Re: Arguments I Can't Quite Follow

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I think you might want to close your link a little bit sooner. All that blue is a little overwhelming.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:59 AM
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I typo that every time -- open my link properly, and then try to close it with a /i.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:06 AM
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I'm sure we can bullshit happily for days about this here, but a shortcut would be to email Henry for a couple of refs. He strikes me as the kind of guy who'd be happy to oblige.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:11 AM
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I suppose. I was hoping for more from the CT comments threads, but didn't get much out of them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:13 AM
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Oh look! A syllabus!


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:18 AM
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I wonder if it isn't a grand way of saying actually, you need the unions.


Posted by: Charlie W | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:35 AM
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5:I did know that there's a field of study called political theory. What I'm a little stuck on is the idea that the problem with neoliberals is that because they are insufficiently well grounded in this field of study, despite their essential good intentions, their attempts to do good through political means are either ineffective or counterproductive.

I mean, I agree about the ineffectuality and counterproductiveness, but I'm not seeing anyone being more effective due to a better theoretical grounding. This really may be my ignorance, which is massive. But who is Henry gesturing at, who is doing right the thing that neoliberals are doing wrong?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:36 AM
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I don't think that Henry is pointing to a lack of awareness of political theory in the sense of some model of what an ideal end-state might look like -- the sorts of things we apply ideological labels too -- but a metatheory about the nature of the political process, our engagement with it, who we ought to work with and how, and so on. Those overlap, naturally.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:41 AM
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6 is probably right, too.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:41 AM
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8 was my understanding. I still don't understand, and I think that this is LB's issue as well, how this theory would help people improve their engagement with the political process. Are there places where political leaders have a clearer "metatheory about the nature of the political process," and what is the mechanism by which this helps them to implement their political programs more effectively.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:48 AM
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Yeah, I think 6 is spot on.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:49 AM
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There are names and works mentioned in the thread, and at least a few good comments.

I remember at least one toward the end of the thread explaining that neo-liberals do have a theory of politics, and it is fairly close to Leo Strauss. "Game theory says" that effective coalitions can't be formed in a post-modernist post-Fordist heterogeneous polity so elite technocrats have to find a way to depoliticize policy-making. This condition of terminal fragmentation is recognized to a large degree in parts of the far left, anarchists and autonomists. The unions, or any other effective organization of the working class, as a class, is not coming back. GA Cohen.

but I'm not seeing anyone being more effective due to a better theoretical grounding.

The Straussians, of whom I include Bush/Cheney/Rove and Obama, seem to be doing fairly well.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:49 AM
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8: I think this is right -- that the intent of the posts is that neoliberals are acceptably close to something he can agree with in terms of ultimate ends, but hopeless in terms of lacking a theory of the politics of how to get there. I just don't know where to look for a demonstrably effective theory of that sort.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:49 AM
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Hmm. I am also stealing this off a friend of mine and it isn't very well repeated, so sorry Hayden, but: neoliberalism can be described as the elimination of the state in favour of the market. That is to say, the fundamental goal of neoliberalism is the replacement of politics by economics (technocracy sometimes gets a bit part, see cybernetics etc etc). This means that even when neoliberals see an injustice that they want to use the state/politics to fix, because of their central priority of eliminating politics, they are unable to adequately propose and create an argument around how to fix things in any broad movement building way.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:50 AM
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Hey, bob? I'm actually interested in this conversation. To that end, if you start derailing it, I'm going to delete your comments. Nothing personal, and feel free to say whatever you want in other threads.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:51 AM
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So, a theory of politics under this reading might be: politics matters. So then we say: how do we do things politically as opposed to economically? (Or rather, how do we prioritise politics over economics?) And one answer might be to establish strong cross-sectoral actors, capable of functioning in both the political and economic spheres. You could call these unions.

Yglesias clearly doesn't like politics. He prefers markets, and while is obviously willing to let the state intervene --- if it has to -- fundamentally doesn't like the messiness of politics. And this means that he's a really bad politician! Which is fine in his role as a pundit. But at the same time, too many left politicians don't really like politics, and are thus bad at it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:58 AM
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8 matches my understanding of what Henry is talking about. There are theories about what needs to be done, and there are theories of how it can be accomplished politically. Neoliberalism (he argues) lacks a workable theory on how to get things done politically.

I think our very own bob has one answer to Henry's dilemma: Burn Shit Down. I think Henry is looking more at fashioning durable political coalitions that can win elections and enact policy, though.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:01 AM
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14. I think that's about right, and what Bob says is actually relevant to the point that at least one among many reasons that neoliberals favour this goal is that they see (coalition) politics as traditionally practiced as no longer possible. This is actually a consistent-ish political metatheory, but as pointed out, it doesn't serve well to offer practical solutions.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:01 AM
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Bob- I'm not going to argue with you about any of your comments. Go to another thread if you want to say something, and anyone who likes can respond there.

I'll be underground for a bit, so I won't be able to delete your comments until after ten. I ask again that you stop commenting in this thread.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:05 AM
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And one answer might be to establish strong cross-sectoral actors, capable of functioning in both the political and economic spheres. You could call these unions.

You could call them unions, but if you restricted them to being unions you'd end up with an essentially syndicalist political practice which might not address all your issues equally well. You need other interest groups, at once political and economic, in the mix as well.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:06 AM
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15 (and its implementation) is very frustrating, although I suppose no more half-assed than my own solution.

Wouldn't the counter-argument be that neoliberalism was (politically) designed to work in an atmosphere of broadly acknowledged (if llusory) prosperity? That is, it was a response to the morning-in-america/greed-is-good marketing style political campaigns of Reagan, and aimed to head off the attacks (hectoring, malaise-inspiring, overfond of drab government waiting rooms) that theoretically doomed the Democrats starting with Carter.


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:08 AM
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Hell, I'll just repeat the last deleted comment and leave.

Brad DeLong's thesis was an application of Foucault to economic discourse, and Brad DeLong is an admitted left neo-liberal.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:09 AM
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I think a theory of politics is just a plan to obtain and maintain majority support for your preferred policies. This may involve compromises and alliances which make liberals uncomfortable.

Maximizing the welfare of the worst off seems likely to be politically unpopular and is perhaps more easily achieved indirectly through programs like social security which don't target the poorest exclusively.

There is also the question of whether you are operating in a national or the global arena. The interests of the American poor and the global poor are not at all the same although liberals sometimes like to pretend otherwise.

In general many liberal goals are in conflict and this causes some of them to be neglected without an explicit decision to abandon them. In particular there is a tendency to favor liberal issues like gay rights which are acceptable to the rich over economic issues which favor the poor.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:12 AM
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Wouldn't the counter-argument be that neoliberalism was (politically) designed to work in an atmosphere of broadly acknowledged (if llusory) prosperity?

That would be a response, and it's a response that shows what a weak theory of politics neoliberalism is operating under. Because neoliberalism does "work" in this atmosphere, if by "work" you mean that it's a rhetoric that can be persuasive in some circumstances where traditional liberal rhetoric would fall on deaf ears. In other words, it "works" if you think sustainable political progress can be built primarily through rhetorical persuasion. This view is appealing to pundits, but I don't believe it's widely shared by political theorists.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:18 AM
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15: Hah! As soon as I saw this post, I thought: I wonder what bob would say about this.

And bob didn't disappoint. The parts of 12 that I understood, I thought were interesting and on point.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:19 AM
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25 to 19, not 15.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:20 AM
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So, for instance, the UK Labour movement might have been said to have had a very clear theory of politics from about 1900 until 1975: use economic and political agitation to take control of power and impose a socialist state that cemented economic and political equalities. In this model, the movement works across politics and economics, developing strength in industrial, social, political contexts, and using this strength to push for and defend gains made in different areas.

It's a theory of multiple overlapping fronts, relying on a very large mass movement to push forward.

And this has implications for practical politics. The Labour MP should probably be well known and liked by the workers at the local factories; they should have a good working relationship with the local unions; they should build up a broad base of support across a range of people (which would probably include the worker's wives, various marginalised communities, the local churches etc.)

And this leads on to policy. The Labour MP is probably very pro-labour, but at the same time needs the freedom to move in the political sphere that unconditional support wouldn't allow. They're probably quite broad church, and incrementalist where possible, social reformers but not revolutionaries, because the goal is to work across the system in a long-term and deliberate way, not produce big bang changes.

(Obviously, this is as stupid a caricature of any movement as you can get, but it does suggest something of the flavour. And it is horribly romantic; it suggests an ideal not a practice.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:20 AM
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And chris y is quite right that unions on their own aren't enough, which is why I think that reducing Farrell to `you need the unions' is true but a bit simplistic. It also means the unions need left wing politics.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:24 AM
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13

I think this is right -- that the intent of the posts is that neoliberals are acceptably close to something he can agree with in terms of ultimate ends, but hopeless in terms of lacking a theory of the politics of how to get there. I just don't know where to look for a demonstrably effective theory of that sort.

I think the issue is not only that they lack a theory of how to get things done it is that they are not very interested in practical politics at all. Hence Yglesias whines a lot about the Senate which is not going to be abolished any time soon.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:24 AM
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Wouldn't the counter-argument be that neoliberalism was (politically) designed to work in an atmosphere of broadly acknowledged (if llusory) prosperity?

Hmm. I think neoliberalism was designed to work in an atmosphere of elite consensus about desirable ends. Absent that elite consensus, or at least absent a neoliberal consensus, it's got nothing.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:25 AM
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But rhetorical persuasion is a syren song, and not peculiar to neoliberals. In the "old new" left of my youth, many of the incapacitating arguments were between those whose constant theme was "Just work harder, organise more diligently" and those who denounced this as voluntarism, while never quite finding the political jujitsu which would work instead.

If you don't believe in rhetorical persuasion, you have to offer a practical programme to deliver tangible improvements for your constituency. This becomes tricky if there isn't a big enough constituency to carry your programme into practice. Hence the defeatism of neoliberalism.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:28 AM
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25

And bob didn't disappoint. The parts of 12 that I understood, I thought were interesting and on point.

I also didn't see what was so bad about bob's comments (although I didn't see any deleted ones).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:30 AM
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31

If you don't believe in rhetorical persuasion, you have to offer a practical programme to deliver tangible improvements for your constituency. This becomes tricky if there isn't a big enough constituency to carry your programme into practice. ...

Then you have to start making compromises and alliances.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:32 AM
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New Labour on the other hand didn't really have a coherent theory of politics. Instead they had a very skilful practice of politics, which never really gripped on to anything else to produce much change. It was certainly better to have Blair in office that more Tories, but there wasn't much happening.

Of course, if you are a through and through neoliberal, you don't care that you don't have any real theory of politics, because your theory is entirely negative, and revolves around getting rid of politics.

The problem is combining noeliberalism and left-wingery.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:33 AM
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One problem with my 30 is that it assumes that Obama is not a neoliberal. That reflects my belief, but is certainly subject to legitimate argument. I wonder what DeLong would say about that.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:35 AM
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Then you have to start making compromises and alliances.

That in itself implies a theory of politics.

Keir is right that New Labour was deeply anti-political. In part this was because they thought that politics no longer worked as it had done, and in part because they were afraid that significant sections of the elite had come to dislike it.

It was actually Thatcher who complained that society in the 80s had become "politicised", as though it was a bad thing. It was contingently a bad thing for her, but that was her fault, not the fault of society being politicised, and therefore more informed and sceptical than in other periods before and since.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:39 AM
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34.1: I don't think that's very different from the situation in this country.

I didn't mean 21 to be positive about neoliberalism; I always thought that it succeeded where it did by accepting the worst impulses of Reagan-era conservatism (notably, the primacy of self-interest) in order to achieve somewhat positive ends.

But that said, I think Shearer's probably right (if I'm reading him correctly) that looking to real world political movements for overarching theories of politics is probably not useful; successful politics, even at a very high level, is inevitably ad hoc, reactive, and involves inchoate alliances. Theories of politics seem useful for after-the-fact analysis, and from that framework it does seem meaningful to say that neoliberalism lacked the structure to build a lasting movement, but assuming that any political movement has the means to affirmatively create that kind of structure strikes me as implausible.


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:39 AM
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35: I don't see why that is assumed.

And if you don't believe Obama is a neoliberal what do you believe he is?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:42 AM
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38.last: A Kenyan Muslim?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:44 AM
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actually, you need the unions

Unions, or a political movement that isn't totally compromised like the Democratic Party[1], or a sufficient number of single-issue groups that are prepared to stand their ideological ground[4]. Basically you need some plan for getting your ideas out of the think tank and onto the statute book, other than "we need to appeal to sensible conservatives", which has now been tried and failed, or "we will tailor this plan so that the Republicans couldn't possibly object to it", ditto.

[1] I anticpate a lot of "RALPH NADER YOU BASTARD!" responses here, so just to be clear, what I mean here is that the Democrats actually won the Grand Prix - Presidency, both houses of Congress and a 60 vote supermajority in the Senate - and couldn't get more than a tiny fraction of their agenda passed[2]. They are therefore totally useless as a force for a social democratic agenda, and need to be replaced in the hearts of "progressives" with a genuine party of the left with popular support and a distinct policy agenda which is not dictated by the need to maintain and almost entirely worthless parliamentary coalition[5]

[2] I anticipate a lot of "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BLUE DOGS YOU BASTARD!" responses here, so just to be clear - this is the problem with the Democratic Party. A too-large proportion of it is not a social democratic or "liberal" party, and it has no means of enforcing its coalition or delivering its votes.[3]

[3] I anticipate "Bless you heart, you just don't understand US politics" here so just to be clear; yes I do.

[4] I anticipate "WHAT? DO YOU MEAN WE SHOULD ALL JOIN THE TEA PARTY?" here, so just to be clear - yes. The Tea Party is actually an example of exactly the sort of grass roots, populist organisation that you need to be at least considering if you are trying to organise a consensus to implement a policy agenda. And it has, noticeably worked.

[5] I anticipate "BUT WE PASSED HEALTHCARE DIDN'T WE? HUH? HUH?" here so just to be clear - given the massive political advantages listed under [1], this was amazingly thin gruel, and part of the political cost was any hope of a sensible fiscal response to the economic crisis. Healthcare reform is indeed "the greatest progressive achievement since the war", but this really is the sort of tallest-midget accolade that puts the bigger picture into sharper focus.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:45 AM
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I should say that neoliberalism is generally seen as spanning both left and right wing politics: so Reagan is arguably neolib, as are both Thatcher and Blair, and Douglas and Richardson.

(Sorry. NZ leftwingers are obsessed with neoliberalism, for obvious reasons.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:45 AM
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38: I mean (in 30) that I don't think that the elite consensus is properly characterized as neoliberal, and therefore I think neoliberalism has failed politically.

But this view would be turned around if I thought Obama were neoliberal. He and his policy priorities have been pretty successful politically.

On economic and foreign policy issues (which I take to be the primary concerns of neoliberalism) I think Obama is a conservative.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:47 AM
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But that said, I think Shearer's probably right (if I'm reading him correctly) that looking to real world political movements for overarching theories of politics is probably not useful; successful politics

Up to a point Lord Copper. The Communist movement pursued a theoretically based politics with striking success for half a century. So, arguably, did the British Liberals between the repeal of the corn laws and the outbreak of the Great War, and the American Democrats from Roosevelt to Johnson. The question is, what made these examples different, or allowed them to be?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:49 AM
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Or to shorten and make more direct:

The neoliberals did have a theory of politics. Their theory of politics was basically the Median Voter Model. This was operationalised as the maxim:

"If we abandon and/or crush all movements to the left of us, then we will be sufficiently appealing to the median voter to be elected, and then we can implement our legislative program".

It hasn't worked because a) the Median Voter Theorem doesn't work, b) they weren't able to implement their program c) the abandonment and collapse of the left institutions caused the median to shift rightward.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:50 AM
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yes I do

I don't generally think you do, really, but I find much of your comment unobjectionable.

I don't know that the tea party has had much policy success on the national level, although they have in a couple of cases at the state level (at great political cost). I seriously, seriously doubt that anybody will consider them a "lasting movement" in a couple of years, any more than people now consider the militias a "lasting movement".


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:51 AM
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I find 44 even less obectionable, actually. Good call.


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:52 AM
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41: Yeah, see, we're going to struggle over definitions on this thread. I'd characterize the neolibs as being DeLong/Yglesias types - and they self-identify that way. Whereas Reagan and Thatcher would not consider themselves neolibs, and I'd agree.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:53 AM
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In any event, I think it's implicit in Henry's argument that the neoliberals have failed politically.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:57 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:59 AM
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47: but they are I think wrong. In general I think my definition is the one used in academic pol sci esp in the Commonwealth, even if it is a bit arcane.

`There is no alternative' is one of the central motifs.

(See frex here.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:59 AM
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40

... Basically you need some plan for getting your ideas out of the think tank and onto the statute book, other than "we need to appeal to sensible conservatives", which has now been tried and failed, ...

It worked fine for gay marriage.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:00 AM
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And I think it is the one HF would be using, probably.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:01 AM
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Having talked about related matters a lot with Henry, I think I know what he has in mind, but he might differ, perhaps very importantly, from my understanding.

What I think he is getting at when he talks about "a theory of politics" is a theory about how political change (or stasis) happens, not about what end goals might be desirable, or just, or legitimate, which is much of what I take "political theory" to be. "What are the processes and mechanisms by which political change happens?" is, at least in part, a separable question from "What would a good polity look like?", and Henry is talking about the former, not the latter. Of course the answer to the first question will tend to be context-dependent, so specialize it to "in post-industrial representative democracies", if you like.

The first importance of this is instrumental: if you decide that policies that look like X would be good things, having a good theory of politics would be helpful in figuring out how to achieve X-type policies. But the second importance is that it might change your evaluation of what good policies are, because it would change your understanding of their effects. If, for instance, you like material prosperity, you might favor policy X because (you think) it promotes economic efficiency. (We can have the conversation about "economic efficiency" some other time.) But if you are also egalitarian, and policy X would make it easier for members of a small group of already-privileged individuals to wield political influence, then you might decide that policy X is not, after all, worth it, because of its inegalitarian political effects. (I think that some, but not all*, of Brad DeLong's reaction to Henry's posts is explained by letting X = "Clinton-era financial deregulation".) If you value a certain kind of distribution of political power as such (aristocracy, democracy, the vanguard party, etc.), a theory of politics would become very important to you in gauging the value of different policies, at least ones which you think would tend to change how much power different individuals, or groups of individuals, would have.

If you are more or less egalitarian about economic resources and political power, then you will want to see policies that not only contribute to material prosperity, and to distributing that prosperity, but also to making it easier and more feasible for those who are poorer and of lower social status to make their interests felt politically. (Rich, high-status people typically have little trouble on that score. Also, this presumes that interests are not completely homogeneous, but that's OK, because they're not.) Sometimes these goals will reinforce each other, sometimes they will conflict and one will need to make trade-offs. It is hard to make an intelligent trade-off, however, if you do not have any tools for recognizing they exist, or assessing what they are; this, again, is why Henry thinks there needs to be a theory of politics. I would also add - and this is something Henry and i have ben thinking about a lot - that it is often not at all trivial to figure out what your interests are, or how to achieve them, and that (small-d) democrats should try to find ways to help people work that out.

On previewing: I'm not going to read all the posts that appeared while I wrote this, and just hope (atheoretically) that it's not completely redundant.

*: I esteem DeLong's writing very highly, but there are times, and this is one, where I can't help imagining a young Bradford being brainwashed by Larry Summers in some dismal Harvard basement...


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:03 AM
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I think the problem is a lack of identity politics and that unions would be one solution to this problem but that there are probably others. Nobody* ever goes out of their way to say they are are a neoliberal. There is no group identity that can work at a mass politics level. You need some kind of group identity so that people will vote for you because you are one of "them." If you have to explain every issue from scratch, nobody is going to pay attention.

*Giant nerds excepted.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:05 AM
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43

... The Communist movement pursued a theoretically based politics with striking success for half a century ...

I find this comment hard to understand perhaps because any "striking success" was not in the United States.

... and the American Democrats from Roosevelt to Johnson. ...

I think Roosevelt and Johnson were primarily practical pragmatic politicians operating more by instinct than by some grand theory of politics. Although Roosevelt did design social security to be broadly based.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:06 AM
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51: It's about ten thousand times easier to have a "theory of politics" for a cause that poses no threat to the power elite. And I don't see that getting past the senate (as you mention in 29) anyway. Or does it just need to get majority support (as you mention in 23)?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:06 AM
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where I can't help imagining a young Bradford being brainwashed by Larry Summers in some dismal Harvard basement...

Tia's not around to write up the slash-fiction version of this, is she?

What I think he is getting at when he talks about "a theory of politics" is a theory about how political change (or stasis) happens, not about what end goals might be desirable, or just, or legitimate, which is much of what I take "political theory" to be. "What are the processes and mechanisms by which political change happens?" is, at least in part, a separable question from "What would a good polity look like?", and Henry is talking about the former, not the latter.

This is, I think, clearly correct.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:07 AM
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Yes but that's a theory of politics in a way: the theory of always having more votes than the other guy, and not being too squeamish about getting things done. (Broad & diverse coalition politics, which you can oppose to say mid century Republican politics which relied on a few important groups.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:09 AM
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44 also seems correct to me -- people I think of as neoliberals appear to generally be very concerned with their theory of what's politically possible in a way that's pretty much as described. You get blogposts fairly often, e.g., pointing out that according to some poll or other, only a small percentage of the voting population describes itself as liberal or left, and therefore arguing for any policy that will be perceived as liberal or left will be instantly politically fatal to the possibility of getting stealthier components of the liberal agenda enacted.

In practice it seems to be an ineffective theory, but it's a theory.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:15 AM
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I haven't read the CT comment threads yet (and likely won't have time to do so before tonight or this weekend), so I may or may not be addressing the actual argument. However, the first thing that leftish Americans need to come to grips with is that they have not just been outmaneuvered over the past three decades; they have been completely and utterly crushed. What representation they have in DC wields no legislative power. The only recognizably liberal justice on the Supreme Court is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and she's a nearly 80-year-old cancer survivor. Clinton and Obama (and, indeed, most of the national Democratic Party) are not center-left. Even calling them centrist is spotting them points they haven't earned.

Progressives in this country have gotten so used to losing that they no longer have any idea what winning would look like [insert pointless and tiresome PPACA rant here]. We're like a winless football team that pops the champagne any time we get within arm's reach of beating the point spread. We've gone steadily backwards in terms of corporatism and militarism for my entire adult life. The only area we are making any progress at all is on social issues, but the Democratic Party is following on those issues, not leading. Myself, I'd start there and actually mobilize in the culture war that the teabag right is constantly whining is being waged against them. God knows we've got no momentum anywhere else to build on.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:16 AM
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Myself, I'd start there and actually mobilize in the culture war that the teabag right is constantly whining is being waged against them.

This sounds appealing, but I have no idea how you go about turning the sort of social issues we're winning on (um, gay rights. Is there anything else that's going well that I've missed?) into momentum on economic issues.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:19 AM
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43: I find this comment hard to understand perhaps because any "striking success" was not in the United States.

Well, that's a revealing comment...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:19 AM
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Johnson seems to me a pretty interesting example: on one hand, he was a master politician in respect of "working with what you have to produce the effects you want" (including a lot of obviously extremely dodgy stuff); on the other, some of the effects he was working for -- in respect of Civil Rights and the Great Society -- were surely some distance outside "what you have", in the sense that they really were attempts to change the shape of the Grand Given Structure.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:22 AM
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Maybe its time to escalate the war on Christmas.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:22 AM
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Here's the thing: neoliberalism (in the Yglesian sense, not the international sense) has a quite successful "theory of politics." That theory involves building a coalition of educated professionals, woman and ethnic minorities and has been quite successful in 2 out of the last 3 elections. The ongoing economic downturn might scuttle that coaltion, but I doubt it.

Henry's issue, as far as I can tell, is really about the fact that a coalition of professionals, woman, and ethnic minorities is simply not going to be as supportive of his policy priorities as the old coalition built on blue collar workers. Or rather: they will support those policy priorties (they did recently try to pass card check, after all), but that's not where the heart and soul of the movement will be. As shearer pointed out, not all left-liberal policy objectives are entirely compatible and for a variety of demographic and historical reasons the modern Democratic coalition has gone down some paths and not others. But phrasing it that way makes it uncomfortably clear that 1. reorienting towards Henry's policy priorities would involve sacrificing other policies and 2. that this transformation is largely the result of structural forces and thus not amenable to directed reform.

So instead, we get this "theory of politics" argument, because that holds open the possibility that if liberals simply stopped being idiots, they could get everything they want. It's a comforting myth.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:22 AM
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We've gone steadily backwards in terms of corporatism and militarism for my entire adult life.

So, it's all Apo's fault.

(Also, the militarism thing might be technically correct if you were born after 1975 and don't count various nuke-waving episodes, but it seems much less convincing than the corporatism point.)


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:22 AM
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^^^Didn't mean Johnson's aims were dodgy; absolutely did mean his means often were


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:24 AM
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61: the sort of social issues we're winning on (um, gay rights. Is there anything else that's going well that I've missed?)

Did you know the president is black?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:25 AM
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Only half.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:26 AM
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That theory involves building a coalition of educated professionals, woman and ethnic minorities and has been quite successful in 2 out of the last 3 elections.

It's not successful in getting policies enacted that match its stated ideals -- neoliberal politicians seem to me to generally campaign well left of where they govern. (Even where they're campaigning isn't where I'd personally like them to, but where they govern is further right still.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:27 AM
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That theory involves building a coalition of educated professionals, woman and ethnic minorities and has been quite successful in 2 out of the last 3 elections.
I don't think you can credit those successes to anything neoliberals did.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:31 AM
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Oh my god, I'm reeling from the amount of time it would take to make an intelligent comment on what seems to be an interesting topic.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:32 AM
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Timothy Burke has a tl:dr response to the CT threads. It's mostly just a cry of despair, but it might be interesting to some.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:34 AM
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70: Once elected, they have to govern further to the right on economic issues because this is a coalition, not a group with a common identity. The educated professionals have a far greater ability to threaten to switch sides and thus get more of what they want.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:34 AM
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I'm still not sure I'm following this argument. Could someone explain the neoliberal position simply, possibly using Underpants Gnomes?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:34 AM
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As per Keir, in 50, you all seem to be using neoliberal in quite a different way from the way I understand it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:34 AM
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The neoliberals' ideals of globalization, globalization, meritocracy, globalization, privatization, anti-sexism and anti-racism are getting enacted pretty well.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:35 AM
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The CT post is about "left neo-liberalism". I don't know quite what "Reagan and Thatcher would not consider themselves neolibs, and I'd agree" means, but perhaps now "left neo-liberalism" is the only form of neo-liberalism under discussion because right-wing neo-liberalism is too horrible to contemplate.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:39 AM
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I'm not sure I understand the fault manifest in neoliberalism's alleged theoretical failure/reticence. Would a theory of politics be characterized by the nomination of a political end to political means, whereas neoliberals would have non-political end states (various liberties (economic and other), regulated but non-socialized industries, etc., etc.) to their coalitioning and politicking?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:42 AM
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Yeah, I'm using 'neo-liberal' in this thread as short for 'left neo-liberal' and to designate, in the US, the sort of 'centrist' Democrats who get elected by the left and then govern right. 'Neo-liberal' may be the wrong word for that sort of person -- the Yglesias type -- but that's who I wanted to talk about, and who I understood Henry to be talking about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:43 AM
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"neoliberal politicians seem to me to generally campaign well left of where they govern."

That's true of almost all politicians. Tea-party types grouse about the same thing in reverse.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:44 AM
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I'm not even sure left neo-liberal is a thing. As far as I can tell most of them are standard neo-liberals with a soupçon of self-deception.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:44 AM
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70

It's not successful in getting policies enacted that match its stated ideals -- neoliberal politicians seem to me to generally campaign well left of where they govern. ...

This isn't unique to neoliberal politicians. There is a strong status quo bias in US politics so it is difficult for any politician to get things done. Conservatives are always whining about being sold out by their politicians also.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:45 AM
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81: The Republicans in Congress aren't destroying the U.S. economy fast enough for my taste.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:45 AM
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81, 83: Imagine I was aware of that and was correcting for it -- that there appears to be a class of politicians and pundits in the US that while in some rhetorical sense is affiliated with the left, is even further from serving left-wing goals than you'd expect due to the normal difficulties of getting anything done.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:49 AM
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(And of course conservatives are also always being sold out by their representatives as well.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:50 AM
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re: 85

Well, something that gets repeatedly argued by the various Euro/Commonwealth commenters (and some US people) is that this is partly because they aren't remotely left at all. There's nothing they believe that wouldn't be in the mainstream of right-wing neoliberal politics in most countries. I think the lack of naked racism and liberal attitudes to, say, sexuality are a contrast with much of the US right, but they aren't specifically 'left' in themselves.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:53 AM
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It is painful to realize that one has crossed the invisible threshold beyond which "selling out" is something that politicians do, rather than bands that one liked before they were, you know, mainstream.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:54 AM
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in the US, the sort of 'centrist' Democrats who get elected by the left and then govern right.

In the US, Britain, I think Germany and the rest of northern Europe (also, possibly Brazil), these people's defining characteristic is technocracy. They believe in government by experts with a passion that would warm the cockles of Plato's shrivelled heart. Obviously this renders them hostage to whatever is the fashionable economic doctrine because economics looms so large; this will almost invariably lead them to govern right of where they campaigned, because the left has been largely excluded from economics departments for decades.

But it's also evident in the obsession with testing in schools; in the choice of outcomes they measure in healthcare and all kinds of other detail. Basically, they profoundly mistrust the agora and the reality of political debate, and they try to constrain political intervention to managing the experts.

This is a political theory of sorts; it isn't a "theory of politics" as defined above, because it consciouly excludes the requirement for one.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:55 AM
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87: Some or most of them really aren't on the left at all, probably all or nearly all of the ones who actually get elected. But there is a class of people who I'm fairly sure have goals that I would recognize as left, but who are affiliated in terms of presentation and tactics with people I'd call neo-liberals.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:59 AM
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OT: It is hot.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:02 AM
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There are two different definitions of "neoliberal" -- the American one, and everyone else's I'm actually surprised that Henry is using the American definition. The American definition is "Clinton-Blair Third Wayism", while everyone else's is "return to Gilded Age economic policies". They clearly have a family resemblance in their devotion to the market, but the American definition implies using market means to promote progressive ends.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:04 AM
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My take on that debate: no mention of the I-word?


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:06 AM
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I think the lack of naked racism and liberal attitudes to, say, sexuality are a contrast with much of the US right, but they aren't specifically 'left' in themselves.

This is an important point. There's nothing intrisically leftist about feminism (Christabel Pankhurst?), anti-racism or support for gay rights. Because they're causes which appeal to fairness, they tend to attract a lot of support from people who are left wing in the traditional sense, but if you define your left/right divide on these issues, you're going to find yourself with some very odd political bedfellows.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:07 AM
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I think the problem is the idiosyncratic American usage of liberal to mean center-left. It just sounds wrong, in any discussion of American politics, to use a compound including 'liberal' to denote someone who isn't at least notionally left of the current American center.

I'd use the international terms, but I can't figure out how to apply them to denote the various US political factions I want to talk about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:08 AM
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"This is an important point. There's nothing intrisically leftist about feminism (Christabel Pankhurst?), anti-racism or support for gay rights."

There's nothing "inherently left" about any set of positions. All political coalitions are a motley assortment of sometimes contradictory interest groups. Asserting that the essence of "left-ness" is, I dunno, a focus on economic equality is nothing more than lexigraphical sleight of hand to jump your preferred policies to the front of the line. The fact remains that modern "left wing" politics in America involves economic, racial, sexual, cultural and other agendas.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:11 AM
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re: 94

Yes. Exactly that. If your views on socio-economic equity and class are right-wing, you are right-wing, whatever the fuck you may think about who gets to have sex with who, or what colour or gender the tiny elite of rich people in charge should be.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:11 AM
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Useful Ben Alpers post on terminology.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:12 AM
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Reductionist.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:12 AM
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96 and 97 seem to indicate a real disagreement.


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:12 AM
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re: 96

There's a long history of how these terms have been used, and adopting Humpty-Dumpty semantics doesn't change that.



Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:13 AM
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99 to 97.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:13 AM
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I think the problem is the idiosyncratic American usage of liberal to mean center-left.

I don't really think this is a huge problem. Everybody understands the difference between Clinton/Blair and Thatcher/Reagan. It is the ex-centre left that's been captured by the logic of grim technocracy. They have, as Clough remarked to Emerson, led us all out into the desert and have left us there. I'm not convinced that arguing over a typology of the villains is going to help us find our way home.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:14 AM
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The label doesn't really matter anyway. If you aren't for social and economic equality in some serious way, you are not on the same political side as me.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:16 AM
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"There's a long history of how these terms have been used, and adopting Humpty-Dumpty semantics doesn't change that."

And in that long history, racial equality has long been a mainstay of "left" politics. What gives economic issues primacy?

My underlying point is still that the left coalition now is not the left coalition from the 1960's is not the left coaltion from the 1920's and so on.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:18 AM
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It is the ex-centre left that's been captured by the logic of grim technocracy.

That is the most concise statement of the unarticulated definition that I have been carrying around in my head using the same neurons that are supposed to remember whether we need unsalted butter or regular butter.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:18 AM
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97: That's a radically different notion of politics than exists in the US. In the US, identity politics is left-wing essentially by definition.

To make it extra confusing, the people who are labelled "neoliberal" in the US do favor socio-economic equity, they just think that market mechanisms are the best way to achieve that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:18 AM
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104 to 105, although I still think that any sensible definition of 'left' incorporates the economic issue as a primary one.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:19 AM
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I think the issue is not only that they lack a theory of how to get things done it is that they are not very interested in practical politics at all. Hence Yglesias whines a lot about the Senate which is not going to be abolished any time soon.

I'm not sure I agree with this at all. Yggles is extremely interested in practical politics. Half his posts these days are about the economic and social consequences of zoning and building codes, which to be honest is getting really tedious. And the reason he whines about the senate is because its institutional make-up prevents government from doing things. It's true he's also interested in tying various theoretical framworks (eg game theory, neoliberal economics, philosophy of justice) to politics in fairly abstract ways, but that's not exclusive.



Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:21 AM
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I have no idea how you go about turning the sort of social issues we're winning on [...] into momentum on economic issues.

Me either. I've said before that I am deeply pessimistic about the next few decades. I guess my only real hope--and it's a grim one--is that millenials find their economic situation so thoroughly shitty (which they will) that they actually pursue the sort of changes that my generation apparently doesn't have the balls and/or consciousness to.

partly because they aren't remotely left at all

This can't be repeated often enough.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:22 AM
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107.2: I think that some do and some don't -- that there's a real ideological divide within people who think of themselves as neoliberals.

97, 104: I want to agree with this, but I also want to say that whatever your positions on economic and class issues, if you're not on my side on racial/gender/gender-orientation equality, you're also not on my side. Economic issues are essential, but so are issues of social justice.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:22 AM
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I think the Senate is actually a great issue to bring up. I doubt it will ever be abolished, but I'm a pessimist. If you asked me in 1890, I would have told you we'd never adopt the 40-hour work day. (I'm sufficiently a pessimist that I just wondered if the 40-or-less-hour work day will be a distant memory by 2090.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:23 AM
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In the US, identity politics is left-wing essentially by definition.

The Christian Coalition begs to differ.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:24 AM
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we'd never adopt the 40-hour work day

And indeed, we never have.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:25 AM
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111: Under the American definition of neoliberal? There's a question of how much redistribution we really want, but I can't see why someone in the US would think of themselves as neoliberal if they thought the answer was "zero".


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:26 AM
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114: What makes it more embarrassing is that I made the mistake twice.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:27 AM
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re: 111.last

Well, sure, but there's not a symmetry there. The vast majority of all people who believe in economic equity also believe in the others, too. So I'm pretty safe taking the economic issue as the primary one where assessing who I should support and when. If there was a large left-populist racist/sexist party out there, I wouldn't support them, but there isn't.

There are an awful lot of people who are OK with a more balanced make-up of the tiny rich elite who control things, but not with broader egalitarianism. Those people can fuck off, and the fact that they don't nakedly hate black people, think that people should be free to have sex with who they choose, and that women aren't intellectually or morally inferior to men is not enough to rescue them.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:27 AM
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114: Something we all can be thankful for!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:27 AM
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peep, get back to work!


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:28 AM
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119: Thanks, Walt!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:29 AM
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I think the conundrum in definitions of the left is that -- before the 60s -- the actually existing institutions had become as managerial as their enemies: you don't have to be James Burnham (a Trot-turned-conservative who thought this development was a good thing) to acknowledge that there was a convergence of regime type at the technocratic level, which only really began to come to pieces in the 60s, East and West. The 60s revolt, including the splintering into identity politics, was among other things a revolt against managerial elites of right, centre and left.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:30 AM
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"I want to agree with this, but I also want to say that whatever your positions on economic and class issues, if you're not on my side on racial/gender/gender-orientation equality, you're also not on my side. Economic issues are essential, but so are issues of social justice."

And sometimes these things are going to come into conflict. Through this whole yglesias/neoliberalism debate, a lot of people have talked good game about "embracing the messiness of politics," but I've seen suprisingly little appetite for what that messiness would actually look like. There's nothing a priori wrong with prioritizing economic issues--indeed, that seems to be one reason Yglesias is so single minded about monetary policy--but it's silly to pretend that doing so isn't, at bottom, a policy choice.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:31 AM
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114: since "In the US context", normal words can have completely different meanings, I think it may be the case that "In the US", forty hours is equal to 600 minutes and your objection is simply a failure to understand "In the US".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:31 AM
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Jesus! You people get started early! It's only 11:30 a.m. and already 123 comments?!

Carry on.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:34 AM
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First off, thanks LB for putting up this post, since I also found the discussion at DeLong's and CT interesting and impossible to follow.

What I think he is getting at when he talks about "a theory of politics" is a theory about how political change (or stasis) happens,

That is, essentially, how he defined it in his post:

Hence, the need for a theory of politics - that is, a theory of how policy proposals can be guided through the political process, and implemented without being completely undermined. And this is all the more important, because (on most plausible theories of politics) there are interaction effects between policy choices at time a and politics at time a+1. The policy choices you make now may have broad political consequences in the future.

Oh my god, I'm reeling from the amount of time it would take to make an intelligent comment on what seems to be an interesting topic.

I tried yesterday and it didn't seem to be helpful to anybody else. I'm convinced that, either, there's a real problem in that everybody has different unstated assumptions that nobody is making explicit OR that Yglesias was correct to say

So I really, strongly, profoundly agree with this. The moment someone comes up with a workable idea on this front, please sign me up. But if there's no idea to debate, then there's no idea to debate. Debating the desirability of devising some hypothetical future good idea seems kind of pointless to me.

Note, also, that I think Yglesias gets at the heart of the issue when he wrote

Political advocacy campaigns suffer, he notes, from a very extreme version of this problem. Steve Teles and Mark Schmitt wrote a smart article about the problem but I'm not sure they really "solved" it. And yet, as Swartz says it would be really nice to make progress on this: "when you stop to realize that the world is full of huge problems that can only be solved by collective action, figuring out how to inspire coordinated action most effectively doesn't just seem interesting -- it seems essential."


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:35 AM
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Ironically, in the US the phrase "in the US" means "after smoking a pound of marijuana". The way you say "in the US" in the US is by saying "While having sex with your mom last night'.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:35 AM
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Since time immemorial, liberals have dreamed of slowing the earth's rotation. But as human cloning comes ever closer to fruition, an alternative path to the 40-hour workday gradually comes into focus.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:35 AM
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I have a 37.5 hour work week and three weeks vacation and 12 sick days and 12 fixed holiday days and 2 personal days. Maybe I shouldn't complain so much about low pay.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:38 AM
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re: 128

From where I'm sitting that looks like a horrific Stakhanovite life.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:39 AM
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125: The linked comment seems pretty accurate and useful to me.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:41 AM
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Oh, liberals are already changing the Earth's rotation.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:42 AM
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The vast majority of all people who believe in economic equity also believe in the others, too. So I'm pretty safe taking the economic issue as the primary one where assessing who I should support and when. If there was a large left-populist racist/sexist party out there, I wouldn't support them, but there isn't.

This, again, may be more of an issue in the US than it is in the UK. It's the 'What's the matter with Kansas' issue -- the idea is that left politics can't appeal to the non-urban working class because they have non-white/secular/female/gay cooties all over them, and if we could step away from social issues, we could win some economic issues. And I'm not willing to do that.

I don't know that this is an accurate assessment of the US situation, but there are certainly people who believe it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:42 AM
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FDR -> LBJ: Not possible without the Solid South. Which is never coming back, as LBJ predicted.

And yes, I'll bite on the Nader issue: So long as "progressives" would rather see moderate Dems be defeated than join in a coalition with them, neither progressives nor neoliberals can have any political success. The lessons of 1972-1992 are sound.

60 Vote supermajority: bullshit. How many senators from Connecticut are you counting? This does highlight the essential problem: let's hear a neoliberal or progressive theory for getting 60 senate seats. There is no way, in the lifetime of anyone reading these words, other than a coalition stretching all the way from the leftward edge of statewide electability to the Nelsons and Landrieus.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:43 AM
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129: Maybe, but I spent 15 minutes and zero dollars getting to work this morning.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:43 AM
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Jesus! You people get started early! It's only 11:30 a.m. and already 123 comments?!

That's only slightly more than six comments per working hour.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:43 AM
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What on earth is the difference between a holiday and a personal day?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:45 AM
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The other link I should add to 125 is this post by Brad DeLong which seems like it comes closest to presenting the argument of what it is that neoliberals find tiring about this line of criticism.

That's the passage that I quote from in my linked comment. I don't find it convincing but it's a reasonable argument and dovetails with the sentiment in the Timothy Burke post linked in 73 that

On the other hand, almost any leftward theory of politics, however sophisticated or inclusive of various branches of thought, has its own problems when it comes to thinking past the recognition that short-term and long-term political outcomes are determined by interests, processes, histories and subjectivities that begin and end well beyond the defined boundaries of formal governance. The issues accumulate fast and furious, and are painfully familiar to anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the intellectual history of the modern left. (Some of those issues haunt various lineages of conservative or libertarian thinking as well.)


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:45 AM
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and 12 sick days

I would be pretty suspicious about an employer who purported to know how many days I would be sick in a year. At the very least, I wouldn't eat in the canteen.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:46 AM
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A personal day is where you come into work and then do nothing but make pointed remarks about your co-workers.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:46 AM
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You mean what's the difference between a vacation day and a personal day. Holidays are things like Christmas, that occur on a date certain. Vacation and personal days are days that you can schedule to take off when you want to, but which probably have slightly different rules about how they accrue and whether they need to be taken in the same year in which they accrue.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:46 AM
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re: 134

Well, yes. On that score I'm buggered.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:47 AM
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125: The linked comment seems pretty accurate and useful to me.

Thank you, I appreciate that very much.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:47 AM
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What on earth is the difference between a holiday and a personal day?

I have a horrible feeling that in that sentence "holiday" corresponds to "Bank Holiday" and "personal day" to "holiday". And "sick day" to "I smoked a pound of marijuana with your mum".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:47 AM
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136: Personal days can be used on short notice. The difference mostly matters for people in positions that have to be covered by somebody if you are out.

138: I can be sick more than 12 days a year, I just don't get paid for being sick.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:49 AM
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144.2 : do they dock it from your vacation days, or just dock your pay?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:50 AM
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145: I think they draw from your vacation days and personal days if you have them.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:51 AM
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At my company, holidays are New Years Day, Memorial Day (May), Independence Day (July), Labor Day (September), two days at Thanksgiving (November), and the week from Christmas to the 31st. We get one "personal holiday" per quarter to take for any reason. A few years back they combined sick and vacation days into one "paid time off" category that starts at 3 weeks a year and increases by a week per year at 3, 9, and 15 years of service.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:02 AM
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And at sixteen years, they send you to knackers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:03 AM
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What if it is coming up to year end and you have only been sick six days? Do they inject you with a mild dose of flu virus?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:05 AM
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I'm sort of glad they don't combine vacation and sick days here. It encourages people to come into the office with colds so they can spread mucus-making germs around.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:06 AM
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The problem with neoliberalism is that it's based on pity and compassion, which aren't a very strong foundation to build politics on. (A commeter at MY's called it "pity liberaltarianism", which is pretty accurate.)

The problem with pity liberaltarianism is that there's always some poor person out there who's not worthy of pity, and the right can draw attention to them endlessly, and corrode the foundations for any action.

What neoliberalism lacks that older left-wing movements like Marxism had was a clear account of dessert. The rich were rich not because they were hard working, but because they had taken it from the poor. This doesn't work anymore because we have a big middle class, and the historical symbolism of Marxism is so linked to the romance of the working man that the middle class mentally lumps itself with the rich.

What we need is a kind of middle class Marxism, the idea that the rich got rich by taking it away from the middle class (and the working class). At one point, before he started giving it away, Bill Gates was worth around 100 billion dollars. Did he get that because he just worked so gosh-darn hard? This is so obviously a stupid explanation that the fact that anyone can make it with a straight face in public is how far the middle class is from understanding its objective condition.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:06 AM
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So, I get 8 bank holidays, 4 other fixed holidays [days my workplace is closed], and 27 holidays that I'm free to take whenever I like. Some of the Bank Holidays I can work, and take the time in lieu elsewhere. So that's 39 days off per year (7.5 working weeks, although I only have completely free choice for ~6 of them). Sick days have no impact on any of that as sick days and holidays aren't treated as part of the same pool and I think doing so is seen as barbaric by most people.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:08 AM
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What neoliberalism lacks that older left-wing movements like Marxism had was a clear account of dessert.

Neoliberalism is all a bit of a fudge.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:08 AM
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149: They roll over. I've been here a while and have a couple of months accumulated.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:09 AM
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"A clear account of dessert": this is why Ho Chi Minh worked for several years as a sous chef for Escoffier...


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:09 AM
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Base and toppingstructure


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:10 AM
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I'm excited by my ability to derail a thread by malapropisms alone.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:12 AM
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155: Marxism is all about the pie in the sky.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:13 AM
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155: Neoliberal economists don't concern themselves with trifles.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:13 AM
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Or truffles.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:14 AM
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I will kiss you all.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:15 AM
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Damn, I did it again. I meant "kill".


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:15 AM
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155: as a youth, he endured years of coulis labour.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:16 AM
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re: 132

I can't be the only person whose noticed the tension between two types of Unfogged comment:

i) 'We can't support mainstream centrist policy position X because we (the US collectively) are all a bunch of massive racists', and
ii) 'There has never been a more racially diverse and integrated society than the US'

You may well be right about the 'Kansas' problem, but I can't help feeling a nagging discontent at the way it sometimes crops up in political arguments.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:16 AM
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I will fucking cut youse.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:17 AM
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151: What we need is a kind of middle class Marxism

"21st-century Americanism", we might call this. (No one will get the joke.)

At one point, before he started giving it away, Bill Gates was worth around 100 billion dollars. Did he get that because he just worked so gosh-darn hard?

But he was also so innovative and he took such risks!


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:19 AM
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166: I got the joke.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:20 AM
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151 seems pretty accurate to me, though there is also an element of neoliberalism that's based on a sort of generalized respect of all people that hobbles it because everyone is at least part of the time a complete idiot and asshole.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:21 AM
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155: "Philosophy finds its material weapon in the profiterole" - K. Marx, "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel", 1843.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:23 AM
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151 (seriously this time): What we need is a kind of middle class Marxism, the idea that the rich got rich by taking it away from the middle class (and the working class)

I agree entirely. Hacker and Pierson's Winner-Take-All Politics is a (very, very, small) start in the direction of encouraging this.

I also think that support for the rights of oppressed groups is, or ought to be, essential to the left for the same reasons as support for economic equality. Both come down formal rights being of little account if one cannot, in fact, exercise them. ("The law, in its majestic equality," etc.)


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:26 AM
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161/162: kiss, kill, what's the difference?


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:30 AM
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i) 'We can't support mainstream centrist policy position X because we (the US collectively) are all a bunch of massive racists', and
ii) 'There has never been a more racially diverse and integrated society than the US'

This doesn't seem contradictory to me. (ii) causes the equal and opposite creation of the bunch of massive racists in (i).


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:31 AM
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ttaM, I got 1 week of vacation (which can, up to a point, be cashed out when I leave) after 6 months, another 2 weeks at 1 year, and another 2 weeks at 18 months. You get a bunch more after 10 years, but few people last that long. I wouldn't have been eligible for health insurance until I had worked 3 months.

My sick time accumulated much faster. If I don't use my vacation, it converts to sick time. If I build up a lot of sick time, I could get paid while on maternity leave. I can't get disability insurance until I've been there 2 years. I hope I'll be gone by then. The over-educated office adminstrator/greeter has been there about 20 years, and he takes a ton of vacation. It's a real pain, because nobody covers his responsibilities while he's away. We're just generally understaffed.

We have to have holiday coverage, and if you work a holiday, you accrue an extra vacation day.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:39 AM
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172: The old ecological fallacy. The example I remember from Intro to Methods was about Strom Thurmond's run for president. Voting for him in a given district was strongly and positively related to the proportion of African Americans in that district which, of course, did not mean that African Americans were voting for Strom Thurmond.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:42 AM
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It's not like Americans can't do this stuff. The mobilisation in Madison earlier this year was magnificent, far better than anything we've managed lately anywhere in Europe except Greece and Spain. What's lacking is the political infrastructure to carry it on. So Henry, to go back to the top, is right about Unions at that level. But you need political organisation as well. By all means call it middle class Marxism if you like. If the American working class prefers to call itself middle class because it's primarily made up of cubicle serfs rather than riveters, that's a detail.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:44 AM
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Exactly. Or how Obama fared surprisingly well in whitey whitebread states.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:46 AM
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133: This does highlight the essential problem: let's hear a neoliberal or progressive theory for getting 60 senate seats.

The theory is that you shouldn't need 60 seats. You should need 50, like you always did before Democrats got rolled by the filibuster rule. Of course, they had the opportunity to fix the filibuster at the beginning of this term and they refused to take it.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:48 AM
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175: The problem is that the American middle class has little sense of common identity. As near as I can tell the long and middle term problems of the middle class have root causes in the unequal distribution of wealth and the rise of the superrich, but the short term problems of the middle class consist almost entirely of dealing with assholes from the middle class.

Note: This may be projection on my part.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:52 AM
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You should need 50, like you always did before Democrats got rolled by the filibuster rule.

I'm not sure what you mean. There is certainly more use of the filibuster lately, but it is hardly new. It used to be 2/3rds (i.e. 67) and that started very early in the last century.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:58 AM
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70 / 83:

I'm way too slow to comment at unfogged, but here's a short response anyway.

It's true that politicians move to the center after winning their primaries, and vote even more centristly once they're elected. Despite that, they're still more extreme than most voters, both on the left and the right. I know I saw this graph on Andrew Gelman's blog, but googling for it just turned up page 20 of this presentation: www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/presentations/redbluetalkubc.pdf


Posted by: Suomen Radioamatööriliitto | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:59 AM
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If I build up a lot of sick time, I could get paid while on maternity leave.

Oh how this enrages me. I want to fucking punch every single "family values" politician who doesn't give a shit about this. (Which would be all of them.)


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:59 AM
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179: It was never used on every single stupid bill, deliberately to gum up everything, like it was during 08-10.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 9:59 AM
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179: the norm that the filibuster is not routinely threatened on every vote, thus allowing things to pass with a simple majority, has recently been discarded by the Republicans.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:01 AM
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182: Right. From WWII to 1975 it was only used to work toward the disenfranchisement and secondary socio-economic status of African Americans in the South.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:03 AM
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184: Sure, and that is horrible, but qualitatively different than filibustering every nomination and every attempt and moving through the ordinary motions of governing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:04 AM
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184: Well, right. It was used narrowly. Now it's used all the time for everything.

Using the filibuster for civil rights bills was bad and wrong and a big deal, but it didn't block all functioning of government in the absence of a huge supermajority the way the constant use of the filibuster does now.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:05 AM
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183: Plus, back in the day if you wanted to filibuster, you had to keep talking to hold the floor, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington style. At some point that went away, which contributed to making them far more common.

How much more progressive legislation would have passed in the last congress if not for the filibuster?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:07 AM
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"every attempt and moving through the ordinary motions of governing."

should be

"every attempt AT moving through the ordinary motions of governing."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:07 AM
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177 -- Sure, start with the ponies. Makes everything easier. But, ok, lets hear a progressive theory for 20 senate seats over the next 20 years. One that also avoids 60 Republican seats, if possible.

I think, by the way, that the senate is actually pretty reflective -- but not perfectly reflective (Tip O'Neill was right!) -- of where people in the state are politically. The CA and NY delegations, for example, look pretty representative to me. MD and DE too. VT and NH. And VA might be a little leftward. WI and IL went too far rightward in 2010, and I think this'll get corrected. Sure some movement one way or the other is possible in any of these places, but without a mass political movement -- that is a mass movement in the state at issue -- nothing significant will change.

A mass movement in California or New York isn't going to mean diddly in national politics (except for spillovers like in 2000). You need a mass movement in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.

Middle class Marxism, or maybe something arising from the Hispanic community?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:09 AM
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187 - That needs to be brought back. Make them earn it. Let them stand there blathering for days until someone leaves to go to the bathroom and a vote can be called.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:11 AM
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I was just watching Arthur on PBSKids. He has a friend named Buster!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:11 AM
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I did allow, right in 179, that the filibuster was used more often now.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:11 AM
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Middle class Marxism, or maybe something arising from the Hispanic community?

Both.

Or if you can't have both, then at least you have to ensure that one community doesn't let itself be used against the other.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:12 AM
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But you didn't seem to understand what was meant by "The Democrats got rolled by the filibuster".


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:12 AM
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190: That would be a great idea and would have been even better when Biden was still in the Senate. I'd love to hear what would pop out of his head after 3 hours of talking.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:13 AM
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I did allow, right in 179, that the filibuster was used more often now.

But "more often now" does a lot of work there... it went from "almost never" to "all the time."


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:16 AM
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195: Also Jim Bunning.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:19 AM
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194: I understood it and was rejecting it. The Democrats were on the other side of this five years ago. Yes, the Republicans have been worse, but to me "rolled" implies some kind of massive one-sided loss, ideally one that comes as a surprise. The Democrats in the Senate have made a deliberate choice to keep the filibuster because it helps them as individuals as a legislative body (against the House and president). At the very most you can say that the Senate Democrats are paying a bit higher price than they wanted to pay to keep their own power boost.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:19 AM
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To the OP: I guess I'm a little confused by some of Henry's terms here. What precisely is a "left neo-liberal"? I can think of a few politicians that this might describe, but I'm not sure I'm using the term the way he does. And in any case, surely there just aren't very many "left neo-liberals" around, no matter how you define it.

Furthermore, I think neo-liberals in general do have a theory of politics, and one that has proven quite effective. The theory is basically that by removing unions, coopting other NGOs, and colluding with the very highest echelons of the power elite, a neo-liberal agenda will ultimately triumph. And it has. Any honest neo-liberal can look at the world of 2011 and point to success after success. The counter-revolution in the PRC? Huge success. The growth of an Indian middle-class that aspires to all the trappings of First World conspicuous consumption? Huge success. The domination of the developed economies by an ever-smaller number of mega-conglomerates? Huge success again. The so-called health care "reform" of the Obama administration was a gigantic Tom Friedman wet-dream for neo-liberalism. The militarization of the US-Mexico border could not be moving to quickly from a neo-liberal perspective. We live in a neo-liberal world, and all of this culture war shuck is just a distraction from the degree to which that is true.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:20 AM
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196: Almost never formally used is very different from not important.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:21 AM
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Here's a graph showing cloture motions. It's not perfectly onesided, but it's fairly asymmetrical -- the big jump comes when Republicans lost the Senate in 06.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:22 AM
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198: I do think that Senate Democrats were very much complicit in the rolling, although I think describing it as a "massive one-sided loss" is quite an accurate description of what the results have been.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:24 AM
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What I think he is getting at when he talks about "a theory of politics" is a theory about how political change (or stasis) happens, not about what end goals might be desirable, or just, or legitimate, which is much of what I take "political theory" to be. "What are the processes and mechanisms by which political change happens?" is, at least in part, a separable question from "What would a good polity look like?"... .

I'm not confident I've followed this discussion, but I do believe that people are interested in both topics, although "how does political change happen" doesn't come up much. Over on my niche blog, I talk about how the change in water policy will work its way through government very crudely (we'll have an earthquake and a new system will be devised with emergency powers, because we sure as fuck won't do it before then). So far as I know, I'm the main person in this small niche who talks about both how the politics are working and what better policies would be. People seem grateful to have the former made explicit.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:25 AM
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"Removing unions"

I'm not really sure what this means. If you can point to so actual policy from, say, Jimmy Carter, that led union members to think some actual policy of Ronald Reagan was going to work out better for them, I'm interested to hear what it is.

Better yet, why on earth would any union member, or anyone remotely sympathetic to the interests of union members, have voted for Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:30 AM
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Thanks to Cosma for 53.

This parenthetical is important: (I think that some, but not all*, of Brad DeLong's reaction to Henry's posts is explained by letting X = "Clinton-era financial deregulation".)

As any number of people have said, here and elsewhere, it's an increased belief that the markets should be the principle vehicle for socioeconomic movement that characterizes neoliberalism (and makes it in some ways indistinguishable from conservatism). See Keir in 14 and throughout this thread. The American populace has been captured by this notion -- call it imaginative or ideological capture -- which is the result of a 30-years-long campaign by conservatives toward exactly that end.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:33 AM
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204: I meant "removing unions from the playing field", which I would argue is a fundamental part of the neo-liberal agenda, and one that has been pursued by both Democratic and Republican neo-liberals with alacrity.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:39 AM
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206 -- And now I'm wondering just who you're talking about. Goldman Sachs? Sure. Actual Dem politicians in any state/locality? Not clear at all.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:47 AM
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"204: I meant "removing unions from the playing field", which I would argue is a fundamental part of the neo-liberal agenda, and one that has been pursued by both Democratic and Republican neo-liberals with alacrity."

This simply isn't true. The modern democratic coalition isn't as pro-union as it once was (although who knows which way the causality runs there), but the idea that Democrats are actively trying to get rid of unions is insane. The only story you could potentially tell here is one about trade policy, but that wasn't about "removing unions from the playing field."


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:56 AM
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I really don't know how you go about making unions bigger players in Texas and North Carolina. Wish someone had a good idea on that.

Unions are in serious decline here, because mining, milling, and logging are in serious decline, and not coming back. Public sector unions, or health care workers, are never going to wield the same kind of political power miners/loggers did, because they're never going to have the same kind of direct power vis-a-vis capital.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:59 AM
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Plus, they tend toward having really thin arms.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:06 AM
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I find the terminology confusing, and I haven't read most of this thread (though, from what I've read so far, Shearer seems to be 100% right). But with that said . . .

Yglesias in particular, and perhaps other "neo-liberals" in general, put a great deal of emphasis (to the point of obsession, perhaps) on destroying various guild privileges of key members of the liberal coalition: teachers unions, Hollywood, inner city African American residents opposed to gentrification, etc., without offering a convincing narrative of the political coalition that's going to emerge to replace those groups, or how the substantive measures that they Democrats claim to want, such as expansionary fiscal policy, are going to be achieved without these members of the coalition.

When the "liberal" portion of the neoliberal agenda fails, the response is either to (very justifiably, IMO) get mad about institutions or lapse into fatalism or rage against the imbeciles in the press (cf Delong, Brad).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:07 AM
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the idea that Democrats are actively trying to get rid of unions is insane

Maybe elsewhere, but here in North Carolina, the right-to-work laws were written, passed, and signed into law by Democrats.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:08 AM
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This also reminds me of something I read in the great book about Detroit I've mentioned previously here. There's a quote from a woman, circa 1955 or so, about Roosevelt. She says something like "Because of that great man, I could get a new $20,000 house for $200 down. There will probably never be another like him."

Now, Yglesias would probably look at a social program subsidizing single-family home ownership on the outskirts of Detroit, in an area unconnected to a public transit network, as an inefficient disaster, and maybe he's right. But, in fact, that's how the New Deal political coalition was created and won -- providing freebies to middle and working class families in a way that could be directly linked to a political machine.

Support for unions also often involves a tradeoff between optimum efficiency and political patronage.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:13 AM
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"Maybe elsewhere, but here in North Carolina, the right-to-work laws were written, passed, and signed into law by Democrats."

I should be careful: I meant the federal democratic coalition. State and local stuff is wonky and varies dramatically.

"But, in fact, that's how the New Deal political coalition was created and won -- providing freebies to middle and working class families in a way that could be directly linked to a political machine."

And this is what it comes down to. Patronage is a fantastic way of building a strong political party, but A. It always involves screwing somebody, so it is incredibly difficult to do in a truly egalitarian fashion and B. you can't lard out patronage and still claim the mantle of good-governance.

Now, I'm totally open to the suggestion that these are sacrifices that need to be made, but lets not pretend its something-for-nothing.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:20 AM
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214: It doesn't have to be something for nothing so long as it's something for something -- if you can get the votes to govern well by serving the direct interests of the voters, that can net out to a good thing; it depends on how bad the patronage is from a policy point of view, and how much you have to give out.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:30 AM
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I don't have time to get into this, and I'm not an expert anyway, but the coalition that got the New Deal started was not entirely the same coalition that shored it up later, simply because some of the constituencies who benefited once the programs got going hadn't yet started benefiting. And also because some people eventually had enough and thought things had gone too far, or lost elections. FDR tried to primary people in his own party in 1938, mainly in the south, I think, and lost badly. But the winners remained Democrats.

Also, there had been a lot of mobilizing and experimenting at state and local levels in government, and within companies in areas such as pensions and other welfare capitalist initiatives in the decades prior to the New Deal. "Laboratories of democracy" was more a progressive rather than states-rights conservative slogan. But in recent decades most of that sort of mobilization has been for conservative goals on economic issues, and it's not a huge surprise that those are going through in places.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:31 AM
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214: If it involves "screwing" the rich to benefit the less wealthy it most certainly can be egalitarian. In Halford's example it's hard to identify a loser except those who pay taxes.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:35 AM
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Okrent's book on Prohibition talked a fair amount about the extremely impressive Temperance organization, which maybe points us back to the comments on having a single overarching political goal. I mean, they got a Constitutional amendment banning the sale of alcohol through Congress.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:38 AM
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Well, yes, 216 is right.* But the general point that the success of the New Deal coalition depended on patronage policies that were often not maximally efficient (although, in terms of tradeoffs, were huge net improvements for middle and working class people, and LB is right that the net benefit is the key issue) stands, I think, and the focus of folks like Yglesias on maximally efficient policy** misses some of that political dynamic.

*Let's not forget that the coalition that got it started included large numbers of hardcore southern racists.

**I think Yggles is often wrong or under-informed on the merits of his policy arguments, as well, but that's a different point and there's certainly value in having folks like him putting policy arguments out there.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:39 AM
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211: Yglesias in particular, and perhaps other "neo-liberals" in general, put a great deal of emphasis (to the point of obsession, perhaps) on destroying various guild privileges of key members of the liberal coalition: teachers unions, Hollywood, inner city African American residents opposed to gentrification, etc., without offering a convincing narrative of the political coalition that's going to emerge to replace those groups

My impression has been that the replacement political coalition is supposed to be comprised of conscientious rational economic actors (with enough socioeconomic clout to make themselves heard politically, i.e. UMC neoliberals) who will do the job *for* these groups, as long as those groups' interests aren't too much in conflict with economic efficiency and growth. It's sometimes difficult to distinguish this from so-called liberaltarianism. Walt got it right in 151.

This thread is going around in circles at this point. I've also noticed that my "principle" in 205 should have been "principal". [Clears throat, looks away.]


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:40 AM
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218. The people that I know at US nonprofits with national political goals all stress the importance of a single, very simple, political message.

For the left in the US, the Green party seems like the only potentially viable unifying candidate. Helping poor people in the US to live better is not a very popular goal, and the means to bring it about are not widely agreed on. In my mind, the means are not actually known at all-- the left has no viable alternative to rapid GDP growth for improving people's lives, I think. The greens are not especially happy about rapid growth, though.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:51 AM
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My impression has been that the replacement political coalition is supposed to be comprised of conscientious rational economic actors

Well then they can fuck right off. Ain't gonna happen. Never did, never will. But you knew that.

But I suppose the point is that a coalition of people who like being stroked by being told they're conscientious rational economic actors (and deeply serious) can be relied on to leave the actual decision making to the experts without too much fuss.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:02 PM
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207, 208: No, I'm quite right. Yes, there are some Democrats who pay lip-service to the ideal of high-membership, powerful unions. And yet, where are the legislative initiatives to give unions more power? To repeal Taft-Hartley? To support unionization in developing countries? All I see from the vast majority of Democrats for the last 70 years is crocodile tears and backroom deals that always screw over the unions.

Furthermore, even the very few Democratic politicians who actively support trade unions are totally marginalized within the party. And the neo-liberals who run transnational organizations pretty much never support unions even a tiny bit.

So, again, neo-liberalism is triumphant. In electoral politics, our choices are fascists or neo-liberals, and that's exactly the way the political class wants it.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:03 PM
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the left has no viable alternative to rapid GDP growth for improving people's lives, I think. The greens are not especially happy about rapid growth, though.

I remain a registered member of the Green Party. I keep thinking I should change that, but. Certainly the Greens have worked against Democratic candidates from time to time, to the advantage of Republicans, and I am not on board with that! Also complete disarray on the part of the Green Party. Sigh. And yet.

Listening to the local public radio station in the background today, filled with generally liberal sentiments, it's all about robust economic engines! for growth! which attracts, like, distribution centers to our city which creates jobs and fuels growth! Man. They've really got us by the balls.

Meanwhile, our planet used to have a, um, sombrero of ice over its polar cap, then it had a mere fedora, and now it just has a beret.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:05 PM
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potentially viable

In which universe? Over what time frame? At what cost?

This from my Facebook feed today. Madness. Fortunately, grown-ups in the labor movement understand this.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:07 PM
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225: Not, perhaps, the tone best calculated to build bridges with those who may disagree with you on tactics, Charley.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:16 PM
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218: Yeah, I meant to include not the temperance people - who, it probably should be said were often anti-working class, to the extent that they wanted the working class to adopt middle class values and behaviors like temperance, and anti-prohibition sentiment helped FDR in 1932 - but the various other associations working along similar lines as unions for varieties of social insurance for their members: mutual benefit associations, and the like.

To the extent that I'm even arguing with points in this thread, which I've only skimmed, it's that it may be easier to see how effective and sustainable some progressive policies will be once implemented, than to see the path to that implementation. Not an original point, I know. There seems to be general agreement that effective health care will benefit not just the insured but the people who put it through, but it's apparently quite difficult to get people to see those benefits before they're actually receiving them, not least because the opposition has done everything they can to prevent that connection from being made.

I think the stimulus is an interesting case here. You had people explicitly referring to the WPA, the CCC, etc. beforehand but in the actual policy there were IIRC explicit prohibitions against using funds for cultural institutions or purposes. Not just no stimulus for museums, libraries, etc. but no murals, sculptures, etc. Nothing memorable that brightens up the ordinary part of people's days. Just important, but boring technocratic stuff. I mean, I know the roads between California and British Columbia are far better now than they were a couple of years ago, and I know that most of the maintenance projects responsible for this were stimulus related because the signs said so, but no one's going to get nostalgic about smoother gray interstates and federal roads that already existed, and no one's really going to remember the coalition that brought them. Whoever put in those prohibitions was probably doing something very smart politically, though I could also be reading too much into it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:16 PM
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The Green Party, as a political party, is a joke that will never go anywhere except as a spoiler party that benefits Republicans. But left-wing movements operating outside of the control of, or affiliation with, the Democratic Party are absolutely essential. The danger of reflexively dismissing such movements in the name of realism is at least as dangerous as the danger of a spoiler third party on the left.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:18 PM
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228 is right.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:21 PM
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which universe?

Germany's greens have real power. Yes I know the political systems are very different, but if theory is being discussed, then the Greens should be part of the conversation. Personally, I feel that a lot will change when the cost of solar electricity is comparable with the cost of coal, so trees or jobs becomes less of a tradeoff, which it roughly speaking is today.

I sympathize with some of organized labor's goals. But neither GM nor United Airlines nor other large unionized employers are doing much for their remaining employees, who in turn are a smaller and smaller fraction of the US. I too would like to see better laws protecting attempts to organize into a union. But even with unions for hotel cleaners and Walmart employees, would poor people in the US be that much better off? Not trying for a negative tone; I simply do not see a means other than GDP growth and so decent semiskilled jobs for improving the lives of the US poor.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:24 PM
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sombrero of ice over its polar cap, then it had a mere fedora, and now it just has a beret

Soon it will just be a melanoma blister.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:24 PM
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226 -- You're right. I don't think I can enlighten the deluded, only help warn off the genuinely uncommitted.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:38 PM
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enlighten the deluded

In fact, a very difficult proposition.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:41 PM
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218. The people that I know at US nonprofits with national political goals all stress the importance of a single, very simple, political message.

Could this be why leftish non-profits havn't accomplished very much politically? A collection of small NGOs, each centered around the politics a single issue, doesn't actually make for a strong and cohesive social movement.

Contrast that with civil society organisations on the right - the Christian Coalition, the Tea Party, Club for Growth. These are organizations with a broad portfolio of policy preferences, but centered around ideology based on cultural identity. Even the NRA is as much focused on identity building around gun fetishism as it is around gun laws individually.

The one comparably broad-minded left wing organization that comes to mind is ACORN, and the Democrats didn't seem to have a problem with hanging them out to dry.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:45 PM
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I'm confused by 225, 226, and 232: Charley does not agree that primarying Obama (say) and running third party candidates is a good move. I thought.

Third party candidates can make a positive difference in local races, at the county and municipal level. I wouldn't expect that they can be of help nationally.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:46 PM
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The Ben Alpers post linked in 98 by Cosma -- on the origins of neoliberalism -- is helpful, by the way.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:57 PM
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Maybe elsewhere, but here in North Carolina, the right-to-work laws were written, passed, and signed into law by Democrats.

Google tells me that this law was passed in 1947, so this is a little like claiming that Democrats are the party of racists because so many of them opposed civil rights.

Plus, North Carolina, despite its name, is in the South. I think the blame for Southern Democrats is more appropriately assigned to the South than the Democrats.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 12:59 PM
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Buddy Roemer just entered the GOP presidential nomination race, where he will compete with Thaddeus McCotter for the critical "Wait, who?" vote.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:00 PM
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All I see from the vast majority of Democrats for the last 70 years is crocodile tears and backroom deals that always screw over the unions.

The regulatory environment for unions is considerably more favorable under Democrats. That's far from nothing.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:02 PM
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235 -- I don't think that there is anyone in the Democratic Party who could make a primary run against Obama that would help progressives. I do not think a third party run can accomplish anything other than (a) marginalizing progressives and/or (b) electing a Republican.

I think that anyone who said and stands by the proposition that there was not a dime's worth of difference between Bush and Gore should never be taken seriously on questions of political theory, politics, or policy. Not by anyone anywhere. I don't expect anyone in this category to accept my views on this, anymore than I expect the morons who thought there was a Soviet threat in the 1980s (and who I no consider just as completely unreliable on questions of intelligence and national security) to endorse my heuristic regarding them.

Where the result is foreordained, I don't have anything against a progressive third party local candidate. If they are going to win, great. If the Republican is definitely going to win, ok fine, good to have some issues on for discussion (although I don't like the whole mandate question that arises from this).


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:02 PM
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234. No, I do not think so. Looking backwards, prohibition movements that had diffuse goals failed. Those which had a single goal and which punished opposing politicians succeeded. The difference was not ends or identity but means chosen.

Both Sierra Club or Greenpeace offer identity politics, as do SPLC, Amnesty, MSF.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:04 PM
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Gawd. Look, I'm just thinking that establishment Republicans are, fairly soon, going to begin to shut down Michele Bachmann. She voted against the stupid "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill in the House because she refuses to agree to raise the debt ceiling for any reason whatsoever, even with an idiotic balanced budget amendment. She has to be stopped; surely the Republican establishment sees that. They shut down Palin when they'd had enough; now it's time for Bachmann.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:07 PM
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But left-wing movements operating outside of the control of, or affiliation with, the Democratic Party are absolutely essential.

This is true, but seems unrelated to the group linked by Charley, which wants to undermine the Democratic Party. Not a smart choice in a two-party system, unless you've got a plan to achieve a majority without the Democrats, which they don't. (Unless ponies are a plan.)


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:08 PM
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242 to 238.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:08 PM
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Oh, I see. OK, not the green party as a political organization, but the fundraising arm of the Sierra club, say. The point I was trying to address is the existence of viable single-issue politics for the left.

Single-issue pressure has worked well in the past.

By the way, someone here mentioned distrusting Okrent on the basis of his NYT responsibility. Why was he so bad? His judgement in particular-- I hesitate to condemn someone's judgement after they have failed at managing something difficult.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:10 PM
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I'm just thinking that establishment Republicans are, fairly soon, going to begin to shut down Michele Bachmann

What a headache that will be for her.


Posted by: eliot | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:10 PM
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not a dime's worth of difference between Bush and Gore
This was always demented, but I'm less convinced if the comparison is Romney and Obama, ignoring Supreme Court appointments.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:10 PM
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Most posts might have become a little overheated. Think I'll take a break from this one.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:11 PM
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I don't disagree with anything in 240, at all, but I do wish Carp would shift his rhetoric a bit and that people on both sides would just STFU about left wing primary opponents in national elections (presumably, they don't because the wound of Nader in 2000 is still sore). Who cares about primary opponents to Obama? That's not happening and even if it does it won't matter much; we should be working on bridging ties to people on the left instead of casting them out as deluded Naderites. An engaged and enraged left is in many ways the best possible friend of moderate liberals.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:11 PM
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Dammit! MY posts!


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:11 PM
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ignoring Supreme Court appointments

The question is, how on earth can this qualification ever be justified?

OK, really gone now.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:14 PM
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251: It can't, of course. I didn't want to argue they will be indistinguishable. I just wanted to vent about the Democrats rightward drift.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:17 PM
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246: Heh.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:20 PM
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Both Sierra Club or Greenpeace offer identity politics, as do SPLC, Amnesty, MSF.

They do, but its not of the essence of what they are.

The Christian Coalition is about being a conservative Christian, and the policies they support flow from that identity. In contrast, the Sierra Club is about supporting the environment, and identity plays a part primarily in that people who support the environment tend toward being left-wing hippies.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:20 PM
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ignoring Supreme all federal Court appointments


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:20 PM
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249: I yield to nobody in my derision of Naderites, but I'll vote for pretty much anybody who primaries Obama from the left. If you want engaged and enraged leftists who don't disdain politics, you've got to give them a candidate.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:24 PM
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establishment Republicans are, fairly soon, going to begin to shut down Michele Bachmann

Maybe, but I'm not convinced they have the ability to do it. The GOP establishment didn't shut down Sarah Palin; she just quit a governor's job that she clearly hated to launch her TV career.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:24 PM
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Tina Fey shut down Sarah Palin.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:27 PM
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If you want engaged and enraged leftists who don't disdain politics, you've got to give them a candidate.

I believe this was the Naderite argument in a nutshell.


Posted by: eliot | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:27 PM
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Don't blame me. I got confused and voted for Pat Buchanan.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:31 PM
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245: Single-issue pressure has worked well in the past.

I'm probably being too disagreeable about this. Its just that recently, I've been looking into what civil society has accomplished in promoting the specific, righteous, left-wing cause that I am employed in.

The answer is, notwithstanding a few minor successes, very little. We have a number of single-issue NGOs trying to do good things in this field to promote this or that discrete political goal, but, realistically, none of them is going to accomplish the paradigm shift in public opinion that will be necessary to affect the significant change that we are seeking.

It needs a full-fledged social movement, and NGO lobbying for individual penny-ante political agreements isn't going to make it happen.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:35 PM
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First, let's kill all the Republicans.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:37 PM
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257: Maybe, but I'm not convinced they have the ability to do it. The GOP establishment didn't shut down Sarah Palin; she just quit a governor's job

Mm, I had the impression there was a whisper campaign; you could see it on Fox News and from other conservative opinion makers. Over the course of a week or two, commentators were musing, "Hrm, yes, well, Sarah Palin, she's a dynamic figure, I have nothing but admiration for her, but ...."

For better or worse, the media has a lot of power here, and is guided by moneyed interests, as we all know; in this case I really think that nobody wants Bachmann to pull ahead in the Republican primaries. Unless there's some convoluted advantage for Romney in it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:40 PM
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263: Ah, I see what you mean. Well, it will be an interesting test of how much the men behind the curtain can really control the lunatic front (it's really no longer a fringe, right?) that's ascendant in their party.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:46 PM
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261. Also not wanting to be disagreeable, but I have to disagree. Wayne Wheeler, ML King, and Cesar Chavez all headed single-issue NGOs.

I do not think social movements can be synthesized or even led into existence.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 1:50 PM
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OT (except that it comes from a Crooked Timber link), but I now kinda love Larry Summers, for referring to this line:

one of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at 3 o clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they are looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 2:01 PM
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I mean, Larry Summers still sucks, but that's a great line.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 2:04 PM
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Wayne Wheeler, ML King, and Cesar Chavez all headed single-issue NGOs.

I don't know about Wayne Wheeler, but MLK and Cesar Chavez both had movements that were grounded in identity, in a way that, say, Greenpeace, is not.

I do not think social movements can be synthesized or even led into existence.

Not by the left, it seems. On the right, movement conservatism seems pretty synthetic to me.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 2:14 PM
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Have only skimmed the thread, but potentially semi-relevant, the Pittsburgh Howling Mob Society. 134 years ago today,

Looking out over the burning Strip District from the safety of his office in Pittsburgh's Union Station, Thomas Alexander Scott must have been humbled. Only days before, as president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Scott famously suggested that impoverished and striking railroad workers be given "a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread." Now, with the local Pittsburgh militia all but mutinied and the State Militia rapidly retreating, he must have wondered if his hard-line stance had backfired...
From a few years back, may have been mentioned here before. The Howling Mob Society has created ten historical markers, detailing events and significant locations from The Great Strike, and mounted them throughout the Strip District, Downtown, Polish Hill and Lawrenceville. Map.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 2:52 PM
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242: Look, I'm just thinking that establishment Republicans gay barbarians are, fairly soon, going to begin to shut down Michele Bachmann.

Gay barbarians make the bigtime!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 3:11 PM
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269: I knew that marker in the Strip was too good to be official.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 3:14 PM
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And now, what's going to happen to us without the gay barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 3:19 PM
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Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the gay barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the gay barbarians.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 3:19 PM
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I was intrigued by the suggestion (at the SLOG, years back?) that the left should take up identity politics along an urban/rural divide. As in, we're city dwellers and demand a city-friendly policy program that includes the social justice the hicks are so scared of and cities are pretty green anyway so it would be enviro, too.

This is not too far from the fears that are attributed to Red State people, that the coastal elite think they look like Jonathon and Dunlap, and we mock them as we eat our bruschetta. But even as we are accused of it, the left hasn't explicitly used it for social mobilization. (Because we don't want to piss off the people who grow our heirloom veggies.) So maybe that's an angle.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 3:28 PM
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It's "Jackie and Dunlap," you coastal elitist. And real Red Staters recognize that they are affectionate renderings of recognizable types. A lot of conservatives like Colbert for the same reason.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:34 PM
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the left should take up identity politics along an urban/rural divide

Pretty sure that this exists already.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:39 PM
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276: True, but largely because the right defines it this way, and because the left has failed to define a "real America" that's urban.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:46 PM
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real Red Staters recognize that they are affectionate renderings of recognizable types.

How could I have known that?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:54 PM
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276,277: Right. The piece I saw was suggesting that the left embrace it and base their platform around making cities awesome.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 4:56 PM
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you've got to give them a candidate

Across the broad spectrum of issues, Al Gore was the best candidate (primary or general) with any chance of (a) winning and (b) governing of any in my lifetime. Walter Mondale notwithstanding. If Gore isn't good enough for you, you have a problem acknowledging what country you live in. For the next 20 years (starting in 2016 -- we already know that 2012 we won't), we can hope to have as good a candidate as Al Gore, and likely be disappointed.

On the other hand, late 90s Republicanism was almost as scary as the current version, and the standard bearer was obviously unsuitable. Only idiots in the Village -- the same people who were sure after the 2000 election that Bush would govern as a centrist, because the country was so divided -- were taken in. And, apparently, the progressives.

Where were fucking progressives when the one guy said we should wall off the SS surplus, and the other guy said we should give it all away as tax cuts to the rich? Unable to discern either short term or long term interests.

I don't know how to formulate a theory, but surely 'don't cut your own throat' ought to be part of it.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:02 PM
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277: There was a brief period around WWII and the 50s when Brooklyn was an urban "real America". Basically between the beginning of the immigration lull and before the Dodgers left town.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:04 PM
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280: I think you misunderstand me. When I say leftists need a candidate, I mean someone like Al Gore in 2000. A leftist who isn't (basically) satisfied with Gore in 2000 is a nitwit.

I would sign up for a Draft Gore movement in 2012 in a heartbeat.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:09 PM
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I mean, unless Gore was running as a Third-Party candidate.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:10 PM
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280.3: Huh. He said "lockbox". Heh.... heh, heh.


Posted by: Opinionated Villagers | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:10 PM
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Can we get it to become conventional wisdom that the Republican party's pool of candidates and potential candidates consists entirely and exclusively of loons, goons, and buffoons? I think the rhyming could make it catch on. Also, it's true.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:16 PM
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I ate too many crackers and now I can't whistle.


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:23 PM
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I'm totally not convinced that Gore as President would be to the left of Obama.

Except he'd emphasize climate change, which is probably enough. For me. But still, Gore would have governed like a centrist DC consensus democrat.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:29 PM
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274, 279: This strikes me as a terrible idea. The last thing urban types need is to alienate themselves further from the rest of the country. Also, it doesn't work electorally: there are a lot of states that just don't identify with the urban gestalt. Don't be silly.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:38 PM
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Sexual intercourse began
In Brooklyn, NYC,
In a house that was listing, dull
And run-down
(but anyway too good for me)
Between the beginning of the immigration lull
[A]nd before the Dodgers left town.


Posted by: OPINIONATED PHILIP LARKIN OF BROOKLYN | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 5:38 PM
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Al Gore seems in some ways to be sort of a bad example here, since he actually won the election. Nader isn't the reason Gore wasn't president; SCOTUS is the reason Gore wasn't president.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:03 PM
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urple, you're going to make CharleyCarp mad.

I wrote this a while ago:

I honestly don't know what's wrong with the identity politics of the 80s and 90s. By the 90s the conservative fight against it via the sneering 'political correctness' meme had gained a great deal of traction and was successful. But what did it amount to? A call to out-cool the uncool (nobody likes a politically correct scold, right?).

Anyway, the 'political correctness' campaign did a job on the energy of identity politics: we were supposed to be embarrassed by ourselves. Is it too late to stop being embarrassed about it and regain that energy? It did succeed in forming coalitions among many groups, with cross-identifications.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:14 PM
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urple, in a close election any number of factors can be said to be decisive. Nader is vilified not merely because his presence gave Bush the election (which it seems likely to have done), but because the argument of Nader and his supporters was that it would be just fine for Nader to cost Gore the election.

It's a historical fluke that Nader had such an impact, but he was clearly trying to have this impact. Even if he were ineffectual, he would have been repugnant.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:23 PM
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Is it too late to stop being embarrassed about it and regain that energy? It did succeed in forming coalitions among many groups, with cross-identifications.

Really? That period's most prominent (in the mind-lives of the sort of people who were in college or grad school then and wasting time on making use of the Internet now) legacy would seem to be the ____fail meme, or its predecessor the interblogstravaganza of grudge and dudgeon, which phenomena seem less unifying than hardening (of hearts,* skins, attitudes, etc.).

* "I thought LiveJournal/TVTropes/Kos/Jezebel was about community, man."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:23 PM
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293: I didn't think that was the 90s. I thought it was the aughts.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:32 PM
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And now I feel old. I'll just mosey off to Ice Floes R Us. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:33 PM
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Is 295 before seeing 294? Because actually it seems like you're not old enough, if you're thinking that the advent of widespread internet communities is what I was referring to.

I'm getting a little tired - it's hot.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 6:39 PM
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111

I want to agree with this, but I also want to say that whatever your positions on economic and class issues, if you're not on my side on racial/gender/gender-orientation equality, you're also not on my side. Economic issues are essential, but so are issues of social justice.

This is one of the things that irritate people about liberals, they are so sure they are right about everything that you can agree with them on 90% of the issues and still be the enemy.

20% of the population aren't going to get much done politically by themselves.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:21 PM
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This is one of the things that irritate people about liberals...

Maybe we need a new type of liberal?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:22 PM
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230

... Personally, I feel that a lot will change when the cost of solar electricity is comparable with the cost of coal, ...

Absent punitive taxes on coal this won't happen until the coal runs out which won't be any time soon.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:28 PM
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85

Imagine I was aware of that and was correcting for it -- that there appears to be a class of politicians and pundits in the US that while in some rhetorical sense is affiliated with the left, is even further from serving left-wing goals than you'd expect due to the normal difficulties of getting anything done.

The fans always care more than the players.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:30 PM
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The fans always care more than the players.

This could usefully be run across the bottom of every ESPN, C-SPAN and E! channel for every hour of every day, but the pragmatist in me wants to suggest that "more" and "differently" are not the same thing.

OT: Looks like my friend had her baby. People are not kidding about that universal Winston Churchill* resemblance.

* If I were pretentious, I'd say Cyril Connolly.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:34 PM
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109

I'm not sure I agree with this at all. Yggles is extremely interested in practical politics. Half his posts these days are about the economic and social consequences of zoning and building codes, which to be honest is getting really tedious. ...

None of his whining about DC's zoning appears likely to have any practical impact. And he sometimes seems pretty tone deaf, I wouldn't choose him to try to sell his policies to DC's poor blacks.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:36 PM
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And he sometimes seems pretty tone deaf, I wouldn't choose him to try to sell his policies to DC's poor blacks.

This is a facile and unfair criticism that I endorse enthusiastically.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:38 PM
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And he sometimes seems pretty tone deaf, I wouldn't choose him to try to sell his policies to DC's poor blacks.

Are you suggesting that "successful real-estate investor" is not the best term for someone who has to move out of the neighborhood she's lived in for 40 years because she suddenly can't afford her property taxes?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:47 PM
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302, 303: Funny you should mention this...


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:48 PM
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The fans always care more than the players.

That goes nicely with Tim Burke's latest response.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:50 PM
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304: But if the taxes are so high, why hasn't she sold what simply must be an extremely valuable property that no buyer would ever think of trying to get after the owner loses it in a tax sale? Is it because she's a conservative?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:51 PM
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the idea that Democrats are actively trying to get rid of unions is insane.

They don't have to, there's another party for that. All the Democrats have to do is not be all that committed to defending them. Which has been true since the 70s at least. Not to mention that the Dems bought into the deindustrialization agenda.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:54 PM
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302, 303, 305: That discussion got started with a NYT article that, I'm sure by sheer coincidence, happened to quote some of the same people a different reporter talked to in this piece that came out on what looks like a locally oriented website about 10 days earlier on the same topic. The NYT piece stays at a level of generality where the author is safe from the details of what appear to be differential treatment of businesses on the street.

(It really is a coincidence that I found this. I was just searching for more information about the "successful investor".)


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 7:56 PM
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the idea that Democrats are actively trying to get rid of unions is insane.

Really? This little thing called No Child Left Behind, let me show it to you.

(I'm being sarcastic because in my adult life I have moved from indifference to tolerance to outright support for unions, despite the fact that most of my firsthand experience with them is negative, and watching NCLB play out on the ground has been a very significant part of that shift.)

And yes, I'm aware that NCLB passed under a Republican administration. But it was also one of the last major achievements of Ted Kennedy.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:32 PM
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I've heard some teachers say that stuff in the Race to the Top education initiative, which I've admittedly never looked up so I don't really know what it is, is much more terrifying than anything they've seen Republicans come up with.

And that the technocratic Democratic education people in general are scarier than the Bush ed people were, but that seems to be largely the result of Bush not doing much on education after NCLB. Also, apparently voucher proposals are less threatening, at least perception wise, because they often leave the management of schools alone.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 8:41 PM
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228 is right.

Charley, I am perplexed about why understandably frustrated individuals talking about third party make you madder than the administration's terrible, terrible, terrible economic strategy. With the stream of sellouts on my pet issues, I can at least see the logic, though I don't buy the political necessity. But, on the economy, even purely on self interested grounds, it seems pretty basic: do something about unemployment, or if the crazy Republicans won't let you, make sure the voters know that the crazy Republicans won't let you do anything about unemployment. And all that's before the current debt ceiling/default fiasco.

Remember those articles in 2008 about how Obama was going to apply his community organizing experience in office? I think he's applied it to community organizing the Village.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:32 PM
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hi PGD!


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:34 PM
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312 -- Katherine, I don't believe I've said a single positive thing about the President in this thread.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:44 PM
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Or in 2011, for that matter.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:50 PM
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true! maybe it's just that angry lefties are around to argue with.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:50 PM
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But I will defend Sen. Kennedy. A little. There was supposed to be adequate support for schools so they could meet the goals. Congress and and Admin reneged.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:54 PM
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Some days ago, is a colloquy with the distinguished gentleman from Texas, I averred that I do not believe that the President deserves to be re-elected, but that we do not deserve Republican rule.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 10:57 PM
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I intend to spend my time, energy, and attention for 2012 -- and such little money as I throw away on politics -- on state legislative races, our too-close-to-call Senate race, and our open seat House race.

Our Senate race is actually a pretty interesting test for anyone trying to work out a theory of politics. For over 30 years, we've had a deadlock over the use of public lands. Not enough juice to get any of the 6 million acres under study declared wilderness, but logging has been banned, and now the mills have closed, jobs and ways of life lost, and resentment built up. So Sen. Tester comes up with the idea that you ought to get the stakeholders in a room with some maps, and see what you can get. Loggers, atv users, enviros: came up with a compromise proposals in a couple of areas (a bunch of wilderness, some areas opened to logging, mandated logging at public expense). Other enviros, pursuing a save-it-all strategy, have resisted, as has our House rep, who's position is 'not one single additional acre of wilderness, ever.'


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:08 PM
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who's position is 'not one single additional acre of wilderness, ever.'

Although properly viewed, the Republican agenda is a plan for accelerated creation of some manner of new wilderness. And a big one at that!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-21-11 11:19 PM
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Shearer: This is one of the things that irritate people about liberals, they are so sure they are right about everything that you can agree with them on 90% of the issues and still be the enemy.

I've always admired the degree of tolerance that conservatives exhibit towards people with slightly different beliefs. As long as you're conservative in most areas, they really don't mind if you also, say, are pro-choice, or support raising taxes, or oppose the Iraq War. Liberals could learn a lot from them.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 1:38 AM
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There was supposed to be adequate support for schools so they could meet the goals. Congress and and Admin reneged.


Charley, and you know I say this with great affection, that is just uttter hogwash. There is no amount of money or support that can bring all children above average. The goals are a fiction, albeit a terribly dangerous one.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:59 AM
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It's so much hogwash that I added an extra T.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:00 AM
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322: Yeah, that was clear from the moment the law was passed -- that there wasn't any possible outcome other than identifying essentially all public schools as 'failing' by NCLB standards if the law wasn't changed before they were required to hit their targets.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:18 AM
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For a triple dose of hogwash.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:18 AM
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What 322 and 324 said.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:51 AM
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Really? It's 2011, a Black president was elected in 2008 on a wave of popular support for the Democrats that gave them their best results in a long, long time, with the Republicans in disarray without any obvious leaders, the political climate ripe and begging for change, yet once the new Democratic regime was installed it was soon clear nothing was going to change but it's still all Nader's fault for not getting Al Gore as our glorious disappointment back in 2000?


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:17 AM
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and without wanting to re-litigate the "what did Gore say about Iraq and when did he say it?" wars, it really is true that the Al Gore of 2000 was *not* the same politician as the one that won the Nobel Prize for that powerpoint presentation. He was Clinton's VP for a reason, and that reason was that he was very much a centre-right Democrat. Defeat really did change him as a person.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:25 AM
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It's not obvious to me that a Gore victory in 2000 and McCain victories in 2004 and 2008 would have left us on balance in a better position than we are today. Although it's certainly possible.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:29 AM
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He was Clinton's VP for a reason, and that reason was that he was very much a centre-right Democrat.

Yup. And, to bring the thread full circle, very much a technocrat. Anyone read his Reinventing Government?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:43 AM
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329. If you want to deal in completely empty speculation, why would Gore not have won in 2004 if he was incumbent? It's difficult to imagine that he'd have managed the fall out from 9/11 worse than Bush.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:45 AM
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it really is true that the Al Gore of 2000 was *not* the same politician as the one that won the Nobel Prize for that powerpoint presentation.

It's hard to be much more wrong than this. You can claim, if you want, that Gore would have used 9-11 as an excuse to gin up a war in Iraq despite his real-world opposition. But the election of 2000 and the Nobel Prize happened in the real world, and the real world leaves an actual historical record.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:46 AM
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It's difficult to imagine that he'd have managed the fall out from 9/11 worse than Bush.

Regardless of how he handled it he would have been painted as a defeatist Democratic wimp betraying America. Just like regardless of how badly Bush bungled things he was hailed as a savior up through ~2007 or so.

The script is that Republican defeats are victories and Democratic victories are defeats.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:49 AM
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I think a Gore victory was a missed opportunity because in some ways wacko conservativism was on the ropes in 2000. If the Republicans had been shut out of the Presidency for a third consecutive term, they would have blamed the wackos for it.

Plus, if Gore wins in 2000, either 9/11 doesn't happen, which cuts down on the amount of crazy in the air, or if 9/11 happens Gore gets re-elected and we're looking at 20 years of Democratic Presidential dominance, which would really push the wackos to the margins.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:50 AM
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Further to 332, was he the same one who wrote "Earth in the Balance"?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:57 AM
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20 years of Democratic Presidential dominance, which would really push the wackos to the margins.

If there's one thing you can say about the politics of 1950s America, it's that, after 20 years of Democratic Presidential dominance, it was virtually wacko-free.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:58 AM
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|>

Folks, it's gotta happen; we can't put it off any longer. It's time to bring back seersucker.

>>


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:00 AM
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334.1 George W. Bush did not run as a wacko conservative in 2000.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:00 AM
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Please pretend that I used the correct play and pause symbols. It's the heat.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:03 AM
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Great. Now we have to comment twice as fast.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:05 AM
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A theory of politics that wishes away John Roberts and Citizens United. Sounds useful.

My defense of Kennedy was meant to be tepid. I don't know what he thought he was doing, but I don't think he was intending to bring the harm that has been visited on education. If I might speculate, I think he thought the testing was a necessary trade-off to get the problem of poor and poorly funded schools federalized and funded: to move the issue up on the list of national priorities.

327 -- It was a stupid strategy in 2000, and caused huge harm. A bunch of folks are in denial about both parts of that sentence, and want to keep trying the strategy. I say stupid, because it had no chance of producing a positive result. People seem to think they can destroy the Democratic Party and be greeted as liberators. Sure, maybe, but you have to figure out the transition step in a way that doesn't destroy everything else, including all your plans.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:09 AM
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With all due deference to dsquared, who tells us he really does understand U.S. politics, the effort to put the U.S. in Iraq was much more difficult than he seems to want to allow. Iraq was nothing like, say, Libya. Certainly it was nothing like Afghanistan in that respect.

It's hard to come up with a plausible counterfactual narrative that Gore would have supported a war in Iraq, given a different history. But it seems impossible that he would/could have moved the mountains that Bush moved to make it happen. Gore was at heart a technocrat, and I don't see any way he could have pushed the WMD/al Qaeda link that Bush flogged to death.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:12 AM
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337: Ha. I saw a man (under 50!) in a seersucker suit yesterday.

I am currently wearing a cotton striped top of my sister's which in its blue-and-white pinstripes looks a lot like seersucker.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:13 AM
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335: Published in 1992. Gore made environmentalism a signature issue, which was a pretty unusual choice for a senator from Tennessee.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:15 AM
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338 -- He'd been his father's liaison to the Christian Right. But yes, he said he wasn't a crazy. And if all we were doing was picking a single individual, maybe that would matter. But if we're picking 3,500 people from a coalition, and we are, then you have to look at the composition of the coalition.

(This, by the way, is why creation of a third party is a bad idea even if it doesn't lead to Republican rule. Which it always will, but some folks seem intent on denying it.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:16 AM
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The depressing aspect about the last few years in politics has been that the left has done everything it was supposed to, and we still got nothing. We* organized support for the Democratic candidate. We* held massive, lengthy protests. Per Martin, We even tried a black president.
*The "we" is to imply solidarity, not to claim any credit. I barely got off the couch.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:17 AM
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And I'm not sure why that last one was capitalized.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:19 AM
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342.2 -- Over Republican opposition, even.

Of course if 9/11 had happened, and Gore was found to have ignored the PDB, he'd have been impeached and Pres. Lieberman would have gone the full Cheney -- maybe even brought him in as a unity VP -- invading Iran and Saudi Arabia after Iraq. So, boy I guess Nader really helped us dodge a bullet there.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:20 AM
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I think we would have been in a much better place if Gore had been elected in 2000. No Iraq war (invading Afghanistan would have insulated him from any wimp charges too) and no Bush tax cuts would have left us with genuine fiscal firepower to face the recession.

On the other hand, I'm not sure we would be any worse off if McCain had been elected in 2008. No health care reform (which may never happen in a satisfactory manner anyway) and a smaller stimulus, in exchange for Republicans taking total blame for the economy and Obama not selling out the left? I'll take that deal.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:21 AM
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Folks, it's gotta happen; we can't put it off any longer. It's time to bring back seersucker.

I used to like wearing my seersucker suit, and even wore it (with white bucks!) as the prescribed uniform in my friend's wedding party one year, but I gave it to the Salvation Army because (i) I do not like stripes and (ii) I would eventually have gotten in trouble for punching one of the pleated-pants-wearing bros who asked where my parrot was.

From time to time I think fondly of the days when, and places where, a man could wear a white linen suit, but then I remember that (i) Tom Wolfe looks pretty odd when one actually encounters him in person, and (ii) when men did that, they often had to change suits three or four times a day because white linen gets dingy so quickly. (The wrinkles are part of the appeal, though.)


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:21 AM
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The depressing aspect about the last few years in politics has been that the left has done everything it was supposed to, and we still got nothing.

Yes and no. The non-invasion of Iran is a pretty big deal, just as the non-invasion of Iraq would have been hugely important.

And ACA is both a good thing and something that wouldn't have happened under a Republican. Also: Repudiation of DOMA. The regulatory environment is generally more favorable, too.

But yeah, even taking into account low expectations, Obama has failed to deliver.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:24 AM
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On the other hand, I'm not sure we would be any worse off if McCain had been elected in 2008.

Cough Iran cough Palin cough.

No health care reform (which may never happen in a satisfactory manner anyway)....

Half a loaf is something something something.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:25 AM
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346 -- "We" didn't keep Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair. DD said at the time that we shouldn't bother to try, we should do something else instead. Sure hope that something else is going on somewhere under the radar, because there are sure a bunch of reasons to miss Pelosi right now.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:25 AM
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Just as the election of Bush allows us to conclude that the third-party strategy is a failure for the left, if the Republicans take over in 2012 we can conclude that the Democratic-party strategy is also a failure for the left. I guess all that leaves is voting for the Republicans here on out.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:32 AM
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I do like Pelosi. What's up with Durbin lately?


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:34 AM
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I love Al Gore and worked on his campaign. But other than possibly ordering the EPA to issue regs on carbon emissions faster than Obama, I can't think of any area in which he would have governed much differently than Obama, and recall that Congress and the Senate were substantially worse in 2000 than in 2008. I mean, yes the country and thebworld would have been much better off if we hadn't had 8 years of George W, but Gore was for his entire career a centrist southen Democrat with a passion for environmental issues, and that's how he would have governed. Most of the people Obama appointed were basically Gore people.

In other news, I am 100% sure that if Obama had let in 2008 we'd all be complaining about the great lost hope and how we'd never see such a liberal candidate again in our lives.

Dsquared is basically right that the Democrats won as much as they could ever plausibly win in 2008. But as California shows, even massive majorities held by liberal democrats don't do much good if you have supermajority requirements and a determined and crazy Republican opposition.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:37 AM
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The depressing aspect about the last few years in politics has been that the left has done everything it was supposed to, and we still got nothing.

I have read, many times, that "left" policies* (and, to some extent, though more guardedly, politics) are more popular with (attractive to?) more people/voters than "right" ones, but I don't think I'm being disingenuous in wondering whether that can be the case if attempts to sell such policies in the marketplace of ideas so often fall short. (Even stipulating to a certain (if not whole) truth-value to complaints about "the media" and "the Village" and "the echo chamber" and/or the clumsy, hesitant crappiness of John and Jane Progressive-Candidate.)

* E.g., my own favorite, "Let's not kill a whole bunch of people."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:37 AM
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262 to 354.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:37 AM
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I admire your clarity of purpose, urple.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:40 AM
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I have read, many times, that "left" policies* (and, to some extent, though more guardedly, politics) are more popular with (attractive to?) more people/voters than "right" ones, but I don't think I'm being disingenuous in wondering whether that can be the case if attempts to sell such policies in the marketplace of ideas so often fall short.

I think you're underestimating the importance of marketing budgets. And, apart from budgets, smart marketing generally.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:41 AM
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359: Now, now, maybe we can hold them at bay long enough that they start dying off. We just need to stop making new ones.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:41 AM
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There's no contradiction between thinking that Gore would've been much better than Bush & thinking that his campaign is a better preview of how he would have governed than his more liberal, outspoken turn after he lost. Democratic politicians' proximity to power & their willingness to strongly advocate for liberal causes tend to be inversely correlated--e.g. Gore the climate activist and inspiring antiwar State Senator Barack Obama.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:44 AM
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362 is exactly right.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:46 AM
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362: That's a great point. I'll add John Edwards: pro-war Senator, anti-war post-Senate.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:50 AM
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I love Al Gore and worked on his campaign. But other than possibly ordering the EPA to issue regs on carbon emissions faster than Obama, I can't think of any area in which he would have governed much differently than Obama

I think Obama would have been a really good president in 2000 as well. In 2000 all you had to do was to not do any new stupid things. In 2008 you actually have to act to reverse stupid things that are already in place.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:51 AM
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356 -- I'm not going to say that I think Obama has played his cards well, because I don't. But he's got some pretty crappy cards -- ongoing wars, Bush tax cuts, stubborn recession, energized Repubs from Distant Crazyville -- that Gore would not have had. And I think Gore knew a lot better how to deal with Congress and the Village.

We don't know how it would have played out. At very worst, though, Gore would've been no worse than Clinton or Obama. And there's no reason to think we'd see the very worst from him. And John Roberts! And Citizens United!

Assessing presidential candidates 'absent judicial appointments' is like asking Mrs. Lincoln for drama criticism. And not just at the top level: we have one judge here, and he's taking senior status this year. It makes a huge damn difference, especially on environmental issues, who sits in that chair.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:53 AM
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Democratic politicians' proximity to power & their willingness to strongly advocate for liberal causes tend to be inversely correlated--e.g. Gore the climate activist and inspiring antiwar State Senator Barack Obama.

I wonder whether this is another situs for Shearer's "[t]he fans always care more than the players."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:56 AM
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energized Repubs from Distant Crazyville

But this is basically entirely Obama's fault. He invited them. Republicans were in complete disarray in the fall of 2008. And rather than play hardball and force the crazy to the forefont, he decided to help rebuild the brand. He kept pretending their crazyness and idiocy were perfectly reasonable. He stuck to his post-partisan horseshit way too long, even when it was obviously how badly it was being used against him.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:01 AM
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Gore knew a lot better how to deal with [...] the Village

Possibly, but he certainly didn't show much sign of it during the campaign.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:01 AM
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365: And likewise, the Gore of 2000 may not have been too different from Obama had he been the winner in 2008. I don't deny dsquared's claim (as modified by Katherine's 362) that the Gore of this universe is materially more liberal than President Gore would have been.

I admit to being surprised about Libya (though not about Afghanistan), but I'd be shocked if Counterfactual President Obama would have taken us to war in Iraq.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:02 AM
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"Let's not kill a whole bunch of people."

Maybe we need to figure out how to say this in a more positive way.



Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:03 AM
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He kept pretending their crazyness and idiocy were perfectly reasonable. He stuck to his post-partisan horseshit way too long, even when it was obviously how badly it was being used against him.

It seems increasingly obvious that the post-partisan bullshit was aimed at liberals. Now that he's taking a firm stand on default, it's in the service of Republican goals (though admittedly not Tea Party goals).


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:06 AM
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371: Maybe we need to figure out how to say this in a more positive way.

"We're pro-life!"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:08 AM
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I have read, many times, that "left" policies* (and, to some extent, though more guardedly, politics) are more popular with (attractive to?) more people/voters than "right" ones, but I don't think I'm being disingenuous in wondering whether that can be the case if attempts to sell such policies in the marketplace of ideas so often fall short.

The marketplace ideal doesn't even work in the marketplace. If "the marketplace of ideas" keeps rejecting obviously good ideas, it's time to start thinking about how that marketplace is deformed.

But okay, you've stipulated that the marketplace is not particularly deformed. What's your answer? Do Americans inherently prefer mayhem over prosperity? Or what?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:12 AM
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It seems increasingly obvious that the post-partisan bullshit was aimed at liberals.

Because the one thing that liberals really hate is someone who's mean to Republicans... you know, I'm really not seeing this.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:12 AM
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I doubt any Democratic president would have gone to war with Iraq. The Saddam-obsessives in the foreign policy crowd were an overwhelmingly Republican bunch that wouldn't have jobs in a Democratic administration.

I can't make heads or tails of what the administration thinks it's doing in Libya. That just looks like amateur hour.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:13 AM
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375: Polls suggest this is true of Democratic voters, amazingly enough. They like wishy-washy compromisers.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:23 AM
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Because the one thing that liberals really hate is someone who's mean to Republicans... you know, I'm really not seeing this.

The thing that liberals hate is having their policy preferences ignored. Obama, in post-partisan mode, made a show of including liberals among the people he listened to. Now he's become an open partisan, and he's ignoring liberals.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:23 AM
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It's hard to come up with a plausible counterfactual narrative that Gore would have supported a war in Iraq

I didn't want to get into this, honestly, but you make it so tempting ...

I too would have been amazed if counterfactual Obama2000 had invaded Iraq. Because he had consistently, before taking office, been against US intervention overseas and been against the Iraq War specifically.

Al Gore, on the other hand was in favour of more US intervention overseas (George Bush was the guy who "didn't do nation-building"), and was specifically in favour of military action against Saddam Hussein. The sea-change in his views on US imperialism is the big thing I was referring to that seems to have happened as a result of his post-2000 career - I agree he was always strong on the environment.

energized Repubs from Distant Crazyville

And a similar populist movement of the Left is impossible because ...? (My answer is "because the Democratic Party would crush it, and technocratic neoliberals would be the very last to defend anything such")


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:26 AM
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I'm rather glad Sarah Palin isn't Vice President.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:27 AM
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Gore really did have some amazingly technocratic passions. I was once a bit involved in a presentation of web-based GIS at Department of the Interior that then-VP Gore was attending (1994 - very early web stuff). He said, with apparent sincerity and enthusiasm, that he wanted "Good enough for government work!" to become a positive thing to say.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:35 AM
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379: Technocratic liberals are "take the world as it is" types. If there was a populist left, they would just accept it as an unalterable fact of life, like every single other contingent fact of the current status quo.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:35 AM
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299: Absent punitive taxes on coal this won't happen until the coal runs out which won't be any time soon.

Actually, I heard recently from someone in the industry that the cost of PV-generated electricity is very likely to drop by nearly 70% over the next five years.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:39 AM
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Is there a term already in use to distinguish good technocrats from bad technocrats? I really like the idea of having politicians who are passionately fascinated with making government function better, so long as they're willing to listen to the political strategists who can make it possible for government to function at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:42 AM
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Al Gore, on the other hand was in favour of more US intervention overseas (George Bush was the guy who "didn't do nation-building"), and was specifically in favour of military action against Saddam Hussein.

Clinton, likewise, was in favor of "military action" against Iraq. And you don't need a counterfactual to assess what he would do about it as president.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:45 AM
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385: To forestall the response, yes, Desert Fox was military action against Iraq, no, it was not qualitatively or quantitatively similar to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:47 AM
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dsquared, I think your reading of history may be colored a bit by Blair. I'll grant that it would be considerably more plausible to claim that Counterfactual Prime Minister Gore could have been led into war by President Bush.

The clincher, for me, is that I don't think it's possible that U.S. President Gore would have made Iraq his No. 1 policy priority. That's what Bush did, and that's what Bush needed to do to get his war.

And Bush had the benefit of compliant Republicans in Congress.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:54 AM
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386: Yes, thank you. That was my point.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:56 AM
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Al Gore, on the other hand was in favour of more US intervention overseas (George Bush was the guy who "didn't do nation-building"),

This is deceptive. This debate was happening in the context of Bosnia etc, and Condoleezza Rice saying she didn't think US airborne troops should be escorting kids to school (which would have come as a bit of a shock to the Little Rock Nine, and I am still _amazed_ no one picked this up at the time). Nation-building in that context was talking about peace enforcement missions like IFOR and KFOR, not invading and occupying entire countries.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:01 AM
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Is there a term already in use to distinguish good technocrats from bad technocrats?

I don't believe there is. Make one up - make two up indeed, for good and bad - and we'll smear them all over the tubes.

The floor is yours.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:12 AM
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That just looks like amateur hour.

I think this can be said of every single major initiative where the defense/intelligence establishment has the lead. Libya's bad, but at least the consequences to the US aren't very serious. Have you taken a look at policy towards Yemen?

I have a theory on why this is. No one my age, plus or minus five, went seriously into defense/intelligence and got out of the starting blocks if they didn't believe, really, in a Soviet threat in 1984. My age cohort turned 26 that year and, plus or minus 5, is now 47-57. I.e., running the place. There's a word for people over 21 who genuinely believed in the Soviet threat in 1984, and that word is "moron." And they haven't gotten any smarter since.

Why the President is letting these people lead him to ruin is a question for the historians. I have thought it came from implicit threats made at an April 2009 confrontation over the Abu Ghraib photos, but the insiders will probably never reveal the extent to which this is so.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:21 AM
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(As I'm sure everyone understands, I don't mean to slag on our brave young men and women in uniform, including the Seals that successfully got UBL. It's the policy.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:26 AM
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392: Sorry, commie. You let the mask slip. Too late to go back and fix it.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:33 AM
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La la la la la la Bamba!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:37 AM
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Hey, Bob; thanks for being reasonable over my request that you not post in this thread, and if you're still reading and you had anything you wanted to add, you can go ahead now.

I should say to everyone else that my asking Bob not to post wasn't triggered by anything specifically wrong or unpleasant he said either in this thread or in any other.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:58 AM
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Somebody on a comment thread somewhere -- maybe Yglesias? -- speculated that Obama is following the policies he's following because he's been influenced by his time in the Chicago law department, which is more Chicago School than the actual Chicago economics department. Is that plausible?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:01 AM
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I mean one of the commenters on Yglesias' blog, not Yglesias himself.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:02 AM
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How Gore would have governed probably depends a lot on what position he would have taken on the "9/11 changed everything" view of the world.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:31 AM
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398: There's good reason to think that 9/11 wouldn't have even happened.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:34 AM
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Also, I find it said how much recent political discussions on the blogs I still read have resembled those of 2004-2006, except back then the branches of government were all Republican.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:34 AM
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sad, not said

399: I was going to add that to my comment, but I figured I'd limit the counterfactuals to just one.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:35 AM
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396: very little that Obama has done seems to be informed by policy positions he may have developed during the course of his pre-Presidency days.

I think at best you can say that his experiences may have shaped a particular leadership style that is very deferential to existing power structures.

I do feel like his actions suggest that the balance of power in America is not accurately described by the media or by ordinary people in general. Or maybe he's just crazy.


Posted by: Disingenuous Bastard | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:40 AM
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I'm not so sure what Al Gore would've done about Iraq, but as vice president he was clearly onboard with sanctions that killed thousands without undermining Saddam plus the occasional air strike.

What happens with Iraq probably depends on whether or not a Gore administration would've been as surprised by 9/11 as the Bush one was. No 9/11, no war in Afghanistan, no climate in which it was easier to argue for regime chance in Iraq, no war in Iraq. No Team B loons on board either, so nobody as invested in invading Iraq.

On the other hand, Iraq with or without the war on terror remained a sore point, the status quo was from satisfactory and I can see Gore be more aggressive towards it even if 9/11 was prevented...

On balance, better a Gore than a Bush government, but never forgot that election was stolen, that this was neither Nader nor any of the many other third party candidates' fault, but that of a criminal conspiracy doing everything possible to throw the election and succeeding thanks to their crooked allies in the Supreme Court. If half the anger at Nader had been aimed at them, the Bush "election" would perhaps not have happened.

Instead it showed the Republicans that the Democrats [1] were either stupid and complacent enough to allow such blatant stealing, or had other reasons not to protest too much...

Certainly the strategy since then has been to let the Republicans alienate the voters, then reap the rewards, rather than actively oppose them.

[1] The leadership much more than the voters obviously, who were angry


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:44 AM
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Can I advance the hypothesis that Obama is, mainly, completely out of his depth. Before he was elected President he'd served two years in the Senate, one of which was mainly dedicated to campaigning. He didn't understand the pressure, the viciousness, because he simply wasn't experienced enough at the top level. He's in over his head. All the other factors also apply as well of course, but that's what makes them quite so toxic.

Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:46 AM
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He didn't understand the pressure, the viciousness, because he simply wasn't experienced enough at the top level.

I don't see the pressure or the viciousness as a problem for him, the man seems as cool as a cucumber.

Republican viciousness is not why Obama made a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, nor is it why he seems interested in making another deal to cut trillions in spending without increasing taxes.


Posted by: Disingenuous Bastard | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:55 AM
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Can I advance the hypothesis that Obama is, mainly, completely out of his depth.... He didn't understand the pressure, the viciousness, because he simply wasn't experienced enough at the top level.

"Everyone has a plan until they get hit."

My version of this theory, is a concern that technocratic rationality is a hard style of decision making to have success with as a president. I think there just isn't enough time to reason through all of the questions that come up, and you need to have some combination of pre-existing beliefs or partisan interest to help you steer (there is also the trait which Chester Bowles complained was underrepresented in the Kennedy White House, "a moral compass." Though I'm not sure that's actually the correct recommendation for contemporary politics, much as I would like to believe that it is)


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 10:56 AM
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that this was neither Nader nor any of the many other third party candidates' fault,

No reason it can't be the fault of all of the above. Certainly Bush had a lot of responsibility for Bush's election. Gore could have run a better campaign.

Anyway, why talk of "blame"? Nader and his supporters were very explicit about their goals, and explicitly indifferent to - or happy about - the possibility that their choice could throw the election to Bush. Nor did Nader ever express regret, even in retrospect. Nader should get credit, not blame. His mission was accomplished.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:00 AM
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395:You're welcome.

Well then...

Tim Burk is an unctous wanker for his grotesque sports analogy, which I couldn't relate to, since I have completely forgotten what cheering for a losing team feels like. World Champions!

I feel better now.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:03 AM
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Can I advance the hypothesis that Obama is, mainly, completely out of his depth.

I think the evidence favors DB's 405 on that. Obama gets more-or-less what he asks for. Like Nader, he's been very successful. I think we have to accept that, like Nader, he ain't on our side.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:04 AM
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Spelled Burke and unctuous wrong, and then forgot the reference quotes. Will Ben delete me?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:04 AM
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The theory I've heard from my one insiderish connection is that Obama just doesn't like to lose, which leads to risk aversion. I think most of what we grumble about here is his excessive caution, which isn't exactly an unusual trait among politicians.

The problem is that 2009-2010 was probably the time to put everything on red and spin the wheel (which was kinda sorta tried, but not effectively, and with too much deference to Senatorial posturing bullshit).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:10 AM
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384: "Technocrat" itself has a pretty negative connotation. To say the same thing in a positive way you would want something like "wonk" or "expert" or "policy guru." At least for the actual possessors of the technical expertise.

For a politician who favored more technically sound policies but wasn't herself a wonk, I don't know. I suppose that's the sort of thing that the use of the word "serious" is intended to denote in theory, but in practice it usually turns out to mean support for a particular set of unsound policies. "Goo-goo," maybe, but I think that's usually used derisively, and anyway it's more about ethics than technical prowess.


Posted by: widget | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:12 AM
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LB, I was just wondering -- do you think you understand Henry Farrell's argument any better now?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:12 AM
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413: If his argument is that technocrats (pretty close to his 'left neoliberals') are doomed to irrelevance and counterproductiveness unless they have a "political theory" (not sneer quotes, just trying to use it in specifically the sense he was using it in) that will let them create and harness the political power to actually accomplish things, I think I understand it.

I'm still stuck on the content of the "political theory", which sounds a little like "assume a can opener" to me. If all he means is that you have to think about political strategy, sure. If he's got, or can point to a "political theory" that will actually allow politicians I agree with to get power and accomplish political ends, I'd love more details so that I can start evangelizing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:19 AM
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On the blogspat side of things, I figure a lot of the intensity of the argument has been related to barely concealed personal animosity, but that's not a particularly edifying view of things, and there is definitely a substantive argument too.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:21 AM
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414: Would it be fair to summarize this as --you've become more comfortable with your previous suspicion that there's just not much there?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:23 AM
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Yeah, there seems to be a fair amount of just people who rub each other the wrong way, which confuses the issues enough that dealing with it as an argument doesn't really work.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:24 AM
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If he's got, or can point to a "political theory" that will actually allow politicians I agree with to get power and accomplish political ends, I'd love more details so that I can start evangelizing.

How about "give poor and middle income people free shit, and STFU about zoning and teachers unions." That would be both politically effective and economically sensible.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:27 AM
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416: That's more dismissive than I want to be. I wasn't being disingenuous, I honestly don't know much at all about anything that could be characterized as political theory, and there's probably stuff I don't know that Henry does that's illuminating here. And even the proposition that what's wrong with technocrats/left neoliberals/Yglesias and his ilk, whoever exactly his ilk may be, is that they systematically undervalue the aspect of politics that involves obtaining the power to enact policy is interesting -- I'd sort of wondered why people get quite so annoyed with Yglesias, and this post shed some light on it for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:28 AM
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"political theory"

I was thinking about this, given the comments at the top of the thread about Political Theory as an academic field, and I keep thinking about one of the folk definitions of Justice that Plato rejects at the beginning of The Republic which is, more or less, "help your friends and thwart your enemies."

I feel like one thread of criticism that I see is that the "neoliberals" need to be more willing to accept that as one of the guiding principles of politics. It feels somewhat pejorative to say that since, as Timothy Burke points out, there's a long tradition of people trying to figure out how to have means and ends in politics both live up to ethical ideals, but that is part of what I heard in the CT thread.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:29 AM
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Farrell/Bertram hint at some off-blog incident that led to the on-blog animosity. Maybe this thread would have been better used to make up stories about that incident.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:31 AM
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I remember that Bertram was outraged at Yglesias for not showing proper respect for John Rawls.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:45 AM
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The apparent lack of respect can probably be explained by the veil of ignorance.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:49 AM
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There's a pretty long (in blog terms) history of cross-blog DeLong-Bertram arguments over the left and Marxism, I thought.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:49 AM
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I think the critique can be boiled down to: "When you tell us that (1) the important thing is to maximize economic growth, and (2) never mind the distributional consequences because (3) we can always redistribute through progressive taxation and welfare payments, you are assuming a miracle in step 3." With a side-order of "What do you mean 'we', paleface?" on the part of many commenters.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 12:55 PM
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But Cosma, you can prove a theorem that three step process is optimal. What technocrat can say no to optimality.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:04 PM
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Only a pessimal technocrat could do so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:06 PM
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(1) the important thing is to maximize economic growth, and (2) never mind the distributional consequences because . . .

I think this is a good summary, but I also think it's worth mentioning, for the record, that neither MY nor DeLong match that description, in terms of the policies they support.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:13 PM
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I'd rather be a pessimal technocrat than a marsupial tesseract.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:16 PM
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I was sad that I had no tech until I met a man who had no crat.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:36 PM
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425 is an extremely useful short version of a critique I'd been sort of waving around trying to articulate.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:42 PM
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431: I'd been sort of waving around trying to articulate.

U R DOING IT WRONG!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:49 PM
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428: How so? Do they hold back support (or advise the Democrats to do so) for maximizing policies until they get redistributive ones added in?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:52 PM
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I think the issue with Yglesias is more tone than content. He talks like an annoying know-it-all, but then if you look at what he actually says it's usually pretty thoughtful. Every so often he does give ammunition to his detractors by saying genuinely dumb things, usually in the "clever silly" mode.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:56 PM
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433: Well, I don't think I've ever seen either of them actually make the argument as laid out. It doesn't seem wildly out of character, but saying that something's not wildly out of character is pretty far from saying that it's something either actually argues for.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:56 PM
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And 431 is right -- it's a good critique of an argument that does get made. I'm just not clear that I've seen Yglesias or DeLong make it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 2:57 PM
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436: Would it look more familiar to you if it were reframed as: "(1) the important thing is to maximize economic growthefficiency, and (2) never mind the distributionalnoneconomic consequences because (3) we can always redistribute through progressive taxation and welfare paymentsthe improved efficiency can make everyone better off."? Because that's argument's twin cousin, and I think sausagely makes at least implicit use of it relatively frequently.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:27 PM
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428: How so? Do they hold back support (or advise the Democrats to do so) for maximizing policies until they get redistributive ones added in?

I think the question is, can you find good examples of them supporting policies which would increase inequality purely on the grounds of efficiency?

The best example I can think of is DeLong's support for free trade, and my sense is that, over the last couple of years, he's definitely started qualifying his support because of concerns about distributional issues.

You could also list Yglesias's anti-regulation posts but he's made clear that he thinks looser zoning restrictions on the size and character of development would have be a pro-egalitarian policy.

There's also the question of whether Yglesias supports policies that would hurt unions and I will just note that he defends himself, saying that he's pro-union, in the Crooked Timber thread. You may or may not find that policy convincing.

But generally the policies that they both support most vocally are demand-side stimulus during the recession and long term increases in the tax rate tilted to make the overall tax system more progressive.

Note, as one more example, that Yglesias has come out very strongly against the idea of increasing the age for Social Security eligibility specifically on distributional grounds.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:28 PM
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I'd want to stick with 'not wildly out of character, but I'd need to be looking at specific things he wrote to call that an argument he'd made'. I mean, something like that is related to his recent post about the DC business owner who's complaining that gentrification is making her property taxes go up to an unaffordable level, to which his response was that he didn't see what she had to complain about given that the value of her property had increased -- if she couldn't pay the taxes, she could sell for a profit.

And you know, the post was really unsympathetically written, but he has a point -- I see a sob story like that and I tend to assume that it's being used as a stalking horse (what is a stalking horse? Deer stalking? Where does the horse come in?) for someone with a less sympathetic agenda. Even if the story was perfectly accurate, he's right that its a story about someone who's unhappy about the consequences of their property value having gone up, which probably isn't high on the list of real problems.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:34 PM
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never mind the noneconomic consequences

Yeah, Yglesias does make that argument but I also think, in many cases, it's (a) explicitly an argument, rather than just an article of faith and (b) an attempt to argue against status-quo bias in the form of, "I know there are people who benefit from the status quo and would be unhappy about change, but let's think about how much potential benefit to society they are standing in the way of."

But, sure, I think that's a fair criticism of Yglesias.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:35 PM
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The best example I can think of is DeLong's support for free trade,

And there is a real argument that 'free trade', depending on what that means specifically, reduces global inequality. The argument may be wrong, but it's not a situation where supporting free trade unambiguously means valuing efficiency over equality.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:35 PM
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Good point, and that's an important part of DeLong's bias in favor of trade.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:40 PM
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Yeah, I likewise have to disagree with Nick in 428. If we're going to go for a one-paragraph summary, Cosma's 425 is a little unsympathetic but pithy and applicable to Yglesias and DeLong types.

And allowing for the somewhat unsympathetic presentation, it would be fairly tough for me to articulate why I disagree (though I think I do). Economic growth really is super duper extremely important.

Yglesias offers some important caveats when he talks about this (he's big on the value of leisure, for instance), but I think he's basically on board. DeLong - and I'll add Krugman - are all about the primacy of growth.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:47 PM
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|| Bruce Springsteen is playing "Born to Run" on my friend's daughter's toy guitar at the beach club. I am not there. Just saw a pic. Good grief. |>


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:52 PM
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Note, as one more example, that Yglesias has come out very strongly against the idea of increasing the age for Social Security eligibility specifically on distributional grounds.

But this example is entirely consistent with Cosma's characterization* in 425. It's not that the neolibs fail to support egalitarianism, it's that they fail to prioritize it, and their support is therefore diluted.

*I think I mean Cosma's characterization of Bertram/Henry's characterization.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 3:56 PM
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DeLong - and I'll add Krugman - are all about the primacy of growth.

I'll just ask, again, can you find any examples of them advocating, "growth now, redistribution later"?

Looking at his current front page, for example, I find this which would seem to take a different position from that caricature.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:01 PM
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446: How do you see a carbon tax as being primarily about redistribution? (I'm not being intentionally obtuse - just obtuse. I don't see your point.)

I think the 425 characterization is not a discussion of explicit priorities; it's a discussion of how these neoliberal policy preferences work out in real life. That characterization isn't about what they explicitly advocate, it's about the effect of this sort of advocacy in real life.

So yes, DeLong can support free trade on egalitarian grounds, but the critique is that he's wrong (or oversimple) about the egalitarian merits of free trade.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:16 PM
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446: How do you see a carbon tax as being primarily about redistribution?

I don't think it's primarily about distribution, I do think it's opposed to the (Bjorn Lomborg) position of "grow now, solve problem later." I also think it's it will have a generally positive distributional impact (since the effects of climate change disproportionately impact the poor).

It was also what I could find on his front page.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 4:35 PM
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Even if the story was perfectly accurate, he's right that its a story about someone who's unhappy about the consequences of their property value having gone up, which probably isn't high on the list of real problems.

This is why I have stopped even my semi-regular glances at Yglesias's blog. It's just stunningly ignorant to not understand that being priced out of your community often means being forced away from your social capital. Poor and working-class people often have less portable social capital than UMC people, and that matters, especially in this economy.

I have firsthand experience of being financially coerced out of my neighborhood, and the reason I'm OK about it is that I had immense resources at my disposal, including a temporary place to live with family, a job that allowed me flexibility, a financial cushion that let me take my time in finding a new place to live, an UMC socioeconomic level that meant I had traveled extensively around the region and had some ideas of where else I might want to live, and on and on.

Many of my neighbors, who were primarily working-class white senior citizens, were not nearly so lucky. They ended up moving far from their remaining friends to live with an adult child, getting stuck in a new location with much less walkability/transit accessibility, or struggling to decide if they had the resources for a nursing home. One of them ended up accepting a seriously sub-par living situation in order for her sons to finish high school without having to change districts.

Having someone give you a wad of cash to leave your home isn't just about finding a new house. It's often about leaving your neighbors, your place of worship, the businesses you patronize and the social circle you rely on for moving furniture, shoveling snow, finding a new job if you get laid off. It can be losing a whole safety net, not just a piece of property.

I think it's easy to forget, when you've had the kind of American middle-class or UMC life that has included a lot of matter-of-fact travel (business trips, etc), a social circle of friends who came from geographically distant places to attend the same college, and a career track that often *assumes* some geographic mobility, that it's not always like that for other people.

If I sound ranty, it's not personally directed at you, LB. I suppose I ought to go and rant to Yglesias at his own place, since I don't generally believe in saying things behind someone's back that I wouldn't say to their face. But what the heck, it's the Internet. It's all public.

(Oh, and if anyone wants to quibble with UMC me presuming to speak on behalf of poor or working class people, let's just please note that I am NOT saying people shouldn't be free to sell their properties and make their own choices. I'm just noting the often differential impact of such "choices.")


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:10 PM
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@439: Stalking horses are in effect mobile hides for bird-hunting -- you could walk up close to the birds under cover of the horse because birds aren't scared of horses (I guess because they almost never attack them).

Off wikipedia, yes, though in my defence I looked it up a couple of days ago, partly re the political situation in the current Tory party in the UK, and partly re thread banter over at Blood and Treasure about mixed metaphors. Also because because I suddenly realised the image I'd always had in my head was a bit unlikely: that the horse is acting as hunter's bait for e.g. tigers. More unlikely still because in the image I had in my head, the horse was actually always wearing a deerstalker...


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:14 PM
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449: Argh. I shouldn't be arguing with you about this, because you know immensely more than I do about this from direct experience. (Not hard, I don't know much of anything.) But I still have a hard time applying what you're saying to someone who owns a commercial building in a gentrifying neighborhood -- that just seems like someone with enough in the way of assets that we're not talking about their being unable to stay near their support structure.

What were the circumstances of your getting forced out of your home?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:40 PM
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More unlikely still because in the image I had in my head, the horse was actually always wearing a deerstalker...

[Soothing voice:] Go on. What were your emotions about the horse wearing a deerstalker? Did the horse remind you of anything?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:42 PM
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What Witt said. Yglesias's 'tone-deafness' is not a minor thing on this front.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:43 PM
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Even if the story was perfectly accurate, he's right that its a story about someone who's unhappy about the consequences of their property value having gone up, which probably isn't high on the list of real problems.

You know, there's a lot of variety in the class of complainers about increasing property values.

Someone who is a homeowner and is complaining that gentrification is forcing her to leave her neighborhood and be supplanted by people who wouldn't formerly have wanted to live there at all will also (unlike the renter forced out by gentrification) be someone complaining about her property value's having gone up. Yet I have a lot more sympathy for someone in that position than I would for someone whose property value has always been high and who can continue to afford to live in her neighborhood, but is just complaining about the increase in value, full stop.

I don't know what your take on gentrification is, but someone who thinks it's a problem is likely (I assume) to think it's more of a problem than the fact that sometimes property values go up and people complain about that fact. To the extent that that's the real driver of the story, your characterization of its content seems pretty uncharitable.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:44 PM
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But I still have a hard time applying what you're saying to someone who owns a commercial building in a gentrifying neighborhood -- that just seems like someone with enough in the way of assets that we're not talking about their being unable to stay near their support structure.

The fact that it's in a gentrifying neighborhood doesn't give you much information unless you also know when it was acquired and the rate and onset of the gentrification.

(I also just loved how Matt started his response: "'gentrifying' is a loaded word…" Yes, and an accurate one, too.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:48 PM
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451: I think we're picturing really different things when we talk about someone who owns commercial property. I have just clicked through to read the Yglesias article and his link to the NYT, and have some more thoughts on this which I will try to spell out when I get home later tonight, if my brain has not fried from this heat.

Re my personal story, I can't go into too many details because it very quickly becomes identifiable (I'm sure it will come as a huge shock to the readers of this blog that I of all people was involved in community advocacy).

The short version is that virtually all of the remaining row homes and twins (what are often called semi-detached in other parts of the US) in an otherwise very affluent neighborhood were purchased more or less under duress and the looming threat of eminent domain, and then demolished. The former owners were unable to purchase or in many cases even rent other housing in the area (think people with $120K houses now faced with $600K-$1.2 million housing options).

I can make lots of good arguments for economic development and frankly I *like* gentrification under many circumstances. There's no point romanticizing a community that is dangerous and unhealthy. But just because a neighborhood is poor doesn't make it dangerous and unhealthy.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:57 PM
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To the extent that that's the real driver of the story, your characterization of its content seems pretty uncharitable.

Well, it's like the stories about family farms being sold for the 'death tax' -- not impossible that it could happen, and emotionally disruptive for the family that was attached to the farm, but you do have to recognize that if you've got an asset big enough to be generating a large estate tax bill, as sympathetic as you may sound, you are not the face of a problem that anyone should be worrying too hard about -- you're pretty much fine.

The woman quoted in the story isn't getting forced out of her home. She's having trouble paying the property taxes on a commercial building she owns because its value has tripled. While I can totally see that this could be an unpleasant and disruptive experience for her, and she may be unhappy, she owns a commercial building that has tripled in value. It's really hard to see her situation as a problem that needs a lot of attention.

That doesn't mean that gentrification may not have other bad effects on other people. But a story about the bad effects of gentrification should be focusing on effects that really are significantly bad, rather than on people whose lives may be disrupted somewhat, but who are actually in a fairly good position.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 5:58 PM
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There will be a few harder cases, even with commercial buildings. Lots of stupid but interesting stuff (art, craft, etc.) can only happen where you have cheap commercial spaces.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:05 PM
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"stupid but interesting stuff" is my favourite description of art ever


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:07 PM
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I mean, if she wants to pay the tripled taxes she probably needs to find somebody with a business plan and shit. It's for the greater good, until somebody puts in an Arby's.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:09 PM
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Oh, there are certainly sets of facts that could make her situation a real hardship -- the one that springs to mind for me is that her property taxes have gone up to a level she can't pay, but for some reason they don't reflect the market value of the building so she doesn't have the option of selling or renting to a tenant who can generate enough income. But that's not in the story, and if it's the case is a problem with property tax valuations, not with gentrification. To deal with a problem, you've got to be able to identify where it is, and what it is, and where it isn't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:18 PM
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Mostly I'm on LB's side on this because I've heard (actually read in the paper) too many stories of obviously wealthy people complaining about how they are poor yet still own a half million dollar house with no debt.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:23 PM
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Basically I don't want Prop 13-ism to be able to put on a mask and play like it is Robin Hood.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:26 PM
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463: Bingo. And that doesn't mean that the woman in the story isn't in either what feels like a bad spot but isn't, or, possibly, is in a genuinely bad spot. But what we know about her is that she's a commercial property owner who's aggrieved by having to pay property taxes pegged to the value of her property, which has increased a great deal.

I don't think Yglesias is out of line in pointing out that without more, this is not much of a story. Now, a thick knowledge of the kinds of issues that might make this a sympathetic story with a problem that needs a public policy solution is certainly something that he lacks, but there's still something useful about pointing out that the actual issues need to be identified before they can be solved.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:33 PM
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458: That's certainly the case I'm most familiar with. Group of artists forms a cooperative and buys a building, sets up artists' studios, a gallery, a performance space maybe. Over the course of a several years, through a lot of outreach, the place is on the map for open studio tours, gallery openings and so on.

Meanwhile the surrounding neighborhood notices all this, gentrifies in other ways, and property taxes go up on a building that is otherwise unsaleable except to be demolished or retrofitted and replaced by condos. Oops. Now the owners have to up the studio rents (unaffordable for the artists) or, well, give up. They give up.

This is a pretty common story. Of course we don't that the commercial property owner of Yglesias's post is one of these.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:38 PM
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464 is me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 6:45 PM
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Maybe we should combine Geertz and Ylgesias into a superbeing to explain urban policy to the masses.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:05 PM
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If the woman wants to keep her newly-more-valuable property, she should probably subdivide it by expanding the building there and selling (or renting) the parts she doesn't want. But as a reader of Yglesias I tend to think this is probably really hard if not impossible in DC.

(466: glad to see it's not just me)


Posted by: eliot | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:09 PM
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You wouldn't want to use Yglesias for the 'explaining urban policy to the masses' bit of the superbeing. Not highly optimized for explaining things in an appealing way.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:11 PM
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And me again.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:11 PM
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I'm going to need a blender, 7 petri dishes, an incubator, and MY's pinkie.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:12 PM
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469: I've my own reasons for not wanting to risk getting caught with Malcom Gladwell's pinkie.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:14 PM
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Again.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:15 PM
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I agree that Yglesias was displaying a stunning lack of understanding in that post, but I basically agree with his policy views on this one. Gentrification is just another way of creating more UMC housing (or at least socially UMC, financially MC for housing purposes in the early stages - your financially poor young artsy, intern or grad student type tripling up may not have much money but can effectively pay a fair amount more for housing than a solidly working class family). It is the functional equivalent of building more market rate housing and is a direct consequence of a housing shortage in existing UMC areas. The solution is build tons of housing while setting aside large swathes of housing for subsidized housing for the poor. The latter wouldn't help the person in this story since she isn't actually poor. Sharply increasing housing supply growth would, though not necessarily enough. Building tons of new housing would bring out screams of outrage from UMC types worried about 'changing the character of the neighbourhood' and, amusingly enough, increased gentrification.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:18 PM
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I posted this in the Oslo thread, but the AP reports that Norwegian police say that at least 80 people are dead in the camp shooting.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:19 PM
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I was stupid and voted for Nader. I had supported Bill Bradley in the primary, because he positions on healthcare were better. But the thing that really freaked me out about Gore was that he said that he would balance the budget even in a recession. Maybe he didn't mean it, but I thought he was nuts for saying it, and that's why I supported Bradley who called him on it.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:19 PM
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OT comic relief: Cornel West is hilarious.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:24 PM
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477: Hilarious? I'd say right on.

How can Obama be the president you want him to be when he's facing this Republican Congress?
I'll put it this way, brother: You've got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it. If you're just going to reflect it and run by the polls, then you're not going to be a transformative president. Lincoln was a thermostat. Johnson and F.D.R., too.

Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:47 PM
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478: Not sure I'll ever get over how mad he was that a bellhop had tickets for the inauguration, but he didn't. (Well, he did. But not as many as he wanted.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 7:56 PM
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the thing that really freaked me out about Gore

I voted for him, but I was really freaked out by Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:06 PM
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All right. I'm home and sitting under the ceiling fan. It is, no lie, 93 degrees outside at 11 p.m. More to the point, the humidity is extraordinary.

I think there are several issues getting tangled in this thread.

1. Let's stipulate that losing your home is different from losing a commercial property you own. Not necessarily AS different as some of you seem to be saying, but definitely different.

2. Let me add that I don't know anything about the particular Washington neighborhood under discussion, and am therefore basing my arguments on non-geographically-specific principles and firsthand knowledge of potentially similar neighborhoods.

3. Going back to Yglesias's post, he writes:

The public expenditures on improved conditions are leading to higher land values, which is leading to higher property tax assessments. The investment, in other words, pays off. But Johnson is upset. The question is why, exactly, is she upset? According to the article she's upset because her property tax bill has tripled, which is putting her at risk of losing the building she owns in a tax sale. But doesn't this mean her building has tripled in value?

As mentioned above, it's not particularly accurate to assume that a property's sale price is directly and promptly correlated with its tax assessment.

But more to the point, I think there's an underlying assumption here that's just fundamentally inaccurate. Yglesias (and many other people, I don't mean to pick on just him) genuinely do mean investment. To them, buying and selling a commercial property are (I hypothesize) a lot more frictionless than they are to some other people.

If you're just a real estate speculator, one property is pretty much like another. Buy it, hold it, sell it, whatever -- the churn is how you make your money, and making money is the focal point of what you're doing.

But some people who own property in poor, working class and/or majority-minority neighborhoods aren't speculators or investors in that sense of the word. They're capital-I Investors -- people who see buying, holding, and selling within a web of social, personal, religious and other obligations that just don't break down as easily as "Buy low, sell high."

In this light, a person might inherit a small property from a an elderly family member. They might or might not even be using the property -- it may be sitting there as a dreamy placeholder of what they'll do when they get a little nest egg to launch a business. Or they could be using it, but running a kind of business that they feel the community needs, even if it's not bringing in big bucks.

These are not necessarily great reasons on a macro level for land to sit unused or even under-used. But on an individual human level, they can be very natural.

If you buy low and then wind up needing to sell high because you can't cover the property tax out of your income, it seems to me that you're still coming out ahead.

It only seems that way if you're looking at this in one-dimensional terms. Before: Property owner had a small slice of the American Dream, located in the neighborhood where she grew up, and some thoughts and ideas about what she wanted to do with that little asset.

After: Property owner has a small amount of financial capital, which can be applied to a purchase only outside of the community she previously participated in. Especially when you add in the fact that in the United States in the year 2011 many people still do not feel welcome and free to move to any neighborhood they want (either as a business owner or as a resident), it's pretty ignorant to say "You're still coming out ahead."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:31 PM
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See, this is where I think you're being unfairly hard on Yglesias. All of the complicating factors you mention -- that she grew up in the neighborhood, that the business she runs is part of a thick web of community interactions, that she doesn't feel welcome in any other neighborhood, that selling her building would lock her out of participation in her neighborhood -- are things you brought to the story. From the text we're looking at, she could just as well be a college-educated UMC investor who lives in Silver Springs and who's keeping her building vacant until property values rise even more, and having to pay fairly assessed property taxes is screwing with her cashflow so she may not be able to hold out for as much of a profit as she likes.

There's a perfectly good shot your story is true. But (a) it strikes me weird to call Yglesias ignorant for not making the same set of guesses about the subject of the story's circumstances that you did -- he didn't make any guesses, just asked the question: "At the same time, it seems like we should take Johnson at her word that some feature of this situation is making her worse off. But I wonder what it is, exactly." 'Just asking a question' can be disingenuous, of course, but in this situation I think it's true that we really don't know exactly what makes this situation a perceived hardship for her. And (b), the sorts of issues you're talking about (which are, of course, real for many people whether or not they're real for Johnson) are things that it seems non-obvious to deal with in terms of property tax policy. Whether there should be a public effort to help people stay in their home neighborhoods, and what that effort should be, is a good question that should be addressed. But looking at it through the frame of property taxes both seems to focus resources inappropriately on, well, property owners who have made a financial profit, and seems to give rise to the risk of Prop 13-like politics.

Even though the way he puts it makes him sound like an unsympathetic ass, I think he's dead right to the extent that he's implying that "Property taxes are driving me out of the neighborhood" isn't a story that should drive property-tax policy without some further explanation of what the real problem is in the specific case.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:53 PM
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There appears to be more to the H St. gentrification story than the NYT article and the MY discussion gets into. I linked to this piece above, and I guess I'll link it again. It's not just taxes going up but apparently differential treatment.

Also, I re-started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:57 PM
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And while I'm repeating myself, being on the verge of losing your property in a tax sale probably doesn't put you in a great negotiating position when trying to sell that same property. Assessed valuation and sale price isn't the same thing.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 8:59 PM
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It's going to be hard for me to swallow the idea that assessed valuation is going to be *less* than the sale price, but that's clearly specific to a place and a time. In our (now-concluded) property search, the tax assessment value made a good lower bound for an opening lowball bid on a property.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:02 PM
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I don't actually know anything about property sales, so I could very well be completely wrong on the potential sale price.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:16 PM
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you're being unfairly hard on Yglesias

The other variable is that MY is just barely 30, which is still the part of life where most of us are/were moving fairly often. Of course it looks far less disruptive from that perspective.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 9:49 PM
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OT: Captain America isn't bad, especially for antiquarian lechers connoisseurs of bust-as-historical-detail production value.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:01 PM
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488: It was directed by the guy who did The Rocketeer, so both clauses are pretty much what you'd expect.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-22-11 11:26 PM
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The problem with the worldview that Cosma characterized in 425 is that there's basically no evidence that any of the interventions beloved of economists make more than a trivial difference in long-run growth. (Honestly, the evidence for the proposition that having all of your factories blown up is bad for long-run growth is weaker than you'd think. Look at Germany and Japan.) Long-run growth is completely driven by the invention and dissemination of technology. Zoning laws, tariffs, income tax rates, in the long run none of these are that important for growth.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 1:58 AM
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Everything in the Yglesias quotes in 481 only makes sense if you look at things from a disinterested investor point of view, is perhaps technically correct but lacks all human context.

Even then, it's not obvious that having a building worth maybe three times its original value means selling it is a windfall, if that also means you've destroyed your own business and livelyhood, with no guarantee you can rebuild this elsewhere.

Obviously you don't have to feel sorry for people having to pay more income tax because that means more income as well, but in these situations where the tax is actually independent on the money you make, but based on possessing an asset that is hard to make liquid without losing the use of it, tax raises can and do screw people over, especially in situations like the one described by Yglesias.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 2:29 AM
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Everything in the Yglesias quotes in 481 only makes sense if you look at things from a disinterested investor point of view, is perhaps technically correct but lacks all human context.

Yes, and a better working example of what is creepy about technocrats* you couldn't ask for.

(*Creepy isn't the main thing wrong with technocrats, but it's a common symptom. Lack of empathy due to restricted human contact?)


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 3:03 AM
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Everything in the Yglesias quotes in 481 only makes sense if you look at things from a disinterested investor point of view, is perhaps technically correct but lacks all human context.

*Creepy isn't the main thing wrong with technocrats, but it's a common symptom. Lack of empathy due to restricted human contact?

I'm not really generally the Yglesias fan club -- he's wrong a lot, and he's tonedeaf more than he's wrong. But I find the disinterested/empathy-free policy perspective a valuable one (not the only one necessary, but a valuable one) where we don't actually have the information to say that the basis for the requested empathy is valid. If you're empathizing with people affected by some policy without real knowledge of how the policy actually does affect them in the real world, you can end up going way off course -- that's the discourse that leads to opposition to the estate tax and the California tax situation, or opposing single-payer health care out of concern for the poor enslaved doctors.

Where a policy is going to cause human suffering, that has to be considered -- the whole point of public policy is to reduce the amount of human suffering out there -- but it makes sense to require real information about the nature and extent of the suffering before you let it affect your perspective much. Yglesias sounds like a perky robot when he talks about this stuff, but I think there's a real value to that kind of approach so long as it's honest, which in his case I think it generally is. Often ill-informed, often wrong, but not systematically wrong in the service of a bad ideology.

490: True, and useful.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 4:33 AM
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493.1 I think I see what you're saying, but the problem to me is that this approach seems to me to be incomplete, and isn't understood that way. I entirely agree that you need information before you can develop a solution - I earn my crust as a business analyst, ffs - but what you describe felicitously as the empathy-free policy perspective, while it may be a valuable partial contribution, nevertheless reminds me of people in my field who jump straight from a list of desired outcomes to a technical requirement specification without taking the time to see if it's actually usable by anybody. And believe me, that's all too common.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 4:59 AM
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Child of privilege version of the woman's story. My great-grandmother was second cousin to John Singer Sargent. She had about 8 of his watercolors, 4 of which were personal gifts of the artist and in the mid 90's when my grandmother died, Sargent was in vogue.

Her personal estate was about $600K in liquid assets, the point at which you got into the 55% bracket (and if you chose to leave money to yor grandchildren, it's subject to the generation skipping tax). There were also state estate taxes which made it a problem because there were a bunch of illiquid assets. We had always said that those paintings were family heirlooms and priceless, but, of course, they do have a monetary value, and when the executor sees that the money can go to pay for college education for the grandchildren or to cover the taxes, the paintings get sold.

In the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal, but it was very hard to have my grandmother die and then important memories from my childhood put on the auctioneer's block.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 5:09 AM
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Everything in the Yglesias quotes in 481 only makes sense if you look at things from a disinterested investor point of view, is perhaps technically correct but lacks all human context.

The trouble with MY is that he seems to unreflectively hold the econ101 view that everything is readily convertible into cash.

I think this attitude is part of what drives his wrong headed attacks on teachers unions. He constantly pushes the idea that folks shouldn't worry about the loss of job security because this will be compensated by bonuses for "good" teachers (let's ignore for now the obvious fact that teacher performance depends a great deal on the student pool they have to work with).

The idea that some one might value the stability that comes from being protected from arbitrary dismissal more than a little extra cash in hand seems to be totally beyond his grasp.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 5:20 AM
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309: I only skimmed that in the most cursory way possible, but having you rproperty taxes go up while the construction on the infrastructure improvements are making it impossible for you to run your business profitably seems like a raw deal. It also seems possible that well-connected deep pocketed investors might want to see a tax scale so that they can swoop in and buy the property for less than it will be worth once the improvements are fully made. They'll be able to tolerate low cash flow until the projects are done, whereas the current owner can't.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 5:21 AM
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497: All of that is very possible -- the differential treatment of the problems due to the construction seems like a real issue, and if the taxes are going up before the owners have seen any real benefits from the neighborhood improvements, that also seems screwy and bad policy.

All I'm defending Yglesias from is that his reaction to a story which was written so as to elicit sympathy for the building owner without actually explaining what the problem was, was to point out that the facts set forth didn't describe a problem, and that more information was necessary (as it turns out, some of which was in the other story) to talk about what the problem was that needed to be solved. And I do find that approach valuable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 5:42 AM
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Martin and Chris and Bgirl and AcademicLurker et al. are saying what I meant to say, but more clearly.

I also should have made clear in my 481 that when I said I didn't know anything about this particular Washington neighborhood, I *also* don't know anything about the particular woman mentioned in the story, and was not meaning to construct a just-so story to account for her personal circumstances.

I was talking about factors that should be broadly taken into account when discussing public policy on this issue -- regardless of whether those specific factors apply in this specific case.

There's a perfectly good shot your story is true. But (a) it strikes me weird to call Yglesias ignorant for not making the same set of guesses about the subject of the story's circumstances that you did -- he didn't make any guesses, just asked the question: "At the same time, it seems like we should take Johnson at her word that some feature of this situation is making her worse off. But I wonder what it is, exactly." 'Just asking a question' can be disingenuous, of course, but in this situation I think it's true that we really don't know exactly what makes this situation a perceived hardship for her.

We don't know, you're right. And I agree that he wasn't being disingenuous. The reason I keep using the word "ignorant" is that I do think it is ignorant to write a hm-just-musing-aloud here post that doesn't really take into account any of the friction* that I and others in this thread have mentioned.

And he's a smart person, so even if apo is right and he hasn't personally experienced the wrench of leaving a community he didn't want to leave, he should be able to imagine it as a factor for other people.

*Is this the right term? I think that's what economists call it, right?

And (b), the sorts of issues you're talking about (which are, of course, real for many people whether or not they're real for Johnson) are things that it seems non-obvious to deal with in terms of property tax policy.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

OK, sorry, that sounds way more sarcastic than I was thinking. Here's the thing: My experience is that nothing is "obvious" in terms of property tax policy. I don't want to cede that ground to a Harvard-educated pundit on the Internet, because I know how the sausage-making machine of property tax policy often works. It's a rare, poorly understood, highly politicized process in which local elected officials with little to no background in the issue lurch their way to a politically viable (note: NOT necessarily effective or efficient) compromise, which then gets enshrined in law and practice for 10-30 years until the whole cycle starts over again.

Whether there should be a public effort to help people stay in their home neighborhoods, and what that effort should be, is a good question that should be addressed. But looking at it through the frame of property taxes both seems to focus resources inappropriately on, well, property owners who have made a financial profit, and seems to give rise to the risk of Prop 13-like politics.

Your entire argument makes a lot more sense to me when I see it as "Oh gosh, this is the kind of thinking that gets us to Prop 13." I don't actually think it does, but to the extent that you're worrying about this, I see why it leads you to the positions you're taking.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 6:16 AM
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426: I believe that even technocrats can learn to ask "Who died and left this optimality criterion in charge?", and will become better technocrats for having done so.

493: I certainly get the attractions of the tough-minded stance and presentation-of-self. (God knows I exploit it enough myself.) I do not want the surgeons operating on me or my loved-ones to be feeling my pain while they are actually using the knife. (There's a joke in there about anesthesia but I am too hung-over to find it.) At the same time, people's other feelings are just as real as their desires for material comfort and ease, and it is only pseudo-realism to ignore those feelings, either when deciding what to do or when interacting with people. (You might think that those other feelings are bad and want to educate people out of them, and I sometimes think a lot of econ101 is a pedagogy designed to make those subject to it ashamed of every feeling other than greed, but that's a different story.) This rather sucks for me, since I am all about cold-blooded empathy-free abstractions, but such is life.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 6:48 AM
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I thought of one other thing.

Often ill-informed, often wrong, but not systematically wrong in the service of a bad ideology.

There's another possibility here: Irresponsibly ill-informed.

Yglesias isn't just some person arguing that someone is wronnnnnng on the Internet. He has a position of some modest stature and influence -- most in terms of gently shaping the unconscious overall worldview of his regular readers, I'd guess.

So yeah, it matters that he's better-intentioned than the people who are just systematically wrong because their starting point is evil. But his carelessness and blind spots -- and apparent unwillingness to absorb* critique of his specific ideas -- are in their own way quite damaging.

*I mean absorb in the sense of "understand, incorporate, and refrain from making the same ignorant mistake the next time." We're all human, and this is hard to do, but it's not impossible.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 7:10 AM
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Fair enough.

I do still think that he provokes a stronger reaction from the flippancy of his tone, which makes him sound rather like the sort of person who is systematically and ideologically wrong, than his actual level of wrongness justifies, and that people tend to attribute worse positions to him than he actually espouses.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 7:31 AM
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The trouble with MY is that he seems to unreflectively hold the econ101 view that everything is readily convertible into cash

I think this is something fundamental with Yglesias, which means that he's not just saying "let's not jump to the conclusion that this policy causes suffering" but something a bit stronger. (On the other hand, I get the impression that he's doing this self-consciously, so he's not unreflectively unaware of his own assumptions.)

I suppose this has all been said upthread, but there are two ways of thinking you can come to policy issues with. There's the utilitarian econ101 attitude that happiness is fungible, so that a policy that causes significant amounts of misery for some people can be the one to go with if it's sufficiently advantageous to others. This says "the mines are not needed any more, shut them down", "we need to build a railway, seize this land", etc. Even if the suffering the policy causes is quite significant, it might be the best policy. Eggs, omelettes.

Then there's the attitude that misery is unfungible, both interpersonally and, often, intrapersonally. "It's unjust to shut down the mining industry, because it annihilates the only world I've ever known, the structure that gives my life meaning and dignity. And even if you try to compensate me with unemployment benefits, it doesn't help because money and dignity are incommensurable."

Relying on either mode of analysis exclusively leads to dumb results (the main point against the second being that trying to avoid some pain for some people can lead to other pain for other people), but different people weight them differently. Yglesias likes to experiment with weighting the first mode more strongly than many of us would (even though he isn't on the right because he does want to compensate victims of creative destruction with unemployment benefits, health-care, retraining as yoga-teachers etc. - this is one sense in which he counts as technocratic left.) And in that sense he's more on-board with inflicting forseeable non-monetizable pain than lots of us are comfortable with. (See his attitude to endangered languages.)



Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 7:58 AM
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That's a very good way of putting it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:02 AM
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In other words, what Cosma Shalizi said.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:05 AM
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482

I think this is tone deaf in much the same way as Yglesias in that it ignores the larger context which is rich white people displacing poor black people.

Poor black people are well aware that rich white people don't want to live near them so when rich white people start moving into their neighborhoods poor blacks are naturally suspicious that the newcomers will think up ways of forcing them out (which in fact they have a large financial incentive to do). The resulting resentment and paranoia is important politically in places like DC.

And the rich white people for their part like to sugarcoat what is happening by constructing narratives in which their influx is actually helping the existing inhabitants. Hence Yglesias wanting to believe Pamela Johnson is actually better off even if she thinks otherwise.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:05 AM
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503: I like the way you put it better, because you're clearer on the possibility that there are errors to be made in both directions. Yglesias's approach is going to lead him astray quite often, but it's also going to keep him from making some mistakes that are easy for the less perkily robotic to fall into. Which makes him one useful perspective as long as he's balanced by other perspectives.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:12 AM
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506: And where that's what's going on, it should be talked about explictly, rather than left undiscussed and implicit in an anecdote that's explicitly about property taxes. Asking that issues be made explicit may sound tonedeaf, but it does make it likelier that responses will relate productively to the real problems.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:15 AM
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Thanks, LB. I posted 505 before seeing 504. It is slightly pathetic, by the way, how pleased with myself I was when I did see 504.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:24 AM
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What are any of us doing on the internet other than hoping someone will notice how clever we are? (Well, and looking at pictures of cats.) That's certainly what I'm doing here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:31 AM
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What are any of us doing on the internet other than hoping someone will notice how clever we are?

Following the England/India test match (Day 3: slight advantage to England, but well balanced).


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:35 AM
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510: You will, on the other hand, be less familiar than I am with the phenomenon of trying to say something clever and noticing afterwards that one has in fact said something dumb.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 8:49 AM
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508

And where that's what's going on, it should be talked about explictly, rather than left undiscussed and implicit in an anecdote that's explicitly about property taxes. Asking that issues be made explicit may sound tonedeaf, but it does make it likelier that responses will relate productively to the real problems.

Perhaps, but there is a strong taboo in the US against explicit discussion of charged racial issues. And it was gingerly discussed in the original story which wasn't really about property taxes, it was about changing DC demographics. It is Yglesias who is totally ignoring the larger context by seizing on the property tax aspect.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 9:47 AM
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I agree that 503 is good. I think it's a particularly good description of Yglesias because I think he consciously puts himself in the position of arguing in favor of policies which (a) would inconvenience current stakeholders and (b) provide significant benefits to people who aren't currently stakeholders.

He does go too far in that direction, but I understand why he wants to keep pushing that line of argumentation, and I think 503 allows room for that part of his thinking.

I also have to say that Shearer's 506 is well put as well.

I'm not really generally the Yglesias fan club -- he's wrong a lot, and he's tonedeaf more than he's wrong.

I know that Yglesias at some point responded to criticisms of his tone by saying, essentially, "this is my writing style. I tend toward mild snart and mockery even when I'm writing about things that I care deeply about," I'm willing to cut him some slack for that. I understand people chosing to not read him, if that tone irritates, but I also don't think he gets more criticism, based on tone, than is warrented.

*shrug*

Yglesias isn't just some person arguing that someone is wronnnnnng on the Internet. He has a position of some modest stature and influence -- most in terms of gently shaping the unconscious overall worldview of his regular readers, I'd guess.

I'm of two minds on this. One is that he's pain to a writer, and he should be able to write what he wants and people should react to what he actually does write, rather than what he doesn't do. On the other hand, I understand the frustration that, as he's gained attention and influence, he sometimes seems to deliberately avoid taking on responsibility. I think people often overstate the idea that he's shifted to the right, but I also find it troubling that he has shifted right during the precise period that he's gained influence.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-23-11 9:52 AM
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Ned, would it be possible for you to e-mail me?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-25-11 5:09 AM
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