Tag Archives: political reform

Robert Reich’s program to save the Left after a decade of defeats

Summary: Here one of the Left’s top political analysts sketches out a path forward for the Democratic Policy after its well-deserved defeats during the past decade. While tactically sound, he ignores the two weaknesses that prevent the reform of America.

Dead donkey

 

The Life of the Party:
7 Truths for Democrats

By Robert Reich.
At his website, 20 January 2017.

 

The ongoing contest between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the Democratic Party continues to divide Democrats. It’s urgent Democrats stop squabbling and recognize seven basic truths:

The Party is on life support. Democrats are in the minority in both the House and Senate, with no end in sight. Since the start of the Obama Administration they’ve lost 1,034 state and federal seats. They hold only 16 governorships, and face 32 state legislatures fully under GOP control. No one speaks for the party as a whole. The Party’s top leaders are aging, and the back bench is thin.

(1)  The future is bleak unless the Party radically reforms itself. …

(2)  The strongest and most powerful force in American politics is a rejection of the status quo, a repudiation of politics as usual, and a deep and profound distrust of elites, including the current power structure of America. {He conflates populism and progressivism, different but overlapping phenomena both rooted in rebellion against elites.} …

(3)  The economy is not working for most Americans. …

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Wolfgang Streeck explains how to reform capitalism for a better 21st century

Summary: We have hundreds of ideas for small reforms of America, but few for radical reform of the capitalist system that runs it. As a demonstration of this problem, Wolfgang Streeck gives a profound critique of capitalism and Adam Tooze  one of the most powerful essays I have seen in a long time. This is part two; part one discussed how we drifted into this crisis of capitalism.

 

A General Logic of Crisis

By Adam Tooze,
London Review of Books, 5 January 2017.

Posted with his generous permission.

Review of Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System.

Part two of two: looking at the end of capitalism, and beyond.

The publication of How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System thus comes when Streeck has positioned himself as the leading intellectual proponent in Germany of a Gaullist vision of Europe from the left. Now that his cards are fully on the table it is a good moment to try to answer the question: how did Streeck turn critical theory into a vehicle for the assertion of the primacy of the nation?

In one respect at least the national turn has allowed Streeck to subsume what might once have been seen as a fatal weakness in his analysis into a consistent part of the argument. A truly remarkable thing about his work is that he discusses the future of capitalism entirely without reference to the place where the future of capitalism will surely be decided: Asia. That no doubt reflects the limitations of his professional specialisation – OECD industrial relations. China and India are beyond his ken.

But given the arguments he has been making, his Eurocentrism takes on a new meaning. If you are going to articulate the basic tension of the crisis as existing between a superficial, utilitarian universality on the one hand, and a ‘grandiose jointly produced diversity’ on the other, then Europe is, indeed, the classic terrain on which to make your case. Not that there isn’t nationalism elsewhere. But nowhere else has as many different nationalisms in such a tiny space and nowhere else has tried to merge them the way the EU has. India and China never subordinated themselves entirely to the dictates of neoliberalism, nor arguably has the United States: compared to the EU, Nafta was integration-lite. So if the EU stands for a peculiarly pure form of neoliberal capitalism – a basic contention of the Lexit camp – where better to make one’s stand than Europe? In rejecting the false capitalist homogeneity of the EU, one is saving Europe’s essence, namely its diversity. What could be a better expression of that grandiose diversity, after all, than the battle of Brexit, another round in the centuries-old cross-Channel struggle?

But Streeck is a political economist, so he isn’t content with civilisational arguments. He wants to talk about nuts and bolts, the real power behind the scenes. The particular vector of globalisation that has seized his imagination since 2008 is finance. As a somewhat surprised Martin Wolf remarked in the Financial Times, Streeck worries so much about debt you could mistake him for an Austrian economist. Debt, for Streeck, is an index of the unsustainable balance between democracy and capitalism. It’s the way the system borrows time. At times he takes this metaphor quite literally, describing credit as a mechanism through which ‘not-yet-existing virtual resources … are pulled forward from the future.’ Taken at face value that would suggest a very odd view of economic reality indeed.

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A picture of America, showing a path to political reform

Summary: As we start a New Year and end this series about resolutions, here is a summary of American politics as I see them. It points the way to reform and a better future, if we are willing to pay the price.

American Power

 

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. As income inequality has returned to the peak of the Gilded Age (and still rising), the class structure has returned.

Marx’s schema of the classes accurately described 19th century society, but George Orwell gave us a model of a class structure that better fits modern America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly paid senior leaders of our political, non-profit, and business institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers, and the underclass.

Our elites

The bourgeois and inner party are America’s insiders. They have a common interest in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They might like to tinker on a small scale, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, security, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes (everybody else).

People in the upper classes prefer to marry within their class, just they in Pride and Prejudice. The professional and managerial classes call it “associative mating“. The rich marry each other; they call it “good sense”. That is why Elizabeth Bennet could not marry Mr. Darcy (nor could your daughter). Like their Gilded Age forbearers, they live on a scale almost unimaginable to the lower orders. Bill Gates’ palace is 6,000 sq ft larger than Hearst Castle.

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Reform button

Resolve to begin the reform of America in 2017!

Summary: Make 2017 a big year in American history, the year its engines of reform roared into action. Here are some suggestions about ways you can help.

“Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.”
— Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind (1988).

During the past decade I’ve written over 300 articles describing the tide of propaganda rising over America, now called “fake news” (links to some of the best appear at the end of the post). But the attention to the issue is misdirection in both senses.

Whining about our elites’ lies misrepresents the guilty parties. We consume information as entertainment (watching rather than acting), and have become gullible (more interested in entertaining stories that flatter our beliefs than their accuracy). The combination makes us weak. Of course our elites exploit this. It’s the Great Circle of Life at work. We will be prey so long as we are weak. Our leaders treat us like dogs because we are like dogs. We are the weak link in America.

When we again become skeptical of what we’re told, when again we organize, when we again become strong — then our leaders again will respect us. Here are some easy first steps you can do in 2017.

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The 1% won a counter-revolution while we played

Summary: Campaign 2016 has taught us invaluable lessons, as we choose between a clown and a Clinton — a servant of the 1% (sponsored by Goldman). It’s a fitting marker for their victory. But we do not yet see the hidden struggle that brought the 1% back to power, and cannot yet see how to reform America. Others will control our future until we see these things. Here’s a cut at that. This is a revision of a post from April 2014.

Phoenix

Somewhere in our future lies the Third Republic

 

(1)  A different perspective on America

During the long halcyon days of the post-WW2 summer America forgot about economic and social classes — and their cousin, social mobility. A confluence of circumstances made a new America: the cessation of immigration by the 1930’s, the New Deal’s reforms to America’s political and economic structures, the post-WW2 social programs (especially the 1944 GI bill and the Cold War-boosted funding to education (from primary to graduate-level), the 1960’s civil rights legislation — plus the sustained growth of GDP and wages. All these created the rise of a middle class and provided a modest degree of social mobility.

We came to consider this wonderful new America (so different from the horror show of 19th century America) as the true America — not what it actually was, a hard-won victory after generations of oligarchy. We considered this to be our just due.

This summertime culminated in the long boom — the debt-fueled almost recession-free expansion of 1982 – 2007, supercharged by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the late 1990’s tech boom. America was exceptional, history’s favored son, a new moment in history. Marx became a comic figure. “The only Marxists live in Berkeley and Albania.”

The Boomers inherited the New Deal coalition. But most of their political activism was to benefit themselves — such as ending the draft, opening the work world to women, and gaining rights for gays (issues about which the 1%, as a class, are uninterested).

We forgot the long slow low-violence revolution that began after the Civil War, laying the foundation on which the middle class rose. We forgot that we are the crew on the USS America, not passengers on the Love Boat. Too few of us bothered with the boring work of working the engine room and steering the ship.

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Much of what we love about America was true only for a moment

Summary: Campaign 2016 has sparked hopes of political reform in America, restoring aspects of America that we’ve lost. But our image of American history is false, because much of what we love existed only for two generations (from the New Deal to the 1970s). Understanding this makes real reform possible. Jefferson Cowie’s new book is essential reading for Campaign 2016!

 

Much of what we esteem about America comes from the 1930s through the 1970s. Civil rights, high social mobility, falling inequality, a large middle class, strong social cohesion — all of these erupted into an American history of often violent oppression to maintain the stark division of social classes (for example, see the long history of violence against unions).

Forgetting the long struggle that produced this series of revolutions after 1932, we believe that our America is the true America — and so stopped struggling, after which it slipped away. Jefferson Cowie explains this in his new book “The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics” . From the publisher …

“The New Deal: where does it fit in the big picture of American history? What does it mean for us today? What happened to the economic equality it once engendered?

“Jefferson Cowie tackles the big questions in The Great Exception. Beginning in the Great Depression and through to the 1970s, he argues, the United States built a uniquely equitable period that contrasts with the deeper historical patterns of American political practice, economic structure, and cultural outlook.

“During those exceptional decades, which Cowie situates in the long arc of American history, the government used its considerable resources on behalf of working Americans in ways that it had not before and has not since. The crises of the Depression and World War II forced realignments of American politics and class relations, but these changes were less a permanent triumph of the welfare state than the product of a temporary cessation of enduring tensions involving race, immigration, culture, class, and individualism.

“Against this backdrop, Cowie shows how any renewed American battle for collective economic rights needs to build on an understanding of how the New Deal was won — and how it ultimately succumbed to contrasting patterns ingrained in U.S. history.

“As positive as the era of Roosevelt was in creating a more equitable society, Cowie suggests that the New Deal may necessarily belong more to the past than the future of American politics. Anyone interested in the politics of inequality in U.S. history will be interested in coming to terms with The Great Exception.”

Jefferson Cowie briefly explains this story in this excerpt from…

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Get ready for America’s Democracy Spring!

Summary: Are most Americans disinterested or distrustful of marching chanting mobs? History suggests that would be good news, as their role has more often been inimical than beneficial. For those ignorant of history, including the fiasco of Occupy Wall Street, Democracy Spring gives them an opportunity to feel good by marching for vaguely described political goals. Funded in part by billionaire George Soros, they want to rein in billionaires playing with politics. Yet another odd development in Campaign 2016.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Democracy Spring

“It’s time to take mass nonviolent action on a historic scale to save our democracy. This April, in Washington, D.C., we will demand a Congress that will take immediate action to end the corruption of big money in our politics and ensure free and fair elections in which every American has an equal voice.

“The campaign will begin on April 2nd with a march from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. where thousands will gather to reclaim the US Capitol in a powerful, peaceful, and massive sit-in that no one can ignore. Over 2,000 people have already pledged to risk arrest between April 11th-18th in what will be one of the largest civil disobedience actions in a generation. Together we  can open the door to reforms previously considered impossible and reclaim our democracy. Join us!”

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