Individualism

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

Out of Work, Out of Luck

MIT Press
Back to Full Employment , by Robert Pollin. A Boston Review Book. The M.I.T. Press. 187 pages. $14.95 Achieving full employment has been at the center of the progressive project for more than a century. If work is available at decent wages for everyone who wants it, then the rest of the agenda is a lot easier. Opportunity proliferates. People feel a sense of dignity and worth. Human potential is fully utilized. In a virtuous circle, adequate purchasing power has a rendez-vous with the economy’s productive capacity. Tight labor markets give workers the leverage to bargain for decent wages. Social-transfer programs can be reserved for special needs rather than being strained to make up for the fundamental lack of decent income. As Robert Pollin writes in his important new book, Back to Full Employment , a society with jobs for all “is also the best tool for fighting poverty.” He reminds us that in the era of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, unemployment rates fell to below 4 percent,...

The Last King of the Iron Curtain

Socialism was supposed to create a new socialist man—a fellow or gal whose labor was unalienated, who was freed from want, who had time off to read, to fish, to play, to parent. He would be healthier, longer-lived, better educated and wiser than his counterpart under capitalism. To a considerable degree, social democracy (or even its attenuated American cousin, New Deal liberalism) has accomplished some of those goals (higher pay, more time off, widespread education) if not all of them (unalienated labor, widespread wisdom). But what the comrades used to call “true socialism”—that is, communism—not so much. And most certainly, not the creation of a new socialist man. If it had, thousands or millions of citizens in communist countries could be entrusted with the reins of government. Instead, leadership in the few remaining communist countries looks increasingly dynastic. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un, even as Kim Jong Il succeeded his father,...

Capitalism by Any Other Name

Republicans are fighting to rebrand capitalism as economic opportunity but their agenda remains the same.

I've been thinking about the term "capitalism" since Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster, told Republicans to quit saying it. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned "capitalism" into a dirty word, he said. If Republicans want to win in 2012, they'd better stop worrying and learn to love "economic freedom" instead. It's a stunning turning of the tide. No matter the kind of conservative—Southern, evangelical, libertarian, Tea Party, or old-school Rockefeller patrician—conservatives have never hidden their allegiance to the moneyed class and power elite. I have never in my lifetime seen a conservative counsel against expressing one of the major tenets of conservative ideology. You might as well advise the GOP to stop trying to repeal the New Deal and start defending labor rights. I've been thinking about this rhetorical shift while riding the bus in New Haven every day. The passengers are typically at the bottom of the 99 percent. Some are destitute; some are unemployable. Most are...

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

Obama gave a really good speech yesterday, one that clearly announces his main campaign strategy for the next year and has the potential of having his 2008 base return to occupying his camp. You should read it , but if you don’t have the time, Derek Thompson has a pretty thorough reader’s guide. After you read it, you should read Ezra Klein’s excellent analysis of the speech. Klein is right: Obama realizes that running on fixing political division won’t work this time around. He already failed at trying to change Washington. His most successful frame is running on economic division, and he just might be able to convince the base that his economic vision is change worth believing in. The speech, which Ana Marie Cox labeled “restrained frustration leavened with the pixie dust of hope"—was great for its focus on income inequality, but as Cox notes, “To be blunt about how the middle class is suffering, you have to be blunt about who is making them suffer. That he chose to ground his...

Are You Pink- or Blue-Brained?

(Flickr/TZA)
Think that single-sex education is a sensible idea, since boys and girls learn so differently? Think again. In Slate recently, neuroscientist Lise Eliot , who researches child brain development, and social psychology professor Rebecca Bigler explained their recently published peer-reviewed article in Science , which examines an “overwhelming body of research on the topic.” They had three main findings: “Decades of research on academic outcomes from around the world has failed to demonstrate an advantage to single-sex schooling, in spite of popular belief to the contrary.” “Thousands of studies comparing brain and behavioral function between adult men and women have found small to insignificant differences, and even smaller differences between boys and girls.” “Single-sex schooling facilitates social stereotypes and prejudice in children.” If facts, not ideology, have any hope of carrying the day, this article should be essential reading in the Mars/Venus-at-school debates. Part of the...

The Smarty-Pants Problem

Chris Mooney -- Prospect alum, science journalist, known smart person -- is unsettled when liberals say conservatives are dumb: Over the weekend, Maureen Dowd penned the column that somebody—some liberal—was bound to pen eventually. Basically, it was about, uh, why conservatives have embraced being "stupid," or at least anti-intellectual. Reading this, I winced, both because I knew my fellow liberals would eat it up, but also because I have learned, from studying the psychology and science of our politics, how misguided and self-defeating it is to take this approach to the political right... For while there are indeed more "eggheads" on the left today (more advanced degrees among liberals, see here ), the word itself implies much more than merely being smart. It connotes being prone to abstraction, getting lost in thought, the perfect image of the absent-minded professor. And it is that —rather than intelligence—that conservatives (who are often very smart themselves) have little...

Better Hacks, Please.

The Heritage Foundation needs a better class of propagandist, since this is embarrassing : At home, liberal intellectuals lauded the economic accomplishments of the Soviet Union. Reagan was not so easily seduced. In late 1981 and all of 1982, when his tax cuts had not yet kicked in and the U.S. economy still lagged, President Reagan reassured his worried aides and counseled them to stay the course. He had faith in the American people who, if they could be “liberated from the restraints imposed on them by government,” would pull “the country out of its tailspin.” Reagan told the British Parliament that a “global campaign for freedom” would prevail over the forces of tyranny and that “the Soviet Union itself is not immune to this reality.” By the end of the decade, as he predicted, Marxism-Leninism was dumped on the ash heap of history. America, though, experienced the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history, with 17 million new jobs created during the Reagan years. This is...

Once Again, Ideology Isn't Good For Business.

The Atlantic's Max Fisher read my post yesterday on which states offer a good environment for business, and promptly misread it . To revisit, CNN posted a slideshow ranking the best states to start a business based solely on how little taxation and regulation exists in each. I suggested that the ranking was biased, and that businesses have other requirements for success -- infrastructure, employees, customers, economic growth -- and that a proper business plan should take into account all these things, some of which the government provides. The title of my post was " Ideology Isn't Good Business. " Enter Fisher, who reads this argument and says: The different conclusions reached by Fernholz and CNN.com are about ideology. Fernholz, who is liberal, sees government as being able to provide an environment that is beneficial to innovation and growth. CNN.com's writer, Malika Worrall , who kicks off the list by writing "Attention libertarians," clearly sees government as a burden on...

It's the Institutions, Silly.

I agree with Jamelle 's criticisms of Tom Friedman 's widely and justly mocked column calling for a third party that coincidentally agrees with Tom Friedman about everything. This kind of longing for a party that allegedly transcends politics is indeed anti-democratic. Just to pile on, it's also worth noting that Friedman's third-party solution doesn't even make sense on its own terms. Among its other flaws, Friedman's argument illustrates a classic pathology of the American pundit class: an unwillingness to consider that the roots for some political problems might be found in the United States Constitution itself. Here's Freidman's diagnosis of the nation's current political ills: But there is another angle on the last two years: a president who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energized youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — about as much power as any president could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of...

When It All Went Wrong.

Mark Schmitt says the 1970s were a decade of lost opportunities to reconstruct the New Deal order. The short postwar miracle was built on a "great compression" of broadly shared economic gains, a "liberal consensus," around the idea of a supportive government committed to expanding rights and opportunity, and a loose social compact between industry and organized labor. In the late 1970s, these phenomena, dependent on prosperity, gave way to a particularly predatory form of financial capitalism, joined to an aggressive and opportunistic conservative politics capable of winning electoral majorities. KEEP READING. . .

No, I'm Not Exaggerating.

I know a lot of people think I'm exaggerating for rhetorical effect when I argue that some conservatives are "against fair trials" or due process. But I'm really not. I'm just describing what the mainstream of the modern Republican Party has come to stand for. Just ask Mike Potemra , writing over at National Review ( via Kevin Drum ): Coincidentally, I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility) . Two things: One, this is startlingly honest, two, I love that a party that preaches "personal responsibility" for the most vulnerable in society can use "skepticism about human perfectibility" as a reason to dodge something as essential to democracy as due...

Kennedy: Go-To Guy For "All the Excluded in American Life."

Harold Meyerson on Ted Kennedy's legacy: He was, as he lay dying, new again. Ted Kennedy outlived the Reagan-Thatcher conservative era to which for so many years he led the opposition. He played a key role in putting Barack Obama in the White House, creating the possibility for a renaissance of American liberalism, the cause he led for the past four decades. He came to Washington one last time to vote for the kind of Keynesian stimulus that had been out of favor in the age of laissez-faire but that embodied, however imperfectly, Kennedy's belief that government had the ability and the duty to create an economy that not only mitigated capitalism's excesses but made it work for ordinary Americans. He did not get to liberalism's promised land, of course. The universal health coverage he'd fought for throughout his career is still unrealized; his death may make it harder to realize, at least in the immediate months to come. Labor law remains unreformed, and America's 12 million...

BLAMING POLITICS IS EASY. INSTITUTIONAL REFORM IS HARD.

Since Peter Suderman linked to me yesterday as an example of liberals being unhappy with the health-care reform effort, I thought I might respond to his assertion that this isn't a failure of leadership, but "a feature of democratic politics" which is a common refrain from libertarians and small-government types: Things would run much smoother without the messy business of politics getting in the way. "It is not a matter of deciding on the 'right' policy and then making it so -- even when your party controls the White House, the House, and the Senate," he writes, which, again, is typical of those who do not believe the government can tackle any area of public policy without becoming utterly corrupted by its own devices. But it also misreads the intentions of liberals, who very much want to get the policy right, even if the more practical among us realize the ideal legislation will never emerge out of a place like the U.S. Senate. And indeed, the main complaint from liberals closely...