From the category archives:

US Politics

The Republican phase transition

by John Quiggin on July 20, 2020

I’ve been reading the latest (excellent as usual) book from Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality . The opening paras read

This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy – government of, by, and for the rich

This passage reflects the conflict between two propositions that I (and lots of others, I think) have been grappling with
(1) The rise of Donald Trump represents a radical transformation of the Republican party and American conservatism
(2) Everything Trump has done is a continuation of long-established Republican policy and practices.

Here at CT, Corey has argued for a long time that (2) is correct, and that conservatives or, more properly, reactionaries have always been about preserving hierarchy and power. I find Corey’s argument convincing, but not enough to persuade me that (1) is wrong. Hacker and Pierson also broadly endorse (2). But much of their book is a comparison of the trajectory of the Republican Party with that of the German nationalists in the dying days of the Weimar Republic. The fact that such a comparison, until recently regarded as an automatic disqualification from serious argument (Godwin’s law) now seems entirely plausible, suggests that something really has changed.

In trying to find a way to understand this, I was struck by the idea that the concept of a phase transition (such as from liquid to gas, or dissolved solid to crystal) in physics and chemistry might be a useful metaphor. I didn’t get past high-school in science, so I may well use the metaphor inaccurately – I’m sure commenters will feel free to set me straight.

To develop the metaphor, think of the Eisenhower-era Republican party as a complicated mixture of many dissolved ingredients, in which the dominant element was the business establishment, and the Trump era party, as described by Hacker and Pierson as a crystallised mass of plutocratic economics, racism and all-round craziness. The development over the 60 years between the two has consisted of keeping the mixture simmering, while adding more and more appeals to racial animus and magical thinking (supply-side economics, climate denial, the Iraq war and so on). In this process various elements of the original mix have boiled off or precipitated out and discarded as dregs. Stretching the metaphor a bit, I’m thinking of boiling off as the process by which various groups (Blacks and Northeastern liberal Republicans in C20, liberaltarians more recently) have left the Republican coalition in response to its racism and know-nothingism. The dregs that have precipitated out are ideas that were supposed to be important to Republicans (free trade, scientific truth, classical liberalism, moral character and so on) that turned out not to matter at all.

Trump’s arrival is the catalyst seed crystal that produces the phase change. The final product of the reaction emerges in its crystallised form, and the remaining elements of the mixture are discarded.

The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic

by John Quiggin on July 4, 2020

That’s the title of a book I’ve agreed to write for Yale University Press (their editorial director) Seth Ditchik commissioned my previous two books, Zombie Economics and Economics in Two Lessons when he was at Princeton UP.

When we first discussed the book, I took the view that most of the writing would have to be done after November, since the outcome of the US presidential election would be crucial to developments in the US and globally. I’m now working on the assumptions that
(a) Biden will be the next president
(b) he will have a workable majority in Congress.
(c) mainstream Democrats recognise the need for radical change, and Biden will align with the mainstream position as he always has done

The first of these assumptions was problematic until recently, but seems safe enough to work on now. The third, I’ll leave for comments.
That leaves the question of a workable majority. Roughly speaking, I mean that the Dems have enough votes in the Senate to abolish or restrict the filibuster and pass the kind of program I’ll be advocating (allowing for a couple of defections, that would be 52 or more). Winning that many seats is still a stretch on current polling, but not out of reach.

The immediate question is that of how to get rid of the filibuster. Doing so pre-emptively would be problematic in all sorts of ways. Biden needs to start with the 2008 Obama playbook of reaching out across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisanship. But unlike in Obama’s case, once the proffered hand (or perhaps elbow bump) of friendship is slapped down, as it surely will be, Biden needs to point to his electoral mandate and whip up the necessary votes. Obama realised this, to some extent, in his second term, but by then he had a hostile Congress.

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Reappraisals (repost from 2011)

by John Quiggin on June 30, 2020

  • As Princeton has just repudiated Woodrow Wilson, I thought I’d repost this from 2011, which seems relevant to a lot of current discussion*

As an Australian, I’m not much accustomed to think of political leaders in heroic terms[1], something that reflects the fact that nothing our political leaders do matters that much to anybody except us, and even then most of the decisions that really mattered have always been made elsewhere. So, I’m fascinated by the US activity of ranking presidents and other political leaders, and eager to try my hand.

What has brought this to mind is running across George Will’s campaign against Woodrow Wilson, who always seemed to be presented in hagiographic terms until relatively recently. Much as it goes against the grain to agree with Will on anything, he surely has the goods on Wilson: a consistent racist, who lied America into the Great War, and used Sedition acts and similar devices to suppress opposition. His positive record appears to consist of a variety of “Progressive” measures (in the early C20 sense of the term) many of which were inherited from Teddy Roosevelt, and few of which were particularly progressive from a left viewpoint[2], and his proposal for the League of Nations, where he comprehensively screwed up the domestic politics, leading the US to stay out of the League.

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Trumpism after Trump

by John Quiggin on June 29, 2020

Predicting election outcomes is always risky (for example, the People’s Action Party could lose the current election in Singapore), but life involves taking some risks. So I’m going to predict that Trump is going to lose in November, and lose badly*. He is far behind in the polls, substantially further than in 2016. More relevantly perhaps, the resurgence of the pandemic in Arizona, Florida and Texas has ended any chance that the economy will be successfully reopened and the pandemic clearly under control by November, not to mention giving the citizens of those states very personal reasons to vote against him.

What will happen to Trumpism after Trump’s defeat, in the US and globally? Here are some very disorganised thoughts.

A big part of Trump’s appeal is that he is a winner, and a big part of Trumpist mythology comes from wins against the odds, as with Brexit and Johnson and, more periphally, with the re-election of the Morrison government in Australia (which had the good sense to dump most of its ideology for the duration of the crisis, but is now returning to its roots). With that gone, Trump’s support will be much weakened So, the stage will be set for a fight in which the hard neoliberals who controlled the party before Trump attempt to reassert themselves, breaking with Trump’s explicit racism while still trying to keep the Repubs white voting base behind them.

On the other hand, Trump has lots of supporters who will refuse to accept the reality of a defeat (not enough, I think, and particularly not enough in positions of power, for him to stop the election or overturn its result). And there are more competent Trumpists, in the mould of Viktor Orban, keen to push an ethnonationlist, racist and authoritarian policy program without Trump’s clownish demagoguery.

Internationally, a defeat for Trump probably won’t make much difference to the ethnonationalist voting base of the Trumpist right. That base has always been there, ready to turn out whenever some other group can be identified as the enemy. But it will, I think, have a significant effect on the right wing of the political class. Some of them will find themselves outside the bounds of legitimate discussion (this is already happening in a small way in Australia), while others will engage in some quick reinvention.

The big question is whether hard neoliberalism can recover. On the one hand, the financial sector still has huge economic power, which usually translates into political power. And the common-sense economics of the Swabian housewife still retains its grip on many. On the other hand, just about everything that is identified with hard neoliberalism (globalisation of trade and financial flows, the hypertrophic growth of the financial sector, trickle-down economics and more) is massively unpopular. That’s particularly true of those under 40, who never experienced the illusory prosperity of the 1990s, or the crises of the 1970s (minor by comparison with the last decade, but a massive shock to expectations conditioned by the postwar boom).

The best hope for the US right is that Biden and the Democrats are unable to fix the catastrophic mess they will inherit. More on this soon, perhaps.

  • I meant to have a footnote about the possibility of Trump rejecting the election outcome, but covered it with a parenthetical statement.

Mr Dooley, right again

by John Quiggin on June 16, 2020

The decision of the US Supreme Court, that the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was entirely predictable, based on the century old observation of the fictional Irish-American bartender Mr Dooley observed “The Soopreme Court follows the illiction returns.” As I said in 2018

At most, the court constitutes a veto point, able to block legislation that can be represented as violating constitutional protections. But most of the progressive agenda is clearly within the power of the legislature and executive. If the Democrats win the next few elections, the Roberts Court will be as much of a disappointment to its creators as the Warren Court in the 1960s

A decision restricting the interpretation of the Civil Rights Act would have had huge political costs for the Republican majority, without achieving any long term results. In the quite likely event that the Democrats gained control of both the Presidency and Congress sometime in the next few years, the decision would probably have prompted a new and even broader Civil Rights Act, as well as a potential trigger for expanding the court to create a Democratic majority. Even if this didn’t happen, the remaining state-level restrictions would have been chipped away in a series of losing campaigns for the right. From Roberts’ viewpoint the key goal has to be to keep bringing down decisions like Citizens United, which entrench Republican advantages. As for Gorsuch, the advantages are even clearer. His appointment is widely regarded as illegitimate, and a decision showing that “textualism” means “rightwing interpretations of the text” would have entrenched that. As it is, he can present himself as someone who, while conservative, is not a partisan hack.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the right. Roughly speaking, I’d expect the hard neoliberals to welcome the fact that this unwinnable fight is over. By contrast, the culture warriors who back Trump will be furious. Apparently, many are expecting a sweeping win in November, in which case they could amend the law.

The Politics of Disorder

by Kieran Healy on June 3, 2020

The wave of protest and unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by the police shows little sign of abating just yet. Unrest nationwide is, if anything, increasing as protesters are met with repression by the police. Civil unrest of this scope is unusual. The conjunction of mass protest and widespread disorder should be worrying to those in authority.

When property damage and theft happens as a side-effect of real mass protest, authorities in a democracy cannot baton, tear gas, or shoot their way to legitimacy. People want social order, but this isn’t like quelling a riot after a sports game. The key issue—as the Governor of Minnesota put it the other day—is that “there are more of them than us”. All the tactical gear in the world isn’t worth a damn, ultimately, if enough of the population ends up in open revolt against civil authority. There are just too many people.

That’s one reason the Army are on the scene already in DC. If the mobilization is large enough and it’s met with police repression and brutality—rather than some more accommodating strategy—then it will only take a few days before things seem to spin right out of control. The desire to present a “show of force” to protesters is understandable. It can be strategically sensible, too, insofar as it is aimed both at dealing with those in the streets and at securing the support of an approving audience who just want things to calm down. This calculus can change rapidly, however, as larger and larger numbers of people become directly and indirectly supportive of the protests.

Those actually running cities, and city police forces, are usually aware of this. Practical experience and decades of research makes it clear what’s at stake when “ordinary criminal behavior” is happening in the context of mass protest rather than as mere disorderly conduct. This is one of the reasons that authorities tend to blame “outside agitators” or “the media” or “protesters from out of state” as being the real cause of unrest. Protest organizers will do this too, often enough, blaming disorder on fringe groups or provocateurs who have illegitimately attached themselves to an otherwise peaceful protest. But if the bulk of a city’s population really is directly engaged in mass protest or indirectly supportive of it, and these protests are met with force by the authorities, then violent disorder will start to look less like pockets of disruption disapproved of by all and more like the loss of legitimacy.

In the United States, these pressures are exacerbated by racial stratification. The deep-seated racism of almost all aspects of U.S. life, and the residential racial segregation of many cities, makes it easier to mobilize the support of whites for the use of force in the name of social order. Even here, crises have been accommodated by efforts to redirect unrest towards an ordinary political process. The demand for social order without repression, after all, is not restricted to whites.

President Trump has no interest in routine politics. His instincts are authoritarian, his interest in the mechanics of governance is nil, and his attention span is minimal. He has been happy to cultivate the political support of the police and to egg on its paramilitary elements. Trump’s temperament intersects badly with long-term trends. The increasingly paramilitary culture (and equipment) of U.S. police forces has been noted by observers over the past twenty five years. The police were already aware that, thanks to astonishingly strong union contracts, weak internal oversight, and the doctrine of qualified immunity, individual officers would face no or minimal consequences for the use of excessive force, up to and including force that resulted in someone’s death.

Trump’s personal attitudes merely catalyzed what was already there. But it did so on both sides. Trump started out as a very unpopular leader and the scale of the economic crisis accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic has made everything much worse. Structurally, lockdown has put millions of people out of work. Contingently, the relatively small but highly visible wave of reopening protests threw the current unrest into sharp relief. In the former case, white protesters were allowed to vent their anger directly in the faces of police in ordinary uniform. Masked men with armalite rifles were permitted to walk onto the floor of state legislatures in the name of liberty. Such things are of course simply inconceivable in the context of black-led protest.

Thus were created the conditions for the fusion of mass protest and violent unrest. In the absence of mass mobilization for protest, imposing “Law and Order” by force is usually a politically successful tactic, at least in the short-run. The demand for order is the most basic demand of political life. But attempting to impose order by force when people are protesting in the streets en masse is much riskier, both for the leader wanting to “dominate” and for political institutions generally. A competent democratic leader may effectively de-escalate conflict and return it to the sphere of ordinary political struggle. Alternatively, a competent authoritarian may secure control of the police and military and get the backing of enough people to leave democracy behind. What you generally can’t do in a democracy, though, is “crush” or “dominate” real mass dissent purely by force without also causing political institutions to come crashing down around your head.

Self-respect, justice and black resistance

by Chris Bertram on June 3, 2020

One of the most important books I’ve read over the past couple of years is Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent and Reform. One of the passages that struck me most forcefully at the time is where he discusses the value of self-respect in the face of oppression. “Those with self-respect,” he writes, “live their lives in a way that conveys their conviction that they are proper objects of respect. For example, they resist the efforts of others to mistreat them and openly resent unfair treatment.” (98)

He has a brief, but powerful discussion of this value in and the need to resist if it is to be affirmed:

Oppression can erode a person’s sense of self-respect, causing one to doubt one’s claim to equal moral status. We can understand an attack on one’s self-respect as an action, policy, or practice that threatens to make one feel that one is morally inferior, that one does not deserve the same treatment as others. To maintain a healthy sense of self-respect under conditions of injustice, the oppressed may therefore fight back against their oppressors, demanding the justice they know they deserve, even when the available evidence suggests that justice is not on the horizon. They thereby affirm their moral worth and equal status.

…. Persons with a strong sense of self-respect sometimes refuse to co-operate with the demands of an unjust society. They stand up for themselves, are defiant in the fact of illegitimate authority, refuse to comply with unjust social requirements, protest maltreatment and humiliation, and so on, even when they know that such actions will not bring about justice or reduce theor suffering. Self-respect, then, can be a matter of living with a sense of moral pride despite unjust conditions. (99-100)

This seems absolutely right to me. Resistance may turn out to be futile in the sense that it brings about no lasting change or improvement in conditions, though we hope that it will. Often, as Shelby says a few lines later on, discretion is the better part of valour, both morally and prudentially. But sometimes people just have to stand up to affirm their status as human beings. And when they do the rest of us have to stand with them, and we deny their value, and demean our own if we turn our backs. This is why the many acts of resistance and protest by black Americans and those standing with them are so deeply moving and significant, however this ends.

The truth about the Badger State

by Harry on February 14, 2020

The Badger State does, in fact, have a state animal. It is the badger.[1] (We also have a state bird, a state tree, a state flower, and many other state things – in fact, a former student of mine is responsible for us having a state pastry which he says, with a mixture of bemusement and regret, was the legislative achievement for which he received the most plaudits from his constituents).

The badger is not a significant part of our local fauna. There’s one in the local zoo, called Buckingham (when one Buckingham dies, another takes its place, forever. Why Buckingham? I haven’t looked that one up, maybe there is some link with the Palace). And through googling I learned to my surprise that there are some in the wild, though nobody’s ever seen them (unlike possums, raccoons, chipmunks, opposums (whatever they are) and bloody squirrels that my UK visitors think are cute, but are in fact, like the other buggers I’ve mentioned, bloody pests). It is natural, but wrong, to assume that the Badger State is so-named after the badger. On the contrary, the badger got the honour of becoming our state animal because we were already the Badger State (and nobody had the imagination to think it would be funnier to have a different animal, like the chipmunk, or the cockroach, as its state animal). It was the Cornish miners who gave our state its nickname. When they came to the Western part of the state to mine tin, or lead, or something (they named town which they used as the base for mining “Mineral Point”, and if you go to Mineral Point it is still full of people with names straight out of a Daphne Du Maurier novel) were forced to live in holes dug into the hills which they recognized as being like badger setts. The nickname originates in the exploitation of workers, or the dignity of labour, depending on your preference.

You can see below (if I’ve managed to load the images correctly) the Wisconsin coat of arms (Yes, we have a coat of arms, as well as a bird, an animal, a flower, etc) followed by the Cornish coat of arms.

This was a public service announcement for the benefit of the President of the United States of America. And, to be fair, nearly everyone who lives in Wisconsin.

[1] Not, unfortunately, a cricket badger. That’s me.

Russia or California ?

by John Quiggin on November 23, 2019

Would Republican voters rather live under a government like that of Russia, or one like that of California? This sounds a bit like those polling questions we used to laugh at, such as the 2009 finding that 14% of New Jersey Republicans thought Obama was Antichrist and 15% weren’t sure. But it actually reflects the choice Republican voters may well be facing.

Update: I was worried that I might be going over the top with this post. Immediately after putting it up, I found Bret Stephens saying much the same thing, (substituting Ukraine for Russia) in the New York Times. Not that I need Stephens’ endorsement, but obviously these thoughts are in the air. Also, I think Noah Smith mentioned the California scenario a while back, but I couldn’t find where. End update

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So, this rich pedophile/trafficker in the rape of minors guy killed himself in what is ambiguously federal-run, NY-local jail. One imagines he did this to avoid the agony of his revolting crimes being discussed in court, inability to conceive 45 years in prison, the real kind where you don’t get to check out for half the day, and a craven fear of facing the victims of his innumerable rapes (said by a number of credible sources to amount to three a day.) Now, it’s true that Trump has accused a president of being responsible, and that by strict and iron rules of the Republican law “it’s always projection,” he himself is guilty. And it’s also true that he or some flunkie in the federal justice system (cough Barr) are the only people capable of kicking Epstein out of suicide watch just eleven days after a suicide attempt.

Epstein had so many contacts with so many powerful or influential or intellectually prestigious people (like, just so, so randomly, Murray Gell-Mann) that’s it’s very tempting to imagine someone must have taken him out. BUT, we have to consider how much this jail sucks, and how little the guards give a crap about anyone, and how particularly they probably don’t give a crap about child molesters. They didn’t follow even their own lame procedures, taking him off suicide watch after only eleven days, placing him in a cell without a fellow inmate (who is meant in part to warn guards and in part to talk the other inmate out of being depressed (?)), and failing to check on him every 30 minutes as required. These places are notoriously under-staffed, in addition to which there are almost twice as many inmates in the facility than what it was built for.

I have a friend who’s been under both failure mode direct observation and well-run direct observation. For…reasons, but she’s fine now. In failure mode D.O. they just look in on you from time to time, let’s say half-hourly, having made sure at the beginning that there’s nothing in your room that you can ever hurt yourself with, but actually failing on this front because you can hurt yourself on the very construction of the room/shower/sheets etc. Successful D.O. is when they watch you literally every second, and if you so much as glance at a paper clip they are on your ass like white on rice. You can’t go to the bathroom by yourself. It’s so draining that they do it in four-hour shifts, around the clock. You know what that must be? Expensive. So expensive. You could do it somewhat more cheaply with panoptical clear cells, and by deputizing other inmates as guarded guards.

Inmates on suicide watch are generally placed in a special observation cell, surrounded with windows, with a bolted down bed and no bedclothes, the official said. A correction officer — or sometimes a fellow inmate trained to be a “suicide companion” — is typically assigned to sit in an adjacent office and monitor the inmate constantly.

Robert Gangi, an expert on prisons and the former executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said guards also generally take shoelaces and belts away from people on suicide watch. “It’s virtually impossible to kill yourself,” Mr. Gangi said.

Was this too expensive? Did he get crowded out? Were there not enough guards to run the suicide watch centre? Were the officers just sick of him whining about his private island full of child rape victims? I guess we’ll find out, but the answer is going to be some combination of the previous and some further, mundane poorly-run federal jail problem that hasn’t occurred to me. Or, I mean, I guess it could be some high-up in the DOJ had him taken off suicide watch and then murdered! But, you know, almost certainly not. Now what’s necessary is to give his accusers something equivalent to the day in court they have been cheated of, with the most thorough investigation of all time, of his finances, contacts, records, co-conspirators, Alan Dershowitz, and who all else ever went to those fancy parties. Like every other Democrat I’ve ever met, I don’t care what side of the aisle anybody is from. Let justice rain down like waters. Alternately, burn it all down.

[Belle, why not mention the former president in question by name? Google search trending fans the flame of conspiracy theories even when the intention is to debunk them.]

UPDATE: sure, convince me of your conspiracy theory. I am not entirely unpersuadable on this front.

Right, Absolutely Not.

by Belle Waring on August 2, 2019

What would the world be like if women were unable to withdraw consent with regard to sex? You would be living in North Carolina, is what. Now, as an aside, I would totally live in North Carolina (please don’t tell my dad I would live in the wrong Carolina.) It’s lovely. But boy howdy does it have some terrifying rape laws and legal precedent. I mean, would I let my daughters live there?

Some cases are more difficult than others, especially if the initial act began with consent.

In 1979 the Supreme Court of North Carolina that once a sex act begins, a woman cannot withdraw her consent.

The court wrote that: “if the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused was not guilty of rape, though he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.”

DA Welch called this a “troubling precedent.”

“I feel like you should be able to withdraw consent at any time,” Welch said. “If you have consented to one act, to me it doesn’t mean that act can keep going as long as necessary.”

“However, again it comes back to juries and how they view consent.”

“You will see someone who is consenting to a particular act, and all of a sudden it gets rougher than what they bargained for, or they change their mind, and we’re stuck,” Welch said. “If it goes from one act to another I don’t feel that that law apples, but you still have to deal with that issue in front of a jury, and that’s going to be very hard to convict.”

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Yeah, Sorta.

by Belle Waring on July 29, 2019

This article is posted on Slate but is not, in fact, #slatepitchy, but rather, informative! NY recently passed a law banning revenge porn. Which is great! But it has a flaw. A loophole so big you could take the trouble of dynamiting a tunnel below some Alpine pass and then float a loaded container ship through it on a shallow, glassine stream. Because, you see, if the person non-consensually uploading pornography has the “intent to cause harm to the emotional, financial or physical welfare of another person,” then it’s a crime, and the victim can bring suit on the grounds that the perpetrator shared images of her “with the purpose of harassing, alarming, or annoying” her. But…

…[U]nfortunately, most cases of nonconsensual sharing of sexual images wouldn’t necessarily fall into the category of harassment, nor does the individual distributing the photos always want to cause some kind of distress to the person depicted.
Take the case of the 30,000-member Facebook group Marines United, which was outed in 2017 for hosting hundreds, potentially thousands, of explicit photos of female Marines and veteran service members without their consent. The creators and users of that group likely weren’t sharing images of unclothed female Marines in order to harm them [?!!!]. They were sharing the photos for their own entertainment. The group’s members probably didn’t even want the women to know their photos had been posted in the group. Under the New York law, those women wouldn’t have much recourse. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit that works on policy and helps victims of nonconsensual pornography, 80 percent of people who share private and sexual images of someone without consent aren’t trying to harm anyone….

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The Lavatories of Democracy

by Henry on July 10, 2019

[being a review of Alex Hertel-Fernandez’ State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States ,“ and the Nationcross posted from HistPhil]

 

A couple of months ago, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell wrote a long journalistic article on the influence of ALEC, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, on legislation in U.S. states. ALEC has had enormous influence on state legislatures by providing model bills and courting lawmakers. O’Dell suggested on Twitter that this marked “the first time anyone has been able to concretely say how much legislation is written by special interests.” This … wasn’t exactly accurate. Columbia University political science professor Alex Hertel-Fernandez, who is briefly quoted in the piece, had recently published his book State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States,” and the Nation, which applied similar data to similar effect.

It was a real pity that the book didn’t get the credit it deserved, and not just for the obvious reasons. While the article was good, it focused on describing the outcomes of ALEC’s influence. The book does this but much more besides. It provides a detailed and sophisticated understanding of how ALEC has come to have influence throughout the U.S., how it is integrated with other conservative organizations, and how progressives might best respond to its success.

It’s a great book – crisply written, straightforward, and enormously important. It is energetic and useful because it is based on real and careful research. Hertel-Fernandezâ’s politics are obviously and frankly on the left. But even though his analysis starts from his political goals, it isn’t blinded by them so as to distort the facts.

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Transactional Trumpism

by John Quiggin on April 21, 2019

The idea that Trump voters were former Democrats driven by economic anxiety, seems finally to have died. As was clear immediately after the election, most Trump voters had previously voted for Romney, and most of the rest were classic swinging voters who had voted for Republicans as well as Democrats in the past. The remnant of the remnant reflected the drift from Democrats to Republicans of less educated whites that long predated Trump (though it may have helped him win the Republican nomination).

Solving that puzzle, though raises another one. Why were so few traditional Republicans repelled by Trump to the extent that they would vote for Clinton, or else abstain. And why does Trump continue to attract such strong Republican support.

One answer is what might be called “transactional Trumpism“. This is the idea that a large group of Republicans dislike Trump’s racism and misogyny, but support him because of his success in delivering a traditional Republican agenda. The problem I have with this explanation is: what success?

The standard items on the list are: Supreme Court appointments, tax cuts and deregulation. But
(1) these things are the absolute minimum that would be expected from any Republican president
(2) Trump has made a mess of all them
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The transformation of left neoliberalism

by Henry on March 5, 2019

I haven’t been blogging at Crooked Timber as much as I used to. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active – the last two years have probably been the most productive two years of my life (it turns out that my way of dealing with political stress is to write. and write. and write – more on that as the stuff I have been up to comes out). But it’s hard to resist noting Brad DeLong’s <a href=”https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/4/18246381/democrats-clinton-sanders-left-brad-delong”>very good interview</a>, and Mike Konczal’s response to it. Brad:

<blockquote>Until something non-rubble-ish is built in the Republican center, what might be good incremental policies just cannot be successfully implemented in an America as we know it today. We need Medicare-for-all, funded by a carbon tax, with a whole bunch of UBI rebates for the poor and public investment in green technologies. That’s the best policy given the political-economic context. If the political-economic context were different — well, I’m fundamentally a neoliberal shill. It is very nice to use market means to social democratic ends when they are more effective, and they often are. If you can properly tweak market prices, you then don’t just have one smart guy trying to design a policy that advances an objective — you have 30 million people all over the country, all incentivized to design a policy. That’s a wonderful thing to have.</blockquote>

Mike:

<blockquote>Delong focuses on the political aspect of this shift, noting that there is nothing on the conservative Right that meets left-leaning neoliberals halfway to try and negotiate market-based policies. “Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” and yet conservatives give him zero credit, call him a socialist, and actually attack each of these ideas just as much as they would more ultra-left policies. … I’ve also carried a rifle in this battle, trying to move the party Left—and it is happening. But this movement is happening largely because the story that left neoliberals tell us all about the economy itself, not just the politics of it, has fallen apart. … This is a matter of ideas: ideas having failed, and us needing new ones. … The positive effects of more inequality never happened. … we are seeing a revival of structural arguments that wages are increasingly determined by institutional structures rather than individual measures. … Relaxation of antitrust enforcement would lead to more competition and innovation, as was told. Unions would no longer get in the way of businesses. [but] …  firm dynamism has fallen dramatically. The rate of business startups has fallen. … high markups and profits, low interest rates, weak investment—point to a significant market power problem that impacts the macroeconomy.</blockquote>

Mike is building on the old Internet argument about ‘left neoliberalism’ (a term that I semi-accidentally popularized; but the best and most succinct <a href=”http://bactra.org/weblog/778.html”>account was Cosma’s</a>). It’s notable that the people like Brad, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein who got grief in that debate have moved significantly to the left in the interim: Brad’s interview is a formal acknowledgment of a shift that has been taking place for a long time. Which is not to say that they are going to join the DSA, but that just as there’s a significant distinction between social democrats and democratic socialists, they have plausibly changed from being left neoliberals to neoliberal leftists. It isn’t just that they want neoliberal tools to deliver left-leaning results; they have always wanted that. It is that they tacitly or explicitly realize that preferred neoliberal means of policy delivery need to be embedded in a framework that is being built up by a broader social movement.

Two questions follow (for me, anyway). One is for the neoliberal leftists, as a part of a broader left coalition. When and to what extent will their preferred approach to delivering policy clash with, or undermine, the necessary conditions for achieving collective action and making the policy sustainable? If they are pushing for market means towards social democratic ends, that is fine and good – markets can indeed sometimes be the best way to deliver those ends, and few of us would want to be completely without them (including Marxists like <a href=”https://catalyst-journal.com/vol2/no3/socialism-for-realists”>Sam Gindin</a>. But one key lesson of the last couple of decades is that market provision of benefits makes it harder to build and sustain coalitions – private gain and public solidarity are at best uncomfortable bedfellows. Figuring out the political tradeoffs – when market means are worthwhile even when they make collective action tougher, or where non-market means might be better for sustainability reasons, even when markets are more efficient – is going to be hard, and we need to start building shared language and concepts to make it easier to resolve the inevitable disputes.

The other is for the left including both its neoliberal and non-neoliberal variants. It is clear why Brad and others are jumping ship – apart from the intellectual problems that Mike describes, there isn’t a politically viable there there to their right. But  I am not as sure as I would like to be about the there there to their left either. The left is enjoying a resurgence in the US (not so much elsewhere). There are coalitions being formed, plans being conceived. But there are enormous obstacles to be overcome. First in the US (where the system seems almost deliberately designed to prevent the radical action required e.g. to tackle global warming, and where billionaires can credibly threaten to pull down the election if the Democratic candidate is not to their liking). Second, at the global level, where the soi-disant liberal order is in decay, and it is not clear that there is very much that is going to replace it. There may be no plausible choice in American politics other than the left right now. That doesn’t mean that the left has a very good chance of doing the things that it needs to do.