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January 06, 2009

Comments

Good post.

Myself, I've always been a kind of hybrid. On the one hand, I was never neo-liberal. It has always seemed to me clear that a free market means (or should mean) a market in which everyone is free to play by the rules and no one picks winners, not a market that has no rules, or in which the players get to come up with them themselves. Also, that there are a number of different good and fair sets of rules, and that one can pick among them on various grounds, e.g. their tendency to produce more rather than less equality over time. (This is one serious way in which one can work for justice without looking like what conservatives think liberals are: it's not confiscatory, it's a matter of setting up the best of several perfectly good sets of ground rules.)

Moreover, I've always liked Galbraith's view of countervailing powers: that things work best when various large forces (corporations, government, labor) can check one another's power. I've always thought of this as one of my (etymologically) conservative traits, though of course, in the US at least, it leads to politically left results. (In Mao's China, things might be different.) I think government is presently an inadequate counter to corporations, and labor has no power to speak of. And I think that the latter, especially, should change.

Plus, I think there are clear areas in which markets fail and government should take up the slack. The provision of public goods, for instance.

On the other hand, I've never thought that nationalizing industries just because they're large or important (as opposed to: because markets are inappropriate to them, e.g. the military), was a good idea; I think that wage and price controls are almost always dumb; I hate regulation that has become divorced from any real purpose; and I want my liberalism to be smart and non-dogmatic. (Preemptive note: "non-dogmatic" here is not code for rejecting any specific dogmas; it just means the cast of mind.)

So back in, say, the early 70s, I was a lot less left of (what was then the) center than I am now. Oddly, my views do not seem to me to have changed in their essentials...

This is actually pretty scary: this is about the third time I've been sure I've signed out as Moe after removing sp*m, but then had comments post under his name. If identities are somehow getting sticky in the new TypePad, so that just signing out doesn't really purge my Moe-ness, that's a big problem.

Needless to say, the comment above is me, not Moe, who I am sure would hate having his name even remotely associated with it, and to whom I apologize.

i like the countervailing powers point -- i was unaware of that concept but i htink it fits nicely. what i would like to see in the labor world is some semblance of balance at the bargaining table -- it would be bad if it tilted the other way, but we're a long way from there.

i'm largely with you too on being a hybrid in practice -- there are a million different areas where I'd like less regulation (wireless spectrum, copyright, zoning, bar certification, etc.).

i guess the main point is that i think a lot of liberals would recognize that a lot of these "old left" policies are actually quite good if we could remove the ideological blinders and stop worrying about being seen as too liberal or paleo or whatever

Let me chime in here with a different point of view towards all this.

I'd just like to make a distinction here between the diagnosis of paleo-liberalism and the prescription.

I think I'm about the same age as Publius, hence went to college around the same time. I don't think that I ever thought that class warfare was the wrong perspective to approach these problems with. Nor do I really know how neo-liberalism presents an alternative to a class-based analysis as an explanation for political motive and ideology (this is probably just my ignorance, though). There's a footnote somewhere in Peters' American Public Policy that cites an article that did a two-dimensional analysis of Congressional voting patterns and found that with the dimensions of class and race, you got a pretty good predictor of how a congressman would vote. If anything, I might think that race is more fundamental to people's political preferences than old-school economic determinism once thought.

But, look, hey, that's just the explanation of the problem, not its solution. Nobody I've ever known believed in price controls. Maybe some people here and there talk nationalization, but that's always seemed far-fetched. I've always been generally pro-union, but that's not to say there aren't some compelling objections to the types of labor contracts that typically get negotiated. As evidenced by the this latest crisis, public policy is still something that we're learning to do. Have the goals of liberalism really changed? I'm not so sure that the goals of liberals have changed as much as (1) most liberals just became more astute about the critiques against some liberal policy proposals (2) Ronald Reagan cast a kind of twenty five year shadow on our attitudes towards government.

As people are fond of pointing out, many of the things that old school leftists fought for have simply come to pass. Keynesianism is something we take for granted as a gadget in our economic toolkit. We have a progressive income tax. Free education. And our legal system has come a long way towards protecting the rights of minorities of all stripes compared to where it was just forty years ago. We have Social Security. And we have Medicare. I've read that government pays about 50 cents of every dollar spent on health care in this country.

So part of it might not be that old school liberalism became less popular as much as all but the most outlandish ideas have just become part of our political structure. Instead of thinking that liberalism was defeated, why not think that liberalism just won?

Yep, good post; I guess I'm "old left" in that it has always seemed obvious that a lot of these "old left" policies are actually quite good and more importantly, that to win, you have to change the norms.

One could, however, compose similarly compelling stories about many threads of policy, foreign and domestic, where the Clinton-era 'new liberal consensus' has foundered in the face of reality. This creates opportunities now, to forge new and better gestalts, but folks like me worry that the Obama administration is going to pick up where the Clinton admin left off and miss these precious chances for change.

My own obsession, environmental policy, is rife with workarounds and half-measures the Clinton administration deployed; all better by far than the criminal looting encouraged under Reagan, Bush and W-for-worst. But on the whole, the Clinton administration didn't fundamentally advance the project of effective environmental regulation mostly accomplished under Nixon for chrissake. And sure, it was the GOP Congress for the second two-thirds, but my point is this is the way Bill Clinton sold himself. He was a pro-business neoliberal Democrat; triangulation was the strategy.

So whatever 'retro left' is, I think it has to start with unwinding, to the extent we can, that cozying-up to corporate power that remains the natural instinct of most of the media and far too many Democrats in office.
Put some blue collars, and some green collars and some pink collars, on the Blue Dogs. That'd be a start.

I am a labor lawyer for a union, maybe a bit older than Publius. I'm glad to see "liberals" starting to see the utility of unions. The broad middle class in the United States did not come about by accident and market forces alone did not and could not produce it. It is (or, more properly, was) the product of public policy choices favoring distribution of a slightly larger piece of the pie to producers over owners. The social benefits were enormous, starting with social stability and resilience to the type of recession/depression we are seeing now, and ending with creating the type of social mobility democracy should encourage. I can't start to name all of the really successful and smart people I've known allowed access to great education in large part because their blue-collar parents could help with education costs; I don't think as much of that is as possible today as it was even 25 years ago. And it is always worth remembering that without organized forces representing the interests of "workers", broadly defined, there would be far fewer governmental programs that even neoliberals seem to like; look at the history of the 1964 and '65 civil rights laws (UAW deserves a lot of praise for its crucial support there, btw), Medicaid, the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, etc.

Anyway, glad to have you on board.

I wish moe could have visited this place to see what an active place it had become, before his self-imposed evacuation. If another had fled defending their beliefs rather than fight i would have accused them of cowardice.

I've followed this site since the original Tacitus and the kitty mascot. Ya'll really need to either make a clean break from the markers of the past or bring those sane folk back. given Moe's behavior over the last few years i no longer consider him among the latter

Nice post. There's an interesting gap in naming here. You have names for the old fashioned Left, 'Retro Left' and 'Paleo Left', but none for the Clintonite/Blairite left, which, as names, don't work well because I tend to think that Clinton and Blair were symptoms of the opinions and not movers. It's a great opportunity to score points (the Pseudo Left, Quasi Left, etc), which is tempting, but rather than dancing on the possible tombstone floor, I'd just point out that that this part of the Left can only arise in good times where it is easy to marginalize voices of the traditional Left.

If you are going to support unions, could you at least support the idea that private businesses should have the same rules applied to them as applied to federal and state government. In the federal government, workplaces are open shop and seniority has little effect on the workplace.

Also, EFCA will mainly affect the service industry. When you consider that it is estimate that 75,000 retail establishments are planning on closing in 2009, does it make sense to increase their cost of doing business?

I've always been open to the idea that having unions around was a good idea. It's just that I think the very threat of unionization is enough to secure many of the advantages of it, in most cases, without incurring the costs. That the optimum level of unionization is way below 100%. But you certainly need some unions around to make the threat plausible.

That said, you can argue that we're presently below that optimum level. I don't think that's right, but it's not an unreasonable thing to argue.

But the proposed cure is EXACTLY what we're discussing here. You can't just say, "We need more workers in unions, X would achieve it, therefore X is ok." Depriving workers of the secret ballot is a ghastly way to further unionization! The only reason it's going to be more effective than holding the election on an accelerated basis is that it WILL empower unions to intimidate workers more effectively. So, quite aside from the particular workers intimidated, (I've experienced this first hand, so don't claim it doesn't happen!) it will give a selective advantage in organizing to thuggish unions. You want that?

If unions weren't major supporters of the Democratic party, I don't think the left would take such a vicious proposal the least bit seriously. The partisan self interest behind this proposal is just glaring.

"It also comes from nominal liberals,"

I'm confused by your cite, since it goes to a WaPo editorial, and the WaPo editorial board hasn't been liberal for about twenty years.

"...primarily among liberals. We need to stop apologizing"

Also, I really wish, speaking for myself, that you'd quit writing these "we" posts, and write in first person singular. I find myself just about never including myself in your "we." Speaking for myself. Someone who, for instance, has been reasonably non-ignorant about the history of the Middle East for more than three decades, and who has never been this kind of non-retro liberal "we" should stop being, and so on. You've done this innumerable times, and it's really irritating, each and every time.

Could you please quit talking about your sins and regrets as something "we" all share with you? Either speak to your own beliefs and past, or lecture people in second person, but please stop trying to drag everyone else in as a fellow traveller with you, unless you want to name specific people, pretty pretty please. If so, many thanks!

Depriving workers of the secret ballot is a ghastly way to further unionization

People keep saying this, but no one has ever been able to show any direct reason why they consider it "ghastly". (There are wild claims of union organizers beating up people who vote against having a union at the worksite, but this claims are not substantiated.)

The only reason it's going to be more effective than holding the election on an accelerated basis is that it WILL empower unions to intimidate workers more effectively.

The main reason it's going to be effective is that it will prevent employers from intimidating workers. Which anti-union action by employers is documented and substantive.

Depriving workers of the secret ballot is a ghastly way to further unionization!

Just out of idle curiosity, can you list for me all the things at your workplace that are done via secret ballot? Thanks in advance!

"The main reason it's going to be effective is that it will prevent employers from intimidating workers."

Ok, explain to me, given that the employer as well as the union has access to the names on those cards, how this is supposed to prevent employers from intimidating workers. Telling the employer exactly who wanted the union accomplishes this how?

It doesn't. Card check EXPANDS opportunities for intimidation, it doesn't take them away. It only works on the assumption it's the union exploiting that expanded opportunity.

Perhaps you mean that it deprives the employer of a period of time before the election in which they could be intimidating. Well, then bring the election quicker!

The very fact this is taken seriously undermines the claim of those advocating it to actually care about workers.

I've got to go with gary farber on that one. I'm an "unapologetic liberal" and come from a long line of them. I never lost sight of the issues, or obfuscated them, or feared class warfare because it made people uncomfortable. There's no we here.

aimai

how this is supposed to prevent employers from intimidating workers.

Unions protect workers from employer intimidation.

That's why employers object to unions.

The sudden compassion for workers who are being "deprived of the secret ballot" would appear to very strongly correlate to a strong feeling that workers should not unionize.

The method proposed - allowing workers to indicate that they want to form a union by card check - is much faster, allowing much less time for interference, intimidation, and misinformation by employers. Such anti-union interference, intimidation, and misinformation is well-documented and extensive. The same people who object to workers being "deprived of the secret ballot" because unions might intimidate people who don't want to unionize, seem to have no objections at all to the active and ongoing intimidation of workers who do want to unionize.

I never lost sight of the issues, or obfuscated them, or feared class warfare because it made people uncomfortable. There's no we here.

I assumed Publius meant the Royal We.

You're in my face, as it were.

It’s not merely that the public isn’t focused on the problem. They don’t even see it as a problem. Unions want to argue (correctly) that employers illegally block their organizing efforts. But the public (and pundits) won’t really care unless they think unions are good idea in the first place. To them, employer retaliation may sound distasteful, but it may ultimately provide a net public good.

Aren’t you essentially conceding here that unions (and union supporters) are out of step (to the left) with the public at large? From there it comes across as they just don’t know what’s best for them, we need to convince them or force it on them for their own good.

Also, means and ends… You seem to be saying that if you simply convince me that unions are a good and desirable thing then I’ll be less concerned about the means of achieving union expansion. That’s not the case. (I realize that your argument is not directed at me but at those on the left.) If you convince me there is a problem (employer retaliation against organizing) then I’m going to say enforce or strengthen existing laws against that.

I am getting tired of people saying it takes away the secret ballot. Pure and sumple, it doesn't. So would those of you who keep saying it does just drop that line of argument.
And I agree with Gary. IF you (and I am speaking of anyone) want to discuss your philosophy, change of direction, future orientation, please discuss it as yours, not ours. BTW, I did notice that publius, after one of his we's did parathentically state that at least he felt this way. A slight acknowledgement that there may be some among us who don't fit that description.

"Card check EXPANDS opportunities for intimidation"

Employers don't need expanded opportunities for intimidation; their ability is near total. Why is this so rarely a concern of those so concered about alleged union intimidation?

Here are answers to your questions, Brett.

Also, the Employee Free Choice Act is about a lot more than card check.

"If you convince me there is a problem (employer retaliation against organizing)"

If? Are you kidding? Just go ask any store clerk.

OCSteve: If you convince me there is a problem (employer retaliation against organizing) then I’m going to say enforce or strengthen existing laws against that.

But not actually do anything active to ensure that, despite employer retaliation, employees can still organize?

If you look at the history of
McDonalds, for example, you find that McDonalds will successfully evade even strong laws against employee imtimidation. They do not want their employees to unionize because they want to continue to keep them poorly-paid with low job security. And they succeed.

Again, I'm not taking as terribly convincing people talking up their "concern" that unions won't be required to hold a secret ballot in order to establish a union in the workplace. Given that you, Steve, apparently require no data whatsoever to be convinced that unions are a problem, but haven't been convinced by any of the widespread news stories about employers intimidating employees that this is a problem...

From there it comes across as they just don’t know what’s best for them, we need to convince them or force it on them for their own good.

That's odd, Steve, because that's exactly how employer retaliation against unions comes across: These silly workers, wanting to unionize! They just don’t know what’s best for them, we need to convince them or force it on them for their own good. But you've no objection to that kind of patronizing bullying, I see.

Just as class warfare is never called warfare when it's the rich taking potshots at the poor...

Hmmm... to me the "old Left" was the Communist party, and the "new Left" was SDS in its various incarnations of (eventually) flavors of communism. Suited me fine until Pol Pot, at which point I became an anarchist.

A left-wing anarchist, thank you very much. The anarchist kids these days seem a lot saner than I remember being, back in the day.

Or to put it another way, it's impossible for me to agree that "there are a number of different good and fair sets of rules, and that one can pick among them on various grounds, e.g. their tendency to produce more rather than less equality over time" because it implies that a rule set can be "good and fair" and also "produce more ... inequality over time".

Still, moving away from Clinton/Blair -- excellent!

John: I am getting tired of people saying it takes away the secret ballot. Pure and sumple, it doesn't. So would those of you who keep saying it does just drop that line of argument.

Sorry, no. In theory you are correct. If union organizers get between 30% and 50% they can still call for a secret ballot. But why would they call for a secret ballet election with even 49% support and chance losing? All they need is to get 50% +1 for card check and it’s a done deal. And that decision is left to union organizers, not the workers. In reality it does in fact eliminate the secret ballot.

In any case, there are now Democrats who don’t want to see it even come up for a vote again. When they knew for certain that Republicans would block it or Bush would veto, it was safe to take the union money and support and toe the union line.

But now? Now it could actually pass, and Democrats would be held responsible for it. Blue Dog Democrats and those from right to work states would rather keep their seats than deliver on their quid pro quo. And the party leadership would rather remain in control than lose those seats in coming years. I think it’s dead.

And that decision is left to union organizers, not the workers.

You're making a false distinction.

This thread seems to have gotten slightly sidetracked on the merits (and demerits) of EFCA in particular, and unions more broadly.

I'm more interested in Publius' original crie de coeur. The two key insights that he offers are that (a) markets need regulation and (b) inequality can be destructive. Well, yes. They're both true.

What he doesn't acknowledge is that more has changed over the past few decades than his opinions. I don't think there's any doubt that, by the 1970s, both government regulation and redistributive policies were doing significant harm. That they had accrued, in layers, since the advent of the New Deal, and slowly ossified into a fairly rigid structure, resistant to change or innovation. That's what gave Friedman and his acolytes a receptive audience.

The initial response of liberals was to defend old programs, tooth-and-nail. This was foolish, and proved self-destructive. Americans could clearly see the need for reform; the more liberals denied it, the less they were trusted by the public. That, in turn, created an opening for the ascendance of right-wing radicals, intent on tearing down all regulation, on cutting back government at all levels, and on removing every redistributive mechanism. And you know what? They won elections. Not because they were right, or because they were prudent, but because there were too few effective voices on the other end of the spectrum capable of connecting with the American people.

That's the necessary context for Clinton/Blair. I can't speak for Publius (despite his willingness to speak for us) but none of the DLC-types I knew in the eighties or nineties believed regulation to be inherently evil. They didn't argue that the concentration of wealth was an unamielorated good. They understood full well that markets can never truly operate freely without regulation; that a society which does not take from its most fortunate to offer a chance to its least cannot endure. Their critical insight was the need for balance. They understood that not all regulation is positive, not all expansions of government authority productive, and not all means of redistribution effective. And their scorn for the Old Left came from watching it achieve so much, and then allowing its ideology to trump any recognition of reality.

And suddenly, liberals started winning elections again. They won because, at base, the public had always believed in the need for government to police financial systems, and in redistributive taxation. But the public has never been socialist, has never supported the gradual expansion of governmental authority until it reaches that point.

Once liberals were able to convince the public that they weren't leftists, they were again permitted to govern. That was Clinton's gift. But, like most reforms, the Clintonian return went too far. It pulled the party too far to the center, and the system as a whole out of whack. If the Congress tends to govern by compromise, having one party in the center and the other on the right does not, in fact, produce centrist policies. And then there was another problem. It wasn't clear what the Clintonites were for. They were against Friedman-like excess, and against leftist excess. Which was fine. But they never presented an affirmative vision of how key questions should be answered - mostly preferring to look at those opposing visions, and find a middle ground.

So is it time for a New-New-New Left? Hell, no. Not if, by that, we mean the return of traditional leftist ideas. Does Publius really believe in class struggle? In the nationalization of industries? That economic interests are base, and the rest, superstructure? If he does, I wish him well. His perch on the margins should provide him with an interesting vantage point on the next few years.

I suspect, however, that he does not. He seems to be describing not a new Leftism, but rather, a reinvigorated Liberalism. To be concerned with fostering economic equality through government intervention is Liberal; to believe that it ought to be mandated or imposed, Leftist. To allow workers to organize themselves is Liberal; to merge the interests of the workers and the state, Leftist.

What changed is less Publius himself than his circumstances. The reason that we're seeing a reinvigorated Liberalism is that the conditions are ripe - the problems we face today are well suited to its prescriptions. Suddenly, it is the right which seems singularly blind and out of touch. The pendulum has swung.

You know, the 'we' comes towards the end of the post where Publius is trying to encourage people to do things. It's really hard to imagine how he could build to an exhortation without using it. Now, some may feel 'what do you mean 'we', kemosabe?' and I do a bit, but I'm not sure how the post would work if it wasn't a call to arms. Dawn Johnsen was quoted over at Think Progress as saying

But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power. Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law — and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.

While there are some differences in audience for the two pieces, I'm confused as to why one wouldn't writte to Slate or to Johnsen and say 'don't say 'we', I've always had the ability to feel outrage over this'? (and I don't know, maybe folks did, but I'm interested to know if folks feel about the differences, if any, between the two uses)

To move on to OCSteve's comment, who said
Aren’t you essentially conceding here that unions (and union supporters) are out of step (to the left) with the public at large?

Not speaking for Publius, I'm not sure why this would be classed as a concession. It seems like the left is always 'out of step' with the public at large because it is arguing for change and that automatically has to deal with the inertia of the opinion of the public at large. This is not to get off a cheap shot at conservatism, because it is important to understand why the public wants certain things and when it is important to resist change. But the raison d'etre of the left is to introduce change, so it should come as no surprise that on this or other aspects, the left is trying to move the public at large to their point of view. At any given point, you can argue whether the public's view is correct/appropriate (frex the support for the invasion of Iraq, would it be a proper argument to say that the opinion of the folks on the left who opposed the invasion was out of step with the public?), but simply invoking it doesn't make it right or wrong.

"But now?"

Because Wall Street Journal opinion pieces are reliable reporters on Democratic intentions.

Um, not so much, no. A cite to actual reporting would be more convincing.

Alternatively, Pryor and Lincoln are among the handful of Senators that anti-union interests are doing their best to pressure against EFCA.

Blanche Lincoln might indeed have problems, given her term coming up for re-election in 2010. But Arlen Specter has voted for card check before, and is apt to do it again.

[...] But if they lose Lincoln, then Specter only gets the Democrats to 59. Are there any other Republicans who might flip? Three others -- Ohio's George Voinovich, and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- have received at least $100,000 in union contributions since 2003. Another wild card might be Alaska's Lisa Murkowski; Alaska is a highly unionized state, and the unions have sometimes been supportive of her. If Sarah Palin decides to run against her in 2010, Murkowski will need substantial support from union members to have a chance of defending her seat. Still, all four voted against cloture when the bill came up in 2007, and if Obama's coattails would ordinarily be worth something, that momentum is mitigated by the loss of face that the unions suffered on the auto bailout, when the UAW's public relations effort when nightmarishly.

Most likely, then, the Democrats will need to hold both Lincoln and Specter, as well as win the seat in Minnesota. If any of these contingencies fall through, EFCA faces an uphill battle.

So we have a grand total of one, conceivably two, if Pryor actually does wobble, Democrats maybe not voting for EFCA. Making this sound like a significant Democratic revolt, however, is totally misleading. No matter what, it's going to be an almost 100% party-line vote, no matter how the WSJ or anyone passing along their talking points, spins it.

It's funny. I considered myself a fire-breathing conservative all through the Clinton/Blair years. Didn't start trending Left again until all the Tom Friedmanism died down and class issues started getting taken seriously again.

"While there are some differences in audience for the two pieces, I'm confused as to why one wouldn't writte to Slate or to Johnsen and say 'don't say 'we', I've always had the ability to feel outrage over this'? "

I don't comment at Slate. I haven't read the ThinkProgress piece. Or the Slate piece. I don't comment at ThinkProgress. Why any of this should confuse you, I couldn't say. I'm unaware that I need to write everyone or anyone in creation to object to one person's endless use of a deeply irritating trope.

And publius endlessly uses this "we" formulation, and yes, I question that, and object to it, kemo sabe. 'Nuff said.

"Aren’t you essentially conceding here that unions (and union supporters) are out of step (to the left) with the public at large?"

You say that like it's a bad thing.

That was the case in being against Jim Crow, too. And women's suffrage. And at first, being against the Vietnam War. And, at first, being against the Iraq war. And, at first, being anti-Bush.

And so on.

The left is constantly prematurely right.

This is a feature, not a bug.

observer - that's a really good post. but there are lots on this thread

Why any of this should confuse you, I couldn't say. I'm unaware that I need to write everyone or anyone in creation to object to one person's endless use of a deeply irritating trope.

My apologies for not explaining my point well enough here. I'm just curious how one exhorts without using the first person inclusive. Since your problem is with Publius doing this, I'll just ask some other good soul if they might take a shot at explaining.

LJ: I'm not sure why this would be classed as a concession.

I took it as a concession because it was written as a declarative statement and it’s my assumption/belief that “the left” (that slippery group again) often believe they represent what the public really wants. The rest of your comment clarifies that you think it’s normal for the left to be out of step (thus no concession), but then aren’t we back to a minority group thinking they know what’s really best for the public at large and just need to convince them?


Gary: No matter what, it's going to be an almost 100% party-line vote, no matter how the WSJ or anyone passing along their talking points, spins it.

Time will tell. My guess is that it won’t come up for a vote. The cool thing is that we’ll soon see who is correct.

The left is constantly prematurely right.

I need to get to work, so thanks for sending me on my way with a chuckle. ;)

"Since your problem is with Publius doing this"

To be clear, it's absolutely nothing to do with Publius personally; I react badly to anyone who repeatedly tells me what "we" should and shouldn't do, should and shouldn't believe, when I've never done such things at all.

"... but then aren’t we back to a minority group thinking they know what’s really best for the public at large and just need to convince them?"

Sure. Someone's got to lead the way, and by definition, it's always going to be a minority. What's the alternative? Sudden majority inspiration from God via thunderbolt?

In the end, either the majority gets convinced, or not, and that's what's important. Obviously a minority has to be right first.

So what, exactly, is the problem? Where do you get the idea that change starting with a minority opinion is something bad? When has it ever been otherwise, and how could it possibly be otherwise?

LJ - I'm not returning to the "we" wars. :)

It's just something I'm going to do Gary - I'm sorry in advance.

I think there are contexts where it can be abused, and contexts where it's a good rhetorical device, as others have noted. And honestly, I"m not going to talk any more about it beyond that

"And honestly, I"m not going to talk any more about it beyond that"

Now there's a sentence that deserves a period, if ever one does.

;-)

As a number of commentators have suggested from a variety of points of view, we need to distinguish between old-fashioned liberalism and the retro left (in both its Old Left and New Left guises).

Both (all three?) deserve better than the enormous condescension of history, which is what the "New Democrats" intended for them all.

publius's point is somewhat obscured by his using "liberal" and "left" too interchangeably.

publius: No one’s arguing for socialism.

Perhaps you mean "I'm not arguing for socialism"? Certainly taking the "retro left" (as opposed to old-fashioned liberalism) seriously necessarily entails grappling seriously with the question of socialism (and dismissing it with a wave of the hand is not grappling seriously with it).

My reading, then, is that publius is actually interested in reviving New Deal liberalism, which he insists on calling "the retro left," while still keeping the actual "retro left(s)" out of the conversation.

Thanks for the drop in, Publius and my apologies if I kept the argument going longer than it should have.

OC, hope you make it back to the thread, cause I do think you hit on an important point. After the previous back and forth, I'm hesitant to make any generalizations, but I'm wondering what person who feels they are on the left would disagree with Thoreau's

If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.

I like Ben Alpers' comment, and I have a lot of trouble myself identifying what components of liberalism and leftism I personally subscribe to, especially living in Japan in what is seems to be a fundamentally conservative culture but nonetheless has these strange involuntary reflexes towards change.

The Observer's mythic history of the politics of the 1980s and 1990s leaves a lot to be desired.

There are a lot of reasons that Democrats lost in 1980, 1984 and 1988, but their "tooth and nail" defense of New Deal and Great Society programs falls pretty far down the list. In fact, these programs--if not the taxes required to support them--remained popular. Bill Clinton arguably did more to dismantle these programs than either of his two Republican predecessors had.

From a policy perspective, doggedly maintaining the programs of the New Deal and Great Society, while surely far from ideal, would have been better than what we got instead in the 1990s (though I'm sure that Observer would disagree with me about this).

In addition, 1990s-style "New Democrats" have actually been pretty lousy at winning elections. Facing a deeply unpopular president in a time of economic trouble, Bill Clinton couldn't muster a majority of the vote in 1992. Democrats got hammered in the 1994 midterm elections. Clinton won reelection in 1996, but had virtually no coattails. Democrats did well in 1998, but more because the GOP overreach of impeachment than because of the public particularly affirming the "Third Way." The 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections were all bad for the Democrats. Democrats were successful in 2006, but largely because the public had tired of the Iraq fiasco (and peace has hardly been a signature "New Democrat" issue). That's hardly a great record of electoral success.

The New Democrats' greatest success can be found neither in their policies (which have failed) nor their general electoral success (which is at best mixed), but in intraparty conflicts. Within the Democratic Party itself, the center-right has overwhelmingly succeeded, so much so that we haven't even seen a credible progressive Democratic presidential primary candidate since Jerry Brown and Tom Harkin in 1992.

On at least one issue I completely agree with Observer, however: so long as the public equated liberalism and the left, while equating Democrats with liberalism, Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s were going to have a hard time winning elections. As Rick Perlstein discusses at length in Nixonland, Nixon himself forged the strategy of equating liberalism and the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it was an enormously successful meme.

Of course, there were two ways Democrats could have responded to this political conundrum: clearly distinguishing (Great Society) liberalism from the left or separating themselves from liberalism itself. That they eventually chose the latter path has been bad for both the party and the country.

OCSteve: and it’s my assumption/belief that [the public] often believe they represent what the public really wants.

Fixed that for you. Thanks.

Obviously, it's the right-wing media that really represents what the public really wants, not members of the public. Silly us.

but then aren’t we back to a minority group thinking they know what’s really best for the public at large and just need to convince them?

Yes, we are, but this minority group owns most of the media and lots of politicians, and their idea of "what’s really best for the public at large" is "what will make the most profit for us".

Whereas what "the public" actually want is disregarded as "oh, that's just union organizers". Dude, union members and union organizers are the public.

I wish you well on your journey, Publius. Maybe you are now ready to take up Jamie Galbraith's book "The Predator State", and consider his point that liberals should abandon the "free market" without your eyes burning out or rending your garments.

"Moe" might take a peek as well.

One more thought on old-fashioned liberalism and retro lefts:

New Deal and Great Society liberalism shared with both the Old Left and most (though not all) manifestations of the New Left a commitment to what James C. Scott (in Seeing Like a State) calls "high modernism," i.e. a positivistic, rationalist, and technocratic commitment to various sorts of central planning. High modernists tend to ignore practical local knowledge, which Scott calls metis.

I hope that we (whoever "we" are) can learn from other strains of political thought--anarchist and Green thought, for example--to value local knowledge, decentralization, and sustainability more than old-fashioned liberalism and the many retro lefts tended to.

Ooops...that final clause shouldn't have had a definite article in it:

"...more than old-fashioned liberalism and many retro lefts tended to."

welcome to the Class War, Publius. Some of us older warriors are getting a little tired and can use an infusion of fresh blood.

Another factor you're overlooking is _who_, exactly, gave up on class-based liberalism in the 1990s. I sure didn't. One probably large reason why not? Neither of my parents, who met while attaining graduate degrees together in the late 1960s, earned even $20,000 in a year until I was almost out of high school. Another? After getting an honors degree in economics, I struggled for years to find jobs as a deli clerk, a library assistant, a temp file clerk, a temp customer service rep. I was poor, I worked with the poor, and when I got my teaching degree, well, I finally had a salary but still worked with the poor, even more so.

I was hard-left without apology; I voted Nader in '96 and '00 both. Nader proved not to be the right vehicle, so I voted Kerry and Obama, but I'm watching y'all catch up with me. The problem isn't that everyone forgot economic class mattered; the problem is that those of us who remembered, weren't the kind of people who those seeking power want to be seen with.

Better late than never! I'd add one point: the class war waged by the American aristocracy is vastly augmented and assisted by the culture wars. That is because "the left" is divided into discrete interest groups who are divisible by their cultural "identities." (E.g. the Af-Am community and gay marriage.) When class war issues predominate over culture war issues, the left can much better unite around common economic interests. We can also pull back the "Reagan Democrats" into the fold.

The new left needs to unite around class issues in order to avoid being picked apart at the cultural fault-lines.

That is because "the left" is divided into discrete interest groups who are divisible by their cultural "identities." (E.g. the Af-Am community and gay marriage.)

Since "discrete" means "Constituting a separate thing", "distinct", this is flagrantly untrue. The African-American community includes many LGBT people and many straight people who have no wish to see any group of people legally discriminated against by the US government.

The idea that black people are all straight, and gay people are all white, which underpins the notion that "the Af-Am community" and "gay marriage" are discrete interests, is as racist as it is homophobic, and that's saying something.

but then aren’t we back to a minority group thinking they know what’s really best for the public at large and just need to convince them?

It's nice that someone at least cares about what's best for the public at large, as opposed to what's simply in their own short-term interest. And why wouldn't one try to convince others of what one thinks is best for others, even if one is in the minority? (I know these points have been made, but I just had to say it my way.)

The Repubs have NEVER forgotten the (OLD-1930's) version of class war. They have been waging it all along. What else do you think the tax breaks for the rich were all about ??

Well put, jesurgislac. The point for me is that we need to focus more on strengthening all these unsortable threads of the progressive fabric than on subsuming them in a single ideological project.

Just for example, unions and greenies both need to be stronger, not least in order to sort some of our intra-movement laundry.

Yours is awfully close to my own political evolution, over the same essential timeline. "Silicon Valley" liberal is particularly interesting, because after all, it's easy to be fiscally conservative when knowledge work is paying off, and the idea that cultivating (what we'd like to believe is) a hard-to-emulate and valuable skill set is the key to success is easy when the money is flowing. Maybe, like me, you'd had some experience with union labor in the industrial sector, and how they slowed the more dynamic engineering or thinking work, and maybe you even, like me, were suspicious of their demands for compensation relative to their education and workload. Maybe you knew a guy (or were a guy) working 80 hours a week on salary.

I agree that circumstances changed. Getting out of college (grad school in my case) as the boom wound down cast some doubt on that can-do success ethic. Watching wages hold still while profits recovered really had me scratching my head too. Watching as health plans that included my new kids threatened to engulf my paycheck depressed me, and I wondered why it was taking my family two incomes and 40 grand in college debt to match what Dad did alone twenty years earlier, with only high school under his belt. I also noticed that European half-Socialist models managed avoided a Stalin this time even as, despite the rhetoric, the American right ascended to a government that was bigger and more expensive than ever, and meaner, but the effort managed to not improve quality of life by any measure beyond the hypotenuse of my television screen. I grew to value some job security a little more.

I've read occasionally that the early labor movement actually had a lot to do with those expanded opportunities that my parents, among others, enjoyed for a few decades last century, and it's been tailing off with the decline of Labor. Not a bad correlation, and I'm trying to read more broadly about it, but I have to think there were some important international politics going on over that time period too. It's also important, vis a vis the radical movements of a century ago, that the workers' revolutions in other countries didn't exactly provide the hoped-for examples.

I didn't know about that that clash-of-the-behemoths idea was attributed to Galbraith. I might have bought more unreservedly ten years ago (although I don't quite let it go now). No surprise that the owners abuse the workers. Also no surprise that the workers try to milk the system.

K (occasional reader, first time commenter--extra dismal and anecotal for my debut!)

"We need to stop apologizing for believing in the role of government to correct market failures, to limit inequality, and to provide stimulus."

The problem that I have with leftism is the apparent belief that diagnosing a problem means that proposed solutions must therefore be correct, and that opposing the solution means you don't care about the problem. Or alternatively that opposing awful 'solutions' to things that you don't think are crucially important means that you would oppose non-awful solutions. (And this doesn't just apply to conservatives arguing with leftists, you see it all the time in histories of leftist purges of their own ranks, whether violent [historical communist] or almost comical [e.g. Workers Revolutionary Party UK].

This comes up in a lot of areas

For example:

conservative critique that aspects of the welfare state make deep and extended poverty more likely is not countered with a showing that the statement is false, but rather with the attack that such a critique means that conservatives

This seems especially obvious in the current EFCA discussions.

For example, Gary seems to believe that pointing out that the EFCA isn't all about removing the secret ballot (complete with evidentiary links!) provides a defense of card check.

Many commentors seem to beleive that pointing out how much power companies have (diagnosing a problem) is a good answer to objections about additional pressure that removing secret ballot causes.

A laundry list of nastiness of the other side isn't a JUSTIFICATION for normally unthinkable actions. See for example Saddam Hussein. Tell me why you normally think secret ballot is good in national elections. If your objection to the PROCEDURAL protections is that it interferes with your substantive goal but that you wouldn't remove them when it interferes with the substantive goals of people disagree with, I think you aren't really appreciating why procedural protections exist. People who value criminal protections typically don't think that "taping interrogations will interfere with catching criminals" is a particularly good objection EVEN IF TRUE because the procedural protections aren't just for criminals they are also for innocent people.

More generally,

Yes the government can correct market failures. But we should be clear that GM going out of business is a MARKET success, not a market failure. Putting someone out of a money-losing business is good for the economy. Should we mitigate the individual harm? Sure! But that is a very different focus from 'trying to save the domestic auto industry'. Which is A) unnecessary, and B) obscures most of the best ways to actually help the individual workers get on to a successful place.

Yes the government can provide stimulus, but let us be empirical about it. The reason why Obama is pushing tax cuts is because they provide more stimulus than almost any spending program and they are easier to enact than spending 2 years figuring out exactly which infrastructure needs upgrading, by which time the need for stimulus has passed, and both those options are better than borrowing willy-nilly and then overspending on bad infrastructure. (Which is not to say that Republican philosophy on stimulus is correct. Government stimulus is a TEMPORARY leveling of the business cycle, not a refutation of it. Permanent tax cuts are almost never stimulus in that sense though they may be good at high marginal levels which don't really apply in the US right now)

Limiting inequality may be a good goal (I'm personally skeptical that it is particularly important so long as people are talking about a non-static top 1% and a non-static bottom 2%, if we are talking about a static top 15% and a static bottom 15% I'd be much more concerned) but trying to get there through redistributive taxation is probably a bad method overall.

To the extent that liberals are being realistic about things, they shouldn't be apologetic at all. But if the public doesn't agree with you, don't be apologetic, try to explain yourself better AND maybe try listening to the public's objections. Hell conservatives should try that too.

As for observor's comments on why liberals lost in the 1980s...

Crime, crime, crime. The liberal approach to crime was tried in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It didn't work well. Citizens hated it. The failure to admit that fact was enormous in their losses.

@Keifus,

Nice comment - more please when you have the time.

@Ben Alpers,


New Deal and Great Society liberalism shared with both the Old Left and most (though not all) manifestations of the New Left a commitment to what James C. Scott (in Seeing Like a State) calls "high modernism," i.e. a positivistic, rationalist, and technocratic commitment to various sorts of central planning. High modernists tend to ignore practical local knowledge, which Scott calls metis.

I hope that we (whoever "we" are) can learn from other strains of political thought--anarchist and Green thought, for example--to value local knowledge, decentralization, and sustainability more than old-fashioned liberalism and the many retro lefts tended to.

This really nails it for me. I've always been a Liberal (with a little bit of Left thrown in on an issue by issue basis) on goals, but I parted company with mainstream Liberalism some time back on the best means with which to pursue those goals. Technocratic “modernist” solutions strike me as being appropriate only for certain types of issues and problematic, even counterproductive, in other areas. In particular I distinguish between supporting and pushing forward progressive social changes on the one hand, and controlling and managing externalities generated by actors in the private sector on the other hand.

It seems to me that govt. directed top down social engineering is best reserved for minimizing and mitigating externalities (e.g. regulating the leverage used by financial firms, environmental regulations on pollution, etc.) and is much less effective when used to try to drive social and cultural changes. The latter task is better handled at the grass roots level, and when the govt. gets involved in supporting it there is a risk of a backlash occurring - The Great Society spawns Nixonland.

I'm hoping that the resurgence of progressive grass roots activism which has occurred recently can push for social change in a decentralized manner, while at the same time providing necessary political support for rebuilding the top down regulatory infrastructure we need to manage externalities, without overreaching and provoking the soft of conservative backlash which arose in the 1960s and 1970s, by applying the right tools to the task in both areas.

IMHO "we" (sorry Gary!) need to keep the "if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" principle in mind, and remember to ask if a given problem is best dealt with in a top down or bottom up fashion, or by some combination of the two. Also, the structure of govt. in the US makes it possible to focus on multiple levels - Federal, State and Local, so I think it is a mistake for progressives to focus too much on just the Federal govt.


Oops, make that:

provoking the sort of conservative backlash

r, f what's the difference?

Sorry about that.

"The problem that I have with leftism is the apparent belief that diagnosing a problem means that proposed solutions must therefore be correct,"

Of course, that's wrong. The belief is that one looks for solutions, and tries them until one finds one that works, and then keeps tweaking it to improve it.

Naturally, this is difficult enough given the difficulties passing legislation, and is far more difficult when the stance of one party is always to roll back the solution completely, or replace it with...drumroll, please!... a tax cut!

"and that opposing the solution means you don't care about the problem."

No, it's opposing any attempted solution at all, save a tax cut, that means you don't care about the problem. If you genuinely join in on trying to find a workable and optimal solution, you're demonstrating that you care enough to help. If you don't help, you're not, as they say, part of the solution.

And, yes, sometimes programs are mistakes, of course, or grow old past their usefulness, or flaws develop or become clear that should be corrected. This is not an argument for doing nothing.

"The liberal approach to crime was tried in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It didn't work well. Citizens hated it."

Since "crime" was deliberately and strategically equated by Nixon and Republicans to "angry, threatening, black people," it indeed greatly frightened many middle-class white folks. Look, Martha, they're rioting, and thuggish, and they'll be taking away our money and giving it to Those People next!

Jesurgislac

Your formalistic interpretation of my remarks is fanciful at best, dishonest at worst. You also completely ignored the point I was making, which is that we need to (implies CAN) unite and transcend our cultural differences. So I admit "discrete" was not a good choice of words. (It is the right that tries to make the differing groups "discrete" and our job is to overcome that). Sorry if I didnt make that clear but I dont think it merited the rhetorical sledgehammer you wielded. Now chill out, we're on the same team here, ok? I mean you DO understand my point, right? Give me a better frame instead of just flailing away with ad hominems. The opposition loves it when we do that. You know why, right?

A data point and a comment.

Data point, from the CIA Factbook on the US:

Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.

Comment:

What is missing from modern-day liberalism and maybe also leftism, and which was quite present in the reforms of the New Deal, is the idea that people who share a political community have a positive obligation toward each other's well being.

Unless you go back a few centuries, and certainly before the rise of capitalism, this is, and was, certainly never a part of the conservative creed. But it has been, until fairly recently, part of the left/liberal point of view.

What we have now is the idea that we should be generous toward the less fortunate, which is not the same thing.

"Be nice to people who aren't as lucky as you" is better than "grind them under your heel", but it's still miles away from "you have an obligation toward each other".

The key word here is obligation. Not a matter of being nice or generous. Not a matter of charity.

Arguing about, frex, whether unions should organize based on card check or secret ballot is, to me, just an indicator that we aren't even asking the right questions. Not that we shouldn't have the debate, because it's going to be one or the other, and consequences will flow from whichever side of the argument wins the day.

But the question of whether there's a better way to organize our commercial culture so we don't have to hold guns to each other's heads to get what we need doesn't ever even come up.

Given where we are, you can sign me up as a lefty. But even that seems like weak beer to me.

Thanks -

"The reason why Obama is pushing tax cuts is because they provide more stimulus than almost any spending program..."

Um? Really? Because this char that's been floating around for months points in completely the opposite direction. Tax cuts favored by the Republicans in Congress have much less effect than unemployment benefits, infrastructure spending, aid to states, etc. Refundable tax cuts and payroll tax holidays do better, but still not as good as spending. Things like capital gains tax cuts, or the corporate tax cut Hilzoy dissected are least effective of all.

So how are tax cuts more effective stimulus than any kind of spending?

Shredder, if you think you're on the same team as LGBT people and black people (at a guess, you're straight and white) you need to get over your cultural habit of responding to criticism of your casually homophobic/racist comments with a condescending "Get over it". Chill, Shredder. You made an offensive comment. You were told it was offensive. Now you can avoid making that offensive comment in future. If you want to play on the same team, that is.

The problem that I have with leftism is the apparent belief that diagnosing a problem means that proposed solutions must therefore be correct, and that opposing the solution means you don't care about the problem.

And the problem with rightism is projection.

For the past 8 years, we have been subjected to the following logic from right-wingers: Saddam is a problem; Dubya's solution is invading Iraq; if you oppose Dubya's solution you must not think Saddam is a problem. Or: high taxes are a problem; Dubya proposes certain particular tax cuts; if you want different tax cuts than Dubya does, you must be in favor of higher taxes.

I am perfectly willing to entertain the notion that "leftism" has different shortcomings than "rightism", but Sebastian's apparent belief that rightism is free of the illogic he attributes to leftism is self-delusion at best.

--TP

I've been a liberal since I was in diapers. It's just that I think and act in sensible ways so people mistake me for a conservative.

And when I say 'we' I always mean Gary Farber and me.

"I am perfectly willing to entertain the notion that "leftism" has different shortcomings than "rightism", but Sebastian's apparent belief that rightism is free of the illogic he attributes to leftism is self-delusion at best."

This is a rather interesting response to my comment that uses the response to Saddam Hussein as a negative illustration. Perhaps you skipped over that part by accident? Or did you think I was under the impression that the invasion of Iraq was a leftist undertaking? It is all very confusing...

"The liberal approach to crime was tried in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It didn't work well. Citizens hated it."

Since "crime" was deliberately and strategically equated by Nixon and Republicans to "angry, threatening, black people," it indeed greatly frightened many middle-class white folks. Look, Martha, they're rioting, and thuggish, and they'll be taking away our money and giving it to Those People next!

If you want, Gary, you can believe that worries about crime are just racism. If you want to believe that the unprecedented rate of violent crime at the time was wasn't real, but was merely a Republican fiction, feel free. You're wrong, but believe whatever makes you most comfortable I suppose.

"Of course, that's wrong. The belief is that one looks for solutions, and tries them until one finds one that works, and then keeps tweaking it to improve it."

But for the most part that hasn't been the history of liberalism in the past 40-50 years. Welfare wasn't tweaked with because Moynihan was the ascendant voice of the Democratic Party. It was changed because his insights were brought to the fore by Republicans who used them to beat Democrats in elections. HUD wasn't initally reformed under Democrats, despite the proven track record of destroying lower income communities. The horrifically failed crime policies of Democrats in major cities weren't overturned by internal tweaking until Republicans won many victories on the issue.

Which is not to say 'hooray' for Republicans, who have done an abysmal job on their own. My point is that our political parties aren't really all the good at tweaking things appropriately after passing the big emotionally-moving bill. Which is one of the many reasons I'm skeptical of having the government respond in lots of areas.

Government stimulus to get through economic low points is good economics. Attempts at permanent stimulus, whether through permanent tax cuts, or never-ending government projects is not.

Nate, you write:

"Um? Really? Because this char that's been floating around for months points in completely the opposite direction. Tax cuts favored by the Republicans in Congress have much less effect than unemployment benefits, infrastructure spending, aid to states, etc. Refundable tax cuts and payroll tax holidays do better, but still not as good as spending. Things like capital gains tax cuts, or the corporate tax cut Hilzoy dissected are least effective of all."

First I'd be rather skeptical of a study with charts and discussion which suggest that if we spent all of the stimulus money on food stamps, that would be better than any other option.

Second, I'm not defending Bush's tax cuts. I'm defending Obama's proposed tax cuts, which are in fact in a stimulus style. They aren't identical. In fact they aren't even similar.

Hmmm... to me the "old Left" was the Communist party, and the "new Left" was SDS in its various incarnations of (eventually) flavors of communism.

That's how I think of it. Guess I'm about Publius's age, was in college when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed and then the Internet got going shortly after.

I started off pretty far left, thought of Clinton and Blair's Third Way as a marketing strategy and sell-out, but I'm excited about Obama and what might happen. So maybe I've become more pragmatic.

But I was alienated by the Chomskist left over Bosnia and humanitarian intervention and came to respect Blair more.

"If you want, Gary, you can believe that worries about crime are just racism."

Not "just." But an overwhelming proportion was in the Sixties.

"My point is that our political parties aren't really all the good at tweaking things appropriately after passing the big emotionally-moving bill."

I agree with that. But that means they should do better, not give up.

Jesurgislac

Im trying to find avenues of unity amidst our diversity; class war is a great way to do that. That's basically my comment, cleaned up of anything you might find offensive. I tried to make clear that it is the opposition that sees us as "discrete" and it is me who objects to that ! - but rather than respond to my point, you persist in playing the victim without addressing the substance of my post. So I'll do you the favor of answering my question for you. The reason the opposition loves it when we attack each other as you have attacked me (here, by using a highly strained if not bad faith reading of my words to accuse me of making racist and homophobic comments) is that it changes the debate away from economic issues that we all hold in common to cultural issues that we do not. Conversely, the opposition knows very well that when we unify behind issues concerning economic justice, they lose.

These propositions are only a small part of the larger discussion, and I think by now they stand as valid without the need for any big debate. Your approach in this discussion only reinforces the efficacy of their tactics - unless, of course, no one pays much attention to this silly debate after this, a thing devoutly to be wish'd! Bye now!

Shredder
//Im trying to find avenues of unity amidst our diversity; class war is a great way to do that... but rather than respond to my point, you persist in playing the victim without addressing the substance of my post.//

But isn't playing the victim the essence of class warfare? Jesurgislac is acting out his/her unity with you.

Shredder, when you are offensive towards someone whom you want to be your ally, your best option is to apologize. Explaining at length that they are silly to be offended and that by expressing offense they are in fact attacking you is perhaps not your worst possible option, but it's an extremely foolish one for someone who claims to want "unity". If you want unity, Shredder, how about demonstrating it by apologizing for being inadvertently offensive?


Enjoyed reading your post, publius, which struck me as longer than normal for you.

I, too, fashioned myself as a Clinton/Blair liberal, but see your point in the need to go old school.

Re: "We all need to get on the bandwagon, or at least move a bit closer to it."

I can't stand when I hear pundits or what not refer to the "L-word." What's with that?

Did being a liberal become so unpopular, so out-of-date, that it took on "--word" status?

I think this was particulary well-stated: "But I’m wondering now if we haven’t over-corrected for the problem."

Indeed, liberalism probably needed some sort of correction -- and time to regain its footing after the Reagan Revolution.

To that end, the various transgressions and trashing of the U.S. Constitution by the Cheyney/Bush administration has probably done more for the resurgence of liberalism than a thousand Paul Krugmans.

---

"(I was in college during the height of the Internet boom, which colored my views)"

Publius: As someone who wrote his college papers on an IBM selectric -- which seemed modern at the time -- you made me suddenly feel old:)

"Publius: As someone who wrote his college papers on an IBM selectric -- which seemed modern at the time"

That took balls.

Sebastian: "First I'd be rather skeptical of a study with charts and discussion which suggest that if we spent all of the stimulus money on food stamps, that would be better than any other option."

The charts obviously don't go into how the returns would change as money is put into each of the options - it may be that after the first billion (pulled out of my arse) or so food stamps stop paying for themselves, but that still means that the best return on that billion dollars comes from growing food stamp programs. I suspect you could spend almost unlimited amounts on infrastructure improvements before it stopped giving excellent returns, though.

The point of the chart (as I see/understand it) is that tax cuts, and in particular targeted tax cuts, give much smaller returns than spending. The fine details of how spending pays off aren't discussed, but the basic numbers provide a rough framework for how stimulus packages will work. It's not a policy proposal, just an additional set of facts that should feed into the creation of policy proposals.

himi

Sigh. No, ravens don't sigh. Krawk!

You need to not believe in poverty to not believe in unions. Now, there's a lot of people who didn't used to believe in poverty, or believed they would never be at risk of it, and never at risk of begin mistreated by an employer. This was a remarkably unreasonable thing to believe. Krawk!

publius: "what i would like to see in the labor world is some semblance of balance at the bargaining table"

Wishful thinking, I am afraid -- especially if the negative reaction to the UAW here in recent threads about the auto bailout are any indication.

Does anybody have the number of white-collar jobs that are organized in the US....as compared to Europe and Canada?

"Now, there's a lot of people who didn't used to believe in poverty, or believed they would never be at risk of it, and never at risk of begin mistreated by an employer. This was a remarkably unreasonable thing to believe. Krawk!"

How amusing/bemusing it is that unions don't seem such a bad idea by an anti-union worker after, as Raven notes, they have been mistreated by an employer.

P.S. And, yes, Ravens do "Krawk!" I remember covering the first preseason game of the Baltimore Ravens (vs. the Philadelphia Eagles) when Baltimore rejoined the NFL and the PA system would play this unGodly loud "Krawk!" whenever the Ravens scored or would make a play of note. "Krawk!" Try sitting through a couple dozen or so of those at full blast when you are held captive in your seat.

"Does anybody have the number of white-collar jobs that are organized in the US....as compared to Europe and Canada?"

Separating out, or finding stats, on white-collar alone might take a bit of time (or might be quickly findable, but I'm not sure I have the patience at the moment). But here are some European union stats, with some break-out of white-collar union federations, by country, for what it's worth.

And not broken out into white-collar, but if you're interested, see this, in image form, and surrounding pages, for some info on union density in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, it varies terribly by country. Portugal, not so much, at 11%. Norway and Finland, a lot at 77-78%. Etc.

I suspect, one of the major differences between the US and the other European-like Social Democracies is the labor attitudes of their white-collar workers.

what i would like to see in the labor world is some semblance of balance at the bargaining table -- it would be bad if it tilted the other way, but we're a long way from there.

Not to pile on publius, but I invite him or anyone else to get a pencil and paper. Make two columns.

In one column, add up the total dollar value of the wealth pissed away in just the last year by financial speculation in this country.

In the other, add up the total negative impact organized labor has had on the economy of the US for the same period.

If you like, repeat the exercise for any period in this nation's history since the emergence of organized labor in the mid-19th Century.

Compare the sums and tell me that what is really needed is for organized labor to be more balanced and reasonable in their demands.

Thanks -

Russell, what publius said was that the balance of power should tilt more towards unions now. "it would be bad if it tilted the other way, but we're a long way from there" is the "other way" from excessive union power. He's saying that the current balance leaves unions with too little power.

To be sure, it's sloppily enough written to be easy to confuse, but I'm quite sure of my reading.

Russell, what publius said was that the balance of power should tilt more towards unions now.

Ummm, OK then.

Is there an emoticon equivalent to Emily Litella's "Never mind"?

Thanks Gary!

Sebastian: "Second, I'm not defending Bush's tax cuts. I'm defending Obama's proposed tax cuts, which are in fact in a stimulus style. They aren't identical. In fact they aren't even similar. "

This is true. But that's not what you said, you said tax cuts are better stimulus than any spending, full stop. I disagreed and cited that study as a reference, and asked why you said tax cuts are better stimulus. There is certainly a point of diminishing returns on spending on things like food stamps, unemployment insurance, or infrastructure spending, but they have much more bang for the buck to start with, and reach that point much later. Infrastructure spending especially, in light of our aging infrastructure and the upgrades we can/should be making to the electrical power grid (smart grids), mass transit, water, and many other areas. Whereas even the most effective tax cuts start with much less effect, and the kinds of tax cuts the Republicans in Congress favor are the least effective (captial gains tax cuts for every problem!)

That took balls.

Gary wins the thread!

Jesurgislac, Im not going to apologize for your misinterpretation of my remarks. Funny how you were the only one who expressed offense.

I will thank you, however, for making my point, many times over! Keep going!

Nate, you wrote: "But that's not what you said, you said tax cuts are better stimulus than any spending, full stop."

You were responding to: "The reason why Obama is pushing tax cuts is because they provide more stimulus than almost any spending program and they are easier to enact than spending 2 years figuring out exactly which infrastructure needs upgrading, by which time the need for stimulus has passed, and both those options are better than borrowing willy-nilly and then overspending on bad infrastructure."

Now this is an ugly sentence. I fully admit that. But I think your interpretation turns on an admittedly ambiguous 'they'. In this case it refers to the Obama tax cuts. Not any possible hypothetical tax cut (many hypothetical tax cuts could be non-stimulative, many transportation infrastructure projects too).

I'll try to be super clear. Infrastructure projects may or may not be a good idea based on their individual merits. But they aren't particularly stimulus inducing in the sense of trying to smooth out the bottom ends of the business cycle. Arguments for the objective merits of a particular infrastructure project are fine, but you shouldn't confuse them with stimulus. They tend to be much too slow for that given bidding structures, planning structures, and environmental structures that we have erected around infrastructure projects. (And please don't read that as an attack on such things. The comment is explanatory about why they can't really be stimulus. It isn't a judgment about the overall wisdom of such rules).

Russel: "In one column, add up the total dollar value of the wealth pissed away in just the last year by financial speculation in this country.

In the other, add up the total negative impact organized labor has had on the economy of the US for the same period."

Whatever the relative merits of the financial services vs. organized labor, this doesn't fit well with what I have taken away from your understanding of how things work in the past.

In the past you seem to have suggested that most of the vast gains of the financial services sector where merely illusory. But if that is so, much of the nominal loss in the past year isn't pissing away anything real anyway. The gains were illusory, the 'losses' merely a confirmation of that fact.

"If you like, repeat the exercise for any period in this nation's history since the emergence of organized labor in the mid-19th Century."

You sort of had an argument about the last two years if you ignore the illusory gains concept that I think you actually hold. But you really don't have that for "any period in this nation's history since the emergence of organized labor". Sum it out over say Clinton's two terms and it would appear that the financial services sector did a lot more in a positive way than unions. You can argue that it was all illusory, but then you run into the damage of 'pissing it away'.

I would say that of late, financial services have been taking too many resources away from the rest of the economy and misallocating them because of the apparent (but non-sustainable) high returns in thata sector. What they do is not useless, but was overvalued. The market is now in the process of correcting that overvaluation. We can ease the pain of that correction by helping people find other jobs and by trying to contain the damage. But we shouldn't try to stop the correction. Even dramatically slowing it down won't be good for the economy as it will continue to incentivize the waste of resources.

The same is true, by the way, of GM.

Hey Sebastian -

Thanks for your thoughtful comments here. Allow me to try to clarify my point.

Yes, I do think that much of the gains claimed by the financial sector over the last few years has been "illusory", in the sense of being based on an overly (often deliberately) high reckoning of value.

I'm not interested in stopping that correction, and I share your interest in easing the pain of it through collective effort.

I do think that the implosion of the financial sector is taking a lot of other sectors down with it by making it difficult or impossible for them to get access to the financial resources they need to operate. So, IMO there is also some pissing away going on.

I'm generally in agreement with you on the auto industry. There's a lot of inefficiency there, well beyond anything contributed by UAW wages or retirement plans. Restructuring will only make the overall industry stronger.

My general point here was about the broad costs we incur through financial speculation. Not really the legitimate operations of the financial industry, but speculative bubbles.

That stuff has a long history in this country (and not just in this country), dating back at least to the very beginning of the 19th C.

People frequently like to pick on unions because they introduce inefficiencies. I actually agree that they do so, but am generally not bothered by that a whole lot, because organized labor is also responsible for a lot of very real good things, and because for any form of unskilled or semi-skilled job, there really isn't another game in town.

My point here, in response to my mistaken reading of publius' comment, was just to contrast whatever cost that has been incurred by whatever inefficiencies created by unionism with those created by the financial speculation that seems more or less inescapable in an unregulated or weakly regulated financial environment.

Thanks -

What gave Friedman and his acolytes gave Friedman and his acolytes a receptive audience was reporters and news editors who made enough to consider themselves upper income.

That, plus the editors and reporters started to travel in the same social circles as the plutocrats they were covering.

They supported their class and demonized anyone who mentioned the plight of the lower economic groups. They saw themselves as having the same entitlements and privileges as the truly wealthy--and they saw the dirty fucking hippies as a threat to all that.

The rest, as they say, is history.

If you want to understand economic class struggles in America, read the newspapers and magazines written in the 20's and 30's. People spoke openly about class struggles and the need to keep the lower classes in their place.


"My point here, in response to my mistaken reading of publius' comment, was just to contrast whatever cost that has been incurred by whatever inefficiencies created by unionism with those created by the financial speculation that seems more or less inescapable in an unregulated or weakly regulated financial environment."

But financial speculation bubbles have existed for so long as there has been money. I would say that most the inefficencies created by financial speculation seem more or less inescapable in a money-using economy. I'm not at all sure that 'weakly regulated financial environment' adds much to the argument.

Gary: "That took balls."

Actually, that comment was lost on me, and since Slarti declared, "Gary wins the thread!" now I am more intrigued by it than before.

Perhaps IBM selectric's contained special type-producing balls inside them?

I do know the machine was quite heavy.

Are you sure it's a Selectric you used?

Hmm, well, that was larger than I meant it to be. Unfortunately, Typepad's preview won't preview images.


Crap. Ok, I give up. Sorry for the mess.

But financial speculation bubbles have existed for so long as there has been money

For as long as there has been leverage, maybe. A law stating that 5 times leverage or more meant thirty years imprisonment with no parole could have prevented most if not all of the financial panics of the last 100 years.

Yeah, that was it.

An IBM selectric.

Clicked on Gary's Wiki link and the picture of the old thing brought a smile to my face, seems like eons ago when I last used it.

My Mom's boyfriend at the time, Sonny B---------i (a very long, hard-to-spell Italian name), gave it to me as a gift while I was in high school, knowing I could use it in my part-time job as a stringer, covering prep sports, for a local weekly. I believe it came from the black market, as Sonny had such hook-ups, but never asked.

It was so much easier to use than standard typewriters, although I was, and still am, a pretty good typer, thanks to being smart enough to take a typing class in high school, which was hardly the fashionable thing to do at the time -- I was the only boy in the class -- and typing seemed to be thought of as simply a secretarial skill. But that class -- and simply writing numerous sports stories over the years; repetition, repetition, repetition -- proved invaluable.

(I regret not taking a shorthand class the same teacher offered, having had a professor in college, Jim O'Brien -- whose full-time job was writing sports for the Pittsburgh Press or Post-Gazette; memory fails -- and watching him take notes in rapid fashion, not missing a word from the guest speakers he brought into class. Much better than a tape recorder, which I rarely used, as you develop your own shorthand. I always found that my colleagues who used recorders tended to lazily stick them in the subject's face, staring out in space and not always paying attention to what the person was saying. Besides, newspaper deadlines don't lend themselves to transcribing. I imagine they still offer shorthand classes -- and would recommend one to any aspiring journalist.)

Yeah, that was it.

An IBM selectric.

Clicked on Gary's Wiki link and the picture of the old thing brought a smile to my face, seems like eons ago when I last used it.

My Mom's boyfriend at the time, Sonny B---------i (a very long, hard-to-spell Italian name), gave it to me as a gift while I was in high school, knowing I could use it in my part-time job as a stringer, covering prep sports, for a local weekly. I believe it came from the black market, as Sonny had such hook-ups, but never asked.

It was so much easier to use than standard typewriters, although I was, and still am, a pretty good typer, thanks to being smart enough to take a typing class in high school, which was hardly the fashionable thing to do at the time -- I was the only boy in the class -- and typing seemed to be thought of as simply a secretarial skill. But that class -- and simply writing numerous sports stories over the years; repetition, repetition, repetition -- proved invaluable.

(I regret not taking a shorthand class the same teacher offered, having had a professor in college, Jim O'Brien -- whose full-time job was writing sports for the Pittsburgh Press or Post-Gazette; memory fails -- and watching him take notes in rapid fashion, not missing a word from the guest speakers he brought into class. Much better than a tape recorder, which I rarely used, as you develop your own shorthand. I always found that my colleagues who used recorders tended to lazily stick them in the subject's face, staring out in space and not always paying attention to what the person was saying. Besides, newspaper deadlines don't lend themselves to transcribing. I imagine they still offer shorthand classes -- and would recommend one to any aspiring journalist.)

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