One other development emerged as I was fretting myself into a lather about the medical-industrial complex. Just as I was giving up on reason-based change, I discover there are others out there that share the same frustrations. For example, Paul Krugman has recently despaired at the amazing persistence of what he calls "zombie economics." Nothing as trivial as the facts on the ground can deter economic zombies. Now Krugman has discovered that even logic is no weapon against the terrible ideas that will not die. Perhaps he should try garlic.
The War on Logic
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: January 16, 2011
My wife and I were thinking of going out for an inexpensive dinner tonight. But John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says that no matter how cheap the meal may seem, it will cost thousands of dollars once you take our monthly mortgage payments into account.
Wait a minute, you may say. How can our mortgage payments be a cost of going out to eat, when we’ll have to make the same payments even if we stay home? But Mr. Boehner is adamant: our mortgage is part of the cost of our meal, and to say otherwise is just a budget gimmick.
O.K., the speaker hasn’t actually weighed in on our plans for the evening. But he and his G.O.P. colleagues have lately been making exactly the nonsensical argument I’ve just described — not about tonight’s dinner, but about health care reform. And the nonsense wasn’t a slip of the tongue; it’s the official party position, laid out in charts and figures.
We are, I believe, witnessing something new in American politics. Last year, looking at claims that we can cut taxes, avoid cuts to any popular program and still balance the budget, I observed that Republicans seemed to have lost interest in the war on terror and shifted focus to the war on arithmetic. But now the G.O.P. has moved on to an even bigger project: the war on logic. moreIf Paul Krugman feels frustrated that logic and facts don't seem to prevail very often anymore, and he has the soapbox of the New York Times, imagine how the rest of us must feel. And what is especially troubling to someone like me is that Krugman is getting written out of the economic argument yet there is very little he writes that could be called progressive or liberal using any historical yardstick. In fact, it you want to get technical about it, there are almost no economists or bloggers out there who are as left as the economics of my university when I attended in the early 1970s. This little fact got serious attention over the weekend because of a well-written post at the L'Hote blog by Freddie DeBoer.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 2011
the blindspot (updated)
The last week has seen an endless discussion, within the political blogosphere, about the meaning of rhetoric, extremism, and what is acceptable discourse. I'm on break now, so I've been more attentive than usual. I find I can barely express what a profound failure, on balance, the conversation has been. Bloggers fail to have this conversation honestly because they are incapable of seeing or unwilling to admit that the political discourse, in our punditry, lacks a left-wing.
There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.
That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You'd likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context-- in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy-- is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It's only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left. Hamsher says bad words and is mean in print, so she is a far leftist. That her politics are largely mainstream American liberalism that would have been considered moderate for much of the 20th century is immaterial. moreOver at Firedoglake (Hamsher's blog) we find this response:
The Liberal Blogosphere Is A Neoliberal Blogosphere, Unfortunately
By: Steve Hynd Monday January 17, 2011 1:55 pm
Freddie DeBoer hits one out of the park as he blasts the sidelining of real left-wing thought in the blogosphere by the A-list’s neoliberal gatekeepers. Read the whole thing but here’s an extended snippet.
There are two axes of neoliberalism. The first, substantive neoliberalism, means fidelity to the economic policy platform of globalization in the elimination of tariff walls and other impediments to the “free market,” incredible antipathy towards organized labor (and, effectively if not intentionally, towards workers in general), resistance to the regulatory apparatus that has protected workers for decades, and the general belief that the way to ameliorate the moral outrages of capitalism is to pursue more capitalism.
The second axis of neoliberalism, constitutional neoliberalism, is the reflexive antileftism within the ideology. This is the tendency of the neoliberal to assume the superior seriousness of the man to his right and the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the man to his left. This is the sneering, superior neoliberalism, the neoliberalism obsessed with status and authority, the neoliberalism that is utterly in thrall to the idea of Intellectually Seriousness and the notion that possessing it means falling all over yourself to dismiss the actual, historical, socialist left.
…The two intermingle, of course. The neoliberal economic platform is enforced by the attitude that anyone embracing a left-wing critique of that platform is a Stalinist or a misbehaving adolescent. This is the critique of the Very Serious Person: there is a very narrow slice of opinion that is worthy of being considered reasonable or mature, and that anyone who argues outside of it should not be given a seat at the table of serious discussion. Genuinely left-wing opinion is not to be debated but to be dismissed out of hand. Those who argue for a robust series of labor protections, an unapologetic and proud left, a meaningful alternative to the capture of our economic apparatus by corporate power, or (god forbid) something resembling genuine socialism– even to speak as if their arguments require rebuttal is too much. Far better to demonstrate true repudiation by assuming away the left-wing critic than to assume that his or her position is at least worthy of attention.
Of all the A-Listers, only Kevin Drum has the gumption to admit DeBoer has a point and admit to his own rethinking of his position.
I plead guilty to some general neoliberal instincts, of course, but I plead guilty with (at least) one big exception: I am very decidedly not in favor of undercutting labor rights in order to stimulate economic growth, and I’m decidedly not in favor of relying solely on the tax code to redistribute wealth from the super rich to the rest of us. What’s more, the older I get and the more obvious the devastating effects of the demise of the American labor movement become, the less neoliberal I get. The events of the past two years, in which the massed forces of capital came within a hair’s breadth of destroying the world economy, and yet, phoenix-like, have come out richer and more powerful than before, ought to have convinced nearly everyone that business interests and the rich are now almost literally out of control. After all, if the past two years haven’t done it, what would?
That’s a damn good argument for a strengthened labor movement from Kevin – after all, the corporatists in Congress are bought and sold by the ultra-rich to the extent that no-one seriously believes regulation from that direction will be efficacious - and not a single one of his neoliberal A-List colleagues will want to admit or debate it in any serious way. Yglesias is simply dismissive of DeBoer’s essay – he really does think he’s as far to the left as it is possible to be and not be “mistaken”.
DeBoer ends with a rousing call for lefties.
All I know is that I look out onto an America that seems to me to desperately require a left-wing. American workers have taken it on the chin for thirty years. They have been faced for years with stagnant wages, rising costs, and the hollowing out of the middle class. They are now confronted with that and a cratered job market, where desperate people compete to show how hard they will work in bad conditions for less compensation. Meanwhile, the neoliberal policy apparatus that brought us here refuses even to consider the possibility that it is culpable, so certain of its inherent righteousness and its place in the inevitable march of progress. And the blogosphere protects and parrots that certainty, weeding out left-wing detractors with ruthless efficiency, while around it orbits the gradual extinction of the American dream.
But Kevin says that call can’t be answered by the traditional union-based labor movement America used to have and most other Western democracies still do.
I have a piece in the next issue of the magazine about the long-term disaffection of the liberal cause from organized labor, something that I’ve come to believe is the single biggest policy disaster of the American left over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, the piece makes clear why I don’t write more about this: I don’t know what to do about it. In fact, I’d say it’s clear that organized labor long ago passed the point of no return, and there’s really no feasible hope of returning it to a state of even moderate influence over American economic life. Practically speaking, then, the question is: what sort of ground-level, working class organization can take its place as an effective countervailing power against the economic interests of corporations and the rich — which, today, reign virtually unchallenged? But I don’t know that either. Any ideas?
Well, yes, I do, Kevin. For a start, the Left has to stop thinking as if it only has a repair job to do. Simply calling for restoring the unions won’t do the job because the bi-partisan consensus is that they shouldn’t be allowed to restore. The bipartisan consensus on the poor is that “we don’t know and we don’t much care”.
Instead, the American Left’s strategy must be to re-create itself wholesale – a project likely to take at least two decades. It will have to eschew the Democratic party in the same way that, back at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, European labor had to eschew the various liberal/whig parties which shared only a part of the Left’s agenda and had no intention of ever delivering on anything else no matter how often Lefties voted Whig. It will have to begin to see the neoliberal pundits of today as political rivals, rather than as outright allies. It will have to mobilize, turn into voters, the 30% or more who are currently able to vote but do not do so. They come overwhelmingly from the poorest segment of society and do not vote purely because they see neither mainstream party as having anything for them. The Left must build its own electorate and its own party, and leave the Democrats to sink or swim as they are able. moreAnyway, both Krugman and DeBoer certainly have a point. And because they do, it seems incumbent upon those few of us who still remember the sensible economics of the folks who designed the Great Prosperity to keep explaining how that sort of thinking works. So considering that because of my good medical report, I am likely to live to be even older and grumpier, I'll keep trying to keep alive the flame of Progressive economics as long as possible while the rest of the world runs out of options.