Converts, conversely

by John Quiggin on May 27, 2012

Back in 2005, I wrote about the common experience of dealing with “ people who’ve shifted, politically, from positions well to my left to positions well to my right” (taking as an example, Nick Cohen). Paul Norton, about the same time, wrote along similar lines.

At the time, I mentioned that there weren’t many examples of people going in the opposite direction[1].  But as a commenter points out following this Ryan Cooper link to my last post on the collapse of the rightwing parallel universe, there are now lots of prominent US examples: David Frum, David Stockman, Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett and just now Michael Fumento. I’m quite surprised by Fumento, who has always appeared to me as a stereotypical culture warrior.

Of course, there isn’t an exact symmetry here, essentially arising from the fact that, whereas most of the L-R conversions happened at a time when the left as a whole was conceding a lot of intellectual and political ground to the right, the current situation is one where the US conservative movement and their international offshoots have moved sharply to the right and remain politically potent. So, it’s much more plausible for those making the R-L shift to claim “I didn’t abandon the conservative movement, it abandoned me”.

Still, never having had such a conversion experience I find it fascinating to observe. Particularly striking is the fact that a sharp change in position doesn’t much change the confidence with which views are expressed. Someone who was cautious and sceptical before a change in view will remain so afterwards. More strikingly, converts who held their old views with absolute confidence, will be equally confident of their rightness in abandoning those views.

fn1. Some earlier examples that occur to me now (all US) are David Brock, Michael Lind and Kevin Phillips. No tendency of this kind is evident in Australia as yet – I’d be interested in views from other countries.

{ 202 comments }

1

William Eric Uspal 05.27.12 at 4:59 am

Corey Robin wrote about this back when I was a high school student toting sample issues of Lingua Franca.

2

Neil 05.27.12 at 5:09 am

Perhaps Peter Beinart belongs on the R to L list?

3

Jim Rose 05.27.12 at 5:54 am

on there “weren’t many examples of people going in the opposite direction”, demographics might explain this. Young people are considerably more likely to describe their politics as to the left.

Young people start-out on the Left and moving rightwards as they loose what Adam Smith called the overweening conceit of youth.

4

IM 05.27.12 at 6:29 am

Young people start-out on the Left and moving rightwards as they loose what Adam Smith called the overweening conceit of youth.

That is a myth. At least in the United States, political positions are consolidated around age 30 and then stable.

5

IM 05.27.12 at 6:52 am

Other american examples: blogger John Cole, Arianna Huffington. Of course it is widely suspected that it is purely business, nothing personal in Huffingtons case.

Arlen Specter, Lincoln Chafee.

In Germany: Oskar Lafontaine, Heiner Geissler, Norbert Blüm.

Lafontaine is relevant here not so much because he switched from the social democrat to the Left, but because he switched from the left wing of the social democrats to the left wing of the Left Party.

Geissler and Blüm , of course, can be best described as living fossils, last remnants of the catholic workers movements. As their social milieu and their party wing slowly dissolved, they now look oddly left wing for christian democrats. Younger versions of them probably just would have joined the greens and the social democrats, respectively.

6

Pierro 05.27.12 at 7:04 am

taking as an example, Nick Cohen

Isn’t that begging the question? Isn’t Nick Cohen’s point that (a section of) the left has moved rightwards, e.g. to support theocrats and communalism under the guise of “anti-imperialism”, but that he has remained firmly on the left? I.e., to borrow your formula for people like David Frum, ‘I didn’t abandon “the left”, it abandoned me’.

7

Colin Danby 05.27.12 at 7:23 am

and FWIW Smith talks about “the over-weening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities” but I don’t see anything about youth.

8

Jim Rose 05.27.12 at 7:27 am

IM, see http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/05/gallup-age-demographics-show-strong-democratic-advantages.php

the cross-over point in the rather small graph for party identification appears to be in the 30s with another step up in the late 50s as independents become more conservative but some go left, but the graph is small.

Younger people are more numerous on the left, and older people on the right. in 2008, obama’s vote was ages 18-29 – 66%; 30-44 – 52%; 45-64 – 50%; and 65 & over 45%

if you want to say that young people include 30 somethings, plainly we disagree on a definition. ‘Prime age’ is usually defined as age 25-54 for statistical purposes

9

Jim Rose 05.27.12 at 7:36 am

Colin Danby, mixed my recollections up with the lines a few below – an early discussion of the fatal conceit:
“The contempt of risk and the presumptuous hope of success are in no period of life more active than at the age at which young people choose their professions.

How little the fear of misfortune is then capable of balancing the hope of good luck appears still more evidently in the readiness of the common People to enlist as soldiers, or to go to sea, than in the eagerness of those of better fashion to enter into what are called the liberal professions.

What a common soldier may lose is obvious enough. Without regarding the danger, however, young volunteers never enlist so readily as at the beginning of a new war; and though they have scarce any chance of preferment, they figure to themselves, in their youthful fancies, a thousand occasions of acquiring honour and distinction which never occur.

These romantic hopes make the whole price of their blood. Their pay is less than that of common labourers, and in actual service their fatigues are much greater. “

for a discussion, http://sds.hss.cmu.edu/media/pdfs/loewenstein/adamsmith.pdf Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist in JEP

10

IM 05.27.12 at 7:53 am

It is rather nice that you deliver the evidence I just hinted at.

Democrats outpace the GOP across every age group, but the gap varies from one cohort to another, with the greatest differences among the Baby Boomers and Generation Y. The GOP nearly achieves parity among Generation X (ages 30-44), people in their late 60s, and the 85-year old group.

The pollster’s analysis goes through several theories, noting that younger voters often tend to be more liberal. But one interesting hypothesis is floated, noting the extent of these differences and where they occur: That these groups are heavily influenced by the eras when they came of political age, — the Baby Boomers in the 60s, Generation X in the Reagan/Bush Sr. years, etc.

As you see, political opinions form in the youth and never change much. The republicans do now have a advantage among the old, because the old are silent generation and boomers who lean republican. In the eighties, the young did vote republican – generation X – and the old – the greatest generation voted democrats.

The democrats have or seem to have an advantage, because the youngest generation, the millenials, skews left and the silent generation, a republican voting block, starts to die off.

11

John Quiggin 05.27.12 at 7:56 am

Jim, you’ve been flooding threads again. From now on, I’m imposing a global restriction on you, here and at my blog. One comment per thread per day.

12

Hidari 05.27.12 at 8:01 am

‘Young people start-out on the Left and moving rightwards as they loose what Adam Smith called the overweening conceit of youth.’

‘Gallup asked the following question frequently: “In view of the developments since we entered the fighting in Vietnam, do you think the U. S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?” If some one answers no, then we can assume that they supported the war. Almost every time the question was asked, people under 30 were more likely to say no than people aged 30-49, who in turn were more likely to say no than people 50 and older. The two exceptions were within sampling error. (The numbers for those who agreed that the war had been a mistake are, essentially a mirror image of those who did not. Those with no opinion started at about 20 per cent and declined as the war went on, though there were always more in the oldest group.) Here’s a table with the data: (data follows).

Other common beliefs about public opinion on the Vietnam war are also false. Educated people were more likely to support the war, not less. ‘

http://www.seanet.com/~jimxc/Politics/Mistakes/Vietnam_support.html

13

Jim Rose 05.27.12 at 8:19 am

1. Americans who identify as independents is inversely related to age. More than one-third of the youngest Americans identify as independents, a percentage that drops steadily as the population ages.

2. The percentage who identify as Republicans follows roughly the opposite pattern. Only around 20% of Americans below 25 identify as Republicans.

3. Democrats are quite strong among those under age 24. The percent Democrat stays at the one-third mark until about age 45, when it climbs slightly and remains higher through the 50s and early 60s, hovering at around the 40% point,

To win elections, both parties must win the independent vote, but the republicans need to appeal more to this middle-of-the-road vote to get over the top. because they have a smaller base.

to win, republicans must always win the centre of political life. the democracts only need help from the centre to augment its larger base.

14

wilfred 05.27.12 at 8:33 am

“At the time, I mentioned that there weren’t many examples of people going in the opposite direction”

That’s funny, I can think of hundreds of examples, beginning with those Democrats who were quick to oppose US adventurism and outright war-mongering when Bush was President but have conveniently overlooked or completely discounted drone strikes, Gitmo, Fisa, surveillance of US citizens, persecutions of whistleblowers, etc., etc., etc..

All of these are leftist positions, while supporting gay rights is not. Whence cometh this tendency to confuse liberal democratic ‘values’ with leftist positions? One can either be a leftist or not, but it is silly to imagine that, say, Obama is a leftist, or anyone else associated with the two-party system is.

Glenn Greenwald is what’s left of the left, along with Chris Hedges and precious few others, despised by ‘liberals’ and conservatives alike.

15

IM 05.27.12 at 8:41 am

“All of these are leftist positions, while supporting gay rights is not. “

Yes, just a Nebenwiderspruch!

If you think all political positions on non-economic themes are irrelevant, why is Greenwald of all people, best described as a left libertarian, your hero?

16

rf 05.27.12 at 9:08 am

In England people like Skidelsky and John Gray have moved left (or at least ‘left the right’), and One Nation Torys like Ferdinand Mount have become far more effective at making the case for supposedly left wing concerns.
In Ireland, the left to right phenomenon repeated almost identically, all our neo-cons are old(self described) Marxists- most famously Conor Cruise O Brien. No doubt the switchback will occur, just 20 years after everyone else. (Though reaction to the Provo’s seems to be the most important factor in that turn – And women, of course. Equality was always easier to espouse than to live with)

17

rf 05.27.12 at 9:28 am

“US adventurism and outright war-mongering when Bush was President but have conveniently overlooked or completely discounted drone strikes, Gitmo, Fisa, surveillance of US citizens, persecutions of whistleblowers, etc., etc., etc..
All of these are leftist positions”

In no way are an opposition to US adventurism, Gitmo, surveillance etc only ‘leftist positions’. Surely most of them are intellectually far closer to the traditional, small state, isolationist libertarian right?

“All of these are leftist positions, while supporting gay rights is not”

I guess this is implying that the economy went to hell when we got sidetracked with the gays?

18

Chris Bertram 05.27.12 at 11:48 am

Victor Hugo is a good historical example.

In British politics, Roy Hattersley was always on the far right of the Labour Party, but ended up sharply critical of the Blairites on inequality.

19

Bruce Baugh 05.27.12 at 11:57 am

I have a particular hatred for Fumento’s work since I as struggling with hard-to-diagnose, hard-tot-treat auto-immune problems in the ’80s, and he was right in there making life more painful and then more lethal for a lot of us. So I’ll use him as an example.

He’s not converting at all!

He’s still sure he was right about everything, and that all his enemies were and are wrong. Nor is he willing to take any step at all to help defeat erstwhile allies he now disagrees with. Compare this to people like David Brock and John Cole, who are working their tails off to help out people they now think are correct and to rein in and defeat people they now think are wrong.

Fumento is just making a tone argument, and the tone he’s objecting to is insufficient appreciation of his own genius. He’s not reassessing anything he’s ever said or done, nor conceding merits in others he missed before, nor proposing any action to take power away from right-wingers who have that bad tone toward him.

And that’s true of a lot of those right-wing tut-tutters.

20

tomslee 05.27.12 at 12:24 pm

IM #4: [the overweening conceit of youth] is a myth. At least in the United States, political positions are consolidated around age 30 and then stable.

I hate to break it to you IM, but youth ends before 30.

21

Tom T. 05.27.12 at 12:27 pm

You left Barack Obama off the L-to-R list.

22

tomslee 05.27.12 at 12:27 pm

More strikingly, converts who held their old views with absolute confidence, will be equally confident of their rightness in abandoning those views.

This pisses me off mightily and I’ve seen it both ways. A few years ago, some environmentalist converts to the newly-discovered greenness of nuclear energy were among the most bellicose. I have no problem with people changing their minds, but you’d think a sense of humility would be acquired along with the change.

23

Kevin 05.27.12 at 12:37 pm

Isn’t Gary Wills sort of the prototypical R-L mover in the US context? Also, what Tom Slee said at 22.

24

Bruce Bartlett 05.27.12 at 12:46 pm

I don’t understand why it is a damning criticism to note that people like myself hold views that appear contradictory with equal confidence. You have left out a key detail–circumstances have changed. Just because I oppose tax cuts now doesn’t mean I have retroactively changed my mind about the Reagan tax cuts. On the contrary, I wrote a piece in the Washington Post just a few weeks ago explaining why I think they were the right medicine for the economic conditions of that time. Those conditions are completely different today and require different medicine.

25

Marc 05.27.12 at 12:58 pm

@14: If you’re sufficiently far from the mainstream you can’t distinguish the traditional parties from one another. That doesn’t make them the same; it makes you a radical.

The right wing in the US today is incredibly extreme by historical standards, and this extremism is endorsed in primaries by rejection of any politician who deviates from it in any way. This is, again, ahistorical; politicans have had wide latitude to break from orthodoxy in the US party system.

Of course, there are some issues where there is little mainstream disagreement. But it’s not just simple blindness and dishonesty to ignore the many issues where there is radical disagreement. It’s also reckless in the face of the actual stakes at hand.

26

Marc 05.27.12 at 1:00 pm

@24: There is a group in the online left that are extremely hostile to people who weren’t right for the right reasons at the right time. I don’t understand why anyone thinks that this is wise or useful, but it’s a very real phenomenon.

27

gastro george 05.27.12 at 1:02 pm

“In British politics, Roy Hattersley was always on the far right of the Labour Party, but ended up sharply critical of the Blairites on inequality.”

It’s indicative of the tragedy of New Labour that Hattersley moved from the right of the party to the left without changing many, if any, of his views.

“Isn’t Nick Cohen’s point that (a section of) the left has moved rightwards, e.g. to support theocrats and communalism under the guise of “anti-imperialism”, but that he has remained firmly on the left?”

That would be Cohen’s stance, but it’s frankly a pile of straw men and whataboutery.

28

Henry Farrell 05.27.12 at 2:00 pm

Re-reading Rick Perlstein’s _Nixonland_, and it’s rather startling to see that Gary Wills and Joan Didion both got their chops writing for the culture section of _The National Review._ Now they have Jonah Goldberg …

29

rf 05.27.12 at 2:13 pm

I cant wait until Jonah Goldberg moves to the left

30

LFC 05.27.12 at 2:15 pm

No one yet has mentioned The God That Failed, published circa 1950 and reissued by Columbia Univ. Press in 2001. This is the title that first comes to my mind when the subject of conversion is raised, but that may only be b/c there was a copy on my parents’ shelves when I was a kid. (I don’t think I ever really read it.)

31

MattF 05.27.12 at 2:30 pm

Another R->L blogger is Charles Johnson of littlegreenfootballs.com. He’s become the scourge of right-wing racists and homophobes– which is quite a shift, to say the least.

32

dr ngo 05.27.12 at 2:32 pm

I did read The God That Failed and may even still have a copy somewhere around. This was entirely, and specifically, about rejection of Communism (with a capital “C”) and did not, IIRC, dabble much in broader philosophical questions of what constitutes leftism or liberalism. Very much an early Cold War artifact, and interesting enough within that context, FWIW.

33

Bruce Bartlett 05.27.12 at 2:40 pm

There were a large number of ex-Communists who switched to National Review-style conservatism. Whittaker Chambers is the best known, but there were many others. Will Herberg, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, and Willi Schlamm are some others. The Right has always been highly receptive to apostates from the Left. The Left, however, has been much less welcoming to apostates from the Right.

34

MattF 05.27.12 at 2:46 pm

@BruceBartlett
Well, Leftist->Stalinist->Trotskyite->Neocon was very much a mid-20th century career path. I don’t see a common pattern like that in the current R->L shifts. Although maybe I’m missing it because I find it hard to understand the ‘R’ point of view in the first place.

35

Barry Freed 05.27.12 at 2:49 pm

As for a common pattern, don’t an awful lot of them seem to be older Reaganites?

Corey Robin wrote about this back when I was a high school student toting sample issues of Lingua Franca

I grow old…I grow old…

36

Mitchell Freedman 05.27.12 at 2:57 pm

Irving Howe was the first one to say in a public way, “Those who currently attack me from the Left will eventually attack me from the Right.” Although he did so while arguing on behalf of LBJ’s Vietnam strategy, irony of ironies. Howe elsewhere said the far Leftist who attacked him would retain the same rhetorical style and contempt for reasoned factual analysis–and that is an important insight when analyzing those from David Horowitz to David Mamet who make that sharply Left to sharply Right journey. The only person who retained a sense of subtlety and factual analysis who I ever read was Whittaker Chambers, which was why he was so uneasy writing for the National Review in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Even reading his major book, “Witness,” one is struck by his judicious sense and doubts.

The migration from Right to Left, however, is almost always precisely because a person learns more information and undergoes a more detailed analysis of public policy issues. One begins here with Garry Wills and more recently Glenn Loury and Michael Lind. Beinart is an interesting example with respect to Israel and foreign policy, most certainly.

I love the Corey Robin link from the early commenter as it contains the most delicious quote from Bill Buckley where Buckley pays the ultimate compliment to the late Michael Harrington, an intellectual hero for many of us who long for a truly mixed economic system that actually works on behalf of working families and alleviates the pain and fact of poverty.

37

mpowell 05.27.12 at 2:58 pm

To pick up on something earlier in this thread – this may be obvious to everyone which is why nobody has mentioned it, but when Jim Rose trots out voting patterns by age for a single time slice, he is completely missing the point IM is making. To understand how people’s voting patterns change as they age you have to actually track voters over time. It is just as feasible for current age based splits to be the result of different original political opinions of various generations of voters as opposed to changes in individual voters over time.

On the other hand, I agree that 30 no longer really counts as young. Many people at that age are married and have kids. It’s a huge change for people. Being close to that age, I think I can perceive a strong shift towards conservatism among certain of my peers. But I believe that tendency was probably always latent anyways.

38

rf 05.27.12 at 3:03 pm

“The Left, however, has been much less welcoming to apostates from the Right.”

Well you’re more than welcome Bruce, just please don’t bring Arthur Laffer with you….

39

Sasha Clarkson 05.27.12 at 3:04 pm

“….. converts who held their old views with absolute confidence, will be equally confident of their rightness in abandoning those views.”

This kind of behaviour has a long pedigree: Saul of Tarsus/St Paul and the road to Damascus anyone? A former persecutor who converted, then lectured other members of the Christian church on what their faith should mean to them, creating divisions within the church and between the church and the rest of the world.

40

Aaron 05.27.12 at 3:29 pm

It is shocking how quickly opinions change, but I think it’s more mysterious how they can shift dramatically depending on who is in power. I think filibuster reform is a pretty noticeable case. A few years ago it was republicans who were clamoring for filibuster reforms. Now it’s been democrats, but I’m willing to bet that those voices would shut up in the event of a Romney win. But it’s also the case that people who are expressing their thoughts can find themselves very “wrong” a few years later. I recently reread Andrea Campbell’s 2006 article (in Skocpol and Pierson), which argues that:
(1) The Dem’s overreliance on a few wealthy donors is hurting the party
(2) Democrats are horrible at mobilization, unlike Republicans
(3) The Dems lack a coherent economic message aside from deficit reduction
Just saying that one of the perils of putting pen to paper is that you may be visibly contradicting yourself a few years down the road.

41

LFC 05.27.12 at 4:09 pm

dr ngo @32: Yes. Interesting, though, that a univ. press found it worthwhile to reissue the book.

42

dr ngo 05.27.12 at 4:51 pm

LFC @41. One reason for the reprint, surely, was the sheer quality of the writers involved: Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. Politics aside, there are some damn fine wordsmiths there.

43

Bruce Wilder 05.27.12 at 5:22 pm

I wonder if someone more clever than I could come up with a succinct distinction, which would separate those, who are changing tribes from those, who are genuinely changing philosophical or substantive ideas.

Tribal or partisan committments require individuals to pick and choose among their personal sentiments, beliefs and knowledge, and to choose a specialized role, as a voice. No one can agree with their political associates about everything, and some may seeking only some particular desiderata, and regard the rhetorical productions as more a matter of propaganda generated as a means to ends, than as essays expressing philosophical or ethical conviction — it’s ad copy. And, the particular role, a particular voice, pundit or politician may play can be even narrower.

The Republican Party coalition has been shifting fairly dramatically. Kevin Phillips was very, very clear that his alleged “shift” was a reaction to the implications he saw in that shift.

Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have been modifying their views in various ways, as they seek a viable career path.

Paul Krugman stands out in my mind as someone, whose role (and the tone that goes with it) and prominence, may make him seem less conservative than he is.

44

John Garrett 05.27.12 at 5:36 pm

Obama was never L, nor is he now R — the L-R structure is, I believe, simply an annoyance to him as people misunderstand that he just wants to keep on keeping on. And that’s the problem.

John Garrett

45

Bruce Wilder 05.27.12 at 5:49 pm

An awful lot of people have no strong political convictions, and just want to keep on keeping on. And, that, indeed, is a very big problem.

46

geo 05.27.12 at 6:05 pm

Aaron @40: one of the perils of putting pen to paper is that you may be visibly contradicting yourself a few years down the road

Yes, but this is also a terrific opportunity. Nearly always, something fundamental will underwrite both old and new positions, and figuring out and articulating what that is can produce some of the most valuable and enduring political testaments.

Bruce Wilder @43: Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have been modifying their views in various ways, as they seek a viable career path.

Just curious: what makes you think their modifications are modified by opportunism rather than the inevitable vicissitudes produced by thinking in public?

47

rf 05.27.12 at 6:07 pm

“Paul Krugman stands out in my mind as someone, whose role (and the tone that goes with it) and prominence, may make him seem less conservative than he is.”

Yep, and that’s what appealing about Paul Krugman. He’s willing to sacrifice his ‘credibility’ to overstate a point on behalf of the underpaid and unemployed.
It’s worth far more than the bulls$$t that generally flows from his peers, left or right.

48

lupita 05.27.12 at 6:25 pm

Latin Americans have veered markedly to the left, the anti-neoliberal left not the abortion/gay marriage left. Europeans are also becoming highly receptive to anti-IMF rants and notions of nationalizing banks and defaulting which just 20 years ago were laughed off as pipe dreams of leftist radicals with no math skills.

Nothing like a good crisis to bring people back to their senses.

49

IM 05.27.12 at 6:43 pm

Please quit the quibbling if 30 is young. The point is that the popular model that a 40 year old is more conservative then a 20 year old, a 60 more then a 40 years old is wrong. At least on economic matters the greatest generation was to the left of the silent generation or generation X etc, even as they aged.

50

Watson Ladd 05.27.12 at 6:44 pm

David Brooks is still right-wing: he fits in with Benjamin Disraeli as a conservative reaction against the excesses of capital. How exactly is he to the left of a social democrat, when he’s just a classic neoconservative? David Stockman again has become the guardian of fiscal restraint and a critic of the cut at any cost movement, which is hardly “leftist”.

51

rf 05.27.12 at 6:46 pm

lupita
I don’t see why the anti-neoliberal left has to live in isolation from the abortion/gay marriage left. I read you as implying that it’s an either or situation?
The point about Europe seems pretty of base. There’s no real anti-neoliberal, pro default lobby in the EU institutions. Domestically in the peripheral countries there is, perhaps, but that doesn’t count for much. Any upcoming ‘defaults’ that might occur will generally be choreographed and far less an issue in the core countries than it would have been 4 years ago. (That’s not taking a position on certain ‘things’ some posters might find naive. )

52

rf 05.27.12 at 6:48 pm

53

Jim Harrison 05.27.12 at 6:49 pm

It’s part of the modern ethic of professionalism to believe that taking positions that hurt your career is self indulgent. At least some of the recent defectors from the right are extremely successful folks who can afford this self indulgence, either because they have already established a brand or because they are getting older and don’t have much to lose as they near retirement. The younger public intellectuals are well aware of how this works and bitterly resent the good luck of those who are able to engage in parrhesia without having to live in a barrel as a consequence.

54

IM 05.27.12 at 6:51 pm

Not David Brooks, David Brock. Author of Blinded by the right.

Who is as far as I understand a conventional democrat now and so surely moved to the left from his movement conservative days.

55

Watson Ladd 05.27.12 at 7:03 pm

rf,IM: D’oh! Still, the mainstream democratic party is pretty right-wing: nothing as dramatic as Trot->Neocon in the offering.

56

peggy 05.27.12 at 7:04 pm

Brad DeLong is an economist who has apologized for his errors <a href="http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/11/the-sorrow-and-pity-of-the-liquidity-trap.html"How I Learned to Stop Neoclassicizing and Love the Liquidity Trap: Peccavi Nimis et Mea Maxima Culpa Department. He has joined Krugman in scourging the deficit fanatics.

57

IM 05.27.12 at 7:08 pm

Well I would argue that a movement conservative – radical right – is from a centrist democrat quite far apart.
While trotskyites and neoconservatives are so similar that the differences between this factions of the radical left and radical right seem to be smaller. On the famous political compass they would both been in the same spot on the authoritarian axis.

58

peggy 05.27.12 at 7:10 pm

DeLong
Sorry, A preview function might make this easier.

59

John Quiggin 05.27.12 at 7:22 pm

@Bruce Bartlett I didn’t have you in mind as regards expressing contradictory views with equal confidence, more as an example of “I didn’t abandon the conservative movement, it abandoned me”.

And of course, Keynes has the classic quote on this “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

60

Marc 05.27.12 at 7:35 pm

@48: And yet women can be sent to prison for having abortions in much of Latin America. Left and right have more than one dimension, and latin america has moved right on some very important ones.

61

IM 05.27.12 at 7:38 pm

I don’t think so. That presumes that the left of south america was less social conservative in the past. As far as I know that isn’t true. (cultural hegemony of catholicism and all that)

62

peggy 05.27.12 at 7:44 pm

Other Republicans who feel they have been left behind by the Tea Party and the orgiastic stupidity of the Iraq War are General Colin Powell, who voted for Obama in 2008 and Daniel Larison of The American Conservative. Larison is profoundly anti-interventionist. I don’t read him enough to understand his politics, but he is quite religious and possibly a Russian monarchist. Larison and Ron Paul’s foreign policies are similar.

The monumental stupidity of the Iraq invasion, coziness with European neo-Nazis (cf Little Green Footballs), genuine assassination attempts, congressional shutdown and laughing off a potential US default have just driven many citizens with a genuine conservative temperament off the edge. Many still don’t like liberals, but they cannot abide the Tea Party either, so they are stuck.
Add Sen Lugar and Sen Snowe to the list of the stranded and note that some of those named are well past their 60′s and most are at least in their 40′s. In the US, this shift is being driven by dreadful events.

63

Bruce Wilder 05.27.12 at 7:48 pm

geo @ 46: “what makes you think their modifications are modified by opportunism rather than the inevitable vicissitudes produced by thinking in public?”

Yglesias, as I recall, was fairly explicit, during his Think Progress gig, that he was searching for a niche, a voice or viewpoint that would secure a marketable audience/skillset/brand. My google skillz are handicapped this morning by a high sugar to caffeine ratio, or I would try to bring up some links for you.

I don’t like Yglesias’s choice, largely because it deprives me, personally, of value. I’m not going to learn anything about economics from him.

That said, I find “opportunism” a bit pejorative. He’s in the business of manufacturing and selling his opinions; he has to find a large-enough market for those opinions, and concentrate on producing opinions that sell to the market he’s found. I doubt very much that many humans in any era so transcend their times or place, as to march to the sound of their own drummer. If you seek an audience — and even more, if you depend upon your audience for a livelihood — your expressions are shaped by the audience. Ditto by extension and elaboration, for your relationship with critics and collaborators and colleagues, publishers and patrons.

Politics is a society “thinking aloud”; “thinking”, itself, is a social activity, which, I suppose, is why philosophy is dialectic, and science features advocates and points-of-view. Everyone gets carried along in the chaotic swirling flow; those, who paddle a bit harder may mount the current for a time, or they may find themselves cast up on a sandbar or caught in an isolated eddy, or clinging to a rock against the floodtime or beached by the ebbtide. No one, however, keeps his socks dry. Opportunities and vicissitudes are indistinguishable aspects of the same irresistible fluid movement.

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bos 05.27.12 at 7:56 pm

Wasn’t there a whole generation of Labour who never got to defend their conversion from a student life of Grouchoism to a muddle aged life trying to persuade people who found Jim Davidson funny to vote for them.

Be interesting to know how many ex-Sparts/Leninists/Stalinsts learned how to lick the City hand and take the Murdoch shilling.

65

rf 05.27.12 at 8:00 pm

Peggy – “Larison is profoundly anti-interventionist. I don’t read him enough to understand his politics, but he is quite religious and possibly a Russian monarchist.”

Absolutely. When you drift into religion or non-foreign policy politics with Larison its best to look for the nearest exit. But aside from that he’s one of the most astute commentators, I think, that I’ve found online. Which is further evidence against Wilfred’s point at 14.

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lupita 05.27.12 at 8:17 pm

rf:

I don’t see why the anti-neoliberal left has to live in isolation from the abortion/gay marriage left.

They don’t, however, the definitions of left in Latin America and the US are different. In the first, a socialist may be for or against abortion; it makes no difference. In the US, being pro-abortion is virtually the definition of leftist, regardless of views on the global financial system. I believe it is quite clear that the definition of left in the US is at odds with its definition in the rest of the world.

Domestically in the peripheral countries there is, perhaps, but that doesn’t count for much.

I was thinking of the periphery when I was writing my comment. Needless to say, I think it counts very much. The core is what has become irrelevant.

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wolfgang 05.27.12 at 8:23 pm

John Lennon was an example of L-R conversion according to a former assistant.
I don’t think we know if it was due to money or age …

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Witt 05.27.12 at 8:39 pm

Just curious: what makes you think their modifications are modified by opportunism rather than the inevitable vicissitudes produced by thinking in public?

It’s quite dangerous for me to opine about either Klein or Yglesias, since I’ve really only read them secondhand.

But talking about pundits in general, I’d say: Because their modifications seems to happen primarily, or even only, in a rightward direction.

If you think in public, you’re inevitably going to get egg on your face from time to time. If you think rigorously, you’re going to decide you have egg on your face sometimes even when none of your readers have pointed it out.

If, over and over again, you come to the careful and reasoned conclusion that the preferences and values of those in power are indeed of primary importance to the world….well, you may subject to something, but it is very unlikely to be “the inevitable vicissitudes produced by thinking in public.”

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Data Tutashkhia 05.27.12 at 8:55 pm

Don’t they have those two-dimensional diagrams with social views measured along the vertical axis, and economic views along the horizontal one? It’s quite possible to be extremely conservative socially and, at the same time, a proponent of radical economic equality. Like some Anabaptist sects, for example. The opposite combination is, of course, much more common.

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John Quiggin 05.27.12 at 9:04 pm

Obama himself has clearly shifted a long way to the right on civil liberties issues, or maybe his earlier statements did not reflect his real views. And, as GG never tires of pointing out, lots of people who screamed about Bush have made excuses for Obama. But that seems, in most cases, to be a combination of party loyalism, lesser-evilism and simple resignation to the absence of any effective option.

Are there good examples of liberals who have become advocates of detention without trial and so on, as opposed to making excuses for Obama? Indeed, despite his actions, even Obama mainly makes excuses – I can’t recall much in the way of advocacy of the imperial presidency.

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John Quiggin 05.27.12 at 9:07 pm

“Because their modifications seems to happen primarily, or even only, in a rightward direction.”

As the OP points out, this has ceased to be true.

And even among people who start out left of center, I can point to counterexamples. Krugman is the most obvious. Turning to the farm league, I’ve also shifted to become much more strongly antiwar and more economically interventionist than I was.

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c murphy 05.27.12 at 9:21 pm

Fumento’s objections to the fulminations of West, Limbaugh and their ilk is that they’re vulgar, not that there policy prescriptions are wrong at best and batshit crazy at worst. He just wants his bigots to be urbane like Buckley rather than fat slobs like Limbaugh.

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Bruce Wilder 05.27.12 at 9:23 pm

rf @ 47: “[Krugman]’s willing to sacrifice his ‘credibility’ to overstate a point on behalf of the underpaid and unemployed.”

Yes. But, the other side of this is that Krugman is not willing to identify the actual motivations and desiderata of the Right he nominally opposes. His opponents are always ill-informed or mistaken, stupidly unable to grasp the insight he provides; at worst, as in the case of Ben Bernanke, they may supposedly lack the courage of their erstwhile convictions. This morning, he was blaming the British Conservative-LibDem austerity on leprechauns! (– supposedly a widespread conventional belief that Ireland was recovering due to austerity).

When your leading “Left” advocate/critic is actually a centrist, you never get from him a clear view of the Right and its strategy or desiderata. At best, you might glimpse tactics. He’s going to say the elite is failing, and that’s good to know; but, he’s never going to say that the elite is trying to steal Social Security or immiserate Labor as a means of enriching themselves, and that handicaps the Left as a potential movement.

Krugman has conviction and integrity. That this makes him “left” is a measure of the sickness of our times.

A large part of what defines the spectrum of American politics, as seen on the internets and cable news, from the center-right leftward is simply rationalization of tactics. If your anchor is a tactical rationalization — like voting for Obama because Romney “would be worse” or excusing some Obama policy because of Congressional Republican obstruction — your strategic ideas or committments or critiques are irrelevant to everything except as an exercise in personal branding and tone.

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terence 05.27.12 at 9:33 pm

It seems to me that a lot of the shifting left and shifting right can but attributed to the fact for many of us it is easier to hate an enemy than hold considered views in a complicated world.

For erstwhile members of the radical left one enemy, the capitalist, was easily enough substituted with another, often an ethnic or some other minority group (at least in the Australian case), or otherwise former comrades.

Meanwhile, reading Fumento’s post, it seems like he has belatedly noticed the fact that most of his right wing fellow travellers aren’t motivated by actual conservative principles but rather by visceral hatred of an enemy: the liberal; Obama; the foreigner etc. This realisation probably explains Frum et al too.

I understand the temptation. I was always more comfortable thinking about the Iraq war in terms of Evil George Bush and the Neo-Cons than I was trying to weigh up the potential pros and cons of the endeavour (which, for what it’s worth, I did eventually do, with the same end result – opposition to the war, albeit more troubled opposition).

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Leo Casey 05.27.12 at 9:34 pm

Part of the problem here, I would propose, is that a left-right continuum of politics is not exhaustive. I would not join those who see it as outmoded, but it captures only a portion of politics. Take the case of Jay Lovestone, one of the first leaders of the American Communist Party. He allied himself with Bukharin, and when Stalin moved against Bukharin, Lovestone and his followers were forced out of the CP. Perhaps the most noble moment in all of Lovestone’s life was when he told Stalin to go fuck himself, face to face. For many years after, Lovestone leads the Communist Party (Opposition), an organization which dissolves in the late 30s as Stalin executes Bukharin and Hitler-Stalin pact is enacted. Lovestone becomes as strident an anti-Communist as once was a Communist, and collaborates with the CIA in opposing Communist influences in the international trade union movement from his position as head of the ALF-CIO’s International Affairs Department. But his politics remains that of an ardent factionalist and intriguer, much given to conspiracy, with a strong steak of authoritarianism — it is just anti-Communist rather than Communist.

Not all of the Lovestonites follow Lovestone on this path. Some of the more prominent members, such as the Bertram Wolfe (who ends up at the Hoover Institution) and Will Herberg, the first major sociologist of religion, move far to the right, but those who are active in the trade union movement, such as Charles (Sasha) Zimmerman of ILGWU, are more likely to become social democrats — anti-Communist to be sure, but of a democratic cast. Paule Marshall, a very interesting figure in the civil rights movement, was also a Lovestonite.

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Freddie 05.27.12 at 9:42 pm

Matt Yglesias has sprinted to the right during my time reading him, but he flips out if you point that out.

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Witt 05.27.12 at 9:47 pm

71: Sorry, in my effort to be fair to the two named pundits, I was totally unclear. I wasn’t making a claim that all pundits move right, but that when pundits ARE moving mostly/only rightwards, it’s hard to attribute that to the give-and-take of developing their positions in the public eye.

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Witt 05.27.12 at 9:47 pm

A field-specific example is Diane Ravitch, who has really moved substantively on public education issues.

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Walt 05.27.12 at 10:26 pm

Charles Johnson of littlegreenfootballs.com is the rare case of a L -> R -> L move.

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Watson Ladd 05.27.12 at 11:30 pm

lupita: it makes a great deal of difference for those women denied the right to control their reproductive lives. The idea that we can separate the economic freedom of women from their ability to plan their reproductive life is ludicrous in the extreme. Only if the socialists abandoned all their principals (which admittedly has happened a lot in the 20th century) would they not see that women will never be free without contraception and abortion.

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geo 05.27.12 at 11:31 pm

Bruce @72: So true about Krugman. I wonder if it isn’t at least partly his editors’ fault, though. He must know better than to give the right wing credit for good intentions. But the Times is so infatuated with its pose of responsible centrist objectivity that they would probably cave to right-wing pressure and muzzle him if he got too explicit.

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ponce 05.27.12 at 11:41 pm

@75 “Matt Yglesias has sprinted to the right during my time reading him, but he flips out if you point that out.”

I wouldn’t say he’s gone to the right.

I’d say he’s turned into one of the lazy know-it-all pundits he used to mock when he started blogging 10 years ago, an instant “expert” on every political subject.

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Norwegian Guy 05.27.12 at 11:45 pm

To what extent has Matt Yglesias actually moved rightwards? I haven’t followed his writings that closely, but he started out as a liberal hawk, and is now solidly antiwar. And while his micro economics is mostly neoliberal bullshit, he’s a decent popularizer of Keynesian macro economics.

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Freddie 05.27.12 at 11:52 pm

His neoliberalism has become vastly more acute, and he’s the perfect example of a political evolution that has showed itself through attention; he spends far more time complaining about licensing and regulation than he once did, and far less time advancing a liberal, economically interventionist politics. Also, his “there is only capital exchange” ethos is new. And his resentment towards leftwing critics has grown by leaps and bounds.

Near the end of his time at CAP, I would keep a sloppy count of what might be taken as straigthforwardly liberal posts and what qualified as liberal contrarianism/neoliberalism/trolling his readership. By the end the latter outnumbered the former, easily, by at least three to one. That’s simply not the way he once was.

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Cranky Observer 05.28.12 at 12:04 am

Norwegian Guy 05.27.12 at 11:45 pm,
The thing is that neoliberal microeconomics essentially says “hard-right Republicans are right about the economy and the role of government, although anything they miss can be filled in by libertarians. Democrats and liberals must conform to this Truth(tm); then we’ll try a little redistribution some unknown time in the future”.

The problem being of course that right-wing microeconomics is riddled with flaws (as we might have learned from the Gilded Age, the 1930s, and the 2007s), and even if it weren’t saying ‘we’ll play along now and redistribute later’ is akin to saying we’ll give all the wealth to Koch, Walton, and Romney and take care of everyone else never.

It is very much akin to the “war hawk liberals” who to this day will change the subject, bluster, and finally stomp out of the room if you ask them where their apology about Iraq was published.

Cranky

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rf 05.28.12 at 12:32 am

Deleted – I’m not sure what your intent was here, but nothing more like this, please. More generally, any reference to Zionism or related topics will be deleted with prejudice

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lupita 05.28.12 at 12:33 am

Watson Ladd:
women will never be free without contraception and abortion

Forget about free, what about alive? Botched abortions has become the number one cause of maternal deaths in countries like Brazil where abortion is criminalized.

However I was trying to respond to the question of people who have veered to the left and I had to make explicit the definition of left as used in Latin America for my answer to make sense. There is definitely an important anti-capitalist movement in Latin America and one starts to hear the rumblings of one in the European periphery. We all know that this sharp turn to the left has nothing to do with human rights, feminism, abortion, and gays and everything to do with privatizations, labor rights, the funding of social services, interest rates, free trade agreements, the IMF, bailouts, the concentration of wealth, debt… that is, the global financial order. With that definition in mind, I would venture that the whole world is turning left.

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parsimon 05.28.12 at 12:42 am

I haven’t read the thread yet, so this may have been mentioned, but Freddie’s post at Balloon Juice on neoliberalism is worth a read.

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Salient 05.28.12 at 12:44 am

This pisses me off mightily and I’ve seen it both ways. A few years ago, some environmentalist converts to the newly-discovered greenness of nuclear energy were among the most bellicose. I have no problem with people changing their minds, but you’d think a sense of humility would be acquired along with the change.

I’m pretty sure humility and uncertainty have almost nothing to do with each other. Humility, bellicosity, etc are mannerisms/behaviors/styles of presentation/modes of interaction. People who feel defensive, aggrieved, offended or indignant will probably not behave humbly; whereas people who feel secure, distant, sedate or defeated probably will. Unhumble behavior has much more to do with social confidence and a sense of one’s own authority than with cognitive confidence or a sense of one’s own rightness. (Only one of two different kinds of perceived authority are at work in each situation, though. The first’s an internalized anticipation of social approbation, i.e. contextually-justified defensiveness or protectiveness; the other’s an internalized sense of social power, the more ordinary speaking authoritatively as if acting as an agent on behalf of a community.)

As regards this specific kind of humility, I think the principal characteristic at work is a kind of social self awareness, or a sense of one’s own community.^1^ Those who feel acutely aware of their transition into a community that does not respect their position in the former community might discover a need for humble behavior. Those who feel like they’re merely choosing a new chair in the same dinner hall probably won’t. There’s probably no hope to receive an acknowledgement that they’re defeated and defecting from someone who feels defective but not defeated. In paintball a defection from Team Red to Team Blue is hardly an indicator of one’s marksmanship; we can’t expect those for whom politics is paintball to behave any more gravely.

Anyway. In this framework, what you’re asserting is that a person who abandons an internalized position of authority in one of their communities in order to join a conflicting community, should not presume to speak with the authority of their self-identified new community. And you’re pissed off when they don’t acquiesce in their own defeat. That’s a reasonable assertion and a reasonable feeling too, except, they probably still don’t see themselves as part of our community. In the community they feel they are part of, their status didn’t change; their movement was more like a lateral transfer between departments.

John Cole decided he wanted to belong to our community, and so he accepted his role as defeated convert. Frankly, he seemed pretty damn confident in his new beliefs; that wasn’t a problem because he openly acknowledged and accepted his position in the community as we conceived it. (Whereas a person who is noticeably unconfident in their new beliefs might be less welcomed, or at least, more tepidly welcomed, than someone who is confident. The difference between I was wrong and I was wrong earlier and might be wrong to join you is stark.)

tl;dr Humility is a mechanism for obtaining welcome and acknowledging one’s place of relative powerlessness in a social hierarchy, not for expressing any kind of uncertainty; in this context it’s a sign of respect to one’s victors for their victory. People who want to count themselves as ‘with us’ (and who genuinely care about how we feel about them) will exhibit humility; people who self-identify as part of the Beltway community, or any community that accommodates political shifts, will not exhibit humility.

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Salient 05.28.12 at 12:57 am

The same ‘you owe us humility’ mechanic also shows up in statements like, “He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place.”

There was an interesting attempt to apply this to politicians themselves over at TAP, but Schmitt ultimately gets it all wrong; one of the two parties has a large contingent of members whose community ties conflict with and take precedence over their own party’s political identity (including those who perceive the Senate or House as their community).

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Watson Ladd 05.28.12 at 1:10 am

Lupita: would you agree that there is a conservative anti-capitalism? All to often those bemoaning the big banks are in favor of the slumlord, the loan shark, and the small-time capitalist. All capital is financial capital: the manufacturer is as much a financier as a producer of things. If leftism means anything, it is the politics of emancipation.

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Omega Centauri 05.28.12 at 1:18 am

I can only contribute by thinking of what has motivated my own shifts. I’ve always tried to be realist about the world. I’ve also been a fan of balance, which would tend to make me a natural centrist -or even someone who swings counter to the current, in order to push the system nearer to the vaunted balance point. So someone with such beliefs will shift as the political climate changes, kind of like changing the thermostat from heal to cool as summer approaches. Also as others have noted the L-R axis is seriously difficient in categorizing a complex belief space. At any given time and place the different poles of the axis contain different clusters of issues. Which issues appear critical, and which side of the fence champions the “correct” side on a given issue is not time invarient. For instance during the first half of my lifetime, the overriding issue was -will we survive the cold war? At the time of the first Reagan administration, I thought our best chance lay in standing up to the Soviets, so I was a supporter. Now, the cold war is a moot issue, so other issues come to the fore. If you are for contraceptive rights in the present USA, your only hope/choice is the left. In my case I think the most critical issue of the times is the transition from the age when industrialism had its exponential growth phase to something not yet well defined, that is sustainable. On this issue, the current right is hopeless -and in fact opposed to the very concept of the existence of this issue. The left is at least partly receptive. So if this is a motivating issue, your only choice is leftish. Then we have issues of plutocracy, and or theocracy, these also have a strong L-R dimension in the current environment. So I think a big part of these migrations may have to do with the individuals particular weighting of the issues, and how they align with the choices available to him.

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William Timberman 05.28.12 at 1:18 am

Re Krugman, et al., Kris Kristofferson’s line is probably about as good as any:

Freedom’s just another word
For nothin’ left to lose

The price for speaking your mind is always high. The promise was that in a democracy, it would never become prohibitive. Which is why so many of us are calling for a re-think.

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Omega Centauri 05.28.12 at 1:23 am

Damn the CT software! I forgot my own rule that any comment longer than two lines, should be composed/editied in a text file, then moused into the comment box as the last step. That durned SW just likes to convert editting into strikethroughs….

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Jim Henley 05.28.12 at 1:24 am

What am I, chopped liver?????????

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P O'Neill 05.28.12 at 1:33 am

@73

He’s [Krugman] going to say the elite is failing, and that’s good to know; but, he’s never going to say that the elite is trying to steal Social Security or immiserate Labor as a means of enriching themselves, and that handicaps the Left as a potential movement.

Martin Wolf interviewing Krugman in Saturday’s FT:

I ask whether he is disheartened by the failure of people on his side of the political argument to stand up for what they believe in. After all, I note, you must be disappointed by the willingness to accept the need to slash entitlement spending – rather than to raise taxes – when the federal tax ratio is exceptionally low and there have been extraordinary shifts in the distribution of income. Does Krugman think that’s all about money? “These things are always complicated but some of it is about money. Look, with even a few mild words of reproof, Obama has lost a huge funding source from Wall Street. And you have got to give the right credit: they play a long game. They’ve spent 40 and more years working on ‘government is bad’ or ‘taxes are bad.’”

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UserGoogol 05.28.12 at 1:33 am

I think Matt Yglesias (and Krugman, while we’re at it) is just a good illustration that there’s a big difference between liberalism and “the left” in the sense of the more socialist-influenced political movements. There’s a reason why they call it neoliberalism, after all; liberalism has always been extremely comfortable with markets as a social institution, it’s just that as classical liberalism evolved into modern liberalism it became more willing to see the place for regulations here and there. Once you start about struggling against existing power structures and such, that’s firmly in the territory of The Left.

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Freddie 05.28.12 at 1:41 am

More generally, any reference to Zionism or related topics will be deleted with prejudice

whoa.

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ponce 05.28.12 at 1:47 am

whoa indeed,

What possible conection could there be between Z***ism and Republican fringe right lurches?

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parsimon 05.28.12 at 1:56 am

Henley, have you come all the way over?

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Emma in Sydney 05.28.12 at 1:57 am

P. O’Neill, I thought that too. Krugman recently had a whole series of blog posts with charts showing how most of the recent increases in productivity had gone straight into the pockets of the 0.1%. He goes on and on about it.

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rf 05.28.12 at 1:59 am

Usergoogel, Bruce, Geo

“there’s a big difference between liberalism and “the left” in the sense of the more socialist-influenced political movements.”

Sure, but so what? Krugman talks about inequality, unemployment (!) and is listened to, and argued with, on the periphery of Europe. What more do you want? Adopt him, nurture him, bring him up as one of our own.
I’m easy, just lets start doing something….

Christ,we’re 4 years into this, it doesn’t get better.

Freddie

Yeah, I know. I had a point. Maybe I’ll explain it one day. It wasn’t a great point, but there was something there.

Anyway I’m of to sleep before I get done for a hate crime.
Thanks P O Neill

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Marc 05.28.12 at 2:21 am

You can’t judge political position in a vacuum. Krugman is, by US standards, extremely liberal. I haven’t seen him express substantive opinions on any matter that would put him to the right of any major political figure. The fact that people here see him as being somehow conservative says a lot more about their position on the american political spectrum than it does about him.

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chrismealy 05.28.12 at 2:24 am

geo @46, Ezra Klein has done enough interviews with Jamie Galbraith to understand that beltway deficit hysteria is nonsense, but he keeps playing on Team Villager anyway. IIRC he was in Paul Ryan’s fanclub. He used to be right at the top of Google Reader for me but I nixed him because couldn’t bear seeing him play dumb anymore.

In comments (which I’m sure he doesn’t read) I told Yglesias that I’d stopped reading him if he linked to the Internet’s #1 racist one more time. He did and that was enough for me. Last I saw he was still for Nordic-level tax rates, which is more than I can say for most liberals.

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John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 2:37 am

@95 Hey Jim, I meant to mention you, but I wasn’t sure whether you were ever a proper rightwinger.

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John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 2:38 am

You might remember on my very first link to you, I called you a “left liberal”

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UserGoogol 05.28.12 at 2:51 am

rf: I consider myself more of a liberal than a leftist myself, actually. I was coming at the argument from the other direction. Liberals aren’t sell-out leftists, and they’re not necessarily centrists either, they’re just a different kind of left-of-center.

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wilfred 05.28.12 at 2:54 am

@97:
“Once you start about struggling against existing power structures and such, that’s firmly in the territory of The Left.”

That’s about right. Comments are interesting for what’s not said – not a word about militarism, incipient nationalism and near complete blackout of internationalism. I don’t recall a Democratic party so unconcerned with foreign affairs in my lifetime. Elizabeth Warren’s site has this: “Our foreign policy should be smart, tough, and pragmatic, using every tool in the toolbox.”
And she’s a ‘leftist’?! The rest of it is indistinguishable from any right wing hack.

I’m as red as an apple, as are most of my friends and colleagues; we’ll be sitting this one out.

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lupita 05.28.12 at 2:58 am

Watson Ladd:
would you agree that there is a conservative anti-capitalism?

Certainly. Most Latin American and Arab anti-capitalists would be considered social conservatives by Americans. On the other hand, we obviously consider ourselves normal while some refer to the US as socially decadent.

All to often those bemoaning the big banks are in favor of the slumlord, the loan shark, and the small-time capitalist.

I really have not noticed that.

All capital is financial capital: the manufacturer is as much a financier as a producer of things. If leftism means anything, it is the politics of emancipation.

As its name suggests, anti-capitalists are against capitalism, the system, not capital or individual capitalists. As UserGoogol wrote “Once you start about struggling against existing power structures and such, that’s firmly in the territory of The Left.” Since capitalism is a global system, the existing power structures the left is emancipating itself from are also global: the IMF, the World Bank, dollar hegemony, the Anglo-American financial centers, and global banking institutions and corporations, mostly from the 1st world. On a local level, each national left has its own issues; social liberalism or individual emancipation/freedom, a la USA, is not prevalent at all and is actually considered as part of capitalist ideology.

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elm 05.28.12 at 3:03 am

I agree with Bruce Baugh @19 regarding Fumento. Fumento moved about 1 inch from orthodox wingnuttery, he just wants the wingnuts to be less obnoxious in public. Similarly with Frum. He’s still gung-ho for Deregulation, Privatization, Tax Cuts, and War, he just disapproves of the nasty racist banners and lost his Wingnut Welfare for saying it in public.

111

Meredith 05.28.12 at 3:07 am

I’m showing my age, but “liberal” is not “left,” just as “conservative” is not “fascist” (however much the term “conservative” has often been used in the US of people who are, essentially, fascists). As some above have indicated, a real “left” hardly exists in the US anymore (and perhaps not in Europe or Australia — or anywhere — do “true” conservatives still exist?). The let has had its moments (especially in the early part of the 20th century, through the 1930′s, and a little bit in “the 60′s”).
I’m not sure how relevant that terminology is anymore, anyway. We’re in the flux of redefinitions. We are in history, of it and its makers (as people always are, but in some periods the flux is paramount). Occupy is a sign of this. But questions about distribution of wealth, of alienation and engagement/investment, of community and individual dreams — these never go away, do they? How about this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/opinion/sunday/lets-be-less-productive.html?_r=1
Shifters come in many stripes, from opportunists to the respectably (because honestly) confused to the insightful.

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geo 05.28.12 at 3:56 am

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Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 4:20 am

I always say that if you are not a leftist at age 20 then you have no heart, and if you are not a rightist at age 30 then you have no brain, and if you remain a rightist or leftist by age 40, then you are a halfwit. Maybe if you were to put left and right together you would get a full brain, but I doubt it. If you are not in favor of individual freedom, and if you do not do the utmost to alleviate suffering wherever you find it, you are an asshole. I am a socialist about healthcare. The clownish crap from rightwingers about how people should stand on their own two feet is absolutely vile, as if anybody ever wants to do anything but that. On the other hand, leftwingers not only do NOT have a phony ideology like the rightwingers, they don’t really have a coherent intellectual framework at all. Show me the leftwing book as short and succinct as “Road to Serfdom” or “Capitalism and Freedom”, and I will take that back. The Right is mentally incompetent, and the Left is an intellectual disaster area.

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lupita 05.28.12 at 4:59 am

Show me the leftwing book as short and succinct as “Road to Serfdom” or “Capitalism and Freedom”

That is ideological imperialism. We leftists go for long and winding, like Das Kapital or a Fidel Castro speech.

115

Substance McGravitas 05.28.12 at 5:07 am

The Lorax counts.

116

geo 05.28.12 at 5:15 am

the Left is an intellectual disaster area

Oh come on, Lee. What about Mill, Marx, Morris, Bellamy, George, Russell, Bourne, Dewey, Cole, Tawney, Orwell, Mills, Goodman, Macdonald, Harrington, Howe, Walzer, and Sen, just to keep to English-speaking philosophers and political economists?

117

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 5:15 am

Maybe an argument that private ownership is good but extreme inequality is always a structural result, and so therefore a large welfare state is required. You should be allowed to make as much money as you can, and you should also pay a 50% tax rate.

118

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 5:19 am

Geo, your list includes a couple of my favorites but none of them is succinct. The last one who had a public impact was Harrington, and that book is a reportage of effects that led to ameliorative legislation that is now under attack, so it didn’t stick.

119

wilfred 05.28.12 at 5:20 am

“The Road to Wigan Pier”, along with well-intentioned criticism of same.

Besides, when I think of bloggers like Yglesias et al. they conjure up the image of dreary tribesmen.

120

Neil 05.28.12 at 5:35 am

Lee Arnold: so if the left was intellectually respectable, a full defence of the view should be expressible succinctly? What if the world is complex?

121

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 5:51 am

Neil, let me ask you directly: what is the left’s view of the world?

122

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 5:55 am

@Lee We’ve just finished a lengthy series of posts demonstrating pretty clearly that Road to Serfdom was a load of nonsense, defensible only as a hypothetical claim about a world that never came to pass, and only then with a lot of charitable interpretation.

Hayek wrote plenty of better work, but nothing that presented a succinct and complete view of the world. So your own example makes it clear that your demand is not a sensible one.

123

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 6:08 am

John, I did not write that Road to Serfdom was sensible (and Capitalism and Freedom also contains some false assertions and bad logic). But do not understand why their failure on substantive grounds makes it any less likely that a brief statement should not be expected or required. Is it your view that it is the COMPLEXITY of the world that prohibits this, and not the faultiness of their arguments? Then I will ask you too: what distinguishes the left’s view of the world from the right’s? Surely there is something that fits into a few sentences. Is it that the left thinks the world is complex, and the right does not? But the right thinks that the answer to complexity is to leave people alone to figure it out for themselves, or some such gibberish.

124

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 6:15 am

Well, a very succinct statement covering most leftwing views on economics is that the distribution of access to resources and opportunities should be more equal than that produced by capitalism. I’m not sure how far that gets you, but a sentence is clearly more succinct than a book

125

Hidari 05.28.12 at 6:36 am

‘I always say that if you are not a leftist at age 20 then you have no heart, and if you are not a rightist at age 30 then you have no brain, and if you remain a rightist or leftist by age 40, then you are a halfwit.’

You say it Lee? You say it? That’s a very clever thing that you came up with just there.

I thought the Right were pretty keen on property rights?

126

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 6:47 am

@Hildari: Sorry, I thought everyone would know that those first two clauses had been around a long time.

127

Data Tutashkhia 05.28.12 at 7:40 am

@107 Liberals aren’t sell-out leftists, and they’re not necessarily centrists either, they’re just a different kind of left-of-center.

Another way to look at it is that liberals are the sane right-of-center. IOW, they are that missing band of ‘thoughtful conservatives’ everybody is so desperately looking for.

Nothing’s wrong with that, those are just labels, and that would define a meaningful intellectual right vs left paradigm. Otherwise, what you got is ‘the left is sensible, and right is insane’, which is not very interesting.

128

wolfgang 05.28.12 at 8:19 am

Does anybody agree that Nixon was a case of R-L conversion?

He created EPA and OSHA, implemented the first significant affirmative action program and introduced price controls.

And of course his trip to see chairman Mao …

129

Neil 05.28.12 at 8:49 am

Lee, surely you know that there is no left view of the world. Just as the right is composed of many views (social conservativism/economic conservativism/nationalism/ ethnocentrism/many other things), so the left is many things. For each of these views there is a substantive literature defending the view. I’m afraid that none of them can be expressed in a sound bite. If it could, it would be because it was it was simple, straightforward and wrong.

130

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 10:41 am

With the exception of China (an archetypal example of the right doing what the left could not), Nixon’s actions only seem anomalous in retrospect. Lots of Repubs supported environmental and health regulation in those days.

131

William Timberman 05.28.12 at 1:00 pm

The main difference between liberals, social democrats and what I think of as the left is that the left never thought that capitalism with tweaks would work out all right in the end. The prosperity in the U.S. from 1945-1970 made this position look like sour grapes, and so lots of people abandoned it. Some us, however, looked at the imperial wars, the military-industrial complex, the Taft-Hartley Act and the purge of the left from the labor movement, civil rights, apartheid, the Vietnam War, Ronald Reagan, etc., and continued to have our doubts.

We also looked at the Soviet Union, China, and the authoritarian turn of every leftist government in what used to be called the Third World (under severe pressure from the West), and thought what to do about the left’s dirty hands. The New Left was our response. Silly, you say? Well, laugh while you can, monkey boy. This isn’t something that the IMF can do much about.

Now, of course, Marx once again looks to be not such a fool, and On Liberty looks like an acid trip. I do not think that liberals, social democrats and technocrats get it yet, but they’re starting to. Their enemies are formidable, determined, and they laugh at ballot boxes and meetings of the deeply concerned. Your move, Professor Krugman.

132

Robert 05.28.12 at 1:14 pm

Richard Rorty’s “Achieving Our Country” is shorter than both the Firedman and Hayek books cited.

I think Chomksy’s books are too much tracts for the time, stronger on what he is against than on offering a vision of what he is for.

133

Sebastian H 05.28.12 at 3:31 pm

“Hayek wrote plenty of better work, but nothing that presented a succinct and complete view of the world.”

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never read any book by anyone that provided a succinct and complete view of the world that also had any particularly strong relation to the world as a whole. Everything [good to read] has strengths, weaknesses, insights and blindness. Pretty much any very good thinker/author has his own area of particular interest which has crucial insights that he takes too far and/or fails to deal with some fairly important practical problem. One of the reasons it is good to read smart authors you disagree with is because they have worldview blindness in areas different from yours. (Also one of the reasons it is good to read smart authors from different eras, because the different eras have worldview blindness in areas different from yours).

To step away from Hayek for just an instant, we could identify Keynes as failing to deal with the practical problem that governments run roughly along his lines have an easier time ramping up spending during the recessions than they do slashing it back during the booms. Marx failed to deal with the concept of innovation very well, a rather key part to how capitalism functions. Chomsky has trouble dealing with evils in which the US is uninvolved and which don’t fit in his definitions of empire, and especial troubles with evils in which the US is involved in fighting against (even though for its own selfish reasons).

Asking Hayek, of all people–the economic information is too thick to be understood by individuals, person–to have a succint and complete view of the world, easily presented in a sentence *to people who don’t naturally agree with him* is being a little silly.

Your definition of leftism is not likely to be convincing to a non-leftist, is not complete, and I’m not sure it succinctly captures the important nuances (i.e. off the top of my head does ‘should’ imply willingness to kill people over it? what does ‘more equal’ mean and does it have a logical limit?)

Hayek’s books, if they must be shortened, distill to something like this: The world is more complex than economic planners admit and more complex than they can know. The best known way of dealing with this is the price signal because it provides aggregation of knowledge on a huge scale. Screwing with the price signal rarely if ever gets better results in the medium to long run, and often requires oppression of people who disagree with/get the short end of the planners.

Interestingly, as a practical matter, in the time since Hayek, the most successful mixed economies (say Sweden) have taken that insight to heart and applied it in innovative ways. They tend to try to harness the price signal for their ends instead of trying to forsee by law all of the possibilities. They tend to let prices sort out the information problem, and then tax a substantial portion of it afterward. Whether or not Hayek himself would have been thrilled by this, it is a sensible application of his insights.

134

MPAVictoria 05.28.12 at 4:23 pm

Lee A. Arnold what about John Rawls?

135

Bruce Wilder 05.28.12 at 4:27 pm

Agent Phil Coulson: You’re gonna lose.
Loki: Am I?
Agent Phil Coulson: It’s in your nature.
Loki: Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the sky… where is my disadvantage?
Agent Phil Coulson: You lack conviction.

136

ajay 05.28.12 at 4:39 pm

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never read any book by anyone that provided a succinct and complete view of the world that also had any particularly strong relation to the world as a whole.

The Origin of Species?

137

Bruce Baugh 05.28.12 at 4:46 pm

Whenever Nixon and China comes up, it’s worth noting that the American left couldn’t normalize relations with China because Nixon and his allies had spent 30 years demonizing the whole idea. He and his gang systematically, deliberately destroyed every vestige of competence with regard to Chinese foreign policy and scholarly understanding they could reach, both in government and in academia, and then jumped up and down on any bits that dared to surface or decades thereafter. They destroyed careers and blighted lives, partly out of paranoid delusions and partly simply because they could and saw some political advantage to king so. If there’d been no Nixon on the scene it’s quite likely that there would have been some kind of rapprochemont in the ’50s or ’60s.

John, I can nail down my objection to your tally in the original post. Feeling that an institution has betrayed you isn’t conversion. In act it’s the opposite of conversion: it’s a defense of a stance you continue to hold. Folks like Frum and Fumento haven’t done what John Cole and Jim Henley have, which is realize that they have to modify a whole lot of ideas they used to hold for the sake of fidelity to reality as they see it now.

138

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 5:50 pm

I think that is correct, these apostates are afraid the Republicans won’t win because the Republicans have become too wingnutty. They aren’t turning to the left in most cases.

I did not intend to call for a viewpoint on the whole world, just on economic policy.

Does anyone know of a good historical study that tracks how the political-economic perceptions of both left and right have changed from the French revolution to the present time? For example, the right started at “God & monarchy” and appears to have adopted, in our time, a 19th century Manchester liberalism.

139

J. Otto Pohl 05.28.12 at 5:54 pm

Re: 86

I don’t know exactly what the comment said. But, the neo-conservative movement in the US was formed primarily as a result of formerly left wing supporters of Israel among the US intelligentsia moving right. Their primary motivation for this realignment was the fact much of the left internationally had become critical of the state. That is in 1948 Israel was a hard left cause and Israel’s formation was strongly supported by the USSR and most Communist Parties throughout the world. By the late 1970s and early 1980s Israel was closely associated with the US and most leftists had become highly critical of the state’s policies. I think this is a perfectly acceptable topic of discussion.

140

Walt 05.28.12 at 5:59 pm

Sadly, long experience has demonstrated that it’s basically never a productive discussion, so Crooked Timber is wise to keep it out of threads not devoted to the topic.

141

Bruce Wilder 05.28.12 at 6:13 pm

People do not develop political viewpoints, or even elaborate worldviews, thinking aloud sui generis. They develop their ideas in opposition and alliance. Hayek, in RTS, is opposed to something, and advocating not just for ideas, but for the propertied. Rorty, in Achieving Our Country, is disappointed with the American Left. Rawls, though he is self-consciously trying to build a complete system, places his work in a tradition.

The problems and issues change with the times, and the opposing partisan coalitions shift like a turning kaleidoscope over sufficiently long periods of time. Genuine political conversions do seem unusual, though people do seem, at times like ours, to be left behind, by changes in the partisan coalitions to which they’ve been attached. Dicta about the attitudes of the young or old seem fatuous, but generational change seems real enough, with experience of the times shaping the attitudes of the generations.

Some commenter observed that we seem to be in a period of unusual flux. The institutional framework of the global order appears to be failing. The partisan Right (the Republican Party in the U.S.) does seem to have become more radically . . . Right, while the partisan Left, after conceding a lot of ground, as Quiggin puts it, seems demoralized, co-opted or pre-occupied with tactics and its own impotence. The Center, thoroughly corrupt and incompetent, substitutes “seriousness” for righteousness.

One thing the comment thread has reminded me of, is the extent to which, as generations have passed, the Right seems to have become dumber and dumber, even as the Left lost something essential to neoliberalism. It is easier for me, personally, to trace this intellectual progression in American Economics, than in the pages of the National Review or The Public Interest, but looking back, it is striking. Hayek, as an Austrian and an “Austrian”, was not really part of the Chicago mainstream, which preferred to do the serious fighting on methodological grounds, but he was typical, in his emphasis on justifying ignorance as knowledge. It is hidden in the RTS, inside a no-doubt-sensible warning against the hubris of the central planner. It would be joined much later by the Lucas Critique and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, and similar appartus.

Economists are our mandarins, our technocrats. Their expertise, their knowledge, cannot be elaborate methodological justifications for ignorance; they have to know how to operate the institutional machinery. And, yet here we are in zombieland.

rf: “lets start doing something….” I hear you, dude. Does Quiggin’s “the distribution of access to resources and opportunities should be more equal” get you fired up, instantly pointing to ways and means of effective reform? No?! That’s going to be a problem, then.

The institutional systems of global security and trade, the New Deal framework in the U.S., the welfare state and the aspirations for European cooperation in Europe, the striving of Japan and Korea — all of these depended on felt sense of political solidarity, which was a product of the experience of the war, an experience few and fewer alive today, shared. The fetish in America for bi-partisanship is the nostalgia of the boomer generation for the consensual politics of their grandparents and parents, a politics formed in the clay of some brutal contests during the Great Depression (over banking regulation and Social Security and labor rights, among others), followed by the crucible of total war. The boomers have no experience of any of that, of the necessities underlying the institutional structures of labor unions, or financial markets regulation or Social Security, of the hard fights against the privileges and predations of the very Rich, let alone the solidarity that follows from genuine common cause against an existential threat to civilization.

The economics of institutional knowledge, the institutional knowledge that built the intricate systems of financial regulation, which made the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and corporate pension possible, and with them a middle-class version of the American dream — that economics was killed, not by the Chicago Right so much as by Samuelson and Solow. Krugman was part of the generation that grew up in the lee of Samuelson’s mathematical codification of economic theory, and he learned a distilled version of Keynes and nothing at all of the wordy institutionalism of pre-war economics; Krugman’s summary of all that is a contempt for “it’s complicated”. Like any boomer, Krugman longs for the consensus of common cause; he’s very slow to acknowledge that someone, like his old colleague, Bernanke, might be working for the plutocracy against general run of humanity.

We’re going to learn again how the world works, because this world is shortly going to stop working, because of our ignorant neglect of the machinery. We’re all on a road to Damascus.

142

bianca steele 05.28.12 at 6:19 pm

@Pohl on neoconservatives:
Why do you think Israel is the most important issue on the move to the right? I knew plenty of adults in the 1970s and 1980s who were probably neoconservative or moving that way. They included those who’d picked up the kind of conservative/liberal/soon-to-be-neoconservative ideas in graduate school, about how society should work (like mild sympathy for Franco among Spanish teachers who’d studied during his regime), and people who were very concerned with crime, inflation, and the economy and had picked up the idea that these were the fault of the welfare state.

143

Salem 05.28.12 at 7:10 pm

“Why do you think Israel is the most important issue on the move to the right?”

It’s always easy to imagine that one’s own side is nuanced, complicated and principled, whereas the other side is all of a piece, with motives doubtless malign.

144

Eli Rabett 05.28.12 at 7:19 pm

Moves from right to left are usually a result of an empathy transplant, in the other direction anger features.

145

J. Otto Pohl 05.28.12 at 7:30 pm

Bianca:

Neoconservatism is not just any move the right. It is a specific movement in the US centered around Senator Scoop Jackson, Commentary Magazine, and number of individuals who were leftists who moved right. Foreign policy issues particularly Israel, but also Soviet policy towards emigration of Jews were the main thrust of this movement early on. The individuals who comprised the movement were all highly supportive of Israel and often framed their realignment in the framework of the Soviet bloc and Third World becoming anti-Israeli and “anti-semitic.” Their first big victory was the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying MFN for the USSR to Jewish emigration in 1974.

146

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 7:33 pm

I haven’t deleted these comments, but I’m calling a halt to anything about Israel and neoconservatism. The post is, after all, about shifts in the other direction and about the future, not about what Jackson and Podhoretz (Sr) did 40 years ago.

147

Stephen 05.28.12 at 7:35 pm

Tony Blair, CND to the invasion of Iraq: anger featuring? Really?

148

Freddie 05.28.12 at 7:42 pm

Well, that’s creepy.

149

andrew 05.28.12 at 7:59 pm

i had this exact thought about how some people are skeptics no matter what whereas others are just born true-believers when i found out David Horowitz used to be a lefty.

150

William Burns 05.28.12 at 9:25 pm

Lee,

If you want a short, succinct statement of a Leftist position, you might check out a little-known work by a couple of obscure nineteenth-century Leftists, The Communist Manifesto.

151

Tim Wilkinson 05.28.12 at 9:32 pm

good examples of liberals who have become advocates of detention without trial and so on, as opposed to making excuses for Obama?

FWLIW, Dershowitz still makes much of his liberal reputation (and falsely claims to have opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion*) but pushes a Draconian line on civil liberties. But that’s a standard path for ‘neo-cons’ in general, including fellow-travellers in the UK like Hitchens major, Cohen, N., and the dreadful Aaronovitch and is, like it or not, clearly based on Ilfracombi politics.

Also militating against regarding this as a genuine change of heart ‘on the issues’ is the fact that his earlier stances on civil liverties and his criminal defence work are plausibly seen as careerist rather than based on genuine conviction. This is so if based on examination of his career even without factoring in the millennial conversion to ne0-conservative positions on ‘security’ and civil liberties.

*see http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/01/31/a-hawk-in-drag/. Dershowitz also, intriguingly, used his claim to have opposed the Iraq attack in rebuttal of the charge of being an apologist for Ilfracombe.

152

Bruce Wilder 05.28.12 at 9:48 pm

Ilfracombi politics?

Could someone explain this reference?

153

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 9:54 pm

@Bruce B “Feeling that an institution has betrayed you isn’t conversion. In act it’s the opposite of conversion: it’s a defense of a stance you continue to hold.”

As I mentioned in the OP, “I didn’t abandon the movement, it abandoned me” is quite a common view in breaks of this kind. It’s commonly followed by a rethinking of previously held views, though the lag is greater in some cases than in others.

But in a political context, breaking with the movement can be just as important as changing your ideas, or more so. The (admittedly minor) defeats for the rightwing intellectual apparatus that I mentioned in my previous post reflect in part the fact that people who would once have backed ALEC, Heartland and Limbaugh out of movement loyalty no longer do so. For the centrist media types who play a big role in this things, the disillusioned defectors have more influence, proportionally than longstanding opponents.

154

Alex 05.28.12 at 9:58 pm

I am in full solidarity with the North Devon bafflement. Ilfracombe? Whaat?

155

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 10:01 pm

Tim, I’m also puzzled by Ilfracombi, and it would be nice to have evidence on Dershowitz’ view closer to the date of the war. My own views changed radically as soon as Saddam agreed to readmit UN weapons inspectors, and the US turned out not to have any real idea about where WMDs might be. It then became obvious that the evidence on which Dershowitz relied in his 2002 article was bogus.

BTW, one of my continuing peeves from the Iraq war is people who excuse the Bush/Blair lies on this topic by quoting statements from 2002 to show that everyone believed Saddam had nukes/germs/gas etc. This was a reasonable belief until he let the inspectors in to look for them, at which point only those seeking a pretext for war (or those with a gullible belief in the truthfulness of Bush/Blair Powell) continued to hold it.

156

William Burns 05.28.12 at 10:01 pm

Ilfracombe–let’s see, what country are you not supposed to mention in this thread that also starts with an I and has a terminal i in the adjectival form? It’ll come to me.

157

William Burns 05.28.12 at 10:07 pm

A country Alan Dershowitz is an apologist for?

158

Bruce Baugh 05.28.12 at 10:17 pm

John, but none of these folks are doing any rethinking. They’re grumpy about being under appreciated by their own side, and then not being welcomed by people they continue to portray on the spectrum from foolish to dangerous. Most crucially, they won’t do anything to help defeat the erstwhile allies they’re complaining about, nor support any viable alternative.

159

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 10:53 pm

@WB D’oh!

160

John Quiggin 05.28.12 at 11:00 pm

@Bruce Baugh My first hit on Googling “David Frum” produced this slam of Charles Murray, which I think differs from what he would have written in the past. It’s true that he doesn’t see it this way, reiterating his praise of Murray’s earlier stuff, but I think there is a definite shift
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/06/charles-murray-book-review.html

Fumento fits your case better. He strikes me as someone who will never change, but he only dumped the right a few days ago, so let’s wait and see.

161

Lee A. Arnold 05.28.12 at 11:13 pm

William Burns, sell that one to the U.S. public!

162

lupita 05.28.12 at 11:14 pm

the Left lost something essential to neoliberalism

The left actually created the term “neoliberalism” in the 90s to describe the global system defined by the Washington Consensus, IMF imposed austerity, usurious interest, privatizations, currency attacks, and the rest. Only in the West did the left claudicate.

The institutional systems of global security and trade, the New Deal framework in the U.S., the welfare state and the aspirations for European cooperation in Europe, the striving of Japan and Korea—all of these depended on felt sense of political solidarity

Actually, they depended on GDP growth, specifically, growth in the West, without which capitalism withers and dies. Once the 500-year spurt of growth, caused by population growth and growth in productivity, began to decrease in the core countries, neoliberalism introduced financialization, casino capitalism, bubbles, immigrant labor, wealth concentration, and other predatory practices to sustain the illusion of growth, and with it, a continuing working capitalist system and solid global institutions.

XXI century leftists are anti-capitalists, not because it is impossible to tweak it here and there to produce a tolerably equal and just society, but because the era of growth is coming to an end and it is obvious that growth produced capitalism, not the other way around.

163

Bruce Baugh 05.28.12 at 11:27 pm

John: OK, I can’t really argue about the Frum piece, and either missed it or wasn’t remembering it. Thanks.

164

tomslee 05.29.12 at 12:31 am

Salient #89: that’s very wise. Thank you.

165

Watson Ladd 05.29.12 at 12:48 am

lupita, even without growth one can still orient towards profit through transforming commodities. The origins of growth are intimately tied to capital and its reconstitution. Today’s collapse of the Right must be seen against the remaking of capital. Growth after all has remained, even post 1973, but the collapse of the postwar settlement brought the social democrats down with it. Today we see the collapse of an outsized financial system, but this may not bring about freedom.

166

iolanthe 05.29.12 at 12:59 am

John, some Australian examples (only one of whom might be termed a professional thinker):
- Malcolm Fraser
- Robert Manne
- Andrew Wilkie
- Bob Brown’s replacement in the Senate – Peter Whish-Wilson

Why they’ve shifted is an interesting issue. In the case of the latter two it seems to have been a feeling of betrayal over the Iraq War which caused them as military men to get pissed off with the right and views on other issues moved to align with a general left view. Fraser claimes he never moved it was the world that did and indeed some of his 1970s views (very strong opposition to South Africa and Rhodesia) were indeed left at the time, I suspect it was vehement rage over the Whitlam dismissal that meant everything Fraser did was seen as right wing. And Manne it seems was right because he was strongly anti communist in the 80s and saw this as the greatest threat to liberal democracy at the time. Once communism disappeared this allowed his other views to come out.

167

parsimon 05.29.12 at 1:16 am

Freddie at 148: Well, that’s creepy.

CT likes to avoid too much thread drift. There are plenty of blogs where thread drift abounds and can lead to shrillness; this place prefers to avoid it.

168

lupita 05.29.12 at 2:25 am

The origins of growth are intimately tied to capital and its reconstitution.

Capitalism is, but not GDP growth which can only increase by more people producing or the same amount of people producing more. In order to build an extra factory, for example, capitalism reaches out into the future, as Prof. Varoufakis has explained, and extracts capital which it loans out in the present. The capital, plus interest, is repaid in the future from profits. This, in a nutshell, is capitalism.

If the population of an economy is stagnant, the workers for this new factory can only come from other jobs where production will fall. Profits will be derived from people not consuming other products. Without population or productivity growth, it all cancels out. Capitalism does not produce growth, it is just a system devised to manage existing growth.

This is why capitalists run for the exits at the first sign a country cannot sustain GDP growth. This is because it can neither sustain capital growth in order to repay loans plus interest. Capitalism is not profitable in a no-growth environment, it only produces pain, which is why charging interest on loans was prohibited during the last non-capitalist, non-growth era in the West, the Middle Ages.

169

Freddie 05.29.12 at 2:47 am

The notion that adults cannot discuss Israel rationally or fairly, when they are capable of doing so with any other issue, contributes directly to the rhetorical context that makes solving the Palestinian crisis so difficult.

170

wilfred 05.29.12 at 3:03 am

“The notion that adults cannot discuss Israel rationally or fairly, when they are capable of doing so with any other issue, contributes directly to the rhetorical context that makes solving the Palestinian crisis so difficult.”

Save for Discourse Analysis midterm.

171

parsimon 05.29.12 at 3:30 am

Freddie, that is fine, but this is not a thread about Israel-Palestine.

172

John Quiggin 05.29.12 at 3:34 am

Just a mention that neoliberalism means something a bit different in the US, in a way very relevant to our topic

US neoliberals is a self-description liberals (US sense) who’ve bought in to market liberalism on economic issues, along with a liberal view on social issues, and maintaining some residual concern with inequality and so on – Clinton and the DLC for example -

Elsewhere neoliberalism is a pejorative for the position described by lupita in 162, epitomised by Thatcher – a revived market liberalism without any element of social liberalism and overt hostility to egalitarianism.

173

Norwegian Guy 05.29.12 at 4:00 am

I believe David Frum have changed when he joins an antiwar demonstration.

Anyway, aren’t people like Robert Byrd and Jimmy Carter, and possibly some other old Southern Democrats, examples of American politicians who significantly moved leftwards? Not to mention Ramsey Clark! An even earlier, French example is of course François Mitterrand. I don’t know of many Scandinavian examples, but Carl Tham was a minister, representing the Liberals, in a right-of-centre government in Sweden in the 1970s. He later left the party, and in the 1990s he was a member of a Social Democratic government. But he belonged to left wing of the Liberal Party, and when the whole political spectrum, including the Liberals and the Social Democrats, moved to the right from around 1980, it doesn’t look like that large a leap. There are others, including former Norwegian Prime Ministers Per Borten and Kåre Willoch, who as elder statesmen occasionally (have) made left-wing deviations from the party line on foreign policy issues. But it usually takes more than disagreement on a couple of issues for someone to be leaving their party.

Movements in the other direction has been more common. In Denmark, the couple Karen Jespersen and Raft Pittelkow started out as radical socialists, and then spent many years as Social Democrats. About a decade ago, they became neocons and jumped ship to the Liberal Party. But party switching among politicians is very uncommon, and when it happens it’s usually within a political block, not between blocks. Most former communists and other Marxists simply became Social Democrats. For trade unionists and others in the labour movement, joining the right wing weren’t really a natural option. Among journalists and other intellectuals, Nick Cohenesque developments does occur. But at least in Norway, this tend to be people who were never really Marxists in the first place, but rather “free-floating” intellectuals with a self-consciously “left-liberal” outlook, who then become “contrarian” centrists.

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Plume 05.29.12 at 5:15 am

Interesting article. I was born in the late 50s, and grew up in a fairly liberal area, with liberalism being the generally accepted “consensus”. That, of course, started changing in the early 70s and then violently in the 80s. We’re now living in a conservative “consensus.” So, I would ask Mr. Quiggin how much that plays into conversions. How much does going with the paradigm shift, or purposely going against it, play into things? Given that the conservative paradigm is is on its last legs intellectually, and never had strong legs to begin with, how many conversions are simply a matter of jumping ship before it sinks?

Conservatism would have been history long ago if not for all of its deep-pocketed corporate backers, the right-tilting media (MSM) and its buying up our education system, including university chairs for sale. Intellectually, it consistently runs counter to the truth and reality, so it has to manufacture its aura of being “realistic.” The left has long been far more in tune with reality of capitalism’s destructive nature, and the inevitability of massive inequality under its regime. The left has also long been far more in tune with ecological dangers and the fact that capitalism is not sustainable along those lines, either. With the top 20% consuming 85% of our natural resources, with clean water, fish stocks, safe food supplies all running out, the left alone is on the right side of science and history and logic. The math doesn’t work out if we retain the capitalist system. It’s as basic as that.

Along those same lines, it’s been a great help to the right that they have successfully turned day into night, up into down and black into white by promoting the lie that Hitler was a lefty. It’s my contention that one of the biggest forces preventing people proudly, publicly shouting out their right-wing allegiances was Hitler’s long shadow. For most of my youth, that shadow was enough to keep most righties silent about their wingnuttery. Today, no such inhibition exists, because so many on the right believe Hitler was a leftist. Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck, of course, have done much to promote that lie.

It’s no longer something you see when you pick up a rock. It’s quite nearly mainstream these days. The left has been demonized for decades now, making it far more difficult — and braver — to make that conversion (right to left).

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John Quiggin 05.29.12 at 5:27 am

@Freddie – the problem with I-P is that even metadiscussion of whether to discuss it can rapidly swamp a thread, as we are seeing here. I’ll put up an open thread on the topic over at my blog when I get a free moment.

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Plume 05.29.12 at 5:27 am

That said, the earth will make all of this moot. Our political leanings. It’s going to decide for us, as we no longer can count on the poor and the working poor being offstage and overseas, where we can’t see them, suffering for the sins of our over-consumption. Our selfishness. Our blindness. The next step will be when shortages hit the middle class in the developed word, and there’s no avoiding the obvious that capitalism, with its Grow or Die directive, is incompatible with life on this planet. That will be our only logical, rational deduction, given empirical evidence.

The real left has known that for a long, long time. It will do us no good, of course, to say we told you so. It will be too late.

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Cody 05.29.12 at 8:30 am

Another right-left conversion example would be Doug Henwood.

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Robert 05.29.12 at 8:33 am

Neo-liberalism is NOT a pejorative.

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IM 05.29.12 at 10:55 am

Italian example: Ginafranco Fini: fascist – conservative – center-right. Of course ha hasn’t switched to the Left, but inside the continuum of the right he traveled quite a bit to the center. At the start there was the common assumption that it was just a masquerade, but now he is generally accepted as center-right politician.

In the words of wikipedia:

Gianfranco Fini (born January 3, 1952 in Bologna) is an Italian politician, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, leader of the center-right Future and Freedom party, and the former leader of the conservative National Alliance and the post-fascist Italian Social Movement.

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sanbikinoraion 05.29.12 at 11:47 am

Robert, I don’t think you get to decide that. “Neoliberal” is very definitely an insult in the UK, to refer to exactly the kind of uncaring right-wing butchery of welfare institutions and the elevation of “the market” above all else at least rhetorically (even if what was really happening was the elevation of “capital” above all else; those two things can and should be different…)

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Watson Ladd 05.29.12 at 12:55 pm

lupita, interest on loans was not prohibited in Western Europe. Jews could charge interest. Furthermore, population growth is not extrogenous to economics. Inventions only lead to increases in productivity when they are employed to do so, which requires a very different idea of how to work and how to make money. Why the Greeks had no steam engine has as much to do with social organization as technical limitations: Iron after all was known by then, and metalwork did not improve substantially for centuries after. The causes of growth are rooted in the history of early capitalism and Protestantism. To buy your explanation means that the magic growth fairy came to land on Europe in 1600, and alighted 400 years later, with no possible insight into why.

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Watson Ladd 05.29.12 at 12:55 pm

lupita, interest on loans was not prohibited in Western Europe. Jews could charge interest. Furthermore, population growth is not extrogenous to economics. Inventions only lead to increases in productivity when they are employed to do so, which requires a very different idea of how to work and how to make money. Why the Greeks had no steam engine has as much to do with social organization as technical limitations: Iron after all was known by then, and metalwork did not improve substantially for centuries after. The causes of growth are rooted in the history of early capitalism and Protestantism. To buy your explanation means that the magic growth fairy came to land on Europe in 1600, and alighted 400 years later, with no possible insight into why.

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Jim Rose 05.29.12 at 1:08 pm

In ‘Neoliberalism: From New Liberal Philosophy to Anti-Liberal Slogan’, Taylor C. Boas & Jordan Gans-Morse look to find anyone who self-identifies as a neo-liberal. see at http://people.bu.edu/tboas/neoliberalism.pdf

They did not uncover a single contemporary instance in which an author used the term self-descriptively, and only one—New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (1999)—in which it was applied to the author’s own policy recommendations.

Digging into his archives, they did find that while Friedman (1951) embraced the neoliberal label and philosophy in one of his earliest political writings, he soon distanced himself from the term, trumpeting “old-style liberalism” in later manifestoes (Friedman 1955). The paper is “Neo-liberalism and its Prospects.” Milton Friedman Papers, Box 42, Folder 8, Hoover Institution Archives. 1951.

They do find, based on a content analysis of 148 journal articles published from 1990 to 2004, that the term is often undefined; it is employed unevenly across ideological divides; and it is used to characterize an excessively broad variety of phenomena

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Plume 05.29.12 at 4:23 pm

Neoliberalism is obviously a pejorative, at least from the pov of the left. Basically, it’s like this. Capitalism is, at best, amoral. At best. It needs democratic checks and balances to prevent it from tilting into full blown immorality. Slavery, slave wages, indentured servitude, pollution at will, dangerous, even deadly working conditions, cheating consumers, supply lines, monopolizing scarce resources, inflating prices, etc. etc. Its natural mechanics drive it into immorality, because profit is its sole reason for being. Not creation of jobs. Not the betterment of society. Not improving the lot of the citizenry. Profit. Making a living becomes making a killing, often by any means necessary. At least to the extent that laws or their lack allow.

So, with neoliberalism, you get a massive rolling back of the regulatory state, increased privatization of the Commons, deep tax cuts for business and the rich, which all lead to an erosion of democracy and a concentration of power in the hands of a tiny minority. It was inevitable that neoliberalism would lead to a stunning increase in inequality and an acceleration of plutocracy. It was inevitable that it would lead to our government being owned by the 1%.

“Liberalizing” the markets really couldn’t lead to anything but the above. From the 30s to the 70s, New Dealism in America and Social Democracy in Europe held the natural proclivities of capitalism slightly at bay. Ending those checks and balances just let capitalism do what it’s designed to do:

Create haves and have nots. A few winners and a majority of losers. Mathematically, logically, it can never produce a lot of winners because profit doesn’t work that way. No business owner can ever accrue his or her fortune if they’re paying fair wages. It’s actually mathematically impossible. As in, a Zuckerberg, a Koch brother, a Murdoch, could never amass billions if they paid workers for their actual production. There wouldn’t be enough left over to do that. Not to mention, if they (or society) extended that to teachers, librarians and all the people along the way that taught them the skills to make their fortune. Not to mention all of the billions invested by the public in the essential infrastructure and technologies they exploited to make their billions.

In short, if everyone received their fair share, no one would amass a f0rtune, ever.

Capitalism is always a distortion of existing structures, and exploitation of those who don’t have the keys to the clubhouse.

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Maggie 05.29.12 at 4:25 pm

I converted from right-libertarianism (originally imparted at my father’s knee) to leftism (Marxism, even) in my 30s. Whoever above said “empathy transplant” has it right: while there was abundant reading and discussion along the way, the key moment was the two days I spent in unfathomably excruciating pain after foolishly choosing “natural childbirth.” It was my first experience of real physical suffering, my only real taste of just how bad it’s possible for things to get, and – especially occurring as it did at such a universalizable moment as the birth of a child, so essential to human survival and (at least on a population level) absolutely unavoidable – it instantly changed my view of the just distribution of means for avoiding suffering. I’m sure it’s no revelation to anyone here, but much pro-market “conviction” is just ignorance arising from the softness of Western technological life.

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Plume 05.29.12 at 5:20 pm

Maggie, that’s a beautiful conversion experience.

Ironically, right-libertarianism could only work in an egalitarian society. And even then, unless the ethos of that society were egalitarian through and through, it would eventually lead right back to a few haves and a ton of have nots. Which would eventually collapse the system — as we’re seeing right now. But it would at least have a chance to test its theories without too much distortion, if everyone started at the same place at the beginning of the race.

In 2012, right-libertarians seem oblivious to the fact that people start all along the pathway of the race, and may have chains dragging them down on top of that, or wings to speed their trip. If everyone is “free” or has the “liberty” to do as they please economically, then obviously, those born ahead in the game, those born with privileges, networks and resources others do not have, will just increase their lead (and control) even faster. They will naturally gobble up essential resources and “corner” markets and supply chains before the people further away from the goal line have a chance. It’s obviously impossible for “everyone to have a chance” if people are born with a diversity of advantages and disadvantages.

To mix some other sports metaphors. Right-wing libertarians think someone born on third base hits a triple, etc. They think someone born 100 yards away from the goal line, with chains on their feet, has just as much chance to score as someone born first and goal, etc. etc.

And, to take it one step further. Right-libertarians seem to miss the fact that most people don’t want to own or run businesses. Most of us have other dreams, desires, goals. Unfortunately, in our society, wealth and business success are prized above pretty much everything else, which immediately brings advantages to those who choose that course in life. It’s not “freedom” and “liberty” for those of us who don’t want to be in business. Freedom for business owners just means freedom for them, not society at large. Most of us simply don’t want to play that game, but those who do, call the shots for the rest of us anyway.

Such a society is not “free”. It’s incredibly selective, limited, exclusionary, exclusive, even though it believes itself to be “free.” Delusional, is more like it. In reality, the more “freedom” business has to do as it pleases, the less the majority has.

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Robert 05.30.12 at 5:48 am

I have read both David Harvey and Philip Mirowski & Dieter Plehwe on neoliberalism. I re-affirm my view. “Neoliberalism” is not a pejorative. I am describing language as used, not prescribing.

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Norwegian Guy 05.30.12 at 8:28 am

I haven’t read the book, but I suppose the self-declared neoliberals that Mirowski & Plehwe writes about were on the political right wing. But neoliberal is used to describe a large range of politicians, including many on the centre-left, and I’ve never seen a social democrat call himself or herself neoliberal, though they are often considered so by leftist critics. Many of them probably do find the term somewhat pejorative, since it groups them together with right-wingers like Thatcher and Reagan.

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Jim Rose 05.30.12 at 10:31 am

Neoliberal is the name that the jealous Left gives to those that a far more successful than them at winning elections. Who bothers to rebrand losers?

People get a bit tetchy when they have not won an election for a generation
· In Australia, there has been one left-wing government since 1949; tossed out in 1975 after 3 turbulent years.
· The next labour party governments in 1983-1996 and 2007 onwards have camped firmly over the middle ground.

If I asked for a dollar every time the centre-left parties mentioned the working class these days, I would be a poor man.

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John Quiggin 05.30.12 at 11:09 am

@Robert: I do not think it (pejorative) means what you think it means

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Robert 05.30.12 at 11:31 am

“Neoliberalism” is frequently used as a neutral analytical term by outsiders looking on.

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John Quiggin 05.30.12 at 11:40 am

I certainly wouldn’t describe Harvey or Plehwe as neutral. I abandoned the term in favor of ‘market liberalism’ to avoid the pejorative tone. Here are a few links

http://johnquiggin.com/2008/09/27/neoliberalism-defined/
http://johnquiggin.com/2009/04/21/the-ideology-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/

http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv.php?pid=UQ:10951&dsID=jq-elr99.htm

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Robert 05.30.12 at 12:08 pm

Thanks for the links.

I did not describe Harvey or Plehwe as neutral. Whether or not people who use the term are (often) critical of neoliberalism, is irrelevant to whether it is a term of abuse.

45% of the articles in Boas and Gans-Morse sample (see Table 2 in the link in 183) are neutral on neoliberalism.

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Bruce Baugh 05.30.12 at 12:44 pm

Plume@186: And, to take it one step further. Right-libertarians seem to miss the fact that most people don’t want to own or run businesses. Most of us have other dreams, desires, goals. One of the small but fascinating ironies of this kind of thing is how quick champions of markets uber alles are to deny the benefits of the division of labor. We should all be our own brokers and insurers and managers and food inspectors and on and on, just as if competitive advantage ceased to exist when either 1) it’s something that a very specific sort of personality finds fun or 2) it’s a change for those good at it to scam the rest of us.

Not everybody is suited by temperament and/or ability to be an independent contractor or proprietor…and the foundations of their worldview say this is fine, not everybody should have to. But then a lot of Christians aren’t good at the Bible, either, so it’s not like this is anything new.

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William Berry 05.30.12 at 3:50 pm

@ Plume (184)

Your comment succinctly and elegantly expresses my own view of capital and its primary relations to society, especially labor. With your and CT’s permission and under the terms of non-commercial fair use, I’d like to quote your comment in its entirety on my website (a reincarnation—currently under construction; planning to publish in a couple of months— of a lefty/ labor site I had up a few years back when I was president of USW Amalgamated Local 7686).

Thanx, WSB

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Plume 05.30.12 at 3:58 pm

William Berry @195, you are more than welcome to repost what I’ve written.

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Jim Rose 05.31.12 at 9:31 am

For a discussion of how as people hit middle age their youthful radicalism tend to be replaced with conservatism see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7887888/Champagne-socialists-not-as-left-wing-as-they-think-they-are.html

The paper is based on a study of 136,000 people in the World Values Survey. The data was from 48 different countries, during five periods between 1981 and 2008.
- Participants were asked to choose whether they saw themselves as leftwing or rightwing.
- The results were then compared with their responses to more detailed questions about their views, to determine how closely the participants own perception matched their real position on the ideological spectrum.

Well-educated individuals are more likely to wrongly characterise their political position, thinking that they are more leftwing than they actually are. Holding down a job and raising a family leads them to adopt a more conservative outlook.

One reason the left-intellectuals do not realise that they have shed their youthful liberalism is that they socialise with people going through the same ideological shift to the right.

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Tim Wilkinson 05.31.12 at 12:03 pm

JQ @155 Hmm yes, I suppose the timeline http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2167933.stm suggests that Dershowitz could claim to think that the issue was still one of negotiation over weapons inspections (negotiation in which the US side appears to have been trying the classic tactic of sabotage by intransigence). It also suggests to a horribly suspicious type like me that Dersh was plugged in to the overall neo-con propaganda machine.

Nonetheless, the term WMD (chem-bio-nukes) was an excellent bit of conflation since while it might well have been a reasonable belief that Saddam had battlefield C or B weapons, the Nuclear scenario – Dershowitz’s ‘preventable devastation’ – was certainly not. Indeed, as has become a commonplace observation, suggesting a conventional invasion is pretty good evidence that one does not believe the opponent has nuclear weapons trained on one.

In any case, Dershowitz did not as far as a thorough search can determine make any public statement changing his mind after the WMD bullshit was exposed even more clearly as such.

And in 2004, his revised version of his earlier position claims I was opposed to the war in Iraq, although I thought it was a close question based on my belief that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction and was tyrannizing his own people. My 51 to 49 percent opposition was based on the ‘law of unintended consequences’, which seems very much in operation on the ground as I write this preface. Even this self-serving rationalisation claims only the most marginal opposition to the war, and doesn’t allege a change of mind during Saddam’s attempts to placate the implacable in the final six months of the war-juggernaut’s progress.

I haven’t been able to locate any pre-war record of either his claimed concern about tyranny (and the question would of course arise of why two reasons – if neither is sufficient alone, then are both really sufficient together?), or of his concern for a ‘law of unintended consequences’ (the pre-war piece states an invasion would be a good idea ‘especially if’ civilian casualties ‘can be minimised’ (which of course they always can, subject to achieving any given aim).

An aside on the tyranny/humanitarian catastrophe bit – this is clearly now the favoured approach since while planting nukes – which would then be forensically examined – is very difficult, starting fights, provoking retaliations, producing unverified accounts by rebels, attributing massacres to one side rather than the other, etc., are all much easier. This justification worked in Yugoslavia, was used as collateral support in Iraq I (incubators etc.) and was honed more recently in Libya. It’s clearly now being prepared in Syria.

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Barry 05.31.12 at 7:27 pm

Bruce Wilder: “Yes. But, the other side of this is that Krugman is not willing to identify the actual motivations and desiderata of the Right he nominally opposes. His opponents are always ill-informed or mistaken, stupidly unable to grasp the insight he provides; at worst, as in the case of Ben Bernanke, they may supposedly lack the courage of their erstwhile convictions. This morning, he was blaming the British Conservative-LibDem austerity on leprechauns! (—supposedly a widespread conventional belief that Ireland was recovering due to austerity).”

No, what’s happened is that Krugman has been pointing things out for years now, and many people have clearly demonstrated ill will. Early on, he made a statement about coming to realize that many people he was criticizing were not simply mistaken, but actively lying (this was back in 99/00).

Now, you don’t like that, but then again given what we’ve been through in this century that’s more a comment on your standards.

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John Quiggin 05.31.12 at 8:04 pm

“if neither is sufficient alone, then are both really sufficient together”

This was, I think, a critical factor in why the Iraq war was such a disaster. Its supporters were a coalition of groups who wanted war, and expected it to deliver their objectives – safety WMDs, revenge against Saddam, freedom for Iraqis, a reliable ally for the US and Israel, access to lots of oil and so on. The fact that these objectives were inconsistent didn’t worry them. All groups assumed they would get what they wanted after the war.

On the main point, much though I hate to give any credit to Dershowitz, if he was already claiming by September 2004 that he had opposed the war 51-49 he might well be telling the truth, or at least picking the correct side of an issue on which he had previously vacillated. IIRC, very few of the liberal hawks had recanted before 2005, when things really went to hell in a handbasket.

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John Quiggin 05.31.12 at 8:13 pm

I think the problem for Krugman (and for me) is that what was previously a party political conflict now extends into the economics profession. Very few economists backed the claims made by Bush, and it was easy enough to dismiss the exceptions as a mixture of cranks and careerists. So, in accusing the Repubs of lying it was necessary to shed some illusions about US politics, but that’s all.

The real problem has come since the crisis when fellow economists, the kinds of people you are expected to sit on panels with and so on, exhibit the same kind of behavior in large numbers. That’s a big problem in working out what kind of professional relationship you can have with these people.

In that respect, I’m fortunate to be out in the provinces. In Australia, nearly all the economics profession supported stimulus in 2008-9, and the exceptions (all that I’m aware of) were all well-known as rightwing partisans, and mostly as hacks. That’s not so much the case in the US.

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William Timberman 05.31.12 at 8:38 pm

The real problem has come since the crisis when fellow economists, the kinds of people you are expected to sit on panels with and so on, exhibit the same kind of behavior in large numbers. That’s a big problem in working out what kind of professional relationship you can have with these people.

The queasy nexus of politics, career and sociability. It may be more poignant at the moment for economics professionals, but it gets in everybody’s face sooner or later, and often with consequences as serious or more serious than you recount here. People lose not only their friendships, but their jobs, or if they keep them, find it harder to look in the mirror.

For example, consider the reporter vs. stenographer vs. shill debate that (justly, IMO) pilloried folks like Judith Miller and Bob Woodward. Consider Yale’s insult to Juan Cole, or the poor bastard at you-name-it-corporation forced to fire half the innocents in his department or be fired himself. There are just SO many opportunities these days to be a little Quisling, or if you’re higher up the food chain, a big one. And if you don’t fancy the job, then you’re lucky if snickering in corners is the worst you have to contend with.

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