Left Neo-Liberalism and Theories of Politics

by Henry on July 19, 2011

Matthew Yglesias waxes sarcastic about the lack of content of my critique of neo-liberalism, and (on Twitter) ‘underpant gnomes theories of social democracy.’ And in so doing, misses the point quite completely:

Having read this and various people agreeing with it, I have no idea what it is that we’re disagreeing about. Neoliberals on this telling, favor progressive taxation. Non-neoliberals criticize this agenda as not politically workable in the long-term. And they counterpose as their alternative, more workable agenda, . . . what? … The moment someone comes up with a workable idea on this front, please sign me up. But if there’s no idea to debate, then there’s no idea to debate. Debating the desirability of devising some hypothetical future good idea seems kind of pointless to me.

He seems to be muddling three very different things together – “policy proposals,” “theories of politics,” and “actionable programs to rebuild the American left.” “Policy proposals” are clearly what he’s most comfortable with – proposed institutional or regulatory changes that would lead to attractive policy outcomes. And they are obviously good and important things to debate.

But equally obviously, they are not the whole of politics nor anywhere near it. Policy is not made, in the US or anywhere else, through value-neutral debate among technocrats about the relative efficiency of different proposed schemes. Hence, the need for a theory of politics – that is, a theory of how policy proposals can be guided through the political process, and implemented without being completely undermined. And this is all the more important, because (on most plausible theories of politics) there are interaction effects between policy choices at time a and politics at time a+1. The policy choices you make now may have broad political consequences in the future. Obvious examples include policies on campaign spending, or union organization, which directly affect the ability of political actors to mobilize in the future.

Finally, we come to “actionable programs to rebuild the American left.” At the moment, as Kevin Drum says, no-one really has any good short term proposals.

Put simply, the middle class simply doesn’t have any kind of big, persistent, institutional representation in American politics any more, and that’s left the field open for corporations and the rich to increasingly dominate economic policy. They know where their interests lie and they aren’t afraid to fight for them. Unfortunately, answers to this dilemma are thin on the ground, and Obama certainly hasn’t figured out an answer. He’s just trying to muddle through somehow. I don’t know the answer either. But as I said a few months ago, “If the left ever wants to regain the vigor that powered earlier eras of liberal reform, it needs to rebuild the infrastructure of economic populism that we’ve ignored for too long. Figuring out how to do that is the central task of the new decade.” It still is.

A theory of politics is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the answer that Kevin is looking for. If you don’t have a theory of politics, you don’t know where to start. If you do, you may not have any immediately attractive answers (first – spend a couple of decades building grassroot organizations …), but at least you can ask the questions that might lead to an answer.

More immediately and practically, a theory of politics is a necessary condition for thinking about the relationship between policy measures and politics. A proposed policy measure that seems desirable in principle (because e.g. it is cheaper than another alternative) may not be so desirable if it has malign political consequences (it materially strengthens interest groups who have malign long term objectives). This is not to say that politics should rein supreme over policy – it is to say that there are often tradeoffs between policy benefits and political sustainability. As Max Weber says, politicians need to hold the ethic of ends, and the ethic of means in their head at the same time if they are to fulfil their vocation – in this instance they not only need to think about the abstract desirability of a policy, but whether it supports or undermines the coalition that makes this and other desirable policies possible. Sometimes, a politically costly policy measure is worthwhile (after all, politicians are elected to do something while they are in office) – but unless you have some theory of politics, you can’t begin to think about the pros and cons.

Hence, it’s a problem if neo-liberalism doesn’t have a theory of politics. This not only means that it can’t think about long-term change in any coherent or useful way; it means that neo-liberals have difficulty thinking about the interactions between short-term policy proposals that they like and the political conditions that might make these and other proposals achievable, and sustainable after they have been brought through.

All theories are flawed – but they provide a necessary guide to action. Lefties have a clearly discernible theory of politics, which has to do with collective action, and the building and sustenance of mobilizing organizations. Netroots-style partisans also have a theory, which has to do with the expansion of party structure and organization, and the punishment of politicians who deviate needlessly from the party line. But neo-liberals – not so much, apart from a historical belief in the power of technocratic discussion to reshape politics. This not only means that they are less effective than they should be, but that they may push for policies that do long term political damage. Neo-liberals’ dislike of labor unions in the 1980s was doubtless partly justified – but they didn’t seem (as best as I’ve read the debates) to be at all interested in the question of whether strong unions helped alleviate inequality, sustain the political conditions of embedded liberalism usw.

Again, Kevin:

Back in the 90s, if you’d asked me what my political persuasion was, I probably would have said I was sort of a neoliberal (in the American, Charlie Peters-ish sense of the word). … I got steadily off that bus over the years, partly because the whole neoliberal project was based on the assumption that moderation from Democrats would prompt similar moderation from Republicans that would eventually turn down the temperature of the culture wars and produce better overall governance. Needless to say, that’s not quite what happened … More recently, though, I’ve moved even further away from the neoliberal persuasion because my nose has been rubbed a little too firmly in the fact that it simply doesn’t work politically. The world is a messy place governed by messy interest groups and messy countervailing powers, and if you absent yourself from that world you’ll get steamrolled.

I don’t think that many neo-liberals believe any more that moderation from Democrats will produce moderation from Republicans – that theory has been comprehensively falsified. But I don’t see that they’ve come up with any replacement theory of politics that is at all convincing. And until they do, they’re liable not only not to get very much done that is useful, but sometimes to play a role that is actively politically harmful (since they don’t have any good account of the relationship between policy and politics). I may of course be misjudging them – I am not aware of all neo-liberal traditions. But if there’s evidence to the contrary, I’m unaware of it (and would love to see it).

{ 268 comments }

1

Lemuel Pitkin 07.19.11 at 4:08 pm

I’m absolutely on Team Farrell here.

But while Yglesias did miss the point, I don’t think it’s just a personal failure on his part. We have to acknowledge that policy debates are suited to the online world in a way that practical politics is not. The whole world of online debate corresponds to the neoliberal idea of politics — the only thing that matters is the content of your ideas and there’s no need to build coalitions, choose sides or be accountable to a constituency (and people look pretty silly when they try.)

Or: When “what is to be done” is a question about policy, there’s not too much trouble over who’s doing the doing — it’s the state or some well-defined subset of it. But when it’s a question of political strategy, the actor is much murkier. The conversation is really only possible if it’s among people who have already in some sense committed themselves to a concrete organization or movement. And that can’t happen on blogs.

So I think the answer to the third question is going to have to start with, Get off the internet. Not that I have a better idea that anyone else what comes next.

2

Bruce Baugh 07.19.11 at 4:12 pm

I think it’s not so much that they believe that moderation will get matched with moderation, so much as they can’t + won’t believe anything else is both possible and desirable, so they’re stuck hoping.

3

Russell Arben Fox 07.19.11 at 4:17 pm

An excellent post, Henry; great work.

All theories are flawed – but they provide a necessary guide to action. Lefties have a clearly discernible theory of politics, which has to do with collective action, and the building and sustenance of mobilizing organizations. Netroots-style partisans also have a theory, which has to do with the expansion of party structure and organization, and the punishment of politicians who deviate needlessly from the party line. But neo-liberals – not so much, apart from a historical belief in the power of technocratic discussion to reshape politics.

Let me add one thought to this, related to a post I’m working on at the moment. Might it be that one reason why neoliberalism has been historically weak on theories of politics–and consequently often hasn’t been able to really grasp, nor to morally appreciate, the conditions which made the pre-neoliberal establishment viable–is because many, perhaps most, of those drawn towards “technocratic discussion” as a substitute for politics have either abandoned or were never acquainted with the sort of ethical or religious grounding that suggests something prior to discussion? A robust theory of politics is often, perhaps nearly always, animated by a conviction that politics is the means by which human beings can democratically realize certain naturally or philosophically preferred ends. Eliminate a belief in the prior and/or enduring existence of those ends, and maybe politics does seem, to many people anyway, wholly concerned with…well, with just talking, talking as efficiently and responsibly as possible, as each new problem arises. Which maybe works wonderfully while a cultural consensus reigns, but once it is lost, and you’re running up against True Believers, talk as a theory of politics doesn’t produce the same results.

Don’t mean to boil this all down to a simplistic point; obviously there are several epistemological shifts going on in the case of the rise (and decline?) of neoliberalism. But for the left, I wonder if there might be a larger connection between a kind of secularity and the decline of an “ethic of ends” (in the Weberian sense) than many contemporary liberals realize.

4

Matthew Stevens 07.19.11 at 4:21 pm

Policy is not made, in the US or anywhere else, through value-neutral debate among technocrats about the relative efficiency of different proposed schemes. Hence, the need for a theory of politics – that is, a theory of how policy proposals can be guided through the political process, and implemented without being completely undermined.

Okay, but I refuse to believe that those debates among technocrats have no effect, at all, on policy. As I see it, you need the technocrats and folks chanting and marching. That’s why conservatives have Heritage and the Tea Party.

I suspect this is really a narrow dispute over, say, education reform and the role of teacher’s unions, disguised as a grand debate of political philosophy. Because as is, I just see strawmen built up and knocked down.

5

Sebastian H 07.19.11 at 4:22 pm

Actually I think his problem with you is that the left version of “theory of politics” isn’t as successful as it thinks it is and additionally has some huge problems that it hates dealing with or wishes away. For example: unions and good race/immigration politics. They haven’t fit together very well in the past, and they have all sorts of problems in the present.

Furthermore, both the left and the right appear to have theories of politics that descend easily into what Yeglasias would (correctly IMO) see as dangerous populism. Those who make fun of the Tea Party for example, don’t see the similar level of economic confusion which exists on their side’s populist protest movements (say the Greek protests).

Further still, and this is probably because of the influence of Fundamentalist Christians in the US, he is wary of the non-compromising fundamentalist attitude in general. And that fundamentalist attitude is found in spades to the left of neo-liberalism in the US. (Again, to use an example he talks about often, “our teacher’s unions wrong or wronger”).

6

Castorp 07.19.11 at 4:23 pm

“The whole world of online debate corresponds to the neoliberal idea of politics—the only thing that matters is the content of your ideas and there’s no need to build coalitions, choose sides or be accountable to a constituency (and people look pretty silly when they try.)”

This is really true. You could see this in Delong’s mention of the “public good.” Left-neoliberal bloggers and policy wonks have the luxury of proposing first best solutions to the problems as they see them. In turn left-neoliberals often seem very hostile to second best solutions that are less efficient but promote the same goals they espouse. To exaggerate only a little, if you think of your constituency as the working and middle class, then even third best solutions can have merit; if you think of your consituency as the “public good” you just argue with everyone who disagrees with your ideal policy, and probably have special scorn for people on your side who don’t “get it.”

7

Russell Arben Fox 07.19.11 at 4:36 pm

SebastianH (#5),

both the left and the right appear to have theories of politics that descend easily into what Yglesias would (correctly IMO) see as dangerous populism

I agree–but what bothers me here is that, when one starts to run through the various political means by which something more than neoliberal, technoractic left policies could be brought to past, almost all of them get this same label: “dangerous populism”. There seems to be a near complete unwillingness to allows that some populisms aren’t “dangerous”, or that at least their possibly illiberal dangers are more than balanced out by the forces for egalitarianism which they embody. The fact that for many neoliberals “populism” is a joke and a threat, and can’t ever possibly be anything more, is something I find quite frustrating and sad.

8

Freddie 07.19.11 at 4:40 pm

The technocrats remind me of no one so much as my orthodox Marxist friends, in that they think that there are policy arguments that transcend politics. Both seem to think that there are some policy preferences that are so self-evidently correct that the polity will embrace them regardless of tribe or affiliation or whatever else.

9

christian_h 07.19.11 at 4:41 pm

don’t see the similar level of economic confusion which exists on their side’s populist protest movements (say the Greek protests).

I’m pretty sure the economic confusion here is all on your side. The popular (not populist, you are seemingly unable to distinguish between these) protests in Greek know very well what they are protesting.

10

Bruce Baugh 07.19.11 at 4:42 pm

Russell, yes, I think there’s definitely a connection there. But for the left, I wonder if there might be a larger connection between a kind of secularity and the decline of an “ethic of ends” (in the Weberian sense) than many contemporary liberals realize. rings true to me.

11

christian_h 07.19.11 at 4:43 pm

Populism is collection of historical political movements. Using the term to describe any and all kinds of collective political organization is just inaccurate.

12

Marc 07.19.11 at 4:48 pm

Russell: That’s what happens when you let efficiency be your sole judge of what a society should look like. Anyone opposing the efficient solution is a problem to be solved for the neoliberals.

13

Bloix 07.19.11 at 4:49 pm

“I don’t think that many neo-liberals believe any more that moderation from Democrats will produce moderation from Republicans – that theory has been comprehensively falsified. “

There’s this fellow named Obama that you may have heard of …

14

someguy 07.19.11 at 4:55 pm

Almost still totally devoid of content and examples for the general case and in the specific case of MY still completely devoid of content and examples. MY supports pro union policies for the exact reasons mentioned.

Besides which good policies are good politics is a good theory of politics.

15

geo 07.19.11 at 4:55 pm

Excellent post, Henry. As an auxiliary strand of argument, I would suggest some very skeptical attention to Yglesias’ continual emphasis on “workable.” What this means is that he (and DeLong) know perfectly well that single-payer health care, a sharply higher marginal income tax and capital gains tax rate (along with a five- or ten-fold increase in tax enforcement budgets and personnel), public financing of elections, and other radical measures are desirable, but that it would be tedious and unfashionable to harp on them in their writing or — good heavens! — participate in efforts to take them to their fellow-citizens (ie, engage in real politics rather than the Beltway variety). As I mentioned in the other thread, it really is the Progressive/ Lippmann/<i?New Republic syndrome.

16

geo 07.19.11 at 4:56 pm

Sorry, the last sentence should be:

“As I mentioned in the other thread, it really is the Progressive/ Lippmann/ New Republic syndrome.”

17

Jim Harrison 07.19.11 at 5:00 pm

Fearing “dangerous” populism is absurd, not because populist movements can’t do harm but because what is needed is precisely something dangerous. What’s missing from the current scene is a force or group that can realistically threaten the status quo. Unions didn’t get political rights in the 30’s because of the generosity of elites but because business leaders were afraid of them. Of course a democratic politics with teeth also needs brains if it isn’t going to descend into pointless noise and violence. Unfortunately, the resource in critical shortage, at least among would-be leaders, is not brains but balls.

18

Russell Arben Fox 07.19.11 at 5:00 pm

Christian_H (#11),

Using ["populism"] to describe any and all kinds of collective political organization is just inaccurate.

You’re correct that I shouldn’t use the label over-broadly. But that cuts both ways: “populism” has also become for some neoliberals an all-purpose bogeyman, describing anything and everything that in any way involves people organizing in their own places and from the context of their own ways of life towards some kind of economic justice as they perceive it. Fair trade, jobs programs, minimum wage laws, protectionism, unions–for some, it’s all uninformed, discredited “populism”, responding to problems which of course the new monetary approach to income gaps ought to be able to easily resolve, once everyone calms down and listens to those of us who understand the policy.

19

Castorp 07.19.11 at 5:02 pm

“Almost still totally devoid of content and examples for the general case and in the specific case of MY still completely devoid of content and examples. MY supports pro union policies for the exact reasons mentioned.”

As a pro forma matter, yes he supports unions. Did he spend even close to the same amount of time he spends on barber licensing advocating for Card Check when it was on the table? Obviously he is free to have his own idiosyncratic issues, but Card Check was extremely important for anyone who agrees with Henry’s theory of politics, which I do. Beyond that he spends the bulk of his time talking about unions harping on the inefficiencies they cause. It is true though that that passes for “supporting unions” these days.

20

Russell Arben Fox 07.19.11 at 5:03 pm

George (#15),

I would suggest some very skeptical attention to Yglesias’ continual emphasis on “workable.”

Well said. As was discussed in Henry’s thread yesterday, just what work does the neoliberal paradigm assume is being accomplished by labeling any other left approach as “politically unsustainable”, and how do they define that anyway?

21

Steve LaBonne 07.19.11 at 5:05 pm

Fearing “dangerous” populism is absurd, not because populist movements can’t do harm but because what is needed is precisely something dangerous. What’s missing from the current scene is a force or group that can realistically threaten the status quo.

And furthermore, what’s missing from the minds of the populism-averse technocrats is any recognition that the status quo in the US is itself quite dangerous. The country is on a very bad trajectory and a soft landing is unlikely.

22

shah8 07.19.11 at 5:08 pm

um, okay (getting thoughts together, not insult)…

First of all, a theory of politics is more important for revolutionaries, not for reformers, who already acts out the extant theory of politics. Theories of politics are for organizing groups of large people, not for deciding who necessarily wins or what policies get enacted. Moreover, theories of politics qua theories has always had a place in current intellectual circles. I was certainly exposed to such things by Lani Guinier by the mid-90s–her voting proposals were pretty radical when she really advocated for them. Not only that, she advocated for them in terms of changing what is politically possible and changing average people’s relationship with concentrated power. I mention Guinier because when we’re talking about theories of politics, I wanted to highlight the fact that we aren’t talking about rallies, propaganda, or ever more wonky proposals. We’re talking about things that lefty neoliberals already talk about, like what would our lives be if we had instant run-off? Parliament/unicameral representation? Or in the more economics sense of giving everyone some sort of birthright amount of cash, for education or for whatever reason at all. Yglesias, among *many* others have *discussed* these theories of politics. “Lefty Neoliberals” have critiqued the current theory of politics to no end, to the extent that it’s fashion, with the current one being about the number of veto-points in our government. Smart people talk about history, whether that be Yglesias talking about Alexander Hamilton in relation to the Euro project, or Francis Spufford talking about the utter disconnect between well-meaning, intelligent, and capable technocratic economists and the mood of the country, and how that enabled an infighter like Brezhnev to serve the entrenched interests at the Soviet core without regard to the long run sustenance of Communism. In the Soviet case, all the smart people, the international people, they were all isolated from the common run of people. They never interacted with, teaching and being taught, enough normal people such that there was any sort of consent for successful policies.

When *I* look around and read about this sort of thing, I think about theories of politics as being about getting people engaged enough in the political process such that they understand the rudiments of how to pressure the center and understand the basics of what policies are good or bad, and why. The most successful people at this sort of task were labor unions and American Communists in the US. The most successful growths of theories of politics have almost always derived from a million hothouses of flowers. A million different small social groups where people act as political animals writ small. Labor union, sewing circles, book clubs, beer halls, etc, etc, etc. And when people call for some grand new theory of politics, I kinda look askance. If you want a new theory of politics to happen, generally, you have to be a revolutionary, and for all intents and purposes a revolutionary with guns’nshit and being willing to kill a bunch of people. Much more peaceful activity are usually understood and repressed, firmly. Do you think, for example, that you will ever be able to turn off the tv as an atomizing force? Or ever be allowed to make broadcast less of a force for alienation? When lefties dream of bunnies and unicorns, they’re kinda hoping for a world *without* revolutionary upheaval. We are headed for one right now, and we’d like to stop that. Any appeal for the current dysfunctional theory of politics that might work to make it less dysfunctional is pretty important, not least because of concrete gains of wellbeing.

23

LeeEsq 07.19.11 at 5:12 pm

Russell Arben Fox: A strange resistance to engage in any sort of populism is one of the main failures of Democratic politicians in the United States. I think this has numerous reasons. Many people on the moderate and left side of politics in the U.S seem to see only the ugly side of it, especially because the American right has been using the ugly side of populism since the 1960s. Even if positivie populism is recognized as being useful in the past, many Democratic politicians seem to think that it would not be useful now if only because there are certain important parts of the Democratic base who wouldn’t get it or would be turned off by it. The entire Republican base seems to get turned on by populism. I think that many Democratic politicians also seem to think that they could not pull off populism and that it would seem very phoony coming from them.

I think that one reason the liberal/left side of politics has trouble coming up with a new theory of politics is that there seems to be problems with coherent linking of the different policies we want. Most of us want better protection of the environment, more public transportation, civil liberties and equal rights for all, and the social safety net. Finding something in common between climate change and universal healthcare isn’t that easy though. This means that different liberal/left groups tend to work relatively independently of each other on the issue most important to them rather rather than together on one particular issue at a given moment.

The American right is more united because they somehow found a way to link free market capitalism, Evangelical Protestant beliefs on society and morality, and aggressive foreign policy. Climate change is a near perfect example of this. The business people hate climate change legislation because it could decrease their profits. Evangelicals hate it because it contradicts their metaphysical understanding of how the world works. This means that both groups unite to combat climate change legislation. The aggressive foreign policy faction goes along for the ride. The ability to link the varying policy desires of the different factions to gether gives them a theory of politics to work on. Leftists and liberals might develop a theory of politics when we can link our policy preferences together.

24

christian_h 07.19.11 at 5:18 pm

Russell (17.): Indeed, I agree. My cranky comment was aimed more at Sebastian.

25

roger 07.19.11 at 5:19 pm

To me, the case study in political misadventure that one can firmly pin to the neo-libs was Obama’s healthcare policy – ACA, or as it will forever be known, Obamacare. We were told that the process of infinite mediation, the acceptance of a series of compromises that brought us from the public option to a checkerboard system retaining some ‘nudges’ and some typical Bushian corruption – as in the Obama compromise to keep the Bush era policy of not negotiating prices with drug companies – were all motivated by political realities.

But what were those realities? One of them was that at no point was there any willingness to put this topic into the broader politics of declining wage levels and higher unemployment. The populist rhetoric of the campaign was utterly dropped, so we could do something. But this loses the point. To do something sometimes means that it is more important to fail, politically, to pass a program in return for dominating the context. This gives you more future power, which in turn means you can do more than do something, you can actually do the best thing, because you have pursuaded the majority of people that it is the best thing. If the majority of people thought that the best medical plan for them would entail higher costs that could be shifted to those who have the most – a tiresome theme, but a necessary one – than you do have a winning hand. Instead, the “smartest guys in the room” approach was used. And we are still being assured that, in spite of 2010, a revived right, and polls showing very strong support for repealing ACA, that we were witness to master plays in the game of political reality, avoiding the poor Clintons fate. In fact, Obama did worse. He is now facing cuts in medicare – and negotiating them – that Clinton never had to face. He is facing a more solid GOP opposition. His politics has made it more probable that people in the middle will experience cuts in their healthcare – which it is almost guaranteed will be blamed on the uninsured “poor” covered by Obama. It was an excellent lesson in neolib fiasco. And MY – here, a sort of emblematic para-Dem commentator – is oblivious to this.
This is a serious misunderstanding of how politics and policy must converge. And I keep seeing it go on as the O. administration default.

26

temp 07.19.11 at 5:21 pm

I think “left-neoliberalism” is quite compatible with populism. Who has most of the money? The rich. What should we do about it? Take their wealth and give it to everyone else. Left-neoliberals wish to do this in the most transparent way possible: progressive taxation. Yglesias is called a neoliberal because he prefers to distribute the proceeds from progressive taxation in cash or cash-like form and because he prefers to distribute broadly rather than to particular interest groups like barber cartels and public sector employees. But I think this should be an advantage in populist messaging.

27

Pithlord 07.19.11 at 5:23 pm

This is a bad argument because both sides are just attacking strawmen. Also, it isn’t clear what dimension we are arguing about: moderate left/further left, elitist politics/populist politics, economic redistribution/identity politics. Those who ultimately come from Marxism tend to think further left–populist–economic redistribution fit nicely together, but that’s almost certainly wrong in the contemporary United States.

28

purpel 07.19.11 at 5:23 pm

Before starting a discussion on U.S. politics, one musty first acknowledge there is no significant ‘Left’ in the United States anymore. Therefore any ‘No Left or Right, let’s find a Center’ arguments are null.

29

Freddie 07.19.11 at 5:25 pm

Ultimately, this discussion can’t happen as long as people on one side keep insisting that the other side isn’t actually arguing anything. The very root of the argument is precisely what constitutes an arguable claim and what constitutes difference.

Besides which good policies are good politics is a good theory of politics.

30

Freddie 07.19.11 at 5:26 pm

Whoops sorry– meant to say

Besides which good policies are good politics is a good theory of politics.

No, it isn’t.

31

Russell Arben Fox 07.19.11 at 5:28 pm

LeeEsq (#23),

Thanks for the reply.

Even if positive populism is recognized as being useful in the past, many Democratic politicians seem to think that it would not be useful now if only because there are certain important parts of the Democratic base who wouldn’t get it or would be turned off by it.

I’m sure you’re right, but it’s worth thinking seriously about just which “parts of the Democratic base” the ones presumably opposed to all sorts of populist rhetoric/strategies may be. Probably not the white industrial working class. Probably not African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants. Probably not the religious left. So who? Single professional women? College-educated urbanites? It’d be interesting to do a demographic study of leading neoliberal thinkers and politicians; my gut tells me that they’re significantly, if not overwhelmingly, members of that final cohort.

I think that one reason the liberal/left side of politics has trouble coming up with a new theory of politics is that there seems to be problems with coherent linking of the different policies we want. Most of us want better protection of the environment, more public transportation, civil liberties and equal rights for all, and the social safety net….The American right is more united because they somehow found a way to link free market capitalism, Evangelical Protestant beliefs on society and morality, and aggressive foreign policy.

Good point. Seriously, the Soviet menace is a gift which historically just keeps on giving to the right. Libertarians opposed state communism because of property rights; the religious right opposed it because of official atheism; the foreign policy clique opposed it because it was a threat which America could build up an empire to fight against and win. 45 years of fusion conservatism, and the legacy of seeing an overlap between the otherwise obviously often contradictory goals of an unregulated market, religious piety, and military strength remains strong.

32

shah8 07.19.11 at 5:31 pm

Pithlord, both sides do it?

No. It’s basically the ranting ignorants who don’t know politics, economics, or history vs. people who do (to whatever extent). And the better sort of people who’re on the side of the idiots are engaging in wishful thinking about what can happen.

33

Jeff 07.19.11 at 5:34 pm

LeeEsq wrote, “The American right is more united because they somehow found a way to link free market capitalism, Evangelical Protestant beliefs on society and morality, and aggressive foreign policy.”

This kind of thinking illustrates a pervasive error in leftist thinking about politics.

There is no right in mainstream American politics. American conservatism is informed by the Whig tradition in European politics, not by the Tory tradition. If we’re talking political theory, genealogy matters.

We must also distinguish between parties and philosophies. There no doubt that Republicans, not “the American right”, have been able to link free market advocates, religious conservatives, and neo-conservatives into a relatively cohesive party. This should not be mysterious. The Republican Party was founded to end slavery. The party was envisioned as a “big tent” that would allow political cooperation among abolitionists (most of whom were religious zealots), anti-protectionists, and radical Republicans bent on war with the Democratic Party of the South.

We must dismiss the error of using European categories for American politics. We must understand political philosophies as traditions not as abstract logical theories.

34

Castorp 07.19.11 at 5:51 pm

“I think “left-neoliberalism” is quite compatible with populism. Who has most of the money? The rich. What should we do about it? Take their wealth and give it to everyone else. Left-neoliberals wish to do this in the most transparent way possible: progressive taxation.”

In theory sure, but it hasn’t worked in a long time has it? There must be some reason for that.

I realize this won’t fly, but I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea of strengthening unions and making a populist challenge to big business by harnessing widespread hatred of free trade in the US. Instead of crouching on the defensive on debt issues etc., why not attack free trade, which is hugely unpopular, including among those Reagan Democrats, and make big business have to defend themselves on the issue, forcing Republicans to make concessions to popular demand? Surely if the problem is “jobs” right now, this would have at least as much populist salience as debt and would disrupt the current alignment on the right. I don’t think it is a first best solution, and, honestly, I’d prefer the left-neoliberal solution of redistribution, but I do think it might be a viable way to stregthen middle class concerns and change the dominant discourse as well as possibly strengthening unions by associating them with something popular. At that point, maybe left-neoliberals could ride in to offer some reasonable compromises .

35

someguy 07.19.11 at 5:52 pm

geo,

I think your comment is repersentative of the post and the comments.

MY does an excellent job advocating for those policies. Over and over again he hammers away at the idea that higher taxes on CEOs means CEOs will work less. Over and over again he points out that the US has a higher per capita GDP than European nations only because of more hours worked. Over and over again he plays up European productivity and liesure time.

So where is the argument?

There isn’t one about actual content it is about affected styles.

36

Lemuel Pitkin 07.19.11 at 5:55 pm

I think “left-neoliberalism” is quite compatible with populism. Who has most of the money? The rich. What should we do about it?

The point where you need a theory of politics, is when you start asking who “we” are. For neoliberals the actor is the state, which is trying to maximize growth or some well-defined social welfare function. There are no conflicting interests and no questions about ends, only means. If, like them, you think this is just a disagreement about what is to be done, and not who will do it, how they’ll gain or maintain the power to do it, and they can be kept accountable to us, whoever we are – then you’ve missed the point just as MY has.

37

Dan Karreman 07.19.11 at 6:00 pm

Ok, progress, so now we are talking about politics, rather than policy. Good. The problem here, it seems to me, is the reactionary institutional context provided by the US constitution, which is inherently biased towards making it difficult to change policies (n veto points, supermajorities for allowing people to go to the rest room and what-not). This means that you have to have a theory of politics of the US system for progressive politics. I think MY has that. Overall cultural change will mean that liberal/progressive social issues will become mainstream and adapted with relative ease (repealing DADT, gay marriage, social equality in general), while other issues need a catastrophic crisis to be implemented, and then only half-heartedly (ACA, stimulus, automatic stabilizers, everything that needs to be paid by taxes, except the military). In other words, to overcome the institutional resistance you have to form alliance around common causes, and that’s much easier to accomplish regarding social issues than economic ones in the US context, if only because business is such a formidable adversary. I don’t think MY thinks this is ideal – hence his frequent observations of what a difference parliamentarism makes, and his frequent praise of the Nordic countries – but it is the reality that confronts US lefties. Henry, is this much different from your theory?

38

Marc 07.19.11 at 6:05 pm

I’d say that the lack of value attached to non-economic ingredients is a pretty serious shortcoming of the neo-liberal project.

39

Freddie 07.19.11 at 6:05 pm

MY does an excellent job advocating for those policies. Over and over again he hammers away at the idea that higher taxes on CEOs means CEOs will work less. Over and over again he points out that the US has a higher per capita GDP than European nations only because of more hours worked. Over and over again he plays up European productivity and liesure time.

So where is the argument?

There isn’t one about actual content it is about affected styles.

No! No! Stop saying that! People are laying out very clearly their differences with Yglesias! If you can’t actually bring it upon yourself to address the arguments that are laid out in this post, in the comments, and elsewhere, then just butt out!

40

LeeEsq 07.19.11 at 6:09 pm

Attn Russel Arben Fox at 30: Your welcome. I think that the parts of the Democratic base that would have problems with left populism are generally found in the educated/professional parts of the base. Or as you put it, single professional woman or college educated professionals. Although, single professional woman might be open to populism on gender issues. Part of this is because populism does represent a threat to some of their personal interests and part of it is because of genuine distaste for the populist style deriving from conservative populism.

41

Art 07.19.11 at 6:10 pm

In what sense does the left have a sounder “theory of politics” than left neoliberalism? Left neoliberals have been quite successful at building coalitions: consider the Democratic Leadership Council or New Labour. The constituencies to which left neoliberals appeal coincide with the rather numerous “new classes” much theorized over the past several decades. These constituencies are perforce more fluid and don’t have the quasi-martial “organization” of the unionized working class, but they are no less “une force vive,” as one says in French, and probably rather better at translating interests into policies. If the swing vote lies in the center, then left neoliberals are arguably better placed to capture it. Perhaps what Henry is really arguing is that left neoliberalism’s very success at theorizing politics and forming coalitions has left it saddled with policies that are no longer popular–finance-friendly policies in particular. But that is a different point from the one he’s actually making, and it’s by no means clear that the remedy is to embrace a neo-populist theory of politics that is likely to alienate more votes than it brings in.

42

adam@nope.com 07.19.11 at 6:15 pm

Somehow this seems relevant to any discussion of bloggers influencing the political process.

http://xkcd.com/635/

43

L2P 07.19.11 at 6:18 pm

“Yglesias is called a neoliberal because he prefers to distribute the proceeds from progressive taxation in cash or cash-like form and because he prefers to distribute broadly rather than to particular interest groups like barber cartels and public sector employees. But I think this should be an advantage in populist messaging.”

No, Yglesias is called a neoliberal because it doesn’t matter how much money you hand out to people if your other economic policies destroy their lives. His basic point is to allow tons of libertarian economic policies to “make a bigger pie,” and then divvy that up in more equal ways through taxes. He also thinks (god knows why) that getting rid of licensing leads to more money for poorer people instead of just different professions joining the race to minimum wagehood.

But Henry’s right. Where’ s the political will for an extra $2500 a year if it ruins your life? I mean, Yglesias gave us this: http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/07/18/271597/are-successful-property-owners-the-victims-of-gentrification/ can’t

Is it any wonder that the only part of his agenda that will ever get passed is the libertarian economics?

44

hilzoy 07.19.11 at 6:22 pm

Hmm. I don’t know that I have anything coherent enough to be a theory of politics. I do think that one huge problem with American politics is ignorance, and that that is due in some (largeish) part to a combination of people being busy and not having time to go chasing down primary sources plus an absence of things that make understanding policy easier, most notably either large-scale organizations where people who might not normally be interested in politics can learn stuff without undue effort (here the right has politicized churches, but the left has very little), and media who do their job.

I also don’t have a theory of how to fix this, other than: it will probably involve a whole bunch of different overlapping things, and in the meantime one should do what one can.

I do disagree with this, from Lemuel Pitkin:

“We have to acknowledge that policy debates are suited to the online world in a way that practical politics is not.”

To me, at least, respectful (but passionate!) political debate helps to resolve (what I take to be) our most fundamental political problem, and blogs provide a space for that debate that did not exist previously. The content of what a blogger says is one thing, but the act of engaging with your opponents, explaining your views, considering their arguments, and explaining what (if anything) you take to be wrong with them, acknowledging when you’re wrong, providing the links that enable people to check what you say out for themselves rather than just thinking “oh, X says one thing but Y says another, I’ll just tune out” — these are all, to my mind, political acts.

They won’t engage everyone, but as I said, I think this is a problem that requires many different partial solutions, not one big overarching one. And every little bit of informed citizenry helps. ;)

45

Pithlord 07.19.11 at 6:30 pm

Freddie,

I disagree that anyone is laying out differences with Yglesias. Yglesias says, “The Fed should be pressured to have a minimum inflation target, so that there is more aggregate demand and the labor market tightens, leading to more bargaining power for working people and less unemployment.” Henwood says, “Boo Yglesias! Bad Trust Fund Baby! Marx forever!”

No one here — least of all, you — explains why tight money is good for the working class.

46

Pithlord 07.19.11 at 6:33 pm

There are no conflicting interests and no questions about ends, only means.

If you can identify anyone anywhere who fits this straw person conception of a neoliberal, I’ll donate a dollar to the Avakianites.

This is just Keynes vs. Trotsky all over again. Just because you say you have a revolutionary program for advancing the interests of the working class does not mean you have a revolutionary program for advancing the interests of the working class.

47

Castorp 07.19.11 at 6:37 pm

@45 Henry excerpted a small part of Henwood’s argument and added his own analysis. That is what people including Freddie were discussing. Left-neoliberalism can have a faulty theory of politics, with or without Yglesias needing to be wrong on monetary policy. (I happen to think Henry is right on the former and Ygelsias right on the latter. )

48

temp 07.19.11 at 6:43 pm

Castorp@33:

In theory sure, but it hasn’t worked in a long time has it? There must be some reason for that.

Has it been tried? I listened to a lot of Democratic ads in the 2010 congressional elections. A large number of Democrats campaigned on opposition to free trade (as did Obama in 2008, to an extent). Almost none attacked our domestic wealthy class directly. I think there’s room for an ambitious politician or political movement to campaign on actively changing the wealth distribution in favor of the common person. Many politicians are too afraid of the wealthy to go after them directly, but, on the other hand, the wealthy are not afraid of supporting movements which oppose free trade.

49

Lemuel Pitkin 07.19.11 at 6:47 pm

If you can identify anyone anywhere who fits this straw person conception of a neoliberal

Brad DeLong.

50

Cranky Observer 07.19.11 at 6:50 pm

I have a hard time understanding what neoliberals are so pleased with themselves about. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, repealing Glass-Steagal, turning over what little remained of regulation of the financial system to a committee of the junior Princes of Wall Street, making the world safe for Goldman Sachs to execute trades at 11 milliseconds and beat the 32 millisecond laggards in Chicago (_there’s_ a way to improve the quality of capital allocation), all borne on the wings of the dotcom boom which only Al Gore of all of them had any tiny part in creating, full-throated support of the cult of Sparta that has grown up since the end of the Vietnam War, generally supportive of the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq…

I guess that is a record to be proud of, but I’m not sure on which side.

Cranky

51

Elias Isquith 07.19.11 at 6:53 pm

@ 41

There are a lot of assumptions in this post that, I think, would require some more thorough defending; but my main issue is the idea that the DLC or New Labour represent the kind of politics Henry et al are talking about. They really, really don’t. To some degree, the fact that some would be unable or unwilling to see a genuine difference between grassroots coalitions and the Better Business corporatism of the DLC says it all. But even if you’re made uncomfortable by phrases like “grassroots” (which is, admittedly, overly-used and much over-romanticized), I think it’s a stretch to point to the era of American politics following the advent of the DLC as one of commendable success for the left.

52

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 6:58 pm

Since a lot of people seem hung up on the word “workable” let me define it thusly: a “workable” policy agenda is one that, if implemented, would in fact achieve its ends. It was meant in part as a counter to the rather breezy dismissal of “technocratic” policymaking. Policy prescriptions need to work to be worthwhile.

As for the rest, for now let me just repeat what I said in my first reply. If it’s true that the cardinal sin of neoliberalism is a lack of a sound theory of politics (as opposed to other possible flaws) then what I’m waiting for is a different, better theory of politics that differs in some concrete way.

53

temp 07.19.11 at 7:00 pm

Lemuel@36:

I am proposing that leftists campaign on direct redistribution downwards, and then enact policies to achieve this end when they get in power. I believe this strategy will be more effective in attracting the necessary coalition to achieve left values and keep leftists in power than a strategy based on strengthening and mobilizing particular minority interest groups like labor unions, because it is too easy for the opposition to exploit divisions between such interest groups and everyone else. I believe that once broad redistribution programs are in place, they will be kept in place, because people who have attained a level of consumption dependent on such redistribution will be reluctant to give it up.

54

Steve LaBonne 07.19.11 at 7:10 pm

Policy prescriptions need to work to be worthwhile.

That’s utterly vacuous. Every policy benefits some and affects others negatively. So you need to define what “working” means in terms of who gets what, and justify your support of policies that produce some particular configuration of winners and losers with an account of your underlying values. The idea of policies that are “optimal” in some interest-neutral, value -neutral way is ridiculous.

55

LeeEsq 07.19.11 at 7:21 pm

Mr. Yglesias, what people mean when they state that neo-liberalism lacks a theory of politics is that it lacks a theory for getting elected into office so that neo-liberal policy cna be implemented. The neo-liberal method for winning elections seems to be just to win elections by having the other side mess up so badly so that you win and than implement policy. Actually trying to motivate the masses into voting for neo-liberals seems beyond neo-liberal capibilities. I’d perfer to have a system where the left/liberal side as an election strategy besides when by default.

56

Lemuel Pitkin 07.19.11 at 7:26 pm

I believe this strategy will be more effective in attracting the necessary coalition to achieve left values and keep leftists in power than a strategy based on strengthening and mobilizing particular minority interest groups like labor unions

There’s the crux of it, for me. Liberals think it’s possible to represent all of the people without first representing some of the people. It’s the political philosophy of the benevolent dictator.

57

Sebastian (2) 07.19.11 at 7:35 pm

I really find it frustrating how few people get specific here. I think there may well be an argument, but I can’t quite make it out. If Yglesias had a “lefty” theory of politics, which of his positions do you think should change? I see a couple of allusions here in the thread:
1. Licensing: He should write less about licensing. But at least as L2P writes about that, it’s a disagreement about policy effects – is less licensing going to lead to more opportunities for small service sector entrepreneurs or to a race to the bottom? I don’t think anyone is going to claim that licensing boards and the associated types of organizations are meaningful vehicles for progressive collective action?
2. Free Trade: Should Matt be against free trade, because that would strengthen manufacturing jobs and workers? I think MY would argued – backed by some decent evidence – that the effects of trade on jobs and unions have been hugely overstated. Also, he’d argue that especially where there have been some noticeable effects – trade with China, especially – they have also lead to enormous increases in the livelihoods of workers outside of the US (and, in terms of theory of politics, also an increase in their political power – see the debate and the passage of the new Chinese labor law a couple of years ago).
3. School policy – no one has brought this up, but it’s the policy where MY clashes most frequently with lefties. I think MY is pretty wrong here, but again I see that mainly as a policy debate. Yes, the “reform” movement tends to be anti-union, but I really don’t see the believe that teachers’ unions are crucial for long-run political reasons anywhere close to the center of the arguments of most reform skeptics.

The other argument is that MY should write more about other things. But I’m not quite sure what those would be?

Finally, as a theory of politics, CAP is modeled after the conservative foundations, Heritage, Cato et al. There is a very good case to be made that their influence on policy over the last 40 years has been tremendous and that their political strategy has been quite successful. So why does that not count as a theory of politics?

58

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 7:35 pm

He also thinks (god knows why) that getting rid of licensing leads to more money for poorer people instead of just different professions joining the race to minimum wagehood.

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

59

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 7:38 pm

The idea of policies that are “optimal” in some interest-neutral, value -neutral way is ridiculous.

Sure, sure, of course. I’m just saying that the “technocratic” aspects of policymaking count. Like we might agree that “let’s stick it to the rich bankers and boost the incomes of the poor” is a good idea. But that still leaves us with the question of which policies to stick it to rich bankers will, in fact, boost the incomes of the poor.

60

bob mcmanus 07.19.11 at 7:38 pm

Perfect.

Conservatism …Yglesias on the woman who wants to keep her neighborhood intact

“That said, here in the DC context, we should recognize this kind of communitarian critique of liberalism for what it is — a conservative critique. “

I happen to agree. We have to recognize for the sake of coherency that any kinds of communitarianism, patriotism, love of family, charity or generosity toward the poor are all conservative not liberal values.

Liberalism is about money, the marginal efficiency of capital and the efficient (not just!, Rawls is wrong) allocation of resources, and every means is just another means. It is about unending accumulation, for the sake of accumulation. Liberalism is the politics of capitalism. Neo-liberalism is just a return to a liberalism Smith and Ricardo would recognize. Welfare state capitalism is a step toward socialism.

I don’t like liberalism myself, and would prefer that it, capitalism, and neo-liberalism be tossed into the dustbin of history along with conservatism and feudalism. But Matt Yglesias is indeed a very smart and consistent liberal.

61

elm 07.19.11 at 7:40 pm

Matthew Stevens @ 4:

Okay, but I refuse to believe that those debates among technocrats have no effect, at all, on policy. As I see it, you need the technocrats and folks chanting and marching. That’s why conservatives have Heritage and the Tea Party.

Heritage is an advocacy organ, not a group of technocrats. After policy is set, they cherry-pick some data and assemble talking-points to push the next round of tax-cuts, benefit cuts, deregulation, etc…

62

Tom Bach 07.19.11 at 7:42 pm

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

What about the poor people who depend on the price of things, like hair cuts, taxi rides and etc, that other people buy? How does a decrease in their salary and an increase in “competition” improve their lot? As to workable, in terms of achieving an end, hasn’t deregulation had a the opposite result, which is to say making life worse for the many while enriching the few?

63

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 7:43 pm

Did he spend even close to the same amount of time he spends on barber licensing advocating for Card Check when it was on the table?

I didn’t. But here we have a question about theories of political change. Do you think that if I had written more blog posts about the Employee Free Choice Act that it would have passed? My personal theory of how I ought to live my life is that I ought to spend time focusing on issues that I think are important but that other ideologically similar political bloggers don’t care to spend their time focusing on. Maybe that’s an incorrect theory, but it’s different from a grand ideological difference about theories of politics.

But for the record, if given the choice between making EFCA law and deregulating the barber industry, I think EFCA is a no-brainer as a choice.

64

christian_h 07.19.11 at 7:44 pm

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

What’s this, a Walmart commercial?

65

Freddie 07.19.11 at 7:45 pm

Pithlord, you aren’t actually disagreeing with me. I see no meaningful difference in what we are saying. No one, least of all you, is offering an alternative to my position, based on my Zod-like ability to dictate who does and does not agree with me. Thanks for your support, Pithlord!

(This is fun!)

66

Cian 07.19.11 at 7:45 pm

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

We’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years, and poor people’s living standards decrease. Is this ‘belief’ an act of religious faith, or do you just think its too soon to tell?

67

Tom Bach 07.19.11 at 7:45 pm

Almost forgot, you have long supported school choice, testing, and etc, now that the evidence is in and they don’t achieve their aim, have you, like Ravitch, tried to come up with an alternative set of policy prescriptions? Or is the same old market-based solutions to all problems?

68

Cranky Observer 07.19.11 at 7:46 pm

> Mr. Yglesias, what people mean when they state that neo-liberalism lacks
> a theory of politics is that it lacks a theory for getting elected into office
> so that neo-liberal policy cna be implemented. The neo-liberal method
> for winning elections seems to be just to win elections by having the
> other side mess up so badly so that you win and than implement
> policy. Actually trying to motivate the masses into voting for
> neo-liberals seems beyond neo-liberal capibilities.

Actually, neoliberal candidates seem to win by
1) Convincing Democratic Party activists that they are traditional center-left Democrats
2) Thereby obtaining donations, phonebanking, canvassing, pollwatching, etc from said activists
3) Upon taking office, reveal their preferences as neoliberal/moderate Republican
4) Lecturing activists/progressives angered over this deception that they are “children” who “don’t understand politics”
5) At re-election time, repeating (4) and also explaining that “the alternative is Republican candidate X who will be much, much worse than me”.

Mr. Yglesias at #52 demands that traditional liberals and progressives “show me your plan”, but it seems to me that it is first incumbent on neoliberals to explain how they plan to get elected if they are honest about their preferences upfront.

Cranky

69

elm 07.19.11 at 7:46 pm

Matt Yglesias @59

But that still leaves us with the question of which policies to stick it to rich bankers will, in fact, boost the incomes of the poor.

That’s not the open question. The question at hand is: How do you enact policies, once you’ve decided you want them?

70

geo 07.19.11 at 7:46 pm

@52: a “workable” policy agenda is one that, if implemented, would in fact achieve its ends

This is a bit lame, Matt. If implemented (over massive and quite probably extra-legal corporate and military opposition), the Nader campaign’s platform of 2000 (and 2004 and 2008) would have achieved its ends. And its ends are probably far closer to your heart than those of the Democratic Leadership Council of unlamented (at least by you, I hope) memory. And yet, would you ever have said that Nader’s program — strong re-regulation, drastic cuts in military spending, an end to fossil feul subsidies and massive investment in alternative energy, sweeping labor law reform, etc, etc — were just as workable as the program of the Democratic leadership? Wouldn’t you have said that Nader’s proposals may have been desirable but were hardly workable? By which you would have meant not that they were poorly crafted but that they weren’t “politically possible” — right? In other words, “workable,” for you, really means something that won’t get you rudely interrupted by a Sunday-morning talk show host.

71

Linnaeus 07.19.11 at 7:46 pm

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

But doesn’t this assume, then, that poor peoples’ income has either stayed the same or increased?

72

Myles 07.19.11 at 7:47 pm

As for the rest, for now let me just repeat what I said in my first reply. If it’s true that the cardinal sin of neoliberalism is a lack of a sound theory of politics (as opposed to other possible flaws) then what I’m waiting for is a different, better theory of politics that differs in some concrete way.

This.

This is really true. You could see this in Delong’s mention of the “public good.” Left-neoliberal bloggers and policy wonks have the luxury of proposing first best solutions to the problems as they see them. In turn left-neoliberals often seem very hostile to second best solutions that are less efficient but promote the same goals they espouse.

IIRC when it came to the second (or even third) best solution of ObamaCare, it was specifically and unequivocally the hard left and the firebaggers, not neoliberals, who went completely nuts about the lack of optimality in ObamaCare. I mean, truth from facts here.

Instead of crouching on the defensive on debt issues etc., why not attack free trade, which is hugely unpopular

Because it would basically be pandering to uninformed prejudice, unrepentent ignornace, and public stupidity? In what way would pandering to anti-trade feeling be ontologically different from pandering to the Christian right and their inanities? It looks pretty similar from where I’m seating.

73

Freddie 07.19.11 at 7:49 pm

But Matt

1. Other prominent liberal bloggers don’t write about supporting unions a lot, in part because the coziness between progressive media and libertarian media makes it professionally preferable for them to stay quiet on those issues, and

2. I don’t think it’s fair to make appeals to what is politically possible only when it is convenient. Sure, your position on EFCA wouldn’t do much to get it passed. Neither, frankly, do your opinions on monetary policy have much sway. That’s no knock on you. It’s a symptom of democracy. And it’s a little odd to talk about how your input wouldn’t have mattered on EFCA while simultaneously insisting that theories of political change are irrelevant in the face of sound policy. Right?

74

Freddie 07.19.11 at 7:50 pm

Incidentally, there is another political theory. It’s called Marxism. It’s literature is arguably the largest in the history of political science.

75

Freddie 07.19.11 at 7:50 pm

its, that is

76

christian_h 07.19.11 at 7:54 pm

Indeed Freddie (74.) but Marxism is not tolerated as an option on this blog. It’s so passe, you see.

77

geo 07.19.11 at 7:57 pm

@63: Do you think that if I had written more blog posts about the Employee Free Choice Act that it would have passed? My personal theory of how I ought to live my life is that I ought to spend time focusing on issues that I think are important but that other ideologically similar political bloggers don’t care to spend their time focusing on.

Well, doesn’t it depend on whether those issues that other bloggers aren’t focusing on (and that you consequently choose to focus on) are anywhere near as important as the ones they are? Otherwise, wouldn’t your motive seem to be product differentiation rather than effectiveness?

78

Cian 07.19.11 at 7:58 pm

It looks pretty similar from where I’m seating.

Is the view good from your mamma’s basement?

79

LeeEsq 07.19.11 at 8:01 pm

christian_h at 64: That was very funny. Thanks for the snark.

80

bianca steele 07.19.11 at 8:03 pm

@36
This is helpful.

And that is quite bad enough, to be forced to debate only means and never ends. But it seems to me that the questions concerning means are of a narrowly restrictive kind. (And it isn’t obvious to me how any of it applies in Yglesias’ case, or in any other similar one.)

bob mcmanus @ 60: We have to recognize for the sake of coherency that any kinds of communitarianism, patriotism, love of family, charity or generosity toward the poor are all conservative not liberal values.

No. What you have there is all the worst kind of culture war thinking all over again.

81

Cian 07.19.11 at 8:10 pm

@60 Hey, small ‘c’ conservatism isn’t all bad. Maybe one of the problems with people like MattY is that he’s a radical, obsessed with changing everything. Tear it up, rip it down, start again. Year 0.

82

roac 07.19.11 at 8:13 pm

I think that because I think that if you reduce the price of things that poor people buy, then poor people’s living standards increase.

What about the poor people who depend on the price of things, like hair cuts, taxi rides and etc, that other people buy?

May I try refocusing this on the example of Yglesias’s views on bus drivers, which I brought up in the related thread? He said, more or less, Metrobus drivers are making an average of $N a year; I can’t believe there aren’t people who would do the job for $N-x, so we should let market forces prevail. Which, obviously involves repudiating the union contract which mandates the higher wages, and getting rid of the union, or at least doing a Scott Walker on it.

I envision a defense of this position is based on the following analysis: sure, the union drivers have lost their cushy sinecures, but you have to set loss to them against the benefit to the new hires who used to be on welfare or working at minimum wage. Moreover, by cutting labor costs we can use the savings to cut fares, expand service, or both, to the benefit of poor people throughout the area.

My view, on the other hand is that we should keep the union contract; raise taxes on high incomes; and use the additional revenue to expand service (and hire more union drivers). I have long been accustomed to call myself a liberal without a prefix. If you agree with Yglesias not me, does that make you a neoliberal? Or to invert it, if you call yourself a neo-lineral does that mean that you agree with Yglesias abut unions?

83

Castorp 07.19.11 at 8:15 pm

“Did he spend even close to the same amount of time he spends on barber licensing advocating for Card Check when it was on the table?”

Yglesias: I didn’t. But here we have a question about theories of political change. Do you think that if I had written more blog posts about the Employee Free Choice Act that it would have passed?

Obviously not, but had you and other progressive opinion makers tried to make Card Check a litmus test for Democratic lawmakers in the same way voting against an anti-choice bill woud have been, I think the vote would have looked different. (Though I can’t say whether it would have passed. I suspect not. ) I also think that since you have taken on an economic beat it was especially incumbent on you to explain to other progressives and the public the importance of Card Check, and I think if you had an understanding of politics closer to Henry’s you would have naturally done so, even if it was a losing battle.

84

Substance McGravitas 07.19.11 at 8:17 pm

I wonder how we might distinguish barber-licensing attention from the shtick of John Stossel.

85

NickS 07.19.11 at 8:19 pm

This has been an interesting and frustrating debate to follow. From the sidelines it feels like coming into the middle of a conversation. It’s also timely, for me, since I’ve just been reading Winner Take All Politics which, while infuriating at times, makes a convincing case for the importance of interest groups in a theory of contemporary American politics (as Henry said, “a theory of how policy proposals can be guided through the political process, and implemented without being completely undermined.”).

Trying to get a better understand of the actual points of disagreement, I just commented at DeLong’s, offering the following attempt at a very broad picture which might illustrate the points of divergence.

Without trying to sidetrack the conversation, I’m curious if this seems like a reasonable gloss to others –

How about the following as a summary of the logic behind interest group politics:

1) Politics and political outcomes are contested on the basis of intensity of preference as well as the number of people who share a given preference.

– see, for example, how the NRA can successfully fight gun control laws supported by 60% of the population, or how difficult it is to raise taxes on the wealthy, even when 60+% of the population support the idea. In both cases the group which is in the minority has much more intense preferences and is more likely to donate/vote based on that preference than the people in the majority.

2) Interest groups can been seen as a proxy for preference intensity. A successful lobby is going to represent some group of people willing to commit resources to a given cause. While the size of that group may be large or small, depending on the issue, the existence of the lobby still represents an intensity of commitment to the issue.

3) To implement rational technocratic policy depends not only on making an argument which is generally convincing to a majority of people, it also requires there to be a group of people willing to devote resources to the passage of said rational technocratic policy.

4) If there are few or no organized interest groups currently existing that seem likely to prioritize a given set of rational technocratic policy, than the aspiring technocrat should ask themselves what would to change in “the political landscape” to either have exiting groups throw their weight behind the desired policies, or for new groups to organize in support of the policies.

5) It is likely that these groups will have interests which are not completely congruent with that of the aspiring technocrat (e.g., the line quoted in your post today, “They be less-likely to prioritize efficiency. They will also be less-likely to prioritize positive-sum solutions. They will also be less-likely to prioritize basic fairness or democratic principles or whatever else. They will assign a higher priority to increasing the economic and political power of the people they are trying to represent . . . .”). I feel like the critics of “neoliberalism” would say that conceding this point does not reduce the importance of point (4), but rather increases is. It makes it even more important to be attentive to, and invested in changing, the ways in which the political system encourages certain kinds of lobbies and discourages others.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I find that picture convincing and am not convinced that the self-identified neoliberals are responding to points (3-5).

86

Lemuel Pitkin 07.19.11 at 8:23 pm

The question at hand is: How do you enact policies, once you’ve decided you want them?

Exactly. It’s remarkable how many people, including MY, insist on not getting this.

The point is that you can;t neatly separate ends and means. When you;re considering some good policy, you have to also ask whether it helps build up the political forces that will support other good policies, or not. In the long run that’s often even more important than the content of the policy itself.

That’s the difference between raising people”s incomes through deregulation and through unions. Buying a haircut is a private, apolitical act, it doesn’t involve any exercise of social power. If the price of haircuts for working people goes down by $10, then working people’s real income is $10 higher. but they are in no better position than they were before to fight for anything else. On the other hand, a union campaign that yields the same real wage increase is a collective act that builds people’s sense of solidarity and capacity for collective action, and creates (or strengthens) an organization that can fight for working people on a whole range of other issues as well. If you think that policy is something that arises only from rational debate, not from conflicting interests, and is implemented from the top down, then this distinction is invisible to you. And that makes you a liberal.

This goes with the idea of labor as a special interests. Inevitably, the groups that are in a position to act in their collective self-interest are going to be narrower than the community as a whole. So as progressives, our challenge is to join ourselves (which means answering to, as well as speaking for) a group that is cohesive enough to exercise social power, but broad enough to have interests aligned with the broad majority. I think someone mentioned upthread a political philosophy that’s given some thought to this very question…

87

Cian 07.19.11 at 8:27 pm

Yglesias: But that still leaves us with the question of which policies to stick it to rich bankers will, in fact, boost the incomes of the poor.

The more interesting question is after we’ve confiscated their money and redistributed it; do we barbecue the bankers, or would the poor prefer them roasted. Obviously we’d humanely cull them; they’re the monsters, not us.

88

Cranky Observer 07.19.11 at 8:29 pm

NickS,
Re your #85, IMHO there are some issues you haven’t captured. First, I would recommend Ta-Nashi Coates’ latest post on gentrification in DC and his response to MY:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/our-technocratic-overlords/242156/

(as always one has to read through the comments to get Coates’ full analysis).

Then there is the issue of value (utility if you prefer). As far as I can see, in the world of the neoliberals who focus on economics value always boils down to money. As in, he who can pay the most money for something values it the most. Now the literature on why quantity of money is not necessarily equal to value is vast. although not well-received by either traditional economists (saltwater or freshwater) or libertarians. Yet most every neoliberal policy prescription comes down to satisfying the preference of he who can pony up the most cash. Maybe that is the best way or order our society; I’m not smart enough to answer that. But assuming it is not only the best way but the only way is not a good starting point for respectful discussion.

Cranky

89

Cian 07.19.11 at 8:29 pm

So as progressives, our challenge is to join ourselves [to] a group that is cohesive enough to exercise social power, but broad enough to have interests aligned with the broad majority. I think someone mentioned upthread a political philosophy that’s given some thought to this very question…

Yeah, its called the new Right. And they’re winning…

90

AndrewW 07.19.11 at 8:40 pm

I think the apolitical, above-the-fray angle of left neoliberals is mostly a canard. Every prominent neoliberal blogger/writer I’m familiar with believes in massaging the relationship between thinktanks, policy wonks, and academics on one hand and corporate entities on the other. It’s the politics of recommendations, but never, absolutely never the politics of direct confrontation. In Jared Diamond’s snoozer Collapse, he talks a lot about the need to work with (but never against) the Exxon Mobils of the world to achieve environmental ends. As Cranky Observer noted above: we’ve had several decades now of left neoliberal “pushback” against unified conservatism. We’re soaking in it (unemployment far as the eye can see, a law that hardens the medical insurance status quo, a strengthened and emboldened financial sector, a wrecked and nonexistent environmental policy). I’d say it’s also up to the left neoliberals (not simply the critics of left neoliberalism) to consider what should replace left neoliberalism. If the worst you can call Farrell in the midst of the wreckage of left neoliberalism is a voice from the cheap seats, one could do worse.

91

someguy 07.19.11 at 8:51 pm

Freddie ,

No they aren’t and they haven’t and your comment was also content free.

On the one hand you have folks like geo making this claim

‘I would suggest some very skeptical attention to Yglesias’ continual emphasis on “workable.” What this means is that he (and DeLong) know perfectly well that single-payer health care, a sharply higher marginal income tax and capital gains tax rate (along with a five- or ten-fold increase in tax enforcement budgets and personnel), public financing of elections, and other radical measures are desirable, but that it would be tedious and unfashionable to harp on them in their writing or—good heavens!—participate in efforts to take them to their fellow-citizens (ie, engage in real politics rather than the Beltway variety). ‘

which is just wrong. Matt writes about advocates for single payer health care and higher public expenditures very frequently and effectively.

We also have Henry

‘Neo-liberals’ dislike of labor unions in the 1980s was doubtless partly justified – but they didn’t seem (as best as I’ve read the debates) to be at all interested in the question of whether strong unions helped alleviate inequality, sustain the political conditions of embedded liberalism usw.’

But MY supports Unions in part for the reasons Henry mentions. This is just one small example -

http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/02/18/199965/on-wisconsin/

I am not even sure MY disagrees with Lemuel’s

‘If, like them, you think this is just a disagreement about what is to be done, and not who will do it, how they’ll gain or maintain the power to do it, and they can be kept accountable to us, whoever we are’

Again the above link idicates that MY doesn’t just understand what Henry et al are saying he supports it.

But you are right that it really isn’t just about affected style. It is also about MY being willing to deviating from the stupidest orthodoxy/cant.

MY will be thrown out of the left.

92

christian_h 07.19.11 at 8:56 pm

Lemuel (86.) really drives the point home.

93

AndrewW 07.19.11 at 8:58 pm

You can’t deride corporations for too long and expect to maintain an academic career or get hired by a thinktank or work for Kaplan/WaPo.

94

Steve LaBonne 07.19.11 at 8:58 pm

Lemuel (86.) really drives the point home.

Unfortunately he seems to be preaching to the converted. Those who really need to listen to what he said have their fingers in their ears.

95

Freddie 07.19.11 at 9:00 pm

Look, guys– the whole “you don’t disagree, and there is only this one option” thing is fucking creepy. Passionate disagreement is democratic; the insistence that there are no disagreements is fascistic. Henry has now written several thousand words articulating his disagreements with Yglesias. The fact that these don’t follow the narrow constraints of a few, dictated-from-above policy options is precisely the point. A political philosophy based on the notion that there are a tiny number of “responsible” policy options, which happen to inevitably break towards the advantage of the people holding that philosophy, is what many of us are working against. Philosophy matters. Ethics matter. Morality matters. Assumptions matter. First principles matter. And yes, politics matter.

The fact that you have only got a hammer doesn’t compel the rest of us to use no other tools.

96

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 9:01 pm

Obviously not, but had you and other progressive opinion makers tried to make Card Check a litmus test for Democratic lawmakers in the same way voting against an anti-choice bill woud have been, I think the vote would have looked different.

A lot of us not only tried, but succeeded, in getting every single Democratic Party Senate candidate to endorse EFCA before the 2008 election. Then what happened after the election? Well, initially there were only 59 Democratic Senators (Franken hadn’t been seated) so EFCA couldn’t move forward. Then during the period before Franken was seated, a handful of red state Democratic Senators (notably Sens Lincoln and Pryor from the State of WalMart) defected from the pro-EFCA coalition. Consequently, even with Franken seated it couldn’t pass and the Obama administration didn’t seriously push it.

97

christian_h 07.19.11 at 9:03 pm

Sorry “someguy” but “support for labour unions” is a practical matter. If a person does not actually support unions in specific cases (DC bus drivers, teachers…) that person doesn’t actually get to say they “support unions”.

98

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 9:04 pm

Otherwise, wouldn’t your motive seem to be product differentiation rather than effectiveness?

Am I allowed to be motivated by multiple different things in life? I’ll also cop to “I’m personally more interested in some questions than others” to be a factor in my decision-making.

99

elm 07.19.11 at 9:04 pm

Steve LaBonne @94

Fortunately, participants in this thread aren’t the only audience. I’m fairly sure I got a clue about these matters by lurking in discussions not-unlike this one.

100

someguy 07.19.11 at 9:04 pm

Steve LaBonne ,

MY already understands.

http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/02/18/199965/on-wisconsin/

‘But instead of being a “union” that promotes high levels of education spending in sometimes inefficient ways plus egalitarian social policies, it’ll be a “business association” that promotes high levels of education spending in sometimes inefficient ways plus regressive social policies.’

The folks on this thread just keep jumping and down and insisting that he doesn’t.

It’s pretty funny.

101

NickS 07.19.11 at 9:05 pm

Cranky Observer at #88

Of course I’m leaving things out, it was intended as very, very broad pass, and intended as a way to highlight some issues rather than a complete catalog.

I was starting from, “assume that there are many policies that both parties would agree are good policies what, then, is the crux of the disagreement?” Your response is helpful as a reminder that the disagreements are about policy as well as politics.

It also makes me think that it does, in fact, seem to be difficult to isolate the points of contention. If you feel like you have a significantly different conception of human welfare and utility from Yglesias (for example), no wonder it feels like an argument about politics derails from a lack of shared assumptions and vocabulary (that is, people aren’t using the same words to mean the same things).

102

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 9:06 pm

Passionate disagreement is democratic; the insistence that there are no disagreements is fascistic. Henry has now written several thousand words articulating his disagreements with Yglesias.

Clearly, we’re having several disagreements here in this thread. And clearly Henry has written several thousand words on the subject. But what I don’t think he’s done is articulate a clear account of what the “theory of politics” is that he adheres to and that neoliberals are rejecting.

103

Matthew Yglesias 07.19.11 at 9:10 pm

If the price of haircuts for working people goes down by $10, then working people’s real income is $10 higher. but they are in no better position than they were before to fight for anything else. On the other hand, a union campaign that yields the same real wage increase is a collective act that builds people’s sense of solidarity and capacity for collective action, and creates (or strengthens) an organization that can fight for working people on a whole range of other issues as well.

That seems compelling to me. Labor unions are good. If someone wanted to organize a labor union at CAP, I would gladly join the union. But surely the view isn’t that labor unions are so important that nobody is allowed to write about any other political issue, right?

104

elm 07.19.11 at 9:10 pm

someguy @ 100

Evidently you don’t understand either. The difference between a teachers’ union and a trade association is vastly different than the MY quote you cite suggests.

Lobbying for inefficiency (in the form of increased profits) is the reason for a trade association to get involved in politics. A trade association is also comprised of and responsible to wealthy businessmen.

A union, on the other hand, is responsible to its membership, who are ordinary working people. It advocates for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for its members.

105

Steve LaBonne 07.19.11 at 9:12 pm

someguy @100, what is that post supposed to prove? A tepid admission that a teachers’ union that promotes “inefficiency” is still better than a cartel of charter school owners is perfectly congruent with his routine denunciations of teachers’ unions when they actually do their jobs by, say, protesting when the careers of their members are terminated due to statistical noise in crappily designed high-stakes tests. Either you’re not actually familiar with MY’s writings on education, or you’re as disingenuous as MY routinely is when writing on the subject.

106

Henry 07.19.11 at 9:12 pm

Someguy – as I’ve tried to stress at various points this and the previous blogpost are not steps in a broader campaign to show that Matthew Yglesias is American Liberal Selloutism’s Greatest Monster. When I’m saying something about neo-liberals in the 1980s, I’m saying something about neo-liberals in the 1980s. I’m agnostic about whether or not Matthew Yglesias is in fact a neo-liberal – he describes himself as such, but I think that he’s in part being sarcastic. I suspect that he’s something of an ideological mixed bag – I also think that he has moved significantly to the right over the last couple of years, and he clearly doesn’t think automatically in the terms that I am suggesting people should think in (or at least, he had trouble understanding what I was arguing in my initial post). But I have tried repeatedly to push the conversation away from a specific battle over the merits and demerits of Matthew Yglesias, to a broader argument about the appropriate ways to analyse politics, which I think is likely to be a more interesting one.

107

Tom Bach 07.19.11 at 9:13 pm

Someguy:
So Yglesias shows support for unions by arguing that the Teacher’s Unions advocate for spending money inefficiently?While insisting that Union bus drivers earn too much? With friends like that, who needs right-wing Neoliberals.

108

Castorp 07.19.11 at 9:19 pm

A lot of us not only tried, but succeeded, in getting every single Democratic Party Senate candidate to endorse EFCA before the 2008 election.

That’s interesting. Fair enough.

Then what happened after the election? Well, initially there were only 59 Democratic Senators (Franken hadn’t been seated) so EFCA couldn’t move forward. … and the Obama administration didn’t seriously push it.

Obviously there is a feedback loop here in which declining union power means that unions are progressively less able to make demands within the Democratic party too.

That gets to another issue though. You seem to accept the notion the money=speech, and, from what I have read on your posts on the matter, you seem unconcerned about the increasingly deregulated system for political donations. Yet, it seems fairly obvious that this new regime will make it even more difficult to enact policies that work against inequality and for improving the economic situation of the working and middle classes. I think if you agreed with Henry’s theory of politics you would have seen this as a major defeat for progressive politics and enacting an agenda the benefits the median voter.

109

Steve LaBonne 07.19.11 at 9:22 pm

This business of “efficiency”, by the way, really needs to be analyzed far better and not just thrown around as a buzzword- a task for which one would think a Harvard philosophy concentrator would be well fitted. As has already been pointed out, in the very short run the most “efficient” way to make poor people less poor is to hand them some cash- but this does nothing, or less than nothing, to empower them to fight for future gains and is thus highly “inefficient” on a longer timescale and taking political power into account. The late Tony Judt was very eloquent on the way that the diversion of all kinds of thought into the narrow channel defined by the presuppositions of neoclassical economics produces exactly the sort of impoverished discourse we get from people who make unexamined notions of “efficiency” their be-all and end-all.

110

shah8 07.19.11 at 9:28 pm

Hmmm? Yglesias moved to the right? As opposed to when? When he first started blogging, he was much farther to the right than what he is now, and he was much more openly friendly to conservative assholes than he is now . Was it the late Bush Era? The Early Bush Era? Perhaps during Obama’s First Hundred Days, Yglesias was this union-flag waving liberal! And now he’s all starched up in those crisp shirts, with a nice leather briefcase, and the pleasant attitude required to be History’s Greatest Monster!

Henry, until you actually give ()*^*)&(&*&&$*E$ coherent answers that people can actually respond to, might I suggest that it wouldn’t be out of place for people to be dismissive, because they think you’re all about the polishing of ego?

What, precisely, do you want Yglesias, or any other “neoliberal”, to say, or do, man? That they aren’t already doing? If it’s some new way of politics, well, what are the outlines of that political machinery do you want built? When you answer that, you’ll probably be given the “how” question, too.

111

someguy 07.19.11 at 9:32 pm

Henry,

But that is the direction your commentators insist on pushing the thread and I find it interesting.

Also I think if follow the link you can see MY gets your argument. If I looked harder I could find other posts stating the same thing.

112

bianca steele 07.19.11 at 9:33 pm

Reading back, and obviously kind of off topic, Russell Fox’s lament against secularism doesn’t ring true to me. Where are the secular writers who accept the complaint of their religious critics that they are unable to think in a “principled” way just because they lack a religious grounding?

113

Tom Bach 07.19.11 at 9:34 pm

Matthew Yglesias:
You realize that Lemuel Pitkin has offered not just a reason why unions are good but theory of politics that joins concrete policies with long term social/economic change of the sort you have been demanding? So what’s yours?

114

someguy 07.19.11 at 9:40 pm

Exactly. MY supports Employee Free Choice Act.

But he can also state the blindingly obvious

‘But instead of being a “union” that promotes high levels of education spending in sometimes inefficient’

So that means he really doesn’t really support unions.

Why I bet he thinks that public union employees should get to work by 9 and stay after 3. The evil monster.

115

AndrewW 07.19.11 at 9:51 pm

I still want to know what Brad DeLong meant when he said there’s no coalition to build on the left outside of public employees and celebrities. That was kind of weird. I’m not sure where Matt Yglesias fits with that argument. But still….

116

Sebastian (2) 07.19.11 at 10:01 pm

@Tom Bach (113):
But that’s the thing: MY thinks that unions are (mostly) good, too. He thinks collective action is good. As he notes above, he actively lobbied senators to endorse unions’ number 1 policy demand. One of MY’s favorite country’s to point to for examples is Sweden with 80+% unionization.
What Lemuel has is not a theory, but a wishful thinking of politics. What he fails to say is where he thinks that campaign to raise hairdressers wages by 10$ is supposed to come from. Pretty much everyone on the left would love a strong service sector union – certainly neolib bloggers such as MY, Ezra Klein, or Jonathan Chait would. People were quite excited when it looked like the SEIU and friends might be able to make some inroads – that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. But realistically, how is that going to happen? And what do you do with a reality in which we won’t have strong unions in any foreseeable future? And if such a future is possible, which of MY’s positions is interfering with it?

117

Drizzle 07.19.11 at 10:07 pm

To AndrewW

I think Brad was trying pin down exactly what Henry meant by “Lefties have a clearly discernible theory of politics, which has to do with collective action, and the building and sustenance of mobilizing organizations. ”

Is it
A) Lefties are trying to organize a “universal class” that best represents the just and right interests of Americans and/or the world as a whole and will use that organizational power to achieve those just and right interests
or
B) Lefties are organizing interest groups that can achieve political influence that are largely sympathetic to leftist goals, which are just and right. These interest groups will include public employees, celebrities, trial lawyers, etc. Lefties will use this political influence to achieve said goals but the interest groups will also get to shape left-wing policy preferences in exchange for their support.
or
C) Lefties are organizing interest groups that can achieve political influence that are largely sympathetic to leftist goals, which are just and right. Sympathetic interest group influence will largely be balanced by opposition interest group politics and the main impact will that the interests of the people will prevail.
or
D) Something else.

He has expressed disagreement with A, B or C though I don’t think he has proposed an alternative (to be fair, I feel Matt and Brad’s point is that while they haven’t solved the question of how to effectively push for leftist goals, they don’t think anyone else has either).

118

Sebastian (2) 07.19.11 at 10:11 pm

Henry – the reason people stick to MY is that with him at least I have something specific to talk about. Beyond MY I just have no idea what you’re talking about I fully agree that politics is significantly determined by interest groups and that policy feedback exists.
But I just don’t understand what specific policies promoted by neolibs you have in mind when you write that: “A proposed policy measure that seems desirable in principle (because e.g. it is cheaper than another alternative) may not be so desirable if it has malign political consequences.”
The closest thing you mention are labor unions in the 1980s – but considering the dismal state of labor by the time the DLC and other original neolibs became a relevant force, it’s really not clear that neoliberal policies had much of an impact at all (or much of a chance to save unions). You’re not going to blame NAFTA for union decline, are you? So which neoliberal policies or policy proposals do you have in mind? Which of MY’s policy ideals shows that he “clearly doesn’t think automatically in the terms that I am suggesting people should think in”?
I’m not even sure I disagree with you, but what you’ve written so far has so little in specifics that I just don’t know what to think.

119

stubydoo 07.19.11 at 10:14 pm

How about this for a neo-liberal’s theory of politics:

- if you create a policy now, eventually the policy’s beneficiaries will become a strong constituency for continuing that policy. So far, that only leads us to good policies having good long-term political effects, and bad policies having bad ones.

- any other long-term political effects of policy are going to be too unpredictable to usefully guide decisions, and in any case will be swamped by exogenous effects – e.g. demographics, economic development, general loosening of social attitudes (some may argue about how truly exogenous such things are, but it tends not to be a very promising road to go down – e.g. if the body politic at large accepts manipulating demographics for long term political effects as valid policy, then you can be assured that you’ll get much politicization and a severe tightening of immigration procedures).

What Henry is trying to do here is too clever by half, and will not work out that way he wants it. The more room you allow for people to cite vague distant benefits from their policy choices, the more they will exploit it for old-fashioned special interest rent-seeking.

120

TheF79 07.19.11 at 10:22 pm

I’ve found this entire discussion to be rather perplexing as I try to map it to real-world policy discussions and decision-making. The example I keep thinking of is the SO2 Cap and Trade program created in 1990. As a result of that policy, we’ve seen more than a 50% reduction in SO2 relative to 1980 (despite substantial increases in electricity generation), with demonstrable improvements in human and environmental health (most estimates suggest billions of dollars in benefits annually from reduced mortality and morbidity). Yet, at the time, unions opposed the policy on the grounds that it would reduce the relative price of non-unionized sulfur-lite Power River Coal compared to unionized sulfur-heavy Appalachian coal, costing union jobs as power plants switched to Powder River coal.

So should we A) support the Cap and Trade policy on the grounds of substantial improvements in human health, or B) back the unions to preserve their strength as a valuable interest group?

From what I’ve learned from these threads, it seems if you support A) you’re a neoliberal monster with a short-sighted focus on maximizing economic efficiency, while if you support B), you’re an underpants gnome leftist from La-La-land with a penchant for anti-capitalist broadsides.

121

elm 07.19.11 at 10:25 pm

stubydoo @ 118

I don’t think that qualifies as a theory of politics.

From Henry’s post:

a theory of politics – that is, a theory of how policy proposals can be guided through the political process, and implemented without being completely undermined.

Even if we assume that Yglesias and DeLong can work out the best of all possible policies, how do they propose to get them implemented?

The idea that good policy creates its own constituency is a reason for your political opponents to oppose that policy, because it threatens to dilute the power of your political opponents. You need a way to convince people that your policies will benefit them and convince them to support your policies (voting for your preferred candidates and lobbying officeholders).

122

dbk 07.19.11 at 10:30 pm

With due respect to our host(s) on this series of multiple and divisive threads:

FWLIW, it seems to me that asking a neoliberal American-style technocrat to articulate a theory of politics is somewhat akin to asking Global Finance to articulate its view of credit default swaps. Having said that, for the record could we please have some generally-accepted definition of the American neoliberal “theory of politics” couched in language a reasonably well-informed citizen can understand?

As one of the teeming millions unable to articulate a theory of neoliberal or any other form of politics, here is an in-lieu-of:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iAIM02kv0g
(in the naive but firm belief that political theory must ultimately be informed by its answer to the question posed).

123

hix 07.19.11 at 10:54 pm

At this point, im more confused about the way the term technocracy is used than about the way the term neoliberal is used.

As i see it, there is no natural fit between technocracy and neoliberalism, on the contrary. Neoliberal rethoric is about how they know the one best way, the way GM and the like are run that shall be implemented in the public sector arround the world by their social tribe MBAs, elite Universty graduates and the like.

This is just a basless claim, there is no evidence whatsoever that those alegdly best “technocratic” solutions would actually work any better if neoliberals could do all that stuff without unions and the like getting in the way. A real life technocrat can be an Union or Kammer emloyee in Austria or a French high level public servant with a grand école background. Two examples within a completly different system, with a completly different social background and jet they both have one thing in common, they are both an antithesis to neoliberalism.

124

Sebastian H 07.19.11 at 11:35 pm

“I’m sure you’re right, but it’s worth thinking seriously about just which “parts of the Democratic base” the ones presumably opposed to all sorts of populist rhetoric/strategies may be. Probably not the white industrial working class. Probably not African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants.”

I kind of doubt it. Hispanic immigrants are HUGELY skeptical of the populism of the white industrial working class, largely because the white industrial working class wants to send them back out of the country. African-Americans may be ok with African-American populism, but they are very skeptical of white populism, since that has tended to end up with boots on their neck. And gay people areren’t very excited about white or black populism, since both have tended toward nasty anti-gay religious tendencies (especially the black populism, ask any gay black man in the US about the huge problems African-American churches cause for gays in the black community. And the Tea Party should be example numbers 1-30 about the dangers of relatively incoherent populist movements becoming scary and destructive in your party. Do you think that can only happen to Republicans? (Of course you do, but you’re deeply wrong).

There are very obvious and valid reasons why lots of morally good and intellectually bright people are skeptical of populism. And the fact that populism has tended to be the easiest way of prying labor from the Democratic base should probably serve as a caution about embracing it in the US.

125

AndrewW 07.19.11 at 11:49 pm

Does anyone want to defend left neoliberalism’s record in advancing liberal or neoliberal policy? We’re likely getting the Bowles-Simpson plan foisted on us. Where do the neoliberals stand on that as a policy goal? I know Ezra Klein loves removing the mortgage interest deduction (and there are some decent arguments for getting rid of it–well, at this stage, benefits of never having had it, actually).

So how effective has left neoliberalism been in this country, even setting aside political concerns?

126

Harold 07.20.11 at 12:38 am

What’s the difference between a cheap haircut and a cheap flatscreen?

127

Sebastian (2) 07.20.11 at 12:58 am

@AndrewW – well, that depends on the counterfactual and which neoliberalism. I’d argue that overall 1990s neoliberalism doesn’t look so hot. They certainly passed some good laws – medical leave, pell grants – but a lot of the most marked achievements – balanced budgets, welfare reform – don’t look so hot in retrospect.

I think if you actually look at the policies Obama has passed given the constraints of the possible it’s pretty good: Universal HC (however flawed) will be a lasting achievement. Financial Reform itself probably not, but the consumer protection bureau has a good chance to be a major force for good along the lines of the EPA. DADT repeal, lack of defense for DOMA – I think these will be lasting achievements that also will help to build and sustain progressive coalitions.
I’m concerned about the way budget is going – Bowles Simpson or not – but I think this is also were left-neolibs have been most fiercely critical of Obama. MY, for example, has frequently said that he thinks it’s completely crazy that Washington is so focused on the budget with unemployment close to 10% and interest rates close to 0.
Balancing budgets in the middle of the recession is certainly not a left-neoliberal position.

128

adam@nope.com 07.20.11 at 1:24 am

@TheF79

What you do is you levy a tax on all coal producers and use that to fund a government program that pays for SO scrubbers (that incidentally all go to the unionized plant). Or something like that.

Basically you make sure that the costs of policy choices are allocated to groups not in your coalition, even if the total costs are somewhat higher. This is a rule the Republican party lives by. Sure, it might depart from some pristine notion of optimality, but in politics the rule is do or be done.

129

john c. halasz 07.20.11 at 1:38 am

Umm… at its core, “neo-liberalism” is anti-political. Politics concerns collective social conflicts and public matters. But neo-liberals want to reduce all matters to private “interests” and their manipulation by “policy”, which reduces political agents to cyphers and ostensibly eliminates conflict through imposed “consensus”. It’s a matter of privatizing the res publica, together with just about everything else. The republican state, the public sphere, the political are simply to be handed over to corporate power, of which the neo-liberals are just the assiduous hand-maidens.

130

john c. halasz 07.20.11 at 1:39 am

Er, so it’s small wonder that they lack any “theory” of politics.

131

mclaren 07.20.11 at 2:52 am

Everybody seems to be “missing the point” of your discussion about social democracy. That suggests the problem is with you, not with Brad deLong or Ezra Klein.

132

adam@nope.com 07.20.11 at 3:11 am

@LeeEsq

I think the real reason Democratic politicians have avoided populism is because the principle Democratic project since the civil rights movement has been the top-down reform of American social norms. It’s somewhat difficult to advocate for the working class when you believe they are a bunch of homophobic, misogynist, racist bastards. You can’t fight everyone at once.

To what extent is Mike Huckabee the modern version of William Jennings Bryan?

133

LeeEsq 07.20.11 at 3:18 am

adam@nope.com- I think the top-down reform of American social reforms relates to my point about important parts of the Democratic Party being turned off by populism. The parts trying to do top-down social reform are those parts.

Bryan and Huckabee are nowhere near alike. Bryan generally had better policy ideas than Huckabee and was genuinely left. He also was able to secure his party’s nomination.

134

adam@nope.com 07.20.11 at 3:37 am

@LeeEsq

I completely agree with you regarding the difficulty populism poses for the Democratic party today.

I guess one big question I have is whether the period of top down reform of social norms is coming to an end. I remember another blogger asking whether democrats would rather have Roe or single payer healthcare. In the end culture trumps economics.

135

Fisher Lenihan 07.20.11 at 3:50 am

My sense is that this discussion is an indirect expression of frustration with the lack of remedy for the decisively non-social-democratic cast of American public opinion. If the desired theory of politics is a non-fantastical account of this remedy, then there is no such theory. To face this truth is to concede that improving policy on the margin must suffice. It is no objection to a slate of progressive policy proposals that its elements are not derived from some theory explaining how these policies, once enacted, will combine to prepares the way for the progressive reeducation of American political sentiment. Because there is no such theory. Is there?

136

Tony Lynch 07.20.11 at 4:03 am

Neo-liberalism (of any stripe – it is still a zebra) has a politics – overtly, “the market”, covertly, state capture nd resdistribution upwards. What it doesn’t have is anytime for democracy (The term never appears in Nozick’s Anarchy&c. – and when it does appear in von Mises et. al. it is “market democracy” where paying for something (shoes, a politician) is “voting”.

Yglesias general stance – “left liberalism” – reflects his commitment to the Conventional Wisdom.

137

Mark 07.20.11 at 5:59 am

I posted a version of this on Crooked Timber, but I want to expand on my simple answer to the relatively complex question of “why the left and/or Democrats are constantly reactive and small-minded.” The simple answer is: “the Left/Dems have yet to fully come to grips with the fact that they are the party of women and minorities, and to embrace their role of representing the interests of those constituencies.” The Texiera/Judis/Schaller body of pop political science had made a pretty air-tight case that the demographics of American politics have changed, only the system has yet to adapt to that change. The ideological poles of American politics have larger shares of the total electorate, and are increasingly further apart on policies questions. They represent very different groups of people who live in different places, do different things, come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, and essentially want little to do with each other. The South is basically irrelevant to Democratic politics and is the backbone, heart, lungs, brain (so to speak) and pancreas of the modern GOP. This political moment is unlike the previous 70-odd years, but a lot like the 150 years that preceded it, when sharp regional, racial, ethnic and religious divisions drove national politics. And to an even greater degree than in the pre-New Deal era, the right-wing group is homogenous and the left-wing group is heterodox. This type of period of stark division and conflict opens up the the right-wing play book of sewing division in the coalition of their heterodox opponents. Meanwhile, the Liberal/Dem playbook of using inclusive, universal values to argue for policies that benefit its heterodox constituencies at the expense of the conservatives’ are less resonant. The notion of a middle class lifestyle being an “American dream” doesn’t make sense when it means a house in an ex-burb near a Mega Church to 30% of the country, a decent apartment in a nice neighborhood near the subway to 40%, is so laughably out of reach to 25% to be insulting to even mention, and would be punishment worse than death for the top 5%. The notion of “equal rights” and appeals to universal human freedoms don’t make sense anymore when the central constituency of the right stakes its entire political agenda to restricting those freedoms from the poor, women and/or non-heterosexual people. All that is to say that the left and Dems have to abandon their notion that they represent this country’s “better nature” or that they will win with guilt trips and changing “hearts and minds” to be more like theirs. They need to accept the fact that they are the party of women and minorities, and defend those constituencies, rather than selling them out to protect “middle class tax cuts” and mortgage interest deductions.

138

SamChevre 07.20.11 at 12:39 pm

And the fact that populism has tended to be the easiest way of prying labor from the Democratic base should probably serve as a caution about embracing it in the US.

Isn’t this just another way of saying that the democratic base is culturally, not economically, motivated? (Which seems like a plausible account,a nd is certainly true of the Republican base as well.)

139

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 12:52 pm

Isn’t the argument “There is no neoliberal progressive politics or worldview in America; therefore, no one should try to create one–it will fail” begging the question? Compare and contrast the legacies of the broad union movements of the 1930’s vs. the neoliberal thinktank approach of 1980’s-present day. Which one “failed?” Which one succeeded? I’m still mystified by a Berkeley professor’s embarrassing response to Henry’s post yesterday. Someone help me contextualize DeLong’s silliness.

140

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 1:05 pm

@Sebastian 127.

“Balancing budgets in the middle of the recession is certainly not a left-neoliberal position.”

First, thank you for the response; I agree in bulk with it (I like the overall contours and outcomes of HCR, I worry about the status quo that HCR creates).

To the quote above–depending on how you view Ezra Klein, he’s awfully sanguine about the Gang of Six Plan, though he’d probably say now’s not the time to do it. I think the Gang of Six plan is dreadful even if implemented at 5% unemployment.

141

bob mcmanus 07.20.11 at 1:33 pm

137: They need to accept the fact that they are the party of women and minorities, and defend those constituencies

Sorry, I just don’t think this works, or works to my satisfaction.

The Harvard educated corporate lawyer, woman or black, and the poor or lower middle class woman or black do have issues in common like workplace discrimination and reproductive rights, but also simply have too much in direct conflict on economic grounds. And it is pretty clear, and supported by studies, that the UMC or college educated woman or minority identifies overwhelmingly with white men of their socioeconomic status than with poor or working class minorities.

Obama doesn’t golf with the Hispanic groundskeeper, does he?

142

adam@nope.com 07.20.11 at 2:03 pm

@Mark, bob mcmanus

Mark, the problem with the democrats being the party of women and minorities is that they won’t then have the votes to accomplish anything. America is not a minority majority country, and gender doesn’t drive people’s political identies to such an extent that you can have a “woman’s party”. Only about 40% of women self-identify as democrats, and views on issues such as abortion don’t vary much by gender.

143

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 2:05 pm

@141

You’re wrong that a college-educated black person has more in common with white middle-classers than he/she does with black working class/poor. You’re way wrong there. Maybe an extreme outlier like the Harvard-educated corporate lawyer would, but that’s such the exception to the rule as to be almost meaningless.

144

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.11 at 2:23 pm

@143, care to elaborate, is it just your gut feeling?

145

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 2:35 pm

Well, I guess I should know better what mcmanus means by “identify with” in his above post. But in terms of “whom do I befriend, whom do I marry, whom do I live near, whom do I share a common set of assumptions about the world with, whom do I go to church with, whom do I vote with” it’s not white middle class men. I live in a predominantly black working class neighborhood and teach at working class urban high school (97% minority pop.)

146

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 2:37 pm

Ack–why can’t I edit? But I wholeheartedly agree with mcmanus’s argument that white middle class women will “identify with” white middle class men before they will white working class or poor women.

147

Henry 07.20.11 at 2:38 pm

bq. Everybody seems to be “missing the point” of your discussion about social democracy. That suggests the problem is with you, not with Brad deLong or Ezra Klein.

Why drag Ezra Klein in? And actually, not so much – it’s clear from this thread and the previous thread that a lot of people _do_ get the point (and, I suspect, some of these people even find the point completely banal). What’s surprising to me is that many people do not. My rough hypothesis from observing who gets it easily and who does not, as that a major explanatory factor is exposure/lack of exposure to Marxist and social democratic thought.

148

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 2:40 pm

Marx has really only survived in academics in the English departments.

149

LizardBreath 07.20.11 at 2:52 pm

What’s surprising to me is that many people do not. My rough hypothesis from observing who gets it easily and who does not, as that a major explanatory factor is exposure/lack of exposure to Marxist and social democratic thought.

Sounds plausible. I’m fascinated by this series of posts, because it’s beginning to explain a lot of past arguments between people both of whom I think of myself as roughly agreeing with, and I’m certainly weak on Marxist or any left political theory generally.

150

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.11 at 3:03 pm

@145, so, who does a guy in predominantly black working class neighborhood identify with? Clarence Thomas and South Bronx drug dealer before his white co-worker? Is that what you’re saying?

151

Kaveh 07.20.11 at 3:07 pm

I think a big reason for the confusion/disagreement over the term “theory of politics” is that the “technocratic” tendencies Henry (rightly) criticizes aren’t limited to (or even especially characteristic of) neoliberals. Most of the content of the left blogosphere is either journalism or discussion of What Should Be Done. It’s also true that there is a lack of an overall theory, and often even of an overall narrative. Marcos Moulitsas does a pretty good job at providing a narrative–he says some things similar to Mark @137–but it’s not really a theory, and he still tends to say a lot of things along the lines of “Democrats can win by doing this…” which feels a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking–the real audience is (or should be) not elected officials, but ordinary visitors to the site, and there’s only so many times you can say “The Democrats should fight harder” before it stops being helpful. On the other hand, I can see how this is important because it gives the “troops” a shared understanding of what is happening and what they should work towards, why their time on the site and doing things advocated by the site (canvassing, calling elected officials) is a good investment. And also, it seems to be pretty clear that the main aim of the site is to build an online (and sometimes offline) community. So that implies at least part of a theory of politics. I’m curious what people who follow more/other political blogs have observed.

So I would tend to agree with Henry’s overall point–that a theory of politics is missing and needed–but I would shift the burden away from any particular subset of the left blogosphere (e.g. “neoliberals”), and to people like him (and I guess the rest of us, since this is an academic blog) to come up with such a theory, and show how it can be applied, rather than expecting Yglesias and others merely to accept our criticism that they lack a theory.

I think one problem that has to be overcome is the tendency for parts of the left blogosphere to specialize. People are excited and informed about one set of issues and tend to be less sensitive to others, and don’t understand how their respective agendas affect each other.

There are a couple corners of the left blogosphere I tend to visit that I think are particularly successful in this regard, and it’s instructive to look at the things they have in common.

One is Boing Boing, because they bring together journalism, criticism, and a sense of fun and possibility. They don’t try to play up a constant sense of crisis, they don’t traffic in easy answers, but they also aren’t afraid to make very scathing criticisms when those are due. And they are actively dealing with the social dimensions of media and technology.

The other is Mondoweiss, along with other neocon-watchers like Lobelog, the former especially raising extremely important and difficult questions about why so much of the left in the US has remained silent about Palestinian suffering, and what the implications for that are in the larger context of American politics WRT wars and the security state. Like Boing Boing, Mondoweiss doesn’t try to convey a constant sense of crisis, and the tone is often optimistic, at least with regard to the long-term trend in the conversation about Israel in the US. This is really remarkable given that 1) what they cover includes an apartheid system and war crimes, with the growing possibility of eventual mass-deportation of Palestinians (what with the continuing downward spiral of Israeli politics) and 2) they manage to be (conditionally) optimistic without ever becoming overly self-congratulatory or condescending.

152

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 3:14 pm

@ Henri

No, I doubt he’d identify with caricatures anymore than I would. So your gut says we’re post racial?

153

hartal 07.20.11 at 3:26 pm

Henry at 147

Henry, freedom is not always exit, having exit options from expensive barbers; it is also voice or institutional voice through the formation of groups. The problem is not that your opponents don’t know Marxist or social democratic thought; it’s that everyone has forgotten about Hirschman.

154

scott 07.20.11 at 3:29 pm

To me, neo-liberals always seemed to share with conservatives a belief that the markets generally worked quite well at reaching socially beneficial outcomes and that any imperfections could be resolved through a reasonably robust social safety net. They also seemed almost allergic to asking a class-based question about who the economy was serving and whether that was just. I’ve read Yglesias for a long time, and that suits him to a t. He doesn’t want us intervening too much in the financial markets but just wants us to have a slightly higher marginal tax rate and a slightly more adventurous monetary policy. His theory of politics is pretty simple: the people running the economy basically know what they’re doing and shouldn’t be penalized for it (except to the extent you think a higher tax rate is a penalty), and the results are basically just and just need a little tweaking (remember when he said after HCR that the liberal reform project was done, mission accomplished, etc.). My theory would be different, that we’ve experienced a 40 year-old reaction from moneyed elites that have successfully destroyed any counterweights in government or unions that would prevent them from keeping wages stagnant and accruing all the benefits of economic growth to themselves. If you start with Yglesias’ premise, nothing seems too intractable, and a couple of guys with Econ, Soc, or even Phil degrees can come up with technocratic fixes. If you start with the latter, you’re driven much more to trying to build on a populist movement of the bottom 99% against the top 1% who have systematically pillaged them. And, lest anyone get the hives at the scare word populist, I at least mean it in the sense that it’s not right or just that the rest of us get robbed (and many get forced into poverty, homelessness, and social dysfunction) because the folks on the top of the pyramid can’t be satisfied until they have it all. From a political standpoint, moreover, which do you think works better – trust fund Matt saying that his old Harvard buddies on Wall Street are basically doing the Lord’s work but should pay 5% more taxes, or someone saying forthrightly that a bunch of rich guys who think you’re dirt have robbed you and need to pay through the nose and then some?

155

Mark 07.20.11 at 3:42 pm

Those who believe that Black and female corporate lawyers are ideologically identical to White, male corporate lawyers are almost certainly academics who have never actually worked at any kind of “corporate” job in their lives. There is nothing that will disabuse a person more quickly of the thought that the private sector is the be all end all than the opportunity to observe it closely at the level where strategy is charted and decisions are made, particularly when there are layoffs happening. Unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky few who has “executive presence” and enjoys “good relations with key stakeholders” at the firm. Sincerely, a corporate lawyer.

156

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.11 at 3:44 pm

Andrew 152, no, not post-racial; I’m just trying to make sense of your comment 143.

157

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 4:25 pm

155
I probably should have asked for clarification on “identify with” before I made my point. The phrase could mean anything. But as I interpret it, it means what I said above, ““whom do I befriend, whom do I marry, whom do I live near, whom do I share a common set of assumptions about the world with, whom do I go to church with, whom do I vote with.” I just thought his flippant example of the corporate lawyer and Obama on one end and the Hispanic groundskeeper on the other as avatars of anything was kind of meaningless.

I have no problem accepting the argument that the black superrich have an easier time identifying with the white superrich than they do with the black working class.

158

Sebastian (2) 07.20.11 at 5:15 pm

Henry (154) – that’s pretty weak. Everyone who doesn’t get me is stupid? really? I’ve read Marx, Polanyi, Wallerstein/Przeworski, Korpi, Berman, Skocpol, Pierson, Hacker, Hacker/Pierson and I grew up in a country with one of the longest social democratic traditions in the world. I think there is no lack of exposure. But I’m also trained as an empirical social scientist who evaluates arguments in part on the empirical merits and in two long threads I have seen not a single clear example of where this supposedly missing theory of politics is at work.

(My counter-hypothesis, btw., is that people who don’t like Yglesias for policy or personal reasons are much more likely to agree with you because they like to think he doesn’t get it in some important way).

I think scott at 154 is much closer to the truth: Socialists and (real) social democrats are much more skeptical of the market and more attuned to the power imbalances created by and in the market place and are much more willing to constrain markets. But the difference is not a lack of a theory of politics so much as a different view of both the politically possible and desirable.

159

Henry 07.20.11 at 5:18 pm

bq. that’s pretty weak. Everyone who doesn’t get me is stupid? really?

Sebastian – If that quite wonderful and extraordinary misreading of what I said is reflective of your reading skills in general, it’s little wonder that you’re not getting it ;)

160

Henry 07.20.11 at 5:32 pm

More seriously and much less snidely (apologies – but I was a little provoked) – These two posts are not, and never has been about Matthew Yglesias . As I noted in the original post, Henwood’s specific attack on Yglesias was wrong – but there was a more interesting general point about neo-liberalism as a tendency on the American left. Furthermore, I do think that there is scope for a neo-liberal theory of politics, which would have interesting things to say that are not being said by e.g. the social-democratic or the Kossack/partisan one. For example – some of the policy feedback loop stuff that Hacker/Pierson etc look at seems to me to fit as well, or better into an understanding of politics that stresses legislative process and technocratic processes of decision making as key to political outcomes than the traditional leftwing mobilization of social groups story.

161

geo 07.20.11 at 5:48 pm

I don’t see how scott @154 could be improved on.

162

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 6:11 pm

I think the Yglesias stuff is a huge diversion from the original argument which was DeLong’s: “don’t bother with coalition building because collective action actually *hinders* good decision making by voters because it distorts what the economists (you know, the smartest guys in the room) would advise doing.”

WTF do you do with a statement like the above?

Yglesias’ point that Henry lacks content is peripheral imo.

163

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 7:01 pm

What’s even more befuddling is that technocrats at the more leftward margin of the technocratic center (Krugman, DeLong, et al) are totally ignored frankly at the national level and thrown over for the extreme rightward margin of the technocratic center (Third Way). You’d think they would probably ask themselves: why are my opinions so utterly marginalized in these discussions instead of saying “Shut up peons!”?

164

shah8 07.20.11 at 7:23 pm

Henry doesn’t have to have content in his language?

You know? I think the constant refrains about popularism (and especially how *those* people, intellectuals, women, minorities, don’t like it) are striking at the core reason why people like AndrewW are peripheral idiots shoved out of the grown-up’s room. They fundamentally do not think political regimes need organs. They don’t think that popular desires need to be digested or processed in any way. They don’t actually believe that just because a hole is cut in a circular fashion, that it should prevent them from pressing through a cube with the same length on the side as the diameter of the hole.

They’re so ignorant that when somebody like Yglesias talks about inflation-targeting they can’t decide whether it’s supremely radical (like Henley), or he’s just being a know-it-all-detached who think the world acts in some mechanical and soul-less fashion. And I get like–“You Are Too Dumb and Too Intellectually Lazy To Be Here”. And I don’t get like that out of meaness. I get like that because dumb, inadequate, people shoving themselves into power, screaming “We gotta do this with SINCERITEEEEEEE” are responsible for much, if not *most* of the suffering in this world. Just in China’s modern history, anti-intellectualism was responsible for death and suffering on scales well beyond “tofu buildings” in the more recent Sichuan earthquake. And those idiots are hardly ever really held accountable. Kerensky spent most of the rest of his life pretending that he wasn’t actually responsible in a large way for the horror that happened afterwards. Some honest and hard working Chinese engineer has to be fired and arrested multiple times just to get decent safety margins on dams–after hundreds of thousands of people drown in fast waters. But those “well meaning” bureaucrats were just looking to achieve the state’s goals of flood control and electric generation! We constantly pretend that being an egotistical dimwit is not malice if there was no malicious thought.

We did *not* talk about any theories of politics. If we did, we would have talked more Guinier, or more Charles Peters, Schorr, Plato, or whoever. We’re certainly not basing any discussion around some dude named Centeno or Fischer, are we? We’re not remotely talking about any of ideas that went into the big pushback against technocratic rule in the early and mid 90s, are we? This crowd, as a whole, is too…effing…ignorant, egotistical, and narrow-minded for that, and that nasty flood of ad-hominism was reflected in that.

We…
Live…
In…
a…
World…
Where…
I…
Can…
Goddamn…
Look…
This…
Stuff…
Up…
And so can all of you. There is just no excuse for this sort of willful ignorance. So much of what Yglesias, or Klein, or Duncan, or any of those people talk about…they’re bloody uncontroversial, and it seems like few of us actually can process what is logical and understood, and what are the blogger’s genuine opinions, and whether it makes sense or not.

165

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 7:34 pm

shah8. You’re a mensch.

And an emotionally crippled name dropper.

My point wasn’t that Henry or anyone didn’t need to have content. I’m saying that point is less interesting than what started this whole discussion, which was DeLong’s weird broadsides against Henry’s earlier post.

I’m hardly inimical to the best ideas of economists, philosophers, political scientists, technocrats. In fact, I feel their place is probably paramount in most discussions of policy. Just not to the exclusion of democratic will.

166

Henry 07.20.11 at 7:43 pm

shah8 and AndrewW – please, no more personal abuse of each other (or others). Even if you feel exercised, please preserve the minimum of decorum necessary to good conversation.

167

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 7:49 pm

Fair enough. Please edit post. It is bad taste.

168

shah8 07.20.11 at 7:50 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensch

And I’m hysterical…name-dropping all the way…

hmmm

Dude, when the topic is Marxism ,or labor theory, or any sort of personal stuff going on, I ignore Delong. I think most sensible people do. I enjoyed that vignette about how Adam Smith thought only the landowners could be responsible, farsighted agents, but…that’s an aside more than anything else, and when it went to metaphorical fists, I tuned out. And yeah, I suppose, if there had been people who knew stuff and gave a damn about the actual topic, we could have had some fun, but do you know what? You obviously don’t even know enough to actually *talk* about this in any depth. How do you even know enough to appreciate it?

And that last phrase is a Soviet classic. Which is part of what makes me so angry. Again, nobody has their “place”. Policy and politics are organic and grow in nearly random directions based on the sun of the most general desires. You’re hardly inimical to things you don’t understand, and stays not-understood under the heavy brows of Mighty Matt Yglesias.

169

Sebastian (2) 07.20.11 at 8:10 pm

Henry – I’m a big boy, I can take some snide ;-) – my abbreviated version of what you said wasn’t entirely serious either – though as a general sentiment I still think that “people who don’t understand my point just don’t seem to have read the right literature” is an unfortunate rhetorical turn.

More generally, I think a better way to start this thready might have been to think about what the (implicit) theory of politics of neoliberalism is. I think there are several candidates:
1. The Varieties of Capitalism version – in many ways the Hall/Soskice story of the welfare state, in which enlightened business supports the welfare state through cross-class coalitions with unions fits the neoliberal mode of politics. And the angry attacks of Streeck and Korpi against that version of VoC can be understood as (different forms of) social democratic critiques of that mode.

2. The Ezra Klein version (and yes, I think Ezra is a neoliberal): Voters vote mainly along economic lines –> Politicians wanting to maximize votes should focus on passing the best possible economic policies –> Coming up with the best policy is important.

3. The power of ideas story: One reason the conservative movement has been so successful is that it has been able to develop a set of policy measures driven by an appealing ideological story. The left needs to re-win the battle of ideas in the public arena and lefty-policy blogs are one of the ways that can happen.

Probably not an exhaustive list – I’d argue most neolibs have a theory of politics that is made up of these (and probably some other) tools. I think the claim that they just don’t understand politics is needlessly inflammatory and likely empirically wrong – the DLC, for example, very likely did think about a longterm vision for a Democratic/neoliberal project. I think it’s much more helpful to think and argue about where and how their theory of politics is wrong and has negative results – thus my continued insistence on specifics – which don’t have to be about MY.

170

AndrewW 07.20.11 at 9:03 pm

shah8,

I have no desire to go toe to toe with anyone vis. their learnedness in political science, policy, what have you–that’s not an area I have any formal education in; I’m not the least bit squeamish admitting that. I was merely curious about the sentiment that collective action hinders good policy outcomes–and further, that it “can’t work.” I’d love to read–if you have any recommendations–some material that might help me better contextualize this idea. Whether you think Delong is merely talking out of his ass or not, it’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that, and I want to understand it.

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Henry 07.20.11 at 9:16 pm

Sebastian – in many ways the beginning of this discussion was a mistake on my part. I took a bit of a post by Doug Henwood, which I thought was interesting, and then developed it into a broader argument. While I tried to say that this was not about personalities, and that Doug’s specific criticism of Matt was wrong, I should have anticipated that this would map onto some blogreaders’ unhappiness with people like Matt and Ezra, who they perceive as sellouts. The people who I _am_ disagreeing with more the original US left neo-liberals – and I still do maintain that they didn’t have any theory of politics that was up to much. In particular, I think that the market reforms of the 1990s had consequences that many left neo-liberals simply didn’t anticipate – they led to the very considerable strengthening of the financial sector as an organized set of interests, which has had pernicious long term political consequences. And it’s this that I mean when I say that a Pierson “When Effects Become Causes” might just as well be a foundation stone for a left neo-liberal theory of politics, as for a more standard leftwing theory. The arguments about VoC are interesting – although I dunno if Streeck is really a leftwinger any more (have to read his new book on Germany, and perhaps I’ll find out). And I don’t think that Ezra Klein is a neo-liberal in the strong sense of the word, and I imagine that Matthew Yglesias is not either (although his interests have moved to the right) – both have a sense that unions are important, and that it would be good to have them back, which would have been anathema to the original neo-liberals

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zosima 07.20.11 at 9:22 pm

I think that neo-liberals, at least in the US, do have a sort of theory of politics. Or more accurately, they have a technocratic solution to the problems that you’ve identified which occur absent a theory of politics. To wit, they propose that we change the rules of the game to something more parliamentary. They want a system that has fewer checks. That gives the majority party the power to enact the policies that it wants with less restraint, but more accountability. So that politicians and presidents can be thrown out more easily if the public doesn’t like the policies that were implemented.

If the rules of the game were modified, as such, then moderation as a theory of politics might become viable again. It encourages to parties to moderate themselves so that they don’t get tossed. As opposed to the current system which encourages parties to be as immoderate as possible as part of a game theoretic approach to negotiation. (Many GT scenarios indicate that you’ll get a better deal if you’re unpredictable and self destructive)

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Tom Bach 07.20.11 at 9:36 pm

I should have anticipated that this would map onto some blogreaders’ unhappiness with people like Matt and Ezra, who they perceive as sellouts.
I’d just like to make that point that I don’t criticize Ygleasias for being a “sell-out” but rather because his preferred policies haven’t worked and that his justification(s) for them rely the market fundamentalism that is such a key component of the disaster of neoliberalism.

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elm 07.20.11 at 10:03 pm

zosima: That sounds like a “now you have two problems” type of solution. In order to achieve that, you’d need to replace the U.S. Constitution. If they the influence to get people to agitate and vote for that, they’d have the influence to get their desired policies enacted through the current system.

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shah8 07.20.11 at 10:07 pm

AndrewW, in the nonabusive Delong version, the sentiment about collective action is pervasive in many fields. I suspect that most dense (if not easy to understand) version would be from game theory.

It boils down to people having individual wishes and individual saliences attached to those wishes joining in an activity and leaving as they wish. A collective is too much the quantum cloud to have coherent aims, and any *real* policy–ie something that deals with scarce resources or something that impact someone’s standing in society will generate motivated subgroups for and against for said policy. The applies to all the turtles all the way down the column of significance.

Again, this is a game theory thing, about a collective of strangers with limited history with each and without perfect knowledge. If you’re a bunch of farmers discussing how to fund and build irrigation to the area’s fields, “collective will” in this instance is easy. However, politics in the here and now (as H L Mencken might agree) involves a great number of people and complex policy environment that your average individual has no familiarity with and defaults to personal heuristics–such as: The state has a budget that it has to adhere to, just like me. In the worst case, we have the referendum system out on the West Coast that makes for eventual severe crisis, because such populist mechanisms crush the ability to make good policy.

In an honest discussion about reconnecting people to politics and policies, we’d be talking more about mechanisms in which technocratic policy makers are detached from public conversation, and how the government guides conversation and public action away from technocratic priorities. For instance, if the average joe knew about and understood about what people mean with “inflation targeting”, I think most people would be very enthusiastic about that idea. It’s one reason why I was really pissed off with giving Doug Henley’s column so much credibility–his comments about who wanted loose money and why in the 19th century was so wrong as to be mendacious. If your average farmer from 1890 had inflation targeting explained to him, he would nod vigorously, Yeah! That’s Silver without it being Silver! There are all sorts of things, that the better generalist bloggers talk about, explain to the masses, and in general, doing good work in building the potential for a better political regime. A culture that saturated in good information, who willfully selects good information, can attach value judgments onto different policy choices in a way that evades controls and supercedes some random guru’s notion of what is good. With something like that, it only takes a bit of democratic tinkering to really rev up popular and good policies.

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Sebastian (2) 07.21.11 at 12:26 am

Henry

I think that the market reforms of the 1990s had consequences that many left neo-liberals simply didn’t anticipate – they led to the very considerable strengthening of the financial sector as an organized set of interests, which has had pernicious long term political consequences.

thanks – I wish you had made this clearer earlier – I think it’s a good argument, but I I still disagree on the empirics: I think the Rubinomicrats had a theory of politics that was looking for a cross-class coalition of enlightened financial capital, cultural liberals and a much diminished, but still existent labor.
I think there are many problems with this view – including not just political miscalculations (financial capital isn’t exactly a faithful ally…), but also an empirically misplaced belief in the benefits of financial liberalization, but it’s certainly a theory of politics – especially in light of its historical context:
In the Hacker Pierson telling (which I find relatively compelling) it grew out of the need of Democrats to compete with the ever more effective Republican fundraising from business in a context where unions where less and less able to serve as an organizational, let alone financial counterweight – so there was very much an interest-groups and money approach underlying the whole project.
The point is that they had a theory of politics, it was just a very problematic one.
I’m not sure I’m right here, though – someone would have to study (or maybe has already) the history of US neoliberalism in more detail.

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hix 07.21.11 at 12:29 am

“And the angry attacks of Streeck and Korpi against that version of VoC can be understood as (different forms of) social democratic critiques of that mode.”

Didnt Streeck play a very unfortunate personal role within the Bündnis für Arbeit? That might explain later angry attacks much better than any critism of neoliberalism from a social democratic perspective.

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Cranky Observer 07.21.11 at 1:56 am

> thanks – I wish you had made this clearer earlier – I think it’s a good
> argument, but I I still disagree on the empirics: I think the
> Rubinomicrats had a theory of politics that was looking for a
> cross-class coalition of enlightened financial capital, cultural
> liberals and a much diminished, but still existent labor.

The politician, technocrat, or academic (or A-list blogger) who advances such a theory (or puts it into practice, as Rubin and Clinton seemingly did) should /first/ do a detailed analysis as to whether they are just being used as world-class (literally) chumps bu concentrated financial interests and the power-hungry people who control them. Which they didn’t do, as far as I can see from their post-2000 election and post-financial-crisis blogging.

Cranky

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Tom 07.21.11 at 4:17 am

I am late to comment but I will give it a shot anyway.

“A proposed policy measure that seems desirable in principle (because e.g. it is cheaper than another alternative) may not be so desirable if it has malign political consequences”

I agree, and your example of the financial deregulation is appropriate.

Indeed, “there are often tradeoffs between policy benefits and political sustainability.”

But if the neo-liberals tend to disregard political sustainability, it seems to me that others on the left tend to downplay policy benefits (or damages) too. For example, here on CT I usually read mostly a positive attitude toward unions and barely a mention that in some cases unions may support quite inefficient policies.* Obviously, this is OT with respect to your critique of neo-liberalism. But I am just making a note that, moving forward, if on the left the pendulum will swing more toward unions’ supporters and away from neo-liberals, the trade-off that you enunciate will remain and should be kept in mind.

*This is my impression from reading the blog’s posts, and their comments from time to time. I did a quick search of “unions” on the site and I found mainly positive posts but I am happy to be pointed to some posts that do not align with my impression.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 6:45 am

OK, here’s a theory of politics: poor v. rich. That’s my theory.

Politics is about who gets what. The Left, by definition, champion the relatively poor, and egalitarian ideas; the Right champion the rich and aristocratic ideas. In mass politics, the Rich are better organized, but may face a challenge in marshalling numbers; the Poor and merely middle-class are less well-organized.

Neo-liberalism flowed naturally from the fatuous doctrines of Econ 101: resolution of conflict and a general good achieved by a disembodied “competitive” market, which facilitates a positive-sum game of trade. But, more to the point, Econ 101 hides the distribution of income as an issue. Trade is about comparative advantage, never about the terms of trade; “free trade”! Macro-economic policy is about highly abstract notions, such as Keynesian “aggregate demand”; it is never a naked, desperate struggle over income distribution, between capital and labor. Pareto-efficiency defines the customary suppression of income distribution issues as methological virtue. If income distribution is addressed at all, there’s antiseptic talk of “transfer payments” and “after-tax” policies to meliorate the god-given results of market competition, where (so sad!) “skills-biased” technological change is wrecking havoc.

Economics doesn’t have to be that idiotic. Purely mainstream economics, drawing from canonical sources can say intelligent things about income distribution. Really it can. Here’s one: in a risky and uncertain world, the availability of insurance significantly affects decision-making, and the wealthy can profit by renting their financial wealth as insurance to individuals and business ventures. The distribution of income will, therefore, be significantly affected by the terms under which insurance is offered. (No mention of “skills-biased technological change”? You don’t say.)

My point is that neo-liberalism derives from a theory (more precisely, a pedagogy) of economics, which systematically hides income distribution as an issue. It hides it behind opaque or confusing concepts and conventions (comparative advantage, pareto efficiency, aggregate demand), while promoting technocratic definitions of good policy and good policymakers (see, for example, the praise from neo-liberal economists for Ben Bernanke). And, this economics is not a partisan or parochial pedagogy; it is the mainstream orthodoxy, in which the mass of people are authoritatively indoctrinated.

The mass of people — even the mass of college-educated people — do not have readily available basic economic concepts, which might help them understand that politics is primarily, if not exclusively, about the distribution of income, and to recognize the kinds of policies, which importantly affect the distribution of income. They do not get to see politicians or pundits frankly and clearly discuss the income distribution implications of policy proposals, using a familiar vocabulary or conceptual architecture, because such a vocabulary and concepts are not taught or in-use. What they get is sloganeering about free market competition and trade-offs, etc. What they get is the Laffer Curve, countered by solemn, earnest neo-liberal rhetoric about voodoo economics and assurances that raising tax rates really does increase government revenues. What they get is de-regulation.

The neo-liberal theory of politics is that Paul Krugman taking potshots at Eric Cantor, but showing Ben Bernanke collegial respect, is informative, and Brad DeLong having a conversation with Greg Mankiw or Tyler Cowen about economics is enlightening. The left neo-liberal theory of politics is that Brad DeLong defines the Left. (And, Larry Summers is a populist.)

It is a theory of politics, backed by a theory (or, if you prefer, a pedagogy) of economics, in which income distribution is not the central issue of political economy. Income distribution is an unintended by-product of mysterious, larger forces and trends — globalization, skills-biased technological change, etc. — about which the left neo-liberal should be earnestly concerned (wrinkle brow, frown), but about which there’s really not much that can be done — maybe, a tax credit or something.

We live in an era of runaway economic predation by the rich of everyone else. Someone might want to start thinking about a Left politics appropriate to the times. Just sayin’

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Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.11 at 7:26 am

@180, actually they (Yglesias, at least) do pay lip service to income distribution. In an extremely patronizing and deceptive manner, like this: ‘let markets do their magic, and then “we” will tax the rich and give to the poor’.

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john c. halasz 07.21.11 at 7:48 am

BW @ 180:

I could criticize that rant on narrowly pedantic points, but why bother? It gets to the core issue of an otherwise banal “conversation”: what generates the distribution of income?

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AndrewW 07.21.11 at 1:54 pm

The question isn’t what policy solutions will work best, but why are the best policy solutions being triangulated out–why does Larry Summers acquiesce to austerity (or remain silent) while in office but speak up stimulus when he leaves, for example? If depression-creating cuts to entitlement programs will continue to transfer costs from the government to the taxpayer why are some technocrats not arguing more forcefully against them (and some arguing for them) or looking for ways to better educate on other policy prescriptions? I have absolutely no reason to believe that much of the current policy decisions made at the national level aren’t being impacted by collective action, so what gives conservative collective action clarity but liberal action (collective or otherwise) such muddiness? It’s not simply a question of money or power (though it is that as well). Why does collective action and policy/consensus formation have to be mutually exclusive? Why not just better heuristics?

Thanks, shah8, for the response.

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elm 07.21.11 at 2:18 pm

@180

general good achieved by a disembodied “competitive” market, which facilitates a positive-sum game of trade

This, of course, ignoring the distinctly zero-sum issue of power or influence; I would hope that fact is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated.

The financial industry may agree to measures that increase the share of income and power of the lower class, but only to the degree that the financial industry’s share increases as well (or at least does not decrease). I’m not certain that the share of power for the lower class did, in fact, increase under Clinton but the financial industry certainly did gain influence in the Democratic party and gained freedom from regulation.

I believe this answers john c. halasz’s question from #182 as well.

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shah8 07.21.11 at 2:29 pm

Bruce Wilder, who gets what is politics, or at least the intersection of politics and economics. Agreed on the crucial pedagogy aspect. Bad teaching is a crucial aspect of technocratic rule, the same way churchmen weren’t actually okay with people learning to read the bible on their own. Again, this is why we should be intensely anti-idiocy and pro-knowing-what-you’re-talking-about. Bad teaching, with its indulgence of personal egos, plenty of terminal argumentation, and shoving bad, uncomfortable things to abstractions.

In the world where we’re a strong, knowledgeable force in the world, we’d readily be able to take apart the Hernando De Sotos of the world, speaking up with the central truth that political organizations *prevent* poor people from being able to exercise land rights, and that merely offering legitimizations of legal rights to whatever improvements simply makes it easier for kulak-types and actual rich people to predate on poor people with assets. Why would we schmaht people say that? Because we’re adept in the world of data, and we can do our own research and see…OMG! Mexico had the exact same idea and tried it! And it was a disaster for everyone but the schemers!

Why would anyone who’s a hard-working leftist/progressive want to associate with people who wants fast results and easy politics? Why would they want to associate with people who think that explaining to someone about what’s in their best interest, in the context of the huge social noise that current entrench interests puts out, is a short term project? Nobody here is a hero-teacher type that pulls project kids into the middle-class by sheer will and creativity. Making things better is a drip by drip process.

Obama might not be much of a liberal, but he’s a *better* liberal than most of you commentators. Why be outworked at *pushing* liberal outcomes than some conservative dude? Take a look at Lula, or Chavez–sellouts and authoritarians–they worked relatively hard to bring about liberal outcomes, the main thing being organizing and teaching. Over and over and over again. Teaching profitable ways to be less selfish and cruel. Not airy theories of politics.

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Henry 07.21.11 at 2:45 pm

Sebastian – I don’t know of any good book on this (I’ll take a look at the Skocpol/Pierson book on the right, but suspect that there won’t be much that is directly on target here). My sense – which could be wrong – is that there wasn’t very much of an emphasis on bringing labor into the coalition – and that there was a generic sense that rising prosperity would lift all boats etc – but I don’t know of good source material for this. The other plausible case (which I owe to Peter Frase) is Mettler’s work on the submerged state – technocratic policies which achieve reasonable goals through tax deductions etc, but which have pernicious long term consequences (they don’t build constituencies or awareness). But I have to look at her book (which I have an ARC of) to figure out the extent to which this is due to blindness, and the extent to which it is due to the sheer difficulty of maneuvering more obviously substantive measures through the policy process.

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Sebastian (2) 07.21.11 at 3:12 pm

Henry – yeah, I don’t know of anything, either. Let me know if you find something, else this might be an interesting project.
As for Streeck – I don’t know if he counts as a lefty anymore (some of his policies views probably don’t), but I think his insistence on the embeddedness of markets is very much social democratic, especially if you follow Sheri Bermans argument that social democracy is essentially the Polany-esque middle road between Marxism and market radicalism.

In functionalist [read: VoC] “backward induction” of this
sort, technocratic social engineering replaces social conflict and political mobilization
as the driving force behind social progress, and capital accumulation, rather than hav-
ing to be made compatible with the public interest by political regulation, is identified
with it. In the end, a functionalist defense of the welfare state may do nothing more than deliver legitimacy for a monistic, economistic concept of a good society, and with it for the rationalization of social life in the service of economic efficiency.

http://www.mpifg.de/pu/workpap/wp08-3.pdf (page 13)

hix: I think his disdain for VoC is really more deeply rooted in his intellectual emphasis on the sociological classics – Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, Polanyi especially – and their relevance for political economy. I think he’s quite bitter about his experience with the Schroeder government, but I think that takes the form of the “everything is going to hell” attitude he takes in his Re-Forming Capitalism book. That’s just an impression, of course.

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Castorp 07.21.11 at 3:40 pm

@180

I think it is still possible to be influenced by economics, and especially its committment to non-zero sum thinking, and still be on the left, choosing the side of the working/middle classes.

Listen to J.S. Mill for a moment (from his Principles of Political Economy):

“Whatever mankind produce, must be produced in the modes and under the conditions imposed by the constitution of external things, and by the inherent properties of their own bodily and mental structure….
But it is not so with the Distribution of Wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively can do with them as they like….The rules by which it is determined are what the opinions and feelings of the ruling portion of the community make them, and are very different in different ages and countries; and might be still more different, if mankind so chose.”

The error as I see it, and I realize that those more committed to Marxism here won’t agree, is the left neo-liberals focus too much on redistributing income in an efficient mannter and not enough on changing the institutions and entrenching their like-minded allies in the “the ruling portion of the community” to make and sustain those changes.

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elm 07.21.11 at 3:53 pm

Catsorp @ 188

The error as I see it, and I realize that those more committed to Marxism here won’t agree, is the left neo-liberals focus too much on redistributing income in an efficient mannter and not enough on changing the institutions and entrenching their like-minded allies in the “the ruling portion of the community” to make and sustain those changes.

I’m a very poor Marxist, not at all familiar with his writing and not very familiar with his theory. I’d agree that your proposal (if it was workable) would make the neoliberal project less-flawed.

However, if you shift terms from income to influence or power, it’s difficult to see how your proposed solution can be made workable, viz. though the lower class lacks in income, it also lacks in influence. Entrenching neoliberal allies to exercise power on behalf of the lower class without also redistributing power/influence (I’m sure a proper Marxist could tell me which term to prefer here) to the lower class seems like a doomed project.

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Castorp 07.21.11 at 3:59 pm

“Entrenching neoliberal allies to exercise power on behalf of the lower class without also redistributing power/influence (I’m sure a proper Marxist could tell me which term to prefer here) to the lower class seems like a doomed project.”

I agree, that is what I meant to imply.

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Myles 07.21.11 at 4:11 pm

The error as I see it, and I realize that those more committed to Marxism here won’t agree, is the left neo-liberals focus too much on redistributing income in an efficient mannter and not enough on changing the institutions and entrenching their like-minded allies in the “the ruling portion of the community” to make and sustain those changes.

That’s just a lot of waffling. Look: people like Matt support a tax-and-redistribute regime because it is the most efficient. Efficiency and productivity matters. Efficiency and productivity are the chief determinant of human living standards.

What the left non-neoliberals (like you) are saying with this stuff is that “hey, the politics are important too! If we don’t get the politics right we won’t get the whole truckload of redistribution we want!” But Matt and others (like me) are saying “look, we might or might not get a certain distribution, but in the grand scheme of things it is better than ruining the economics by coming up with politically nice but economically suboptimal solutions, with economic optimality defined as maximum (social) efficiency and productivity. Hey, that’s what the Soviet Union/Cuba/postwar-Britain did, although not anywhere to the same degree! They spent all their days sitting around and figuring out the politics, and came up with shitty economics. In the end, both politics and economics ended up being shitty. In the long term, we get nothing out of deciding on economically suboptimal states just because they are more politically convenient; the material world, after all, forms the empirical constraints within which politics must operate.”

And that’s basically the thing here. Leftists don’t really believe that there are inter-temporal trade-offs, or if they do (that’s the more intelligent ones), believe that a bit of long-term economic welfare sacrifice is OK as long as the politics (i.e. egalitarianism) is better. Sure, then. But people like Matt (and me) do believe that there are serious trade-offs, and that we are better off taking Kaldor-Hicks improvements and generally pushing our economy from a Kaldor-Hicks to a Pareto situation than sacrificing serious parts of it to get more preferrable political outcomes in the present day. Leftists say, no, we want Pareto now, even if that means we don’t actually get Pareto or even Kaldor-Hicks.

Tied up with this is the literally retarded tendency of certain left-wingers to attribute the post-war economic boom in the U.S. to more egalitarian economic policy. (Yes, by all means let’s completely ignore the massively pent-up demand and forced savings during WWII and the economic prostration of America’s economic competitors when analyzing post-war economic performance.)

So it’s a pretty toxic mix, with leftists often believing that “hey, what have you got against having more of both apples and oranges? We got more economic growth and more egalitarianism when unions were actually powerful in America!” And Matt saying “well, a) this isn’t actually as real as you think, and b) to be honest, I don’t think it works the way you think it does.”

As a Liberal (capital L) of the Gladstone and Laurier persuasion, I am firmly with Matt. Let’s just do calculus here: integrate the sum of human welfare across time, and then see if non-Kaldor-Hicks but politically preferable outcomes (let’s just take the cozy Detroit automaker-autoworker postwar deal) are for real, better. And once you do the math, it doesn’t seem like it is, because in the long run, human welfare isn’t determined by politics or egalitarianism or income distribution or what have you, it’s determined by productivity and innovation. Human welfare, in the long term, is indifferent to present-day egalitarian goals.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.11 at 4:19 pm

Myles, what result do you think integrating the sum of human welfare across time would produce for Cuba?

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elm 07.21.11 at 4:31 pm

Myles: If I’m reading you right, the only goal should be to make the pie higher, is that correct? If you believe that efficiency is all that matters, then you and I are simply not on the same side.

Distribution of power matters. If I’m powerless then it’s my house that gets bulldozed when Kaldor & Hicks need to build a highway. If I have power, then maybe it doesn’t (or at least I can get compensation).

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Sebastian H 07.21.11 at 4:50 pm

Cuba was well on its way to being one of the best Latin American countries–Communism sidetracked that and destroyed it. Integrating the sum of human welfare across time, if Cuba had stayed some version of capitalist–even a relatively crony-capitalist, would have put Cubans well ahead of where they are now. Which is exactly the point about over-focusing on egalitarianism to the detriment of economic productivity.

Now the US is nowhere near the point of over-focusing on egalitarianism, so the Cuba example isn’t demonstrative against all/any discussion of any practical outcome in the near future of the US. But it certainly is an example of the bad that can happen when you let politics continually trump economics, not a counter-example.

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Myles 07.21.11 at 4:53 pm

Daily quota exceeded.

196

AndrewW 07.21.11 at 5:03 pm

In the whole of human history we’ve had roughly 125 years of pie-expanding productivity. Might be a bit early to suggest anything about the sustainability of that programme.

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Myles 07.21.11 at 5:17 pm

Daily quota exceeded yet again. Repeated breaches will result in heavier penalties.

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christian_h 07.21.11 at 5:29 pm

Does anyone have any idea what the hell Sebastian is talking about in regards to Cuba? What utter nonsense.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 5:44 pm

Myles: “. . . people like Matt support a tax-and-redistribute regime because it is the most efficient. Efficiency and productivity matters. Efficiency and productivity are the chief determinant of human living standards.”

People like Matt don’t know enough about economics to distinguish technical efficiency from allocative efficiency or know what policies support productivity. Their doctrine isn’t even a real ideology; it is just a cover story. They’re sure deregulation is great stuff, even if airline pilots end up paid less than bus drivers, and crash their planes, when they fall asleep from overwork. They’re sure financial deregulation is wonderful, even when local community banks and thrifts are replaced across the neighborhood with payday lenders charging 400% interest. Housing bubble? Ah, the madness of crowds, eh? (Surely, you don’t mean to suggest that the deterioration of underwriting was anything, but an honest error by bank executives, who failed to appreciate the limits of their fancy models? — black swans and all that!)

What’s the intertemporal tradeoff in the U.S. financialization making a dustbowl out of midwest manufacturing? What’s the intertemporal tradeoff in the U.S. rate of medical bankruptcy? What’s the intertemporal tradeoff in saddling college and graduate students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, which, by law, can not be discharged in bankruptcy? Is debt peonage pareto efficient?

Sebastian H: “Cuba was well on its way to being one of the best Latin American countries—Communism sidetracked that and destroyed it.”

I’ve read Brad DeLong pushing that line. Because a kleptocratic dictator outsourcing the national economy to the Sicilian Mafia is such a brilliant development strategy that it was bound to succeed after just a few more years. The Batista literacy program was still in its development phase, but it had great promise, and the price of sugar and tobacco was bound to rise, in the best of all possible worlds.

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Hidari 07.21.11 at 5:53 pm

‘Sebastian H: “Cuba was well on its way to being one of the best Latin American countries—Communism sidetracked that and destroyed it.”’

Yes I mean you just have to compare Cuba with all the countries which surround it. Like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Shining examples of economic success in every respect.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.11 at 5:54 pm

Yeah, weird. Cuba consistently beats Jamaica and Dominican Republic (not to mention Haiti) for all the usual basic indicators: life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy rate, etc. How exactly do you propose integrating that sum of human welfare?

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AndrewW 07.21.11 at 6:00 pm

I might be okay with my standard of living dropping if it meant other exceedingly poor parts of the world could get in the boat to enjoy the rising of the tide. But that’s not what’s happening at all in this. Whatever productivity might be increasing, its benefits aren’t accruing to anyone but the ultra-rich.

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roac 07.21.11 at 6:28 pm

I might be okay with my standard of living dropping if it meant other exceedingly poor parts of the world could get in the boat to enjoy the rising of the tide. But that’s not what’s happening at all in this. Whatever productivity might be increasing, its benefits aren’t accruing to anyone but the ultra-rich.

Everything I have ever read about modern China suggests that this is not true.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 6:47 pm

I see Lane Kenworthy takes the neo-liberal policy entrepreneur’s position of naive pragmatism: “If your favored programs work well, people will like them.” [Who needs a labor movement?]

The point of my rant, in case anyone missed it, isn’t just that neo-liberals teach an insipid and unrealistic economics. It is that in the political contention of rich v. poor, the poor have numbers, but lack organization. They have to have an idea about how politics can deliver the economic goods to them. It is not enough for an elite of policy entrepreneurs at think-tanks to have ideas, which they can discuss with their pseudo-academic colleagues. The voting public has to have a minimally sophisticated idea of what politics is about, and the voting public consists mostly of people, who mostly don’t pay much attention to politics, and don’t know what to think, or who to trust. They are, in politics, natural followers.
I strongly recommend Robert Altemeyer’s work on the social psychology of political attitudes and what he calls, authoritarian followers. Those are the people, the Left, to be successful, has to serve, and to serve them, must motivate and organize them politically. They are the ones, who will not understand the economics of politics, but their resentments and anxious egalitarianism are available to demagogues of any inclination.
It is the followers, who need populist appeals and need to identify with their politics. They are the ones for whom political solidarity is the sine qua non of politics. They need membership organizations and leaders they trust. And, that requires social organization (aka, personal identification with the purposes of social organization).
Unions have been highly successful in the past, as a basis for left politics, because they can marshal the support of a lot of people, who naturally have the political attitudes, which Altemeyer calls, “right-wing authoritarian followers” (where “right-wing” is given a psychological definition, unrelated to political philosophy). And, unions carry with them a concrete economic idea of politics.
The big problems with the Left in the U.S. is that, despite runaway economic predation by the Rich, which makes the majority of people angry and unhappy with the course of the country, most people in the bottom 80% of the income distribution have little or no concrete idea about how, exactly, government policy and institutions affect their incomes.

205

Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 6:49 pm

roac: Everything I have ever read about modern China suggests that this is not true.

Read this:
http://www.dailytech.com/Foxconn+Installs+AntiSuicide+Nets+at+Its+Facilities/article18877.htm

206

SamChevre 07.21.11 at 7:15 pm

What’s the intertemporal tradeoff in the U.S. financialization making a dustbowl out of midwest manufacturing?

That Taiwan and Japan are now first-world nations, and China and India are not likely to have a famine any time soon?

207

dbk 07.21.11 at 7:19 pm

For those still following this thread: Mark Thoma picked up a post by Lane Kenworthy, which has now been picked up on nakedcapitalism (links for 21/7). Henry’s comment on Kenworthy’s post suggests he is in agreement with its conclusions, which are basically that given the absence of a strong labor movement in the U.S. (and not only), the best policies that can be expected most times are incremental ones – the politics of what is possible, not what is ideal.

Obviously a reframing of older (progressive, union-based) arguments that supported the Democratic Party in the U.S. throughout part of the 20th century is needed. One of the commenters suggested that the Dems need to acknowledge that they are essentially the party of “women and minorities”. As initially disheartening as it sounds, there may be something in this, given that (white) women and minorities (men and women) tend to be more economically disadvantaged and consequently, politically disempowered. Perhaps Democrats should rebrand themselves as the party of the economically disadvantaged (the poor) and politically disempowered – gosh, I thought that’s what they were through much of the party’s history.

If one sides with the poor and powerless, then there tend to be policies one supports; it’s a fairly consistent list, at least for an old-style liberal (progressive taxation, redistribution programs of the monies captured to public goods like health, education, infrastructure, well-being). A 21st c. new-style old-style liberal will also tend to hold certain views on the commons, e.g. on climate change, on sustainability of natural resources, and on who should bear the cost for their exploitation (e.g. for the consequences of fracking, mountain top removal, nuclear meltdowns, etc.).

Globalized financialized capitalism as it operates today has no politics or national allegiances whatsoever. Its goal, which remains the same as it always was (the accumulation of wealth), is fully decoupled from the liberal humanism from which it emerged. One can’t expect capitalism to watch over itself, given its absence of political/national loyalties. An old-style liberal will likely feel that global capitalism needs a great deal of watching/regulation/”re-adjusting”. On the basis of the comment thread, I imagine neoliberals would tend to believe that it required some but not too much watching. IMHO, not too much watching is proving harmful to large segments of the U.S. (and world) population.

208

elm 07.21.11 at 7:23 pm

With regards to Cuba: Are we supposed to ignore the nearly 50 year long trade embargo against Cuba?

If pie-enlargement, human welfare, economic efficiency, and free-trade (apparently, these are all one and the same) are the goals of neo-liberalism, surely it must oppose this embargo completely.

209

AndrewW 07.21.11 at 7:27 pm

@206
Improvements in living standards of those in the East were mutually exclusive of the success of GM? I’ve not read literature to that effect. Do you have any recommendations? (a genuine, non-flippant request–I’ve never read a crystallization of that argument, only hints here and there).

210

elm 07.21.11 at 7:29 pm

On the second part of my #208, it appears that both Yglesias and DeLong do oppose the embargo against Cuba, and I give them credit for that.

211

Sebastian H 07.21.11 at 7:37 pm

“Yes I mean you just have to compare Cuba with all the countries which surround it. Like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Shining examples of economic success in every respect.”

Cuba was already well above Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. You should be comparing it to its 1950s peers–for example Mexico and Chile. Both are actually interesting to compare it to, because neither had smooth rides (and Mexico’s US induced drug lord problems are a recent disaster).

212

Sebastian H 07.21.11 at 7:41 pm

“With regards to Cuba: Are we supposed to ignore the nearly 50 year long trade embargo against Cuba?”

I’m pretty sure both Yglesias and DeLong and almost all of the neoliberal people I can think of are against the embargo. Though the embargo isn’t actually hurting Cuba itself much, as it isn’t a trade blockade (the USSR traded plenty with Cuba back in the Communist era and the EU trades plenty with Cuba now). The existence of the embargo can be traced back to populist collective action politics. Which rather supports the neo-liberal skepticism about populism, right?

213

Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 7:47 pm

dbk: Globalized financialized capitalism as it operates today has no politics . . .

! It seems to me that the problem in the U.S. is that globalized financialized capitalism has all the politics, which remains.

Unions, nationalism, the professions, local business: none has significant representation in running the Federal government. The Democratic Party has lost its union base, as de-regulation of transportation and communication and globalization/financialization has wiped out unionized business. But, the same processes wiped out the Main Street business base of the Republican Party, which gave us Bob Dole and Bob Michel, back in the day.

214

SamChevre 07.21.11 at 7:56 pm

Improvements in living standards of those in the East were mutually exclusive of the success of GM? I’ve not read literature to that effect. Do you have any recommendations?

I don’t have any recommendations, and would also like them. Fundamentally, though, I’d say the movement of low-skill manufacturing out of the Midwest and Northeast, into the South, and out of the US into Japan/Taiwan/Mexico, and it’s now leaving those countries and going to China and India, seems to have been bad for the established working class in the countries where that manufacturing left, and to have greatly helped the overall living standards in the countries to which the jobs went.

215

john c. halasz 07.21.11 at 8:00 pm

216

AndrewW 07.21.11 at 8:01 pm

214

That’s pretty indisputable–capital chases itself over the face of the globe. Too bad organizing and a mandatory minimum wage apparently have no such dispensation.

217

Castorp 07.21.11 at 8:04 pm

@215

Yeah I just heard that and thought of this convo. Republicans seem to have a theory of politics.

218

Sebastian (2) 07.21.11 at 8:08 pm

Does anyone have a good name suggestion for the Cuba equivalent of Godwyn’s law?
“Any discussion about the left will at some point inevitably turn to a pointless debate about Cuba.”
(or so).

219

roger 07.21.11 at 8:09 pm

Bruce, I agree with you in #204 except in your labeling of this as pragmatic.
It isn’t pragmatic. Pragmatism has a firm sense of wholes in which we operate. William James’ opposition to the Philippines war was, I think, an example of pragmatic thinking – that is, thinking about trends, contexts, and the way that interests develop institutionally. Dewey, of course, went on about this at great length.

I can’t reconcile the idea that you have to be “pragmatic” and compromise with “political reality”, and at the same time put your faith in technocratic solutions. In fact, as one has to compromise with ‘political reality”, you have already admitted that your technocratic solutions will be full of improvisation and interest tending from the very beginning. So it strikes me that the neo-liberals have things backwards: pragmatically, you need to create ‘political reality” in order to even have a ghost of a chance of creating ‘solutions’. And, pragmatically, you understand that solutions are always being revised. One hundred fifty years ago, the solution to disease in urban areas was for the state to use its leverage and put in clean water and sewage facilities. This worked well all across the world, from Merida, Yucatan, to New York City. And now in certain third world areas of the U.S. – West Virginia, for instance – it has fallen apart. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/us/13water.html?pagewanted=all. The question is: why is this happening in the richest country in the world? And this has to bring us back to wealth, cultural values, the media, etc. – the booming buzzing confusion in which all solutions are always going to be interest tending and temporary.
Pragmatically, the old solutions become unviable not because the science of nutrition and disease have changed, but because the social context of power has changed. This is one of the reasons a left inclined liberal finds the neo-liberals so tiresome – by refusing to acknowledge the greater social context and the determinants of power, but instead concentrating on an atomistic view of a world of problems and ‘nudges”, they find continually that their solutions blow up in their face – and their tendency is then to blame the ‘people’ for whom they have convinced themselves that they have been working.
This isn’t pragmatism.

220

Cranky Observer 07.21.11 at 8:22 pm

> Sam Chevre @214
> I don’t have any recommendations, and would also like them.
> Fundamentally, though, I’d say the movement of low-skill
> manufacturing out of the Midwest and Northeast, into the
> South, and out of the US into Japan/Taiwan/Mexico, and it’s
> now leaving those countries and going to China and India,
> seems to have been bad for the established working class in
> the countries where that manufacturing left, and to have
> greatly helped the overall living standards in the countries
> to which the jobs went.

And it is an excellent example in support of neoliberalism, because intense and immense Marshall-plan efforts were undertaken to compensate the citizens and communities of the Rust Belt using fair slices from the increased, more optimal pie.

Oh wait…

Cranky

221

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.11 at 8:24 pm

How is it pointless? It’s very much relevant to Myles’ point about integrating the sum. Here’s a quote by John F Kennedy (of all people): “there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime.” So, at least that one liberal didn’t believe that it was, in a very important sense, “already well above Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti”.

222

Henry 07.21.11 at 8:32 pm

bq. For those still following this thread: Mark Thoma picked up a post by Lane Kenworthy, which has now been picked up on nakedcapitalism (links for 21/7). Henry’s comment on Kenworthy’s post suggests he is in agreement with its conclusions, which are basically that given the absence of a strong labor movement in the U.S. (and not only), the best policies that can be expected most times are incremental ones – the politics of what is possible, not what is ideal.

I’m not sure that I’m in agreement – but I think it’s (very unsurprisingly) a thoughtful and interesting statement of its case. I hope to write a follow-up post but not until next week, probably, and am also writing a grant application which is morphing, thanks to this discussion, into something that would provide an alternative approach to thinking about the relevant politics.

223

shah8 07.21.11 at 8:54 pm

I don’t really think labor is crucial to getting large gains. All I’ve ever read about historical social change is that it’s a generally elite driven aspect. It takes resources to bring change. A lot of it.

*Large* social change is driven by warfare and tense, multipolar geopolitics that forces elites to educate and bargain with their lessers, usually with privileges and civil rights.

In part, I owe my freedom to Uncle Joe. Not that he gave damn.

224

Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 9:04 pm

I wasn’t endorsing Kenworthy’s “pragmatism” when I called it naive. I think it is politically stupid, as well as frequently, economically ill-advised.
I would extend your remarks about the changing “social context of power”.

Only one interest is represented now in American politics — the interest of the corporate executive class and their uber-wealthy allies, and the result is a politics, which is increasingly authoritarian in substance, if not always style. The Neo-Liberals are the nice authoritarians, who feel your pain, but don’t (admit that they sadistically) enjoy it.

Liberalism, by its Whiggish nature, tends to be establishmentarian, incrementalist, reformist. Historically, it was successful, where it could exploit conflict — particularly conflict among elite factions — by threatening to make an appeal for mass popular support, and where it exploited its brief moments of power, to make big institutional changes. The Whig paranoia of the 17th century gave birth to a political philosophy with a rich, non-utopian appreciation for the potential to develop and design political and economic institutions.
In neo-liberalism, fealty to those traditional tendencies perversely disguise a reactionary, preservationist program, and a hostility to institutions, let alone institution-building. The neo-liberal makes mass popular appeals, designed to short-circuit reform (see Obama on financial reform and consumer protection) and to destroy institutions (see Obama on Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid).
The liberal needs real political conflict in politics, and needs the potential for appeals to an informed mass public opinion. The neo-liberal, by contrast, loves the politics of Versailles and the absolute monarch.

225

Sebastian H 07.21.11 at 9:14 pm

“So, at least that one liberal didn’t believe that it was, in a very important sense, “already well above Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti”.”

Well as an exercise in taking political rhetoric and pretending it was empirical fact, that’s freaking brilliant. JFK was trying to cover his noticeably exposed ass over the Bay of Pigs and come up with a reason to retreat from the position that Castro should be overthrown after JFK failed at such attempts.

The idea that Cuba wasn’t well above Jamaica, the Dominican Repbulic and Haiti, in the 1950s is pretty difficult to defend. If YOU would like to defend it, instead of pretending that JFK did, have at it. But of course you won’t, because frankly you’d look ridiculous. As such, comparing them to Cuba now, is similarly ridiculous.

If you compare Cuba to its actual peers, it doesn’t come out great, taking it from “one of the better Latin American countries” to “better than Haiti, the Dominican Repbulic and Jamaica” isn’t thrilling. But its actual peers have had some serious bumps in the road too (though still doing better than Cuba).

226

Hidari 07.21.11 at 9:24 pm

‘Cuba was already well above Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. You should be comparing it to its 1950s peers—for example Mexico and Chile.’

OK I’m going to regret this but some numbers here please? Preferably numbers that have some kind of meaning and relationship to reality.

227

shah8 07.21.11 at 9:28 pm

The countries that are doing better than Cuba relative to 1950 have had resource booms that requires a great deal of fixed investment and educated personnel.

Bruce Wilder, deliberately confusing the likes of Richard Cobden with Otto von Bismark is not helpful.

228

Bill Barnes 07.21.11 at 9:34 pm

Not only does Cuba have far better human development numbers than almost all of the Third World, it is also far better at dealing with “natural disasters” — which will increasingly engulf and destroy most of the societies of that world (if not the whole world – you guys really need to be talking about climate change) over the course of this century. Cuba probably would have done better in some important ways with a different kind of revolution, but without any revolution at all, there is no reason to believe they would now be any better off than, say, El Salvador, or the Dominican Republic (where the poor are much worse off). An even more striking alternative to orthodox capitalist “development” is the state of Kerala in India – 30 million people with excellent human development numbers despite almost everyone being poor by our standards — governed for most of the last 50 years by a democratically elected (and repeatedly re-elected) Communist Party. (Which reminds me, as to a much earlier question re whether anyone could think of an instance of a revolution over-throwing a state and producing a democracy – and no one could — the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua overthrew a capitalist despot and for a year or two or three built half-a-democracy, then went increasingly wrong under the pressure of counter-revolutionary war, eventually giving way to what passed for a capitalist democracy under which what was left of the accomplishments of the first years of the revolution decayed away and Nicaragua became one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, at the same time as Managua sprouted elaborate shopping malls and luxury hotels — only to return Daniel Ortega to power via free election in 2006 — as a corrupt left-wing populist caudillo.)

229

Sebastian (2) 07.21.11 at 9:36 pm

I have no position on what these numbers mean, but here the 1955 GDP/cap for the five countries mentioned (from Madison’s historical GDP data – the Penn tables don’t have Cuba until 1970) in 1990 dollars.
Chile: 3975
Cuba: 2005
Dom Rep: 1183
Jamaica: 2020
Mexico: 2740

My last word on Cuba.

230

Bruce Wilder 07.21.11 at 9:45 pm

@227: “. . . confusing the likes of Richard Cobden with Otto von Bismark . . .”

I’m pretty sure Bismarck was not a liberal. Cobden managed to get the Corn Laws repealed, no? Bismarck, a Junker, had the opposing interest at heart. What does that have to do with my comment?

231

Asteele 07.21.11 at 9:52 pm

I’m willing to be corrected, but as far as I can tell Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic all had similar GDP per capita’s in 1950 (around $2,000 in 2005 dollars). Chile was about twice as wealthy per capita at the time.

232

shah8 07.21.11 at 9:54 pm

Actual neoliberals=/sane reactionaries

You’ve been painting a picture of Bismark, man, not Lvov, or even Stolypin.

233

dbk 07.21.11 at 10:04 pm

@213
“! It seems to me that the problem in the U.S. is that globalized financialized capitalism has all the politics, which remains.”

Hmm. I can see your point, but have difficulty associating the purchase of politics (politicians, legislators, and the judiciary) with nation-state goals as traditionally conceived. Perhaps allegiance to the goals of financialized capitalism is a sui generis form of politics (core belief: Kapital ueber Alles) which must be imposed at local, regional (state), and national levels to achieve its ultimately global objectives.

234

AndrewW 07.21.11 at 11:04 pm

235

Joe Barnes 07.21.11 at 11:29 pm

Look, the neo-liberal bottom line is pretty simple: a) allow markets to work as effeciently as possible and then b) transfer income through the tax code and provision of public goods. The problem: we handle a) pretty well but somehow never manage to get to b). The reason: conservatives are delighted to join neo-liberals in pushing a) but draw the line at b). In many ways, neo-liberals are the “useful idiots” of the conservative ascendency.

236

dictateursanguinaire 07.22.11 at 2:37 pm

If pie-enlargement, human welfare, economic efficiency, and free-trade (apparently, these are all one and the same) are the goals of neo-liberalism, surely it must oppose this embargo completely.

Man, we’ve already had this exact argument, in which certain neoliberals on this forum (who vacillate between being dissidents and just being trolls [no names]) decided that supporting an end to the embargo was equivalent to supporting Castro (http://crookedtimber.org/2011/05/24/brad-de-long-writes-something-condescending/#comment-361130).

As Henry later said on the forum, “We don’t really want Crooked Timber’s comments sections to become the ‘let’s disagree with the most recent silly thing that Myles has said ’ club”

237

dictateursanguinaire 07.22.11 at 2:38 pm

I should clarify, the first paragraph of that comment should have been in quotation marks.

238

elm 07.22.11 at 6:25 pm

dictateursanguinaire @ 236

After I educated myself about what DeLong & Yglesias have actually written regarding Cuba (they advocate policies I agree with but don’t seem to have a plan to enact them), I accept that I should have looked before I posted and agree that pursuing that line isn’t productive.

I also agree completely with Henry’s sentiment and believe I’ve made similar observations.

239

SamChevre 07.22.11 at 7:04 pm

Look, the neo-liberal bottom line is pretty simple: a) allow markets to work as effeciently as possible and then b) transfer income through the tax code and provision of public goods. The problem: we handle a) pretty well but somehow never manage to get to b).

Huh? It seems like provision of public goods both direct (cash and specific services) and indirect (regulation) has increased quite dramatically in the last generation. (Medicaid and Medicare for the first category (per the CMS, they go from 35% to 50% of health care expenditures, 3% to 6% of GDP) , and environmental regulations and disability access regulations for the second, are some of the most widespread and dramatic examples.)

240

SamChevre 07.22.11 at 7:05 pm

CMS data link here

The time period for the above figures is from 1980 to 2010.

241

Andrew F. 07.23.11 at 2:20 pm

I think Henry has an interesting and persuasive general thesis, but I’d like to see it applied to a specific case.

The general thesis as I understand it is:

(1) Certain policies cause the accretion/loss of political power for different interest groups;
(2) After a certain point, the difference in power among interest groups that results from the process described in (1) will allow the more powerful groups to effect policies opposed by neoliberals;
(3) To prevent (2), neoliberals must account for the effects of their preferred policies on the political power of various interest groups;
(4) To the extent neoliberals do not perform (3), they lack a good theory of politics and suffer from a narrowed view of policy.

That’s a strong argument from an analytic perspective. Are there good empirical cases where it can be applied? What are those cases?

242

Myles 07.23.11 at 7:46 pm

People like Matt don’t know enough about economics to distinguish technical efficiency from allocative efficiency or know what policies support productivity.

Matt took econ with Greg Mankiw (I think). He knows the difference between technical and allocative efficiencies perfectly well, so there’s no point in your making stuff up. Try to actually read his blog sometime.

It’s very much relevant to Myles’ point about integrating the sum.

I’m starting to think the whole debate actually revolves around the technical point of discount rates. The rise of neoliberalism is actually concurrent with the discovery that discount rates in a lot of things are lower than we traditionally thought, and thus that a great deal of intertemporal trade-offs don’t make sense anymore.

243

john c. halasz 07.23.11 at 8:16 pm

“The rise of neoliberalism is actually concurrent with the discovery that discount rates in a lot of things are lower than we traditionally thought, and thus that a great deal of intertemporal trade-offs don’t make sense anymore.”

Myles! He so funny.

244

Bruce Wilder 07.24.11 at 2:55 am

AndrewF @241: “Are there good empirical cases where it can be applied? What are those cases?”

Isn’t part of Henry’s thesis that we are living the case?

Neo-liberals collaborated/competed with libertarian-conservatives in dismantling the New Deal/WWII liberal order (an institutional order), and they did not know what they were doing, in the sense that they did not anticipate the extent to which their reforms would create the plutocratic institutional order, which now prevents them from achieving any of their presumed desiderata.

I’ve just read through the whole thread a second time, and part of the previous thread (which is still active) and I understand many comments much better, particularly those of shah8, who, @22, wrote: “a theory of politics is more important for revolutionaries, [than] for reformers, who already act out the extant theory of politics. Theories of politics are for organizing [large] groups of people, not for deciding who necessarily wins or what policies get enacted.”

I would say it slightly differently, introducing the term, “institutions”: reformers act out of the extant institutional order.

Political society is organic, and institutional entropy is as inevitable a process as aging. Neo-liberals and libertarian-conservatives were competing to rationalize the management of that entropy, that aging. Viewed in that way, much of what neo-liberals did, say, in the Clinton Administration, looks, basically, pretty rational and sensible, (at least compared to Reagan’s program of disinvestment and doubling-down on cheap oil, aka Morning in America): sort of like prescribing improved diet and moderate exercise for a man entering middle-age, and recovering from an ill-advised mid-life binge.

I’m inclined to attribute a lot to the ignorance of neo-classical economics concerning economic institutions. The decay of the 1930s financial structure, for example, was inevitable, as institutional entropy is inevitable; some kind thorough-going reform and restructuring was becoming inevitable by 1980. Neo-liberals bungled the job, but not because of a faulty theory of politics; the problem was that they promoted technocrats to do the design, who had a faulty theory of economics. And, they were competing/collaborating with libertarian-conservatives, whose economics was, if anything, even more degenerate.

Be that as it may, I think I understand better the incipient rift on the Left, which separates those, who would trudge onward, quixotically attempting to reform the plutocrat’s emerging neo-feudal order, and those, who would prepare for a dark age. When we start talking theories of politics, we are really admitting our powerlessness, within the existing institutional structure.

245

john c. halasz 07.24.11 at 8:23 am

Umm… B.W., what I’ve found remarkably lacking from this thread and related discussions is the failure to recognize that “financialization” and “globalization” waltz together, hand-in-hand. That means that corporate power, having become increasingly “extra-territorial”, has correspondingly weakened the regulatory powers of (national) government(s). And then perversely colonized them. The diminishment of public-political power is almost an after-thought or epiphenomenon to the gradual/emergent restructurings of corporate power that “neo-liberalism” both abets and articulates. (I think the break-down of Bretton Woods is the place to start the retrospective discussion here). So it’s not just a matter of the decay or entropy of institutional orders, but rather of their deliberate re-organization. And the deliberate neglect of that institutional dimension,- (“shock therapy” in Russia!),- is not just a sin of omission, but also a sin of commission. It’s part of how “neo-liberalism” works: a deliberate oversight.

246

Andrew F. 07.24.11 at 10:53 am

Bruce Wilder @244: Isn’t part of Henry’s thesis that we are living the case?

Neo-liberals collaborated/competed with libertarian-conservatives in dismantling the New Deal/WWII liberal order (an institutional order), and they did not know what they were doing, in the sense that they did not anticipate the extent to which their reforms would create the plutocratic institutional order, which now prevents them from achieving any of their presumed desiderata.

I don’t see where that particular empirical case is made.

Let’s be specific.

What policies desired by neoliberals have been made politically imposssible by the effects of previous policies desired by neoliberals?

247

Robert 07.24.11 at 4:31 pm

“Matt took econ with Greg Mankiw (I think)…”

Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein are propagandists , not teachers. Matt Y. does not understand economics.

248

Kevin Donoghue 07.24.11 at 4:53 pm

I presume the claim that Mankiw taught Yglesias is simply an invention? AFAIK he taught himself economics, mostly by reading economics blogs.

249

john c. halasz 07.24.11 at 9:13 pm

@ 246:

“What policies desired by neoliberals have been made politically imposssible by the effects of previous policies desired by neoliberals?”

Well, how about the pursuit of “free trade” pacts, which led to further waves of de-industrialization, burgeoning CA deficits, stagnant incomes for the broad working class, and their entrapment in mounting debt loads, resulting in crisis, followed by demands for “fiscal consolidation” and still further privatization of public assets and functions. Is that not “empirical” enough for you?

But then the whole premise of these threads is slightly off. Neo-liberals are not on the left or “progressives”. They’re center-right. Or as one prominent exponent put it, rather comically, “Dewey-Eisenhower-Rockefeller social democrats”.

250

Myles 07.24.11 at 10:13 pm

I presume the claim that Mankiw taught Yglesias is simply an invention? AFAIK he taught himself economics, mostly by reading economics blogs.

I think he took econ at Harvard? (Intro at Harvard is taught, and taught very well indeed, by Mankiw, who’s widely regarded as a fastidious prof.

Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein are propagandists , not teachers. Matt Y. does not understand economics.

If Mankiw is a mere propagandist, then you must be a mere idiot. Mankiw is a first-rate New Keynesian economist.

251

shah8 07.24.11 at 10:40 pm

No, *this* is what bugs me about threads like this.

Al Gore is a neoliberal. Paul Krugman is originally from the right of Obama. Carbon taxes and carbon credits, like the original Clinton BTU plan is classic neoliberalism. The deregulation efforts by the Carter Admin are neoliberal plans.

Then we have the studied, casual, and maybe deliberate confusion of technocratic governance with liberal/neoliberal political orientation. However, doing that is not illuminative of anything and elides serious critical analysis of liberal technocrats such as the elder Galbraith or Patrick Moynihan.

252

bianca steele 07.25.11 at 12:16 am

Moynihan?

253

Bruce Wilder 07.25.11 at 1:45 am

@245: ““financialization” and “globalization” waltz together, hand-in-hand. That means that corporate power, having become increasingly “extra-territorial”, has correspondingly weakened the regulatory powers”

I am not a fan of making the concept of “corporate power” a Greek God riding on a deus-ex-machina of extra-territoriality to weaken the regulatory state, but I guess I know you well enough to excuse that phrasing as a stylistic error. The specific mechanisms by which supra-national bodies of technocrats take over regulation, and weaken democratic government are worth exposing. And, the fact that many of those technocrats are card-carrying neo-liberals is not, I think, an accident.
Henry’s hypothesis is that neo-liberals lack a theory of politics.
My thesis would be that neo-liberals lack a theory of economic institutions.
I thought the exchange with DeLong in the previous thread may have been illuminating, when DeLong seemed to reject the idea of balancing conflict and power, as “not how things work”. The neo-liberals do seem to have some very weak idea of institutions, often expressed in solemn prescriptions (see, e.g., the “Washington Consensus”) that turn out to have operational expressions that allow the powerful to exploit the powerless.
Certainly, what I observe in the American economy is an evolution away from institutions, which try to organize balanced conflict and process it rationally (collective bargaining over wages and working conditions; class-action lawsuits; utility regulation by public commission), toward an authoritarian arrangement (bankruptcy cannot touch a student load or cram-down a first mortgage on a primary residence [but cramdown on a second home, a-ok -- what does that tell you?]. Is there an implicit bias in neo-liberalism, which favors this kind of one-sideness? I know the neo-liberals on “free trade” never want labor protections, at home or, especially, abroad. Brad DeLong is pro-labor, when he’s talking about Herbert Hoover, but when it is union leaders being murdered in Columbia, he doesn’t see why such issues should stand in the way of even the de minimus gains of a free-trade agreement with Columbia.
“Bretton Woods II”, the Basel Accords on banking regulation, the “design” of the Euro are all pertinant examples, along with the experience of the housing bubble across the global, and the global financial crisis, which ought to let us question the basic competence of the neo-liberal technocrats. The collapse of the original Bretton Woods got us Mundell-Fleming; feel the insight!

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Bruce Wilder 07.25.11 at 2:04 am

Andrew F. @246: “Let’s be specific.”

I don’t want to be putting words into Henry’s mouth, but I suppose I read into his thesis a reference to neo-liberal advocacy of de-regulation of transportation, beginning in the Carter Administration, and the subsequent decline of transportation sector Unions, which had been mainstays of the Democratic Party. And, similarly, neo-liberal advocacy for free-trade measures like NAFTA and for China’s pegging of its currency to the dollar at a low-rate, which hurt industrial unions and workers in the Midwest — another traditional constituency for liberal or progressive economic policy.
To the extent that a “left neo-liberal” in Henry’s phrase wanted economic policy to favor the interests of wage-earners and the relatively poor, I suppose you could argue that transportation de-regulation and increasing international trade contributed to improved welfare through lower prices and increased quality and variety. Certainly, clothing got noticeably better and cheaper in the 1990s, and the quality of automobiles improved. But, it also pretty much destroyed organized labor as a political force, and contributed to the stagnation of wages. Labor unions might have once been potent advocates on financial regulation, but now . . . they’re gone.

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Tony Lynch 07.25.11 at 3:49 am

Left Neoliberal: dfn: Someone who proves that talk is cheap.

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Bruce Wilder 07.25.11 at 4:33 am

shah8: “deliberate confusion of technocratic governance with liberal/neoliberal political orientation”

I don’t think it is confusion; I think it is an important coincidence to note. In the American political context, “liberal”, like “conservative” or “moderate” may be a vague, popular political identifier: any one on the street might identify herself as a “liberal”. But, “neo-liberal” as a label, applies primarily to a much smaller and professional political caste of would-be policy advisors, policy entrepreneurs, academics, pundits with a policy orientation, and would-be technocrats.
Neo-liberals are pretty much center-right, with respect to the political spectrum of the larger world, but neo-liberals are locked into a stylized conversation or dialectic with their libertarian-conservative counterparts, who are also technocrats, policy entrepreneurs at think-tanks, academics and pundits with a policy orientation. Brad DeLong seeks a dialog with Greg Mankiw; Mark Thoma links to Tyler Cowen or Bruce Bartlett, etc. In that conversation, the neo-liberals are the left, they are the Democrats, while the libertarian-conservatives are the Republican, and the right. Even when they scorn the other’s point of view, or reasoning or factual claims, they legitimate each other as spokesman of left and right, they legitimate the bounds of the discussion, and they legitimate their common frame of reference: a largely institution-less “free” market where competition for profit “naturally” achieves efficiency.

The policy projects and achievements, which we have been somewhat vaguely attributing to neo-liberals, have actually been a joint product of neo-liberals and libertarian-conservatives. The policy spectrum that puts the neo-liberals on the left is more an expression of ambivalence than a difference of intent or ultimate objectives. Go back and look up what some of the prominent econblogs said about Ben Bernanke’s re-appointment by Obama as Fed Chair, and you’ll see just how clubby and unserious they really are, about partisan policy differences, and how uninterested they are, in a submitting their own persons or ideas to referendum or popular scrutiny.
For a neo-liberal to get caught up in an exchange to his left is a challenge to the guild game.

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Steve LaBonne 07.25.11 at 12:45 pm

I just wanted to say that Bruce Wilder’s comments are very illuminating and make the whole thread worthwhile.

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Andrew F. 07.25.11 at 12:50 pm

Bruce, so it sounds like in the particular case you’re presenting, the causal story is neoliberal free trade policies -> weakens American unions -> weakens political feasibility of neoliberals’ desired financial regulation.

One problem – and its a problem with the general thesis as well – is that neoliberal is so vague that it may or may not actually fit here. The financial reform achieved largely fits what some neoliberals wanted to achieve, even while it may not fit what other neoliberals wanted to achieve.

A second problem is that I don’t see unions as having much interest – aside from the interest we all have in the public – in how credit default swaps are traded, whether proprietary trading is allowed, broader authority to take over firms on the verge of failing that pose systemic risk, and so forth.

Robert, Mankiw is certainly not a “propagandist.”

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engels 07.25.11 at 1:07 pm

Some of the students I had at Harvard have described Mankiw’s course to me during private conversations as “massive conservative propaganda.” One of them told me that he thought that Mankiw manages to “indoctrinate a whole generation.” In 2003, a protest against a similar course then proposed by professor Marty Feldstein, an ex-adviser to President Reagan, led to the creation of an alternative intro economics course, taught by radical economist Steve Marglin. But while Mankiw’s course gives the required credits to students, Marglin’s does not. As a result, Mankiw has around 800 students, and Marglin 100. Not to mention the more than 100,000 students around the globe who learn from Mankiw’s textbook.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.25.11 at 2:14 pm

Myles: “I think [Yglesias] took econ at Harvard?”

I’ve never seen anyone else make that claim. But he could have studied dentistry for all I know. In any case, I think Robert is wrong to disparage him on such grounds. There’s nothing wrong with being self-taught, or being taught by Greg Mankiw for that matter.

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SamChevre 07.25.11 at 2:36 pm

I’ve tended to say that “neo” in both neo-liberal and neo-conservative could be accurately replaced by “technocratic.”

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Walt 07.25.11 at 3:13 pm

I can see that for “neo-liberal”, but is “neo-conservative” all that technocratic? I thought it was more of a hawkish foreign policy stance coupled with a relative indifference to culture-war issues.

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hartal 07.25.11 at 3:37 pm

Why do Marxists oppose technocratic Keynesianism?

I thought the answer was obvious: since Keynesianism frames our understanding of convulsive downturns in a such a way that people are led to believe that the state action can remedy them, it discourages workers from taking advantage of a moment objectively propitious for revolutionary decisions, a moment that will pass only to return at some uncertain time.

Bourgeois intellectuals, anxious about huge losses to their portfolio,
desperately want the economy fixed as measured in the recovery of their
portfolios and society politically stabilized so that their lifestyles
remain secure.

In a downturn the causes of which they don’t really understand, they clutch
at straws, claiming that the stabilization of the price level will set
things straight or that a moderate inflation target will get us rolling
again or that fiscal policy can pump prime the economy. So desperate are
they for a lasting recovery of their portfolios and the political
de-activation of the population, they remain blind to how their proposals
could possibly work: an inflation target for example could export
unemployment via a devaluation of the home currency and radically reduce
real wages all-around for a small boost in the employment to population
ratio.

They promise that once capitalism is stabilized, the workers (or at least
their grandchildren) will enjoy a paradise of creative leisure time in a
generation or two so that there is no reason for radical politics today.

Some on the left think that redistribution of income would increase spending
and raise aggregate demand, and that redistribution is not only compatible
with the capitalist system but also a fillip to profit making in absolute
terms over the long term. They too believe that capitalism can be
stabilized.

When their ideas are rejected by financial and business leaders, and when
it’s not clear that the policies would work in any way and are thus not
adopted, the Keynesians speak of the inertial weight of zombie ideas and
fall into pessimism and outrage.

That’s how a Marxist would see it; but there is of course no more alienated
position from which to see society today. There are no real alternatives to
Keynesian policies today except deflationary, social Darwinist ones; the
working class is not revolutionary as Quiggin rightly points out; intellectuals are not Marxists. A Marxist understanding has no potential political efficacy today.

Political attention today falls on the so-called independent voters, middle
class voters who have no sense of social responsibility and feel that they
stand more to gain in tax relief by cuts to Medicaire and Social security
than they would themselves benefit from those programs being fully funded.

The Democrats kow-tow to these mostly white, disproportionately male swing
voters.

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SamChevre 07.25.11 at 5:20 pm

I would have said that neo-conservatism is basically conservatism without populism–the culture-war issues are where the popular energy is. The hawkish foreign policy is also effective at keeping experts in charge–what does Joe Average know about the politics of Whereeveria?

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Bruce Wilder 07.25.11 at 5:50 pm

@258 “vague”

I think this whole thread, and the previous one has struggled with the problem of making the thesis concrete, of finding a definitive text to interpret in common, so to speak, but I don’t think “neo-liberal”, itself is a particularly vague term. People immediately, and in my opinion correctly, identified representative “neo-liberal” voices, such as Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong, who, not incidentally, themselves accept the designation. (And, as Cranky observed, it is not like many aware liberals or progressives would regard “neo-liberal” as a badge of honor, at this late date; no one is falsely claiming to be “neo-liberal” because the neo-liberals have so much to be proud of.)
Would neo-liberals have wanted powerful labor unions involved in the shaping of financial regulation, either in the 1999 reforms, or more recently? Seems doubtful to me.
My own view is that the institutions of the “New Deal/WWII liberal-international order” put into place by FDR in the 1930s and 1940s were centrally concerned with altering income distribution, between rich and poor, Capital and Labor, powerful elites and the mass middle-class. And, they succeeded (because of WWII). The effect was an enormous shift in income distribution in the 1940s, called by the economists, the Great Compression.
As I said earlier, the neo-liberals emerged to rationalize feeding off the entropy of the New Deal order, in the corruption of its old age.
The emerging “neo-liberalism” of Matthew Yglesias or Ezra Klein, which gets so many hereabouts exercised, reduces not to deep personal philosophical conviction, but to responding to the demands of careerism. They are doing what they have to do, to make their way as professional opinion journalists.
A politics centered on changing income distribution to favor the mass of wage-earners is not going to be the politics of priestly mandarins and careerists, not, at least, until it is a good deal more advanced. Right now, such a sentiment comes close to the revolutionary: at the very least, you have to be willing to recognize that the existing order and structure cannot be preserved and reformed at the same time. It is not that neo-liberalism has no “theory of politics”, it is that the neo-liberals, as shah8 said, do not need a theory of politics, because they believe the existing order can and should be preserved. The neo-liberal idea is that the existing structure and order can be preserved, (and, then, usefully reformed by clever neo-liberal policy entrepreneurs, pundits and technocrats, of course).

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Bruce Wilder 07.25.11 at 6:23 pm

Mankiw certainly is a propagandist, by dictionary definition: he propagates a doctrine and political cause, and distributes information reflecting the views of others advocating the same doctrine and cause.
He is a partisan Republican, and regularly writes op-eds in support of Republican and conservative views. He is an ideological libertarian, as well, and writes in support of that doctrine. He regularly uses his blog to point to, and legitimize, views, with which he is aligned as an political and/or ideological partisan.

His textbook features his famous “Ten Principles”, which is a kind of propaganda manifesto for his libertarian view of economics.
http://www.swlearning.com/economics/mankiw/principles2e/principles.html

I can imagine an academic economist taking on the neutral, analytic, carefully balanced voice of the teacher, and I wouldn’t call her a propagandist, when she propounded economics as a social science. If you ask her, say, about the advisability of a minimum-wage policy, for example, I imagine she would try to show how you could use economic theory to form and rationalize various hypotheses about how such a policy might operate, and the effects it would have on employment and incomes. And, she would say that best evidence, though hotly disputed, seems to indicate that a minimum wage, in the range of actual minimum wage law in the U.S., can have a small, positive effect on income and employment.
That is not what you would get from Mankiw. You would get a partisan stance. You would get a long tendentitious argument about how the minimum wage hurts teenagers and is a bad anti-poverty measure, yada yada yada, all expressing, basically one, point of view hostile to the policy. And, you would get pointers to other economists, with an even more benighted, right-wing point of view.
http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/04/minimum-wage-debate.html

So, yes, Greg Mankiw is a propagandist. duh.

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hartal 07.25.11 at 6:27 pm

Yes I remember the libertarian, gold bug economist Mark Skousen jumping for joy that the paradox of thrift was not presented in the main textbook (Mankiw’s) to replace Samuelson’s.

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hartal 07.25.11 at 7:13 pm

also in the Mankiw textbook no consumption function, no propensity to save, no Keynesian cross, only one paragraph on the multiplier. Skousen, a von Misean gold bug, celebrates this.

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