After neoliberalism: a snippet

by John Quiggin on August 30, 2016

Over the fold, some concluding comments from a chapter I’ve written about the rise and decline of neoliberalism. I’m drawing on the “three-party system” analysis I’ve put forward before, in which neoliberalism (in both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ forms) is increasingly breaking down under pressure from tribalists on the right, and from an amorphous, but still resurgent left.

This is just a snippet, which I hope will evolve into a more extensive discussion of the policies and political strategies the left should adopt in response to the breakdown of the neoliberal order.

The failure of neoliberalism poses both challenges and opportunities for the left. The greatest challenge is the need to confront rightwing tribalism as a powerful political force in itself, rather than as a source of political support for hard neoliberalism. Given the dangers posed by tribalism this is an urgent task. One part of this task is that of articulating an explanation of the failure of neoliberalism and explaining why the simplistic policy responses of tribalist politicians will do nothing to resolve the problems. The other is to appeal to the positive elements of the appeal of tribalism, such as solidarity and affection for long-standing institutions and to counterpose them to the self-seeking individualism central to neoliberalism, particularly in the hard version with which political tribalism has long been aligned.

The great opportunity is to present a progressive alternative to the accommodations of soft neoliberalism. The core of such an alternative must be a revival of the egalitarian and activist politics of the postwar social democratic moment, updated to take account of the radically different technological and social structures of the 21st century. In technological terms, the most important development is undoubtedly the rise of the Internet. Thinking about the relationship between the Internet economy and public policy remains embryonic at best. But as a massive public good created, in very large measure, by the public sector, the Internet ought to present opportunities for a radically remodeled progressive policy agenda.

In political terms, the breakdown of neoliberalism implies the need for a political realignment. This is now taking place on the right, as tribalists assert their dominance over hard neoliberals. The most promising strategy for the left is to achieve a similar shift in power within the centre-left coalition of leftists and soft neoliberals.

This might seem a hopeless task, but there are positive signs, notably in the United States. Although Hillary Clinton, an archetypal soft neoliberal, has won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency and seems likely to win, her policy proposals have been driven, in large measure by the need to compete with the progressive left. There is reason to hope that, whereas the first Clinton presidency symbolised the capture of the Democratic Party by soft neoliberalism, the second will symbolise the resurgence of social liberalism.

The era of unchallenged neoliberal dominance is clearly over. Hopefully, it will prove to have been a relatively brief interruption in a long term trend towards a more humane and egalitarian society. Whether that is true depends on the success of the left in putting forward a positive alternative.

{ 231 comments }

1

Brett 08.30.16 at 5:49 am

I don’t know. I think for a true triumph over the existing order, we’d need true international institutions designed to enhance other kinds of protections, like environmental and labor standards world-wide. That doesn’t seem to be in the wings right now, versus a light version of protectionism coupled with perhaps some restoration of the welfare state (outside of the US – inside the US we’re going to get deadlock mildly alleviated by the Supreme Court and whatever types of executive orders Clinton comes up with for the next eight years).

2

Andrew Bartlett 08.30.16 at 6:15 am

“The other is to appeal to the positive elements of the appeal of tribalism, such as solidarity and affection for long-standing institutions”

My only worry with that is the strong overlap between tribalism and racism, at least in it’s political forms. Harking to the myth of a monocultural past could be seen by some as ‘affection for long-standing institutions’. (I know that’s not what the author is thinking, but left has had it’s racism and pro-discrimination elements, and I am wary of giving too much opportunity for those to align with that of the right)

3

John Quiggin 08.30.16 at 6:21 am

@2 I’ve added a link to spell out some of the institutions I have in mind in the Australian case. I have some more thoughts about the historical role of racism in the left that I want to work out in more detail.

4

bruce wilder 08.30.16 at 7:29 am

I wonder, how do you envision this failure of neoliberalism?

It seems like an effective response would depend somewhat on how you think this anticipated political failure of neoliberalism plays out over the next few years. And, it is an anticipated failure, yes? or do you see an actual political failure as an accomplished fact?

And, if it is still an anticipated failure, do you see it as a political failure — the inability to marshall electoral support or a legislative coalition? Or, an ideological style that’s worn out its credibility?

Or, do you anticipate manifest policy failure to play a role in the dynamics?

5

MisterMr 08.30.16 at 9:31 am

“The other is to appeal to the positive elements of the appeal of tribalism, such as solidarity and affection for long-standing institutions and to counterpose them to the self-seeking individualism central to neoliberalism”

I don’t agree with this.

First, appealing to tribalism without actually believing in it is a dick move.

Second, actually existing tribalists are arseholes, or rather everyone when is taken by the tribalist demon becomes an arsehole.

Third, the “idividualist” thingie work as long as people believe that they are on the winning side; but there is evidence enough today that most people are on the losing side of increasing inequality, so most people have reason to be pro lftish policies both in “moralistic” terms and in “crude self interest” terms. In the past this wasn’t obvious, but today it is, and this drum should be banged more.

PS: about increasing inequality, there are two different trends that usually are mixed up:

1) When we look at inequality at an international level, the main determinant is differential “productivity” among nations. The productivity of developing nations (mostly China) went up a lot, and this causes a fall in international inequality.

2) When we look at inequalityinside a nation, it depends mostly on how exploitative the economic system is, and I think that the main indicator of this is the wage share of total income; as the wage share fell, income inequality increased. This happened both in developed and developing countries.

These two determinants of inequality are mixed up and this creates the impression that, say, the fall in wages of American workers is caused by the ascent of Chinese workers, whereas instead both American and Chinese workes lost in proportion, but the increase in productivity more than compensated the fall in relative wages.

Mixing up these two determinants causes the rise in nationalism, as workers in developed nations believe that they have been sacrificed to help workers in developing nations (which isn’t true). This is my argument against nationalism and the reason I’m skeptic of stuff like brexit, and this makes me sort of allergic to tribalism.

6

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 11:43 am

This analysis by Quiggin is spot on. Clearly the way forward holds both promise and great peril, especially in the nuclear age. The notion that Trump is just more of the same from the GOP is deluded. He represents a dangerous insurgency of radical rightists , who can be quite fairly be called racist and religious extremist based fascists. A Trump win could well close the curtain on democracy in America. Neo liberalism is being repudiated , will the elite now turn to the fascists to hold their ground, as happened in Germany? It’s a troubling question.

7

casmilus 08.30.16 at 11:46 am

“The great opportunity is to present a progressive alternative to the accommodations of soft neoliberalism. The core of such an alternative must be a revival of the egalitarian and activist politics of the postwar social democratic moment, updated to take account of the radically different technological and social structures of the 21st century. In technological terms, the most important development is undoubtedly the rise of the Internet.”

Why is that any more important than the invention of digital computers, starting from the 1940s? Just a further evolution.

The real challenge is from robotics, 3D printing and AI drivers for such processes. That really will liquidate a lot of skilled labour; computing created a new industry of jobs and manufacturing.

8

bob mcmanus 08.30.16 at 11:59 am

4: From my point of view, neoliberalism…long supply chains and logistics; downward pressure on wages and the social wage; the growth of finance to supply consumer credit to prop up effective demand; the culture of self-improvement and self-management to reduce overhead and reproduction costs…no longer supports accumulation of capital or reproduction of political legitimacy. IOW, an economic failure.

(Anwar Shaikh’s new book is definitive)

9

Martin 08.30.16 at 1:21 pm

Is there any knowledge of who supports tribalism? The analysis so far seems to be in terms of tribalist policies, emotions etc, but not of who the tribalists are, and why they support tribalist ‘solutions’ rather than say socialism.

10

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 1:36 pm

Is there any knowledge of who supports tribalism? The analysis so far seems to be in terms of tribalist policies, emotions etc, but not of who the tribalists are, and why they support tribalist ‘solutions’ rather than say socialism.

Tribalism is hard wired in our genes. It can be over come with education but too few voters ever get beyond an emotional response to what they perceive. It’s no accident that conservatives do anything they can to undermine education and promote religious based ignorance. That’s how they win elections. But this is a dangerous game, sometimes a Hitler or a Trump shows up and steals the show.

11

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 2:00 pm

MisterMr @ 5: Third, the “idividualist” thingie work as long as people believe that they are on the winning side; but there is evidence enough today that most people are on the losing side of increasing inequality, so most people have reason to be pro lftish policies both in “moralistic” terms and in “crude self interest” terms. In the past this wasn’t obvious, but today it is, and this drum should be banged more.

This is where it becomes problematic that so much of this conversation happens within individual First-World nation-states, because the inequalities “tribalists” are interested in maintaining are precisely the inequalities between nations on a global scale. If the “most people” you’re talking about includes the masses of recently-proletarianized working people in the Third World, then sure “most people” have reason to be pro-left. But when we have this conversation in a setting like this, we all implicitly know that “most people” refers at best to the working classes of countries like Australia and the US, and these people still perceive a decided interest in maintaining the global economic hierarchies for which “tribalism” serves this conversation as a signifier.

For the working classes of the First World wrapped up in their “tribalist” defense of a global aristocracy of nations, to truly believe they’re on the losing side would mean to accept that the defense of national sovereignty from neoliberal globalization is an inherently lost cause. If they’re to defect from the cause of “tribalism” and join the Left, this would mean accepting a critique of the “long-standing institutions” of First-World social democracy that appears to go much farther left even than John Quiggin appears willing to go. (As in, the implementation of social-democratic institutions in First-World capitalist societies is inherently a tool for enabling the economic domination of the First World over the Third World, by empowering a racialized labor aristocracy to serve as foot soldiers of global imperialism, and so on and so on à la Lenin.)

12

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 2:09 pm

Bob Zanelli @ 10, your comment perfectly embodies an ideological trap to be avoided at all costs. What Quiggin calls tribalism is precisely not “hard-wired in our genes”, it’s an inherently modern creation of the inherently modern political and economic forces that first created the “imagined community” of the modern nation-state and continue to put incredible amounts of energy into indoctrinating various populations in its various national mythologies. Far from being an inherent solution to this problem, education — within the context of a national education system, educating its pupils as Americans/Australians/etc. — is an utterly indispensable mechanism by which this process is accomplished.

13

Z 08.30.16 at 2:09 pm

Interestingly, I share all the premises, and yet none of the optimistic conclusions. Because soft neoliberalism (and in fact even hard neoliberalism) is much closer sociologically, politically and ideologically to the left than tribalism is, I see the end of the hegemonic neoliberal ideology and the correlative rise of tribalism as (somewhat paradoxically) the guarantee for perpetual neoliberal power in the short and middle term, at least for two reasons.

First of all, left-inclined citizens will most likely always vote for neoliberal candidates if the alternative is a tribalist candidate (case in point: in 9 months or so, I will in all likelihood be offered a choice between a hard neoliberal and Marine Le Pen; what then?).

Moreover, even if/when tribalist parties gain power, their relative sociological estrangement from the elite sand correlative relative lack of political power all but guarantees in my mind that they will govern along the path of least resistance for them; that is to say hard neoliberalism (with a sprinkle of tribalist cultural moves). This is how the FPO ruled Carinthia, for instance, and how I would expect Trump to govern in the (unlikely) eventuality he reached power.

Finally, mass migration are bound to intensify because of climate change (if for no other reason) and the trend internationally in advanced democratic countries seems to be towards national divergence and hence national reversion.

I don’t see how an ideologically coherent left-oriented force can emerge in this context, but of course I would love to be proved wrong on all counts.

14

Lupita 08.30.16 at 2:22 pm

Bravo, Will G-R!

15

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 2:37 pm

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 2:09 pm
Bob Zanelli @ 10, your comment perfectly embodies an ideological trap to be avoided at all costs. What Quiggin calls tribalism is precisely not “hard-wired in our genes”, it’s an inherently modern creation of the inherently modern political and economic forces that first created the “imagined community” of the modern nation-state and continue to put incredible amounts of energy into indoctrinating various populations in its various national mythologies. Far from being an inherent solution to this problem, education — within the context of a national education system, educating its pupils as Americans/Australians/etc. — is an utterly indispensable mechanism by which this process is accomplished.

)))))))))))))))

I don’t agree. It’s true that tribalism has morphed into what you call national mythologies , but the basis for this is our evolutionary heritage which divides the world into them and us. This no doubt had survival benefits for hunter gatherer social units but it’s dangerous baggage in today’s world. I find your comments about education curious. Are you advocating ignorance? I think you confuse education with indoctrination , they are not the same thing.

16

Rich Puchalsky 08.30.16 at 2:45 pm

The question of what ideology an ideologically coherent left-oriented force would come together around is indeed an important question, but I’ll try not to dwell on my hobbyhorses too much.

For now I’ll add a slightly different area to consider this through: current First World “left” populations (especially in the U.S.) want to turn everything into individual moral questions through which a false solidarity can be expressed and through which opposing people can be shamed. For instance, I’ve thought a good deal about how environmental problems are the most important problems in general at the moment, and how it’s clear that they require a redesign of our infrastructure. This is not an individual problem — no amount of volunteer action will work. Yet people on the left continually exert pressure to turn this into a conflict of morally good renouncers vs wasters, something that the right is quite ready to enhance with their own ridiculous tribal boundary markers (google “rolling coal”).

You see this with appeals to racism. Racism is a real problem and destroys real people’s lives. But treating it as an individual moral problem rather than a social, structural one is a way of setting boundaries around an elite. The challenge for the left is going to be developing a left that, no matter what it’s based around, doesn’t fall back into this individualist new-class status preservation.

17

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 3:15 pm

@ Bob Zannelli, you’re continuing to draw on the language of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology without the social-scientific rigor to justify it. (Of course, to many if not most social scientists, the very fields of sociobiology and evopsych are largely premised on a lack of such rigor to begin with, but that’s another story.) In particular, the term doing the heavy lifting to provide your get-out-of-rigor-free card is “morphed”. What has been the historical trajectory of this “morphing”? What social and political institutions have been involved? With what political interests, and what economic ones? If you think about those kinds of questions, you might make some headway toward understanding why social scientists generally interpret the sociocultural aspects of racism and fascism as essential, and the biological aspects as essentially arbitrary.

To be fair, a large part of the fault here is John Quiggin’s for using a word with as much fraught ideological baggage as “tribalism” to do so much of his own heavy lifting. The ironic thing is, the polemical power that probably motivated Quiggin to use that word in the first place comes from the very same set of ideological associations (e.g. “barbaric”, “savage”, “uncivilized”, etc.) whose application to modern political issues of race and nationality he would probably characterize as “tribalist” in the first place!

18

Holden Pattern 08.30.16 at 3:20 pm

@ comment 16:

I can’t speak for other industrialized democracies, but in the US, there is essentially no ability for the left to engage in structural change. Every avenue has been either blocked by the 18th century political structures of the US (sometimes exploited in extraordinary ways by the monied powers that those structures enable) or subsumed by the neoliberal individualist marketification of everything.

So what remains, especially given the latter, is marketing and individual action — persuasion, shame, public expressions of virtue. That’s all that is available to the left in the United States, especially on issues like racism and environmental problems.

So while it’s good fun to bash the lefty elites in their tony coastal enclaves and recount their clueless dinner party conversations, it’s shooting fish in a barrel. Easy for you and probably satisfying in a cheap way, but the fish probably didn’t put themselves in the barrel, and blaming them for swimming in circles is… problematic.

19

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 3:26 pm

@ Bob Zannelli, you’re continuing to draw on the language of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology without the social-scientific rigor to justify it. (Of course, to many if not most social scientists, the very fields of sociobiology and evopsych are largely premised on a lack of such rigor to begin with, but that’s another story.) In particular, the term doing the heavy lifting to provide your get-out-of-rigor-free card is “morphed”. What has been the historical trajectory of this “morphing”? What social and political institutions have been involved? With what political interests, and what economic ones? If you think about those kinds of questions, you might make some headway toward understanding why social scientists generally interpret the sociocultural aspects of racism and fascism as essential, and the biological aspects as essentially arbitrary.

)))))))))))

I hope it’s clear that I do not discount the assertion that nationalism and racism are part of social constructs that favor class interest. My point is that political agendas have to work with the clay they start with. To just discount the reality of our evolutionary baggage by calling it sociobiology is an example of classic Marxist ideology which seems to require the perfectibility of human nature. This is a dangerous illusion, it leads right to the gulags.

))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

To be fair, a large part of the fault here is John Quiggin’s for using a word with as much fraught ideological baggage as “tribalism” to do so much of his own heavy lifting. The ironic thing is, the polemical power that probably motivated Quiggin to use that word in the first place comes from the very same set of ideological associations (e.g. “barbaric”, “savage”, “uncivilized”, etc.) whose application to modern political issues of race and nationality he would probably characterize as “tribalist” in the first place!

)))))))))

I think Quiggen’s analysis is not to be scorned

20

Rich Puchalsky 08.30.16 at 3:33 pm

“Easy for you and probably satisfying in a cheap way, but the fish probably didn’t put themselves in the barrel, and blaming them for swimming in circles is… problematic.”

I come out of the same milieu, so I don’t see why it’s problematic to call attention to this. I
helped to change JQ’s opinion on part of it (as he wrote later, the facts were the largest influence on his change of opinion, but apparently what I wrote helped) and he’s an actual public intellectual in Australia. As intellectuals our personal actions don’t matter but sometimes our ideas might.

Activism and social movements can help, even in the U.S. (I think that 350.org has had a measurable effect) so I wouldn’t say that a structural approach means that nothing is possible.

21

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 4:06 pm

@ Bob Zannelli: To just discount the reality of our evolutionary baggage by calling it sociobiology is an example of classic Marxist ideology which seems to require the perfectibility of human nature.

As hesitant as I am to play the “Fallacy Man” game, this is a common strawman about Marxism. In the words of Mao Tse-Tung, as quoted by the eminent evolutionary biologist and Marxist Richard Lewontin: “In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken, because each has a different basis.” As far as human biological capacities, it’s perfectly clear from any number of everyday examples that we’re able to ignore all sorts of outward phenotypic differences in determining which sorts of people to consider more and less worthy of our ethical consideration, as long as the ideological structure of our culture and society permits it — so the problem is how to build the sort of culture and society we want to see, and telling wildly speculative “Just-So stories” about how the hairless ape got its concentration camps doesn’t necessarily help in solving this problem.

On the contrary, the desire to root social phenomena like what Quiggin calls “tribalism” in our genes is itself an ideological fetish object of our own particular culture, utilizing our modern reverence for science to characterize social phenomena allegedly dictated by “biology” as therefore natural, inevitable, or even desirable. Here, have a reading/listening recommendation.

22

RobinM 08.30.16 at 4:20 pm

Like Will G-R at 17 and Bob Zannelli at 19, I, too, found the use of the term “tribalism” in the original post a bit disturbing. It’s almost always used as a pejorative. And it suggests that the “tribalists” require no deeper analysis. I’m sure it’s been around for much longer, but I think I first took note of it when the Scottish National Party was shallowly dismissed as a mere expression of tribalism. That the SNP (which, by the way, I do not support) was raising questions about the deep failures of the British system of politics and government long before these failures became widely acknowledged was thus disregarded. Currently, an aspect of that deep failure, the British Labour Party seems to be in the process of destroying itself, again in part, in my estimation, because one side, among whom the ‘experts’ must be numbered, seem to think that those who are challenging them can be dismissed as “tribalists.” There are surely a lot more examples.

More generally, the resort to “tribalism” as an explanation of what is now transpiring is also, perhaps, neoliberalism’s misunderstanding of its own present predicaments even while it is part of the arsenal of weapons neoliberals direct against their critics?

But in short, the evocation of “tribalism” is not only disturbing, it’s dangerously misleading. Those seeking to understand what may now be unfolding should avoid using it, not least because there are also almost certainly a whole lot of different “tribes.”

23

awy 08.30.16 at 5:06 pm

so what’s the neoliberal strategy for preserving good governance in the face of insurgencies on the left and right?

24

Yankee 08.30.16 at 5:08 pm

This just in, about good tribalism (locality-based) vs bad tribalism (“race”-based, ie perceived or assumed common ancestry). It’s about cultural recognition; nationalism, based on shared allegiance to a power structure, is different, although related (sadly)

25

James Wimberley 08.30.16 at 5:14 pm

“But as a massive public good created, in very large measure, by the public sector ..” With a large assist from non-profit-making community movements, as with Wikipedia and Linux. (IIRC the majority of Internet servers run on variants of the noncommercial Linux operating system, as do almost all smartphones and tablets.) CT, with unpaid bloggers and commenters, is part of a much bigger trend. Maybe one lesson for the state-oriented left is to take communitarianism more seriously.

The Internet, with minimal state regulation after the vital initial pump-priming, technical self-government by a meritocratic cooptative technocracy, an oligopolistic commercial physical substructure, and large volumes of non-commercial as well as commercial content, is an interesting paradigm of coexistence for the future. Of course there are three-way tensions and ongoing battles, but it’s still working.

26

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 5:42 pm

RobinM, to clarify, I do think that what Quiggin calls tribalism is worth opposing in pretty absolute terms, and I even largely agree with the meat of his broader “three-party system” analysis. I just think we should call what he calls “tribalism” by its proper name — fascism — instead of deliberately tainting our theories with overtones of an “enlightened civilized wisdom versus backwards tribal savages” narrative that itself is central to fascist/”tribalist” ideology and therefore belongs in the dustbin of history. Surely flouting Godwin’s Law is a lesser sin than knowingly perpetuating the discourses of racism.

27

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 6:18 pm

In the words of Mao Tse-Tung, as quoted by the eminent evolutionary biologist and Marxist Richard Lewontin:

Now Mao Tse-Tung, there’s role model to be quoted. The thing about science is that’s it true whether you believe it not, the thing about Marxism is that it’s pseudo science and
it gave us Stalin , the failed Soviet Union, Pol Pot,, Mao Tse Tung and the dear leader in North Korea to name the most obvious. I know, I know , maybe someone will get it right some day.

A realist politics doesn’t ignore science , this doesn’t mean that socialism is somehow precluded, in fact the exact opposite. We have to extend democracy into the economic sphere, until we do this, we don’t have a democratically based society. It’s because of human nature we need to democratize every center of power, no elite or vanguard if you prefer can be ever be trusted. But democracy isn’t easy, you have to defeat ignorance , a useful trait to game the system , by the elite, and create a political structure that takes account of human nature , not try to perfect it. One would hope leftists would learn something from history, but dogmas die hard.

28

Igor Belanov 08.30.16 at 6:50 pm

Bob Zannelli @27

“about Marxism is that it’s pseudo science and
it gave us Stalin , the failed Soviet Union, Pol Pot,, Mao Tse Tung and the dear leader in North Korea to name the most obvious.”

To claim that Marxism ‘gave us’ all those wicked people must be one of the least Marxist statements ever written! No doubt if Stalin and Pol Pot hadn’t come across the works of a 19th century German émigré then they would have had jobs working in a florists and spending all the rest of their time helping old ladies over the road.

Good to see Bob being consistent though. A few comments back he was suggesting that humans are biologically ‘tribalist’, but now he’s blaming all evil on political ideology.

29

Raven Onthill 08.30.16 at 7:06 pm

“I conceive, therefore, that a somewhat comprehensive socialisation of investment will prove the only means of securing an approximation to full employment; though this need not exclude all manner of compromises and of devices by which public authority will co-operate with private initiative.”

30

Sebastian_H 08.30.16 at 7:26 pm

‘Tribalism’ is giving members of what you perceive as your tribe more leeway than you give others. (Or negatively being much more critical of others than you would be of your tribe). It seems pretty hardwired, at least enough that not planning around it would be foolish. Lots of ‘civilization’ is about lubricating the rough spots created by tribalism while trying to leverage the good sides.

One of the failures of neo-liberalism is in assuming that it can count on the good side of tribalism while ignoring the perceived responsibilities to one’s own tribe. It turns out that you can’t say things like “globalism is great for the UK GDP” and expect citizens of the ‘UK’ to be excited about it if they feel too alienated from the people who are making all of the money. So then when it comes time to say “for the good of the UK we need you to do X” lots of people won’t listen to you. John asks a good question in exploring what comes next, but it isn’t clear.

31

Bob Zannelli 08.30.16 at 7:30 pm

about Marxism is that it’s pseudo science and
it gave us Stalin , the failed Soviet Union, Pol Pot,, Mao Tse Tung and the dear leader in North Korea to name the most obvious.”

To claim that Marxism ‘gave us’ all those wicked people must be one of the least Marxist statements ever written! No doubt if Stalin and Pol Pot hadn’t come across the works of a 19th century German émigré then they would have had jobs working in a florists and spending all the rest of their time helping old ladies over the road.

Good to see Bob being consistent though. A few comments back he was suggesting that humans are biologically ‘tribalist’, but now he’s blaming all evil on political ideology.

)))))))))))))

Marxism isn’t evil and Nazism is evil. So political ideology can be evil or just wrong and accomplish evil. We are indebted to Marx for describing the nature of class warfare and the natural trends of accumulation based economics , but we now know his solution is a failure. So either we learn from this or we cling on to outmoded ideas and remain irrelevant.

In the Soviet Union , science , art and literature were under assault, with scientists, artist and writers sent to the gulag or murdered for not conforming to strict Marxist Leninist ideology. Evolution, quantum mechanics, and relativity were all attacked as bourgeois science. ( The need for nuclear weapons forced Stalin later to allow this science to be sanctioned) These days, like the Catholic Church which can no longer burn people at the stake , old Marxists can just castigate opinions that don’t meet Marxist orthodoxy.

32

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 8:53 pm

@ Sebastian_H: It seems pretty hardwired, at least enough that not planning around it would be foolish.

But again, when we’re talking about “tribalism” not in terms of some vague quasi-sociobiological force of eternal undying human nature, but in terms of the very modern historical phenomena of racism and nationalism, we have to consider the way any well-functioning modern nation-state has a whole host of institutions devoted to indoctrinating citizens in whatever ideological mythology is supposed to underpin a shared sense of national and/or racial identity. It should go without saying that whatever we think about general ingroup/outgroup tendencies innately hardwired into human nature or whatever, this way of relating our identities to historically contingent social institutions and their symbols is only as innate or hardwired as the institutions themselves.

It turns out that you can’t say things like “globalism is great for the UK GDP” and expect citizens of the ‘UK’ to be excited about it if they feel too alienated from the people who are making all of the money.

At least in my view, economists are usually slipperier than that. The arguments I’ve seen for neoliberal free trade (I’m not quite sure what to make of the term “globalism”) generally involve it being good for “the economy” in a much more abstract sense, carefully worded to avoid specifying whether the growth and prosperity takes place in Manchester or Mumbai. And there’s even something worth preserving in this tendency, in the sense that ideally the workers of the world would have no less international/interracial solidarity than global capital already seems to achieved.

To me the possibility that neoliberal free trade and its degradation of national sovereignty might ultimately undermine the effectiveness of all nationalist myths, forging a sense of global solidarity among the collective masses of humanity ground under capital’s boot, is the greatest hope or maybe even the only real hope we have in the face of the neoliberal onslaught. Certainly if there’s any lesson from the fact that the hardest-neoliberal political leaders are often simultaneously the greatest supporters or enablers of chauvinistic ethnonationalism, it’s that this kind of solidarity is also one of global capital’s greatest nightmares.

33

Will G-R 08.30.16 at 9:05 pm

Punching “globalism” into Google returns the following definition from Merriam-Webster: “a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence — compare imperialism, internationalism.” I find it fascinating, and indicative of the ideological tension immanent in fascist reactionaries’ use of the term, that the two terms listed as comparable to it are traditionally understood in modern political theory as diametrically opposed to each other.

34

bob mcmanus 08.30.16 at 9:17 pm

Recommending Joshua Clover’s new book. Riot -Strike – Riot Prime

The strike, the organized disruption at the point of production, is no longer really available. Late capitalism, neoliberalism is now extracting surplus from distribution, as it did before industrialism, and is at the transport and communication streams that disruption will occur. And this will be riot, and there won’t be much organization, centralization, hierarchy or solidarity. I am ok with “tribalism” although still looking for a better expression, and recognizing that a tribe is 15-50 people, and absolutely not scalable. Tribes can network, and people can have multiple and transient affiliations.

Clover’s model is the Paris Commune.

(PS: If you don’t like “tribe” come up with a word or expression that usefully describes the sociality of Black Lives Matter (movement, maybe) or even better Crooked Timber.)

35

Lee A. Arnold 08.30.16 at 9:21 pm

The left scarcely knows how to respond.

Almost all people are primarily led by emotions and use reason only secondarily, to justify the emotions.

There is a rude set of socio-economic “principles” which they call upon to buttress these arguments. You can hear these principles at any blue-collar job site, and you can hear them in a college lecture on economics, too:

–nature is selfish
–resources are scarce
–money measures real value
–wants are infinite
–there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL)
–you have to work for your daily bread
–incentives matter
–people want to keep up with the Joneses
–labor should be geographically mobile
–government is inefficient
–welfare destroys families
–printing money causes inflation
–the economy is a Darwinian mechanism

These are either false, or else secondary and ephemeral, and/or becoming inopportune and obsolete. None of them survives inspection by pure reason.

Yet this is an aggregate that buzzes around in almost everyone’s head, is INTERNALIZED as true, for expectations both personal and social. And which causes most of our problems.

Consider TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet obviously there is such a thing as a cheaper lunch, or else there would be no such thing as the improvement in the standard of living. …Okay, you say, but “resources are scarce.” …Well no, we are quickly proceeding to the point where technological change and substitution will end real scarcity, and without ecological degradation. Therefore: can cheaper lunches proceed to the point where they are effectively free for the purposes of meeting human need, “your daily bread”? …Well no, you say, because people are greedy, and beyond their needs, they have wants: “wants are infinite.” …But wait, wants really cannot be infinite, because a “want” takes mental time to have, and you only have so many hours in every day, and so many days in your life. In fact your wants are finite, and quite boring, and the Joneses’ wants are finite sand boring too. (Though why you want to keep up with those boneheads the Joneses is a bit beyond me.) …Okay, you say, but “incentives matter”: if you give people stuff, they will just slack off: “welfare destroys families.” …But wait a minute. If we have insisted that people must work to feel self-worth, yet capitalism puts people out of work until there are no jobs available, and there are no business opportunities to provide ever-cheaper lunches, isn’t welfare the least of our problems, isn’t welfare a problem that gets solved when we solve the real problem?

But what is the real problem? Is the real problem that we don’t know how to interact with strangers without the use of money, and so we think that money is a real thing? Is the real problem your certain feeling that we need to work for our self-worth? Is the real problem that capitalism is putting itself out of business, and showing that these so-called principles are just a bunch of bad excuses? Is the real problem that we are all caught in a huge emotional loop of bad thinking, now becoming an evident disaster?

36

bob mcmanus 08.30.16 at 9:26 pm

And also of course, people looking at Trump and his followers (or their enemies and opponents in the Democratic Party) and seeing “tribalism” are simply modernists engaging in nostalgia and reactionary analysis.

Trumpism is not fascism, and a Trump Rally is not Nuremberg. Much closer to Carnival

Wiki: “Interpretations of Carnival present it as a social institution that degrades or “uncrowns” the higher functions of thought, speech, and the soul by translating them into the grotesque body, which serves to renew society and the world,[37] as a release for impulses that threaten the social order that ultimately reinforces social norms,[38] as a social transformation[39] or as a tool for different groups to focus attention on conflicts and incongruities by embodying them in “senseless” acts.”

…or riot.

37

Rich Puchalsky 08.30.16 at 10:50 pm

I agree with bob mcm that Trumpism isn’t fascism. It’s not a serious analysis to say that it is.

“Tribalism” was coined as a kind of shorthand for what Michael Berube used to refer to “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” It’s the wholesale adoption of what at first looks like a value or belief system but is actually a social signaling system that one belongs to a group. People on the left refer to this signaling package as “tribal” primarily out of envy (I write somewhat jokingly) because the left no longer has a similarly strong package on its side.

38

Greg McKenzie 08.30.16 at 11:47 pm

“Tribalism” feeds into the factionalism of parties. The left has a strong faction both inside the ALP and the Liberal Party. The Right faction, in the NLP, is currently in ascendancy but this will not last. Just as the Right faction (in the ALP) was sidelined by clever ALP faction battles, the current members of the NLP’s Right faction are on borrowed time. But all politicians are “mugs” as Henry Lawson pointed out over a hundred years ago. Politicians can be talked into anything, if it gives them an illusion of power. So “tribalism” is more powerful than “factionalism” simply because it has more staying power. Left faction and Right faction merely obey the demands of their tribal masters.

39

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 1:47 am

. . . the left no longer has a similarly strong package on its side

honestly, I do not think “tribalism” is a “strong package” on Right or Left. Part of the point of tribalism in politics is just how superficial and media driven it is. The “signaling package” is put together and distributed like cigarette or perfume samples: everybody gets their talking points.

Pretending to care dominates actually caring. On the right — as Rich points out with the reference to “rolling coal”, some people on the Right who have donned their tribal sweatshirts get their kicks out of supposing that somebody on the Left actually cares and they can tweak those foolishly caring Lefties.

40

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 1:57 am

I take note of the Florida primary results, just in: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did just fine, as did her hand-picked Democratic Senate candidate, the horrible Patrick Murphy.

Oh, and Rubio is back.

Notice of the death of neoliberalism might be premature.

41

Martin 08.31.16 at 2:11 am

@ Bob Zannelli 10: To describe something as “hard wired” is to give up: what course of action could we take? But, then, why isn’t everyone a member of the tribalist party? Has everyone, always, been of the tribalist party? (I know someone could argue, ‘everyone is racist’ or ‘all these white liberals are just as racist really’, but even if that is somehow true, most are members of the socialist party or the neoliberal party).

Rather than deciding it is all too hard, we can at least find out who supports tribalism, why it makes sense to them, whether it benefits them, how it benefits them, if it does, and why they support it anyway, if it does not benefit them.

I suppose (I am guessing here), some tribalists are benefiting from differential government support, such as immigration policies that keep out rival potential employees, or tariff policies that keep out competitors; or at least, that they used to benefit like that. But Crooked Timber should have readers who can answer this kind of question from their expertise.

Collect the evidence, then understand, then act.

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Bob Zannelli 08.31.16 at 2:22 am

@ Bob Zannelli 10: To describe something as “hard wired” is to give up: what course of action could we take? But, then, why isn’t everyone a member of the tribalist party? Has everyone, always, been of the tribalist party? (I know someone could argue, ‘everyone is racist’ or ‘all these white liberals are just as racist really’, but even if that is somehow true, most are members of the socialist party or the neoliberal party).

))))))))))))

I don’t think I advocated giving up, I suggested we need to understand. You can be damn sure the purveyors of right wing agitprop understand human nature and are very good at getting people to vote against their own self interest.

))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Rather than deciding it is all too hard, we can at least find out who supports tribalism, why it makes sense to them, whether it benefits them, how it benefits them, if it does, and why they support it anyway, if it does not benefit them.

))))))))))))

I agree completely

)))))))))))))))))

I suppose (I am guessing here), some tribalists are benefiting from differential government support, such as immigration policies that keep out rival potential employees, or tariff policies that keep out competitors; or at least, that they used to benefit like that. But Crooked Timber should have readers who can answer this kind of question from their expertise.

Collect the evidence, then understand, then act.

))))))))))

Exactly. That’s why the right works so hard at dividing people along lines of race, gender , sexual orientation and so on , but never class.

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Val 08.31.16 at 5:27 am

I have for a while been a bit puzzled by what JQ means by “tribalism” – and recently, in what ways does it differ from ‘racism’ (as used eg by Chris Bertram in the recent post on Brexit)?

So I have done some research for you JQ, I hope you are pleased (it’s a distraction from trying to write my thesis anyway). I looked at Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in Australia as an example of what I thought you were talking about, and googled info on who supports ON. There doesn’t seem to be much on the recent resurgence, but I found what seems a pretty good article from 2001 by Goot and Watson in the Aust J of Politics and History.

The strongest associations they found were with:
– scoring high on anti-immigrant, anti-Aboriginal (eg anti-land rights) and political dissatisfaction scales
The next were:
– being male, rurality
(also living in Qld but that wasn’t compared in the same way)
Supporters were also somewhat more likely to identify as blue-collar and own guns
(there was a marked difference in gun ownership actually but as it is generally low in Australia the fact that 29% of ON supporters own guns still doesn’t emerge as a strong factor in analysis)
Economic uncertainty did NOT distinguish ON supporters from Labor supporters.

So overall I would suggest that what distinguishes these particular “tribalists”, was predominantly racism, with a side order of ‘angry white men’ (or men who live in the country and own guns – there was not much data in the article on ethnicity but given their strong opposition to immigration and Aboriginal rights one can presume they are likely to be white I suggest).

I do wonder why you (JQ) use the term tribalists? Is it because it is more polite than racist – and less likely to alienate people, as some people suggested we should consider in Chris’s thread?

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Val 08.31.16 at 5:31 am

I should acknowledge that racism may not be so significant in some of the other right wing minor parties such as Family First.

45

Val 08.31.16 at 5:43 am

From John Black in Online Opinion 17 Dec 2004:
“Demographic modeling shows Family First voters were composed of two distinct groups.

The first group was what you would have expected from a party founded by religious activists: middle income, professional, evangelical – and Liberal [= conservative in Australia].

But the second group, equal in size, was rusted on Labor voters [well presumably they had previously been rusted on, I guess he means] – agnostic, blue collar, lower income, single parents.”

Agnostic single parents??! I got nothin.

Will stop now. Perhaps others can do similar analysis for other countries.

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Howard Frant 08.31.16 at 6:39 am

I suppose it’s too late to try to convince people here that the term “neoliberalism” is a virus that devastates the analytic functions of the brain, but I’ll try. The term is based on a European use of the word “liberal” that has never had any currency in the US. It’s a wholly pejorative term based on a misunderstanding of Hayek (who did *not* believe in laissez-faire), but may be a reasonable approximation of the beliefs of , say, Thatcher. Then that term was confounded with a totally unconnected term invented by Peters, who was using the word “liberal” in the American sense. And presto, we have a seamless worlwide philosophy with “hard” and “soft” variants.

As far as, say, H. Clinton is concerned, I can see no respect in which it would be wrong to describe her as just a “liberal” in the American sense. American liberalism has always been internationalist and mildly pro-free-trade. It’s also been pro-union– so we can just say that’s *soft* neoliberalism and preserve our sense that we are part of a world-wide struggle. Or not.

Bernie Sanders was celebrated by the left for supporting a tax on carbon (without mentioning, of course, what price of gasoline he was contemplating), but this is an excellent illustration of what Peters would have considered a neoliberal policy. The term now just seems to mean anything I don’t like.

As for Benedict Arnold, I mean Judas Iscariot, I mean Bill Clinton, you can make a case that he did his best to salvage something from the wreckage. To repeat what I’ve said here before, when he was elected the Democrats had lost five of the last six elections, most by landslides. The one exception was the most conservative of the Democratic candidates, who was despised by the left. The American people had decisively rejected what the Democrats were selling. False consciousness, no doubt.

So rather than spending a lot of time celebrating victory over this hegemonic ideology, perhaps people should be talking about liberalism and whatever we’re calling the left alternative to it.

47

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 6:59 am

Howard, we have had this discussion before. Franco is still dead and you are still wrong about everything.

48

Paul 08.31.16 at 9:19 am

An analysis of infinite greed and its devastating world wide cultural consequences.
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/hidden-costs

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Z 08.31.16 at 9:23 am

I have for a while been a bit puzzled by what JQ means by “tribalism” – and recently, in what ways does it differ from ‘racism’

Because I share Will G-R’s uneasiness with the tribal reference in tribalism and because I think the name is an almost irresistible invitation for a tu quoque (“What? Me a tribalist? You would vote for Clinton only because she is a woman and eats quinoa”), I also think another name would be both more informative and more precise. I don’t think the term racism is appropriate, because it is just not true that race and ethnicity play as crucial a role in the political ideologies of all inegalitarian society as they do in anglo-american inegalitarian societies (see for an extreme example the case of Japan, which is ethnically homogeneous as can be and whose society is nevertheless permeated by strong inegalitarian ideas). Ditto fascism for comparable reasons. Beside both terms carry extremely offensive historical and sometimes legal connotations (arguing in their favor is a criminal offense in some countries) and I think we should strive to characterize the opinion of people in a way they could potentially agree with.

Drawing from Corey Robin’s work, perhaps the defining political trait uniting the political force under discussion is the desire to maintain, uphold and restore the traditional form of hierarchies in the private sphere. Perhaps someone can find or coin a word that evokes this. As the core belief seems to be that some form of dominations and authorities need no justification and are intrinsically or obviously worthy of preservation and enhancement, and as I quite like Noam Chomsky’s definition of anarchism according to which anarchism is the belief that authority always needs a justification, perhaps archism would be an appropriate term.

50

RichardM 08.31.16 at 9:47 am

Broad definitions:

neoliberalism: X is a good idea because it will solve your problem, in a way I can explain if you have 300+ hours spare.

tribalism: X is a good idea because group Y hate it.

They are mostly communication styles; you could make some kind of neoliberal case for building a wall between the US and Mexico. It just wouldn’t be a strong one because a large proportion of the people who spent 300 hours looking at the issue would disagree.

It works much better as a tribally-justified policy: 99% of people can correctly predict, without having to pause for thought, that Mexicans would hate having to pay for a wall.

The problem with neoliberalism is that it isn’t really compatible with a modern free market economy. Simply because that system isn’t well enough understood to allow experts, let alone informed amateurs, to reach a consensus on what a particular change will actually do.

‘Take back control’ was the slogan that won Brexit. It is the inability of the neoliberal communication style to credibly promise control that lost it.

51

Peter T 08.31.16 at 10:54 am

“Tribalism” is unhelpful here, because it obscures the contribution “tribalism” has made and can make to effective social democracy. It was on the basis of class and national tribalisms (solidarities is a better word) that social democracy was built, and its those solidarities that give it what strength it still has. That others preferred, and still prefer, other forms of solidarity – built around region or religion or language – should neither come as a surprise nor be seen as basis for opposition. It’s the content, not the form, that matters.

Self-interest is too vague and shifting, international links too weak, to make an effective politics. Our single most pressing problem – climate change – can clearly only be dealt with internationally. Yet the environmental and social problems that loom almost as large are clearly ones that can best be dealt with on national or sub-national scales. As this becomes clearer I expect the pressure to downsize and de-link from the global economy will intensify (there are already signs in this direction). The social democrat challenge is then to guide local solidarities towards democracy, not decry them.

52

Rich Puchalsky 08.31.16 at 10:56 am

If we’re really looking for a general word that works across national boundaries, it’s a well-used one: conservatism. People sometimes object that conservatives in one country are not the same as conservatives in another country, but really the differences are not much greater than in liberalism across countries, socialism, etc. Conservatism includes the characteristics of authoritarianism and nationalism. U.S. “tribalism” is its local manifestation: the use of “tribalism” to denote a global style of conservatism denotes a particular, contemporary type of conservatism, just as neoliberalism is a type of liberalism. You could divide JQ’s three groups into left, liberal, conservative but since you’re using neoliberal as the middle one (e.g. a contemporary mode) then “tribalism” or something like it seems appropriate for the last.

Note that there is no word for a contemporary mode of leftism, because there isn’t one. The closest is the acephalous or consensus style of many recent movements and groups, but that mode hasn’t won elections or taken power.

53

Peter T 08.31.16 at 11:43 am

The post focuses essentially on the challenge from above – the plutocracy – but the challenge from below is also relevant:
http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/06/15/the-twin-insurgency/

54

RichardM 08.31.16 at 12:18 pm

Probably simplest and least ambiguous language is just to name policy justification strategies after typical politicians who use them. So:

Clintonism: X is a good idea because it will adjust market conditions in a way that will solve your problem. I can explain if you have 300+ hours spare…

Trumpism: X is a good idea because minorities and cosmopolitan intellectuals hate it.

Putinism: X is a good idea because I can have you killed.

55

reason 08.31.16 at 12:48 pm

John Quiggin,
What I see as the missing point here, and perhaps we disagree upon it’s significance, is resource limitations. We can’t avoid the violent reversion to zero sum games unless we address the problem (exactly when it has or will reach crisis point is perhaps a point of disagreement) of expanding population meets finite resources (or even meets already fully owned resources).

I don’t buy the argument that there a technological solution, or the argument that population will stabilize before it gets too bad (I don’t see what will drive it – because Malthus was partly right).

If people are unable to survive where they are, they will try to move, and people already living where they are moving to won’t like it. Perhaps we are already seeing some of this, perhaps not. But it will drive tribalism (joining together to keep the “invaders” out) and won’t drive the left. I have a feeling that the “left” should be replaced by a “green” view of the world, but for one thing, that will need a new economics – perhaps on the lines sketched out by Herman Daly. Maybe the term “left” is too associated with a Marxist view of the world to be useful any more.

56

Will G-R 08.31.16 at 2:00 pm

Apart from the obvious advantages “fascism” brings to the table — the sense of describing “Trumpism” in terms of what it seeks to develop into and not in terms of its current and clearly underdeveloped form, as well as the sense of tying our current state of poorly grasped ideological confusion back to WWII as the last clear three-way “battlefield of ideologies” pitting liberalism against fascism against socialism — the term is broadly symbolically appropriate for the same reasons it was originally adopted by Mussolini. The sense of national solidarity and “strength through unity” (i.e. the socialist element of National Socialism) is exactly what John Quiggin is characterizing as “the positive elements of the appeal of tribalism”, and the direct invocation of the Roman fasces as a symbol of pure authority is exactly what Z is getting at with the term “archism”. Sure our latter-day manifestation of fascism hasn’t (yet) led to an honest-to-God fascist regime in any Western country, but to kid ourselves that this isn’t what it seeks or that it couldn’t potentially get there would be, well, a bit too uncomfortably Weimar-ish of us.

Besides which, I get that pooh-poohing about Godwin’s Law and “everybody I don’t like is Hitler” and so on is a nearly irresistible tic in today’s liberal discourse, but c’mon people… we’re all comfortable using the term “neoliberalism”, which means we’re all willing to risk having the same Poli Sci 101 conversations over and over again in the mainstream (“yes, Virginia, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan are both liberals!”) for the sake of our own theoretical clarity. At the very least “fascism” would have fewer problematic discursive connotations than “tribalism”, which I absolutely refuse to use in this conversation without putting it in sneer quotes.

57

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 2:17 pm

The problem with neoliberalism is that it isn’t really compatible with a modern free market economy. Simply because that system isn’t well enough understood to allow experts, let alone informed amateurs, to reach a consensus on what a particular change will actually do. . . . It is the inability of the neoliberal communication style to credibly promise control that lost it.

You seem to be dancing around the elite corruption that is motivating the rationales provided by neoliberalism.

We are going to improve efficiency by privatizing education, health care, pensions, prisons, transport. Innovation is the goal of deregulating finance, electricity. That is what they say.

The obscurity and complexity of, say, Obamacare or the Greek bailout is a cover story for the looting.

The problem is not that the experts do not understand consequences. The problem is that a broken system pays the top better, so the system has to be broken, but not so broken that the top falls off in collapse.

58

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 2:35 pm

Will G-R @ 55

So you know what Trumpism wants to become, so we should call it that, rather than describe what it is, because the ideological conflicts of 80 years ago were so much clearer.

We live in the age of inverted totalitarianism. Trump isn’t Mussolini, he’s an American version of Berlusconi, a farcical rhyme in echo of a dead past.

We probably are on the verge of an unprecedented authoritarian surveillance state, but Hillary Clinton doesn’t need an army of blackshirts.

The historical fascism demanded everything in the state. Our time wants everything in an iPhone app.

59

bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 2:54 pm

reason @ 54

Very well said.

Resource limits shadow the falling apart of the global order that the American Interest link Peter T points to.

If the billionaires are looting from the top and the response is a criminal scramble at the bottom, the unnecessariat will be spit out uncomprehending into the void between.

It is hard to see optimism as a growth stock. But, an effective left would need something to reintroduce mass action into politics against an elite that is groping toward a solution that entails replacing the masses with robots.

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Will G-R 08.31.16 at 3:38 pm

“Trumpism” may be the term du jour in the US, but let’s try to kick our stiflingly banal American habit of framing everything around our little quadrennial electoral freak shows. After all, the US and our rigid two-party system have always been an outlier in the vigor with which real political currents have been forced to conform to the narrow partisan vocabulary of either a left-liberal or a right-liberal major party. If hewing religiously to a patriotic sense of US institutionalism is supposed to ultimately save the liberal political sphere from the underlying political-economic forces that threaten it, we might as well take a page from the Tea Party and start marching around in powdered wigs and tricorn hats for all the good it’ll do us.

In the rest of the Western world, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, the “fascist” parties (Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, Ataka in Bulgaria, etc.) are generally less euphemistic about their role as fascist parties, and what forced sense of euphemism does exist seems to provide little more than a rhetorical opportunity for mockingly transparent coyness. To be fair, the predominant far-right parties in richer Western European countries (the FN, AfD, UKIP, etc.) are a bit more earnestly vague about their ambitions, so maybe a good compromise would be to call them (along with Trump) “soft fascists” in contrast to the “hard fascists” of Golden Dawn or Ataka. But fascism still makes much more sense than any other existing “-ism” I’ve seen, unless we want to just make one up.

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Marc 08.31.16 at 3:48 pm

Analogies can obscure more than they illuminate.

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RichardM 08.31.16 at 4:11 pm

> You seem to be dancing around the elite corruption that is motivating the rationales provided by neoliberalism.

Fair point. On the other hand, if neoliberalism rule, then neoliberals will be the rulers. And if not, not. Whatever the nature of the rulers, they rarely starve. Worldwide, average corruption is almost certainly lower in mostly-neoliberal countries than in less-neoliberal places like China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, …

The key thing is, take two neoliberal politicians, only one of whom is (unusually) corrupt. One entirely intends to deliver what you ask for, admittedly while ensuring they personally have a nice life being well-fed, warm and listened-to. The other plans to take it all and deliver nothing.

Given that nobody trustworthy knows anything, at least in a form they can explain, you can’t get useful information as to which is which. 300 hours of reading reports of their rhetoric in newspapers, blogs, etc. leaves you none the wiser. And by the time you have a professional-level of knowledge of what’s going on, you are part of the problem.

Might as well just stick to looking at who has which label next to their name, or who has good hair.

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Will G-R 08.31.16 at 4:16 pm

Marc, the discourse of Godwin’s Law has done a wonderful job solidifying the delusion that what ’20s-through-’40s-era fascists once represented is categorically dead and buried, which is why it seems like the word can’t be used as anything other than an obtuse historical analogy. But it’s not an analogy — it’s a direct insinuation that what these people currently represent is a clear descendant of what those people once represented, however mystified by its conditioned aversion to the word “fascism” itself. On the contrary, if we surrender to the Godwin’s Law discourse and accept that fascism can never mean anything in contemporary discourse except as an all-purpose “everything I don’t like is Hitler” analogy or whatever, it means we’ve forgotten what it means to actually be anti-fascist.

BTW, the link from the last comment isn’t working for whatever reason, so here’s Take 2.

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Bob Zannelli 08.31.16 at 5:27 pm

So much concern about the term tribalism. Well what is fascism? The use of tribalism to grasp political power and establish a totalitarian political order. Sound reasonable? Pick any fascism you like, the Nazis ( master race) the theocratic fascists in the US ( Christian rule ) Catholic Fascism ( Franco’s Spain) , you name it. It walks and talks like tribalism. Trump-ism is the not so new face of American fascism. It’s race based, it xenophobic, it’s embraces violence, has a disdain for civil liberties and human rights, and it features the great leader. Doesn’t seem to difficult to make the connection.

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bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 6:14 pm

RichardM: Whatever the nature of the rulers, they rarely starve.

Still not getting it.

The operative question is whether the rulers feast because the society works or because the society fails.

Neoliberalism is the politics of controlled dismantling of the institutions of a society that formerly worked for a larger portion of its participants. Like a landlord realizing increased cash flow from a decision to forego maintenance and hire gangsters to handle rent collection, neoliberalism seeks to divert the dividends from disinvestment to the top

The cadre managing this technically and politically difficult task — it is not easy to take things apart without critical failures exemplified by system collapse prompting insurrection or revolution — are rewarded as are society’s owners, the 1/10th of 1%. Everybody else is screwed — either directly, or by the consequences of the social disintegration used to feed a parasitic elite.

The key thing is, take two neoliberal politicians, only one of whom is (unusually) corrupt. One entirely intends to deliver what you ask for, admittedly while ensuring they personally have a nice life being well-fed, warm and listened-to. The other plans to take it all and deliver nothing.

Again, you are not getting it. This isn’t about lesser evil. “Lesser evil” is a story told to herd the masses. If there are two neoliberal politicians, both are corrupt. Neither intends to deliver anything to you on net; they are competing to deliver you.

Any apparent choice offered to you is just part of the b.s. The “300 hours of reading” is available if you need a hobby or the equivalent of a frontal lobotomy.

I am not enthusiastic about this proposed distinction between “hard” and “soft” neoliberalism. Ideologically, conservative libertarians have been locked in a dialectic with the Clintonite / Blairite neoliberals — that’s an old story, maybe an obsolete story, but apparently not one those insist on seeing neoliberalism as a monolithic lump fixed in time can quite grasp, but never mind.

Good cop, bad cop. Only, the electorate is carefully divided so that one side’s good cop is the other side’s bad cop, and vice versa.

Hillary Clinton is running the Democratic Party in such a way that she wins the Presidency, but the Party continues to be excluded from power in Congress and in most of the States. This is by design. This is the neoliberal design. She cannot deliver on her corrupt promises to the Big Donors if she cannot play the game Obama has played so superbly of being hapless in the face of Republican intransigence.

In the meantime, those aspiring to be part of the credentialed managerial classes that conduct this controlled demolition while elaborating the surveillance state that is expected to hold things together in the neo-feudal future are instructed in claiming and nurturing their individual political identity against the day of transformation of consciousness, when feminism will triumph even in a world where we never got around to regulating banks.

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Will G-R 08.31.16 at 6:22 pm

OK Bob, seems like we’ll need to spell it out… what is “tribalism”? What is a “tribe”? How do you define a “tribe” in any sort of precise sociological or anthropological way? Can the term be assigned a precise and useful social-scientific meaning at all? Or, conversely, is it a poorly defined pseudo-intellectual way to vaguely allude to the image of a small group of people, probably less than fully “civilized”, who respond with reflexive aggression to other, similar small groups of people? By using a term with these ramifications, are we defining ourselves as the “civilized” people who might encounter a “tribe” on some exotic jungle safari or something? Given how “civilized” peoples have historically dealt with the kinds of people they call “tribes” throughout the history of European imperialism, what kind of people does that make us in this analogy? And what are the political ramifications of defining racist populists by analogy as the kinds of people who are ultimately victimized by imperialists, whose analogous role we’re implicitly assigning to liberals and/or the left? In short, unless we’re trying to apologize for historical European imperialism, doesn’t calling racists and fascists “tribalists” mean we’re implicitly taking their side?

We need to find a better word, period. My vote is for “fascism”, or if that’s too much of Godwin’s-Law hot potato to handle, “ethnonationalism”. But if we want to be people of the Left, “tribalism” won’t do.

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bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 6:33 pm

Will G-R, Bob Zannelli

Actual, historical fascism required the would-be fascists to get busy, en masse.

Trump (and Clinton) will be streamed on demand so you can stay home and check Facebook. Hitler giving a two-hour 15000 word speech and Trump, Master of the Twitterverse, belong to completely different political categories, if not universes.

There are so many differences and those differences are so deep and pervasive that the conversation hardly seems worth having.

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stevenjohnson 08.31.16 at 7:54 pm

Historical fascism included not just Hitler’s Germany, but Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar/Caetano’s Portugal, Ionescu’s Romania, the Ustase in Croatia, Tiso’s Slovakia, Petliura’s movement in Ukraine, and, arguably, Dollfuss’ Austria, Horthy’s Hungary, Imperial Japan, Peronist Argentina, the Poland of the post Pilsudski junta (read Beck on the diplomatics of a Jewish state in Uganda, which is I think symptomatic wishful thinking.)

There is a strong correlation between the nations whose rulers accepted fascists into the government and losing WWI. The rest were new, insecure states that could profit their masters by expansion. At the time, the so-called Allies, except for the USSR, were essentially the official “winners” of WWI and therefore united against the would be revisionists like Germany. Therefore it was desirable to propagandize against the Axis as uniquely fascist.

In fact, there was a powerful fascist movement in many Allied states as well. Vichy France had deep, strong domestic roots in particular, but the South African Broederbond and Jim Crow USA with its lynchings show how fascism and democracy (as understood by anti-Communists) are not separate things, but conjunctural developments of the capitalist states, which are not organized as business firms.

Democracy is associated even with genocide, enslavement of peoples and mass population transfers to colonists. It began with democracy itself, with the Spartans turning Messenians into Helots and Athenians expropriating Euboeans and massacring Melians. Russian Cossacks on the Caucasian steppes or Paxton Boys in the US continued the process. When democracy came to the Ottoman empire, making Turkey required the horrific expulsion of the Armenians. (Their Trail of Tears was better publicized than the Cherokee’s.) But the structural need to unify a nation by excluding Others led to the bloody expulsion of Greeks as well. The confirmation of national identity by a mix of ethnic, religious and racial markers required mass violence and war, as seen in the emergence of the international system of mercantilist capitalist states.

The wide variations in historical fascism conclusively demonstrate every notion of fascism is somehow something essentially, metaphysically, antithetical is wrong. Fascism and democracy are not an antinomy. Particular doctrines that assert this, like the non-concept of “totalitarianism,” serve as a kind of skeleton for political movements and parties. Since the triumph of what we in the US call McCarthyism all mainstream and all acceptable alternative politics share this same skeleton. It is unsurprising that such a beast is somehow not organically equipped to be an effective left. It’s SYRIZA in Greece defining itself by the rejection of the KKE. There is no such thing as repudiation of revolution that doesn’t imply accepting counter-revolution.

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Evan Neely 08.31.16 at 8:03 pm

The problem I have with attempts to appeal to the supposedly “positive” aspects of tribalism, solidarity and the affection for longstanding institutions, is that it’s presuming these aren’t just our abstractions of something that’s felt at a much more primal level. Tribalists don’t love solidarity for the sake of the principle of solidarity: they feel solidarity because they love the specific people like them that they love and hate others. One set of tribalists doesn’t look at another and say “hey, we respect the same principles.” It says “they’re not our tribe!!!” Point being, you’re never going to get them on your side with appeals to abstractions. You’re almost certainly never going to get them on your side no matter what you do.

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rea 08.31.16 at 8:14 pm

“Hillary Clinton is running the Democratic Party in such a way that she wins the Presidency, but the Party continues to be excluded from power in Congress and in most of the States. This is by design. This is the neoliberal design. She cannot deliver on her corrupt promises to the Big Donors if she cannot play the game Obama has played so superbly of being hapless in the face of Republican intransigence.”

This is just delusional. There is no vast neoliberal conspiracy of which Clinton and Trump are both members. There are no corrupt promises from Clinton to big donors–there are not even any discernible corrupt promises from Trump to big donors. Obama was not pretending not to have enough votes in Congress to get everything he wanted done.

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RichardM 08.31.16 at 8:31 pm

@62: You seem to be bent on answering the question ‘why do they do it’, which doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting or useful.

The better question is ‘why do we let them?’ At least, when asked in a manner not rhetorical or despairing, but in the knowledge that any useful answer must be not merely true, but specific and contingent. ‘Because gravity’ is true, but useless; ‘because he let go’ is the kind of answer we need.

‘Because we don’t know if what they propose will lead to society working or failing’ may or may not be the right answer. But at least it addresses the right question.

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bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 9:07 pm

There is no vast neoliberal conspiracy . . .

There obviously is a vast political movement, coordinated in ideology and the social processes of partisan politics and propaganda.

Creating a strawperson “conspiracy” does not erase actual Clinton fundraising practices and campaign tactics, which exist independent of whatever narrative I weave them into.

There are no corrupt promises from Clinton to big donors . . .

!!! And, you are accusing me of being delusional.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.31.16 at 9:11 pm

Calling our present-day GOP as led by Trump “fascism” is calling it a break with the past GOP. Corey Robin has been over this quite a bit here, but in many important respects there is no break. GWB, for instance, sometimes required attendees at his rallies to take a personal loyalty oath. And GWB is hailed by some people here as being the good conservative because he said that not all Muslims were bad, while, of course, killing a million Muslims. The contemporary GOP is an outgrowth of GOP tradition, and while some leftists may find calling all conservatism fascism convincing, I think that it’s only convincing for the tiny number of people who adhere to their ideology.

But conservatism and fascism are both right-wing and people can argue indefinitely about where the boundary is. So rather than talk about ideal types, let’s look at how the rhetoric of calling it fascism works. Calling Trumpism fascism is primarily the rhetoric of HRC supporters, because functionally, what everyone pretty much agrees on is that when fascists appear, people on the left through moderate right are supposed to drop everything and unite in a Popular Front to oppose them.

I don’t think that people should drop everything. I think that HRC is going to win and that forming the mental habit of supporting the Democratic Party is easy to do and hard to break, and I think that the people who become Democratic Party supporters because of the threat of Trump / “fascism” are going to spend the next four years working directly against actual left interests.

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bruce wilder 08.31.16 at 9:49 pm

You seem to be bent on answering the question ‘why do they do it’

No.

I was trying to get at the essence of what they are doing, behind the confusing details of stated intention that always obscure the specific and contingent.

You can spend 300 hours reading the IMF projections of expansionary austerity for Greece or how a casino is going to rescue the economy of center-city Philadelphia with vast parking lots or how Michelle Rhee will reform education or Larry Summers is going diagnose secular stagnation for us real soon now.

‘Because we don’t know if what they propose will lead to society working or failing’ seems like a recommendation to relax and enjoy the agnatology. I hear three-card Monte is a lot of fun to play when waiting for your bus, too.

One reason I am so confident that neoliberalism in economic policy and neoconservativism in foreign policy are terminal scams is because we are so far down the road with these policies. We have experience and where there might have been a case for gains that could be shared, we are past the point of diminishing returns.

The case for the TPP as free trade vanished with tariffs decades ago; this is about disabling the state as a means of countervailing power against private capital and corporations. We have had a global financial crisis and much of the world is in a depression. Surely, we do not expect to bomb our way to democracy in Syria or Yemen?

But, sure Putin is hacking our sacred democracy.

The better question is ‘why do we let them?’

I do not think they are asking our permission, nor do I see effective means at hand to say, no. Collective political action problems require organization, including finding ways to bind leaders to the interests of followers and vice versa. But, you knew that.

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Will G-R 08.31.16 at 10:06 pm

Rich, I think it would be a mistake to consider this as a question of “our present-day GOP as led by Trump”. First because Trump isn’t “leading” the GOP in any meaningful sense; as Jay Rosen’s recent Tweet-storm encapsulates nicely, the GOP’s institutional leadership is still liberal through and through, even if its ideological organs pander in some ideally implicit sense to what might otherwise be a fascist constituency. And second because Trump isn’t really “leading” his own constituents either; if he were to make a high-profile about-face on the issues his voters care about, they’d likely be just as eager to dump him as Bernie Sanders’ most passionate leftist supporters were to ignore his pro-Clinton appeals at the DNC.

What’s interesting about Trump isn’t really anything to do with Trump per se, so much as what Trump’s constituency would do if the normal functioning of the liberal institutions constraining it were to be disrupted in a serious way. Europe in the 1910s through 1940s was full of such disruptions, and should such an era return, the ideological currents we’re now viewing through a heavily tinted institutional window would become much clearer.

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Ragweed 08.31.16 at 10:23 pm

Val etc.

I think that John’s use of the word “tribalist” here means a world-view that explicitly values members of an in-group more than members not of the in-group. It is different from racism because it may be over other factors than race – religion, citizenship, nationalism, or even region. And the key word is explicitly. The big difference between tribalist and both neoliberal and left positions is that the other two are generally universalist.

Neoliberals profess that everyone will be better off with deregulation, free markets, and technocratic solutions, and often explicitly reject the idea of something benefitting one racial, religious, or national group over another (though not the educated or wealthy, because these are allegedly meritocratic outcomes of the neoliberal order).

The left likewise generally argues for an increase in equality and equal distribution of resources for all, whether that be class-based or based on some sort of gender, race, or sexual equality.

So on an issue like a free trade deal, a neoliberal argument would support it, because gains of trade and various other reasons why it would make everyone better off; a leftist argument would oppose it on the grounds that it would make everyone worse off; and a tribalist argument would oppose it on the grounds that it took jobs away from American citizens, but wouldn’t worry too much about the other guys.

Of course, the lines are not always clear and distinct, they often overlap, mix, and borrow arguments from each other, and there are often hypocrisies’ and inconsistencies (and John’s point anyway is that the neoliberals tend to draw on coalitions with the other two factions), but I think it is a good general description of the distinction.

And it is different from the more sociological use of tribal to mean any in-group/out-group distinction and social solidarity formation. Everyone is tribal in the sociological sense, but the tribalist that John is referring explicitly approves of that tribalism. A left intellectual may look down on “ignorant, racist, blue-collar Trump supporters”, with as much bias as any tribalist, but would generally want them to have better education and a guarantee income so they were no longer ignorant and racist, whereas the tribalist generally thinks the other guy is less deserving.

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Bob Zannelli 08.31.16 at 11:11 pm

Rich Puchalsky 08.31.16 at 9:11 pm

I don’t think that people should drop everything. I think that HRC is going to win and that forming the mental habit of supporting the Democratic Party is easy to do and hard to break, and I think that the people who become Democratic Party supporters because of the threat of Trump / “fascism” are going to spend the next four years working directly against actual left interests.

)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

The trouble with the left is so well illustrated by what you write someone should frame it. What exactly is being dropped, railing against the democratic party to feel good. That’s not too useful. What the left should have done is actually stop whining and gone out to vote in the democratic primaries. In Florida we had an excellent chance of getting some good progressives on the ballot while getting rid of two of the worst. It would have been easy because primary voter turnout is generally low. Instead the former Bernie supported stayed home , I guess they didn’t want to drop all the good whining they are doing. Now they can help the GOP and Trump by not voting or by voting third party, as they continue to whine about the democratic party. That is be useful fools for the far right. Because after all a narcissistic sociopath as president of the United Stated is nothing to worry about.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.01.16 at 12:44 am

Bob Zanelli: “What the left should have done is actually stop whining and gone out to vote in the democratic primaries.”

First of all, learn how to quote. You do it by using copy then paste and then typing in double quotes around what you’ve pasted. I don’t know where you got the lots of right parentheses thing from.

Second, one of the things that I predicted a while back was that somehow everything would get blamed on Sanders supporters. But this is one I hadn’t anticipated. I guess that it is incumbent on them to turn out in the same numbers as for the Presidential election forevermore — unlike any other kind of American voter, which is why the turnout for non-Presidential primaries is low — or everything is their fault and they’re whiners.

Third, no one who is seriously doing anything is voting in an election. I’ve been through this before here ad nauseum, but individual voting is meaningless. People who actually do things either do non-electoral political work or, if they are electoral activists, volunteer to do GOTV or similar activities.

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Magpie 09.01.16 at 12:46 am

@Will G-R (#21)

As hesitant as I am to play the “Fallacy Man” game…

If you ask me, you should not hesitate. Personally, I found it quite enjoyable.

But what I really, really, really loved was the reply (#27) to your comment:

Now Mao Tse-Tung, there’s role model to be quoted.

Fallacy Man’s reply (i.e. “Noooo!!!”) pales by comparison. :-)

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 6:24 am

Bob Zanelli: “What the left should have done is actually stop whining and gone out to vote in the democratic primaries.”

First of all, learn how to quote. You do it by using copy then paste and then typing in double quotes around what you’ve pasted. I don’t know where you got the lots of right parentheses thing from.

))))))))))))))

Who are you the format police?

))))))))))))))))))

Second, one of the things that I predicted a while back was that somehow everything would get blamed on Sanders supporters. But this is one I hadn’t anticipated. I guess that it is incumbent on them to turn out in the same numbers as for the Presidential election forevermore — unlike any other kind of American voter, which is why the turnout for non-Presidential primaries is low — or everything is their fault and they’re whiners.

))))))))))))))))

Gee what a concept, an obligation to vote in a democracy. As flawed as the US political process is, voting still matters and can affect change. It’s not easy , but then it’s never easy to reform anything.
))))))))))))))))))

Third, no one who is seriously doing anything is voting in an election. I’ve been through this before here ad nauseum, but individual voting is meaningless. People who actually do things either do non-electoral political work or, if they are electoral activists, volunteer to do GOTV or similar activities.

)))))))))))))

Oh I see the former Bernie supporters were too busy to vote because they were doing what???? Aren’t these activities designed to get people to …drum roll.. vote. If not what, sit ins on Wall Street like the idiotic occupy movement. Hey how that work out. Where did they go? Or are we just waiting for the proletarians to throw off their chains of oppression.

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Sam Bradford 09.01.16 at 9:20 am

What I wonder/worry about is whether tribalism, nationalism, call it what you will, is a necessity.

It’s very difficult for me to imagine an internationalist order that provides the kind of benefits to citizens that I’d want a state to provide. It’s much easier to imagine nation states operating as enclaves of solidarity and mutual aid in an amorphous, anarchic and ruthless globalised environment. Yet the creation of a nation requires the creation of an in-group and an out-group, citizens and non-citizens.

To put it more concretely: in my own country, New Zealand, the traditional Maori form of social organisation – a kind of communitarianism – currently appeals to me as offering more social solidarity and opportunity for human flourishing than our limp lesser-of-three-evils democracy. It is a society in which there is genuine solidarity and common purpose. Yet it is, literally, tribal; it admits no more than a few thousand people to each circle of mutual aid. I am sometimes tempted to believe that it is the correct way for human beings to live, despite my general dislike for biological determinism. I think I would rather abandon my obligations to the greater mass of humanity (not act against them, of course, just accept an inability to influence events) and be a member of a small society than be a helpless and hopeless atom in a sea of similar, utterly disenfranchised atoms.

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Gareth Wilson 09.01.16 at 10:01 am

Besides the size issue, traditional Maori society is an absolute monarchy with slavery and cannibalism.

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Sam Bradford 09.01.16 at 10:06 am

Ah yeah, but I’m assuming that part is optional. I mean, we can have representative democracy without bombing Indochina.

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 4:32 pm

Bob Zannelli: Gee what a concept, an obligation to vote in a democracy. As flawed as the US political process is, voting still matters and can affect change. It’s not easy , but then it’s never easy to reform anything.

Just to give voice to the contrary perspective, voter turnout appears to play at least some role in the ideological process by which the US electoral system claims legitimacy: even though in purely procedural terms an election could work just fine if the total number of ballots was an infinitesimal fraction of the number of eligible voters (“Bill Clinton casts ballot, Hillary defeats Trump by 2 votes to 1!”) low voter turnout is nonetheless depicted as a crisis not just for any particular candidate or party but for the entire electoral process. Accordingly, if I decide not to vote and thereby to decrease voter turnout by a small-but-nonzero amount, I’m adding a small-but-nonzero contribution to the public argument that the electoral process as presently institutionalized is illegitimate, so unless we propose to add a “none of the above” option to every single race and question on the ballot, to argue that citizens have an obligation to vote is to argue that they are obliged not to “vote” for the illegitimacy of the system as such. And plenty of ethical and political stances could be consistent with such a “vote”, not the least of which is a certain historical stance whose proponents argued that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 4:45 pm

Just to give voice to the contrary perspective, voter turnout appears to play at least some role in the ideological process by which the US electoral system claims legitimacy: even though in purely procedural terms an election could work just fine if the total number of ballots was an infinitesimal fraction of the number of eligible voters (“Bill Clinton casts ballot, Hillary defeats Trump by 2 votes to 1!”) low voter turnout is nonetheless depicted as a crisis not just for any particular candidate or party but for the entire electoral process. Accordingly, if I decide not to vote and thereby to decrease voter turnout by a small-but-nonzero amount, I’m adding a small-but-nonzero contribution to the public argument that the electoral process as presently institutionalized is illegitimate, so unless we propose to add a “none of the above” option to every single race and question on the ballot, to argue that citizens have an obligation to vote is to argue that they are obliged not to “vote” for the illegitimacy of the system as such. And plenty of ethical and political stances could be consistent with such a “vote”, not the least of which is a certain historical stance whose proponents argued that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

))))))))))

You mean people shouldn’t vote because it only legitimates the US Government. That we need to overthrow the government instead. Did I get you right? Holy Shit

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 5:05 pm

I mean that just as people who believe the US government is legitimate should have the right to express their political preference at the ballot box, people who believe the US government is illegitimate should have the right to express their political preference at (the abstention from) the ballot box, and that it’s at least possible for this to be a consistent political and ethical stance. Do you disagree? Is the legitimacy of your government a first premise for you? If so, Thomas Jefferson would like a word.

(Not to imply that I hold any particular fealty to the US nationalist mythology of the “Founding Fathers” and so on, but hey, they articulated a certain liberal political philosophy whose present-day adherents should at least be consistent about it.)

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 5:14 pm

I mean that just as people who believe the US government is legitimate should have the right to express their political preference at the ballot box, people who believe the US government is illegitimate should have the right to express their political preference at (the abstention from) the ballot box, and that it’s at least possible for this to be a consistent political and ethical stance. Do you disagree? Is the legitimacy of your government a first premise for you? If so, Thomas Jefferson would like a word.

(Not to imply that I hold any particular fealty to the US nationalist mythology of the “Founding Fathers” and so on, but hey, they articulated a certain liberal political philosophy whose present-day adherents should at least be consistent about it.) {}

Jefferson has never impressed me very much ( except for his church state separation advocacy) His ideal of a democratic agrarian slave society I find not too appealing. He talked about the blood of tyrants but he spent his time drinking fine wines and being waiting on by his slaves during the revolutionary war. You’re entitled to any views you want, but you’re not entitled to be respected if you’re views are nonsensical. Good luck on the revolution, I hope that works out for you.

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 5:15 pm

Also, not to get personal, but the smarm here is so thick you could cut it with a knife…

“Did I get you right? Is your response to an argument you find uncomfortable to simply intone ‘holy shit’? Holy shit…”

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 5:20 pm

So wait, did you not recognize the quote from the Declaration of Independence, or what? Your argument invoked “an obligation to vote in a democracy”. My counterargument is that if government is supposed to be premised on the consent of the governed, there can never be “an obligation to vote in a democracy”, because not voting is a way of expressing one’s lack of consent. As Žižek might put it, your ideal appears to be a democratic system that orders you to consent.

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neil t 09.01.16 at 5:22 pm

Sam Bradford@78 “I think I would rather abandon my obligations to the greater mass of humanity (not act against them, of course, just accept an inability to influence events) and be a member of a small society than be a helpless and hopeless atom in a sea of similar, utterly disenfranchised atoms.”

This is my answer to the OP. People will be attracted to different things, of course. For my part, it doesn’t seem realistic to hope we will come together and solve, or really even realistically attempt to solve, basic existential problems.

So, get together with your neighbors. Grow food! Make things. Recreate together. Make your own “government”. Ignore the shit out there. Try not to break their laws, and they’ll leave you more or less alone. Help who you can. If movements come up that are humanistic support them. Humans (in fact life it seems) are essentially tribal. It supports survival. Use it positively. And think small.

I’m old, and in touch with my mortality. So I try to pay attention to and appreciate the beautiful moments. Perhaps that’s all there really is. There is room for different approaches of course…this is mine.

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 5:37 pm

So wait, did you not recognize the quote from the Declaration of Independence, or what? Your argument invoked “an obligation to vote in a democracy”. My counterargument is that if government is supposed to be premised on the consent of the governed, there can never be “an obligation to vote in a democracy”, because not voting is a way of expressing one’s lack of consent. As Žižek might put it, your ideal appears to be a democratic system that orders you to consent.{}

I think anyone who expects to move the country away from Neo Liberalism to a more progressive direction without voting is a fool. What’s the alternative , over throwing the government? If this is the plan we better not discuss it on social media. Of course it’s all nonsense, if the US government was ever thrown it would be by the far right as almost happened under FDR during the hey day of fascism around the world. I think too many here are still living in a Marxist fantasy world , no one here is going to establish the dictatorship of the proletarians. Let’s get real.

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 6:09 pm

if the US government was ever thrown it would be by the far right

So let’s get this straight… the only choice we have is between the center and the far right, yet it’s far leftists’ fault for not being centrists that the politics of centrism itself keeps drifting farther and farther to the right. Screw eating from the trashcan, it’s like you’re mainlining pure grade-A Colombian ideology.

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stevenjohnson 09.01.16 at 6:24 pm

Will G-R@86 “… because not voting is a way of expressing one’s lack of consent.” Incorrect. Not voting is routinely interpreted as tacit consent. Not voting is meaningless, and will be interpreted as suited.

Bob Zannelli@87 “Let’s get real.”

Okay. What’s real is, the game is rigged but you insist on making everyone ante up and play by the rules anyhow. What’s real, is you have nothing to do with the left, except by defining the Democratic Party as the left. What’s real is that the parties could just as well be labeled the “Ins” and the “Outs,” and that would have just as much to do with the left, which is to repeat, nothing.

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bruce wilder 09.01.16 at 6:59 pm

Bob Zannelli: What’s the alternative?

There is no alternative.

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 7:01 pm

So let’s get this straight… the only choice we have is between the center and the far right, yet it’s far leftists’ fault for not being centrists that the politics of centrism itself keeps drifting farther and farther to the right. Screw eating from the trashcan, it’s like you’re mainlining pure grade-A Colombian ideology{}

Right because the left is too busy plotting the revolution to engage in politics.

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bruce wilder 09.01.16 at 7:09 pm

Hillary Clinton is engaging in politics and she’s teh most librul librul evah! Why isn’t that enough? It is not her fault, surely, that the devil makes her do unlibrul things — you have to be practical and practically, there is no alternative. We have to clap louder. That’s the ticket!

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 7:25 pm

stevenjohnson: Not voting is routinely interpreted as tacit consent.

So why then is low voter turnout interpreted as a problem for democracy? Why wouldn’t it be a cause for celebration if a large majority of the population was so happy with the system that they’d be happy with whoever won? On the contrary, a helpless person’s tacit refusal to respond to a provocation can be the exact opposite of consent if whoever has them at their mercy actually needs a reaction: think of a torture victim who sits in silence instead of pleading for mercy or giving up the information the torturer is after. Whether or not it truly does need it, the ideology of liberal democracy at least acts as if it needs the legitimating idea that its leaders are freely and actively chosen by those they govern, and refusing to participate in this choice can be interpreted as an effort to deprive this ideology of its legitimating idea.

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bruce wilder 09.01.16 at 7:45 pm

Will G-R @ 94

Low voter turnout is interpreted as a problem by some people on some occasions. Why generalize to official “ideology” from their idiosyncratic and opportunistic pieties?

Why are the concerns of, say, North Carolina’s legislature that only the right people vote not official ideology? Or, the election officials in my own Los Angeles County, where we regularly have nearly secret elections with hard-to-find-polling-places — we got down to 8.6% in one election in 2015.

Obama’s DHS wants to designate the state election apparatus, critical infrastructure. Won’t that be great? I guess Putin may not be able to vote, after all!

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Bob Zannelli 09.01.16 at 7:46 pm

This conversation has been amazing. I thought a forum that included Corey Robin might have people which reasonable views. How wrong I was. Now I am “not of the Left: because I think we need to participate in the political process. No it’s all illegitimate, voting is falling into the Capitalist trap. So here I am with a happy band of political revolutionaries. When do we storm the barriers? However , it seems all here is here is talk, and not very sensible talk at that. When does this revolution take place? Are the armies of the proletarians in place? How many divisions do you have? Are we going to shoot all the enemies of the great proletarian revolution. Will Alaska be where we place the American gulag for all those Americans who disagree with us. You guys would be scary if you weren’t such a joke

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 8:12 pm

Bob, my impression is that CT is supposed to be a philosophy-oriented discussion space (or it wouldn’t be named after a line from Kant for chrissake) and in philosophy one is supposed to subject one’s premises to ruthless and unsparing criticism, or at least be able to fathom the possibility of doing so — including in this case premises like the legitimacy of the US government or the desirability of capitalism. Especially in today’s neoliberal society there are precious few spaces where a truly philosophical outlook is supposed to be the norm, and honestly I’m offended that you seem to want to turn CT into yet another space where it isn’t.

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stevenjohnson 09.01.16 at 8:27 pm

Bob Zannelli@95 Don’t worry, your left credentials are quite in order. I’m not a regular, I post here occasionally for the same reason I occasionally post at BHL, sheer amazement at the insanity of it all. My views are quite beyond the pale.

Nonetheless your views, even though they pass for left at CT, are nonsense. Corey Robin’s project to amalgamate all conservatism into a single psychopathology of individual minds (characters? souls?) is not useful for real politics. His shilling for Jacobinrag.com, etc., acquits SYRIZA for its total failure in real politics because it accomplished the most important task…making sure KKE couldn’t use a major state crisis. Similarly OWS and the Battle of Seattle are acceptable because they are pure, untainted by anything save failure.

As for your dismissal of Marxist fantasies, I take it you do not believe economic crisis is endemic to the capitalist world economy, nor that imperialism leads to war to redivide the world. And despite your alleged interest in the location of proletarian hordes you can’t see any in other countries, unlike this country where everybody is middle class.

Delusions like that are killing us all. This country doesn’t need reform, it needs regime change. That’s happening. Nixon failed, Trump might fail, but the long slow march of the owners through the institutions of power, gentrifying as they go, continues.

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Val 09.01.16 at 8:32 pm

Ragweed @ 73
Thanks, good explanation, given me a bit to think about.

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Will G-R 09.01.16 at 8:46 pm

Bruce @ 95, correct me if I’m wrong but I feel that state and (especially) local governments in the US typically are viewed as highly prone to borderline-illegitimizing levels of corruption — imagine how we’d characterize the legitimacy of a City-State of Ferguson, or a Republic of Illinois under President Blagojevich — and part of what maintains the impression of legitimacy is the possibility of federal intervention on the people’s behalf if things at the lower levels get out of hand. Where the federal government hasn’t done so, notably in the case of African-American communities before the mid to late 20th century, is precisely where arguments for the illegitimacy of the entire system have gained serious traction. So IMO there could actually be quite a bit of subversive potential if the population at large were to openly reject the elected officials in Washington, DC as no more inherently legitimate than those in Raleigh, NC or Los Angeles County. (I briefly tried to look up the location within LA of its county seat and found that Wikipedia’s article “Politics of Los Angeles County” was entirely about its citizens’ voting record in federal politics, which itself illustrates the point.)

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bruce wilder 09.01.16 at 11:29 pm

I cannot speak to local government elsewhere in the U.S. My experience in places other than LA is too old to be relevant.

Regarding local politics in Southern California, I’d say we have the full-range of competence: from the best of civic boosterism combined with professional city management in smaller cities like Santa Monica, Glendale, Burbank, West Hollywood, etc. to remarkable large-scale achievements in special-purpose, regional entities like the Metropolitan Water District, on the good side, to the worst sort of control fraud and rampant corruption in places like Bell and Compton. LA Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority lumber along. The last sheriff (who was originally elected only because his opponent cum predecessor and boss was a corpse) is facing charges of obstruction regarding a federal investigation of systematic brutality in the administration of the LA County jail. The current Governor is deeply experienced and remarkably competent as a politician and, I presume, without really knowing, passably competent as an administrator. The previous Governor was Arnold Schwarzenegger and you can guess how well that went.

None of this — good, bad or indifferent — seems to me to have much to do with the process of voting considered as an informed choice of candidates. Maybe, the ritual of voting helps in some way. The fact that turnout can be so ridiculously low (less than 10% in that election I mentioned, where city council and schools boardmembers were elected), I suppose means that unions and smallish activist groups can exercise out-sized influence for their ability to GOTV, such as it is; maybe, that’s a good thing. If turnout were high, council election campaigns would cost more and depend more on mindless direct-mail and teevee spots and, by extension, low-information voters.

I don’t know that there’s a lot of interest in reform aimed at more competent or efficient government. The scale of the Unified School District or the City of LA would seem to be a major hinderance, but movements to secede or breakup the gargantua are opposed by the powers that be, for no particular reason that I can see. But, the appropriately scaled cities I mentioned seem to function pretty well. The County of LA concentrates executive power in a five member board; I have no idea what kind democratic accountability there is there — each member representing almost three times as many people as a Congressman — given the weakness of local Media and community consciousness.

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Howard Frant 09.01.16 at 11:43 pm

Yes, yes, I know, you all have a deep understanding of what neoliberalism is that I lack. Nonetheless, when you see statements like this:

“The problem with neoliberalism is that it isn’t really compatible with a modern free market economy. Simply because that system isn’t well enough understood to allow experts, let alone informed amateurs, to reach a consensus on what a particular change will actually do.”

don’t you wonder at all if the term is hindering rather than helping thought? OK, what system *is* compatible with a modern free market economy? Evidently none, since that system isn’t well enough understood. So are we back to central planning? Good luck with that. And is a carbon tax a neoliberal solution, and if so has Bernie betrayed his supporters?

Sorry, neoliberalism is just not a useful construct, at least as applied to the Democrats. I mean intellectually useful, as opposed to psychologically gratifying.

During the ascendency of Reaganism, there was a flurry of enthusiasm for privatization, which in the US meant provision of public services by contract. The enthusiasm spread to the Democrats for a while. Some of these experiments worked OK at the local level (e.g. garbage collection), but the ones at the federal level generally didn’t. For Republicans it was just obvious that it would work, because the private sector was more efficient, but there was never any great attachment to it among Democrats, and it certainly was never an ideology.

As for the obviousness of Clinton’s corruption, you can Google “Clinton Super PAC” and find a link to OpenSecrets.org, which, with some fiddling, will give you an alleged list of her twenty biggest Super PAC donors. Mostly, they are rich Democrats. George Soros gave her $7 million. Three unions are in the top twenty. There are no big banks, drug companies, insurance companies, etc. Alas, the simple story doesn’t pan out.

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Howard Frant 09.02.16 at 12:05 am

Bruce W ilder @100

My understanding of the issue of breaking up the big jurisdictions in CA is that there was a lot of interest from the right at one point, with the claim being that people could choose the bundle of services they needed and dispense with a lot of inefficient bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it turned out what the rich really wanted was to get out of having to provide services to poor people. Which was, of course, not so great for poor people. At least that my recollection from reading Gary Miller’s “Cities by Contract” a long time ago.

The best stuff on voter involvement, appropriate size and so on, was written about 100 years ago by Richard Childs. You’ll need a good library to find him. Part of the reason for low turnout is that municipal elections are often held in odd-numbered years. Corrruption is much more of a problem for bodies that have low citizen interest– look at the NYC local school boards.

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ZM 09.02.16 at 5:23 am

From the OP: “The great opportunity is to present a progressive alternative to the accommodations of soft neoliberalism. The core of such an alternative must be a revival of the egalitarian and activist politics of the postwar social democratic moment, updated to take account of the radically different technological and social structures of the 21st century. …
In political terms, the breakdown of neoliberalism implies the need for a political realignment. This is now taking place on the right, as tribalists assert their dominance over hard neoliberals. The most promising strategy for the left is to achieve a similar shift in power within the centre-left coalition of leftists and soft neoliberal.”

I kind of disagree with this. At the moment a lot of the main problems we have are serious environmental problems and inequality among and wishing nations and escalating conflicts around the world.

While I don’t think Trump policies are very good, I don’t see how trying to get the left to emulate the divisions on the right is a good strategy. If you wanted increasing divisions in society and politics this would be a good strategy, but if we are dealing with complex problems involving everyone, I don’t see how causing division is a good political idea. It might be a tactic a party could use to win an election, but its not a good idea as far as I can see.

Also I don’t know that its fair to say only the right has tribalists.

I know this will probably cause a dispute with Rich Puchalsky, and I apologise in advance, but if you are going to look at tribalism on the right characterised by, say, the Tea Party — then on the left don’t you have tribalism as well, characterised, say, by Occupy?

Occupy weren’t much stronger on policy solutions than the Tea Party, they did a lot to raise awareness of inequality, but the Tea Party did a lot to raise awareness of their cause I suppose too.

But Occupy doesn’t seem to be stronger on policy than the Tea Party, and if you are saying the Tea Party is tribalism then isn’t Occupy left tribalism?

“Although Hillary Clinton, an archetypal soft neoliberal, has won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency and seems likely to win, her policy proposals have been driven, in large measure by the need to compete with the progressive left. There is reason to hope that, whereas the first Clinton presidency symbolised the capture of the Democratic Party by soft neoliberalism, the second will symbolise the resurgence of social liberalism.”

I think this is unfair to Hilary Clinton. I disagree with her about various things, but my memory is that Hilary Clinton was considered more left wing than Bill Clinton during his Presidency and she had to change her image and hair and things to look less left, and there were lots of opinion pieces about how she shouldn’t influence his Presidency. I don’t know how come she got to do healthcare policy when she was the First Wife since that doesn’t happen in Australia, but I think the health policy recommendations she had were more left wing than Obama’s healthcare policy, although he got his passed.

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Will G-R 09.02.16 at 4:19 pm

Bruce @ 104, I’m not clued into the SoCal-specific issues (so I don’t know exactly how much a Chinatown-esque narrative should be raised in contrast to your description of LA water infrastructure as “the best of civic boosterism”) but I’m thinking more of local governments like the ones stereotypically predominant in the Southeast, or even the legendarily corrupt history of “machine” politics in cities like Chicago. The fact that these sorts of governments exist and have existed in the US is why every American, even those of us who are well aware of McCarthyism and COINTELPRO and so on, can breathe a sigh of relief when we see the words “the Justice Department today announced a probe aimed at local government officials in…” because it means that the legitimate parts of our system are asserting their predominance over the potentially illegitimate parts. So in order to uphold the legitimacy of the system as such we acknowledge that sure, someone in rural Louisiana might not always be able to get rid of their corrupt local mayors/sheriffs/judges/etc. through the ballot box directly, but at least they can vote in federal elections for the people and institutions that will get rid of these officials if they overstep the bounds of what we as a nation consider acceptable. (This also extends to more informal institutions like the media: the local paper might not be shining the light on local corruption, but the media as such can fulfill its function and redeem its institutional legitimacy if something too egregious falls into the national spotlight.)

Accordingly, to treat the federal system as itself no more inherently legitimate than the local ones — to treat the government in Washington as fundamentally the same kind of racket as the government in Ferguson — is to argue that it needs fundamentally the same kind of external oversight, and barring a foreign invasion or a world government, the only potentially equivalent overseer for the US federal government is a mass revolt.

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Peter K. 09.02.16 at 8:38 pm

@46

” American liberalism has always been internationalist and mildly pro-free-trade. It’s also been pro-union…”

Then why are unions in such bad shape? Neoliberalism is all about markets and the free flow of capital, not political interference from unions or government. From democracy or citizens. Think about the TPP where corporate arbitration courts can be used by corporations to sue governments without regard to those nations’ legislation. I’d be more in favor of international courts if they weren’t used merely to further corporate interests and profits. Neoliberals argue that what benefits these multinational corporations benefits their home country.

I pretty much agree with what Quiggin is saying here. Neoliberalism has failed both in practice and as a means to indoctrinate the voters. The soft neoliberals have been putting neoliberalism into practice over the objections of their electoral coalition partners. It hasn’t delivered.

That’s why you have all of these Trump voters or Brexit voters or other tribalists who no longer believe what the center-right is selling them about lower taxes and less regulation delivering prosperity. About immigration and internationalism being a good thing. The center-right hasn’t really delivered and neither has the center-left. The elite project of putting neoliberalism into practice and of selling it to the masses has failed. This is an opportunity for the left but also a time fraught with danger should the tribalists somehow get the upperhand. I feel the U.S. is too diverse for this to happen but it might in other nations. I am hoping that Trump suffers a sound beating but then the elites were telling us that Brexit wouldn’t happen. They also assured us Trump wouldn’t win the primary. The fact that he did shows in part how neoliberalism has failed.

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bruce wilder 09.03.16 at 4:05 am

Howard Frant: . . . don’t you wonder at all if the term is hindering rather than helping thought?

Of course.

With regard to the quotation you took from commenter, RichardM:

“The problem with neoliberalism is that it isn’t really compatible with a modern free market economy. Simply because that system isn’t well enough understood to allow experts, let alone informed amateurs, to reach a consensus on what a particular change will actually do.”

I am not sure what the commenter might be thinking. I do think it is helpful to see the deregulation of finance beginning in the Carter and Reagan Administrations leading eventually to the GFC of 2008 as an historical project and a political whole, in which there have been deviations between the stated intentions of advocates, the reasonable anticipation of consequences by experts and the self-interested pursuit of short-term advantage in regulatory evasion and reform.

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Howard Frant 09.03.16 at 4:19 am

Peter K. @109

“Then why are unions in such bad shape? Neoliberalism is all about markets and the free flow of capital, not political interference from unions or government.”

This is why I say that “neoliberal” is such a useless concept when applied to the US. Who actually holds the opinions that you’re describing in the abstract? The answer of most people here would be “Hillary Clinton.” But Hillary Clinton had *far* more endorsements from unions than Bernie Sanders did. Perhaps we should have the humility to say that they may understand their interests as well as we do.

Look, say what you like about the UK, Australia, etc. But the only neoliberals in US politics are Republicans. The idea that there is a hard-to-soft continuum from Ronald Reagan to Hillary Clinton, that suddenly has a sharp discontinuity at Bernie Sanders, is ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is a liberal, in the American sense of the word.

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John Quiggin 09.03.16 at 6:36 am

@111 The obvious explanation for union endorsements of Clinton is that they expected her to win the Democratic nomination, as she did. And of course they would endorse her against any Republican. What else could they do>

The most obvious test case is the teachers unions. Obama’s administration was clearly hostile to the (think of Rahm Emanuel!), but they nonetheless endorsed him, as the lesser evil.

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Robert Waldmann 09.03.16 at 2:06 pm

After “neoliberalism”.

I have two thoughts
1) yes Yes YES !
2) I hate the word “neoliberalism” and especially hate the way you use it. Hard and soft neoliberalism remain the poles of elite debate (as populistsapproach with pichforks from stage right & stage left).

I am actually honestly suggesting an intellectual exercise which, I think, might be worth your (extremely valuable) time. I propose you rewrite this post without using the word “neoliberalism” (or a synonym). Were it not for the (high) value of your time, I would suggest you search your collected writings for “neoliberalism” and rewrite without it.

The word is abstract and has completely different meanings west and east of the Atlantic. In the USA it refers to weak tea center leftisms. In Europe to hard core liberism. I think that in Australia someone might ignore trans-Atlantic confusion and just stop typing that damn word.

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ZM 09.03.16 at 2:26 pm

we call neoliberalism “economic rationalism” in Australia, at least in terms of economics policy, but no other countries use this term

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Will G-R 09.03.16 at 4:21 pm

As far as a definition, at least on the level of ideology I’d go with the following simplified-to-the-utmost historical overview…

1. Liberalism (the 18th- and 19th-century bourgeois ideology of capitalism) defeats conservatism (the 18th- and 19th-century aristocratic ideology of anti-capitalism)
2. Triumphant liberalism faces insurgent ideological challenges from its left and right (i.e. Quiggin’s “three-party system” model, except the three parties are clearly understood to be socialism, liberalism, and fascism)
3. Liberalism is forced to respond to these challenges, in particular responding to the socialist critique with the ideology of Keynesian interventionist “welfare liberalism” — ideologues of older liberalism consider this response itself a taint of corruption
4. As soon liberalism feels it can plausibly claim to have moved overcome the socialist and fascist challenges (the Fukuyamaist “end of history” and/or “end of ideology”) these ideologues are empowered to act as if liberalism’s adaptive response to the socialist and fascist challenges was never necessary in the first place — bye bye welfare state, hello neoliberalism

In any case, it’s utterly bizarre to see people object so stridently to “neoliberalism” who simultaneously don’t seem to have a problem with the imperialist, anti-intellectual, and quite frankly racist connotations of the term “tribalism”.

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Cranky Observer 09.03.16 at 6:28 pm

= = = I am actually honestly suggesting an intellectual exercise which, I think, might be worth your (extremely valuable) time. I propose you rewrite this post without using the word “neoliberalism” (or a synonym). = = =

It is fascinating that younger US neoliberals (e.g. Matthew Yglesias) are totally sold on the the positives of ‘metrics’, statistics, testing, etc, to the point where they ignore all the negatives of those approaches, but absolutely and utterly loathe being tracked, having the performance of their preferred policies and predictions analyzed, and called out on the failures thereof. Is sure seems to me that the campaign to quash the use of the US, Charles Peters version of neoliberal is part of the effort to avoid accountability for their actions.

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bruce wilder 09.03.16 at 7:47 pm

In the politics of antonyms, I suppose we are always going get ourselves confused.

Perhaps because of American usage of the root, liberal, to mean the mildly social democratic New Deal liberal Democrat, with its traces of American Populism and American Progressivism, we seem to want “liberal” to designate an ideology of the left, or at least, the centre-left. Maybe, it is the tendency of historical liberals to embrace idealistic high principles in their contest with reactionary claims for hereditary aristocracy and arbitrary authority.

If “conservative” is to be a third way to the opposition of “reactionary” and “revolutionary”, the “liberals” are a species of conservative — like all conservatives, seeking to preserve the existing order as far as this is possible, but appealing to reason, reason’s high principles, and a practical politics of incremental reform and “inevitable” progress. The liberals disguise their affection for social and political hierarchy as a preference for “meritocracy” and place their faith in the powers of Reason and Science to discover Truth.

All of that is by way of preface to a thumbnail history of modern political ideology different from the one presented by Will G-R.

Modern political ideology is a by-product of the Enlightenment and the resulting imperative to find a basis and purpose for political Authority in Reason, and apply Reason to the design of political and social institutions.

Liberalism doesn’t so much defeat conservatism as invent conservatism as an alternative to purely reactionary politics. The notion of an “inevitable progress” allows liberals to reconcile both themselves and their reactionary opponents to practical reality with incremental reform. Political paranoia and rhetoric are turned toward thinking about constitutional design.

Mobilizing mass support and channeling popular discontents is a source of deep ambivalence and risk for liberals and liberalism. Popular democracy can quickly become noisy and vulgar, the proliferation of ideas and conflicting interests paralyzing. Inventing a conservatism that competes with the liberals, but also mobilizes mass support and channels popular discontent, puts bounds on “normal” politics.

Liberalism adopts nationalism as a vehicle for popular mobilization which conservatives can share and as an ideal of governance, the self-governing democratic nation-state with a liberal constitution.

I would put the challenges to liberalism from the left and right well behind in precedence the critical failures and near-failures of liberalism in actual governance.

Liberalism failed abjectly to bring about a constitutional monarchy in France during the first decade of the French Revolution, or a functioning deliberative assembly or religious toleration or even to resolve the problems of state finance and legal administration that destroyed the ancien regime. In the end, the solution was found in Napoleon Bonaparte, a precedent that would arguably inspire the fascism of dictators and vulgar nationalism, beginning with Napoleon’s nephew fifty years later.

It wasn’t Liberalism Triumphant that faced a challenge from fascism; it was the abject failures of Liberalism that created fascism. And, this was especially true in the wake of World War I, which many have argued persuasively was Liberalism’s greatest and most catastrophic failure. The Liberal projects to create liberal democratic nation-states ran aground in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia between 1870 and 1910 and instead of gradual reform of the old order, Europe experienced catastrophic collapse, and Liberalism was ill-prepared to devise working governments and politics in the crisis that followed.

If liberals invented conservatism, it seems to me that would-be socialists were at pains to re-invent liberalism, and they did it several times going in radically different directions, but always from a base in the basic liberal idea of rationalizing authority. A significant thread in socialism adopted incremental progress and socialist ideas became liberal and conservative means for taming popular discontent in an increasingly urban society.

Where and when liberalism actually was triumphant, both the range of liberal views and the range of interests presenting a liberal front became too broad for a stable politics. Think about the Liberal Party landslide of 1906, which eventually gave rise to the Labour Party in its role of Left Party in the British two-party system. Or FDR’s landslide in 1936, which played a pivotal role in the march of the Southern Democrats to the Right. Or the emergence of the Liberal Consensus in American politics in the late 1950s.

What is called neoliberalism in American politics has a lot to do with New Deal liberalism running out of steam and simply not having a program after 1970. Some of that is circumstantial in a way — the first Oil Crisis, the breakup of Bretton Woods — but even those circumstances were arguably results of the earlier program’s success.

It is almost a rote reaction to talk about the Republican’s Southern Strategy, but they didn’t invent the crime wave that enveloped the country in the late 1960s or the riots that followed the enactment of Civil Rights legislation.

Will G-R’s “As soon [as] liberalism feels it can plausibly claim to have . . .overcome the socialist and fascist challenges [liberals] are empowered to act as if liberalism’s adaptive response to the socialist and fascist challenges was never necessary in the first place — bye bye welfare state, hello neoliberalism” doesn’t seem to me to concede enough to Clinton and Blair entrepreneurially inventing a popular politics in response to Reagan and Thatcher, after the actual failures of an older model of social democratic programs and populist politics on its behalf.

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bruce wilder 09.03.16 at 7:49 pm

Cranky Observer @ 116

Thanks for that.

Sometimes, I think the label itself comes too close to suggesting there might be an alternative for the adherents of such a no-labels politics.

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Will G-R 09.03.16 at 8:59 pm

Bruce, I agree wholeheartedly with the way you problematize that highly oversimplified narrative I gave. In particular, the idea that “it wasn’t Liberalism Triumphant that faced a challenge from fascism; it was the abject failures of Liberalism that created fascism” is part and parcel of the left critique of fascism to which I’d ultimately subscribe — as much ideological posturing as liberals and fascists do toward each other, they’re ultimately engaged in the same political/economic project of capitalist modernization, and the only real difference is in which aspects of this project their ideological position compels them to mystify. Liberals need to imagine themselves as anti-fascist and fascists need to imagine themselves as anti-liberal, which is why ultimately they need each other.

The purpose of bringing out that earlier narrative was to defend, in as minimal a way as possible, the utility of the concept of neoliberalism. Actually it seems to me that liberals renouncing the idea of neoliberalism is also connected to their renouncing the proper labeling of fascism: if you deny that liberalism gave rise to fascism, and you deny that the defeat of old-school fascism by old-school liberalism was part of what marked the transition to neoliberalism, you’re also likely to deny that neoliberalism will be every bit the wellspring of fascism that old-school liberalism was.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.03.16 at 11:09 pm

I write more about this over at my blog (in a somewhat different context).

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John Quiggin 09.04.16 at 6:57 am

RW @113 I wrote a whole book using “market liberalism” instead of “neoliberalism”, since I wanted a term more neutral and less pejorative. So, going back to “neoliberalism” was something I did advisedly. You say

The word is abstract and has completely different meanings west and east of the Atlantic. In the USA it refers to weak tea center leftisms. In Europe to hard core liberalism.

Well, yes. That’s precisely why I’ve used the term, introduced the hard/soft distinction and explained the history. The core point is that, despite their differences soft (US meaning) and hard (European meaning) neoliberalism share crucial aspects of their history, theoretical foundations and policy implications.

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likbez 09.04.16 at 4:18 pm

I would say that neoliberalism is closer to market fundamentalism, then market liberalism. See, for example:
http://www.softpanorama.org/Skeptics/Political_skeptic/Neoliberalism/Articles/definitions_of_neoliberalism.shtml

=== quote ===
Neoliberalism is an ideology of market fundamentalism based on deception that promotes “markets” as a universal solution for all human problems in order to hide establishment of neo-fascist regime (pioneered by Pinochet in Chile), where militarized government functions are limited to external aggression and suppression of population within the country (often via establishing National Security State using “terrorists” threat) and corporations are the only “first class” political players. Like in classic corporatism, corporations are above the law and can rule the country as they see fit, using political parties for the legitimatization of the regime.

The key difference with classic fascism is that instead of political dominance of the corporations of particular nation, those corporations are now transnational and states, including the USA are just enforcers of the will of transnational corporations on the population. Economic or “soft” methods of enforcement such as debt slavery and control of employment are preferred to brute force enforcement. At the same time police is militarized and due to technological achievements the level of surveillance surpasses the level achieved in Eastern Germany.

Like with bolshevism in the USSR before, high, almost always hysterical, level of neoliberal propaganda and scapegoating of “enemies” as well as the concept of “permanent war for permanent peace” are used to suppress the protest against the wealth redistribution up (which is the key principle of neoliberalism) and to decimate organized labor.

Multiple definitions of neoliberalism were proposed. Three major attempts to define this social system were made:

– Definitions stemming from the concept of “casino capitalism”
– Definitions stemming from the concept of Washington consensus
– Definitions stemming from the idea that Neoliberalism is Trotskyism for the rich. This idea has two major variations:
— Definitions stemming from Professor Wendy Brown’s concept of Neoliberal rationality which developed the concept of Inverted Totalitarism of Sheldon Wolin
— Definitions stemming Professor Sheldon Wolin’s older concept of Inverted Totalitarism — “the heavy statism forging the novel fusions of economic with political power that he took to be poisoning democracy at its root.” (Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism Common Dreams )
The first two are the most popular.

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john andres 09.04.16 at 4:25 pm

Just looking from the outside as an observer. Hillary is so much more blatant about feeding at the corporate trough than Bill was. Personally I don’t have the confidence that she will be anything more than a corporate shill. If trump is elected it is anyones’ guess how long it will take until the wheels come off that bus. Nothing in his campaign shows he understands the relationship of cause and affect. He will blow it all up. Hopefully someone will be able to put it back together at a later moment in time.

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likbez 09.04.16 at 5:03 pm

bruce,

@117

Thanks for your post. It contains several important ideas:

“It wasn’t Liberalism Triumphant that faced a challenge from fascism; it was the abject failures of Liberalism that created fascism.”

“What is called neoliberalism in American politics has a lot to do with New Deal liberalism running out of steam and simply not having a program after 1970. Some of that is circumstantial in a way — the first Oil Crisis, the breakup of Bretton Woods — but even those circumstances were arguably results of the earlier program’s success.”

Moreover as Will G-R noted:

“neoliberalism will be every bit the wellspring of fascism that old-school liberalism was.”

Failure of neoliberalism revives neofascist, far right movements. That’s what the rise of far right movements in Europe now demonstrates pretty vividly.

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Lupita 09.04.16 at 6:51 pm

Another way to analyze this fascist, neoliberal, and socialist categorization is by asking what each ideology’s purpose is. Socialists would naturally say the continuous regeneration and development of society whereas neoliberals and fascists respectively give primacy to economic growth as measured by GNP and to the restoration of national honor. It is not the ideology of neoliberalism that has crashed into a brick wall, but the material conditions that have sustained economic growth for the past 500 years, that is, capitalism itself. As for fascists, they are just Western neoliberals who feel humiliated and are playing the victim card.

What socialists need to do is focus on the non-material aspects of work and family to create an order that is sustainable from one generation to the next. For example, simple family values that permit people to get up in the mornings, get along, maintain a healthy weight, stay off drugs, and raise happy children, are not being transmitted in some societies, that is, they are decaying. Neoliberals posit that economic growth will take care of these problems whereas Trumpists put their faith on strong leadership, better deals, and higher walls to restore a lost sense of macho grandeur.

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likbez 09.04.16 at 7:29 pm

John,

@112

“The most obvious test case is the teachers unions. Obama’s administration was clearly hostile to the (think of Rahm Emanuel!), but they nonetheless endorsed him, as the lesser evil.”

Lesse evilism that Bill Clinton used for moving Democratic Party into neoliberal camp (as in “those f*ckers from trade unions will vote for Dems anyway, they have nowhere to go”) no longer works.

Far right will absorb those working class and lower white collar votes. And they became a political force to recon with, which disposed neocons from the Republican establishment (all those Jeb!, Kasich, Crus, and Rubio crowd ) despite all efforts of the party brass. Welcome to the second reincarnation of Weimar republic.

Trade union management, which endorsed Hillary, now expects that more then half of union members will probably vote against Hillary. In some cases up to 2/3.

So Dem neolibs became a party that is not supported by the working class and if identity politics tricks will not work, they might get a a blowback in November. They can rely only on a few voting blocks that benefitted from globalization, such as “network hamsters” (programmers, system administrators, some part of FIRE low level staff, and such) and few other mass professionals. That’s it.

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Howard Frant 09.05.16 at 1:00 am

To quote Philip Roth, “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”

John Quiggin: I’m not completely clear even on the term “market liberalism.” I take it that “market” is as opposed to central planning, and that liberalism is as opposed to authoritarianism. But central planning is now intellectually and practically dead. Is market liberalism different from market socialism?

In the US, “liberals” has long meant simply the non-socialist left. This became a term of disdain in the Nixon/Agnew era, and liberals started calling themselves “progressives.” Of course, with the rise of Bernie Sanders, I have no idea what “socialism” is either. I find it puzzling that people seem to see such a sharp discontinuity between Clinton and Sanders.

What was different about the ideas of Peters et al. was their emphasis on using market forces to obtain goals of the left. You could say that in the Commonwealth version of neoliberalism, the market was signified by the term “liberal”, while in the US version it was signified by the term “neo-“. The idea of relying on markets was not uncontroversial on the center-left; things like tradeable pollution rights and natural gas price decontrol were bitterly contested. But now, as I mentioned before, Sanders has decided that a carbon tax is socialist, so it seems like that argument is over.

As for Clinton, apparently many people here have decided that whatever she does is by definition neoliberalism, and all her actions are interpreted as confirmation of that. So if she’s not advocating single-payer health insurance, it’s because she wants to help the insurance companies, and never mind that single-payer wouldn’t have had a prayer of passing, and that she got clobbered by the insurance companies with Hillarycare. Sad story about how the poor unions had no choice but to endorse her, but was there any sign of reluctance? Recall that she was elected to the Senate twice, both times, I believe with strong union support. She was rated the 12th (or something) farthest left member of the Senate (of 100). She’s a traditional American liberal. That may be pretty weak by world standards.

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bruce wilder 09.05.16 at 5:53 pm

I think liberalism in its various threads has often had a deep ambivalence about the common people, their wants and welfare. What common people want is a society and a political economy that work for them, providing a modicum of security. They are not much interested in the details, the how or the architecture. So, Lupita’s socialism plus some forms of traditionalism and hierarchy, but without a specific philosophy, ideology or policy program, until some philosopher, entrepreneurial politician or demagogue supplies one.

What liberalism often wants to offer is a pious idealism: a notion that a public policy of virtuous intent, high principle and sincere effort is best. This is the liberalism that thinks education is the answer to increasing income and wealth inequality. This is the liberalism that thinks emulating an ideal of perfectly competitive markets will make capitalism efficient and fair. This is the liberalism that thinks “free and fair elections” solve social problems and reforming the Electoral College is an urgent problem of American democracy.

This kind of political piety can get along quite well with a conservatism of sound money and the rule of law, because they both reflect common faith in moral causality and that a just world rewards virtue, individual and personal or collective and public. In casual discussion of economics, the virtues of productivity growth or a trade surplus will be undoubted, just as the public debt will be regarded as a danger. Not because of any understanding of mechanics, but simply from an alchemist’s instinct that the meaning attached to things will work some transformative result.

This is not the only possibility for liberalism: there is also the possibility of actually acting competently to solve problems, to develop cooperation for the common good and general welfare, while recognizing that different elements in society have legitimate but conflicting interests. This is the progressive politics of technocratic regulation and civic or national development and looks to construct powerful institutions and to accomplish great tasks. This liberalism can have cordial relationships with certain kinds of conservatism — paternalism, civic boosterism, the machine politics of patronage and honest graft or national greatness, say — but is likely to find itself in conflict with the reactionary conservatism of vested interests, particularly predatory ones.

Both of these tendencies in liberalism — the abstract idealism and the institution building — make critical accommodations with the natural conservatism of wealth and business, and those accomodations shape the liberal program of a particular time and place and make it politically possible. In this, liberalism acts as the better angel of elite conscience and aspiration to persuade the powerful to permit and institute necessary change and adaptive reform, or in more benighted periods, simply to protect a level of advocacy and critique against reactionary authority and its expedients.

With the common mass of humanity, liberalism has had a more ambivalent relationship, in part because of its accommodations with self-interested wealth and hierarchy and in part because the common mass of humanity so frequently falls short of the wishes of the liberal imagination for common reason, justice, human initiative and autonomy.

Still, it is popular support — indeed, demonstrations of mass support — that have often been crucial for the success of liberal revolutions, even if liberals want to deliver principles, not bread, in part because of their accommodations with established elites.

In some of this, our contemporary neoliberalism is a well-qualified liberalism. It has accommodated conservative vested interests and it leads with confidence in its own virtuous intent.

What’s perverse about contemporary neoliberalism is its active hostility to institution-building or even institution-preservation. This is clearest, to me, in the core program of “liberalizing” trade and finance. This is where the neoliberal label is most informative, because it draws attention to a persistent and recurrent program of restructuring the world economy as a global system dominated by a poorly regulated system of global finance that stretches back to the 1970s, building step-by-step and always drawing on an ideological view of the economy as a self-regulating “market” system to justify its evolving policy program.

In one critically important way, neoliberalism is a betrayal of liberalism, understood as a political movement to rationalize authority (no, Lupita, in the great historical sweep, liberalism has never been about GDP): the neoliberal political program has been to foster and protect elite corruption, enabling the looting of institutions. The ideology of “markets”, by leaving all the relevant concepts of hierarchical probity out of account, is well-suited to justify this program, by systematic omission of terms.

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Howard Frant 09.06.16 at 4:02 am

likbez@126

This is, pardon my saying, the story told about the US by people with only a theoretical understanding of US politics (you can recognize them because they talk about “trade unions”): that evil Clinton seduced the Democratic Party into abandoning the working class, and now the Party is paying the price. Forget it. The working class, such as it is, has never (at least since the ’40s or so) had all that much loyalty to the Democratic Party. Let me repeat: Before Clinton, Republicans had won five of the last six Presidential elections. That streak started in 1968, when millions of Northern voters deserted the Democrats to vote for George Wallace. Clinton did pretty well with the bad hand he was dealt.

bruce wilder @128

Sorry, what is “liberalism”? I really can’t tell from your description. “This is the liberalism that thinks emulating an ideal of perfectly competitive markets will make capitalism efficient and fair.” That, I think, would be liberalism in Hayek’s sense. I can’t tell if you think that “free and fair” elections aren’t possible, aren’t important, or just won’t solve social problems. And what is it that makes neoliberalism a type of liberalism at all? Don’t know because I don’t know what liberalism is.

And to get into mundane specifics, is Clinton a neoliberal? I don’t see her believing in a poorly regulated system of global finance. Many Republican do, of course, supporting my claim that Republicans are the only American neoliberals. And Republicans are the only ones who believe in “the economy as a self-regulating …system.” Not even Hayek believed that.

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bruce wilder 09.06.16 at 6:03 am

Howard Frant: I don’t know what liberalism is.

I realized that a while back.

I presume most people know something about the history of liberalism as a set of evolving political philosophies and movements and if they feel the need, they can quickly consult Wikipedia or other reference works.

If you want to understand the particular intellectual history of contemporary neoliberalism, I would recommend the essays of Philip Mirowski.

I wish I could vote for the Hillary Clinton of your imagination. Alas, I live in the real world.

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Peter T 09.06.16 at 9:44 am

I’m less interested in the typologies than in the underlying drivers of the process. That elites would seek to extract more once the pressures of competition with either the Soviet bloc or each other lessened was pretty much a given. That greater global integration gave them access to resources outside the reach of the painfully-constructed controls erected in western states over the last century, and so enabled greater extraction – also a given (with many historical parallels). But why finance as the avenue? And why seek to cannibalise large parts of the public sphere? I suspect resource pressures, but would have a hard time finding empirical evidence.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.06.16 at 10:41 am

Peter T: “But why finance as the avenue? And why seek to cannibalise large parts of the public sphere?”

I think that _Social Limits To Growth_ is a partial answer to this one. Neoliberalism as an abstract may be this or that, but in practice neoliberalism is staffed by meritocrats. Meritocrats are, by definition, mostly not people who have inherited great wealth. So individually and as a group they have a problem: how to amass wealth and social status for themselves without openly dispossessing the inheritors of great wealth, who the system is set up to protect and who are indeed accumulating even more.

Cannibalizing the public sphere is one way to do this: it takes resources that are communally held and puts them under private control, and in a sense dispossesses the poor. Finance is another way because finance is mostly a scam — all investment advice is a net negative, complex investment mechanisms end up costing money in the long term, etc. The effect goes beyond simple predation of the poor via payday loans and the middle class via 401(k)s to spread elite wealth around a relatively large number of very well paid financial managers.

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Peter T 09.06.16 at 11:42 am

“Cannibalizing the public sphere is one way to do this”
Fair enough. But it’s only one way. Where are the others?

The people who made their fortunes from the first wave of computing built stuff a la Ford (Hewlett and Packard, Jobs, Moore), or seized opportunities for monopoly a la Rockefeller (Gates). The follow-on wave sold stuff (Amazon) or sold advertising (Zuckerberg) – pretty much an update of Sears Roebuck, Woolworths or Hearst. But they don’t seem to have created a viable ecosystem of stable well-paid jobs around them. Nor opportunities for local imitation or supply. So the competition turns to the nearest available source – but that’s not creating, or even replacing, anything. Hence the suspicion that it’s symptomatic of overall resource limits.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.06.16 at 11:59 am

Peter T: “But they don’t seem to have created a viable ecosystem of stable well-paid jobs around them.”

We, communally, don’t actually need anything like the amount of labor that we once did. If stable well-paid jobs are linked to a need for stable skilled labor, then there aren’t going to be as many.

But you quoted half of the two ways that I listed. Finance is the other. Finance is best understood, I think, as a way of creating these stable well-paid jobs for a narrow meritocratic elite where the money comes from a different wealth-holding elite as well as from the middle class and the poor.

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Lee A. Arnold 09.06.16 at 12:24 pm

Philip Mirowski presented a short synopsis of neoliberalism as “13 commandments” in the following link. These are a distillation of the discussion in his book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (2013):
http://www.the-utopian.org/post/53360513384/the-thirteen-commandments-of-neoliberalism

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Peter T 09.06.16 at 12:31 pm

sorry – should have been less elliptical. Marketizing government does not create stuff. But nor does finance – it just feeds off some other process. So in turning to public services and finance, the elite are signaling that there’s no (or not enough) pickings in making stuff or doing stuff, and that taking stuff off foreigners (the other classic way to riches) is too hard.

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ZM 09.06.16 at 12:46 pm

bruce wilder,

“I think liberalism in its various threads has often had a deep ambivalence about the common people, their wants and welfare. What common people want is a society and a political economy that work for them, providing a modicum of security. They are not much interested in the details, the how or the architecture.”

In Australia we use the UK meaning of liberal, plus its the name of our main right wing political party, so it doesn’t entirely correspond with the USA meaning of liberal.

I think your description could fit the post-Depression or post-WW2 welfare state governments, up to the late 60s and 70s where you get quite a bit of discord. In Australia this was our Liberal Party government, and in the USA you had mostly “liberal” (in the USA sense) Democratic Party governments over this period.

I think from the late 60s and 70s you get quite a bit of disenchantment with this and protest of various kinds.

“What’s perverse about contemporary neoliberalism is its active hostility to institution-building or even institution-preservation. This is clearest, to me, in the core program of “liberalizing” trade and finance. This is where the neoliberal label is most informative, because it draws attention to a persistent and recurrent program of restructuring the world economy as a global system…”

I think it must be hard to think of institution building for a global economic system, when governance is mostly nation based still.

There are global economic institutions like the World Bank or IMF, but they come under a lot of criticism.

I don’t know how you would make better global economic institutions when there is so much inequality globally. If they are global institutions they shouldn’t favour advanced economy countries over middle economy or developing economy countries, but globalisation started at a point when the global economy was even more unequal than it is today probably. At least more unequal between nations anyway.

It was in the 60s and 70s that there was raising awareness of environmental problems as well, and we find now that we have high levels of inequality and many of the environmental problems have worsened.

I don’t think these problems can be fixed with a top down institutional approach.

If you don’t engage citizens in thinking about these problems and solutions to these problems, any institutional reform is unlikely to succeed.

That was why I tried to say something comparing the Tea Party and the Occupy movement above. John Quiggin has labelled right wing responses to the end of neoliberalism “tribalism” but hasn’t done the same for the left wing. But I think both sides of politics have had problems formulating policy responses. Racism is different and should be condemned, but I think tribalism might exist on both sides of politics and I don’t know that its necessarily a bad thing. It might take people coming together in their “tribes” and engaging in discussions before workable policy is developed.

If you think about neoliberalism it was basically accepted by both sides of politics with a few differences between left and right, and even though I am too young to remember, that seems to have been the same thing with the post-war welfare state reforms too.

“In one critically important way, neoliberalism is a betrayal of liberalism, understood as a political movement to rationalise authority”

In Australia neoliberalism is called “economic rationalism” , it got this name with our left wing Prime Minister Whitlam in the early to mid 1970s, I think maybe since it was a move away from socialism for the Labor Party and that’s why it was considered “rational”, but I am not 100% sure.

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ZM 09.06.16 at 12:52 pm

Peter T,

“sorry – should have been less elliptical. Marketizing government does not create stuff. But nor does finance – it just feeds off some other process.”

Marketizing government can create things sort of, since the services can be provided by different companies rather than all by government. Government is more concerned with providing services or utilities. Utilities getting sold off doesn’t seem to be that practical to me, since the electricity and gas and water is about the same no matter what company is the owner, and its not clear to me that the companies can run the services much better than government. But with services marketizing government provided services can create more choice, which is arguably a good thing, although in various cases there are problems.

Maybe finance reforms were meant to inject cash into the economy. I suppose the finance reforms were a response to stagflation…

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Will G-R 09.06.16 at 3:25 pm

If we’re searching for institutions of neoliberalism, obviously we can talk about established actors like the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and so forth, but the mechanism that seems to be emerging as the predominant institutional framework for neoliberal decision-making and enforcement on a day-to-day level is so-called “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS), on which Buzzfeed has a good and accessible recent series. Everything we associate with neoliberalism is there, not just the opaqueness, corruption, and lack of any meaningful democratic accountability, but most of all the unanimous sense among all powerful actors (including allegedly democratic sovereigns) that there is no alternative, this is just how the world works, and compliance with the dictates of this mechanism is just being realistic. It also gets bonus points for invoking the typically neoliberal ideological supplement of proto-fascist xenophobic nationalism: at least speaking from a US context, the only real public argument I’ve seen for ISDS from mainstream political figures (who of course typically don’t discuss it in public at all) is that well, obviously it would suck to give up our sovereignty, but there’s never been an ISDS tribunal ruling against the US, they’ve only ever ruled against poor non-English-speaking brown people for trying to go all commie and stand up against good hard-working Western companies, so it’s OK, we have nothing to worry about. Which of course probably isn’t true in the long term, any more than a triumphant Third Reich could have sustained the fantasy of a harmonious common interest between German capitalists and German workers, but this is how the ideology functions nonetheless.

Howard Frant, I really don’t know what point you think you’re trying to make. One of the most cursory takeaways from the anti-neoliberal leftist critique is that this rhetoric of politics as consisting of individual personal conflicts between leaders (e.g. describing the critique of the ’90s-era neoliberal turn as “evil Clinton seduced [could you use a more deeply personalized term?] the Democratic Party”, or bemoaning the current direction of GOP presidential politics due to Trump’s personal foibles rather than the demographic/cultural/economic/etc. aspects of the constituency) is largely a waste of time, and that the conversations generally worth having are about conflicts at the level of broader social institutions, conflicts ultimately reducible to class struggle. At least in our circles, the Clintons are loathed not because they’re loathsome individuals per se but because they champion the interests of a loathsome ruling class. Moreover, the common move to interpret the anti-Clinton critique fundamentally in terms of individual personal hatred is itself an ideological defense mechanism to make this critique seem more contemptible: if one can depict hatred of the neoliberal agenda as actually rooted in a personal hatred of Hillary’s strong independent womanhood or whatever, and engage with it largely on that level, the neoliberal agenda itself is no longer the central issue to be talked about or defended.

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bruce wilder 09.06.16 at 6:56 pm

Peter T @ 131: I’m less interested in the typologies than in the underlying drivers of the process. . . . why finance as the avenue?

Money makes the world go ’round? It is almost hard to understand the question, because, really, what other avenue is there, to the symbolic manipulation and domination of the modern economy?

I sometimes wish someone like Brad DeLong could pull it together to write out a really good analysis of the long arc of the Industrial Revolution(s), with both money and conquest and the problems they confronted and solved, fully intact. Then, we’d have a better idea of where we are on this long wave. But, I guess we have to go on with the Brad DeLong’s we have, not the ones we wished we had.

Money and finance function as fictions that allow people to plan and invest in an imaginary future. They are the virtual mirror of the sunk cost investments that are the essence of industrial development, allowing us to pass like Alice thru the Looking Glass into a virtual world that masks uncertainty and paradox.

The problem of sunk cost investment, as I have said in comments many times, is how to recover the investment and earn a return. By their nature, “sunk costs” should not figure in subsequent decision-making; once made, they are no longer costs aka scarce resources that must be coaxed into a particular use with income, these investments once made are resources dedicated to a use and available for free. In prospect, building a railroad from London to Manchester seems like a no-brainer. The reduction in transportation costs, including time to travel, is so large, that there surely must be an opportunity to earn back the sunk cost investment in right-of-way, track, rolling stock, organization with freight and passenger rates. But, it is not as obvious as it seems, because the costs of transportation after the railroad is built won’t be what they are before and people will pay only after, based on costs after. Even under the cover of monopoly, competing only with itself, the railroad once built cannot easily negotiate sufficient rates; the savvy freight forwarder will offer enough to cover variable costs, knowing it will profit the railroad to take the offer, even if the offer is not sufficient to earn a return on the huge sunk cost investment.

The certain beneficiaries of the coming of the railroad will be the merchants and the owners of land (aka location served). People quickly came to understood this in the 19th century and the capital of early railroads was subscribed by merchants organized as civic boosters, followed by political campaigns to make land grants along new routes, so that the rising value of land could finance the enterprise. The strategic competition between shippers and carrier over rates became a political contest over state regulation of rates. Another problem was that railroads required extensive use of hierarchies and what we would call command-and-control to manage complex operations and many waged or salaried employees. The railroads tried hiring professional military officers, who combined both the rudiments of college-training in civil engineering and some experience leading large hierarchical organizations, but they also need to impose constraints on their power. It was hard to tell if the managers of a large enterprise were doing a good job or the right things. Leverage helped to constrain railroad management and later, on the same model, the management of large industrial and commercial enterprises as these emerged in the 1880s and 189os, by committing the organization to pay debt service on some large part of their large sunk cost investments, leaving what could be accomplished by effective management to be rewarded by the residual.

What I hope to establish with this brief sketch is that economic returns on sunk cost investments are economic rents and accrue not to virtue, but to political power. Property rights among them, certainly.

Neoclassical economics, at least as rendered in textbooks and other children’s stories, tries to make this into an impersonal supply and demand, where relative scarcity (relative to what being exceedingly vague) and marginal costs are controlling. (P = MR = MC with P a function of Q and vice versa) But, in the real world, large sunk cost investments mean that marginal costs are low and falling, relative to the kinds of prices that might earn a return on invested capital; marginal costs are not controlling squat. In the real world, what matters is the political power to earn an economic rent, but having that political power and being able to organize a sunk cost investment in some enormously productive new technology can make an entrepreneur doubly powerful, even as bargaining in the presence of sunk costs causes the benefits to leak out into social and economic networks, as in the example above, the railroads enabled commercial and industrial cities.

In the First Industrial Revolution of coal, iron and textiles, Great Britain was aided by its institutional structure, and in particular, its central bank and a handful of stable companies with marketable stock and debt, led by the English East India Company. The returns on many necessary investments to make the industrial revolution happen were due to often very small increments in productivity and to make deals and calculations over long periods requires a stable money and credit, and particularly the ability to hedge risky investments with liquid “risk-less” ones, like the national debt mediated by the Bank of England and the stock of the English East India Company. The equivalence of land rent and stock returns in a stable income — “Mr Darcy is worth £10,000 a year” — made a social revolution in 18th century England that drove a very modest but critically important Agricultural Revolution followed by the quickening of the Industrial Revolution. When the Duke of Bridgewater sunk his considerable fortune into his eponymous canal, inaugurated in 1765, and the price of coal at Manchester fell by half and he emerged as the richest man in England due to the longprospect of certain income, he amplified an example already well-understood. When Boulton devised complex schemes to enable coal mines to finance the use of Watt’s steam engines from realized economies in coal consumption compared to Newcomen engines, he was using his patent monopoly, but also the stable value of the pound and his own financial fortune.

My point is that finance has always mattered in the course of the Industrial Revolution because large sunk-cost investments are at the center of it and because those returns accrue to political power, not productive skills or other virtues, but rather expressed both as property rights and in rougher forms.

We worry about automation, but the early textile mills, such as the famous Lowell Mills, were highly automated. The workers were mere machine tenders. When the Second Industrial Revolution reached a crescendo in the United States in the 1920s, it created a crisis of political power and finance, creating economic instability, domestically and globally. The New Deal devised a series of kludges in response. The enormous productivity of assembly lines and process manufacturing eliminated craft skills and the traditional political power that had protected the incomes of craft workers. The wages of “unskilled” workers and labourers were under tremendous pressure in agriculture and manufacturing. Industrial unions pressed up wages. A complex program for managing agricultural incomes stabilized the farm sector where a large part of the American population had been trapped in hopeless poverty in the course of the 1920s (not incidentally setting off an explosive growth in investment in increasing agricultural productivity).

The New Deal set up a carefully managed economy that was able to take advantage of America’s abundant petroleum and build out an industrial and commercial economy of increasing productivity, by investing heavily in public goods and realizing a return on those investments by taxing economic rents that rose as the economy grew. The post-war order put the U.S. into the role of the Good Hegemon, stabilizing an expanding trade among industrializing countries.

When that plan began to run out of road, it destabilized that economy. Milton Friedman et alia were ready with a story that hid the careful management that created that economy. The good economy, you see, was stable because of a general equilibrium of markets and those markets were an emergent phenomenon of self-organizing business and the key was non-interference by government and lower taxes. The story was a crock of lies, but it had the convenient merit of justifying a political policy of disinvestment, dismantling the New Deal economy for fun and profit. Also, an economics of markets overlooks the actual economy of hierarchies, making the whole discipline of policy economics cum macro economics an exercise in agnotology.

By roughly 1970, the U.S. advantage in economic development was gone vis a vis Western Europe and Japan and the Almighty Dollar was not almighty enough anymore to be the vehicle by which the Good Hegemon stabilized the world’s currencies and financial flows. The dollar would have to float and, naturally, bankers and financial speculators would have to manage currency exchange markets. Nice work if you can get it, the currency carry trade.

Also from roughly 1970 on, the U.S. would have to import a lot of oil. This oil would have to be paid for with something. If it was paid for with goods, this would diminish domestic income. If it were paid for with money and the money was “recirculated” as financial investment, the real resources and production diverted to obtain oil could be reduced. And, as a dividend, the local populations of oil rich countries would not be consuming their own oil in, say, industrialization of Iraq, let alone the mass-produced products of Western industry. Of course, if the oil sultans were not going to end up owning everything, asset prices would have to inflate and the Western rich would have to ratchet up their own wealth to keep up.

When China came to its white cat, black cat moment, and wanted to devise a plan to industrialize, it came into a world of barely managed floating currencies where you become your own Good Hegemon with your own Bretton Woods. In the virtuous world of the market economy, finance doesn’t enter it; China has lots of labor, knock down wages, do “labor-intensive” production, problem solved. But, in the real world, they wanted to finance sunk-cost investment in the most modern manufacturing technologies situated in a modern economy with good roads and electricity that stayed on all day and ambitious literate disciplined workers. Modern manufacturing was never labor-intensive to begin with — the whole set of concepts of gross substitution and labor-intensive and capital-intensive propagated by neoclassical economics is sheer idiocy. The problem is to reduce error and waste and institute systems of effective process control, which requires sunk cost investments. So they managed their exchange rate and their domestic price level, creating a financial environment in which investment in manufacturing in China involved very low risks financially. It wasn’t even mostly direct investment in China; China created a system in which western corporate giants profited financially from sourcing production in China. So, giants like Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney and, of course, Apple organized their supply chains around China, while continuing to earn their profits economic rents from gateway rents in the global distribution system, intellectual property claims and so on.

I am sure I have told Peter T anything he didn’t already know, and what I have offered is only inconsequentially an answer to the question, “why finance?” What ought to be interesting, it seems to me, is why we have a dominating ideology like neoliberalism which supplies such a false explanation of the world.

Since money and finance are fictions, they glide easily and dangerously between truth and fraud and this is the prime political problem. Money and finance generate the numbers on which everyone in a loosely coordinated system of distributed decision-making acts and makes deals with one another. As in the American housing bubble, finance out-of-control can generate a price matrix that is “false” and the correction — if it does indeed “correct” and move toward something more “truthful” — visits consequences on some but not others.

Rich Puchalsky says neoliberalism is the ideology of the managerial classes. I say neoliberalism are the lies the most comfortable among the elite tell themselves.

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bruce wilder 09.06.16 at 7:05 pm

Addendum to my own rant:

let alone the mass-produced products of Western industry (save arms and munitions)

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bob mcmanus 09.06.16 at 8:39 pm

I sometimes wish someone like Brad DeLong could pull it together to write out a really good analysis of the long arc of the Industrial Revolution(s), with both money and conquest and the problems they confronted and solved, fully intact.

DeLong? He did have a post with a bibliography of “big think” books not so long ago, most are mainstream or neoliberal

Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century 1994, is considered the recent “classic in its field, published in ten languages”, although there are really quite a few more.

Not only does Arrighi use Kondratieff long waves (and the shorter waves), but puts a focus on consecutive Empires: Genoa, Dutch, British, US, each moving through an internal developmental cycle of mercantilism => industrialism => finance => decline and displacement.

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William Timberman 09.06.16 at 9:38 pm

Brad DeLong playing with world history often reminds me of a bright child playing with a new electric train set. (I’m dating myself, sigh….) The sheer delight is palpable even to the most casual observer, as things are put together and seen to work, as the dream of being in the cab for real and pulling on the levers directly works in tandem with the concrete discoveries of the railroad-in-miniature. It’s infectious, this delight, and I enjoy watching the man go at it.

The problem is that as savvy as DeLong undoubtedly is — as savvy as we all might hope our better selves to be — the patterns grasped are never enough to transform any of us into the omniscient and omnipotent stewards we believe we might become with just a wee bit more research, a wee bit more cleverness, and a wee bit more luck, grace, cooperation from the Almighty — whatever name we give to the dice-rolling aspect of our endeavors.

At best this is a form of unacknowledged play-pretend, which can be as fruitful as any other act of the imagination. At worst it devolves into a kind of vicious status game, the kind that academic economists — DeLong included — can’t seem to resist unleashing on each other and on the rest of us from time to time. Nobody — nobody yet, anyway — can credibly claim to be as smart as God (insert the usual secular humanist disclaimers here). Maybe that won’t always be true, but for now, at least, a little humility wouldn’t hurt.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.06.16 at 10:11 pm

Will G-R: “If we’re searching for institutions of neoliberalism, obviously we can talk about established actors like the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and so forth”

Yes, as well as investor-state dispute settlement, as you point out. But the problem with this is that people think that you are defining neoliberalism as “everything that is bad” (as a commenter on my blog mentioned). Neoliberalism also expresses itself in institutions like those that will manage the Paris Agreements, which are good (at least compared to an alternative of nothing, or of global warming denialism). I’m not trying to buy into the presumption that there is no alternative: clearly there are possible agreements that are better than the Paris Agreements. But in the short term we have to solve pressing civilization-threatening problems, and neoliberalism does offer a world system through which these problems can at least inadequately be addressed.

Taking the world system past carbon involves a huge public good / sunk cost, and there’s no way for the market to do it. (People can try to set up “market incentives” that try to force the market to do it, but these work about as well as any non-economist would expect.) It’s not certain that the Paris Agreements will produce the international coordination needed to do this via governmental means, the only means available. But neither was neoliberalism flatly unable or unwilling to address the problem at all, as some people predicted.

What I was trying to get at above with my description of the finance industry for Peter T is that there is more than one elite, and the neoliberal elite is capable of throwing some industries and elites under the bus, even as it is capable of throwing poor and middle class people under the bus. Managers are not tied to ownership of wealth, and don’t need to protect every source of it.

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Howard Frant 09.07.16 at 1:28 am

Bruce Wilder @130

Yes, you’re the king of the lordly sneer. Following your kind suggestion, I looked at Wikipedia. And sure enough, they say: “Over time, the meaning of the word “liberalism” began to diverge in different parts of the world. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the United States, liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal programme of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies.”

I presume this is no more a surprise to you than to me. So why is it than when the Europeans and Peters add the prefix “neo-” it suddenly generates a huge literature about how they’re really the same thing, one hard and one soft, but with a single underlying structure? And that structure, of course, follows the European definition. The truth is, the European term “neoliberal” (which is in fact the only one anyone is using any more) can be applied to Reagan and his heirs in the Republican Party. To some extent, some of those ideas influenced some Democrats. But it’s never been a useful term for describing the Democrats. I know many people find it tempting to apply it to Bill Clinton’s centrism, and then pull Hillary under the umbrella, because after all they’re married, and contrast that with Sanders’s pure whatever. But that temptation should be resisted. By any reasonable standard, Clinton is a standard American liberal, Sanders is a left-liberal, and the differences between them are much smaller than the difference from Republicans.

I continue to have trouble with statements like: “This is the liberalism that thinks emulating an ideal of perfectly competitive markets will make capitalism efficient and fair.” Is that intended as a critique of liberalism in general? W hat makes this a liberal idea?

As for the “real world” Hillary, take Dodd-Frank. Bernistas will tell you that this did nothing, that only bringing back Glass-Steagell will make a difference. People on Wall Street seem not to agree; they’re spending a huge amount of energy and money trying to get it repealed, in pieces if not all at once. Most economists also seem to disagree. Hillary wants to keep it; Republicans want to get rid of it. Does it make a difference?

In general it seems to me that this discussion has had a lot of sweeping generalizations based on ill-defined terms. Not talking about you specifically.

Will G-R @139

You took me a bit too literally here. I didn’t mean that people like you literally think Bill Clinton is evil. I was making a mildly humorous comment on the story that says that Bill Clinton betrayed the working class and that’s why they’re interested in Trump. The fact is, a lot of them were interested in George Wallace, and you could hardly find someone more pro-labor than Hubert Humphrey.

So other than Bernie, is there any American politician in the last fifty years that you don’t loathe? If Hillary can get some part of her platform (big increase in the minimum wage, paid family leave, modest tax increases on the rich) it will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of struggling people. But, of course, it won’t bring socialist revolution.

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Peter T 09.07.16 at 5:07 am

howard

You’re talking pedigrees and ideal types. There’s a cluster of programs centred on markets as the best way of doing everything, the imperative of globalisation, an emphatic individualism that, while it owes something to classical liberalism, is distinct in its own right. Hence neo-liberalism as a convenient label. This cluster was widely shared – with differing emphases – on both left and right across the anglosphere. Labour governments in NZ and Australia, for instance, took up much of it, as did Blair and Clinton.

The centrality of market economics really is new, and reaches quite astonishing heights of devotion. An Australian labour government, for instance, mandated that no new expenditure proposal was to be considered unless it could be demonstrated that a “market failure” existed in regard to the service in question. The endless technocratic tinkering with the kludges of privatised/corporatised utilities, health care etc could only be done by people convinced that, with faith and the right formula, the market CAN turn lead into gold. An early C20 liberal would find this bizarre.

And this phenomenon is quite separate from the question of how Hillary compares to Sanders.

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Peter T 09.07.16 at 5:35 am

I take Rich’s and bw’s points. I think the why still matters, particularly in considering solutions. Bob may be right that the turn to finance extraction marks the last stage of a cycle, but it’s hard to see what would displace the current system – where the start of the next cycle begins. We have, literally, run out of planet (Genoa could tap Spain, Holland Brazil and the Indies, Britain India, the US the Americas; where does China go?). A much closer attention to the environment reverses major currents, so it’s not just a change in policy.

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kidneystones 09.07.16 at 6:38 am

I’d like to believe that Kevin Drum is wrong.

http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation

But somehow I don’t.

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Howard Frant 09.07.16 at 6:39 am

Peter T @146

Thanks. That’s helpful.

It is a serious question whether a particular service ought to be provided by the public or private sector. People on left and and right are bad at thinking about it. In particular, there was a flurry of interest in privatization, because 1) it was different 2) there was an ideological belief that private would always be more efficient because of incentives. Almost no one thought about this question in any depth. But, at least in the US, I would call it more of a fad than anything else.

You can always find a market failure if you look hard enough. I suppose there’s an underlying assumption that it’s hard to get things done politically so you should stay away if there’s an alternative.

As for Hillary, there does seem to be a tendency to start from the assumption that she is a neolib and define neoliberalism as whatever she does. And Peters was talking about something completely different, a revamping of traditional US liberalism, and should never have been dragged into the discussion.

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Peter T 09.07.16 at 7:17 am

howard

It’s not really a technocratic argument, in that measured outcomes don’t seem to count in the debate, nor are obvious failures met with reversals of policy (usually, more band-aids are applied). Also, the trend covers much more than private delivery of services. This goes hand in hand with financialisation of government revenue flows – Chicago parking meters, municipal bonds, Australian government building rents and so on. The two should be seen together as driven by the need to extract rent from new sectors. This suggests to me that older sources of rent are not delivering enough (btw, I am not using rent in a pejorative sense. As bw notes, rents are pervasive and essential – at some level or other).

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Will G-R 09.07.16 at 12:36 pm

@ Rich, I’d like to think I’m striving toward an understanding of neoliberalism and judging it to be a bad thing, not using “badness” as a working definition. If limp impotent agreements like Paris (or Copenhagen, or Kyoto, or…) are the best neoliberalism can do as far as global coordinated action to solve fundamentally collective problems, I’m not sure why you bring this up as if it’s somehow a point in neoliberalism’s favor.

@ Howard, if Hillary really can “get her platform through” (as if there’s some reason the calculated poses she’s affected over the past year+ of the public campaign circus-clown routine are a necessary guide to her presumptive policy agenda in office) it won’t make a hair’s breadth of difference for the vast majority of struggling people on Earth, or if it does it’ll likely be to further integrate their societies into the global market economy and make their lives worse. I adamantly refuse to settle for politics as improving the lives of people who happen to live in my nation-state; the trail leading in that direction on my political map is marked with big scarlet inscription “this direction be fascists”, and Bernie is no exception to this. I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned Bernie at all, come to think of it, so if your understanding of how political views to the left of liberalism work is really so stunted as to assume that a critique of Hillary from the left constitutes an affinity for Bernie, it’s no wonder you’re putting so much energy into standing athwart the basic terminology of political philosophy yelling “stop!”

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Rich Puchalsky 09.07.16 at 1:40 pm

Will G-R: “I’m not sure why you bring this up as if it’s somehow a point in neoliberalism’s favor.”

Because it is a point in neoliberalism’s favor. We don’t have to say that the Paris Agreements are the best agreement ever, or even a good agreement, in order to say that they are an agreement and that one is critically needed. If we can’t agree that neoliberalism can do anything at all then it really does become kind of an empty category in the mind of anyone not already convinced.

In particular, I think that it’s quite possible that without a neoliberal world system we wouldn’t get any agreement at all. There’s a lot of motive for individual countries to keep going with carbon and take the short term benefits over the long term cost, especially if the cost will be felt most by other countries with worse geography. Yes, if there was international socialism, we might get a better agreement, but there isn’t and neoliberalism is at least a world system.

Parenthetically, I don’t think that the left in general handles global warming issues very well. It tends to get trotted out as “there’s an upcoming catastrophe, and capitalism will do nothing to stop it.” Well and good, but it has to actually be stopped, and very significant action has to be taken within the next ten years. That action is going to have to happen under the current system because there is no sign of that system’s replacement by anything else short-term. So decarbonization is going to have to be made to work under the current system whether we like it or not, and it’s not going to help to insist that the current system can do nothing.

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Will G-R 09.07.16 at 2:28 pm

@Rich: “We don’t have to say that the Paris Agreements are the best agreement ever, or even a good agreement, in order to say that they are an agreement and that one is critically needed.”

On the contrary, regardless of our opinions on the particulars of any one treaty, we should be able to agree that it’s at least possible for an agreement like Paris to serve the role of a diplomatic/PR palliative without actually creating a viable framework to substantially solve the problem, in which case by giving enough people ideological cover for continuing to ignore and thus perpetuate the problem, it would actually be making things worse. Think of the Israel/Palestine situation for another example: how much ongoing suffering could have been mitigated or prevented over the past 20+ years had the non-Israeli parties to Oslo been united in the now-widespread understanding that a two-state solution is impossible, and that the only path forward is a one-state solution without ethnoreligious apartheid? Israel’s ideological doublespeak, in pressing for a two-state solution its internal politics absolutely precludes any viable framework for achieving, has been an active tool for perpetuating the oppression of Palestinians, and it seems silly to assume that the same couldn’t be true of neoliberalism’s ideological doublespeak around fossil fuels and climate change.

In my view climate change is a tragically excellent example of a problem that neoliberalism simply doesn’t a viable framework for solving, and asking us to just accept that we need to work within neoliberalism to solve it is like asking us to just accept that we need to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring. If we accept that neoliberalism is the only herring on offer for our logging expedition, the imperative is to face the simple fact that climate change will develop into exactly the catastrophe we all feared it would become (well presumably not The Day After Tomorrow but you know what I mean) and shift our focus from prevention to coping.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.07.16 at 2:59 pm

I’m not in favor of the general idea of “if we don’t pretend that X is a solution, then people will actually push for a real solution.” In reality, they mostly won’t.

But look what your assumption is leading you to — a shift from prevention to coping. That’s exactly wrong for this moment in history. First, there really isn’t any coping that can usefully be done, not if we can’t muster the lesser effort needed for prevention. Second, we’re in a critical window for prevention. If there’s any chance, we have to pursue that chance. And substantial progress is being made, so it’s really not a good assumption that prevention is going to fail. Third, there is no binary that neatly divides outcomes into success/prevention and failure/coping. The nature of the problem is that it can always get worse: we can reach 4 degrees, 6 degrees, etc. “Prevention” is going to have to occur at some point, even though damage has already been done.

I’m not suggesting that people simply go to sleep and assume that the problem is being handled — on the contrary. But people have to have some possible route of action, and foreclosing the primary available one is not a good idea.

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Will G-R 09.07.16 at 3:32 pm

substantial progress is being made [within the neoliberal paradigm]”

Two area men’s opinions differ, film at 11. Specifically, there don’t appear to be meaningfully binding commitments by any relevant parties, be they states or corporations, to permanently “leave it in the ground” — and under the neoliberal paradigm there never really could be, since a central premise of this paradigm is the blanket assumption that any political priority standing in the way of capital investment is prima facie illegitimate, the logic enshrined in the ISDS institutional framework as a right to taxpayer compensation for any loss of “expected future profits”. We may see this put to the test if oil companies and oil-dependent governments ever start to really feel the squeeze and actively confront the logic of climate-change prevention with the logic of neoliberal depoliticization, but I doubt this confrontation would ever truly come to a head (the barriers to investment will melt away like an Arctic glacier) and in any case a public “j’accuse!” moment really shouldn’t be necessary in order to fathom the irresolvability of the deadlock.

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Howard Frant 09.07.16 at 9:02 pm

Will G-R @151

Sorry, I didn’t realize you were a furriner (though I guess I should’ve from your name) or I wouldn’t have assumed you don’t loathe Sanders. Yes, my understanding of the exuberant efflorescence of leftist views, particularly in Europe, is probably stunted. My knowledge of wild mushrooms is inadequate too.

“as if there’s some reason the calculated poses she’s affected over the past year+ of the public campaign circus-clown routine are a necessary guide to her presumptive policy agenda in office”

You do have a gift for invective, even though I can never understand what you’re getting at. Politicians do tend to try to do in office what they’ve said they’re going to do. I would say that’s probably a better guide than just saying that she will slavishly carry out the dictates of her neoliberal masters.

I don’t think “neoliberalism” is part of “the basic terminology of political philosophy.” Whether as a concept it has any usefulness for talking about the Democratic Party in the U.S. is an empirical question. At this point I’d say no. At a minimum, let’s get away from all the stuff about hard and soft neoliberalism and just say that it may not appear as a pure type.

And not to dive down another rabbit hole, but the Oslo Accords were negotiated by Rabin and Peres, who undoubtedly were serious about a two-state solution. Netanyahu, not so much. The idea that Israel would ever have accepted a one-state solution is fantasy.

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Will G-R 09.07.16 at 10:03 pm

Born, raised, and currently residing within These Here Free ‘n’ Brave God-Blessed United States of America, thank you very much… I just try not to let this fact fence in my intellectual horizons, the way many of my fellow Americans seem to take a perverse national pride in doing (even those who aren’t otherwise categorically suspicious of book-learnin’). Are you saying I can either strive for the tiniest fraction of sophistication and cosmopolitanism, or I can be an American, but not both? If you’re really putting a gun to my head and making me pick one or the other, then go ahead and call me a furriner.

Politicians do tend to try to do in office what they’ve said they’re going to do. I would say that’s probably a better guide than just saying that she will slavishly carry out the dictates of her neoliberal masters.

You have a gift for deadpan.

Change “masters” to “funders”, and I’d say the characterization is acceptable even if a touch oversimplified. Of course in no remotely pluralistic system will all those with power/influence/money/etc. speak with one united voice that can be followed “slavishly” without quite a bit of interpretation and mediation; this is the fundamental reason governments exist, after all, to mediate class conflict, even if much of the time this boils down to keeping the lower classes in line on behalf of a more-or-less united ruling class. But if inside accounts of the Clinton Foundation are any indication (especially as compared to, say, the Carter Foundation) both Clintons are eager participants in the processes by which subgroups of the ruling class mediate their interests behind closed doors with as little interference as possible from the unwashed masses. So yes, it seems fair to say that what she says at those $100,000/plate dinners, and what’s said to her, would give a much better indication of her future presidential agenda than what she says in one of her public speeches or interviews or press conf — oh right, she doesn’t do those.

And not to dive down another rabbit hole…

So as not to dive too deep into said rabbit hole, I’ll keep it strictly applicable to both sides of the analogy: the point was that if the basic premises of the framework within which one is operating present an irresolvable, uncompromising impediment to whatever one is trying to achieve, the only reasonable plan of attack involves confronting and defeating this framework directly. On both sides of the analogy, if one pushes too hard for a solution without doing this one is quite likely to end up murdered or assassinated. (Actually I wonder which is more dangerous… being a Third World indigenous activist who stands up to oil and mining companies, or being an Israeli PM who advocates a state for the Arabs between the river and the sea?)

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Howard Frant 09.08.16 at 3:08 am

Will G-R

Well, above your apparent criterion was the good of humanity at large, without respect to national boundaries. By that standard, neoliberalism has been very, very good. Over the last thirty years or so, extreme poverty has fallen by almost two-thirds around the world, and by almost 90% in east Asia. Hard to believe that doesn’t have a lot to do with the movement of manufacturing overseas.

http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNetPPP2005/index.htm?1

Not much political reward in the US for that, of course. So if I may turn to the US for a moment, I think, as I said, that a big increase in the minimum wage and two months’ paid family leave would make a big difference in the lives of a lot of struggling people. And the top of the income distribution actually would take a pretty good hit. So if she’s a tool of The Rich (excluding George Soros, who apparently gave a lot of money to her Super PAC), then she won’t make much effort to raise the minimum wage, whereas if politicians try to keep their promises then she will. So we’ll have to wait and see. I think she will.

On the contrary, if Yasir Arafat had ever done anything politically courageous, and had been assassinated as a result, that (the assassination) would not be a shock, but the assassination of Rabin was a shock, which is probably security was so lax. Yes, there’s a reasonably sized group of extremist crazies in Israel. But I doubt anyone is holding back on offering compromises because they’re afraid of being killed, as Arafat clearly was. It is true that a lot of moderates at this point don’t want to reopen Pandora’s Box. So the Palestinians may once again have missed their window. There was a genuine peace movement in Israel once, but it was pretty much cut off at the knees by the second intifada.

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ZM 09.08.16 at 3:41 am

There was an article in The Australian the other day that was sort of pertinent to this. I think it was syndicated from the WSJ, I am not familiar with the author William A Galston — is he a popular American writer?

I think it leaves out a few things really, and concentrates on economic growth as the problem, when I can’t see how that can be returned to with our environmental problems which the article avoids mentioning.

Failed Wars And Poor Growth Expose Western Elites To Popular Revolt

“The populist revolt against governing elites sweeping advanced democracies is the latest chapter in the oldest political story.

Every society, regardless of its form of government, has a ruling class. The crucial question is whether elites rule in their own interest or for the common good.

In the decades after World War II, the ruling classes in Western Europe and the US managed their economies and social policies in ways that improved the wellbeing of the overwhelming majority of their citizens. In return, citizens accorded elites a measure of deference. Trust in government was high.

Politics, especially in democracies, is more complicated. Democratic equality stands in tension with hierarchical claims of every type, including merit.

In a letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson characterised elections as the best way of elevating the “natural aristoi” into positions of authority.

He had in mind people like himself, liberally educated and trained in the subtle art of governance.

This view didn’t survive the 1820s, when Andrew Jackson led a popular revolt against it. Alleging that a “corrupt bargain” among elites had cheated him out of the presidency in 1824, he swept to a victory in 1828 that he portrayed as a triumph for the common man — farmers, craftsmen, sturdy pioneers — against the moneyed interests. Ever since, the trope of the virtuous people against the self-dealing elites has endured in US politics.

Failed wars, domestic insecurity and uneven growth have undermined the authority of governing elites. Although the pro-Brexit vote in Britain came as a shock, it was the latest in a series of surprises tending in the same direction.

Educated classes are less moved by particularist appeals to ethnic and national identity and more by internationalism and universal norms.

Many identify more with elites abroad than with their own less-educated, less-prosperous countrymen.

Similar divisions are evident throughout the West. Depending on the balance of forces, political outcomes vary from one country to the next. But the terms of the struggle are much the same.”

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/western-elites-face-popular-revolt-after-failed-wars-poor-growth/news-story/f811e2672fbff61824e979d450a79b80

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bruce wilder 09.08.16 at 6:33 pm

It seems to me that there’s an element of wishful thinking in the thesis that elites face popular revolt: the feeling that they (especially American elites) really ought to be facing popular revolt given the failed wars and poor economic growth, not to mention the displays of monumental greed and indifference. The actual “revolt”, though, remains remarkably quiet so far, but elite observers are doing a lot of looking around for signs of a turn away from trends and finding them in the Trump phenomenon, the Brexit vote and, as in the OP here, Clinton’s reluctant opportunism in acceding to Sanders’ more popular policy proposals. It feels like the end of an era, probably because it is, but for the moment, in the U.S. it feels remarkably normal despite the surreal aspects of, say, the Trump campaign.

I find myself returning to the comment of RichardM @ 50:

The problem with neoliberalism is that it isn’t really compatible with a modern . . . economy. Simply because that system isn’t well enough understood to allow experts, let alone informed amateurs, to reach a consensus on what a particular change will actually do. [I edited out the cant, “free market” modifying economy; that phrase was making me stumble.]

I disagree with RichardM, but obliquely.

Neoliberalism does presume that a consensus on policy consequences is not only possible, but largely extant. That’s a point I’ve tried to make over and over about how and why the 1982 Peters “Neoliberalism” became a strand woven into the same rope with the Hayek’s Mount Pelerin Society (1947) “Neoliberalism”, Milton Friedman’s “free market” vision from the 1970s, the Washington Consensus (Williamson 1989), and latter-day German ordo-liberalism.

Within the circle of official experts, aka mainstream neoclassical policy economics, the conversation settled into a dialectic between conservative libertarian views and centrist left views, between Krugman and Stiglitz on the “left” and Greg Mankiw and Tyler Cowan on the right (with a further right of Lucas and Prescott anchoring the profession’s more esoteric methods and pedagogy in zombie land, as JQ has written).

In mainstream politics, the dialectic between centre-right and centre-left followed the contours of the third-way politics of Clinton following Reagan and Blair following Thatcher: a politics that legitimated and extended, with modifications, the fundamental changes introduced by the former figures. In continental Europe, traditional center-left socialist parties were increasingly pressed into accepting the consensus economic views of the center-right, even entering into coalitions.

The “neoliberalism” that has emerged as an ideology of the managerial and executive classes is an apology for policies that work for those elite classes and against everyone else. For a time, that wasn’t as apparent as it is now. Economic bubbles delivered apparent dividends to a large number of people, especially people with “home ATMs” in the days of the housing bubble. Student loans allowed lots of people to go to college. The dick moves, such as changing the bankruptcy laws to make it difficult to escape foreclosure and perpetual student debt, flew under the radar and Obama certainly never seemed to pay a political price for his disinterest in helping people facing foreclosure or prosecuting corporate executives for malfeasance in banking.

In the Eurozone, the moralizing narrative about the feckless Greeks seems to have been widely persuasive. What seems to me to be general disinterest in the opioid epidemic in the U.S. is remarkable — for three minutes it “explained” Trump voters and then it was on to the next news cycle. The seamy underside of the new debt peonage revealed by Ferguson has become a racial issue, in part because it has to be a racial issue to get any attention.

“Neoliberalism” as the ideology of a parasitic elite class may be getting stale with the wider public that is being forced to bear the costs now that the bills are coming due, but I am not sure that anything is being done on the left that would make people any smarter, any less saps for the kind of sanctimonious, moralizing frauds offered by, say, Hillary Clinton.

Typically, political cycles end in a bang, not a whimper. The arguments do not just lose persuasiveness. There are actual policy disasters on the ground. We’ve already had the GFC of 2008 and neoliberalism survived. Neoconservative foreign policy had Iraq and Afghanistan, but never let go of their self-confidence or policy pulpits; now we’ve had Libya and Syria and the neoconservatives are still with us, ready to move on to Ukraine and the South China Sea.

One problem I see is that it is very hard to introduce any reform, which doesn’t trigger a painful reckoning. Could Australia extract itself from its epic housing bubble without hurting a lot of people? Could the U.S. get out of Iraq and Afghanistan without facing a potent charge from the Right that the policy of withdrawal triggered the loss of the war?

Could the U.S. institute any sweeping economic reform that didn’t involve a stock market crash? What would a direct attack on executive compensation require politically? Is such a thing even imaginable or are we stuck forever in neoliberal hand-wringing over an abstract “increasing inequality” driven by impersonal forces or globalization and robots?

I see a tactical retreat in the Obama Administration’s moves to widen the scope of overtime rules and the tepid support of Clinton for increases in the minimum wage. The closing of ITT education was a remarkable signal that there’s some boundary on predation in education. Maybe the TPP trade agreement is dead, maybe not; Clinton’s opposition seems to lack conviction. The titanic struggle in the Labour Party over Corbyn’s leadership is an interesting spectacle, but I don’t think it is entirely implausible that the former Pfizer Rep pulls it out.

Neoliberalism may not survive as a brand management strategy, but I am not seeing the new class losing its grip on power, so it is hard to be optimistic.

I think it is quite possible that Administration of Hillary Clinton, “just a standard liberal Democrat”, goes down with the neoliberal (economics) cum neoconservative (foreign policy) ship, but the loss of credibility for the left is broad and deep, because the left critique has been as enveloped by the trivial and resentful tribalism (nurtured as a manipulation strategy) as the right.

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efcdons 09.08.16 at 11:38 pm

ZM @159
William Galston is an “OG” neoliberal who is still a member of one of the Third Way Democrats last bastions, the Progressive Policy Institute.

Though reading some of his stuff in the NYT I think he might actually have changed his views ever so slightly in recognition of the enormity of the GFC.

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Howard Frant 09.08.16 at 11:53 pm

bruce wilder

“Neoliberalism does presume that a consensus on policy consequences is not only possible, but largely extant.”

If the world is really too complicated to figure out, how can we advocate any policies at all? How do we know our policies won’t do the opposite of what we want? This doesn’t seem like a particular weakness of neoliberalism vis a vis, say, socialism. In the case of the minimum wage, Congress fell back on its old established custom and asked the neutral experts (the CBO) for their analysis, then proceeded to argue about and try to spin the results. That seems like about as good as you can get in a democracy. Do you have an alternative in mind?

I like the scare quotes on “left” when discussing Krugman and Stiglitz. Yeah, the fact is, economists know some things that other people don’t, although they don’t get everything right. The Sanders campaign had an unseemly episode when its economist made some patently ridiculous claims and got called on it by other Democratic economists, who were promptly accused of being shills for Hillary. Turns out the guy had made a fairly boneheaded mistake.

To get to the heart of your claim, how has Peters become a strand woven into the rope of neoliberalism, except in the minds of leftist intellectuals? Have you heard a lot of people citing Peters as an inspiration? I haven’t. In fact, when I read Europeans talking about the evils of neoliberalism, they’re talking about Hayek and Friedman. I’ve never heard anyone talk about Peters, nor have I heard American politicians mention him, as Republicans mention Hayek and Friedman.

Electoral constraints seem not exist in your world. If Corbyn is encountering resistance as head of Labour, that’s because the managerial class is keeping him down, not because people think he can’t win. Similarly, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are just alien intrusions rather than a response to repeated rejection of the party by the voters. The voters are just an epiphenomenon; keep your eye on the parasitic class.

The latest word to be drained of meaning so that it can be used as a placeholder for “things I don’t like” is “neoconservative”. This used to designate a particular school of right-wing thought, but now it seems it applies to anyone who’s not a pacifist.

And Maureen Dowd just told us in the NY Times that Clinton plans to “unleash hell on the Syrians.” Those poor Syrians! Will no one save them from this heartless neoconservative?

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efcdons 09.09.16 at 2:07 am

Howard Frant @162

Romer and Romer’s critique was essentially political.

“Massive demand-side stimulus in an economy closing in on its productive capacity would have one of two effects. First—and most likely—it would lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, offsetting as well as it could the expansionary effects of the stimulus.”

i.e. Capital wouldn’t let it happen. That’s not an economic theory. It’s a threat. Economists “know” what the fed will do because they “know” their class compatriots.

No one is saying Peters was some sort of inspirational political or economic theoretician. He is important as a political strategist. Any time a Democratic politician talks about being tough on crime, considering the needs of the business class over labor, the importance of “choice” and considering every issue or government service from the position of a “consumer” they are effectively quoting Peters.

“Electoral constraints seem not exist in your world. If Corbyn is encountering resistance as head of Labour, that’s because the managerial class is keeping him down, not because people think he can’t win. “

But that’s entirely circular. The PLP want to remove him because they think he can’t win and people think he can’t win because the PLP is trying to remove him. The PLP is trying to destroy Corbyn’s electability and then claiming that is the reason they were trying to take him down in the first place.

I was reading the “secret” Labour 2015 post mortem
http://www.itv.com/news/2016-01-25/revealed-secret-labour-report-published-in-full/

One thing that caught my eye was this comment from a women from Nuneaton-
“Most People knew Ed Miliband wasn’t even liked by his own party. How can you trust someone when the party doesn’t even trust them? He needs the support of the party behind him to back him up.”

“electoral constraints” aren’t physical laws. It morphs and changes and shifts based on events in society, elite opinion, “performance” (Chris Dillow’s idea of leadership as essentially performative), and lots of other factors. Even using the word “constraint” is a subtle way to box out Things You Don’t Like from consideration without having to argue the underlying merits.

With TB and WJC, maybe their success is a product of a particular time and place which has nothing to say about electoral strategy in 2016. It’s not the 90s forever you know.

Both Blair and Bill are like a guy who got lucky in business once and made a ton of money who think because he got rich that one time he is an expert on everything always and forever. Would Blair or Clinton have won if they weren’t running to succeed the opposition who happen to have suffered a minor recession during their term and then lucking into a huge boom based on a new technology as soon as they got into office?

Luck is a powerful thing. But one of the tenants of neoliberal (ha!) meritocracy seems to be a strong belief in “the harder I work the luckier I get”.

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Howard Frant 09.09.16 at 6:57 am

efcdons

Whoa! Where did the Romers come from? I didn’t say anything about them.

(The Fed does actually have statutory responsibilities, and one of them is keeping inflation under control. I’m not a macroeconomist, but I doubt it’s very controversial that “more demand-side stimulus in an economy closing in on its productive capacity” is going to create inflation. The key phrase there is “closing in on its productive capacity.”)

OK, I just read “A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto.” As I suspected, it has no relation to what you’re talking about. I think the actual Peters is much less interesting to people here than the place-holder Peters who is everything we don’t like. Peters says absolutely nothing about getting tough on crime, or indeed any of the other things that you consider his essential contribution. It’s hardly the first time I’ve seen academics do violence to get someone to fit into the Procrustean bed of Theory. But it’s not a good way to advance knowledge. (I’m not pointing the finger at you as theorist here.)

Incidentally, he makes it clear he invented the term and shows no sign of being aware of the European meaning.

I’m so ignorant I don’t know what the PLP is. But wasn’t there someone called Thatcher in Britain? And wasn’t he or she PM for kind of a *long, long* time? How’d that happen? Sorry, I don’t believe that if everyone just gets behind Corbyn he’ll suddenly be electable. I suspect, in fact, that a lot of MPs care more about getting reelected than they do about ideology. No, constraints are not set in stone. But that doesn’t mean voters wishes don’t matter. And no, this is not the ’90s. Also, Hillary is not Bill. And Bill is not Bill from the ’90s.

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bruce wilder 09.09.16 at 7:15 am

Howard Frant: If the world is really too complicated to figure out, how can we advocate any policies at all?

Human beings have never let mere ignorance keep them from passionate advocacy. The core of the Christian religion is a fierce politics conducted in full acknowledgement of the complete abandonment of evidence as dispositive.

How do we know our policies won’t do the opposite of what we want?

Perhaps we don’t. Or, perhaps, we know that the other guy doesn’t know and is in no position to judge, and we can take strategic advantage of asymmetry. The first implication of radical uncertainty isn’t humility, it is caution against fraud (or a sharp eye for the opportunity to defraud, depending on your ethical outlook). What did RichardM say about neoliberalism and the 300 page policy precis? What do you suppose that kind of technocratic b.s. trying to persuade people that a policy likely to do B is intended to do Y?

Typically, the consequences of state policy are negotiated. What the consequences are or will be emerges from the political struggle to enact policy. Why we might even learn!

. . . the fact is, economists know some things that other people don’t, although they don’t get everything right.

Yeah, but which things? And, are all the things they know even so?

(full disclosure: I was an economist in a couple of my professional lives.)

Electoral constraints seem not exist in your world.

Electoral constraints exist, but they exist outside my mind. That I am not Scott Lemieux pontificating on what is politically practical, I generally think, is something in my favor.

. . . how has Peters become a strand woven into the rope of neoliberalism, except in the minds of leftist intellectuals?

Peters gets cited because his Neoliberal Manifesto is a particularly clear statement of a certain outlook published at a time when that outlook was becoming prominent if not predominant. And, because the publication he founded with that outlook played an important role in shaping the early careers of some fairly important political opinion writers. The Neoliberal Manifesto argues for the left accepting important aspects of the framework of ideas that animated the Reagan Administration, so even though it didn’t argue for merging with the conservative libertarian right, it did argue for accepting many of their premises and entering into a mutually legitimating policy debate with them; that dialectic is part of what gave neoliberalism the ability to exclude and marginalize others as not expert enough.

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TM 09.09.16 at 2:02 pm

Rich 16: “I’ll try not to dwell on my hobbyhorses too much … current First World “left” populations (especially in the U.S.) want to turn everything into individual moral questions through which a false solidarity can be expressed and through which opposing people can be shamed.”

Rich really has only one hobby horse: building strawmen.

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efcdons 09.09.16 at 2:55 pm

Howard Frant @164

“Whoa! Where did the Romers come from? I didn’t say anything about them.”

“The Sanders campaign had an unseemly episode when its economist made some patently ridiculous claims and got called on it by other Democratic economists, who were promptly accused of being shills for Hillary. Turns out the guy had made a fairly boneheaded mistake”

I can’t tell if you are being obtuse or are actually ignorant. You do know the “critique” was written by the Romers I presume.

OK, I just read “A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto.” “

Had you seriously not read A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto this whole time while lecturing everyone else on the meaning of neoliberalism and Peter’s place in American political thought!? What chutzpah!

Anyway….

“The liberal bleeds for the criminal, blaming society for his crimes, and concocting exotic legal strategies to help him escape punishment. “(pg.9)

“Economic growth is most important now. It is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve. Our hero is the risk-taking entrepreneur who creates new jobs and better products. ” (pg. 10)

” Risk is indeed the essence of the movement-the risk of the person who has the different idea in industry or in government. That is why we place such a high value on the entrepreneur” (pg. 17)

“I’m so ignorant I don’t know what the PLP is.”

The Parliamentary Labour Party. The grouping of Labour Members of Parliament. The guys trying to bring down Corbyn. The ones who engaged in a coordinated attempt to destroy his leadership through carefully staged quits and a no-confidence vote right after the Brexit vote put the Conservatives in disarray forcing Corbyn to deal with a coup rather than fighting the Tories at their weakest.

“But wasn’t there someone called Thatcher in Britain? And wasn’t he or she PM for kind of a *long, long* time? How’d that happen?”

Not being in power during the oil crisis and stagflation? Having the opposition decide to (like might happen today) split by creating the SPD when the Labour right couldn’t have their way? A war to rally around? A coordinated movement of conservatives dedicated to dismantling the physical and theoretical foundations of the welfare state through the media, academia, think tanks etc.? Lots of reasons.

“I don’t believe that if everyone just gets behind Corbyn he’ll suddenly be electable.”

Yeah, I know. They have to say that to deflect blame for the consequences of their actions.

” I suspect, in fact, that a lot of MPs care more about getting reelected than they do about ideology.”

You would think in a parliamentary system where party identification is more important than the individual Members (that’s why there are no primaries in the UK and potential MPs are “given” seats unrelated to where they are actually from) which would mean bouying the Labour Party instead of trying to destroy it (incompetently).

But don’t try and strip them of their ideology. They have thoughts and beliefs just like any other political actor. That’s why a large number of MPs as well as people with influence like TB have said (but are less vocal now since Smith is running on Corbyn’s policy platform almost to the letter) they would rather Labour not win if it meant Corbyn being PM.

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bruce wilder 09.09.16 at 3:44 pm

efcdons: I can’t tell if you are being obtuse or are actually ignorant.

That’s our Howard!

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Will G-R 09.09.16 at 4:07 pm

Howard @ 158, the ideological hobbyhorse of lowered barriers to international capitalist exchange as inherently good for the poorest of the global poor is really hard to counter without deteriorating into dense, figure-laden political economy or spittle-ejecting righteous invective. If I were to give it the response it deserves I’d end up going on for many paragraphs and trying to lead you on to any number of links for further reading, so instead I’ll provide some of the links I would have probably given anyway (just for starters, here, here, here, here) and offer that no, supporting the interests of the wretched of the Earth does not mean supporting neoliberalism against fascism.

If there’s any component of what fascists and their fellow travelers call “globalism” to be found in the international socialist agenda, it’s the removal of restrictions on the free movement of people — but actually this isn’t on the typical neoliberal policy agenda at all! If anything the global neoliberal political order is enthusiastic about free movement of capital, but generally only seeks to allow movement of labor in a highly restricted way through a Byzantine maze of legal and extra-legal channels, allowing various waves of migrants to be denied various rights and protections afforded to “native” workers in their destination societies. (See for a recently prominent example the much-ballyhooed contrast between “economic migrants” and “refugees” as relates to international law.) For international socialists, this system of exclusions is itself one of the major political targets to be destroyed.

On a broader level, I’d second efcdons’ question: how do you feel entitled to issue such sweeping rhetorical dismissals — recall that your first contribution to this thread was to argue that “the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a virus that devastates the analytic functions of the brain” — without having cracked open the texts being argued about or familiarized yourself with the basic terms of the debate? I’m especially galled by the unapologetic defense of unfortunately widespread American contrarianism regarding the basic definitions of terms like “liberal”, since the argument is in part about neoliberalism as a global political/economic trend to be engaged with on a global level. Sure, the political equivalent of going “nuh uh, why don’t you all start using inches and miles!” would be par for the course if this was Blue Nation Review or Democratic Underground or something, but as I previously told Bob Zannelli we’re allegedly supposed to be in a philosophy-oriented discussion space where the basic underpinnings of a philosophical worldview (including an ability and willingness to critique parochial manners and beliefs from the outside) are at least understood.

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bruce wilder 09.09.16 at 6:21 pm

I think the Labour Party’s current contretemps is a fascinating example of the emerging challenge to “neoliberalism” and the dynamics that ensue. (It might be fun to see JQ, as an Australian, offer an at-a-great-distance dreamer’s analysis of neoliberalism in the time of the cholera Corbyn.)

One cannot escape all of the particular and peculiar details of the British situation: the personality and history of Blair, the faultlines among the three kingdoms, the overwhelming importance of class, and so on, but all that just adds spice to the kidney pie ;-)

I have no stake in British politics, so mine is a pure rooting interest. It is like watching a series of train wrecks: the tracks laid down dictating the inevitability of a collision and wreckage, but motive power is cranked up to drive on in complete obliviousness.

Corbyn’s ordeal is the only reason I look at the terminally neoliberal Guardian and it is as much to see the Guardian embarrass itself as it plunges toward looted oblivion, itself an object lesson in the evils of neoliberalism, as to find out anything concerning latest developments.

One thing that is laid bare in the Corbyn-Labour case is the severe conflict between elite and mass, posed by late neoliberalism. As Rich P and others have pointed out, neoliberalism is peculiar for such a dominant ideology, for not having much about it at this late date that would really qualify as mass or popular appeal, and whatever it may have had in the past is fading fast. Yet, the PLP clings to “electability” as its rallying cry.

Historically, Tory and Whig, Conservative and Liberal reflected divisions among a self-conscious and basically small-c vested-interest conservative elite, while Labour was an eruption from below. The Liberals have never completely gone away and the impulse to re-create the left-centre Party as an elite representation shows itself in the wings constantly. As an architect of his Party, Blair tapped into that potential to draw in a critical margin of electoral support from the professional classes while fashioning the cadre of the PLP to match. And, now the Labour Party is set back to its core electoral base, the loyalty of the ghost of coal and steel, and a PLP led by a former Pfizer rep would rather not represent the underclass or even have to contend with the participation of Party members. Fascinating.

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Will G-R 09.09.16 at 7:57 pm

Bruce, as a fellow outsider to UK politics and a sometimes-fan of the Guardian, holy bejesus their coverage of Corbyn is infuriating. My “favorite” (if that’s the right word) recent example is how, after months of breathlessly reporting every possible tenuous accusation of racism or sexism or anti-Semitism or whatever leveled at Corbyn, the feature story on Owen Smith being accused of sexism at a Labour hustings led with the headline “Owen Smith describes accusations of sexism as ‘mortifying'”, which couldn’t help but remind me of a headline from The Onion’s book of 2oth-century history clips: “The Man hurt by Black Panther accusations”. (“‘It saddens me and hurts me that they would say such things about me,’ The Man said from his golf-resort suite…”)

If you haven’t seen it yet, you might enjoy the most recent on UK Labour politics from Sam Kriss where he makes what might seem like an odd comparison between Owen Smith and Donald Trump. Aside from the obvious rebuke of Smith, it’s also a nice rebuke to those in US politics who insist on framing the novelty of the Trump campaign around the personal attributes of the candidate Donald Trump — as if Trump wasn’t fine-turning his performance to match exactly what he knows his proto-fascist supporters want to see, and as if in his absence these supporters would evaporate or be transformed back into compliant “conservatives”, ready to play whatever pseudo-anti-establishment role has been stage-managed for them by the sober and responsible GOP leadership figures currently bending toward Clinton. The key passage from Kriss:

Trump isn’t something foreign or heterogeneous to ordinary liberal democracy, he’s just an intensification of its normal processes – there could never be a Donald Trump if there weren’t already a Hillary Clinton. Politicians in representative democracies have always tried to pit the strong against the weak, to ferment hatred of the outsiders, to strut around appealing to some lowest common denominator; they’ve always said anything they think will get them political power. Trump is a particularly vulgar version, but we live in particularly vulgar times. What really unites Trump and Owen Smith is their lack of any actual commitments: all their positions are provisional, vague riffs deviating within strict limits from the general ideological dogma – and when just trying things out in front of an audience is the whole of your politics, stupid gaffes are bound to result.

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Howard Frant 09.10.16 at 2:45 am

bruce wilder

“Human beings have never let mere ignorance keep them from passionate advocacy. The core of the Christian religion is a fierce politics conducted in full acknowledgement of the complete abandonment of evidence as dispositive.”

True. So the heirs of the enlightenment give up on reason, and the heirs of Marx decide that religion is really the way to go?

The world is complicated. And we can only grope toward the right answer. I don’t think it’s so complicated that we have to throw up our hands and say, “It’s all random.” Yes, it’s a problem when something requires complicated analysis that only experts can do, and you could get ripped off. Take global warming. Do we have to rely on experts? Yes. Should we just say, It’s too complicated; anything can be true! No. It’s unfortunate that people have lost trust in the experts. But that’s not the same as saying we really can’t understand anything. Yes, things have to be negotiated. The CBO model was that those negotiations ought to use a single set of factual assumptions. Remarkably, that model hasn’t broken down yet.

You’re writing at #165. I got back to #137 looking for RichardM and the 300-page policy precis. So please be so kind as to refresh my memory. No, obviously that is not a useful political document. A system that expected voters to read it would be doomed. But somebody needs to understand issues in depth, though it needn’t necessarily be economists. (Forest rangers, soldiers, historians…) And that means there will be experts whom we will have to trust. And other people who can step it down so it’s usable by politicians, and then by the public. I don’t see any way around this.

“Electoral constraints exist, but they exist outside my mind. That I am not Scott Lemieux pontificating on what is politically practical, I generally think, is something in my favor.”

It’s one thing, surely, to think about how things should be without political constraints, and another to criticize a politician for not living in that world. One of the things that always irritated me about Bernie Sanders was his use of what I think of as the “Tinkerbell Theory of Politics”: that if everyone who believes in fairies claps their hands, our program will magically get passed into law. Doesn’t seem to work out that way.

“Peters gets cited because his Neoliberal Manifesto is a particularly clear statement of a certain outlook published at a time when that outlook was becoming prominent if not predominant. And, because the publication he founded with that outlook played an important role in shaping the early careers of some fairly important political opinion writers. The Neoliberal Manifesto argues for the left accepting important aspects of the framework of ideas that animated the Reagan Administration, so even though it didn’t argue for merging with the conservative libertarian right, it did argue for accepting many of their premises and entering into a mutually legitimating policy debate with them; that dialectic is part of what gave neoliberalism the ability to exclude and marginalize others as not expert enough.”

OK, thanks, now I better understand what you’re claiming. I went back and looked at it again. I think we can see the skepticism about teachers’ unions reflected in the Race to the Top. And the emphasis on means-testing everything (misguided, I think) has had an influence on Clinton, as with her criticism of Sanders over free tuition. But to identify this with Thatcherism because of what truly was a coincidental identity of their names (it’s obvious from reading it that he had no idea that there was a European use of the term, if there even was back then) is a big mistake. I really don’t see any of the “framework of ideas that animated the Reagan Administration”. OK, we should remove barriers to entrepreneurship. But nothing about tax cuts, cutting environmental regulation, etc. And nothing about building up the military. Really, it would make discourse a lot more useful if people dropped their attachment to this elaborate construction and we just said what people were saying before all this, that Sanders is left and Clinton is center-left. And less centrist than Bill. The only neoliberals in the US in the European sense are Republicans.

efcdons

“I can’t tell if you are being obtuse or are actually ignorant. You do know the “critique” was written by the Romers I presume.”

Sorry, my bad. I was very tired and had them briefly mixed up with Reinhart and Rogoff.

You misunderstood their critique, though. It wasn’t political; Friedman made a simple technical mistake. Instead of looking at the effect of a one-time increase in government spending, he calculated his results as though government spending kept increasing from year to year. This meant that he was projecting huge increases in GDP and huge reductions in unemployment and poverty. The so-called Gang of Four looked at those results and said no, this is wildly unrealistic. Cue the hysterical denunciations from the Bernistas. It fell to the Romers to get down into the weeds and laboriously figure out where he’d gone wrong. Not the way this sort of thing should work, but a result of the Sanders campaign’s deciding that its #1 enemy was the Democratic Party. To this day there are Bernistas who think he wuz robbed of the nomination.

“Had you seriously not read A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto this whole time while lecturing everyone else on the meaning of neoliberalism and Peter’s place in American political thought!? What chutzpah!”

This is exactly like saying “Had you seriously not read The Communist Manifesto this whole time while lecturing everyone else on the meaning of Marxism and Marx’s place in political thought!? What chutzpah!”, when spoken by someone who hasn’t read anything else by Marx.

“The liberal bleeds for the criminal, blaming society for his crimes, and concocting exotic legal strategies to help him escape punishment. “(pg.9)

Well, this is curious. Not only does that not sound *at all* like the rest of the essay, but it in fact ISN’T IN the essay I read. It’s hard to imagine Peters using prose like that.What’s your source for this? Here’s mine:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1982/09/05/a-neo-liberals-manifesto/21cf41ca-e60e-404e-9a66-124592c9f70d/?utm_term=.083a45b3e427

“Economic growth is most important now. It is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve. Our hero is the risk-taking entrepreneur who creates new jobs and better products. ” (pg. 10)

” Risk is indeed the essence of the movement-the risk of the person who has the different idea in industry or in government. That is why we place such a high value on the entrepreneur” (pg. 17)

OK, how about a little more context?

Our primary concerns are community, democracy, and prosperity. Of them, economic growth is most important now, because it is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve…

We want to encourage the entrepreneur not with Reaganite policies that simply make the rich richer, but with laws designed to help attract investors and customers…
We also favor freeing the entrepreneur from the kind of economic regulation that discourages healthy competition. But on matters of health and safety, we know there must be vigorous regulation, because the same capitalism that can give us economic vitality can also sell us Pintos, maim employes, and pollute our skies and streams.

This is not socialism. But it’s not what the Europeans call neo-liberalism either.

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efcdons 09.10.16 at 3:24 am

Howard Frant @172
You got the wrong one.
http://www.unz.org/Pub/WashingtonMonthly-1983may-00008

Do you think I would just make up quotes out of thin air? I got mine from the one he actually published in the WaMo, not the one for public consumption he put in the WaPo. You’ll notice they are similar but yours is missing some stuff. Important stuff.

“You misunderstood their critique, though. It wasn’t political; Friedman made a simple technical mistake. Instead of looking at the effect of a one-time increase in government spending, he calculated his results as though government spending kept increasing from year to year. This meant that he was projecting huge increases in GDP and huge reductions in unemployment and poverty. “

No, I understand that element of the critique. If that was it that would be one thing. But it wasn’t. Their critique went beyond technical issues in Friedman’s model. The vast bulk of the critique was centered on incredulous proclamations from their fainting couch about how Friedman’s model was both too optimistic and too pessimistic at the same time (i.e spending couldn’t boost growth as much as Friedman though and the GFC hadn’t caused an output gap as large as Friedman thought).

Saying “even if Friedman is correct, Sanders’ policies still wouldn’t work because of what the Fed would do in response” is a political statement. The Fed isn’t a mechanical turk that acts in response to turning a crank. Choosing to emphasize one part of the dual mandate over the other is a political choice.

Friedman did give a reply you might want to read
“In this situation, additional stimulus not only raises output temporarily, but by priming the pump and encouraging additional private spending and investment, it can push the economy upwards towards capacity. And, capacity itself will grow more quickly when higher levels of employment lead more people to look for work, more businesses to invest, and businesses to find new ways to raise productivity to match growing demand. All this will push up the growth rate in capacity. That is why I see lasting effects from a government stimulus.”

“Even a one year stimulus can push employment and output to a permanently higher level, and at that higher level it can generate faster growth by pulling more into the labor force and stimulating higher productivity growth. In this Keynes-Kaldor case, with equilibrium unemployment and growth dependent on the level of the output gap, a one year stimulus can lead to permanently higher output both by reducing unemployment and by raising the growth rate of capacity. “

“New Deal stimulus spending (including monetary easing) nearly doubled the GDP growth rate from pre-1929 levels to 7% per year, 1933-40, and nearly 10% a year from 1933-44; between the 1929 peak and 1944, output grew to a level 25% higher than it would have been at the pre-1929 growth rate. Active Keynesian policy maintained faster growth rates for the next quarter century as well. From 1947-73, the unemployment rate averaged 4.7% and annual GDP growth averaged 4.0%; output in 1973 was 13% higher than it would have been at earlier growth rates.”
http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/03/gerald-friedman-responds-to-the-romers-on-the-sanders-plan-different-models-different-politics.html

“This is exactly like saying “Had you seriously not read The Communist Manifesto this whole time while lecturing everyone else on the meaning of Marxism and Marx’s place in political thought!? What chutzpah!”, when spoken by someone who hasn’t read anything else by Marx.”

You’re mighty presumptuous about what other people might and might not have read. And coming from a guy who sounds like he glances at a wikipedia entry before commenting it’s a bit much.

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Howard Frant 09.10.16 at 9:06 am

efcdons

Son, you are starting to annoy me. No, I don’t seriously think you make up quotes out of thin air. Did I say you did? Take a pill.

Yes, apparently Peters did say that. Thank you for clearing that up. Thank you also for enabling me to see some context. What he’s doing is a cartoonish caricature of liberal and conservative views about crime. And that *one sentence* is the basis for your assertion that any time a Democratic politician talks about being tough on crime it comes from Peters? Come on. Does he ever even advocate being tough on crime? Does he ever even talk about crime as a problem?

No, you still didn’t understand their critique. Their first point is that the effects he’s estimating are way too big. That’s the point that they explain by showing his mistake. That’s actually all they need. Their second point is that *even if* they were reasonable, there isn’t enough unused capacity to produce those levels of output. If there isn’t enough productive capacity, then their isn’t. Obviously you can add more in the long run, but in the short run you will just get inflation. It’s not like you can tell the Fed not to do anything and everything will be fine. It’s not a political issue; it’s a physical issue. Snarking about fainting couches won’t help. If you look at Friedman’s publications, they’re on the history of the labor movement. He’s not the obvious person to choose to do an analysis like this.

These people are not stupid, and they’re not evil. Nice to think that I could confound the experts by identifying hidden assumptions they’re not aware of, but that’s very unlikely to be true.

I saw an interview where someone confronts him with all this. His first reaction is, “Oops.” Then he starts coming up with rationalizations. He later had something in print saying that R&R were neoclassical, while *he* was a Keynesian. This may have fooled some Bernie people who believed that this was all a huge Clintonite conspiracy. But basically, he goofed, and the people who pointed it out were attacked by furious ignoramuses.

“You’re mighty presumptuous about what other people might and might not have read.”

Perhaps so. Read a lot of other stuff by Peters, have you?

“And coming from a guy who sounds like he glances at a wikipedia entry before commenting it’s a bit much.”

Burn! What gave me away? Was it when I said, “I looked it up in Wikipedia and…” You’re too alert for me.

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Howard Frant 09.10.16 at 10:53 am

Will G-R @169

I have no ideological hobbyhorse about international trade; in fact, like most Americans (but not you, apparently) I hardly ever think about it. All I observed, quite recently, looking some things up after reading a column by Nicholas Kristof, is that there has been a truly astonishing reduction in the incidence of extreme poverty, on the order of (as I recall) almost two-thirds worldwide and almost 90% in east Asia, over the last couple of decades. This is not driven solely by China; it’s true for other countries in east Asia and in every other continent except sub-Saharan Africa. My assumption was that this must have something to do with the growth in manufacturing in those places. But that was just an assumption. Maybe it’s something else. If so, I’d be interested to hear what, because it sounds like something pretty big that people should pay some attention to.

Please understand that I am not cackling with glee at this tentative explanation. I am not overjoyed about capital moving overseas and reducing wages in the US, and I think I would favor some restrictions on that even if it was having such a beneficial effect elsewhere.

As I explained above, I (unlike other people here?) had been familiar with Peters’s use of the term for a long time. It wasn’t limited to the ur-text. Actually, I probably should have said that I re-read it, as I probably read it when it was first published, though I can’t recall now. What stimulated my comment was, over a period of several OPs, people trying to link together things that really had no connection other than the coincidence of names, to invent a philosophy that doesn’t exist, at least in the Democratic Party.

For the record, I think the US should get over itself and switch to the same system of weights and measures as the entire rest of the world (though come on–it’s “similar to” and “different from”, because of the implied directionality). And I have no objection to using “liberal” in the sense used by countries with the Union Jack on their flags. But that is not the sense in which Peters, being an American, was using it. And I think that to call Hillary Clinton a neoliberal, or a “soft” neoliberal, is more a jeer than than useful description. (At the ridiculous Nevada caucuses, supposedly someone shouted “Neoliberal bitch!” while shouting down Barbara Boxer, age 75, who was an innocent bystander.) It may be a useful term,but it’s being used with such imprecision as to make it useless. Seemingly people want to say that there are socialists (in the US, Sanders and, um, nobody), fascists (Trump), and neoliberals (everyone else), so that the gap between Clinton and Sanders is much greater than the gap between Clinton and Rubio. This is insane.

As for the TPP, which for some reason has become the litmus test of neoliberalism even though its probable effects are small, well, she was Secretary of State at the time. So she probably was more interested in providing east Asian countries with a counterweight to China than with grinding down the American worker and making the rich richer. Then again, who knows?

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Rich Puchalsky 09.10.16 at 2:11 pm

HF: “people trying to link together things that really had no connection other than the coincidence of names, to invent a philosophy that doesn’t exist, at least in the Democratic Party”

I’ve been over this before, most recently in the blog post linked above. But of all of the criticisms of the use of the word “neoliberalism”, this is probably the silliest.

First there’s the aspect of “how dare you invent a word”. Political words are invented or reused all the time, and there is a pressing need for this one. As with Thomas Frank’s book in which he went through a whole lot of detail describing how contemporary liberals were not like former liberals, it helps to have a shorthand way to express this difference.

Second, it’s not like we’re really inventing this use. The rest of the world uses “neoliberal” in this sense all the time: a few comment threads back I bothered to Google up a couple of peer-reviewed economics and politics papers from Asia and Europe that do so. Leftism has ambitions towards being an international movement and insisting that we can’t use a word as it is used elsewhere is not particularly convincing.

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efcdons 09.10.16 at 2:12 pm

Howard Frant @174

And you aren’t really growing on me, old man.

“No, I don’t seriously think you make up quotes out of thin air. Did I say you did? Take a pill.”

Well, you did say this in the most mocking, condescending tone one can muster in a written medium like a blog comment. (Do you know how * around words and ALL CAPS “sound” on the internet?)

“Well, this is curious. Not only does that not sound *at all* like the rest of the essay, but it in fact ISN’T IN the essay I read. It’s hard to imagine Peters using prose like that.What’s your source for this?”

You even went so far as to dismiss the possibility you missed the quote or we had different editions or sources by claiming “It’s hard to imagine Peters using prose like that”.

So yeah, your subtext was screaming “you made it up” or more generously “you are presenting a second hand source as Peters’ own words”.

“And that *one sentence* is the basis for your assertion that any time a Democratic politician talks about being tough on crime it comes from Peters? Come on. Does he ever even advocate being tough on crime? Does he ever even talk about crime as a problem?”

It’s forms the basis for my assertion that the Democrats were terrified of being seen as the caricature Peters created and their law and order stance grew in part out of combating that imagined Democrat. This isn’t the only thing. Do you notice the list of individuals he mentions at the top of his piece?

Mr. Clinton is among three of the five Democratic Presidential candidates who say they support the death penalty, a position that could help pre-empt Republican attacks on the crime issue. Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Paul E. Tsongas, a former Massachusetts Senator, have also embraced the death penalty.”
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/25/us/1992-campaign-death-penalty-arkansas-execution-raises-questions-governor-s.html

Peters caricature of the old Democrats and his vision of what needed to be done to destroy that caricature animated Democratic party strategy and thought for 30 odd years. It is still there today, but more as an echo than a strong voice.

But what about the other quotes? The love for the entrepreneur and the desire to place growth as the most important value requires trade offs.

Peters can talk a mean game about loving growth but caring about health and safety. But when his acolytes gain power the emphasis on both in practice means an emphasis on “growth”.

OSHA Inspections Decline Under Clinton (1999)
http://ehstoday.com/news/ehs_imp_32652

“Perhaps so. Read a lot of other stuff by Peters, have you?”
Yup. And other Third Way theorists. Though admittedly it was like 10 years ago in my modern American political theory class at Oberlin College. Ba Bow! No safe spaces in 2005.

With Friedman “Their first point is that the effects he’s estimating are way too big. That’s the point that they explain by showing his mistake.”

No, you are the one who is mixed up. You are conflating two different criticisms. The methodological criticism has to do with Friedman conflated increased growth in the level of output with single year growth in GDP output.

“We have a conjecture about how Friedman may have incorrectly found such large effects. Suppose one is considering a permanent increase in government spending of 1% of GDP, and suppose one assumes that government spending raises output one-for-one. Then one might be tempted to think that the program would raise output growth each year by a percentage point, and so raise the level of output after a decade by about 10%. In fact, however, in this scenario there is no additional stimulus after the first year. As a result, each year the spending would raise the level of output by 1% relative to what it would have been otherwise, and so the impact on the level of output after a decade would be only 1%.”

The other criticism are based on, as Mike Knozcal says, explaining why we are not “capable of getting back to the 2007 trend GDP through demand.”
http://rooseveltinstitute.org/praise-wonk-and-wonk-analysis-cea-and-sanderss-proposal/

Read Knozcal’s piece. It is very good. So is the one by JW Masom http://jwmason.org/slackwire/can-sanders-do-it/

Mason makes a comment in the comment section that echoes my initial comment above re: the Fed
“This is actually one of the main reasons why I’m defending the Friedman piece [The previous commentor noted the Romer paper implies the Fed’s actions as a reason why this is all impossible]. The Fed is not imposed on us from outer space, it is part of our democratic government, run by people appointed by the president. If the main obstacle to faster growth in output and employment is the Fed, then that needs to be part of the political conversation. I’d like to get to a point where people talked about the Fed the way they talk about the Supreme Court – as one of the main ways in which presidential appointments are used to advance a political program. I’d like to get to a point where appointing a pro-growth, inflation-dove Fed chair was as big a deal for a Democratic presidential candidate as appointing Supreme Court justices who will vote to uphold Roe. So from my point of view, if people respond to Jerry’s piece with “can’t happen because of the Fed” that’s great — then we can move onto the next step of seeing the leadership of the central bank as the critical political question it is.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.10.16 at 2:21 pm

efcdons: “I’d like to get to a point where appointing a pro-growth, inflation-dove Fed chair was as big a deal for a Democratic presidential candidate as appointing Supreme Court justices who will vote to uphold Roe. “

OMG no. I pretty much agree with all of your comment, but I’m really not looking forwards to years of “We must elect the neoliberal candidate! Don’t you know that two of the Governors on the Fed have the ends of their terms coming up?” Let’s hold our entire political system hostage to the requirement that we get the least evil person into office to appoint the unelected politicians who actually make all of the decisions.

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Will G-R 09.10.16 at 6:28 pm

@ Rich Puchalsky: “Leftism has ambitions towards being an international movement and insisting that we can’t use a word as it is used elsewhere is not particularly convincing.”

OMG this, and the rebuke is coming from someone who by his own self-description hardly ever thinks about international trade… the mere fact of which would be an automatic disqualifier for anybody’s ability to lecture others about the term “neoliberalism”, but doubly so in his case because he doesn’t even seem to realize this is the case, and admits it nonchalantly. Better to remain silent, etc. etc.

Hell, I’d go further than you — intellectual life in general has ambitions toward being an international movement, and insisting that we can’t use a word as it is used elsewhere is not particularly sophisticated. One might even call this insistence “a virus that devastates the analytic functions of the brain”. I’d like to think this virus isn’t as widespread in the US as he seems to think it is, but maybe I’m wrong…

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the wesson 09.10.16 at 6:36 pm

I would like to see some backbone behind cosmopolitanism – some real feeling expressed for this expression of the highest tendencies of human nature.

Tribalism brings much passion, being shaped by fear. But people are also motivated by philia and agape – the love for all, the love for the universal brotherhood. This should be the message of a new cosmopolitanism.

It will be the cosmopolitan attitude that heals the global problems, takes us to the stars, and conquers death.

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John Quiggin 09.10.16 at 9:50 pm

@Howard Frant: If you follow on the links on the OP you’ll see an explanation of the relationship between the different uses of “neoliberalism” which, in my immodest opinion, anticipates and answers all the points you’ve raised.

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bruce wilder 09.11.16 at 8:24 pm

efcdons @ 177

I read thru your links about Affaire Gerald Friedman. I had read JW Mason’s essay before and the James Galbraith letter to which he linked, but I am not sure I had read that particular piece by Mike Konczal. They reminded me of the extent to which the doctrines and controversies of “neoliberalism” mirror the narrow and myopic dialectic of mainstream economics.

It is really nothing particular to do with the ideology of neoliberalism that we are forced to presuppose, as Howard put it, that “economists know some things that other people don’t.” That’s just the commonplace tyranny of experts in modern life. What produces many of the ideological particulars of “neoliberalism” is the great difficulty economists have in sorting out for public consumption reliable doctrines and intuitions of genuine value distilled from their discipline.

The great blows against neoliberalism as a ruling ideology organizing the politics of policy have been blows against mainstream, neoclassical economics: the failure of most economists to anticipate, or even understand, the GFC of 2008, stands out. But, many observers have noticed that both neoliberalism and conventional macroeconomics seem, for the moment, to have survived unbroken and unbowed by that humiliation. Krugman, notably, wrote a review of Mervyn King’s The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy, which appeared in the New York Review of Books a couple of months ago, in which he defended the adequacy of conventional analysis against the apostacy of former Governor of the Bank of England King’s endorsement of Keynesian “uncertainty”.

The Sanders campaign tried to do what JQ looks for in his OP — “The great opportunity is to present a progressive alternative to the accommodations of soft neoliberalism. The core of such an alternative must be a revival of the egalitarian and activist politics of the postwar social democratic moment . . .” — and used a 75 year old self-described socialist to carry its revivalist banner.

I think you can read the back-and-forth on Gerald Friedman’s attempt to evaluate Sanders’ proposals by the conventional methods of mainstream economists as a bit of boundary policing. On the most basic level, it was nothing more than the petty revenge of the establishment for the earlier humiliation of Reinhart and Rogoff for their infamous spreadsheet error in a paper that tried to prop up austerity by making respectable and conventional the view that high public debt retards economic growth. Scorn for spreadsheet errors is a two-edged sword apparently.

Neither JW Mason nor Mike Konczal occupy an important establishment perch (theirs are very minor ones), but they did an adequate job of pushing back on the idea that Friedman failed fundamentally in his attempt to evaluate Sanders’ proposals by conventional tools of mainstream economics or was unjustified on that basis in concluding that Sanders’ program could work to achieve its intended goals. Paul Krugman, from his perch, predictably attacked Friedman fiercely — that’s worth noting and remembering.

What is hinted at in the controversy — and please correct me if it seems to you like more than a mere hint — is the bankruptcy of the methods themselves.

The conventional view is that the U.S. economy is on a trend line and shocks take the economy down from this trend — that’s a recession — and recovery takes the economy back to the trend line. The trend line represents a kind of long-term equilibrium growth path, a conceptualization supposedly justified by the Solow Growth Model. Good macro policy helps the economy get back to trend faster and more smoothly. I think that outline was clear in Mason’s and Konczal’s accounts.

What troubles me is the extent to which deep fundamental questions are unaddressed by conventional analysis. The economic growth of the Bush recovery from the recession of 2001 that ended with recession in 2007-9 was composed of false growth driven by fraudulent financial practices which not incidentally devastated manufacturing even while driving a housing boom — are we supposed to ignore that? Enormous resources are now concentrated in a parasitic financial sector and in the U.S. a bloated, incredibly expensive health care sector — are we supposed to ignore the implications? The world is confronting global limits on resources, environment and ecology — are we supposed to ignore that?

There are political realities here that aren’t peculiar to neoliberalism, per se. Good policy would drive resources out of the financial sector. If Hillary Clinton realizes that and has resolved to do something about it, no matter how much Goldman Sachs paid her for a private chat over coffee and scones, she wouldn’t warn them. Mervyn King in his retirement, opines that the Euro must go; as Krugman notes in his book review, if he had said something similar as Governor of the Bank of England, it would have sparked a diplomatic crisis if not a worldwide economic crisis. Sanders, bless his black socialist heart, could rail like a good populist should against the banksters only up to a point; he still had to lead with anodyne calls for “growth”. But, it seems to me, that for economics to be socially and politically useful, it has to be less politic than politicians, not more.

It is a commonplace now to acknowledge global warming and the imperative to constrain carbon emissions as the most important issues for the very long-term, but I am not seeing economics do much in terms of realistically integrating that prospect into its routine analysis and prescriptions. The conventional methods, like drawing Solow trend lines with a straightedge and no critical thought, almost seem designed to ignore the implications of having to change the energy basis of the economy and cope with the loss of resources and resource productivity, not to mention come to terms with the implications of population growth and already accomplished expansion of the developed world economy to include China, India and other populous regions.

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Howard Frant 09.12.16 at 2:28 am

John Quiggin

Sorry, can’t find the links, or possibly can’t find the OP. Can you give me a link to the links? In the meantime:

Rich Puchalsky

I think you’re misunderstanding my criticism. Of course there is a word “neoliberal” that is used in a particular way in the Rest of the World (ROW) outside the US, just as there is a word “liberal” that has a different meaning than in the US. It would indeed be silly to object to this. But surely you would agree that would be an egregious error to think that the word “liberal” as used in the US had the same meaning as in the ROW, to say, “Howard Dean is a liberal, so we should call the Australian Liberal Party to see if they want to sponsor a trip.” No one would make a mistake like that.

Similarly, there was term “neoliberal” invented in the US by Charles Peters. He’s quite clear what he means by it and what its origin is. It was formed from the US meaning of “liberal” and was formed by analogy with “neoconservative”, to mean a new kind of liberal. There never was any connection, historical or intellectual, with the ROW use of the term.

This term had a very small vogue in the US and disappeared years ago. The ideas it describes had some influence on the Democratic Leadership Council and thence on Bill Clinton, and to a lesser extent on Hillary Clinton.

I find it astonishing that people here take for granted that the two words are describing two aspects the same phenomenon, and so Hillary Clinton is part of this worldwide phenomenon of neoliberalism. It’s as if you were to say that Howard Dean and Margaret Thatcher represented different aspects of liberalism.

If people really want to make a case that H. Clinton represents ROW neoliberalism, they are of course free to do so, though it seems unreasonable to me to claim that she has more in common with Ted Cruz than with Bernie Sanders, or that her policy positions are neoliberal, unless the word has been so stretched as to be completely shapeless.

efcdons

“With Friedman “Their first point is that the effects he’s estimating are way too big. That’s the point that they explain by showing his mistake.”

No, you are the one who is mixed up. You are conflating two different criticisms. The methodological criticism has to do with Friedman conflated increased growth in the level of output with single year growth in GDP output.”

I don’t know how many times we should go through this, but no, *you* are the one who is mixed up. As I said, that methodological criticism in itself is sufficient to prove their point.

The Konczal piece is interesting, but he wrote as a response to the letter from the four former CEA heads, not in response to Romer and Romer, which seemingly hadn’t been written yet. I’d put that all in caps, but that would be rude. The same is true of the Mason piece.

Romer and Romer discuss in some detail (in Section II) their reasons for thinking there isn’t much slack. In particular, in IIc they discuss a case like the one Konczal talks about, where it’s possible to get economy back on the path it was on before the recession.

For some reason, you triumphantly insist that R&R are making a “political” assumption that the Fed will act. Actually, no. They say: “Second, if the Federal Reserve did not respond, the result would be inflation. And if the stimulus were large enough to try to push the economy 10%, 20%,or more above its productive capacity, the inflation would be substantial.” Which is what I was trying to explain yesterday.

Here’s what happened: Friedman got in a little over his head. He made a dumb mistake, and got called on it. But the Sanders campaign, instead of saying, “OK, you pointy-heads go figure it out,” decided that it was a sneak attack from a secret cabal of Clinton supporters, or maybe just a secret cabal of Establishment academics, and started launching personal attacks. Evidently, this attitude (or if not secret Clinton supporters, then the Establishment which can brook no challenge) persists– see bruce wilder’s remarks about Krugman above.

(Actually, Konczal’s whole discussion of Friedman strikes as basically a sugar coating for the pill of being told that Sanders had made a number of promises that he couldn’t possibly keep. Did he really say that within one year the US would no longer have the world’s highest imprisonment rate? Sheesh.)

As for Peters, I’ll let you decide what logical fallacy it is to say, “X mentions Y in an article that also says A. Y later says A. Therefore X has influenced Y.”

I mean, it’s just a magazine article. Did the Democrats slap their foreheads and say, “Gosh, now that I’ve read that one sentence by Peters, I think about the politics of criminal justice completely differently!” Come on.

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bruce wilder 09.12.16 at 3:44 am

On Romer & Romer v Gerald Friedman

I don’t think there’s any “dumb mistake” in the dispute between the Romers and Friedman — that’s just not a fair or accurate way to describe what they disagree about.

They have differing worldviews about how the economy works and what is plausible, and neither side has much verifiable expertise. For all the spreadsheet arithmetic being bandied about it, it really does come to subjective assessments with little objective backup or reference.

Many of the key variables in conventional macro thinking are at the very least highly subjective. It is doubtful that the natural rate of unemployment has an objective, factual existence that anyone could measure; ditto for the output gap.

What’s scandalous here is how little useful the economists bring.

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John Quiggin 09.12.16 at 3:46 am

@183 OP = Original Post. That is, the post on which you are commenting. The link is in the second line.

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TM 09.12.16 at 8:36 am

“I would like to see some backbone behind cosmopolitanism – some real feeling expressed for this expression of the highest tendencies of human nature.”

I think cosmopolitamism is far more popular and entrenched than most people think, at least in Europe, where mobility across borders (and languages) is a fact of life for significant parts of the population, not just for a tiny elite (as detractors often claim). Diversity in Europe really has increased in the last 20-30 years and most people have no problem with that. Multinational familes are a regular occurrence. Where I live, every fourth citizen, when they marry, marries a person of a different nationality.

Nativist/tribalist movements channelling those who do have a problem with that diversity are politically effective but in most places, they remain clearly in the minority (and they are weakest where diversity is highest). The AFD getting 20% in some German backwater is a political sensation but are they “the voice of the people”? Hardly. Their success reflects the weakness of the conventional parties and their inability to articulate a clear political vision after neoliberalism. Not that the nativists have a vision to offer, though. They don’t have a consistent position to neoliberalism, some are hyper-neoliberals and others are national-capitalist protectionists.

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bruce wilder 09.12.16 at 4:27 pm

cosmopolitanism – . . . this expression of the highest tendencies of human nature

They may not have backbone, but the cosmopolitans surely don’t lack for self-regard or a ready-made dismissal of the unnecessariat.

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Howard Frant 09.12.16 at 6:55 pm

John Quiggin

Thanks. I understood “OP”, but didn’t realize that that was the link you were talking about. So I wondered if there were some OOP that you were referring to.

The essential problem I have with this approach is this: First, it is, indeed, just coincidence that the “hard” and “soft” forms have the same name. I question whether if Peters’s approach had had a different name, it would have occurred to anyone to lump it with what the ROW (Rest of World) calls neoliberalism.

And Peters’s term never really became very popular in the US. So when people talk about neoliberalism, they end up talking about ROW neoliberalism, and then trying to stretch it to cover American Democrats.

ROW neoliberalism is basically a story about global capitalism. Peters had virtually nothing to say about this, apart from some praise for entrepreneurs and economic growth. That being the case, one must fall back on the positions of politicians to define US neoliberalism. Which in practice means the positions of everyone except Bernie Sanders.

But then we must ask, what is “neo-” about this? Why isn’t this just (US-style) “liberalism”? Moderate support for international trade has been a liberal position going back at least to Adlai Stevenson.

In particular, there’s a focus on Mrs. Clinton as the arch-neoliberal. But she is well to the left of the average Democratic senator. At the Nevada Democratic caucuses Barbara Boxer was shouted down and called a “neolib bitch” for supporting Clinton, even though Boxer is among the leftmost 10% of the US Senate. And then there’s Paul Krugman, who has been one of the loudest voices against the right for the last 20 years, but is now a neoliberal because he not only supported Clinton, but didn’t go along with some utterly ridiculous claims of Bernie supporters.

If you want to lump together the non-socialist 90% of the US political spectrum as an analytic convenience, you’re free to do so. But there’s really nothing neo- about it.

bruce wilder

I don’t think so. Here’s Friedman’s abbreviated CV:

https://www.umass.edu/economics/friedman

He’s not a guy who has any experience with stuff like this, and he probably hasn’t done any macro since his qualifying exams in grad school. Some macroeconomists came to his defense when the letter from the four former heads of the CEA first came out, explaining how claims like his might be right. In particular, James Galbraith claimed that he was using standard methodology. Then Romer and Romer’s more through analysis came out, explaining why his claims were implausible, and suggesting that he had made a fairly elementary mistake. (I don’t say I wouldn’t have made it, but I don’t have a Ph.D. in economics and wouldn’t have attempted it in the first place.) At that point, he started claiming that he was just taking a whole different approach, that the CEA people were taking a “classical” or “neoclassical” approach, while he was taking a “Keynesian” approach. I haven’t heard any serious economists defend his estimates since. (I just did a quick Google search on “Quiggin Friedman” and turned up only Milton and Thomas.)

What’s depressing about this episode is that the Sanders crowd was unable to accept it as a difference of opinion capable of resolution, and immediately, egged on by some Sanders surrogates, started attacking the ex-CEA people as the “Gang of Four” who were conspiring to help Clinton.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.12.16 at 7:31 pm

HF: “ROW neoliberalism is basically a story about global capitalism. “

New Deal liberals were not neoliberals. U.S. left-liberals of the 60s and early 70s were not neoliberals. If it’s a story about global capitalism, then global capitalism then was not the same system as global capitalism now. No one really cares about Charlie Peters, and yes, the contemporary U.S. center-left is very much part of what you’re calling ROW neoliberalism, which probably couldn’t exist without it.

New Deal liberals, left-liberals, and neoliberals are all liberals, and naturally there are going to be some critiques of liberalism that cover all of them. But neoliberalism is not simply American liberalism going back to Adlai Stevenson.

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Will G-R 09.12.16 at 8:10 pm

Howard, the essential problem with your approach is that US exists in the context of the “ROW”, and especially in today’s global capitalist world system, one simply can’t understand the US in any meaningful way if one mechanistically cleaves it off from one’s understanding of the “ROW”. Yes, we assume the phenomenon we call neoliberalism doesn’t stop existing as soon as it meets a US Customs and Border Patrol agent, just like we assume the same of a map in kilometers or a thermometer in Celsius. We assume on some level that using the same political/economic terms globally to analyze global political/economic phenomena will aid us in our understanding, just like using the same systems of measurement globally will aid a Mars satellite in not crashing. In some cases, the idiosyncratic way a particular group of people treats a common term will be a greater hindrance than help to their own ability to understand or function within a broader context, and abandoning their idiosyncratic usage will ultimately at some point be necessary. In some cases the group of people who have to abandon their idiosyncratic usage may even include Americans! If we’re trying to engage in a project of universal intellectual life, we have to assume this is just the way things work.

Of course this is being charitable and assuming that there actually are two distinct understandings of “neoliberalism”, a neoliberalism-USA briefly adopted by Peters more or less as a synonym for “members of the present-day Democratic Party” before being forgotten, and a neoliberalism-ROW used frequently in various branches of social science around the world to comprehend a global political/economic phenomenon. But that’s not what you initially argued: you initially argued that “the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a virus that devastates the analytic functions of the brain”, and your reasoning for this seems to be that any ideological project comprising all or almost all of mainstream electoral politics in the US can’t possibly be meaningful or specific enough to warrant its own name or be analyzed as its own trend. If something like an anti-neoliberal mass politics doesn’t exist in the USA, or at least doesn’t exist in our mainstream electoral politics, then not only is it not worth Americans ever talking or even so much as thinking about, it’s actually a “virus” worth actively avoiding ever talking or thinking about, never mind one’s own ability to understand the broader world and never mind what one might call “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. For Christ’s sake, man, you’re guzzling 150-proof essence of provincialism straight from the bottle.

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Peter T 09.13.16 at 12:18 am

Getting back to the OP, despite the attractions of Howard’s trolling, I think JQ’s division leaves out a few significant portions of the populace. Aside from those he mentions, there is the large and growing part that has given up hope that politics can address their problems, and so are not voting at all. Second, the rise of the playboy/actor/hobbyist billionaire politician (Reagan, Berlusconi, Trump, Eric Estrada, Duterte, Shinawatra, Poroshenko..) points to where significant part of populations have given up on politics as serious and treat it as theatre or, alternatively, reject all mainstream strands in favour of increasingly desperate experiments. These attitudes are widespread enough that it’s not clear any established position has a firm basis of support.

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bruce wilder 09.13.16 at 4:04 am

RP: yes, the contemporary U.S. center-left is very much part of what you’re calling ROW neoliberalism

Yes, and this is what Howard Frant has been resisting mightily: that the center-left in the U.S. took a turn in the early 1980s that has led it to become more conservative on economics (i.e. more pro-capitalist, less supportive of labor, less interested in government as a source of countervailing power against business).

The contretemps, Gerald Friedman v Romer & Romer, well illustrates the problem with 21st century American neoliberalism, which is now whole-world neoliberalism. American neoliberalism is no longer distinct from global neoliberalism.

Christina Romer’s outlook on macroeconomic issues would not be easy to distinguish from that of, say, Olivier Blanchard, the MIT economist and French citizen who has until recently been prominent as IMF chief economist (where, yes, it was his literal duty to tell Greece, “there is no alternative”). Although a New Keynesian (as most American mainstream macroeconomists are), Romer’s work generally takes slants friendly toward the prejudices of more right-wing economists (I suppose politically “hard” neoliberals in JQ’s typology). This is pretty typical of a pattern among economists in which a narrow range of neoliberal opinion reinforces reputation, while those outside that range are scorned and libeled as Romer libeled Friedman by falsely characterizing a difference of opinion as Friedman’s unprofessional error.

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bruce wilder 09.13.16 at 4:16 am

If neoliberalism is the ideology the executive class shares with the managerial classes, it is difficult to see how to separate the intellectual dominance of neoliberalism from the dominance of an increasingly globalized and monolithic because financialized ruling class.

Neoliberalism may be exposed now as the ideology of an oppressive and irresponsible set of financialized ruling classes — an ideology of grift and looting with few redeeming features and no popular agenda — but it only needs to encourage competing tribalisms alongside general discouragement, to maintain its hold on political power and the policy agenda.

From the precedent of historical experience and the increasing legitimacy and economic performance deficiencies, I would expect dramatic policy failure to finally weaken neoliberalism’s grip. It is a pathetic form of optimism to look forward to catastrophe as redemptive.

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John Quiggin 09.13.16 at 6:04 am

@Peter T: Some good points there. Of course, as an Australian I tend to overlook non-voters. In my thinking, I’ve tended to lump the supporters of celebrity candidates in with tribalists. That’s mostly been the case, but obviously isn’t a logical necessity.

As a minor aside, I’d exclude Reagan from that list. To be sure, name recognition derived from his minor celebrity as an actor gave him a headstart in his political career, but that was equally true of Eisenhower, not to mention a string of dynastic candidates including Hillary Clinton. By the time he was elected President, Reagan’s long political career was far more relevant to most people than some B-movies from the 1950s.

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John Quiggin 09.13.16 at 6:07 am

@Howard. The whole point of the linked post was that, until the current crisis, mainstream politics in both the US and ROW consistent of electoral competition between variants of neoliberalism. But, as other commenters have pointed out, it wasn’t always so, and it doesn’t seem likely to be so in the future.

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TM 09.13.16 at 8:22 am

187: “cosmopolitanism – . . . this expression of the highest tendencies of human nature” – For the record, I wouldn’t use that kind of rhetoric. But I do hold that cosmopolitanism is a good not a bad thing and it’s not coincidental that the rejection of cosmopolitanism is historically associated with the lowest tendencies of human nature, i. e. fascism.

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TM 09.13.16 at 8:42 am

191: “the large and growing part that has given up hope that politics can address their problems, and so are not voting at all”

Careful, in the US at least, turnout has increased. It was lowest between 1972 and 2000. In some countries, there is indeed a downward trend.

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Howard Frant 09.13.16 at 9:59 am

bruce wilder

For crying out loud, Friedman made a mistake and he got caught. He is an economic historian who had no experience in macroeconomics, be it ever so far outside the mainstream. Before he was caught, his defenders claimed that he was using standard assumptions. After he was caught, he said, almost literally, Oops (I saw the interview), but then made up this whole story about how he was just using non-standard assumptions. This was sufficient to convince a lot of people who wanted to believe (a) that Bernie could deliver an economic growth rate that had never been seen in history (b) that those mean old economists were a bunch of neoliberal “experts” who were just interested in protecting their own privileges, like climate scientists, no wait. But no, he didn’t suddenly emerge from writing about labor militancy at the turn of the 20th century with a new theory of macroeconomics. The only people who got libeled were the Gang of Four and Paul Krugman, who were subjected to a ridiculous amount of abuse from people who didn’t know what they were talking about.

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reason 09.13.16 at 10:14 am

Bob Zanelli,
don’t waste your time trying to debate with Marxists. It is like trying to debate with believers in “Austrian” economics. They are complacent and smug, they have their own special vocabulary that looks like normal English but when you really push, means that they are always right by definition (their own peculiar definitions) and have no interest in testing their views empirically against reality.

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reason 09.13.16 at 10:17 am

And Bob, you will notice how often they use quotes from holy scriptures of one kind or another (just like “Austrian” economic believers), perhaps because empirical verification is missing only appeal to authority counts.

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bruce wilder 09.13.16 at 7:36 pm

Howard Frant @ 198

I hate to break it to you, but Christina Romer is an economic historian, too, just one with a much bigger mainstream reputation, a reputation she built, quite frankly, by shamelessly catering to the prejudices of economists to her political right. Her professional work as a journeyman historian is exemplary and I would not say otherwise, but she has also been very attentive in her choice of narrative framing of her results to right-wing prejudice within academic economics.

As a macroeconomist per se, she’s uses the cookbook but she wrote no part of it. Using the cookbook in an entirely conventional way is perfectly appropriate to the controversy at hand right up to the point where one claims that the conventions of the cookbook are not themselves disputable or controversial.

The truth is that the cookbook for modeling the macroeconomy with linear simultaneous equations has a highly dubious epistemic status even in the mainstream. The actual economy is not linear, so it is pretty much impossible to keep all your trend projections within realistic bounds over a decade and all such projections involve a lot of groundless, highly subjective counterfactual speculation. Greg Mankiw took quite a few well-grounded potshots at Romer’s “estimates” of the effects of the Obama stimulus not so long ago, if you want to look them up. But, somehow her hack work then is some kind of gold standard now. Go figure.

Krugman made a big deal of the idea that what goes up must come down — if a “temporary” increase in government spending increases aggregate output now and in the near future, then the subsequent decrease in government spending will decrease aggregate output later when “temporary” ends. For Krugman, that was the essence of alleged Friedman’s “mistake”. There are some genuinely deep issues here concerning how the economy works as a system and how money and the financial system can be managed, to manage the economy and, frankly, mainstream economics over the last fifty years has made a hopeless hash of them. As Krugman himself has testified, mainstream economics knows less now that it did fifty years ago. A key question is whether the economy is self-equilibrating. (I know, Howard, that you think no economist including Hayek believes in the self-regulating economy, but they sure do manage to give that impression.) The evidence for self-equilibrating is pretty weak, even if your ideological priors favor such an interpretation. Friedman took a position strongly in favor of the idea that the economy could be moved to a higher employment and output equilibrium by a policy of stimulus and reform on sufficient scale. If you believe as I think Romer does that the economy is naturally near its natural equilibrium, than Friedman’s priors are dangerous heresy, but Romer is no more entitled to her faith than Friedman. No less august a personage than Larry Summers has been developing an argument that moves along such lines, arguing that it matters what you spend the money on, whether higher output can be sustain past the original stimulus. (About 8 years late to the party, Larry. ahole)

Romer’s assertions are heavily colored by ideological presumptions that have none of the technical legitimacy she’s claiming for them in her rhetoric. If she was more transparently honest in her rhetoric, she would be labeling herself as . . . (wait for it) . . . a neoliberal and admitting that Friedman was taking a legitimate view to her left. But, there can be no alternative to neoliberalism.

I have a lot of sympathy for Friedman. He’s led a quiet life on the third tier, a member of a department that has managed against the odds to prosper thru several generations maintaining itself as a dissenter from the mainstream consensus and attracting the grudging respect of the mainstream on occasion. When he received the first blast of establishment criticism, his first impulse was probably to assume that he had indeed made some arithmetic error. He appears to be the sort of humble and earnest fellow, who does not imagine himself infallible, in contrast to the highly aggressive and arrogant egos atop the profession.

The truth about most of the most high-profile establishment figures in economics is that they are, themselves, careless hacks. The profession has a highly mathematical and esoteric apparatus, but that apparatus has proven itself to be of no scientific utility or validity. So they fall back on spreadsheets cataloguing rules-of-thumb and facially plausible prejudices. This is technocracy using matchsticks and wet tissue paper — no body should be preening righteously on the basis of the kind of highly ideological hackwork Christina Romer can spin.

The only mistakes here are yours Howard in imagining that neoliberalism doesn’t exist and Christina Romer isn’t representing it.

Just to be clear, the method Friedman used isn’t strong enough in anyone’s hands, imho, to make claims of “proving” anything logical or factual about what is possible or what the consequences of an actual policy might be. I credit Friedman with trying to move the discussion in the direction of clarifying what the differences of opinion are between the neoliberal establishment and the alternative. Of course, the neoliberal opinion is that there is no alternative, just mistake by the marginal. (Oh, yes, and take that for daring to question Reinhart and Rogoff, you barbarians!)

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Howard Frant 09.14.16 at 12:44 am

bruce wilder

So you really see no distinction between being a macroeconomic historian and being a historian of the labor movement when it comes to making macroeconomic forecasts?

BTW, I understand that Romer’s original estimate of the needed stimulus after the crash was 1.8 trillion. What we got was 0.8 trillion.

So now the output of the entire CEA is hackwork, and something a labor historian did by himself is serious? That seems a bit harsh.

I don’t know that Krugman explained the mistake all that well. But here he is in his blog, just quoting directly from Romer and Romer:

“We have a conjecture about how Friedman may have incorrectly found such large effects. Suppose one is considering a permanent increase in government spending of 1% of GDP, and suppose one assumes that government spending raises output one-for-one. Then one might be tempted to think that the program would raise output growth each year by a percentage point, and so raise the level of output after a decade by about 10%. In fact, however, in this scenario there is no additional stimulus after the first year. As a result, each year the spending would raise the level of output by 1% relative to what it would have been otherwise, and so the impact on the level of output after a decade would be only 1%.”

Krugman comments: “Oh, dear.” I think his later comments about going up and going down were needlessly confusing.

My question about “soft” neoliberalism is not whether it “exists”, but whether it’s a useful construct. Frankly, it mainly strikes me as more useful for insult-flinging at people who don’t support Bernie Sanders than it is for analysis and clear thinking. Take the Queen of the Night, Arch Neoliberal Hillary Clinton. If soft neoliberalism stands for anything, it’s surely a turning away from unions– Peters has flamboyantly little patience with them. Yet Clinton has a mind-numbing list of union endorsements: the UAW, the plumbers and pipefitters, AFSCME, SIEU, and on and on. Peters wants big educational reforms that would give less power to unions, yet Clinton is supported by both the AFT and the NEA. Evidently a soft neoliberal favors increasing the minimum wage by only 65%. (No reason to think that there might be any problem with more than doubling it, so why not? Just anti-worker not to.)

Or take Paul Krugman. One of a very small number of pundits who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Consistent voice against deficit-reduction hysteria; used simple mathematical models to argue that deficits now wouldn’t raise interest rates. Said from the beginning that the Obama stimulus was too small. Argued long and loud against what the EU was doing to Greece, and in general against austerity in Europe. But he supports Hillary and Christina Romer, so screw him, the arrogant neoliberal technocrat.

In general, it seems to me that with soft neoliberalism, you start with the person and then jiggle the definition to make it fit. Tough regulation of the financial services industry that cuts into the profits of banks and leads to a rain of lobbyists on Capitol Hill? No, that’s Hillary, so it’s neoliberal.

I also think an excessive focus on neoliberalism as the skeleton key to politics ends up with an impoverished view of motivations. For example, Clinton’s early work on the TPP as Secretary of State probably had a lot to do with an interest in providing a counterweight to China in East Asia, and relatively little to do with serving as handmaiden to global capitalism (just as her support for fracking as Secretary of State probably had a lot to do with Russia’s exploiting its position as a monopoly supplier of natural gas to Europe, and very little to do with anticipated future contributions from the fossil fuel industry).

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bruce wilder 09.14.16 at 2:44 am

With neoliberals as political friends (candidates and pundits), the left doesn’t need enemies.

The point of calling out neoliberalism for what it is — a program of economic protection for an increasingly predatory elite — is to alert people to whose side Paul Krugman or Hillary Clinton are actually on and what the consequences of neoliberal policies with conventionally anodyne labels might actually entail.

I am skeptical of being able to read motivations in politicians. Enemy of my enemy has combined with the lesser-evil ratchet to carry American politics to domination by an oligarchy of business interests. Whether Clinton favors such an evolution, she has adapted to survive and prosper in this environment, rather than oppose its continuation. I am less concerned about why Clinton favored the TPP and now tepidly opposes it than I am in identifying what it is, what its consequences are likely to be and whether politicians like Obama or Clinton are likely to be able to cooperate in enacting it, notwithstanding what anyone says about its merits. I strongly suspect Clinton will act in cooperation with Obama to get it enacted, if that becomes possible after the election. We will see.

I do not think many politicians are neoliberals by philosophic conviction. It is a question of opportunities. Neoliberal has become pejorative because of policy consequences, but people have short memories. The label is a much needed stopper in the drain down the memory hole.

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Howard Frant 09.14.16 at 5:17 am

I agree, we shouldn’t care too much about politicians’ motivations.

So whose side is Paul Krugman on? And what’s your evidence? It would be nice to have some before you brand him with the Mark of Shame. Or am I right in thinking that a neoliberal is any Democrat who wasn’t a supporter of Bernie?

He’s mildly against TPP by the way. And I think that probably the effect of TPP will be very small. But what do I know?

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bruce wilder 09.14.16 at 6:40 am

I don’t think supporting or not-supporting Bernie was an identifier. Anyone could look at a shambolic 75-year-old “socialist” as a protest vote of sorts — whether such a protest makes any sense is a matter of taste. People who thought it was vitally important to oppose Bernie’s campaign and in some cases substantially shaded or revised their opinions on things like single-payer health insurance — yeah, that I think might be a neoliberal’s tell.

As for Paul Krugman, I think people who have followed him closely have always known that though he was a self-described political and social liberal, he was a conservative economist. He’s never been available for things like opposing Obama’s re-appointment of Ben Bernanke and he’s always full of praise for folks like Olivier Blanchard or Larry Summers.

With regard to TPP, the effects on trade are likely to be vanishingly small quantitatively, so it is hard to see why anyone would be enthusiastic about it, qua free trade agreement. What excites the critics most are the investor-state dispute provisions. That, the IP provisions and the affront given to China are what makes TPP desirable.

An American liberal in the New Deal tradition like myself in principle wants the government to be available as source of countervailing power and is going to be highly suspicious of expansive Investor-State dispute arbitration. For a neoliberal disabling the state in favor of “markets” and investor capital is a keystone desideratum. I would expect a neoliberal to deny that the investor-state dispute provisions are anything new or threatening or even significant. Business as usual, much ado about nothing.

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TM 09.14.16 at 7:41 am

“is to alert people to whose side Paul Krugman or Hillary Clinton are actually on”

I’m curious too, whose side is Krugman “actually” on and how does it show in his writings? I remember Krugman’s almost alone in the mainstream media not only opposing the Iraq war but also writing tirelessly about the failings of the US health care system, about rising inequality, about the real estate bubble, the Bush tax cuts, lack of infrastructure spending, austerity, and so on. And yes, he’s not a supporter of TPP. If you insist on lumping him in with the dark side, the usefulness of your analytical categories seems indeed questionable.

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reason 09.14.16 at 9:07 am

TM
Yes, I agree Bruce doesn’t always manage to keep things in perspective.

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reason 09.14.16 at 9:13 am

Bruce,
you sometimes should remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

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Will G-R 09.14.16 at 1:41 pm

@ TM: “If you insist on lumping him in with the dark side, the usefulness of your analytical categories seems indeed questionable.”

Don’t be daft, the side he’s on is capital’s side. Ultimately he writes about these issues for the same reason Keynes did, the fear that if left unaddressed they might cause enough mass unrest to bring down liberal capitalism altogether, which doesn’t make him anti-capital or even anti-neoliberal any more than Keynes was anti-capital or anti-liberal. Capital in the neoliberal era has become more and more hostile to offering spoonfuls of welfare-state sugar to help the market medicine go down, and Krugman is trying to tell it that it’s being too hasty and forgetting the political lessons of the Great Depression. Hell, ’30s-era liberalism’s obvious need for Keynes’ palliatives, and the obvious willful ignorance of any classical liberal who would deny this need, is basically why “liberal” became a synonym for “Keynesian” in mainstream US political vocabulary in the first place.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.14.16 at 2:03 pm

I’ll add to Will G-R’s comment above — which seems to me to be basically correct — that I think the New Deal liberalism bit is fairly sympathetic. Liberalism with the consciousness that it’s in a continual struggle against the slide down into elite takeover and predation can be justified as the best alternative if your risk tolerance is low, because left solutions have historically run a very high risk of either destabilizing society and leaving it open to right-wing takeover or of ending up with a left statism that is worse than liberal society. But it’s only justifiable if the liberals in question actually are conscious of what they are doing and the problems involved. If people think that the function of a liberal is to defend liberal elites as the slide continues instead of struggling to replace them and change the system, they are actively part of the problem.

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TM 09.14.16 at 2:27 pm

“Don’t be daft, the side he’s on is capital’s side.”

You know what, Krugman has on almost all issues been on the side of reality and that’s more than can be said of 90% of the American political and media elite. If it were true that “the side of capital” agrees with Krugman, we would live in a much better world.

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TM 09.14.16 at 2:35 pm

But thanks for pointing out that Krugman isn’t anti-capital. The cadres of anti-capitalist revolution should take note (I’m sure they have already, all six of them).

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reason 09.14.16 at 2:51 pm

TM See @199

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Will G-R 09.14.16 at 3:22 pm

Rich, of course the problem is that if the sympathetic liberals you describe are fully conscious of what they’re doing, they risk no longer being liberals at all. Listen to one of Yanis Varoufakis’ more candid lectures for a good example, he says outright that I consider myself a Marxist but I’ll work to preserve Keynesian liberal solutions for now because the means of production aren’t yet ready for socialism and the anticapitalist left isn’t ready to take over. The way Varoufakis gets characterized as some unthinkably crazy radical not even so much for his opportunistically Marxist stated motivations as for daring to propose a fully-fledged Keynesian agenda at all — even his wildest, most starry-eyed proposals for Greek public spending and public debt would have been utterly mild by Western standards of the ’50s and ’60s — is just further evidence that neoliberalism has lost its collective mind.

Reason, go look for your procapitalist safe space somewhere else.

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reason 09.14.16 at 3:27 pm

Will G-R
I’m not pro-capitalist just pro-human. Whatever works.

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reason 09.14.16 at 3:28 pm

Will G-R
You probably won’t understand, but I don’t divide the world into the narrow and distinct classes that you do.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.14.16 at 3:59 pm

Will G-R: “Rich, of course the problem is that if the sympathetic liberals you describe are fully conscious of what they’re doing, they risk no longer being liberals at all.”

I don’t think that this is precisely true. I was a left-liberal for a long time on pragmatic grounds: have to work with people where they are, have to get things done. If was only when I decided that no amount of work with people where they are was really going to get anything done that I became an anarchist. But that’s not really such a great change: it just means that since working as a left-liberal isn’t going to accomplish anything, I can hardly do worse in the area of not accomplishing anything, so I might as well be a an anarchist and work towards something that’s at least closer to what I actually believe. “Futility is freedom.”

I’m not actually totally ineffectual, but I still accomplish just as much as an anarchist as I did before, so there’s no reason to take on the burden of defending the system.

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Howard Frant 09.14.16 at 5:42 pm

John Quiggin

I’ve been struggling (all this time) to figure out what people on the American left mean when they call people like Barbara Boxer “neoliberals”. From the above discussion, it appears that they mean non-Marxist, which I guess would fit into your three-party system if we drop the “old-style US liberals” and are agnostic on greens and feminists.

Unfortunately, “non-Marxist” is not a very useful classification in US politics. So are there still some old-style US liberals left? Can you give some examples?

Here’s the nub of the issue: Suppose Clinton repents of her apostasy, and says, “I want to go back to old-style liberalism.” What would she have to do? What policy positions would she have to change?

Note that old-style US liberalism is not automatically opposed to all trade agreements. Note also that running against Sanders, she got a large majority of union endorsements.

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Howard Frant 09.14.16 at 6:14 pm

Will G-R

Just a tiny bit of snark: You can’t blame me for mistaking you for a furriner, when you’re saying things like “Don’t be daft.”

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bruce wilder 09.14.16 at 7:09 pm

In an earlier thread, when asked for examples particularly of left neoliberalism, I named Brad DeLong, who then stepped into the discussion to confirm the label. Krugman probably wouldn’t embrace the label, but there are rarely glimmers of daylight between Krugman and DeLong on economic issues.

Howard Frant has made the point repeatedly that we are in danger with the label, neoliberal, of applying it to whomever we don’t like with no discrimination, and here is proof in reverse: Krugman cannot be a neoliberal, because “neoliberal” is a pejorative and we like Krugman, Krugman has been a good guy.

My scorn for neoliberalism notwithstanding, I do not want to use the label as an empty pejorative, stripping away any analytic content. I want the label to help people see how ideas matter in politics and that requires seeing the dynamics and recalling some history. The label is essential to seeing how neoliberalism as framework of ideas and conventions for discussing and developing those ideas has driven policy toward policy’s logical consequences, over time.

For me, a key part of the dynamics of neoliberalism is the dialectic that developed between what JQ has called hard and soft neoliberalism, a dialectic that has threatened to leave democratic politics without even the possibility of thinking of alternatives. “There is no alternative” is no joke and in the struggles of partisan politics, neoliberalism helped to form the lesser evil ratchet that gave the Democrats, the neoliberal Obama followed presumably by Hillary Clinton. If people think Hillary Clinton is just another liberal with particularly high speaking fees, they are missing something essential.

As an aside, let me say that Howard has a point when he notes that Bill Clinton was threading the needle with his Third Way to find a path to electability back in the day, just as Blair and Brown were political entrepreneurs finding a way to take Labour past Thatcherism. Political anacyclosis is driven by serial autocorrelation in the evolution of society and the political economy. Never underestimate the driving force of opportunism; “successful” ideas are as likely to be apologies and rationalizations as inspirations.

That said, the political circus proceeds to feature the ideas available and neoliberalism as manifested in American politics arose from a peculiar turn in academic economics that took place in the 1970s. Krugman has written with great passion about his dissatisfaction with the divide between fresh water and salt water and he himself is one of a surprisingly narrow faction of elite economists who came out of MIT, where Samuelson and Solow formed a hard point of resistance to the New Classical and Real Business Cycle movements that inherited the wind of Friedman’s Chicago School reinforced with the anti-state rhetoric of the Virginia School of Public Choice political economy.

I am talking about policy economics, not all of academic economics which is a vast field, though policy economics is its politically most prominent part. (I am not going to take on the sociology of American economics, but I will note that a tightly networked minority of rigidly ideological right-wing bully boys has an outsized influence on the reputation hierarchy and the policing of boundaries; I alluded to the way Christina Romer has catered to these aholes and how it has shaped the narrative interpretation of her work upthread; the treatment of David Card and his research on minimum wage is notorious but not exceptional.) The leading practitioners of policy economics, which is primarily a business of public preaching, take theoretical macroeconomics on as their theology and there was a revolution in theoretical macroeconomics in the 1970s. In that revolution, pretty much the whole left arm and leg of American policy economics was amputated, buried and forgotten — and those who couldn’t be completely silenced were marginalized.

I don’t think one can exaggerate how severe this narrowing was. The leading American left public intellectual of the 1950s and 1960s — John Kenneth Galbraith — was the last prophet of the institutionalism that provided the technocratic rationales for the Progressive Era’s and the New Deal’s creation of new agencies of government. Institutionalism disappeared completely on the left, with only fairly extreme conservative public choice folks and ciphers like Oliver Williamson laboring on in that field. Most of the 20 or so leading economics departments in the 1960s would have had a Marxist or a “Marxicologist” on the faculty; that ended quickly by the end of the 1970s. The Kennedy-Johnson Council of Economic Advisors was a stellar cast of Keynesians, each a prominent academic at a leading university — typically, a leading public university; they would have no legacy. The intellectual euthanasia of American Keynesianism in the neoclassical synthesis was accomplished in small poisonous doses, many of them administered by Samuelson and Solow before Milton Friedman came with the coup de grâce: his “prediction” and interpretation of stagflation. Solow’s embrace of a stunningly naïve interpretation of the Phillips Curve was an essential part of the setup for Friedman’s performance.

For the esoterically minded, the Cambridge Capital Controversy stands as another marker in the peculiar truncation of everything to the left of Samuelson and Solow. And, of course, there’s a whole complex story about how academic positions and research is financed and the proliferation of right-wing think tanks and foundation money played its role. (I am writing a blog comment, not a treatise.)

Krugman and Stiglitz (and, of course, a whole bunch of others) became the left pole of American academic policy economics for their generation. In their own narratives, of course, they claimed the left pole in rebellion against the consensus stupidity and ill-will of more right-wing or complacent economists: Stiglitz most notably in his acerbic criticism of the hypocrisy of the Washington Consensus as practiced and Krugman in his protests against the misinterpretation of Japan’s bright depression and the enthusiasm of the Bush Administration for irresponsible financial deregulation.

A different narrative, though, says they became the left pole, because the rest of the axis to their left was sawn off and discarded. In light of that narrative, you can notice the extent to which they maintain their status as the left pole, by facing right and choosing to engage primarily with conservative libertarian interlocutors, while turning their backs to and contributing to the marginalization of figures to their own left. Brad DeLong or Mark Thoma loves to revive fond memories of Milton Friedman, they would love to engage with Greg Mankiw and are like sugar addicts around the trolling of Tyler Cowen. But, Minsky? Well, Minsky never had a model, you see.

If you ask Stiglitz about the Euro, he will tell you it was a bad idea and ought to be reformed — which makes him sound like a good go-to guy for the imprimatur of economic authority, if your politics makes you horrified by what has been done to Spain or Greece. But, if you press him for an explanation, he will invoke “optimal currency areas” and Bob Mundell. Mundell is to the right of Attila the Hun — that’s who Stiglitz is legitimating. Mundell inspired and even advocated many of the key neoliberal ideals that made the Euro a strait-jacket on government; the iconic Mundell–Fleming model, an extension of the IS / LM idea Krugman loves so much, is an insight into a policy trilemma that promised that fixed exchange rates and free capital movements would require disabling fiscal and monetary policy — a desirable result if your ultimate goal is to destroy the social-welfare state and a key architectural principle for the Euro. Stiglitz is unlikely to point you to Wynne Godley, whose monetary theories are admirably clear and intuitively accessible and whose analysis of the Euro’s defects focused on the hazards of incapacitating government.

I don’t think Krugman is a bad guy. This is not about Krugman’s personal character. My own personal political center of gravity cum desiderata is pretty close to Krugman’s I think. Certainly, I have no sympathy for Marxism and not much for full-blown socialism of monolithic state-owned industry et cetera.

What I am trying to get across is that if all you read in placing him on the political spectrum is his personal moral or ethical commitments, his self-presentation as a reasonable fellow, you miss some things that are critical to where he will predictably be as a policy (and personnel) critic and advocate, things that will make him an unreliable narrator and advocate for the left.

One is that he’s uncomfortable with the idea that there is anyone respectable to his left. This is a big problem generally with the left neoliberals and has contributed to a self-defeating dynamic for the left generally that has brought us to this present pass where it is necessary to reject neoliberalism wholesale. All the inevitable compromises for Krugman are to his right. He rarely exhibits the savagery of a DeLong in response to a challenge from his left, but he’s pretty effective in maintaining the boundary with arrogant ignorance and condescension. Keeping the mainstream dialectic exclusively with the left neoliberal’s right is how left or soft neoliberalism keeps neoliberalism dominant and even exclusive.

And, if you are looking to Krugman for a trustworthy narrative of the more esoteric policy debates and personnel choices, you are going to get it sometimes, but not always reliably. He’ll call Barro bone-headed, sure, but he would never identify Bernanke’s political worldview accurately or Bernanke’s policy outlook — he probably doesn’t understand how right-wing Bernanke is, given how soft-spoken Bernanke is and the fatherly role Bernanke played in furthering Krugman’s career, so I am not saying he’s deliberately deceiving anyone. But, he will be deceiving people, who expect more than he can give.

If Krugman casts his eye on Greece’s predicament, he’s going to give us his conservative economist’s view, which is that Greece must adjust its price-level to an equilibrium level that balances trade and capital flows. This leads to a conventional interpretation of Troika policy that largely misses the microeconomic institutional “reform” agenda of breaking the institutions of the social-welfare-state not to mention the looting. Instead, he praises his friend and former MIT colleague, Olivier Blanchard for Blanchard’s wholly ineffectual concessions that austerity has not worked out as well as, with the best of intentions, all may have hoped.

I don’t think this criticism is a case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. I am saying the political conversation is systematically distorted by the way left or soft neoliberals face right and deprecate or marginalize those to their left. I am not saying that I think political perfection lies to Krugman’s left. What I personally would judge as a pretty good middle ground probably lies in Krugman’s vicinity; what I am saying is that Krugman cannot get us to Krugman’s vicinity as long as he plays this neoliberal game where he legitimates only those people and views that are to his right. His self-flanking of the left is why neoliberalism has to go, has to be de-legitimated as a whole if we are going to escape this dynamic.

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SamChevre 09.14.16 at 7:40 pm

Howard @ 218

In my opinion (which may not line up with anyone else’s), a good example of old-style liberal vs neo-liberal would be the Mayors Daley; the father (pro-police, major builder of public infrastructure) was a liberal, the son (pro-gay, anti-gun, a leader in privatizing toll roads and parking meters) a neo-liberal. The most old-style liberal current Democrat in my thinking would be Dick Gephardt.

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Will G-R 09.14.16 at 8:41 pm

Howard: I’ve been struggling (all this time) to figure out what people on the American left mean when they call people like Barbara Boxer “neoliberals”. From the above discussion, it appears that they mean non-Marxist

I’m not sure how you figure that… it seems pretty clear from Rich’s and my discussion above that we’re contrasting neoliberalism to New Deal-era Keynesian welfare liberalism. I’ll accept Krugman as a borderline example since his stated agenda is pretty much a return to Keynes in a globalized world order, but what he avoids grappling with is the massive shift in global political mechanisms that would have to happen before such an agenda could ever come to pass. If one accepts the neoliberal governance model of IMF structual adjustment programs and ISDS tribunal rulings and so on, in practice one basically has two possible stances toward welfare-state programs, either leaving them alone or dismantling them; there’s no feasible way to use these tools to actually build a welfare state without riding some new wave of mass politicization on a global scale, and the most Krugman and people like him really have to say about this is a vague Picardian “make it so”. It’s the same problem as the global wealth tax from Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (which strikes me as a pretty perfect neoliberal-era analogue of Henry George’s Progress and Poverty with its land value tax) — as Žižek points out, if we had the kinds of institutions that could actually implement such a tax, we would have already won the battle!

I guess the point is that there aren’t any truly old-style welfare liberals left in mainstream politics and there really couldn’t be, except in the sense that the people who still go around declaring themselves heirs to the House of Bourbon or whatever are still old-style feudal monarchs: because they have no hope of gaining power in an institutional climate that’s long since moved on, they’re playing a fundamentally different role than the people from back in the day who used to believe as they did but who were in power. Bernie Sanders as the US Senate’s resident ineffectual social-democratic curmudgeon might be a good example, although I do hear that his commitment to socialism as opposed to liberalism was somewhat deeper before he pursued elected office. But why these people ultimately belong to the neoliberal ideological order is the way they urge their readers/followers to frame their political engagement within institutions thoroughly calibrated to produce neoliberal policy outcomes, particularly the ever more Potemkin-like facade of working-class representation in nation-state electoral politics. This says more about their real role than any hopeless revanchist proposals for renewed national welfare states ever could.

(As an aside, in that Sanders interview clip I linked to at #151, part of me can’t help but feel sorry for Bernie at around 40-45 seconds. In my headcanon anyway, that little stumble at “then you’re doing away with the concept of a nation-state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world… which believes… in that” is the moment when he’s thinking to himself, “aw crap, now I’m shitting on immigrants, guess I sold out and I’m not a real socialist anymore, I’m just a liberal”. But then again he probably justifies it to himself better than I could or would.)

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TM 09.15.16 at 7:30 am

I’m not interested in the grandstanding. I want to get a grasp on reality. If your analytical categories are such that everybody, from Varoufakis to Schäuble, from Krugman to Stiglitz to AEI hacks are neoliberals (except yourself and two of your friends), then I doubt the usefulness of your categorization for making sense of the universe. I don’t think, btw, that Marxism as an intellectual movement has a great track record of making sense of the universe. They did come up with some insights but they also were wrong very often. I sincerely appreciate Krugman because he does care about empirical evidence and he has been objectively right far more often than anybody else that I know of in US discourse. That should count for something.

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reason 09.15.16 at 7:33 am

Will G-R
You also misunderstand that I am not looking for a safe space – you can write what you like, it is just that I and others can choose to ignore it and I’m recommending that approach as the more constructive.

Me, I’m never looking for an ideal solution, I just want to move in the right direction no the wrong direction. The idea that we trample hard on lots of people in order to head for something we just know must be better is anathema to me.

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soru 09.15.16 at 12:59 pm

The relevant definitions in context are:

liberal: believes aspects of socialist thought to be pragmatically correct but morally reprehensible.

neoliberal: believes almost everything about socialist thought to be pragmatically wrong, so morally irrelevant.

Don;t forget, the original liberals were those reacting to the Stalinists who said ‘socialist thought is sufficiently correct that morality is irrelevant’.

There was only a narrow window when both liberals and neoliberals existed and were arguing with each other. Background assumptions tend to be generation-wide, like how everyone in the 1920s believed eugenics to be pragmatically correct, or the example in another recent post about a 1950s arch-conservative hating the idea of setting up a totalitarian bureaucracy but still thinking it was a good idea.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.15.16 at 1:19 pm

soru: “liberal: believes aspects of socialist thought to be pragmatically correct but morally reprehensible”

That seems to me to be exactly backwards. If you look at the broad arc of center-leftism in the West over the 20th century, liberals never rejected the ideals of socialism. (And no, “central planning” is not an ideal of socialism, nor does Stalinism embody those ideals.) Socialism had an increasing series of pragmatic failures. Even neoliberals have — in theory — a commitment to fairness, equality, progress, and community control that still puts them on the left where the left/right axis is defined in relation to socialism. I don’t think that you can understand neoliberalism if you can’t understand how neoliberals can be, in their own external and self-justifications, working towards these things.

A good amount of the confusion is because of the heritage of Marx. If you read Marx on rival socialisms, he scornfully dismisses them, but history pretty much had the opposite judgement. Marx essentially had no political theory on how community control was supposed to happen and not be taken over by a new class elite, other than a theory of class interest that was flatly wrong.

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TM 09.15.16 at 1:36 pm

In my understanding, up until perhaps the 1970s or so, it was widely agreed among liberal intellectuals that socialism (in the sense of a classless society) was morally superior to capitalism. Soru has it indeed exactly backwards.

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TM 09.15.16 at 1:53 pm

Addendum: that applies to left liberals of course, not to economic liberals like Hayek, and it may apply more in Europe than the US. As a data point here let me offer the platform of the German centrist party CDU, which declared in 1947 that capitalism had failed and the economy needed to be fundamentally restructured, oriented towards the common good instead of capitalistic profitability. That view probably expresses a broad political consensus in postwar Europe (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahlener_Programm)

Also note that the European postwar is often referred to as a social democratic era but in reality, social democratic parties were only in power in some countries and mostly only for short periods. In Germany, only from 1969 to 1982. What we refer to as the “Social democratic welfare state” was mostly implemented by centrist and conservative governments.

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Soru 09.15.16 at 3:10 pm

Both groups shared the ideals of socialism, sufficiently loosely defined. No one in either group is saying ‘this policy is a good way to eliminate the weak’, or whatever. So that’s not relevant to distinguish between them.

The difference is about means; one said the ends don’t justify the means, the other the means will not achieve the ends.

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Howard Frant 09.15.16 at 9:32 pm

Well, I had some general comments aboutDeLong, and responses to Will G-R, Sam Chevre, and bruce wilder, but when I hit Submit it disappeared. Hope it turns up, as I am a very slow typist.

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Will G-R 09.16.16 at 4:48 pm

TM, this may be grist for a much longer conversation, but I doubt that the individualizing logic of “Person X is a neoliberal” is a particularly useful way to frame the issue of ideology in general. Whatever aspects of a person’s individual ideological identity would remain intact if they were trapped on a desert island or whatever strike me as less revealing than the aspects that depend on their social existence, embodied most concretely in how they relate to their society at the level of material production (how they “make a living”, as we tellingly put it). Apologies to those who are ideologically allergic to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but he describes this logic quite succinctly in the opening section of the Grundrisse:

The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the Stamm [clan, tribe]; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the Stamm. Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. The human being is in the most literal sense a Ζωον πολιτικον [political animal], not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society – a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness – is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other.

As long as Krugman and those like him still urge their readers to individuate themselves politically by way of thoroughly neoliberalized political institutions, their critique of neoliberalism is that of a loyal opposition at best. Varoufakis I wouldn’t pigeonhole in the same way, since his role in Greek government was through a genuinely independent working-class party, he resigned as soon as his party’s surrender to neoliberal international pressure became clear, and his ideological activity since then with DiEM25 has been an attempt to move toward a new sort of politics above and beyond the old paradigm of national Keynesian welfare states. DiEM25 may be missing much of what Marxists call “praxis” but at least it’s framed as an international mass movement against neoliberalism, unlike any project Krugman, Stiglitz et al have proposed.

Also as an addendum, you’re right that “the ‘Social democratic welfare state’ was mostly implemented by centrist and conservative governments”, and it’s no less true that the neoliberal global capitalist political order has been mostly implemented by labor and social-democratic governments (or in the US by what would have been labor/socdem governments if not for the especially Borglike quality of our major-party duopoly). Strictly from a policy perspective Eisenhower and Nixon were more robust welfare statists than Clinton or Obama, yet one might argue that “if your analytical categories are such that everybody in mainstream politics from the ’50s through ’70s were Keynesians, then I doubt the usefulness of your categorization for making sense of the universe”. The sense in which they were all Keynesians back then and are all neoliberals today is important for understanding how social and ideological change works, despite ironing out some of the individual specifics of Eisenhower’s or Clinton’s heart of hearts.

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