Hackery or heresy

by John Q on April 9, 2018

Henry’s recent post on the irrelevance of conservative intellectuals reminded me of this one from 2013, which concluded

Conservative reform of the Republican party is a project that has already failed. The only question is whether the remaining participants will choose hackery or heresy.

Overwhelmingly, the choice has been hackery (or, a little more honorably, silence).

The case for hackery is put most clearly by Henry Olsen. Starting from the evident fact that most Republican voters are white nationalists who don’t care about small government, Olsen considers the options available to small government conservatives. He rapidly dismisses the ideas of challenging Trump or forming a third party, and concludes that the only option is to capitulate. Strikingly, the option of withdrawing from party politics, and arguing for small government positions as an independent critic isn’t even considered.

As Paul Krugman has observed recently, conservative economists (at least, those who comment publicly). are a striking example for the choice of hackery over heresy. Krugman, along with Brad DeLong, has been particularly critical of a group of economists (Robert Barro, Michael Boskin, John Cogan, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Glenn Hubbard, Lawrence Lindsey, Harvey Rosen, George Shultz and John. Taylor) who’ve made dishonest arguments in favor of corporate tax cuts.

Recently, an overlapping group (Boskin, John Cochrane, Cogan, Shultz and Taylor) have taken the hackery a significant step further.

At first sight, it’s yet another piece of doom-mongering about the impending debt crisis. What’s striking is the extent to which the piece has been adjusted to fit the Republican party’s new found lack of concern about deficits, while supporting the party’s continued attack on “entitlements”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they make excuses for the corporate tax cut they’ve been pushing all along, even though it’s now clearly unfunded.

Rather more startling is the claim that the US government to cut entitlements in order to “restore our depleted national defense budget”. These alleged deficit warriors don’t mention the big increase in defense spending that was just passed by the Congress, with overwhelming support from Republicans. Nor do they mention one of the notable outcomes of this largesse, namely that the Pentagon has abandoned any attempt to pursue the program of closing military bases it regards as unnecessary. That’s one of many examples of waste in the defense budget.

There was a time when free-market economists like Milton Friedman saw defense spending as the exemplar of the rent-seeking “iron triangle” (interest groups, bureaucrats and politicians) ensuring that public expenditure is always wasteful. I Don’t suppose that Boskin and the rest have looked at the evidence and concluded that Friedman was wrong. Rather they’ve correctly calculated that heresy on defense spending would see them cast into the outer darkness of irrelevance.

The problem is that there’s no room for heresy of any kind. Moreover, as the fate of Republicans foolish enough to oppose Trump in 2016 has shown, heresy can be retrospective. Boskin and the rest would have been better off using their 750 words to say “Trump is right*”, 250 times over.

The last decade or so has been pretty devastating for the idea of economics as a science or profession. As I argued in my book Zombie Economics, ideas that have been utterly refuted by the evidence of the Global Financial Crisis shamble on in an undead form. The hackery I’ve described here isn’t being produced by marginal figures like Larry Kudlow but by some of the leading lights of the “discipline”. In the end, all their expertise turns out to be nothing more than a fig-leaf for service to financial capitalism. As with evangelicals, libertarians and the Republican base as a whole, the last few years have shown that the most lurid leftwing caricatures of free-market economists have turned out to be understatements.



eg 04.09.18 at 11:42 am

Galbraith had them sussed years ago when he observed:

“The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. It is an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities. The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor. The man who has struck it rich in minerals, oil, or other bounties of nature is found explaining the debilitating effect of unearned income from the state. The corporate executive who is a superlative success as an organization man weighs in on the evils of bureaucracy. Federal aid to education is feared by those who live in suburbs that could easily forgo this danger, and by people whose children are in public schools. Socialized medicine is condemned by men emerging from Walter Reed Hospital. Social Security is viewed with alarm by those who have the comfortable cushion of an inherited income. Those who are immediately threatened by public efforts to meet their needs — whether widows, small farmers, hospitalized veterans, or the unemployed — are almost always oblivious to the danger.”


Lee A. Arnold 04.09.18 at 12:33 pm

Combine the anti-immigration, anti-globalist sentiments of the Trumpies with the full-scale belief in financial capitalism of Trump, Barro, Boskin, Cochrane, Schulz, Taylor, etc. etc. etc. Then, logically, we will get a slight retrenchment of financial capital to within US borders, something that is wished-upon in the rhetoric of Trump’s high-end tax cut and “repatriation” of multinational profits back to the US, etc.

This could, in the very long term, lead to a more nationalized economy in which more jobs are promised. (And lead to the further encouragement of the psychological disease that you must have a paying job, or else be a worthless individual.) But at the same time, within the nationalized economy, automation may continue to throw people out of full-time work, or out-of-work all together (perhaps at an even faster rate in the future, than globalization’s acceleration of joblessness to this date).

If so, then unexpectedly, the steps toward a universal basic income for a new social democracy may be easier to argue in favor of, within the greater cultural conformity of a nationalized discourse. But this won’t be likely.

At the same time, financial capital is still internationalized. (The free-marketers won’t stop that!) And right now, the money that is being called back to US shores is not causing any acceleration of real business investment, it is going into gambling in the stock market run. (The Summers-Krugman-DeLong diagnosis that the economic problem of the last few decades is a secular (i.e. not a business cycle) inequality-exacerbating “demand shortfall”, not a problem with the supply-side, remains valid.)

Further, all of that big money isn’t likely to want to STAY on US shores. Why? Because the US is running a big budget deficit (made bigger by the tax cuts) which must eventually be paid for. Taxes are going to go back up. Any new infrastructure initiative must be paid for, likewise. So financial capital will go right back offshore again, before getting stuck with the big bill. This is already suggested in the fact that the US is running higher interest rates BUT a weaker dollar. Capital does not seem to want to stay in the US.

Worse, this situation is being set-up at the historical moment that China wants a larger share of world trade, and is thanking the emergence of Trump for sending much more of the world into consideration of joining a Chinese trade pact. (Plenty of technology transfer, no questions about human rights asked.) If they join, there will be developing countries with a higher ROI for investors than the ROI in the closed-down US. This will, in turn, also penalize the US in relative living standards.

Finally this possible whole scenario would predict a stronger resurgence of the fascist tendency in the US, after the higher interest rates in obeisance to the logic of money cause austerity, hardship and more resentment to the rest of the world.

The good thing is that most people are waking up to the realization that, after everything is said and done, Trump is a Gigantic Waste of Time. The insiders’ game seems to be to let him run around in circles, thinking he’s getting something done, after he sends off his closet tweets in the morning. All democracies make mistakes, and this one ought to be gone soon enough. All long-term deals will be on hold.


Kiwanda 04.09.18 at 5:32 pm

The U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined. It seems obvious that a modest cut, let’s say a factor of four, would be entirely reasonable. For political reasons, maybe only a factor of two is plausible. There’s probably something useful that could be done with the resulting savings of maybe $300 billion per year; it’s not much, but it’s something.


anon/portly 04.09.18 at 6:08 pm

What’s striking is the extent to which the piece has been adjusted to fit the Republican party’s new found lack of concern about deficits, while supporting the party’s continued attack on “entitlements”.

This is just not a reasonable description of the piece. One of the main points of the piece is to raise the alarm about “the Republican party’s new found lack of concern about deficits.” Then, rather than “supporting” the “party’s continued attack” on entitlements, the other main point of the piece is to oppose the party’s continued lack of an attack on entitlements.

Of course there are many other reasons why the piece is mediocre. It doesn’t put its points into context – it doesn’t point out that the Republicans have been, for some time now, the Fiscally Irresponsible Party while the Democrats have been the Fiscally Responsible Party (or at least the Fiscally More Responsible Party). It doesn’t point out, directly anyway, that the recent tax “cuts” (better termed as “shifts”) were a bad idea. It’s utterly spineless. And in a piece suggesting a return to fiscal responsibility, the discussion of military spending (JQ’s one good point) is particularly spineless.

The idea that there’s something new here about the relationship between the rhetoric of Republican-leaning economists and the ascent of Trump is silly. The Republican-leaning economists have been trapped in this same box for decades now. This is really the key paragraph:

Taxes alone cannot solve our budget problem. Funding programs as they are currently structured will require high taxes for all income levels, taxes that would sharply reduce economic opportunity and growth, which in turn will make funding entitlements that much harder.

This is a reasonable point to make, if you’re a Republican-leaning economist, but obviously they are pissing into the wind here. The Republicans haven’t taken this advice in the past and not likely to take it now – they’ve been doing just fine (electorally) for some time by cutting taxes while not doing anything about spending. They’ll just wait for the next Democratic President or Congress to clean up after them – they may not be very good at economics, but they’re very good at game theory.


bruce wilder 04.09.18 at 6:18 pm

I have not thought “small government conservatism” a la Milton Friedman was anything but the gambit of a world-class con-man since meeting the man in 1974, so I am not much surprised or disappointed to find that it has no sincere adherents.

Neoliberals on the “left”, which surely includes Krugman and DeLong, have long made a practice of engaging with the heirs of Friedman, both in their popular polemics and in their economics. That dialogue, even when it was hostile and full of scorn — I remember Krugman calling Barro “bone-headed” over Barro’s estimates of multipliers for the Obama stimulus spending — nevertheless patrolled the boundaries of mainstream economics and “serious” economic policy debate.

If that neoliberal dialectic is becoming unhinged, that is an interesting development. I cannot help but think that the conflicts between the Party establishments in both American political Parties and their respective electoral bases has something to do with it.

I also wonder what people here think of recent works like Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. The accumulation of histories of the Conservative Movement (Philip E. Mirowski, Rick Perlstein) makes it increasingly clear the sense of purpose and long-term vision that drove the architects of our nascent neo-feudalism. In the light of those kinds of narratives, figures like DeLong and Krugman look a bit like clueless dupes — and that’s the nice interpretation. And, the economics profession itself — I don’t know . . . can you make a living saying, “asymmetric information” and not-thinking “fraud”?


L.M. Dorsey 04.09.18 at 10:58 pm

Heresy” strikes just the right note, as there’s a providentialism lurking deep in the weave of economics, deriving, I take it, from the theodicy inferred from the Newtonian clockwork. What looks like chicanery is as well an act of faith. And, like the autos-da-fé of the Inquisition, intended as an act of mercy. (Seriously.)

That “conservatism” has assumed this form — as opposed, say, to Juvenalian satire or Ciceronian phillipic — is a measure of how much economics has supplanted politics in our ostensibly “political” discussions. In the terms of this article by Jessica Kimpell, “commerce” has decisively enthralled us. A kind of Circe metamorphosing citizens into entrepreneurs, etc.

In fact, just try to say “citizen” without sounding preciously anachronistic. And consider, too, that whoever it is who will next be elected to whatever office probably feels the same way.


Heliopause 04.10.18 at 1:22 am

Since Obama is the left-left-leftmost President that the US system will tolerate, and since “defense” spending barely dropped in his eight years, I’m going to assume that your use of “plausible” was meant to be darkly humorous.

But maybe I should be more optimistic. Elites across the political spectrum are pushing the current President, renowned for his emotional and intellectual stability, as hard as they can to start a war with Russia and Iran in Syria. With any kind of luck this will lead to world military spending dropping to zero within a matter of days.


Kurt Schuler 04.10.18 at 3:53 am

John Quiggin, seeing you describe people as “hacks,” “marginal figures,” etc. here and in many of your other posts reminds me of a saying about a mote and a beam. You know how to write in a way that sheds more light and less heat, as is evident from some of your academic work. Emotion-laden invective is a waste both of your time and that of your readers.


nastywoman 04.10.18 at 6:15 am

The main problem is that any type of ”reform” – nowadays – the remaining participants have so much more to choose than just ”hackery or heresy”.

They can choose – what ”German Sozialdemokraten” – who supposedly were ”on the left” chose to reform. They chose something very ”conservative”.
And when my favorite ”Liberal” US President Obama did ”supposedly” all these ”liberal” reforms a lot of ”Liberals” called ”conservative” – they main problem became that perhaps we don’t know what we are talking about anymore?

As – there are some of US who seriously seem to think that an Internet Meme or a TeeVee Clown is somehow… in some tradition of ”conservatives”?


MFB 04.10.18 at 7:33 am

I think this is the central issue of the economic article (published in the Washington Post, which is owned by a plutocrat, so presumably it reflects his interests):

“Congress must reform and restrain the growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and regulatory policies”

They make it clear that this means “Congress must spend less on the poor and must also take less government revenue from the rich, while refraining from preventing manufacturers from polluting the environment and manufacturing shoddy products”.

This means, economically speaking, that they want to increase inequality in the United States, and reduce the demand for consumer goods, while making life for the average person more miserable and making U.S. goods less attractive to exporters. It would seem that this is a recipe for economic decline packaged as a way of promoting economic growth by reducing the deficit (the nostrums they offer will not address the deficit).

I think it’s fair to call this hackery, but it is fairly obviously hackery in the interests of the rich and powerful, and therefore it is inevitable so long as the public space is controlled by the rich and powerful (and so long as the sole concern of the rich and powerful is to become more rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else).


Pseudonym 04.10.18 at 7:53 am

Ignore money for a moment. (Yes, easier said than done.) Bear with me as I try to reason out some half-formed ideas bouncing around my head. The fundamental problem with entitlements is that the number of workers per retiree is declining rapidly. That is or soon will be a problem in almost all developed countries. While it’s a good thing for reducing humanity’s environmental impact it’s going to cause major demographic shifts. And there’s no way for the developed world as a whole to “save” enough money for the future because there’s already a savings glut. That means we either need a reduction in retirees (raising the retirement age faster than life spans, and expecting 70-year-old roofers and coal miners to keep working), an increase in workers (mass immigration from the developing world, or somehow taxing them to pay for our retirement), a huge increase in productivity (robotic nursing home assistants? the magical corporate tax cut fairy?) along with an end to health-care inflation, a decline in living standards, or a massive redistribution of wealth away from the rich. “Entitlement reform” is just a euphemism for making sure the rich stay rich at the expense of letting the nonrich seniors suffer and die. Excessive defense spending is a waste, but it’s “only” ~3.5% of US GDP.

Apologies if this is “not even wrong” from an economics perspective—it’s late and I’ve forgotten most of what I once knew about the field.


Pseudonym 04.10.18 at 8:00 am

(And if I’ve made a complete hash of everything, please blame my Econ 1 professor, a certain John Taylor.)


nastywoman 04.10.18 at 9:59 am

– and about ”nothing more than a fig-leaf for service to financial capitalism” –
at least the (conservative) hacks are getting punished right now by having to deal with a completely ”lose canon” – while often still believing that Von Clownstick is ”one of them” –


And for anybody who judges the quality of a countries economy mainly on the ability to create ”well paying” and ”satisfactory” jobs for it’s people – (and doesn’t care about ”full employment” of s…. service jobs which don’t pay a living) – the (academic?) food fights between some idiotic right wing – so called – ”economists” and our friends – like Paul (Krugman) – who loves to get into all of theses questions about ”national debt” and interest rates – is really… deflecting – a total distraction from teaching US that it all can be done:

From really creating ”satisfying jobs” for workers – which are well payed an come with all kind of ”goodies” like
”job security” –
”long vacations” –
”payable health care” –
”payable rents and housing” – and even some free education for the kids!


sean samis 04.10.18 at 6:37 pm

Pseudonym; while there may be some marginal flaws in your comment, the essence of it is entirely correct: “entitlement reform” is an effort to protect the rich by shifting the economic burdens of the future onto the middle-class, working-class and the poor.

sean s.


steven t johnson 04.10.18 at 8:46 pm

Re the “economic burdens of the future,” I must note that essentially all future consumption will be sustained by future production, not by physical stores of commodities hoarded until the day. This is a physical fact, not an iniquity.

What most people mean “economic burdens of the future” is paying compound interest on today’s debts in money that has kept its value. The assumption here is that an economic system cannot be expected to pay its working population sufficient to support the workers’ families, including its children, its disabled and its elderly. And that this flinty determination to sacrifice posterity to the creditors’ Moloch is the very meaning of virtue.

As for ranting about the entitlements burden right now, even stagnant wages are paying for Social Security and Medicare.

But then, my economic judgment is so poor I think for most of us the problem is low wages, not high taxes.


Chet Murthy 04.11.18 at 1:05 am

It doesn’t seem to have been noted that there has been a massive increase in productivity in the Western world, since 1980 — far and away more than enough to pay for all these “entitlements”, but that increase has gone, by and large, to the extremely wealthy.

I recall reading that if Social Security took in the same percentage of -income- (in toto) that it did many decades ago, things would be much, much better. But of course, all of the increase in income has gone to those who earn far in excess of the cap in FICA taxes — so they pay no more, and that income goes untaxed.

The idea that there isn’t enough money to pay for the decent care of all of us in America is balderdash to anybody who’s done the math on the actual income of our country.


CDT 04.11.18 at 4:33 am

Isn’t it interesting that there appear to be no well-paid left-wing hacks who stay on he gravy train despite always being wrong?


MFB 04.11.18 at 7:34 am

CDT, I don’t think this is entirely true. In South Africa, for instance, we have Patrick Bond, whose heart is possibly in the right place but who has been wrong about pretty much every local and global political event for the last twenty years, and he’s now holding down two fully-funded professorships.

I think that provided a “left-wing hack” is willing to consistently generate stuff which serves the interests of the rich and powerful, that hack will probably receive a fair amount of cash. Of course the problem comes when the left-wing hack insists on occasionally promoting an actual left-wing agenda; then he or she becomes a problem. (Again, in South Africa, this happened to Dale McKinley when he insisted on promoting populist campaigns which might have threatened the rich and powerful, so he lost his gig at the Mail and Guardian newspaper; he subsequently reformed and became an energetic supporter of big business via the “Right2Know” NGO which is backed by big media interests.)


Heim 04.11.18 at 8:47 am

Wow one of the best articles and comment sections I have seen in a while.


Ray Vinmad 04.11.18 at 2:26 pm

@1 At this point, it’s not even clear if they are selfish because it’s not clear they will directly benefit from the policies they promote.

Their stated ends and their possible thwarting of the means to those ends suggests that we have to look to their collective psychology to explain their self-defeating choices and/or self-deception.

Your guess is as good as mine but I’d love it if somebody would do an anthropological study on conservative economists.


Heliopause 04.11.18 at 4:05 pm

Actually, I personally can’t think of any well-paid left-wing hacks who stay on he gravy train despite always being wrong. There are, however, any number of center-liberal well-paid hacks on the gravy train. Tom Friedman has sort of been crowned King of this genre, for example.


CDT 04.12.18 at 12:46 am

@ 18 and 21:

I confess to complete ignorance with regard to political pundits not published in the U.S. or U.K. Labels, of course, are imprecise, but I would put the Great Moustache of Understanding in the center right; he combines neoliberal economics with global cheerleading and genteel militarism. (Remember “suck on this”? He certainly is consistently wrong, however, just like Bill Kristol and many others. Perhaps one reason we can’t think of a consistently wrong left-wing hack is that such views get negligible exposure, at least in the U.S. Nicholas Kristoff at the Times is both liberal and a hack, but he doesn’t really make predictions so much as write poverty porn.


bruce wilder 04.12.18 at 4:35 am

Life among the Econ is still wickedly funny 45 years later.


Lee A. Arnold 04.12.18 at 11:37 am

Reuters is reporting this morning that the conservative clowns who run the U.S. Congress are going to vote on their ol’ favorite: a “balanced budget” amendment to the Constitution. Constitutional amendments need a 2/3rds vote in both House & Senate and then 3/4 of state legislatures to approve, so they know that this is going nowhere fast. It’s an election-season Hail Mary pass, a purely symbolic move to convince conservative voters that, “Golly, we wouldn’t be capitulating to the Democrats and running up these deficits, if only it were written into the Constitution that we can’t!”

In case you are keeping the anthropological score, the tribe’s false belief is that 1. money must be kept scarce, but then they 2. contradict their own false belief by borrowing like there’s no tomorrow, and then, they 3. come up with a phony diversion to confuse the issue further: “We need to stop this by extraordinary measures, once and for all!”

It’s not a psychological double bind, it’s a triple bind.

It’s stupid, but a lot of their voters wouldn’t know how to boil water to make spaghetti, so it might work.

So this is another way for the deficit fear-mongers to divert attention from their own culpability: blame it on the Democrats, and solve it by changing the Constitution. Watch Fox News & Sinclair go big on the message. So here’s the new (old) conservative propaganda; let’s see if the aforementioned conservative “economists” and “intellectuals” begin to parrot it.


Gordon 04.12.18 at 2:32 pm

Pseudonym @11:

“there’s no way for the developed world as a whole to “save” enough money for the future”

Money won’t take care of you when you’re old, people will. People will raise the food you eat, build and maintain the housing you live in, produce the energy that keeps you warm, and provide the medical care you’ll need. If the right people with the right skills and infrastructure (social as well as physical) are in place when we’re old, we’ll be fine. If not, money won’t help.


sean samis 04.12.18 at 6:49 pm

Gordon @25, “Money won’t take care of you when you’re old, people will.”

That’s very simplistic. Money is essential to the smooth operation of the economy, which enables people to do what they need or want to do, including taking care of the old.

If Pseudonym made any error @ 11 it’s that we don’t need people saving money, we want people creating wealth and spending money. It’s spending that keeps the economy going and creating jobs. A healthy economy supports jobs like caring for the old.

To borrow a line from Neal Stephenson; money is not wealth, money is the corpse of wealth. Spending is what creates jobs.

sean s.


Whirrlaway 04.12.18 at 10:09 pm

most Republican voters are white nationalists who don’t care about small government

My observation, most Republican voters are interested in Mirco government, about the radius of a stone’s throw, and capturing it for themselves. Real small-government conservatives should go to where small government is, the county council and the school board.


Eli Rabett 04.12.18 at 10:30 pm

It may be hackery but it is well paid hackery



Faustusnotes 04.12.18 at 10:33 pm

MFB, a question!how can someone be a left wing hack, if they consistently (as you say) fail to promote any actually left wing ideas?


Keith 04.13.18 at 2:46 am

Chet Murthy is right. The same is true of all developed countries. Jeremy Corbyn gets monstered by the media as their owners suspect he also thinks they should pay a fair share.


MFB 04.13.18 at 8:39 am

Faustusnotes, good question. I think the answer lies in the way in which some left-wingers a) declare that people less left-wing than themselves are (by that definition) evil, odious and need to be overthrown, and then b) align themselves with right-wing forces in order to bring about that overthrow.

In these two people’s cases, this activity was justified through their following right-wing ideas, but by using left-wing language they were able to avoid being accused of being right-wingers. (Much the same, incidentally, was the case with the trade unionist Zwelenzima Vavi, not to demonise white lefties too much.)

The theory of this is supposed to be that once the people who are less left-wing than the left-wingers are overthrown, the “really” left-wing people will be able to take over. Of course this never happens.

It’s a bit like the challenge to “lesser evilism” in the United States; you can debate about how best to cope with the right-wing nature of the Democratic Party, but obviously allying yourself with Republicans and big business would not be a productive coping strategy.


Atticus Dogsbody 04.13.18 at 9:08 am

@MFB: published in the Washington Post, which is owned by a plutocrat, so presumably it reflects his interests

Are you suggesting that the creator of Amazon doesn’t want poor people to be able to buy as much crap as possible from his website? Circle of life, dude.


Layman 04.13.18 at 11:20 am

sean samis: “If Pseudonym made any error @ 11 it’s that we don’t need people saving money, we want people creating wealth and spending money. It’s spending that keeps the economy going and creating jobs. A healthy economy supports jobs like caring for the old.”

This is a relief. All those people who couldn’t save enough to pay for their retirement will be saved by the healthy economy, which will (somehow) decide to provide for their retirement! I admit it seems unlikely to me in light of what has gone before, mind you, but as you seem so certain about it, I’m sure you must be right.


Layman 04.13.18 at 11:25 am

MFB: “Faustusnotes, good question. I think the answer lies in the way in which some left-wingers a) declare that people less left-wing than themselves are (by that definition) evil, odious and need to be overthrown, and then b) align themselves with right-wing forces in order to bring about that overthrow.”

Well, that sounds tricky, but can we name a left-wing hack being well-payed to do this? I can’t, and the idea that the establishment would pay well for it seems unlikely.


Layman 04.13.18 at 11:30 am

Atticus Dogsbody: “Are you suggesting that the creator of Amazon doesn’t want poor people to be able to buy as much crap as possible from his website?”

Well, he’s not selling cars or houses, is he? Given that the establishment right has conspired to keep wages stagnant for 4 decades, engineered historic levels of economic inequality and made multiple assaults on the social safety net, I think we have to reluctantly conclude that they don’t grasp what you call the circle of life, dude.


bruce wilder 04.13.18 at 4:21 pm

That’s why we need a basic income for self-driving cars, so the cars can buy stuff on Amazon after their drivers passengers no longer have anywhere to go but opioid addiction.


casmilus 04.13.18 at 5:03 pm


Lifestyle Leftism. Concentrate on “cultural issues” that rile up the Drehers but don’t change any financial structures.


casmilus 04.13.18 at 5:11 pm

Many times I wonder what would happen if somehow the physicists discover a source of Zero Point Energy or similar macguffin (like in Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves”), and we have to deal with the social and political consequences of a world in which effectively everything is free, or ought to be, and no one needs to work for anything, and all needs can be met and maybe also all wants as well.

Then I realise that this is what has happened, in slow motion, over the last 250 or so years of industrialism and mechanization. From the perspective of 1700 we can do amazing wonders beyond the power of Man with none of human labour it would have required. And we can’t cope with the consequences, even though it didn’t happen overnight.


PatinIowa 04.13.18 at 10:24 pm

The Circle of Life is comfort for predators only.

“It’s okay if we separate the offspring of the herbivores from the herd, and kill them in front of their families by eating them alive. After all, one day we’ll die of old age and become grass.”

If you look at child mortality statistics in the US compared to countries with “socialized” medicine, well, it’s pretty much our culture.


Faustusnotes 04.14.18 at 12:17 am

So MFB, you mean someone like Glenn Greenwald?


Chet Murthy 04.14.18 at 3:24 am

I was so sure that Atticus Dogsbody was joking.


stubydoo 04.14.18 at 6:16 pm

This post’s title has gone and turned itself into an earworm in my head.

A duet between Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney


nastywoman 04.14.18 at 9:15 pm

– but as conservative hacks couldn’t even stop an internet meme to become the US President is it heresy to recognize that they lost all power?


Hidari 04.15.18 at 1:40 pm

There are no ‘small government conservatives.’ There never have been, and there never could be. It’s a contradiction in terms. As I argued in a previous thread most (not all) conservative intellectuals have thrown in their lot with ‘laissez-faire’ capitalism as it’s the surest way to ensure the hierarchical, ‘pyramid shaped’ society that they want (previous pro-hierarchical philosophies, like fascism, turned out to be politically unstable, and the ‘straight forward’ reactionary position of, e.g. Chesterbelloc (‘back to the 12th century!’) turned out to be politically impracticable).

Now: it’s an interesting fact that since Capitalism really got started in the 15th century, it’s always had an imperial global hegemon, a ‘top dog’ to impose order on the chaos of capitalism. Perhaps capitalism would be possible without this. But it’s interesting that it’s never been tried. First it was the Portugese. Then the Spanish. Then the Dutch…and so on…until the British took over as the dominant guarantor, so to speak, of the free market system in the 19th century, which continued until about 1948, when the American Empire took over that role.

Now, as I said, it’s possible that capitalism could survive without such a global hegemon. But unlikely. It’s more likely that capitalism needs military power to back it up, to ensure that the masses don’t get daft ideas about socialism, egalitarianism, and equality, or get equally silly ideas about trade union rights and environmental legislation, all of which might impede the capitalists in their God given quest to make more profits for themselves.

So you need an Empire to stop the whole thing from collapsing. And an Empire is, by definition, Big Government. Indeed the biggest. You need ‘intelligence’ agencies to spy on the citizenry, a world-terrifying military to put down anti-imperial revolts, a gigantic financial system ultimately backed by the State to ensure financial stability (and the hegemony of the dominant imperial power) and so on.

It’s true that before WW2 there were conservative intellectuals who saw this and attempted the difficult (or, I would say, impossible) ‘juggling act’ of being pro-capitalist and anti-Empire. But this tradition is dying now (Ron Paul is an old man, and he has no political heirs), possibly due to its essential incoherence.

There is no senior/powerful politician, on any side of the political spectrum, in the US, who wants the end of the American Empire.* Almost literally all American politicians explicitly or (on the ‘Democratic’ side) implicitly give support to American Exceptionalism and (a watered down form of) Manifest Destiny, shorn of its most blatantly racist tenets. If you are in favour of the American Empire you are by definition in favour of Big Government. End of story.

*Ron Paul is the only possible exception, and even then, one might quibble about how much he actually believes what he says. In any case, he has no power, and nor could he ever attain any power, in the current set up of the American political system. Also: Paul was born in 1935.


Tony Wikrent 04.15.18 at 7:30 pm

Reply to bruce wilder 04.09.18 at 6:18 pm, who wrote “accumulation of histories of the Conservative Movement (Philip E. Mirowski, Rick Perlstein) makes it increasingly clear the sense of purpose and long-term vision that drove the architects of our nascent neo-feudalism.”

I used to believe that eg’s quote from Galbraith – conservatives are merely trying to justify selfishness – explained the motives of conservatives rather well. But after Obama’s refusal to confront and constrict Wall Street, I began inquiring into what principles of political economy, if any, are supposed to distinguish a republic from other forms of government, such as a monarchy or aristocracy . This led me to a new appreciation of what a republic is supposed to be, and the crucial role of the Constitutional mandate to promote the General Welfare.

Conservatism and libertarianism both are best understood as 5th column operations funded by rich oligarchs and misanthropes to enervate and destroy the fundamental tenets of republicanism (which should NOT be confused with the Republican Party of USA), including:
1) an equality of wealth is essential for the proper working of democratic government (a republic is not the same as a democracy, but a democratically-based form of political AND ECONOMIC representation is essential to republicanism);
2) concentrations of wealth, because of the political power they can buy, are as dangerous to democratic government as a standing army;
3) inherited wealth should be prohibited almost totally (and the larger the concentration of wealth, the more nearly total should its inheritance be prohibited;
4) when an individual’s self-interest conflicts with the interest of the general welfare, the individual is required by CIVIC VIRTUE to set aside his or her own self-interest (a classic case of the abridgment and outright denial of civic virtue in USA is the NRA and the issue of restricting weapons of war).

Mirowski and his collaborators did an excellent job in revealing the organized roots of the Mont Pelerin Society and neoliberalism, EXCEPT for failing to follow the spore of the European oligarchs and monarchists involved. But I can understand that, because very, very few people anymore understand how the United States represents a culmination of the Enlightenment’s struggle to break the chains of oligarchical and ecclesiastical power and usher in a new age to replace feudalism. The same can be said for all the other exposes of movement conservatism and libertarianism, though most, such as Mayer , Phillips-Fein, and MacLean clearly identify the American rich neo- oligarchs who have funded and directed these movements.


John Quiggin 04.16.18 at 4:13 am

@42 Stubydoo wins the thread! Now I have the earworm too.

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