Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession: Talking Points

Event: Tu 2019-04-09 10-11am CFR: 58 E. 68th St., New York, NY:

Untitled 7 pages

The Data

  • 1970s a bad decade for real incomes—oil shocks, environmental cleanup, baby boom entry into the labor market
  • End of 1970s sees shift to "neoliberalism" to fix the "excesses of social democracy"
  • Since 1980: males and those with low education have seen their expectations of what their lives would be like bitterly disappointed
    • Male high school graduates down by 17%
    • Males with advanced degrees up by 25%
    • Whites have not been disappointed more economically—what William Juilius Wilson called the "declining significance of race"
      • Save, perhaps, for Black women with BAs...
    • Sociological disappointment in addition?
    • Within-household economic disappointment?
    • Other aspects of the economic besides income?
      • Occupation and occupational stability
      • Employment stability


The Polanyiist Party Line:

  1. That people believe they ought to have rights to stable communities that support them (land), to the income they expected (labor), and to continuity of employment (finance); but the only rights the market respects are property rights; and the only property rights that are worth anything are those that help you make things for which rich people have a serious and unsatiated jones.
  2. That walking the high wire created by the disjunction between what people expect from a proper societal order and what a neoliberal market society delivers can be done in only three ways:
    • Rapid and equitable economic growth...
    • A strong safety net that people regard not as a handout but as theirs by right of their contribution to and place in society...
    • Busying giddy minds with quarrels—that you aren't getting your fair share because some despisable internal minority or external party is rigging the system...
  3. Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" was correct as far as communism was concerned; his error was supposing that the we-are-a-united-bundle-of-sticks-to-bruise-our-enemies movement had died for all time in the rubble of Berlin in May 1945. He was wrong. It's back.
  4. And Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" was wrong insofar as it saw Anglo-Saxon-style representative democracy as obviously and indisputably the system that could best deliver a functioning political order in times of stress. There is nobody in China today who thinks we have anything to teach them as far as issues of political economy are concerned...


I would like to draw a sharp distinction between:

  • On the one hand, populists: who have a coherent theory about how the market economy is rigged against ordinary people by an upper class and have practical plans for policies to fix it;
  • On the other hand, a different group: a group who believe that a true people, among whom some are rich and some are poor, are being deceived culturally, sociologically, and economically by internal and external enemies, and need to follow a leader or leaders who have no patience with established constitutional powers and procedures to point out to them who their internal and external enemies are.
    • It is this second set of movements—true people-based, leader-based, enemy-based, that has been by far the most powerful since the breaking of the real populist movement before 1900 by the hammer of racism: the discovery that a large enough chunk of the populists potential base were easily grifted by a white identity-politics assignment of the “enemy“ role to African-Americans.
      • Powerful both in America and—except for when under the shadow of Soviet threat—in Western Europe since the day Benito Mussolini recognized that rich Italians who liked order would not fund Benito’s socialist movement, but would gladly fund Benito’s “we are stronger together, for a bundle of sticks tied together with leather thongs is strong even though each individual stick is weak“ movement.


Today looks to me like nothing that special: Recall:

  • Harding and Coolidge, Taft and Nixon, Goldwater, Nixon and Buchanan:
    • Harding and Coolidge’s mobilization of the revived Klan and of nativism against blacks and immigrants to geld progressivism in the 1920s.
    • Taft and Nixon’s mobilizing McCarthy against the communistic New Deal at the end of the 1940s.
    • Goldwater’s transformation of the Republican Party from the party of upward mobility and those who believe they have something to gain from economic growth and creative distraction to the party of those who believe they have something to lose if uppity Negroes and the overly educated overly clever are not kept in their place.
    • Richard Nixon’s idea to drag out the Vietnam war for four more years at the cost of 40,000 American and 3 million Vietnamese lives. Why? So that he and Pat Buchanan can break the country in half, but with him getting the bigger half—until enough Republicans plus Mark Felt of the FBI were sick of him and willing to help bring him down.


How is today different?: Possibilities:

  • Concentration of the easily-grifted, somehow the internet, Rupert the Kingmaker, the Gingrich model, unlock:
    • Tyler Cowen’s observation: 20% of the population have always been crazy— easily grifted by some variant of white identity politics—but they used to be evenly divided between the two parties and now they are concentrated in one.
    • Somehow the internet.
    • Blowback from Rupert Murdoch’s insight that if you could scare the piss out of all the people you could glue their eyes to your product and then make money by selling them fake diabetes cures and overpriced gold funds.
      • Rupert the Kingmaker: In the fifteenth century the marcher Earldom of Warwick was uniquely able to mobilize those in the affinity of Earl Richard for the battlefield—and so became known as "Warwick the Kingmaker". There are analogies here...
    • The Gingrich model: We now have two generations of Republican politicians who believe that technocratic policy development is for suckers, and then what do you need are:
      1. tax cuts for the rich,
      2. regulatory rollback,
      3. perhaps a short victorious war or two, plus
      4. whatever culture war currently resonates with the base—notice that “women need to stay in the kitchen and the bedroom“ and “we need to shun homosexuals“ have passed their sell-by date, but transsexuals and anyone who fails to shout “merry Christmas” every five minutes between Halloween and New Years are still fair game.
  • Or perhaps we have simply been unlucky—and we had gotten used to luck running in our favor:
    • Otto von Bismarck, perhaps: "a special providence watches over drunkards, fools, and the United States of America"...


Stephen Moore

  • I haven't seen anybody argue that he is qualified—only that appointing him will "own the libs" and "own the establishment"...
  • Only three professional Republicans opposed to him, however:
    1. Greg Mankiw
    2. Ross Douthat
    3. Stephen Moore himself
  • Yet another technocratic breakdown...


More important things to talk about: Amendment XXV:

  • Last Tuesday President Trump:
    1. Tried three times to say the word “origins” but instead said “oranges”—the n-phoneme kept moving forwards in time, he noticed and was distressed, and switched to "beginnings" as an alternate.
    2. Said that his father had been born in Germany—not New York City.
    3. Said, live on CSPAN, that he was choosing his words carefully, because otherwise someone would leak the speech to the media.
    4. Claimed that wind farms caused cancer because whey were noisy.
    5. Urged Republicans to be “more paranoid” because he “doesn’t like the way the votes are being tallied.”
    6. Talking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “And we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of judges. Every time — and you won’t even believe this, Mr. Secretary General — you catch somebody that’s coming illegally into your country, and they bring them to a court…”
  • On Friday April 5, 2019: “The press is doing everything within their power to fight the magnificence of the phrase, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! They can’t stand the fact that this Administration has done more than virtually any other Administration in its first 2yrs. They are truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!…”
  • Yes, I know that President George W. Bush did not like to hit the books and was easily gulled.
  • Yes, I know that the President Ronald Reagan we got was badly debilitated by Hinckley's assassination attempt, and was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimers.
  • Yes, I know that Republicans are used to, since Eisenhower's second term and Nixon's drunken rants, covering for a president who is not mentally what he should be.
  • But this is more like post-stroke Woodrow Wilson.
  • This is Amendment XXV Territory.


It is a strange situation...

  • A lot of “if he were nots…” here:
    • If he were not president, his family would already have moved for a guardianship ad litem
    • If he were not so authoritarian—so dangerous to liberty—we would be profoundly sad that someone, hate him, love him, or amused by him, was such an entertaining celebrity who left his mark on New York…
    • If he were not so deranged, we would be in the streets demanding that the constitutional order be observed, and preparing to resist when somebody begins taking him seriously and literally…


More important things to talk about: Washington Post

  • Read Irin Carmon at New York Magazine on how Baron, Wallsten, and Barr handled the pieces of her story about CBS honcho Jeff Fager's internal defense of Charlie Rose After reading it, if you read it as I read it, you will conclude that newspaper managers as easily bullied as Baron, Wallsten, and Barr are not useful in their current. I wrote so to Jeff Bezos. If you wind up agreeing with me, I urge you to write Bezos as well.
  • Consider Ken Dilanian of NBC News:
    • March 24: "Folks, this is a total legal exoneration.... Topline: no conspiracy, no obstruction..."
    • April 3: "Mueller team frustrated Barr cleared Trump on obstruction... . Evidence against Trump stronger..."
    • Schroedinger's journalist!
      • A decade ago there was a boom in "explainer journalism"
      • But now an increasing number are doubling down on pleasing "insider" sources—or affinity fraud...

#talkingpoints #politicalscience #fascism #publicsphere #highlighted #politicaleconomy #equitablegrowth #economicgrowth
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