votes for cloture until Kirk is sworn in and then will need 60.

I think the game is clearly a forced win for Republicans. They can block any vote until January and then will have the House of Representatives. If no Republican is willing to allow tax cuts on income under $250,000 unless there are tax cuts on income over $ 250,000, then no such tax cuts will be enacted.

You are assuming that it is politically impossible for the Republicans, acting as a group, to block tax cuts on incomes under $250,000. They have the power to block such cuts. There is no sign that any Republican Senator is willing to vote for cloture (and soon two will be required). In particular, the only ones who might want to vote for cloture also want to win Republican primaries in the future and they all both* know those desires can’t both be satisfied.

* with very strong emphasis on the “might” I am thinking of Snowe and Brown.

5

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.14.10 at 10:49 am

@1, the press will treat this as the Dems supporting tax increases

I believe a better line of attack would be to treat this as the Dems ruining the economy (“no poor man ever gave me a job”, etc.).

Also, I don’t think it’s clear that this is one-dimensional. They could compromise this time, in exchange for raising the retirement age, for example. Then a few years later pass the tax cut on $250K+ income anyway.

6

Guido Nius 11.14.10 at 11:38 am

Such pessimism! This is beginning to sound like the “Watch Tower” or the movie “2012”, but in the version of the left. Where are the happy times? When deficits were of no concern! When the crisis opened up real opportunities for new policy! When we thought everybody saw the errors of their old ways!

C’mon, elections are won and elections are lost but things could be demographically a lot worse, they could for instance be like a decade ago.

7

Guido Nius 11.14.10 at 11:47 am

And the way this is set upthe Dems have lost already (so it’s zero-dimensional for them) as in the end they will be blamed for Bush’s tax cuts, on top of everything else.

In fact they’ll be blamed for every piece of legislation ever passed in the past and every piece of it that should be passed in the near future but doesn’t make it.

Damned if you didn’t and damned if you don’t.

8

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.10 at 1:08 pm

I think the invisible dimension is media rather than money.

The idea that the real content of politics is what you see on tv is one of the biggest barriers to rational thinking about politics.

In any case, the problem isn’t the Democrats, but the lack of outside pressure on them from the left. One thing we’ve learned from the past two years is exactly how far you can get with technocratic center-left government in this country in the absence of any kind of mass mobilization. It’s time to go back to Francis Fox Piven, and remember that inorganic intellectuals are powerless unless there are people rioting in the streets.

In other words, the real players aren’t the Dems and the Rs, but the rich and the rest of us. The Dems are just a piece, or may be more precisely, a space on the board.

9

Daragh McDowell 11.14.10 at 1:53 pm

I’m also interested to see whether New START ratification will be another Obama administration profile in courage. Will they point out that opposition to a series of Reagan-like cuts in the nuclear arsenal due to objections over the content of the preamble is prima facie evidence that John Kyl and his supporters lack the most basic qualifications for even being a Senator? Or will Axelrod pre-emptively fold? I’m on tenterhooks I tell ya.

10

Anderson 11.14.10 at 2:29 pm

In any case, the problem isn’t the Democrats, but the lack of outside pressure on them from the left.

Good point. I mean, they just saw what happens when the left stays home and doesn’t vote, but the electoral tea leaves can be read too many different ways.

I am trying to think what we could have instead of a 3d party (which would be disastrous). Perhaps a “Progressive Committee” to which we donate, and which then conditions release of monetary increments to the DNC etc. on how much liberal legislation they advance? The idea has difficulties, but then, this is the real world: all ideas have difficulties.

11

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.10 at 3:09 pm

I am trying to think what we could have instead of a 3d party

We need to get out of the electoral box. When I said people rioting in the streets, I wasn’t joking.

More pacifically, I would like to see a National Debtor’s Union that would organize collective mortgage strikes, destigmatize bankruptcy, block evictions from foreclosed houses, etc. There is no reason for the banksters to agree to any meaningful financial reform, or any more stimulus, until there is a plausible alternative that looks much worse for them.

The New Deal didn’t happen because people voted Democratic. Nor did it happen because people didn’t vote Democratic. It happened because people did things like this.

12

christian_h 11.14.10 at 3:41 pm

Yeah I’m with Lemuel. If we don’t get over the fixation on electoral politics, fast, we’re doomed. The problem is how to get from A (no noticeable mass mobilization) to B, given the people who control the organizations supposedly fighting for the interests of working people (the trade unions, most importantly, but also the large progressive issue campaigns) have committed completely to a electoral/lobbying strategy (with an occasional lawsuit thrown in).

13

y81 11.14.10 at 5:33 pm

The problem with a non-electoral strategy for the left is that without majority support among the white working class, the left will lose the battles in the streets. (In this respect, though hardly in general, America resembles Germany in the 1930s more than Russia in the teens.)

The current preoccupations of the left aren’t likely to mobilize the white working class, either. Although rates of divorce, illegitimacy etc. have risen in this group, they won’t go to the barricades for sexual liberty. And they actively oppose most of what is advocated under the rubrics of multiculturalism and affirmative action.

A more leftist economics, e.g., a National Debtors Union, might have more success, but that would fracture the Democratic coalition. The executives at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs support the Democrats precisely because they support gay marriage, abortion on demand, etc. They won’t be interested in bankrupting and nationalizing the banks. For that matter, is the Ivy League professoriate about to relinquish its endowment income and agree that student loans don’t need to be repaid?

14

Guido Nius 11.14.10 at 6:01 pm

A ‘non-electoral’ strategy. Am I the only one thinking: WTF?

15

BillCinSD 11.14.10 at 6:26 pm

How about extra-electoral?

16

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.14.10 at 6:34 pm

Unlike France, where factory workers can kidnap the CEO and hold him in a basement for a few days with no repercussions from the state whatsoever, I imagine in the US, if you start blocking evictions, they will go swat-team on your ass, and you will end up in a hospital or in jail.

And even in France, with all those mass-actions in the recent weeks – protests, strikes, blocking oil terminals in Marseilles, blocking airports, etc. – it didn’t prevent their National Assembly from passing the pension reform.

17

elbrucce 11.14.10 at 7:02 pm

Perhaps a “Progressive Committee” to which we donate, and which then conditions release of monetary increments to the DNC etc. on how much liberal legislation they advance?

You have to go around the DNC. Blue America, for example.

18

Ben Alpers 11.14.10 at 7:18 pm

What Lemuel Pitkin is saying.

We need serious, non-electoral organizing on the left.

The good news is that there is a ton of talk about this these days. We just need to start doing something.

As soon as such an effort begins to emerge, I’m planning on spending a whole lot of free time on working toward its success.

19

Map Maker 11.14.10 at 7:38 pm

I see the left as hopelessly split between the private sector working class (subject to competition from imports, cycles in the economy) and the public sector employees lobby. The latter is highly motivated electorally and relatively immune to economic cycles.

In my near urban center, how do you motivate $25,000 working class people to rally and support a democratic/union machine dedicated to +$60,000 a year public sector jobs with full benefits? Who is more important – the sons and daughters of working class voters or the unionized teachers that teach them? The democrats in my state can’t answer that question …

20

zamfir 11.14.10 at 8:03 pm

Map maker, that post could be the dictionary example for ‘concern troll’

21

MarkUp 11.14.10 at 8:45 pm

#17 – “Map maker, that post could be the dictionary example for ‘concern troll’”

It could, or it could also be a short exposition on a quite notable part of what is ailing the left; the D’s.

22

Charles S 11.14.10 at 9:23 pm

Lemuel,

I completely agree that what is needed is a mass movement demanding and enforcing changes in the system (personally, I’ll be happiest if we see a complete roadblock on the Bush tax cuts, so they aren’t an issue I’d try to rally a popular movement around anyway). Oddly enough, Obama actually called for this at the start of his Presidency.

So yes, the reason the media can cast Dem actions and Repub actions in the way I described is directly tied to the fact that there is no mass movement mobilizing to fight for tax cuts only for the first $250,000 of income (on the tax side, I’d rather fight for a new millionaire’s tax bracket and a Tobin tax / Financial Transaction Tax, or for a carbon credit auction as part of a serious CO2 emission reduction plan).

23

Charles S 11.14.10 at 10:14 pm

On the other hand, I think it is important to remember that the New Deal happened both because of the mass movement and because of electoral success. The mass movement did not extract a New Deal from Hoover.

And without the unprecedented Republican use of the filibuster, the last legislative session would have passed a ton of real and powerful progressive legislation. The progressive caucus grew this last election, and now represents 1/5 of the House. So rejecting an electoral strategy at this point seems like an equal mistake to not working towards a mass movement.

And the power of the media to distort the visibility and effectiveness of mass movements should not to be ignored. There were three fairly large marches on Washington this Fall, two sponsored by media companies. Most people have never heard of the third march, and if you are interested in comparing the sizes of the three marches, you can’t, because none of the networks ever bothered to estimate the size of the third march. If we organized an unemployed people’s march on Washington, would anyone know it had happened?

Certainly, that can and probably should be taken as a strong argument for direct action rather than visible protests.

24

Kent 11.14.10 at 11:58 pm

Before the conversation moves too far afield, I wanted to jump in and say a hearty “AGREED!” to the original post.

There may be extra-electoral things to do. Sure. But the Dems’ astonishing ability to pull a loss out of a sure win is a really, really important aspect of the current political world.

25

spyder 11.15.10 at 1:30 am

Alternate universe hypothesis: The Senate Dems could pass the identical House HR that will provide for permanent cuts below the $250,000 (like they did with health care), without needing a cloture vote, and using a simple majority.

26

Wax Banks 11.15.10 at 2:52 am

Ben Alpers @ #15:

The good news is that there is a ton of talk about this these days. We just need to start doing something.

Your definition of ‘good news’ is adorable.

27

joel hanes 11.15.10 at 3:14 am

Even more alternate universe hypothesis :
the Senate could simply block renewal of all the Bush 43 tax cuts by simply doing nothing, thereby actually reducing the deficit .

28

Charles S 11.15.10 at 3:31 am

spyder,

For health care, they had a budget reconciliation instruction in the budget resolution authorizing the use of reconciliation to deal with health care legislation. Do they have the same for tax code changes this year? I am not aware of that being the case.

The reason they passed the house resolution verbatim at the end of health care is so they wouldn’t have to do a conference committee and an additional vote on the conference committee result, not because passing a house resolution verbatim doesn’t require a cloture vote.

29

John Quiggin 11.15.10 at 3:59 am

Responding to some comments hoisted from moderation (with subsequent CT-special renumbering!)

@1 Ilya Your comment, I think, presupposes that substantive discussion of US politics requires treating the Republican party as a legitimate participant in the debate, to be treated with civility. Speaking as an outsider, I see no need to observe such norms. The existence of the Republican Party is an unfortunate fact, for the US and the world, but not one that requires courtesy.

@3 Jack Strocchi. As an Australian, you may have missed the distinction between the lame-duck Congress (elected in 2008, and still with a session to go) and the next Congress (elected in 2010). Like you, I find this odd, but that’s the way the US system works.

30

Lemuel Pitkin 11.15.10 at 4:58 am

subsequent CT-special renumbering!

So have you guys after thought about adopting a system of moderating comments that does not involve renumbering?

31

John Quiggin 11.15.10 at 5:16 am

I don’t think you can avoid renumbering, but there are setups where you can click to reply to a comment, which would work better. I’ll see whether this can be done.

32

Jack Strocchi 11.15.10 at 5:38 am

John Quiggin @ #29 said:

@3 Jack Strocchi. As an Australian, you may have missed the distinction between the lame-duck Congress (elected in 2008, and still with a session to go) and the next Congress (elected in 2010). Like you, I find this odd, but that’s the way the US system works.

Okay, I get it. So we now have a lame-duck Congress with temporary DEM majorities which is scheduled to lapse after one more session. It is going to consider the issue of ectending the Bush tax-cuts, and, according to Pr Q, pre-emptively roll-over to the plutocrats.

In 2011 we will have a lame-duck President facing a hostile HoR for the 2011-12 Congressional term. Which will confront the issue of Obama-care and, according to Pr Q, when faced with the REP threat of government shut-down, pre-emptively cave into to various REP legislative demands. Not excluding gutting Obama-care and other DEM legislative achievements.

Shorter Pr Q:

– 2010 Congress: extension of tax-cuts for plutocrats
– 2011 Congress: cuts to benefit expansion for the uninsured

Man, that is gloom squared.

I will add to that the probability of contractionary fiscal policy which will probably tip the US into double-dip recession. That will be a feature, not bug, in REP political pov, because they so desperately want Obama to be a one-term president.

Man, these REPs play hard-ball.

33

zamfir 11.15.10 at 7:15 am

JQ, why not give inserted comments a 1.1 or 1A number?

34

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.15.10 at 8:04 am

@(approximately)33: because this is not the way wordpress software works?

35

Steve J. 11.15.10 at 9:24 am

(ii) The Dems opening move will be to resign

Yup, that my Dems…:-(

36

polyorchnid octopunch 11.15.10 at 10:11 am

I think the plutocrats need to be made to fear the people. At the moment, I suspect the overriding emotion they feel about the people who produce the value that they live on is mostly one of contempt.

My current reading is that things won’t change until a few banksters and their families get pulled out of their houses and lynched by an angry mob, said mob having already killed the people paid by the state to protect them. I think that this is really the only thing that will make that particular class of people start to rethink how they do things. The US is not there yet, but they’re heading in that direction. I think the Koch buyout of the teabagger movement is an opening play to attempt to control the mobs that are coming.

It’s unfortunate, because once those kinds of things start rolling, it’s too late to be able to move in a way that actually ends up promoting the common weal… how that scenario will turn out will be anyone’s guess.

37

Tom M 11.15.10 at 12:09 pm

Do they have the same for tax code changes this year? I am not aware of that being the case.
Not yet, but that’s how the Bush tax cuts passed in the first place. Here’s a partial list (see Think Progress for full list) of the tactic:

Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001
Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005

38

Marc 11.15.10 at 1:14 pm

You can’t pass the tax cuts with a simple majority in the Senate because they don’t pay for themselves. The majority rule-works part of the Senate only applies for budget matters and there are rules about how this can be done – see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconciliation_(United_States_Congress)

So the basic question is whether the Republicans are willing to block the entire package; under the current rules they clearly can do so if they want, and the Democrats can’t invoke the majority rule option. The rules are stupid and need to be changed, but that is not something that is going to change in a lame duck session.

39

y81 11.15.10 at 1:49 pm

@31: If you mean nested comments, like on Megan McArdle’s site, please don’t do that. It produces a set of fragmented discourses in place of a unified conversation.

40

tps12 11.15.10 at 2:11 pm

Just don’t display numbers on comments at all: replace the number with a “#” for permalinking. People will refer to earlier comments by name and time or just link.

41

mpowell 11.15.10 at 3:56 pm

Regarding non-electoral strategies for change: part of the challenge facing left movements in post-industrial societies is that it is possible for the elites to pacify the majority of the population while claiming all the excess in production for themselves. There is just no comparison between economic conditions today and during the GD. You can’t afford health care? In the 1930s, health care as we know it didn’t exist. How about food? It’s a lot easier to feed your family today than it was in 1933. So why should people get up and riot? It’s a lot like going to war. Probably a negative sum game. And things just aren’t bad enough that it’s worth it yet. Maybe the system will collapse sufficiently that it will be, but it hasn’t happened yet.

42

Martin Bento 11.15.10 at 3:58 pm

I second the objection to threaded comments. The several conversations will also cover common ground, such that they should be one discussion anyway.

I would say put comments freed from moderation in at the point they are freed, rather than the one they were posted, perhaps with a notation of where they would have been if not moderated. No one reads them until they are out anyway, so that is really the point at which they enter the conversation.

43

mds 11.15.10 at 4:23 pm

You can’t pass the tax cuts with a simple majority in the Senate because they don’t pay for themselves.

Correction: you can’t pass permanent tax cuts with a simple majority in the Senate because they don’t pay for themselves. As Tom M observes @ 36, it is entirely possible to pass “temporary” tax cuts with a simple majority. This is why the Bush Deficit Increase and Social Security Theft Act is up for renewal: the expiration date allowed it to be revenue-neutral over the required ten-year span.

Now, this does suggest that instead of trying and failing to get permanent tax cuts for all Americans on the first $250,000 of their income by agreeing to another “temporary” tax cut exclusively for those making more than $250,000, an alternative would be to do things in the same fashion as the Bush Borrow from Our Children’s Future to Give More Money to the Rich Act. To wit: simply offer a tax cut extension on the first $250,000 of income that expires in ten years. That would presumably allow for reconciliation to be used. Meanwhile, don’t even deign to vote on extended tax cuts for $250,000+, because THE DEFICIT. Return some of the spittle Democrats have been sprayed with by those shrieking about the deficit while demanding $700 billion over ten years in additional tax cuts for the rich .

44

Lee A. Arnold 11.15.10 at 4:51 pm

Politically it would be smartest for the Dems to put the Repubs on the defensive, even though it means gridlock and nothing gets done for another year.

Let’s put an end to this prevailing idea that the Dems must, at any cost, capitulate to the Repubs to get some stimulus through.

Nothing would be passed that could possibly make a discernible difference. The Repubs have already demonstrated that they don’t really care what happens to the economy. Now that campaigning is over for a while, there is no sense in capitulating to them.

Here is what the Dems should propose:

The Dems should most certainly offer to extend the middle-class Bush cuts, ONLY temporarily (say 3-4 years). It is a stimulus.

And they should let the upper class cuts expire. It is another shaving of the long-term deficits, as Obamacare is, and the Independents really don’t care about upper-class taxes.

In this way, the Dems will embrace deficit reduction fully, but do it fully on their own terms, and keep the Republicans on the defensive.

Make them name the permanent spending cuts to make their Bush tax cuts permanent. Compel them to put the spending cuts in the same bill. Make them go through it. Because they don’t want to do it. They have already been squirming on camera for a couple of months now. Keep banging on their heads for about a year, even if it means total gridlock with nothing getting done.

Make the Republicans say whether they think healthcare is a human right. Keep asking them, so they keep repeating it.

The Repubs are intellectually corrupt. Find their weak spots and drive these into the forefront of American consciousness; make the whole package a one-year-long news item. That is exactly what they did with the whole phony “socialism” meme.

The only thing that is going to work right now is to put the Republicans on the defensive.

In response, point out that the Democrats have already shown the way forward: the Dems shaved the long-term deficits by 2/3rds, while at the same time they strengthened the safety net, by ending the denial of health coverage.

Yes, reducing the deficits by Obamacare depends on Congress sticking to paygo — but then, so does any plan that will be proposed by anyone, including the Repubs.

So, ask the public to support the party that protects the safety net while shaving deficits in a piecemeal, incremental, repsonsible way. The Dems are already doing it; it works. This is a winnable fight.

The dysfunction in the U.S. public conversation is partly due to a well-cultivated confusion of short-term countercyclical policies with long-term growth. Short-term, temporary tax cuts sometimes work as a business-cycle stimulus, but this is also taken to mean that long-term, permanent tax cuts increase potential GDP enough to pay for themselves. So far that is a dubious proposition.

45

Lemuel Pitkin 11.15.10 at 4:57 pm

Just don’t display numbers on comments at all: replace the number with a “#” for permalinking.

This seems like the way to go. Sticking freed-from-moderation comments at the end would also work (and would make those comments more likely to be read), provided you did not renumber when deleting comments.

46

K. Williams 11.15.10 at 8:44 pm

Lemuel writes:

“The New Deal didn’t happen because people voted Democratic. Nor did it happen because people didn’t vote Democratic. It happened because people did things like this” (with “this” being the Flint sit-down strike).

Really? Apparently the New Deal was the result of time travel, since the Flint sit-down strikes happened in 1936, by which time every significant piece of New Deal legislation had already been passed.

47

StevenAttewell 11.15.10 at 9:33 pm

I’m with Charles S. and K. Williams here – people are making claims about extra-political activism in relation to the New Deal that are way out of synch with the historical reality.

One thing that gets ignored in these dicussions is that the American left did a huge amount of internal political work that we’re not seeing efforts to replicate today. The union movement and its allies staged something very similar to the “march into the institutions” – not only did they start to vote Democratic, and build field machines to get out the vote, but they also got themselves on local and state Democratic Party committees, and built themselves political machines (including but not limited to the CIO-PAC model), and built new party institutions like the American Labor Party (taking advantage of ballot fusion) and the Democratic Farm-Labor Party.

What this meant was that, while you could be a “Tammany Hall” style Northern Democrat in 1928 or 1932, by 1934 and 1936 you had to be down with the unions and down with the New Deal. Of course, had this process been successfully carried out in the South and nationally (which FDR to his credit tried to do repeatedly with his attempted purge and his attempted realignment), things would have been different.

So, if you’re looking for useful work to do – how ’bout working to spread ballot fusion to as many states as possible, then grow the Working Families Party into a national presence? How ’bout taking over your local Democratic Party Central Committee?
There is more to political work than electoral/lobbying.

One final point: the Flint sit-down strikes are perhaps the worst possible example of mass extra-political activism imaginable. The UAW chose the sit-down strike precisely because they didn’t have anything close to a majority in the Flint plants – workers were too damn scared of losing their jobs in the midst of the Depression, and many of them remembered how union drives had been broken in the 1920s and 1910s. But while you need a majority to come out in order for a walk-out strike to work, the sit-downs only needed a few workers to throw the lever that shut down the production line, to lock the boss in his office or kick him out, then barricade the doors. It was only after the sit-down strikes worked that you got a mass movement in the auto plants because workers saw that they could go on strike and not lose their jobs – prior to the Flint Strike, there were only 30,000 UAW members; the year after the strike, there were 500,000.

And it required a lot of political work. It required electing Democrats like Governor Frank Murphy who would call out the National Guard for the first time in American history to protect striking workers rather than break the strike, and it required electing FDR to back him up. Without those things, Flint would be another Pullman Strike, where a pro-labor governor was overruled by the national establishment and the National Guard used to break a winning strike.

48

ejh 11.15.10 at 9:42 pm

In Chess, a player must move (typically within 3 minutes) or lose

Does this mean most moves are typically made within three minutes, or (as I think the phrase in #4 suggests) that a typical stipulation is that a player must move within three minutes? The latter would of course be nonsense.

(Even if it were the former, the case of stalemate is being overlooked, perhaps surprisingly given the amount of time devoted to the subject last time.)

49

roger 11.16.10 at 8:55 am

19 – Map maker, this is a sociologically inaccurate statement. Many blue collar workers have either spouses or sons and daughters who have those public jobs. The idea that the teachers marry teachers and produce teachers in some teachers hive is simply a bogus right wing meme. Public jobs simply are the high end jobs for the blue collar sector – and many of them are actually blue collar jobs, from bus driver to secretary. Of course, private sphere management types like to imagine that all the blue collar workers are sweating in a factory somewhere. It is the upper management types, the white collar workers, who are less likely to have spouses or children working in the public sphere – hence their hatred of it, and automatic assumption that these unionized teachers are equally hated by unionized janitors. This is a laughable assumption. Cuts in public sector employment and salaries will disproportionately effect families below or at the median income range.

50

Alex 11.16.10 at 9:54 am

This comment considered valuable. Attewell’s blog is damn good as well, which I’ve just discovered.

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Map Maker 11.16.10 at 11:51 am

Roger,

My point is a public sector blue collar worker is facing a far different economic environment than a private sector blue collar worker. The latter is working in a competitive industry, with wages and benefits being competed away by technology and global competition. Public sector workers, all, including blue collar, have not had paycuts (except in very exceptional circumstances), have excellent benefits, including pensions that just don’t exist in most of the private sector anymore. I haven’t looked at national statistics, but pay and benefits for the blue collar workers in my city are above the average private sector wages for the entire city. Yes, private sector blue collar workers (and remember, there really isn’t much of a private sector unionized workforce in much of the country, including where I live) look up to these public sector unionized jobs – why not – they may have more pay and benefits for the same skill set, with no risk of layoffs or paycuts … that dynamic can’t work when the city can’t afford to hire everyone and those public employees are being paid by taxes on their (lower paid) neighbors.

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StevenAttewell 11.16.10 at 12:11 pm

Hey, thanks Alex!

Map Maker – you must not have been paying attention to think that public sector workers haven’t been taking paycuts. Have you not seen the headlines about, say massive furloughs in California, or the tens of thousands of teachers who’ve been laid off?

The larger question here is why the response is to say “down with economically secure workers” instead of saying “I’d like economic security too!”

http://realignmentproject.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/in-defense-of-public-sector-unionism-part-3/ (and parts 2 and 1 to boot)

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dsquared 11.16.10 at 1:15 pm

how ‘bout working to spread ballot fusion to as many states as possible, then grow the Working Families Party into a national presence?

if this were to happen, though, Stephen, it would surely have to be in the face of the fiercest opposition from the Democratic Party, wouldn’t it? Doug Henwood has a bit of background on how the unions/Democrats alliance managed to screw the WFP in the last election cycle; I’d also note that outside the Democratic Party, there used to be until very recently a thing called ACORN that was an extremely effective pro-poor political organisation, and the Democrats had more than half a hand in its destruction.

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roger 11.16.10 at 1:25 pm

Mapmaker, I doubt that the blue collar work force is angry about its taxes going to pay for things that benefit its neighbors, relatives, spouses, etc. It is the white collar group that is angry about high property taxes – it is the white collar group that sends its kids to private schools. Etc. The pseudo-populism of the tea party very quickly dissipates when you look at its real demographic – it does not consist of blue collar workers, but of upper middle class people. The blue collar worker holding onto a house worth 120 thou does sometimes bitch about property tax, but it is the white collar worker with the 400 thou house that is really up in arms.
Of course, there are sectional differences. Blue collar men in Dixie don’t have the same political responses as blue collar men in Oregon. Generally, the complaints about public unions do not come from disgruntled workers, but from disgruntled members of either the upper twenty percentile, or those near it.
As unemployment has hit those with the lower incomes hardest, the Dems are insane to increase the pain by cutting the public spherre – they should be robustly expanding it. Working class voters justly turned away from a Democratic party that seemed to be helpless in the face of high unemployment this November. But they would certainly turn back if the Dems advocated hiring more people in the public sphere, and stood with the unions in keeping public employee benefits stable. They will not win trying to appeal to those high income voters who hate paying property taxes.

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y81 11.16.10 at 2:07 pm

@29: But the majority of Americans clearly don’t share Prof. Quiggin’s views of the Republican party or the proper way to deal with them. Even most Democratic voters express a desire for bipartisanship, negotiation, compromise, “working together” etc. So the advice to treat the Republicans with contempt and disdain is not good advice for anyone who aspires to rule America or influence the people who do.

Incidentally, responding to your opponents with childish insult rather than civil engagement is a poor strategy in most fields (e.g., academia, law) outside the blogosphere.

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Map Maker 11.16.10 at 2:33 pm

Roger,

“The blue collar worker holding onto a house worth 120 thou does sometimes bitch about property tax, but it is the white collar worker with the 400 thou house that is really up in arms.”

But I’m not talking about republicans or tea partiers. I’m talking about Democrats. Democrats run all the major urban governments in the country, Republicans (or any two party+ competition) don’t exist in a way to impact election outcome. Philadelphia voted 85%+ for the losing candidates state-wide. Those 15% who voted Republican don’t set the debate in the city, nor do republicans in other cities.

The question isn’t about cutting city workers, the question is whether Democrats stand for protecting public employees at the expense of the blue collar private sector that votes and pays for them. Philadelphia has about 56,000 city/school district workers, and 400,000 voters in the last election.

StevenAtwell – California had furloughs (extra unpaid vacation) – compare that to EVERY public employee taking a paycut (no reduction in working hours, no extra vacation) in Ireland and Greece.

As for laying off teachers – you have made my point – rather than firing 20 teachers making $100,000 and hiring 40 teachers making $45,000 and saving a couple hundred thousand dollars to boot, school districts fire the 40 newest employees, making the least money. Is that what parents in the school district want?

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Salient 11.16.10 at 2:55 pm

California had furloughs (extra unpaid vacation)

Not to feed the troll, but — Just a quick reminder that a furlough is a vacation in name only — you’re required to work your normal hours unpaid during furlough time, or expect to be fired immediately. My father’s on furlough, for example, and he has to work during that time; he’s been told to just not come back if he doesn’t show up one of those days. So it basically is a pay cut. No guarantees that this is true universally, since I’m operating off of one-departmental anecdata, but he says it’s true in most departments unofficially if not explicitly officially, and in fact they’re not even accepting early retirement paperwork at this point from normally eligible employees (or rather, they’re “accepting” its submission, and then dragging their feet about acknowledging it or acting on it). Take that for what you will.

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Map Maker 11.16.10 at 4:03 pm

Salient,

Not a troll, but if you father has been told that, he has a legal case should action be taken – perhaps should start with the Calfornia Personnel Administration – which is very explicit that these are days off of work. For professionals, there may be flexibility on when the days are taken off, but the idea is less pay for less work, unlike the EU, where it was less pay.

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StevenAttewell 11.16.10 at 4:25 pm

dsquared – I have no problem with “in the face of the fiercest opposition from the Democratic Party.” In part because I believe that taking over local and state party committees is the most effective means for reducing that opposition. And while the WFP did squeezed by Cuomo, I wouldn’t count them out by any means.

Mapmaker – furloughs are pay cuts. In the case of California, 14% paycuts. And public school teachers don’t make $100k a year in California – their bosses might, but they’re not workers, they’re management.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.16.10 at 4:36 pm

As for laying off teachers – you have made my point – rather than firing 20 teachers making $100,000 and hiring 40 teachers making $45,000 and saving a couple hundred thousand dollars to boot, school districts fire the 40 newest employees, making the least money. Is that what parents in the school district want?

Are you suggesting that most parents would prefer that the most experienced teachers at their kids’ schools be the first to be laid off?

(And what Steven Attewell said — the “$100k” figure isn’t doing you any favors.)

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Salient 11.16.10 at 4:47 pm

if you father has been told that, he has a legal case should action be taken

No, but thanks – I appreciate your acknowledgment that he and many other furloughed workers have been put in an unjust situation, and ought to be entitled to recompense for that. The letter of the law isn’t on their side, though, because it’s possible to pretend that something very different is taking place.

The work needs to get done, it’s his job to do it. If it doesn’t get done each month, they can fire him for failure to perform job duties.

Of course, like most any job, he needs to actually do the work, and the work is already equivalent to n overfull days of work per month, more than any human being could reasonably keep up with. Paying him to work n – 10 days per month doesn’t make the monthly work allotment doable in n – 10 days.

the idea is less pay for less work

Also no. The dirty secret is that, because job duties aren’t rewritten and many are based on monthly data, the amount of work required of the person per month has been held nearly constant for him and many others. The whole point of a furlough is to get [nearly but maybe not quite exactly] the same amount of work out of folks, for [a lot] less pay.

What you do (for salaried employees at least, works less well but kinda sorta works for wage employees depending on the job) is refuse to “realign” their job duties to accommodate the furlough; then if they fail to do their job, well, you fire them for “failure to do their job.” Nevermind that in order to get the work done, they have to come in on their furlough days. It’s literally not possible to do the work by the time it needs to be done otherwise.

What’s particularly interesting is that my dad’s also doing his boss’s job and his boss’s boss’s job [because they've left in disgust], and he’s in a bad but fairly average situation in his department — so many people have left in disgust and are not being replaced, that each person’s assigned the work of three people, more or less. So job duties are rewritten upwards even as# of paid days allotted for doing the work is rewritten downwards.

The goal (unspoken and conjectured of course) seems to be to force as many people as possible to resign as quickly as possible, because retirement benefits are on a sliding scale and the sooner they can shovel workers out the door, the less benefits they earn.

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mds 11.16.10 at 8:03 pm

Incidentally, responding to your opponents with childish insult rather than civil engagement is a poor strategy in most fields (e.g., academia, law) outside the blogosphere.

On behalf of the Stalinesque and Hitlerian President Obambi, Kenyan socialist witch doctor; his accomplice, Nancy “Wicked Witch” Pelosi; and their shadowy funder, George “Blood Sucker” Soros; I thank you for your concern for civil engagement. We will try harder to follow the high ground laid by Republican politicians, who were recently rewarded at the polls for their substantive well-supported ideas, so politely expressed. Now bugger off, Liar McPoopypants.

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Lil'D 11.16.10 at 10:05 pm

I’ve been happy with disqus for comments on my blog. However, in 6 years, no one has even visited, much less commented. I’m not even going to bother to shill it here.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.16.10 at 11:23 pm

Nancy “Wicked Witch” Pelosi

I think you meant Nancy “Garbage” Pelosi, mds.

Please try to keep up.

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Lemuel Pitkin 11.17.10 at 12:02 am

the Flint sit-down strikes are perhaps the worst possible example of mass extra-political activism imaginable.

The stuff following this sentence does not support it at all.

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Lemuel Pitkin 11.17.10 at 12:06 am

how ‘bout working to spread ballot fusion to as many states as possible, then grow the Working Families Party into a national presence?

This was my fulltime job for a while. It’s exceedingly difficult. But there has been some success — the WFP line gave the new Democratic governor of Connecticut his margin of victory, and there are now active (albeit small) WFPs in Delaware and South Carolina.

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StevenAttewell 11.17.10 at 3:21 am

Lemuel – you mean the bit about how the Flint strikes were a minority or vanguard movement, not a mass movement, or the bit about how the success of the strike ultimately depended on having elected union-friendly governors and presidents?

I’m glad to see you’re involved with the WFPs – but that is political work.

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Map Maker 11.17.10 at 2:57 pm

Sorry – 100k includes benefits – with the payroll load, that is the average (mean) total comp for teachers in our school district. This includes the state pension and local health care and other benefit programs. Starting salaries (cash) are $42k and with maximum term of service it can be in the $85-105k depending on educational level.

Teachers and public employees have benefits plans that are far more generous than the private sector. Comparing an independent plumber make $50k and a teacher making $50k is night and day if the plumber is spending $10k on health insurance, no vacation, sick pay, etc, etc.

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Lemuel Pitkin 11.17.10 at 3:07 pm

you mean the bit about how the Flint strikes were a minority or vanguard movement, not a mass movement, or the bit about how the success of the strike ultimately depended on having elected union-friendly governors and presidents?

The former. I don’t see why the case for extra-electoral work is weakened by the fact that some of the most successful examples were the work of relatively small organized groups — on the contrary, I would think that’s an argument in support. The latter point is well-taken.

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StevenAttewell 11.17.10 at 3:19 pm

My point is that the argument that mass mobilization is necessary (which you advanced at 8, unless I read you wrongly) for successful progressive politics stresses a “mass” quality that wasn’t always in fact happening.

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Chris 11.18.10 at 1:24 pm

I imagine in the US, if you start blocking evictions, they will go swat-team on your ass, and you will end up in a hospital or in jail.

I think this is unfortunately true. The first person to actually try in the present-day US the kind of direct action Lemuel is talking about will be shot by a policeman who will subsequently claim he thought he was reaching for his taser (yes, that’s considered a *defense* here, and the fact that nobody can verify his story is irrelevant — nobody can refute it, either, and the police actually get the benefit of the doubt ordinary people only get on paper). Some talking heads will chatter about the tragedy of his case for a day or two (others of course will say he deserved it) and then he will vanish without a ripple.

Now, the 10,000th person to have the same thing happen to them *might* start getting somewhere. But I wouldn’t count on it. Most people learn about public events through the media, and who owns the media and determines what they cover and how?

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mds 11.18.10 at 2:10 pm

Most people learn about public events through the media, and who owns the media and determines what they cover and how?

As opposed to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the media were owned exclusively by sturdy yeomen who spoke truth to power? And once upon a time, “reaching for his taser” was “pulled a knife.” Cops here have been shooting people in the back in self-defense for a long time.

I think the call for mass mobilization is usually based on the fact that it was done before, in the face of thunderous denunciations from politicians, a mix of story suppression and Foxian falsehoods from the media, and a whole bunch of excessive use of force by police, military, and private troops. Yet despite all that, such mobilizations did manage to get some attention paid to labor, and later, civil rights issues. And yes, it complements ballot-box-related program activities, rather than replacing them entirely. It can play a role in providing cover to dithering pols, and in creating a movement that doesn’t evaporate between presidential elections.

Now, one can reasonably say that such mass action is unlikely in this day and age, which proponents might suggest is a chicken-and-egg problem. But I assure you, many of those proponents are perfectly capable of manning a barricade and chewing gum at the same time. So don’t fret that they will all abandon voting in primaries.

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