Niall Ferguson On Why The Kids Are Crazy Not To Want To Melt Down Their Grandparents For Soylent Green

by John Holbo on October 14, 2011

It is a testament to my deep dislike for Zizek that even this piece by Niall Ferguson wasn’t enough to turn me Zizekian on the spot. But it was a near thing.

I think Nobel Prize winning economist Chris Sims has a much shrewder take on this whole 99 vs. 1 business.

Honestly, almost all these defenses of the status quo make more sense than Ferguson’s alternative, ‘never trust anyone over 30’ rabble-rousing proposals. (What is this, 1968?)

I emailed to congratulate Sims and he was very modest about his prize.

UPDATE: On second thought, I take it all back. That deftly-dropped hint that Zizek grew his beard to look as as wild-and-crazy as Krugman was worth the price of admission. Karl Marx sort of had a ‘Krugman beard’, too, if you think about it. Makes you think! And that’s why they pay Ferguson the Big Bucks, I presume.

{ 93 comments }

1

Meredith 10.14.11 at 5:59 am

Thanks for the Chris Sims link! (As for Niall Ferguson, are we sure he’s not an illegal alien?)

2

Vance Maverick 10.14.11 at 6:04 am

The few lines he quotes from Zizek are perfectly reasonable, and plainly fail to support the reading Ferguson offers for them. Then his half-assed drive-by version of the usual warning about Medicare and Social Security is enough to convince you he’s wrong about everything else, by definition.

For extra bitter flavor, the Beast illustrates the piece with a photo of a protester in which the protester’s sign isn’t readable. (Really, the mere fact he’s protesting is proof enough of his absurdity!) Googling the scattered words, though, suggests he’s being cogent too.

3

reason 10.14.11 at 7:05 am

Shouldn’t “generationalism” be treated the same way as sexism and racism?

4

Jamie 10.14.11 at 7:08 am

The only rational response to this sort of thing is.

Dear upset person,

I’m sorry that phantom hippies upset you so much, and that you do not understand economics. May I suggest a therapist for the first, and a professor or two for the second? I humbly suggest that those solutions may be more effective than ranting on the intertubes.

Yours.

5

Neel Krishnaswami 10.14.11 at 7:41 am

Rampant nerdery: Sims’ picture of Lex Luthor is from the Morrison/Quitely Earth 2. The Lex Luthor in the picture is from a universe where good and evil are reversed, and is actually the sole superhero and defender of the downtrodden of his universe.

6

Geoffrey de ste. Croix 10.14.11 at 8:59 am

I always find the Confucian maxim:

“When dealing with Fergusonian witter, believe the opposite, for that shall be the truth”

the best way to tackle Niall’s neo-con, slightly too tight trousered for an academic his age belches.

7

Dirk 10.14.11 at 10:12 am

Just in case anyone is interested, I have wasted my time by looking more closely at Ferguson’s “mountain of IOUs” argument:

http://econoblog101.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/niall-ferguson-on-occupy-wall-street/

It’s pretty badly made up, even for Niall Ferguson. It seems he either doesn’t his own books or has problems to connect his theoretical work to the real world.

8

John Quiggin 10.14.11 at 10:42 am

Damn you, John H! I always get sucked in by links like that. Here I was thinking “So, if I only I could draw that superhero movement thing right, those guys in Sweden would see what a super-great economist I really am”

9

ajay 10.14.11 at 10:56 am

8:
Golden Age economists: JK Galbraith, Keynes, etc. Fought the Nazis and/or the Communists. Saved the world. Unusual dress sense.
Silver Age: Friedman and the monetarists. Twisted, self-doubting, weird. Very complex back plot.

10

Andrew F. 10.14.11 at 11:00 am

Just a bit of pot-stirring by Ferguson. But there’s a kind of basic incongruity between Ferguson’s argument and the proposals/rhetoric of OWS that nicely illustrates the gap in perspective between the OWS movement (which seems composed primarily of non-working college students) and those who have been in the job market for some time now.

That is, the OWS movement isn’t at all concerned about the tax implications of a looming entitlement crisis for themselves because they’re not concerned at all about the idea (yet) that they’d pay high taxes. They haven’t been in the job market long enough – or at all in a large number of instances I’d bet – to have felt the sting of seeing progressively larger amounts of one’s earned money taxed. They’ve yet to look at the difference between their gross pay and their net pay and see just how much of an impact that difference makes in their lives.

Nor is the OWS movement particularly concerned about the immediate impact of certain of the proposals floated from their ranks – they’re too detached from the job market, and from the day-to-day flow of business and bills generally, for those concerns to seem palpable.

This works to OWS’s advantage in that it allows them more imaginative scope in their proposals, and there’s something to be said for grander thinking. But, curiously, it has the effect of making abstract ideological principles seem more real and relevant to the OWS crowd, and rendering loans, bills and taxes much more academic for them.

11

Jim Buck 10.14.11 at 11:02 am

Shouldn’t “generationalism” be treated the same way as sexism and racism?

Generationism? For fucks sake, leave it out! Preacher of hate: Niall Ferguson is advocating that we wilfully break the 5th commandment. He’s telling young people to dishonour their fathers and mothers. Gluttons, who pay heed to Ferguson, deserve the fate prescribed for them by Moses:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 RSV)

12

bert 10.14.11 at 11:29 am

Ferguson is both dreamy-looking and humble.
Zizek has poorly-fitting teeth, a Krugman beard, dandruff and mange.

Game over. And that’s before you even get to their arguments. “The headline ‘Goldman Sachs Under Control of Hip Teenage Revolutionaries’ would be the last straw for an already fragile economic recovery.” So true. So very true.
I think I speak for everyone in the UK when I say how proud we are that Niall Ferguson strikes such a commanding figure on the world stage. Only the much deserved success of Piers Morgan pleases us more.
In no way is he openly mocked as a ludicrous swollen tit by just about everyone .

13

ajay 10.14.11 at 11:30 am

But, curiously, it has the effect of making abstract ideological principles seem more real and relevant to the OWS crowd, and rendering loans, bills and taxes much more academic for them.

Yes, certainly most students in the US today will have very little experience of loans and bills!

14

Barry 10.14.11 at 11:32 am

Andrew F. 10.14.11 at 11:00 am

” Just a bit of pot-stirring by Ferguson. But there’s a kind of basic incongruity between Ferguson’s argument and the proposals/rhetoric of OWS that nicely illustrates the gap in perspective between the OWS movement (which seems composed primarily of non-working college students) and those who have been in the job market for some time now.”

Do Not Feed the Lying Troll

15

Henry 10.14.11 at 11:45 am

The ending:

Call it the Iced Tea Party.

Way cool.

is genuinely magnificent.

16

bert 10.14.11 at 12:09 pm

To take Ferguson seriously for just a second, here’s the core of his argument: entitlements are the problem, for which “the answer is to occupy the Tea Party—and wrest it from the grumpy old men who currently run it.”
This is an acknowledgement of the fact that the famous “get your government hands off my Medicare” line isn’t a gotcha quote but is actually pretty close to the core of the Tea Party.
Politicians come unstuck when they misunderstand this. That’s something Paul Ryan discovered recently. So there’s a happy conclusion from this piece. Either Ferguson gets ignored (most likely), or he gets traction for an argument that will split and dissipate the Tea Party and turn its diehards against him.

17

Jim Buck 10.14.11 at 12:31 pm

18

reason 10.14.11 at 12:37 pm

“to have felt the sting of seeing progressively larger amounts of one’s earned money taxed. “

??????

Average tax rates have been falling for some time, and average wages have been flat. Writing this labels yourself as a dumb plutocrat.

19

Alex 10.14.11 at 1:55 pm

Isn’t the correct answer to Niall Ferguson(!) talking about being young “Piss off, grandad!”?

20

Watson Ladd 10.14.11 at 1:59 pm

The posted rebuttal of Ferguson is wrong. Social Security and Medicaid obligations aren’t debt because Congress can reduce them at will. He’s talking about entitlements which aren’t in the graphs attached. Nevertheless he’s very wrong: Social Security can be saved by actually running it as a pension scheme, and Medicare Part D can be fixed by negotiating drug prices.

21

William Timberman 10.14.11 at 2:18 pm

Deep dislike for Zizek. Deep dislike for Sartre. Deep dislike for Freud. Deep dislike for Marx. I’ve been around long enough to see these deep dislikes grow from little acorns into great forests of disdain.

Well, no, they weren’t/aren’t likeable guys, but they were/are interesting guys. And two days ago, in a local Democratic Party meeting, when I realized that after 3 hours the only heated debate was going to be over whether the PayPal button on the organization’s Web site was too hard to find — or maybe not — I realized that the world, my small part of it at least, is in desperate need of some Zizek.

22

Uncle Kvetch 10.14.11 at 2:31 pm

the OWS movement (which seems composed primarily of non-working college students)

Better trolls, please.

23

Salient 10.14.11 at 3:23 pm

This is merely magnificent: http://www.dangerousminds.net/comments/russell_simmons_offers_to_pay_for_occupy_wall_street_cleanup/

Since not everyone will get the full glory of that article, I’ll pop in to mention that Russell Simmons’ mom was a park administrator in NYC, so, in addition to being an all-around commendable activist, Russell Simmons is in a sense uniquely highly qualified among notable OWS supporters to coordinate a park cleanup project. :)

24

SamChevre 10.14.11 at 3:35 pm

Please note that if taxes on the top 1% are going down, and more and more income is going to the top 1%, the average tax rate can be going down and the average wage-earner’s tax rate going up.

25

Steve LaBonne 10.14.11 at 3:46 pm

Please note that if taxes on the top 1% are going down, and more and more income is going to the top 1%, the average tax rate can be going down and the average wage-earner’s tax rate going up.

And in fact that’s a good description of the actual plans that Republicans are putting forward, disguised with rhetoric that they hope will fool the rubes.

26

Barry 10.14.11 at 4:05 pm

Meredith 10.14.11 at 5:59 am

” Thanks for the Chris Sims link! (As for Niall Ferguson, are we sure he’s not an illegal alien?)”

Don’t know – however, since he’s a neocon Iraq War supporter (AFAIK unrepentant), ‘ve now have vayz of finding out’.

27

David Kaib 10.14.11 at 9:35 pm

The fact that we are even having a conversation where people feel the need to defend the status quo is one of the best indicators of the importance of the occupations. Playing only defense is a recipe for continually losing ground. And their defenses have been laughably bad. That we were losing when few were fighting is obviously not the same as saying that we will inevitably lose.

28

David 10.14.11 at 11:30 pm

I’ll keep calling you Shirley as long as you keep jesting and giving Ferguson any airplay. Useless snark and not even very good. The Daily Wheezer is more like it.

29

spyder 10.15.11 at 1:25 am

One bit of news today, to cast a bit of a dark pallor over this post: The Obama Administration dropped the long-term care program from the ACA provisions.

and now back to our regularly scheduled program

30

Tim Dymond 10.15.11 at 3:58 am

‘It is a testament to my deep dislike for Zizek …’

Apologies John as I don’t want to derail this thread – but have you done a post setting out your dislike of Zizek in detail? I’d be intrigued to read it.

31

Peter K. 10.15.11 at 6:48 am

“Don’t know – however, since he’s a neocon Iraq War supporter (AFAIK unrepentant), ‘ve now have vayz of finding out’.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/21/world/middleeast/iraq-tells-bashar-al-assad-of-syria-to-step-down.html?_r=1&ref=nurikamalalmaliki

Iraq Calls for Change of Syrian Regime

And yet others wish Saddam was still around to nip the Arab Spring in the bud. It would have happened anyway? Ask the Kurds.

32

Andrew F. 10.15.11 at 10:01 am

ajay @13: Yes, certainly most students in the US today will have very little experience of loans and bills!

Fair enough, but payments on student loans are usually deferred until a certain period after attendance at a school’s program has terminated (whether by graduation or otherwise). So while many of them certainly have debt, that doesn’t mean they have any experience of what it’s like to service that debt over any significant period of time. Hell, this lack of experience is part of the reason students were interesting customers for credit card products.

As to the contrast between Ferguson’s argument (leaving aside any merit it has) and the various proposals suggested by the OWS, just look at some of the specifics from the latter. With a handful of exceptions, the latter are incredibly general (“end political corruption”) or silly (“end corporate personality”).

Ferguson’s argument would have some concern to those already working, who pay a significant amount of taxes and who worry about the care of their parents.

In any event, this is just my impression and I’m not particularly wedded to it. Other views can reasonably differ.

Barry and Kvetch: I don’t think respectfully disagreeing, or presenting a different viewpoint, is the same as trolling. I give my views in good faith, and assume the same of everyone else. If the comment threads are intended to include discussion of only certain viewpoints, I’ll certainly stop reading and commenting in them when mine vary outside that range.

33

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.15.11 at 10:22 am

It seems obviously wrong to characterize the demand to end political corruption as incredibly general, and to end corporate personhood as silly. Why would you say that?

34

Guido Nius 10.15.11 at 10:59 am

Replace ‘seems’ with ‘is’ and I agree.

35

Uncle Kvetch 10.15.11 at 12:11 pm

I don’t think respectfully disagreeing, or presenting a different viewpoint, is the same as trolling. I give my views in good faith, and assume the same of everyone else.

Your “different viewpoint” is based on absolutely nothing other than “impressions” and the way it “seems” to you. You proceed from utterly unfounded suppositions about who the protestors are and what they do for a living, to utterly unfounded suppositions about what they believe. Not a shred of evidence in sight.

And you think that constitutes good faith.

You know what? I withdraw the accusation of trolling. Trolls can be entertaining. You’re just boring.

36

Lemuel Pitkin 10.15.11 at 12:16 pm

Why do folks in this thread seem to think nurses are uninformed or regressive?

What on earth are you referring to?

37

Andrew F. 10.15.11 at 12:50 pm

Henri, by political corruption do they mean political corruption in a legal sense? Or do they have a broader, less defined criterion in mind? What measures do they support for ending political corruption? No one knows. So I regard this demand as quite general and non-specific, akin to calls from the right-wing for an end to “wasteful spending.”

Kvetch, I don’t know of any polls of the OWS movement. But I’ve seen them and listened to them, and have formed an impression of their demographics. I don’t give my impressions the credence of a firm conclusion well supported by good evidence; that’s why I call them impressions. If you disagree, that’s perfectly fine.

38

salazar 10.15.11 at 12:54 pm

John, what’s your beef with Zizek? I’m not a philosopher and know next to nothing about him. This said, I saw him once on TV and he seemed to be going all over the place. I found him very unfocused.

39

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.11 at 1:12 pm

I’ve often wondered what John thinks about the philosophical contradictions within the thought of prominent right-wing figures. His thoughts about Zizek are similarly undocumented. He really should be encouraged to write them up some more.

http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/homepage/pdf/holbozizek.pdf
http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/my_mla_tales_from_the_crytonormative/htthttp://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/between_infinite_judgment_and_infinite_jest_or_the_howl_of_da_noive_of_take/

40

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.15.11 at 1:22 pm

Henri, by political corruption do they mean political corruption in a legal sense?

No, they don’t, obviously.

What measures do they support for ending political corruption?

They want to end political corruption, the disproportionate influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in the political process. What’s so complicated here? The protests are the measures.

41

bob mcmanus 10.15.11 at 1:39 pm

39: Yeah, I got 9000 hits on “Holbo + Zizek”

42

John Holbo 10.15.11 at 2:45 pm

Rich covers the bases of my anti-Zizek ouevre pretty well – thanks, Rich (and bob). But I wouldn’t want to derail the thread with all that. This one is for Ferguson! (Someday soon there will be more Zizek. Don’t worry.)

43

L. F. File 10.15.11 at 3:12 pm

Shouldn’t the kids really be upset about the cuts in education spending? I would rather be in debt with good prospects than getting by with no prospects.

lff

44

T. S. Zuma 10.15.11 at 3:20 pm

The problem seems to lie in trusting people over 30 and under 60!

45

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 3:22 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 39

John’s thoughts on Zizek are, for lack of a better word, delicious, in that they definitively put the rubber nose on Zizek’s holy clown act.

Yes, Zizek does take an illiberally perverse pleasure in throwing crockery at us when we’re trying to do serious work, and yes, it can be awfully annoying, since we know very well that he’s smart enough to take off the makeup, put down the seltzer bottle, and join us at the wheel. And finally, yes, he does in some sense dishonor the good faith efforts of past thinkers which have made his grandstanding possible.

On the other hand — and there certainly is another hand, especially for those of us mired in the bog of present-day moral discourse who can’t find anyone anywhere willing to throw us an actual rope — the kind of manic cynicism which makes Zizek so entertaining is also a useful warning against complacency. The honorable tensions in liberalism, which John so honorably defends, are no defense at all, it seems, against the degenerate forms of liberalism which produce Very Serious defenses of the Obama administration. Zizek’s antics just might.

On the whole, I prefer Holbo to Zizek. He’s certainly as witty, and he certainly seems to have the right of it here, but sometimes I actually long to hear the satisfying crash of the bourgeoisie’s best dishes when I come to a clean, well-lighted place like this. (Shooting people, of course, goes well beyond any tolerable metaphor for me, especially given our recent history. Somehow, though, I suspect that Zizek no less than Brecht would be pretty much at a loss if someone handed him an AK-47 and told him to get real. Which is as it should be.)

46

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 3:27 pm

Sorry, John, I didn’t see your 42 before scribbling my 43. I beg pardon for any derailment of the thread, but I find Zizek more fun than Ferguson, who simply raises my blood pressure, which at my age, is not something to be endured with no prospect of any reward at the end.

47

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.11 at 3:48 pm

William, I didn’t really mean to say anything substantive vis-a-vis Holbo-and-Zizek. Just that the whole territory had been covered pretty thoroughly before.

Holbo could, I guess, do an “I told you so” kind of piece, now that disenchantment with Zizek is very common on the left. But why bother? I’d sort of like to see something on an entirely new topic.

48

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 3:58 pm

Yes, I understood your point, and a good one it was too. But…. We are living in an age when everything old shall be new again — at least in the wider public arena. What I love about the Web is the fact of access. That is, the stuff that used to be hidden away in the groves of academe, or in smoke-filled rooms, or in foreign newspapers or State Department cables, is now where everyone can get at it. And we do get at it, indeed we do — even if it’s often old-hat to the people whose business we’re meddling in. Democracy in Action, I thinks we calls that. (I try not to abuse the privilege, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.)

49

John Holbo 10.15.11 at 4:04 pm

No, no, derailment is fine, honestly. Follow your bliss! I retract my petty injunction! It’s not as though we’re doing serious work here in the thread. I think Zizek is a buffoon, clearly. And Ferguson appears to be a hack. (Or at least he plays on in the Daily Beast. Perhaps his books are better?) Why we can’t discuss a hack and a buffoon together is a question that’s way above my pay grade. So I guess we can! Trying to keep them separate is like a kid not wanting his peas to mix with his carrots. I should get over it. I agree that Zizek seems preferable to Ferguson, based on my limited exposure to the latter.

50

J. Otto Pohl 10.15.11 at 4:33 pm

We can not discuss them together because Zizek is a Stalinist and Ferguson is an old style British imperialist. In other words Ferguson’s ideology has been completely rejected by the various intellectual establishments in the world. For instance the idea of reestablishing or rehabilitating British imperialism has no support in most former British colonies. There is no restore the Gold Coast movement. In contrast Stalin has lots and lots of followers. He has lots of supporters in areas he used to rule like Russia and Central Asia and he has lots of supporters in American academic circles. Also the people nostalgic for British rule essentially deny the crimes of the empire. While the Stalinists today do not deny any of Stalin’s crimes, but rather support him specifically because of his crimes against peoples like the Volga and other Russian-Germans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Latvians, Estonians, etc. In fact many of these people lament that Stalin was too soft and let too many people from these “treasonous” nations survive.

51

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.11 at 5:31 pm

J. Otto Pohl’s comment is exactly why we shouldn’t discuss it all over again. Zizek, whatever he is, isn’t just “a Stalinist”; no matter how painful and stupid his comparative-defense-of-Stalin is. He’s trying to bring out elements of thought that are really common to every person on the old-style left who still thinks about revolutionary disciple and vanguard parties and the relevance of Marx and what’s needed to stand against capitalism but who isn’t a Stalinist… and people got beyond the simple “he’s a Stalinist” thing a long time ago; do a search for “linksfaschismus” if you want it fancied-up. But what’s going on on the left now, in case people haven’t noticed, is a total rejection of leftist discipline and cadres and vanguardism, as well as liberal technocracy. So why bother? Zizek is even more irrelevant than he ever was.

52

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 6:26 pm

But what’s going on on the left now, in case people haven’t noticed, is a total rejection of leftist discipline and cadres and vanguardism, as well as liberal technocracy.

Yeah, and it’s been going on for over forty years now, if the hours and hours I spent on folding chairs in basements in 1968 are anything to go by. Are we there yet?

53

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.11 at 6:40 pm

Well… we can discuss Occupy Wall Street as continuation of the New Left if you really want to. I don’t see it, myself; there is a pretty much complete absence of sex, drugs, and really youth culture in general, except insofar as youth culture is now poverty culture. But what does Zizek have to do with it? Even if you think that people should be listening to him, they aren’t.

54

Meredith 10.15.11 at 9:12 pm

A friendly historical correction. The New Left activitists tended to be more straight-laced than their compatriots who were into drugs, (supposedly) promiscuous sex, “eastern philosophies,” and all that got labelled DFH. By which I mean New Lefty types might do a little weed on a Friday night but weren’t into dropping acid. Most stayed in school (if they hadn’t already graduated) and did well as students, and they had or hoped to have a girlfriend or boyfriend (of the opposite sex — being gay wasn’t yet all that okay with most anyone). Even most DFH’s hoped for, if they didn’t already enjoy, the long-term romance. There could be a sense of comradeship between the two general “groups” (too strong a word, but it will have to do), especially when they were contrasting themselves with gung-ho pro-war, anti-civil-rights types, but also a lot of tension. It was the gung-ho “reactionaries” who lumped earnest political activists in with “hippies,” in much the way MSM but especially Fox News, Ann Coulter, Eric Erickson, et al. seek to dismiss OWS by disdaining the occupiers’ (alleged) hygiene.
It occurs to me. In those days, nothing like the prospect of being drafted into a stupid, unholy war to focu the attention of the young. Today, nothing like the prospect of being jobless.

55

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 9:12 pm

Youth culture was the part that the papers and TV fastened on, yes, and their contempt for it gets repeated, as you’ve unintentionally repeated it here, ad nauseam. SEX…DRUGS…ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. We know the litany.

But that’s not where the continuity I’m talking came from. In the beginning, SDS, for example, was a serious attempt to look beyond authoritarian organizing principles on the left and an equally serious attempt to come to terms with the failures of liberal technocracy. It was about as anti-authoritarian as the Wobblies before it, and, one hopes, as the OWS folks, anti-globalists, indigenous movements, etc., of today. Youth culture, and Mario Savio’s personal war on in loco parentis were part of it, but not necessarily its defining features, except to the media. I guess you had to be there. What gets people to thinking is one thing, what public manifestations of that thinking look like, and come to be defined as by the victors are something else.

That’s the merry-go-round I was referring to, and if we live long enough most of us on the Left will have been for a ride on it more than once. Zizek does indeed have something to do with this, but I wouldn’t call him either as coherent, or as influential, as I would like. If he were, it wouldn’t be John Holbo arguing with him, it’d be the The New York Times, and the Presidential Press Secretary. If that were the case, I might think that we were getting somewhere, even if I’d want him safely out of the way once he’d mussed up everyone’s hair.

56

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 9:17 pm

Well, well. If I’d waited a bit, I could have just said what Meredith said, but since I don’t believe anything ever gets truly wasted, I don’t suppose it hurts to have both of us weigh in.

57

Walt 10.15.11 at 9:30 pm

I think Zizek was a symptom of the low state of the left pre-crisis. The triumph of neliberalism seemed complete, so a nostalgic appeal to a period where the left was powerful became pretty attractive. The fact that Stalin was a bad dude added a certain transgressive frisson. Now that neoliberalism has unraveled, and we’re looking at a prolonged period of actual economic crisis, the nostalgia seems besides the point.

58

William Timberman 10.15.11 at 9:41 pm

A very good point, Walt. Or, to put it another way, a pox on all their isms. Still, as Bruce Wilder has been very eloquently pointing out in the percentiles thread, before we settle down with Paul Krugman, Jared Bernstein and Brad DeLong’s administrators-of-the-good, we ought to ask ourselves what they’ve done for us lately. Seriously….

59

Walt 10.15.11 at 9:59 pm

I think part of the irony of the current situation is that if the ruling class had been listening to Krugman, their position would be securer than ever. But they’re just too dumb and short-term selfish to do it.

60

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.11 at 10:08 pm

The New Left was many things, and just because the right likes to label everyone a DFH doesn’t mean that we have to reflexively deny that there was a lot going on at the time that isn’t going on now. But I really don’t see the historical continuity, any more than I see a historical continuity between the IWW and the New Left. It’s all very well to say that all left anti-authoritarian movements have certain similarities, but that is much more questionable when it is used to imply that a cycle is taking place — the “merry-go-round” that you refer to that people have been on a ride on more than once. I don’t think it’s really useful to shoehorn people into a historical narrative if what you basically believe is that they are too anti-authoritarian for their own good.

What do you accept as a defining characteristic of the New Left? If it started with the Port Huron statement in the U.S., does it matter that people now are ideologically statementless?

61

Andrew F. 10.15.11 at 10:23 pm

Henri @40: They want to end political corruption, the disproportionate influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in the political process. What’s so complicated here? The protests are the measures.

Henri, if we polled the population I suspect somewhere close to 95% (leaving a 5% “completely crazy” margin – this may not be enough) would be opposed to “political corruption.”

As an incredibly general demand it leaves open for possibility a variety of policy responses – and those policy responses, not a general sentiment against corruption, are at issue.

I took a stroll today with the OWS folks, and my estimation of their lack of specificity and demographics remains unchanged. Ferguson doesn’t quite get the protests, but I don’t think there’s much to get at this point.

I think they’re stuck between wanting a broad, socially transforming movement (which is unlikely) and advocating specific reforms (with which not everyone will agree, and which are in some ways more boring).

They need to settle down, pick something specific though connected to a broader sentiment, and organize beyond urban camp-outs. There are a few specific policy proposals floating around which would work.

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William Timberman 10.15.11 at 11:40 pm

Well, Rich, suffice it to say that I don’t see history as you apparently see it. A detailed teasing apart of the differences would be more likely to derail the thread than anything I’ve said so far. Maybe it would be enough to assert that, young as we were back in the day, we were very conscious of being the inheritors of a grand, if at the time much-maligned tradition — and I still have my little red Wobbly membership card to prove it. ;-)

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Meredith 10.16.11 at 2:45 am

It occurs to me that an awful lot of politically disparate people refuse to confer legitimacy on the OWS’ers until the occupiers develop a set of elaborately wonkish proposals. Ah, we do live in the age of wonk! And then I have this mental picture of some Ezra Klein figure emerging as spokesperson for OWS, issuing numerous, utterly different wonkish possibilities every day on behalf of the different individuals and groups in that wonderfully motley crowd.
Now I must get back to wonk.

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David Kaib 10.16.11 at 2:54 am

Meredith@63. We did live in the age of the wonk. But that age ended 29 days ago. Right now, people are changing what is possible. Wonks only have their day once what is possible becomes settled.

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Timothy Scriven 10.16.11 at 4:27 am

Hey fellow Timberites.

Theorising about this stuff is great- keep doing it! But consider doing it with Wi-fi and a Laptop stationed at your nearest occupy protest.

You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to gain!

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Meredith 10.16.11 at 4:52 am

David and Timothy, I hope it all never becomes “settled” (nor do you, I am sure — I don’t mean to pick at your specifically targeted choice of words, Timothy!). And of course, it won’t. But settled enough for us all to agree that we have to get down to business on the real problems we all now share (even that 1%, who “know not what they do”). I am considering that trek to the city (which one? NYC = my heart-of-hearts “the city”? Boston? a child of mine in each). My wonk won’t be immediately useful — tonight, I have been worrying about Hesiod. And wondering if common music is needed — the drums that a bit tediously reverberate in many NYC parks nearly all the time somehow can’t do it, I think. Have occupiers thought about using music more effectively?

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Meredith 10.16.11 at 5:26 am

Having just checked out reports on the violence in Rome today (my other “the city”), I hope and pray we remember Troy, Carthage (yes, my Dido and Aeneas obsession), Jericho, Jerusalem: a city (great or small or enough to be a village) is a work of human labor and love, generations of labor and love. Let us all remember that, and project it into the future.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.16.11 at 7:50 am

Andrew, They need to settle down, pick something specific though connected to a broader sentiment, and organize beyond urban camp-outs.

But that would be going backwards. Mass protests indicate that settling down and picking something specific doesn’t work. And if protests don’t work either, then you should expect riots and violence. This is how things progress. Asking protesters to go home and write letters to the king seems kinda comical, for that’s precisely why they are on the streets: less radical attempts don’t work, or at least there is a perception that they don’t work.

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scyllacat 10.16.11 at 1:54 pm

Good lord. I thought I’d read some disgusting unsympathetic stuff from the U.S. right. Surely, he’s not serious.

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Main Street Muse 10.16.11 at 2:32 pm

Re Niall Ferguson: it is very sad when Harvard professors think it wise to copy Ann Coulter’s spiteful tactics rather than provide serious analysis… http://bit.ly/oJGN9a

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Watson Ladd 10.16.11 at 2:41 pm

Henri, the Russian Revolution worked to an extent, and it wasn’t the result of just discontents but a party ready, willing, and able to lead.

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Keith 10.16.11 at 7:39 pm

Andrew F. @61:

They need to settle down, pick something specific though connected to a broader sentiment, and organize beyond urban camp-outs. There are a few specific policy proposals floating around which would work.

Should they get a haircut while they’re at it? Perhaps a job, too… oh, wait.

The protesters 1) aren’t just disgruntled students (a quick perusal of the New York Times photos over the last few weeks will put that little Right Wing talking point in the shredder) and 2)many of the protesters tried writing their congress person, their representative, and the president with specific complaints, proposals and suggestions. And they were ignored. Roundly, repeatedly and at length. Protests are the next stage in the political process. whether it goes on to become an organized movement or a bloody mess is up to how the politicians respond. They can blithely dismiss them as the Right has been trying to do, or they can engage them in dialogue. Expecting them to have a coherent, bullet point list of policy demands is absurd.

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chris 10.16.11 at 11:32 pm

Theorising about this stuff is great- keep doing it! But consider doing it with Wi-fi and a Laptop stationed at your nearest occupy protest.

I’m trying to come up with a word for the assumption that everyone who supports a protest supposedly on behalf of the economically disenfranchised can afford Wi-Fi and a laptop. “Ironic” isn’t cutting it. Any suggestions?

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dave heasman 10.17.11 at 1:23 pm

I’m not entirely sure that Andrew F is correct when he writes –

“That is, the OWS movement isn’t at all concerned about the tax implications of a looming entitlement crisis for themselves because they’re not concerned at all about the idea (yet) that they’d pay high taxes. They haven’t been in the job market long enough – or at all in a large number of instances I’d bet – to have felt the sting of seeing progressively larger amounts of one’s earned money taxed. They’ve yet to look at the difference between their gross pay and their net pay and see just how much of an impact that difference makes in their lives.”

I’m old. I started working part-time aged 16 in 1962, in England. Then the standard rate of income tax was 41.25%. There was also a flat-rate National Insurance contribution of (the equivalent of) 73p when the average wage was about £16 per week. Now that’s high taxation. It stayed that high, higher in the case of NI contributions, for over 12 years, long after I started full-time work. And yet I didn’t feel oppressed by this high taxation, there wasn’t a huge political movement to lower them. Perhaps this was because a lot more of the population actually had to pay them and couldn’t so easily evade?

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Barry 10.17.11 at 3:03 pm

“I’m not entirely sure that Andrew F is correct when he writes”

Andrew F has repeatedly demonstrated that he doesn’t know sh*t,
or is just making things up (go to the earlier econ-related posts,
and watch people point out that he’s wrong, and watch him blithely continue on).

My policy is that people who are like this are not to be engaged, just mocked.
The standard propaganda of the right is to keep throwing out debunked garbage
(for an example, see Lucas, Mulligan and Fama being spanked by Krugman).

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Rich Puchalsky 10.17.11 at 3:27 pm

“I’m trying to come up with a word for the assumption that everyone who supports a protest supposedly on behalf of the economically disenfranchised can afford Wi-Fi and a laptop. “Ironic” isn’t cutting it. Any suggestions?”

How about “factually false”. The people at the local Occupy in the small city where I am have no laptops at all. Elsewhere could be different, of course, but the Occupy movement in general is not very technological at all.

That said, I’d guess that most of the people who post here have a laptop, and the remark was addressed to people here.

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Andrew F. 10.17.11 at 11:30 pm

Henri @68: Mass protests indicate that settling down and picking something specific doesn’t work. And if protests don’t work either, then you should expect riots and violence. This is how things progress. Asking protesters to go home and write letters to the king seems kinda comical, for that’s precisely why they are on the streets: less radical attempts don’t work, or at least there is a perception that they don’t work.

First, suggesting that they organize beyond urban camp-outs is not suggesting that they “go home and write letters to the king.” The Tea Party, loathsome as they are, actually organized beyond protests, and consequently had an impact on politics. If the OWS movement actually wants to have an impact, they’ll need to move beyond marching up and down Manhattan and sleeping in the park.

Second, violence would be a huge, huge mistake on the part of the protesters. To their credit, they know that. As far as “what works,” unless they have specific demands it will be impossible to measure success or failure.

Keith @72: Protests are the next stage in the political process. whether it goes on to become an organized movement or a bloody mess is up to how the politicians respond. They can blithely dismiss them as the Right has been trying to do, or they can engage them in dialogue. Expecting them to have a coherent, bullet point list of policy demands is absurd.

If the protesters are ignored politically, then they’ll have to do a better job persuading the public that they’re worth listening to. Violence on their part would be a ridiculous, and self-defeating, choice.

As to a dialogue… that’s perfectly fine as a metaphor, but we’re really talking about effecting policy change. That requires, ultimately, some capability that translates into votes. It might be money, organization, or a compelling argument.

A protest is fine for getting attention, but unless you’re getting attention for a particular policy, then you’re simply getting attention. And that’s not enough for real change. So a coherent set of policy preferences isn’t an absurd expectation on my part; it’s a necessary condition for the OWS to accomplish (fill in the blank).

Barry, your disappointment wounds me, and I shall struggle to go on. Thank you for sharing.

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SC 10.18.11 at 3:21 am

Wait, the first time Ferguson heard the word “Zizek” was last week? I don’t go out of my way to avoid reading Zizek but he’s not easy to avoid.

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chris 10.18.11 at 2:09 pm

The Tea Party, loathsome as they are, actually organized beyond protests, and consequently had an impact on politics.

This seems a rather misleading sentence given that the organizational structure of the Tea Party was and is astroturf. Whether there was a genuinely popular movement for about 10 seconds before someone coopted it is arguable, but the role of well-funded right-wing professional opinion shapers in taking over and guiding the Tea Party is well documented.

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Steve LaBonne 10.18.11 at 2:51 pm

Concern troll Andrew F. is concerned.

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Uncle Kvetch 10.18.11 at 5:12 pm

The Tea Party, loathsome as they are, actually organized beyond protests, and consequently had an impact on politics.

Andrew, you might get more traction here if you dispensed with the pro forma “I’m as liberal as all of you” prologue right before you go on to explain why all the other liberals besides you are wrong again. There’s only room for one Mickey Kaus in this world.

Or maybe you should just take your schtick over to Ann Althouse’s place, where you’ll fit right in.

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Barry 10.18.11 at 6:19 pm

Steve LaBonne 10.18.11 at 2:51 pm

” Concern troll Andrew F. is concerned.”

I’m concerned that he’s concerned.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.18.11 at 6:32 pm

Second, violence would be a huge, huge mistake on the part of the protesters.

I don’t think it’s meaningful to characterize spontaneous violence as a mistake of the perpetrators. What it is, is a failure of the political system. The whole point of a ‘representative democracy’ is to provide a reliable feedback mechanism, as a way to avoid open confrontation, revolutions, riots, and such. Including mass protests that block traffic. If these things do happen, the political system has failed.

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Andrew F. 10.18.11 at 8:19 pm

chris @79: This seems a rather misleading sentence given that the organizational structure of the Tea Party was and is astroturf. Whether there was a genuinely popular movement for about 10 seconds before someone coopted it is arguable, but the role of well-funded right-wing professional opinion shapers in taking over and guiding the Tea Party is well documented.

Well, it certainly connected with existing money and organizations, and produced campaigns, candidates, and political power. The result has been a largely negative impact on politics and policy, but it’s been an impact that in my view largely reflects the sentiment of that movement – so I’m not sure “co-opted” is really the right term either.

There are already signs that the OWS movement will do something similar, perhaps in connection with various union organizations.

Henri @83: I don’t think it’s meaningful to characterize spontaneous violence as a mistake of the perpetrators. What it is, is a failure of the political system. The whole point of a ‘representative democracy’ is to provide a reliable feedback mechanism, as a way to avoid open confrontation, revolutions, riots, and such. Including mass protests that block traffic. If these things do happen, the political system has failed.

You’ve introduced a new adjective with “spontaneous.” But, look, sometimes protesters don’t get their way (that happens in a representative democracy). I don’t understand why you would view any and every instance of “spontaneous violence” on the part of protesters as the fault of the political system. As I said though, the vast majority of protesters taking part in OWS understand that violence would be self-defeating, and I don’t see them allowing any violent elements to use their protests as concealment.

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Dr. Hilarius 10.19.11 at 3:18 am

Ferguson appears to belong to the Time magazine school of history in which generations are distinct, homogeneous entities. David Brooks got his start with this nonsense. Most students in the 60’s were not doing much to actively oppose the war much less working for a socialist society. Today’s “young people” are just as diverse. And that’s ignoring the fact that lots of old farts like me support DFH ideas like diminishing the stranglehold of big money on public policy.

What OWS does is broaden the political spectrum of permissible discourse. Its mere existence may convince some Democratic hacks that there is a constituency for something half a bubble off of center. Some unions have figured this out but whether that amounts to anything remains to be seen.

And there’s nothing silly about ending corporate personhood. The idea that corporations are citizens with constitutional rights is what’s silly.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.19.11 at 9:49 am

Andrew, people come out to protest because they are pissed off. Myself, to come out and join a protest, I would have to be extremely pissed off at something. If you have a large number of highly pissed off people in your society, then something’s gone wrong in your political system. Now the political system can compromise, suppress the unrest, or ignore it. But if it fails to successfully compromise or suppress, some of the pissed off people will turn to violence; this is just the law of nature.

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Andrew F. 10.19.11 at 10:00 am

But Henri, getting “pissed off” at a political result is a common event in a diverse democratic society. It occurred when the US achieved the first, now precarious, steps towards health-care reform. It occurred when the US Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, and when the US Supreme Court ruled bans on abortion unconstitutional. It occurs all the time, with varying degrees of justification. Far from being an abnormal occurrence in a democracy, it is an entirely normal occurrence.

You seem to be arguing that if, during a protest, anyone who is angry about a political result turns to violence, then that violence is necessarily the fault of the political system. On the contrary, violence is the choice of he who engages in it. We may be able to predict that a certain number will, on a given issue and in a given place and time, make that choice – but this doesn’t indicate failure on the part of the political system. For instance, the deployment of the National Guard to ensure that black students were able to attend a university was not a failure of the political system; it was a triumph. The fault lay with those, angry at a political result, who were threatening violence.

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Alex 10.19.11 at 10:56 am

It is, in fact, true that much of the impact of the ‘baggers was through electoral politics, specifically in the Republican primaries – they did actually set out to impose a test of sufficient teabaggership on anyone who wanted to be a Republican congressman, and they did manage to create a sizeable new radical-right caucus in Congress.

If there’s an OWS caucus in the House or Senate in a couple of years’ time, I think both the United States and the world would be significantly better. Axiomatically, there will be some Democrats who are elected next time round. If you can impose the requirement that they be OWS-acceptable or better, self-identifying as OWS, there will be such a group.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.19.11 at 11:21 am

Nah, I don’t think the deployment of the National Guard was a triumph, it was still a failure; what would’ve been a triumph is finding a compromise. And now, many decades later, there is still an easily detectable strain of resentment there, and strong anti-government attitude.

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ragweed 10.20.11 at 6:40 pm

“Never in the history of intergenerational transfers has one generation left such a mountain of IOUs to another as the baby boomers are leaving to their grandchildren.”

Except, maybe, the Greatest Generation?

Oh wait – I forgot. You don’t measure indebtedness by the actual government debt as a percent of GDP. You measure indebtedness by taking the total worst-case costs of future social safety net spending over the next 50 years and call that debt, and presume that the only possible method of reducing that debt is by cutting the safety net, because higher taxes or inflation would mean the end of the world.

John

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Barry Freed 10.20.11 at 6:58 pm

Who are you quoting ragweed? Because I can’t find that comment or did you mean to leave that in another thread? (Or are you paraphrasing and I’m an idiot who has given up following this thread a while ago so I couldn’t tell?) I do like the comment though.

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ragweed 10.20.11 at 7:20 pm

The quote is from Furguson in the original article. Sorry, I should have stated as much.

Dirk at 7 links another skewering of the whole “IOU” issue, but based on the rest of the article I think Furguson was not limiting the “IOU” to actual debt, but including SS/Medicare as part of the IOU (the whole “SS/Medicare is a 50-trillion unfunded liability” nonsense).

John

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Barry Freed 10.20.11 at 7:45 pm

No need to be sorry, I’m the idiot who didn’t recognize the quote and should have but I confess to only scanning it at the time; now if it were on paper, I’d have found another use for it.

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