Featured Post

There but for some humility go neo-liberals

The late historian of Europe, Tony Judt, warns advocates for freer markets against adopting the same kind of ideologically-driven blinders some left-leaning intellectuals adopted during the time of Stalin. Neoliberals, and those of us to whom the label can plausibly be applied, need to take his warning to heart1:

“[T]he market”–like “dialectical materialism”–is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question). It has its true believers–mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow travelers–who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom in the US especially have dutifully swallowed their pill and proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.

Later2:

We know perfectly well that untrammeled faith in unregulated markets kills: the rigid appplication of what was until recently the “Washington consensus” in vulnerable developing countries–with its emphasis on tight fiscal policy, privatization, low tariffs, and deregulation–has destroyed millions of livelihoods. Meanwhile the stringent “commercial terms” on which vital pharmaceuticals are made available has dramatically reduced life expectancy in many places.

…[T]here is nothing innocent about Western (and Eastern) commentators’ voluntary servitude before the new pan-orthodoxy. Many of them…know better but prefer not to raise not to raise their heads above the parapet. In this sense at least, they have something truly in common with the intellectuals of the Communist age.

There is much to criticize in Judt’s statements. I have a hard time finding many people who hold even a trammeled faith in completely unregulated markets. Many, maybe almost all, of those accused of “market anarchy” concede the necessity of laws to protect against fraud and courts to adjudicate disputes and enforce contracts and concede the necessity of provision for the less fortunate. And while the benefits of a market economy are sometimes distributed so unevenly as to call its fairness into question, it’s probably not true that supporters of freer markets “will never see” those benefits: prices generally go down, even on necessities, and within a span of years rather than decades, and even pharmaceutical patents eventually expire.

And yet Judt is on to something. One of the many, many problems with those leftist intellectuals who supported Stalin or gainsaid his atrocities seems to have been their choice to regret the bad things done, but say they were caused by capitalism or say they were necessary to bringing about pure socialism (where “socialism” = “good”). They seem to have operated on the belief that only one thing counted–using centralized planning to advance socialism, even if that meant overriding individual autonomy and civil society. They believed in “the one best way” and no other.

All policy preferences involve tradeoffs, alike for the neoliberal and the social democrat, two categories that in my opinion need not be mutually exclusive. And the fact of tradeoffs is not, I believe, what Judt is complaining about. Perhaps he’s more concerned about seeing value only in material plenty, in lower prices, and in the type of choices that markets are best at cultivating. Plenty, low prices, and market-style choices are good things in their own way. But we can’t live on those “objective” truths alone.

And when plenty is distributed unevenly, or prices don’t go down, or people have to choose between least bad options instead of most preferable options, it’s too easy to blame the obstacles that impede the market, similar to how Marxist-Leninists-Stalinists blamed “imperialist” aggression or “rootless cosmopolitans” or Kulaks for their own decisions. I can insist that patent protection is a government grant of monopoly and therefore not an example of freer markets, but I’ll thereby ignore that freer markets require some starting rules and protections and the argument for patents rests in notions of legally enforceable right to intellectual property on which freer markets presumably depend. It’s all part of the cake.

I do believe my faith in markets is more tempered than what Judt criticizes. But that only moves the needle and doesn’t obviate the underlying problem. I generally prefer “the policy that creates more jobs, but bad ones, over the policy that leads to fewer jobs, but good ones.” And while I don’t believe I’m the dogmatist that that preference makes me out to be–and while I get prickly when people focus on the three paragraphs explaining that preference and ignore the four paragraphs and two blog posts outlining its exceptions and weaknesses–I’ve said what I said and haven’t retracted it. And maybe I on some level “doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it.”

Image: “Orwell in Waterstones, Ealing,” by Mark Hillary. Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

  1. Judt, Tony. “Captive Minds,” Chapter 20 in The Memory Chalet. New York: The Penguin Press, 2010, p.179 []
  2. Ibid, 179-81 []

Staff Writer
Home Page Public Email 

Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer. ...more →

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

236 thoughts on “There but for some humility go neo-liberals

  1. There are very few policies that are good for all actors. Very few indeed.

    For instance, my favorite hobbyhorse is Net Neutrality. The recent ruling that broadband service is a common carrier and will be regulated as such was possibly not so good for a few players, and they fought it tooth and nail. (And will still continue to attempt to capture markets and services so that they can extract rents) Of course, they were claiming the banner of “free markets” in their rhetoric.

    Let’s suppose for a moment that we believe them, and consider that the policy was bad for them. (Given that their stocks all went up when the policy was announced, there’s some doubt that that’s true, but never mind that for now.) I think the policy was still a positive outcome, and will produce net beneficial effects in economic growth and free expression.

    So, I don’t see how one escapes the paradigm you are describing. All policies are good for some and bad for others – or else they are already enacted, and uncontroversial. But perhaps I misunderstand.

    Report

    • Stock prices went up on the Commission’s announcement that there would be no price regulation, and no last-mile unbundling. When I worked as a technologist for some big cable companies, the latter was a potential break-the-business concern.

      Report

        • Most of the developed world practices one or the other or both. Small ISPs that are limited to dial-up and DSL complain bitterly to whoever will listen how much they are disadvantaged by not having access to the cable companies’ last mile. Telcos complain about the playing field being unequal. And the cable companies themselves are not shy about saying what a disaster unbundling in any form would be for them. Google put further fiber expansion on hold until the Commission announced there would be no unbundling.

          I suspect the sector security analysts thought what I did — if the FCC is willing to open the huge can of worms that will eventually have to be dealt with by putting internet access service under Title II, there’s a possibility the Commission will consider any number of things.

          Report

    • So, I don’t see how one escapes the paradigm you are describing. All policies are good for some and bad for others – or else they are already enacted, and uncontroversial. But perhaps I misunderstand.

      Thanks, Dr. Jay. I think I was arguing something a bit different from each policy has its winners and losers. I think I’m talking about a failure of imagination about alternative approaches to things and about people’s propensity to carry one way of approaching things to extremes. Not just neoliberals, of course, but when neoliberals do that, I believe they (or at least the more libertarian leaning ones like me) tend to do so in the way I describe in my OP.

      As for ‘net neutrality. I know too little to have an informed or strong opinion about it.

      Report

      • If you want a cheap and dirty way to pick a side — Comcast is against net neutrality. Given Comcast is, of course, the most godawful company in the world, you can’t go wrong betting against them.

        If Comcast came out tomorrow as pro-pet, I’d probably have to get rid of my dog. That’s all I’m saying.

        Report

        • I am a net neutrality advocate, and was 20 years ago when I was involved in the business.

          That said, I also understand Comcast’s (and the other cable companies’) position that they invested tens of billions of dollars in their distribution networks under a set of rules that said they could generate revenue from it pretty much any way they wanted, and are unhappy that one of the potential revenue streams is being taken away from them.

          Report

          • I have no sympathy with Comcast — they’ve milked plenty or profit off the cables they’ve laid (and it’s not like net neutrality was a change — it was a maintenance of the status quo that Comcast was already quite profitable with) and I’ve seen exactly what happens when they do and don’t have broadband competition.

            When U-verse moved in, I suddenly found Comcast’s prices dropping, their bandwith jumping, and their customer service responsive. After years of dealing with throttling, over-payment, hardware that lasted months (and required personal visits to replace), and basically getting gouged because it was Comcast or nothing when it came to high-speed internet.

            I know *exactly* how much money they were making off me, because I got to see how much less they started making the day they had a single flipping competitor.

            Report

  2. I think the issue with many neoliberal writers is that they are often not personally effected by the policies they advocate.

    Opinion journalism doesn’t get outsourced. Opinion journalists don’t usually work the swing shift in warehouses jogging between the sizes of several football fields. They will not see their benefits get slashed to nothing in the name of free trade. When has an opinion journalist had a bad job with long hours, low pay, and no benefits?

    This is why they sound so tone-deaf to me. People like Matt Y and Dylan Matthews are not really thinking about those questions. Free Trade neo-liberalism has always worked for them because they are in positions that have yet to be outsourced. They haven’t had back-breaking labor or much physically demanding labor.

    Report

    • You know, one of the best things about the intenet c. 2005 is that there were all these voices of people who weren’t professional writers available. They seem like they are kind of getting drowned out now. #YouKidsGetOffMyLawn

      Report

    • But that cuts both ways. There are any number of people who have low incomes but will be net winners from liberalising trade. If you work in a petrol station, or work in a supermarket or are unemployed then liberalising trade doesn’t jeopardise your income at all, but the lower price of goods will make your meagre income stretch further.

      Many criticise the Walmart business model for exploiting poor workers, but poor workers are also the people who benefit from it the most.

      Report

      • Is there any consensus on the potential for additional outsourcing of unskilled and semi-skilled work in the future? Without giving it a lot of thought, my suspicion is that it’s pretty much played out.

        Report

        • Depends on how technology moves, you know that BB, some inane technological development could enable another wave of outsourcing.
          Then again, some equally inane technological development could bring about a wave of onshoring; 3-D printing for instance.

          Report

      • James K
        ‘Walmart business model’
        If the trade flows stayed the same but the profit was distributed directly to the individual workers/buyers wouldn’t the wealth be distributed more to the poorest in the system?

        Report

      • An Amazon warehouse job might not be outsourced but it can still be bad because they use a contracting firm and you have the huge physical demands with benefits. There was an article at Huff Post today about a guy who collapsed dead at his Amazon job. Young guy with three little kids. His buddy died suddenly after back surgery as well.

        Is it better to have low prices or decent working conditions for all? These are serious moral and ethical questions.

        Report

        • There was an article at Huff Post today about a guy who collapsed dead at his Amazon job. Young guy with three little kids. His buddy died suddenly after back surgery as well.

          Link please? I did a quick HuffPo search for details and couldn’t find them.

          IIRC Amazon employs north of 150k people. Occasionally someone is going to drop dead on the job, statistically-speaking.

          Report

            • Thanks. That’s a well-written article, but no one – not the government, not the man’s own family – appears to be holding Amazon responsible for his death. So while I really enjoyed the article, it does feel a bit emotionally-manipulative to use his story as the frame.

              Report

              • Yeah, I can see that. At the time it led to the highlighting of several issues with Amazon’s treatment of workers, though I’m not sure they ever really did anything about it, at least not long term. And it’s not clear that doing anything about it would have saved this guy in particular.

                Report

              • I will grant you that but that doesn’t mean that the place and work style were not contributing factors. He was a big guy. He was trying to do the best he could by his family and work hard to become a regular employee. Yet it seems strange to have a system where people might need to walk 12 miles a day and do huge walks to get items. Surely there is a way to organize assignments where the distances traveled are more moderate and at reasonable speeds. Everything I’ve read about Amazon warehouses says that the pace is incredible.

                Report

                • Maybe the drones will help with that, but then we will be complaining about the job loss.

                  It’s a fast pace, no doubt, but it doesn’t seem totally unreasonable, especially if you actually wanted to lose weight (as he apparently did, dropping several pant sizes). You can walk 3 miles in about 45 minutes; so walking 3hrs/day doesn’t seem insane (especially if you could use the excercise, like me).

                  Report

                • Walking 12 miles per day is more than most people in industrialized societies are used to, but it’s not at all unreasonable, and should not be a problem for a healthy adult. Humans are evolved to walk long distances. The problem, it appears, is that he was not a healthy adult, apparently having a pre-existing heart condition, likely aggravated by the fact that he was about 100 pounds overweight. Should Amazon have told him he was too fat to work there?

                  I’d be willing to bet, if there were any chance of anyone actually doing the research necessary to settle the question, that a workload like this saves many more lives via reduced diabetes and cardiovascular disease than it costs via freak occurrences like this.

                  Surely there is a way to organize assignments where the distances traveled are more moderate and at reasonable speeds. Everything I’ve read about Amazon warehouses says that the pace is incredible.

                  Which is…what? Three or four non-technical articles, some (or all) of them basically hit pieces? How can you possibly have enough information to second-guess the logistic experts who work full-time on optimizing this?

                  Report

                  • Well, Saul COULD have read an article about NewEgg’s warehouses, which are genuinely impressive.

                    Or he COULD have written a defragging algorithm, or shown some talent in logistics of ANY sort.

                    Who am I kidding? Of course he’s done none of that.

                    But if you do want to know how amazon can do things better, you’re welcome to.

                    [I ever mention I know someone who works in the field? He’s… what do you say… an expert.]

                    Report

            • Time “discrepancies”, or “elapsed”? What’s the elapsed-time comparison to similar incidents at that location, or comparable locations?

              I agree it seems strange that the policy there is to notify onsite staff and THEY notify 911, but I can think of a couple reasons it might make at least some sense.

              1.) Getting the victim an onsite defibrillator ASAP may be far more beneficial to them than waiting for the ambulance to show up.

              2.) These warehouses are huge (like, GIANT), with presumably tight security. A panicky random-employee caller to 911 may not do as good a job as a trained security staffer would, in explaining to 911 which building/door to best go to, not to mention coordinating to get the EMTs fast access, either by meeting them at the door and/or clearing their entry with the appropriate security staffers.

              My hope would be that the warehouse protocol to notify staff first, is geared toward the goal of getting help to the victim ASAP; but I can see how it could also look like a CYA attempt.

              Report

        • Sounds like he had a heart condition that the doctor didn’t take seriously enough. His father said he liked the job. The article says his friend died due to complications from back surgery for an injury that he himself said was unrelated to his job.

          This really is sad, but I don’t see any plausible reason to pin this on Amazon. I get that finding fault with tech companies is kind of your schtick, and Amazon in particular is the villain-of-the-month in the SWPL press, but you’re reaching here.

          Report

        • If you had meet Jeff in person you’d probably have complained about his cultural tastes and called him dudebro. You’d hate having people like him as neighbors. Upper middle class liberals don’t like people like Jeff in real life but use people like Jeff as pawns in your war against other groups of upper middle class people.

          Report

            • I shouldn’t have singled out Saul but is there any acceptable way to call upper middle class liberals out for their two faced attitudes towards working class whites? I mean we’ve had people here call people like Jeff “white trash” and no one but me objected. Now people suddenly claim to care about people these people.

              Report

                • I don’t know how you could class Rush as a white trash conservative. An elite wealthy conservative yes, but not white trash.

                  She’s right about the right using “liberal” as a sneer, but BSDI. The words just change.

                  Report

                • 1) That would be the first time white trash has been used to refer to millionaires rather than working class whites.
                  2) If someone used the n-word then claimed they were only talking about Sharpton I doubt anyone would be so forgiving.

                  Report

                  • 1) It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I hear it so used all the time, though it is probably meant to imply that the rich folk had working class origins.
                    2) “White trash” is not equivalent to the n-word, so people would be right to respond to its use very differently.

                    Report

                        • Dand’s point, if I understand it correctly, is that there is a tendency in certain quarters or liberalism/leftism to caricature and disparage poor white people in ways that are, at best, totally un-empathetic and, at worst, can be utterly mean spirited. (And, to bring it full circle to the earlier parts on the thread, I think the way people who shop at Walmart are often described by these people is a good example.) There is also a tendency by many of this same group to use those same poor white people as moral high-ground shields or weapons in politics when something bad happens to one/some of them.

                          This practice of going back and forth between belittling them and declaring themselves their presumed spokespersons, I have long believed, is one of the primary reasons lots of poor whites hate libs/Left as much as they often do.

                          As far as my use of the word ‘obfuscation,’ I merely meant that getting in the weeds about the parallels between the n-ward and PWT, and the right/wrong labels to hang on Rush Limbaugh seem entirely irrelevant to that point, and that it — entirely unintentionally, mind you — acts as a way to avoid the potentially uncomfortable point being made, and instead go down other roads that are more comfortable.

                          Report

                          • This practice of going back and forth between belittling them and declaring themselves their presumed spokespersons, I have long believed, is one of the primary reasons lots of poor whites hate libs/Left as much as they often do.

                            I don’t want to speak for Dand here, of course – or about him; Dand, you still there? – but that sounds like a pretty good summary of his view. And the only reason I say this is to throw down on the “dand is right about this!” side of the debate, especially in the context of what was discussed in the earlier linked-to thread.

                            Personally, I could very quickly compile a collection of comments made by one commenter on this site which pretty clearly establish the legitimacy of Dand’s views, and that there is a there there. And I share dand’s sense of irritation – an often insurmountably grating irritation – when those views are expressed so baldly.

                            Report

                          • I agree with Christ that the n-word and white trash are not close to comparison.

                            That being said, I do think sites like People of Walmart are not funny, in bad taste, and basically sneering at poor people from being poor. I will point out that I have never brought up something like People of Walmart on OT in a positive way.

                            As you noted before, people tend to give me two barrels on this site and often in unfair ways. So I do think Dand was going into a rather snider and sneering attack.

                            Culture seems to be interesting because it puts people on such a defensive and any perceived cultural difference is seen with an extreme threat. People have retracted comments to me before and admitted to chips on their shoulder to the “cultural elite”. Cultural elite seems to mean urbanish liberal who likes museums, NPR, theatre, and foreign films. One of the things I marvel about in GOP social politics is that they turned an actor who makes 35K a year and two roommates into a cultural elitist (maybe because said actor went to Smith or Swarthmore) but not Mitt Romney.

                            Report

                    • 1) If it’s used that way it’s still a class based slur.
                      2) They aren’t the same but they are both slurs, I’m not sure why people here think one is acceptable while the other is not. You seem to be saying using slurs against poor whites is acceptable since they don’t have it as bad blacks.

                      Report

                      • 1) That was my point.
                        2) If you’re not sure why some people think one is acceptable and the other is not, I suggest you do some research on the use of the one that begins with ‘n,’ and the people at whom it was directed and the people who directed it at them. If you come out of that not recognizing that the two are so radically different, even though both slurs, that it makes no sense to compare them, I dunno what to tell you.

                        I admit to having no real problem with “white trash” or the functional equivalent, “trailer trash,” when accurately applied. Of course, the only people I know who apply them accurately are people close enough in SES or location (because it’s not just class based; there’s plenty of middle and upper middle class white trash) to see clearly. I generally prefer “redneck” instead. It’s not quite functionally equivalent to the other two, but it’s close enough.

                        Report

                            • Oooh! Here, let me list my life’s biography and then we can run through all of the slurs that I’m allowed to use and against who!!! (edit: against *WHOM*)

                              Maybe I should start with my ancestry.

                              Mother’s side or father’s side? Mother first, I guess. My great-grandmother, maternal was what was used to be called a half-breed… she was born in the 1880s in Kentucky…

                              Wait. What are we doing?

                              Report

                              • Hmm… This is perhaps a pretty good example of where our approaches to ethics differ. We are both universalists, but we universalize at different levels of abstraction. Let’s look at the closely related (though not equivalent, at least not in all uses) “redneck.” I choose it not only because it’s close, but also because my unironic nickname in college, as given and used by folks from the likes of Owensboro and Hazard, KY (that is, people who know what they’re talkin’ about) was “The Redneck.” There are a variety of ways to use this label, many of which are derogatory, though not all of them are. It is unethical, in my view, to use the word “redneck” to highlight and reinforce class divisions and orderings. It is not necessarily unethical to use it in its other derogatory meanings, and certainly not unethical to us it in its more positive meanings. The meaning is determined by the use in context, and the meaning (in which, for our purposes, I include its implications) determines whether it is ethical.

                                Your universalizing simply says, “It can be used in the way that other unethical slurs are used, in an abstract sense, therefore it is always wrong.” Which is fine. I just don’t agree with that type of universalizing, nor do I find it particularly useful.

                                Context matters to me, and in the appropriate context, I have no problem with “white trash,” just as I have no problem with the n-word in the appropriate context (and in both cases, the appropriate context is to a large extent determined by the speaker’s history, which might include his or her race or SES or even where they’re from geogrpahically).

                                This difference in level of abstraction in our univerversalizing is something I’ve noted frequently before. I suspect we both find it frustrating.

                                Report

                                • I assure you, when I use the term “Feminazi”, it is because of a deep respect for the organization of Hitler’s Third Reich (though, certainly not its goals) and of judicious application of Feminine Power in the public sphere.

                                  I agree that people who use the term pejoratively ought to be publicly shamed without use of inappropriate slurs.

                                  Your universalizing simply says, “It can be used in the way that other unethical slurs are used, in an abstract sense, therefore it is always wrong.”

                                  No, not really.

                                  It’s more that if you want to use “White Trash”, in comments on an internet site against “the other”, you should be prepared for comparisons to slurs that other people rather than comparisons to slurs that have been reclaimed somewhat by the other to affectionately refer to themselves among themselves when they are by themselves.

                                  Report

                                  • Oh, I understand that being on the internet means people will say all sorts of stupid shit, like suggesting that “white trash” and “n____” should be reacted to similarly.

                                    Personally, I find it pretty easy to detect which uses of “white trash” or “redneck” or “trailer trash” or even “n____” are inappropriate, even on the internet. There are some ambiguous cases, and in such I might ask for a clarification, but most cases aren’t particularly difficult to sort out.

                                    Now, if I were to use “white trash” on an internet forum, even this one in which I’m reasonably well known, it might be ambiguous, and therefore easily misinterpreted, which is why you won’t see me use it here. I suspect that part of the reason why it’s usually pretty easy to figure out how it’s being used is because the people from whom its use might be open to misinterpretation are loath to use it except in contexts in which it is unambiguous.

                                    Report

                                    • Oh, I understand that being on the internet means people will say all sorts of stupid shit, like suggesting that “white trash” and “n____” should be reacted to similarly.

                                      Well, I’m not so sure about that. Seems to me that if the meaning of a word is its use in a sentence (heh!) then those two words are used (in sentences!) in precisely the same ways. So it seems fair to say that along a narrow enough measure, those two words ought to share the same judgments.

                                      The other thing I’d say is something a little harder to clearly articulate, namely, that imposing your own views (edit: general ‘you’) of the meaning of a word onto other people who use it and deriving judgments about *that person* is revealing itself to me as an increasingly intellectually dicey and politically counter-productive … (I don’t know what to call it, so…) … pattern of behavior.

                                      Go back to the Meryl Streep incident where she got busted (BUSTED!) for wearing a shirt with the words “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” and folks here in the States got riled because they thought she was making a political statement about the Confederacy and blacks and who knows what. And the reason the folks who busted her for wearing that shirt, presumably, was that she oughta have known better about how that shirt would be received by black Americans.

                                      Well, the situaton was FUBAR from the get-go, but the point I want to make is that the problem here (and I think this goes to Jaybird’s point) is that it’s always possible to negatively judge a person for using a word based on a subjectively determined meaning of that word, irrespective of what that person’s actual intent was. And that strikes me (and I’ll use a technical term here) as bullshit.

                                      That’s not to say that lots of people actually do use words to convey the worst thing one could possibly imagine as being intentionally conveyed. It’s more to say that doing judging them as having done so reflexively, or even – at the end of the day – at all, perhaps isn’t the best way to go about achieving useful goals out there in the world.

                                      Report

                                      • Hmm… I think that’s my point, not Jay’s, but perhaps I’m confused about what Jay’s is. That is, my point is that, because context is everything, and because there are contexts in which it is appropriate, I don’t have a problem with “white trash.” My problem is with the attitudes of elitists (who might be liberal or conservative: contempt for the working class and poor is a bipartisan bourgeois thing).

                                        It seems to me that both Dand and Jay are suggesting that I’m wrong (Dand explicitly, Jay by pushing back on my saying so, e.g. with his “feminazi” example).

                                        Report

                                        • Maybe we can get Jaybird to agree with my comment, thereyby agreeing with you and you him, and put a bow on this discussion!

                                          I think what Jaybird is getting at is that if we stipulate that context does all the work in deciding between appropriate and inappropriate use of politically loaded terms, his context might very well be different than your context. Eg., the term “feminazi”, in which HE associates the term with organizational properties of the Third Reich and YOU associate it with genocide.

                                          Who’s to say which is right? And merely saying that “some people” associate with genocide goes right to the (cold dead) heart of my earlier comment.

                                          Report

                                          • I tend to associate the term “feminazi” with how it’s used. It’s true that I can misread context, or miss it altogether, in which case I’m likely to misinterpret what someone means by “feminazi” or “white trash” or just about anything. In which case, hopefully, someone will supply the context, or deem me not worth the effort. But the fact that context is important is my only point, and is not contradicted by the fact that it’s so important that missing it can lead to horrible misinterpretation.

                                            Nor is the fact that context is important, so important that missing it can lead to horrible misinterpretation, an argument against using something. If someone can show me a context in which feminazi is not used in a way that I would find stupid or offensive, they should feel free.

                                            Report

                                            • Chris,

                                              Let’s take LvW’s dictum about meaning is use seriously (not like linguists do) and expand it to include the broader context in which sentences are uttered. Supposing that’s our starting point for an evaluation of semantics, then for any word W whose meaning is situationally determined there will be a range of legitimately ascribed meanings X1…xn. So we know that, by hypothesis, there is no definitive meaning of W. Rather, context determines the meaning of W.

                                              But if so, then what determines our determinations of context? That is, supposing that in C1 W means X1 and in C2 W means X2, what determines whether C1 is the correct context by which the meaning of W ought to be determined? Are there any useful rules (and I mean that in the LvW sense of the word) by which such a determination could be made?

                                              Seems to me that’s THE problem I’m talking about here, one where people mistakenly project a preferred context to all utterances of W and derive judgments about speakers based on that attribution. But by hypothesis (at least in this little scenario) there is a multiplicity of contexts in which words can be uttered and the meaning of that word is determined (by definition!) by its situational use. There is no unique, preferred, single context by which a word gets its meaning, since if there was LvW would be wrong and we know (we KNOW!) that he isn’t.

                                              Now, all that isn’t necessarily an objection to your comment as much as it’s a clarification of what I’m getting at upthread.

                                              Adding: the irony in this would be for someone who believes in the “meaning is use” theoy who ALSO criticized Meryl Streep for wearing a shirt saying she’d rather be a rebel than a slave. They don’t even know their own theory!

                                              Report

                                              • I think the meaning is use person could criticize Streep not for the intended meaning, but for the entirely foreseeable and likely widespread misinterpretation. What she was saying wasn’t offensive, but it was horribly ineffective because of the larger cultural context (and it’s worth noting that I think cultural context is one of the meaning-determining components of use). That is, “rebel” and “slave,” in combination, in the United States, are almost automatically going to be interpreted in a certain way because in a rather significant pluarality of the instances in which those two words co-occur in the U.S., the meaning is related to the Civil War. Without other contextual clues (and I suspect most of us don’t know much about Streep outside of her acting work), frequency will determine our interpretation. Streep could have, and should have foreseen this.

                                                Report

                                                • Streep could have, and should have foreseen this.

                                                  And THAT’S where we disagree, linguistically, philosophically, politically, culturally, communicatorially and pragmatically.

                                                  And some other areas I can’t think of right now….

                                                  Report

                                                  • It seems to me that if you want to convey a message, you should consider your audience and at the very least the most easily foreseeable interpretations they will have.

                                                    I mean, if she didn’t care whether people got the message she wanted to convey, more power to her. I got the impression that the slogan was supposed to convey a message, though.

                                                    Report

                                                    • Chris, the phrase on her shirt was uttered by the woman those actresses had just made a movie about. The context is clear as day.

                                                      The fact that folks reflexively rejected that context to impose their own “contextual interpretation” on it is precisely the problem here. The best you could say about em is that they’re ignorant. And she had no obligation to take those folks’ ignorance into account at all, seems to me.

                                                      Report

                                                      • Except no one’s (yet) seen the movie, and how man Americans know the names of any British suffragists, much less that particular one? Or that it was said in Britain, not the U.S., where the cultural context would be very different? The context couldn’t be less clear, really.

                                                        And sure, people’s ignorance is part of the context. It’s part of any social context. Common ground is essential to communication. If you assume it when you obviously do not have it, that’s on you, not the people who are ignorant of something you know.

                                                        Report

                                                        • So, just to be clear here: are you saying that Streep did something morally wrong by wearing that shirt? Or more mildly, that she did something insensitive? Or are you defending the reflexive and ignorant judgements that some folks made regarding that shirt?

                                                          I mean, if you’re just describing the situation – that people over here didn’t know what was going on over there, so cut em some slack – aren’t you effectively defending the legitimacy of their descriptions and judgments?

                                                          I can’t quite figure out why Streep is the one who’s being accused of wrong-doing here when she was criticized outa a place of complete ignorance.

                                                          Report

                                                          • It’s not like she called someone “white trash”. She quoted a historical person in a movie she just finished in a provocative manner among people who couldn’t have been counted upon to understand what she was saying!

                                                            Report

                                                            • Chris,

                                                              Again, the view that she communicated ineffectively can only be sustained by a judgment: that she should have included, in advance of her communication, that some people would reflexively and unthinkingly misconstrue her words outa a place of ignorance.

                                                              If we’re gonna ascribe blame here, it seems simpler and much more accurate (in fact, decisively so in this case, seems to me) to pin it on the folks who reflexively judged her without giving any thought to the context (which is historically accurate!) of the quotation she wore on her shirt.

                                                              Report

                                                              • Yeah, this is likely just a difference in the way we approach these things. Since a.) common ground is necessary for communication, and b.) the lack of common ground here was easily foreseeable (hell, I bet a lot of the conversation surrounding making the movie involved statements like, “More people need to learn about these women!”), I put the blame on the person who failed to communicate her message, not the people who interpreted the phrase in the way that humans do so by default, when the relevant common ground is not available, which is to say based on frequency information.

                                                                Granted, once people figured out why she said what she said, they should have stopped criticizing her for saying something that she didn’t say, but that’s a different point.

                                                                Report

                                                                • It’d all been so much better if the promo people included an asterisk after the word “slave” linked to a small-print footnote at the bottom of the shirt saying “Note to Americans: the above quotation was spoken by an ENGLISH woman during the struggle to attain the vote IN ENGLAND and expresses no opinions about the US civil war, racism, slavery, or the Confederacy which of course we’re completely opposed to so don’t even think of making a connection between the two”.

                                                                  Report

                                                                • I fail to see how it was foreseeable, or how it was her original intent to communicate with the misunderstanders at all.

                                                                  I mean yeah, on the one hand, INTERNET…but she was promoting a British film, about a British figure, in a British publication.

                                                                  Let’s stress that again: She was talking about a Brit, to Brits, using a Brit medium. That was her context.

                                                                  Americans outside all those contexts jumped to incorrect conclusions. Any failure to identify the common ground is primarily theirs.

                                                                  Report

                                                                  • Ah, I don’t think I knew it was in a British publication. I just saw the photos on the internet. In that case, it is less foreseeable, though not completely unforeseeable (she’s American, isn’t she? are there any Americans alive today over the age of 10 who, upon seeing the words “rebel” and “slave” don’t at least briefly think, “Civil War”?).

                                                                    Report

                                                                    • Congratulations on achieving the first – as far as I know – reverse snakeback in the history of the League Comment threads – now at what will be “depth level 34, and counting,” I believe. As sortofa neo-neo-Hegelian in my extra-Ordinary life, and as author of the Snaking comment system in my Ordinary one, I find it wonderfully serendipitous that this unprecedented event would occur during a discussion, if not quite explicitly, of the Master-Slave paradigm in history.

                                                                      Thanks to all involved.

                                                                      Report

                                                                      • Well now I feel the need to keep it going indefinitely to see how many snakebacks and reverse snakebacks we can achieve.

                                                                        It appears that the key to achieving this level of snaking is to have people disagree with you for multiple reasons. No disagreement on a single dimension will ever become this absurdly multi-directionally indented.

                                                                        Report

                                                                        • No, I’m disagreeing with you on one very simple level: that you think it was Streep’s fault that some people misunderstood the shirt she was wearing.

                                                                          Also, Viva la Snake!

                                                                          Report

                                                                          • Yeah, I do think it was her fault, or the publicist’s, or whoever’s idea it was, though learning that it was on the cover of a British magazine makes me less critical of it (though still, how do you not see that coming?). I think if you’re trying to communicate something, and you don’t avoid simple, obvious sources of miscommunication, sources related to the basic ways people process meaning (that is, with frequency), ways that we’re all aware of to some degree (even if we can’t put our finger on what’s driving it), then you’re to blame for the miscommunication. Does that mean you intended to convey the message people mistakenly believe you’re conveying? No. It just means you fucked up in an easily avoidable way.

                                                                            Also, by multiple reasons I meant you have a reason, Jay has a reason, Dand has a reason, at one point Tod had a reason. They overlap, but they’re different. If you all had the same reason, it wouldn’t have turned this many times.

                                                                            Report

                                                                            • I think if you’re trying to communicate something, and you don’t avoid simple, obvious sources of miscommunication

                                                                              Exactly. Which is why the folks who accused her of defending racism/the confederacy ought to have taken their responsibilities in the process of communication a little more seriously by notreflexively and tortuously (adding: and ignorantly!) interpreting the meaning of that quotation into something else, don’t you think?

                                                                              Report

                                                                              • I think they should have, yes. I think people should always consider the source, try to figure out what they mean. That’s what I was getting at in my responses to Dand. I don’t have a problem suggesting that both Streep and the people who misread her made preventable mistakes, but given Streep’s position, I think hers was the bigger one, and as the response was predictable, I can’t bring myself to get upset about it. Notice, however, that I’m not up in arms about Streep’s t-shirt, either. I don’t particularly care about it.

                                                                                Report

                                                                                • This is kinda winding down, but I’m still perplexed about your position on this issue. Eg, you say

                                                                                  Notice, however, that I’m not up in arms about Streep’s t-shirt, either. I don’t particularly care about it.

                                                                                  Is that because you realize that the context makes it clear that the shirt has no relation to US politics or racism more generally?

                                                                                  If so, then why are you defending people who reflexively refused to admit that one simple fact? Why should Streep or her publicist have cared about communicating with people who are incapable of recognizing that one simple fact? Why doesn’t the burden of blame for this dust-up fall on the people who refused to admit (edit: consider) that one simple fact?

                                                                                  Report

                                                                                  • I didn’t care before I even knew the context, mostly because I assumed it was much ado about nothing, as 99.9% of internet outrages are. That was my context. Also, I figured it was a quote from something, because it’s an awkward construction by itself.

                                                                                    Streep and her publicist don’t have to care, but again, the reaction was imminently predictable, so if they were planning on marketing the film here in the states, or avoiding bad publicity generally, they probably should have.

                                                                                    I’ve talked about it here entirely in the context of my larger point about communication, context, and meaning. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have given it any more thought than I did when I first saw the internet hubbub a couple weeks ago or whenever.

                                                                                    Report

                                                                        • Chris: No disagreement on a single dimension will ever become this absurdly multi-directionally indented.

                                                                          Don’t say “absurd.” Say “making love.” What’s better than an absurd search for the meaning of meaning on an afternoon in October?

                                                                          Without great contrivance, or great intentional contrivance, I think I know how to launch this sub-sub-sub-sub thread into ever loverlier-superer subs just by expanding on the Master-Slave sub-text and focusing more criticism on the critics and their allies viewed as one type, while extending easy to indict sympathies to the critics of the critics, viewed as representative of another type. All I’d need would be a bit of obstinacy on the part of you all, and time of my own to obstinate back. A side-argument as to whether the discussion was on- or off-topic, or complex rather than multi-dimensional, might be good for a snakeback or two all by itself.

                                                                          In truth, though, I think a post on the T-Shirt, its slogan, and how the reaction to it and the reaction to the reaction and our reaction to the reactions and to the reactions to them etcetera ad nauseam-gloriam-infinitum-absurdum explain everything including all would-be explanations of everything would be more appropriate, and loverly meaningful-absurd enough on its own, whether or not it spawned a thousand snakes.

                                                                          Report

                                                                      • Did you know that there are two places in Texas named Pinehurst? Granted, one’s just a census designated place, not an incorporated town or city, but still, it’s confusing.

                                                                        Report

                                      • Well, the situaton was FUBAR from the get-go, but the point I want to make is that the problem here (and I think this goes to Jaybird’s point) is that it’s always possible to negatively judge a person for using a word based on a subjectively determined meaning of that word, irrespective of what that person’s actual intent was. And that strikes me (and I’ll use a technical term here) as bullshit.

                                        The only disagreement I have is that I’d go even further. It’s not just possible to negatively judge someone on the subjectively determined meaning but such judgments will inevitably evolve into arguments over how we need to be more negatively judgmental *HERE* but less negatively judgmental *THERE* and we get into an argument over the calibration of our negative judgments.

                                        And inevitably turns into discussions of how, seriously, our use of this othering slur against our political opponents is okay because of our personal backgrounds.

                                        Which, as you say, deserves a technical term.

                                        Report

                                  • I know precisely how zic was using it, and I don’t like it, not because I think she’s being elitist (she’s not, but you’re automatically assuming liberal = elitist, which is almost exactly what she’s accusing people of doing, so you’re basically just confirming what she’s saying), but because I think she’s using “white trash” as a stand-in for ignorant conservative, which is more confusing than it is revealing.

                                    I think it’s acceptable to use when it’s both accurate and not used as a class marker. I think I’m pretty good at figuring out such cases.

                                    Report

                                    • but you’re automatically assuming liberal = elitist

                                      I don’t think all liberals are elitists, I don’t think most members of labor unions, or working class Hispanics are elitists. I do think that the vast majority of high SES white liberals are elitists because a dislike of mass culture is just about the only reason that a high SES white person would become a liberal.

                                      but because I think she’s using “white trash” as a stand-in for ignorant conservative, which is more confusing than it is revealing.

                                      Do you think she’d use the term against Mitt Romney or the Koch brothers, she’s using it not just against conservatives but against working class conservatives.

                                      Report

                                      • because a dislike of mass culture is just about the only reason that a high SES white person would become a liberal.

                                        That’s the silliest thing you’ve said yet.

                                        Do you think she’d use the term against Mitt Romney or the Koch brothers, she’s using it not just against conservatives but against working class conservatives.

                                        I think she’s using it against what she would consider far right conservatives. Notice her examples, all of whom are not working class. She, on the other hand, comes from a working class family, and lives in one of the whitest states in the union.

                                        Report

                                        • . Notice her examples, all of whom are not working class

                                          Her two examples were people in a soup kitchen, and people who congress panders too. I doubt she was talking the bigwigs on Wall Street.

                                          She, on the other hand, comes from a working class family

                                          People from poor backgrounds are often the biggest snobs; they want to show how much better they are than the people they grew up around.

                                          and lives in one of the whitest states in the union.

                                          People who live in overwhelmingly white areas can’t be snubs?

                                          Report

                                          • Ah, you’re right, she did use one poor/working class example. Her other three examples were Rush, congress people, and the mainstream media, none of whom are working class. She used the poor/working class to suggest that it was everyone, which undermines the “she was making a class judgment” point that much more.

                                            Report

                                            • Ah, you’re right, she did use one poor/working class example. Her other three examples were Rush, congress people, and the mainstream media, none of whom are working class. She used the poor/working class to suggest that it was everyone, which undermines the “she was making a class judgment” point that much more.

                                              I can’t find where she talked about Rush or the MSM it was the bit about the people in the soup kitchen that really set me off. If she was just upset about their ideology why didn’t she call them “wingnuts” rather than use a class based base slur?

                                              Report

                                              • And white-trash conservatives sneer at liberals all the time; for going on 15 years now, members of Congress get on national TV and the news and use the word ‘liberal’ as a dirty word.

                                                Rush was actually Saul later, sorry. And she was just saying members of Congress, not folks on the news. So it was members of Congress and people in soup kitchens, as a sort of “from one end to the other” sort of thing.

                                                Report

                                      • I disagree here.

                                        1. There are plenty of high SES white liberals who love mass culture and mainly write about mass culture from video games to network TV and beyond.

                                        2. How about issues like civil rights and liberties, military spending, healthcare, unemployment, infrastructure, education spending, urbanism, transportation, climate change, SSM, etc.

                                        Report

                        • If you’re not sure why some people think one is acceptable and the other is not, I suggest you do some research on the use of the one that begins with ‘n,’ and the people at whom it was directed and the people who directed it at them. If you come out of that not recognizing that the two are so radically different, even though both slurs, that it makes no sense to compare them, I dunno what to tell you.

                          So since poor whites don’t have it as bad blacks they need to put up with wealthier whites using slurs against them? I never said they were the same but it’s a difference in degree not difference in kind.

                          I admit to having no real problem with “white trash” or the functional equivalent, “trailer trash,” when accurately applied. Of course, the only people I know who apply them accurately are people close enough in SES or location (because it’s not just class based; there’s plenty of middle and upper middle class white trash) to see clearly. I generally prefer “redneck” instead. It’s not quite functionally equivalent to the other two, but it’s close enough.

                          So you think it’s wrong to use it against “good” poor white but ok to use against “bad” poor whites.

                          Report

                          • Honestly? I’d be rather ashamed to use the words “white trash” to describe habitual arsonists or habitual rapists. Even if that IS the fucking culture in some backwoods parts of bloody America.

                            Don’t like someone? No problem, set their house on fire!
                            Name the location, kid.

                            Report

                          • To just note one thing I find interestng (cuz this happens so often): this thread arose outa a critique of certain types of judgments uppermiddle liberals make of poor whites, and NOT strictly speaking about the words people use to convey those judgments. Those are two different things, obvs. Yet somehow we’re discussing semantics rather than the content of Dand’s original critique. (One which strikes me as just obvious, btw.)

                            Report

                            • I doubt anyone in this particular discussion disagrees with Dand on the upper middle class liberals part. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, two of us (you and I) are among those who’ve given this site’s most stereotypical upper middle class liberal elitist the most pushback on his judgment of working class people.

                              Report

                              • Good point!

                                Yeah, that comment was confusing because it was confused. I just wanted to mention that we’ve moved on a bit from the original critique that started these subthreads.

                                Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

                                Report

                          • So since poor whites don’t have it as bad blacks they need to put up with wealthier whites using slurs against them? I never said they were the same but it’s a difference in degree not difference in kind.

                            Well then, I see that you still don’t get it and aren’t going to. No reason to belabor the point, then, I suppose.

                            So you think it’s wrong to use it against “good” poor white but ok to use against “bad” poor whites.

                            Sure, and bad middle and upper middle class white people too. I’ve actually used it a few times to refer to non-white people even, when appropriate. It’s basically a way of saying “classless,” “uncouth,” or simply poorly mannered, but in a way that derives from certain mostly (but not entirely) white American elements of our culture. Like I said elsewhere, it’s similar to the more pejorative uses of “redneck,” not uncommon among even country-ass white folk in referring to other country-ass white folk who happen to be lacking in class. Like saying, “Your mama didn’t raise you right.”

                            Report

                            • Sure, and bad middle and upper middle class white people too. I’ve actually used it a few times to refer to non-white people even, when appropriate. It’s basically a way of saying “classless,” “uncouth,” or simply poorly mannered, but in a way that derives from certain mostly (but not entirely) white American elements of our culture. Like I said elsewhere, it’s similar to the more pejorative uses of “redneck,” not uncommon among even country-ass white folk in referring to other country-ass white folk who happen to be lacking in class. Like saying, “Your mama didn’t raise you right.”

                              I’ve never heard it used that way it’s always been I’ve only heard it used a class slur, and not just by upper class people in my hometown, home to a lot of relatively well off skilled blue collar workers it used to refer to people in poorer white areas places like Everett and Revere.

                              Report

                        • I don’t think I can divorce “trailer trash” from its class component. The reference to trailers (as opposed to whiteness) is pretty inherent in the term.

                          I am perhaps especially touchy on this because my first serious girlfriend lived in a trailer until she was fourteen. And on an ideological level I thing trailers are a very good and economical form of housing, the mention of which is only relevant as defining who does and does not have class even within the same economic level.

                          Not to say “white trash” is always or even usually okay, but with “white trash” the emphasis to me is on “trash” because whiteness is not itself much of a marker in the broader US context. Trailers evoke much more specific imagery.

                          Report

                          • That’s probably true, and thinking about it, I don’t remember the last time I used the phrase “trailer trash,” though I can definitely tell you the last time I used “white trash” (this weekend).

                            “Trailer trash” may not ever be kosher.

                            Report

                      • Slurs that “other” the outgroup have a long history. Some outgroups are more okay to slur than others. Usually when it’s politically useful.

                        All you have to do is tie the other to some supposed dynamics where they have political power that the ingroup supposedly does not have access to and, tah-dah, you’re punching up.

                        Now we just have to argue over who has political power, hammer out who is David and who is Goliath, and then we can proceed to figure out which side gets to use ranged weapons and which have to use melee.

                        Report

          • You realize you have delivered almost verbatim a late stage Communist critique of bourgeoisie Fabian Socialist Saul for insufficient solidarity to authentic proletarian Leninist worker Jeff.

            I bet Saul wears eyeglasses and listens to decadent jazz.

            Report

            • I shouldn’t have singled Saul out. However I’m sick of upper middle class liberals who make disparaging comments about working class whites one minute then pretend to care about them the next.

              Report

                  • Everyone mark your calendars.

                    I’m going to agree* with notme here.

                    People in Kansas voted for Brownback twice. They may be ill informed about politics, but they aren’t stupid. They knew what they were getting, good and hard, and they prefer it.
                    As the recent numbers from the states that turned down the Medicaid expansion show, people truly prefer to pay more, just to make sure some others don’t get something.

                    As I’ve said before, conservatives and liberals don’t disagree just over the right way to reach the goal, but oftentimes, we disagree over what the goal should even be.

                    *Sort of.

                    Report

              • In all seriousness, I agree with you.
                People are complex creatures and just as there are religious people whose hearts bleed for the poor, yet would never want to rub shoulders with them, there are liberals who prefer a hypothetical proletariat to the unwashed actuality.

                What I find really interesting about Trump supporters is how much their rants sound like a vulgar version of Noam Chomsky what with their talk of shadowy elites and corporate greed.

                Report

                • What I find really interesting about Trump supporters is how much their rants sound like a vulgar version of Noam Chomsky what with their talk of shadowy elites and corporate greed.

                  I’d like to think that it would get the liberals who actually care about middle class to reconsider their attitudes, more likely it will cause them to double down on the condescension.
                  I significant part of Trumps appeal is that his positions on trade and immigration are both popular with the masses but unpopular both political parties.

                  Report

                  • As some have analyzed in depth, and really as has been obvious in many a flare-up of this general type in American history, especially in post-Cold War American history, there is a kind of national-populist specter, or Spectre, or spirit or Spirit, seemingly always hovering over our bifurcated political system. Both parties seek to claim it as rightfully theirs, and around election time we have all the Sovereign’s sociologists, pollsters, pundits, and “campaign strategists” seeking to isolate it eventually to a particular street in a particular neighborhood in Ohio or maybe Florida, rather than a or the force pervading, shaping, and validating the Whole Thing. Before that point, we promote figures that the same group takes as blithering idiots and somewhat contemptible and laughable, yet also somewhat slightly scary, retrograde monster-clowns – a Perot, a Trump, to lesser effect and of lesser note a Cain or Bachmann, as earlier pre-figured in George Wallace, and so on…

                    There is an agenda and even a somewhat sensible one that would unite this movement, and provide an immediate challenge especially to the Republicans as currently configured, but the system we have has thusfar remained successful in squelching its full expression. That might even be one way of summing up the system’s main purpose in this era.

                    Report

                  • I am happy that Trump is criticizing the trade deals;
                    I am happy that he is targeting the corporations for making them in naked self interest;
                    I am NOT happy that he is including the immigrants themselves as sort of collateral damage in his attacks.

                    And here is where I go full Godwin…
                    I notice how the Nazis made similar criticisms about shadowy banking elites, yet who ultimately got the brunt of the suffering? Swiss bankers? The architects of the WWI Armistice?
                    Hell no. It was the ordinary people who had nothing whatsoever to do anything.

                    A Trump victory would barely ruffle the feathers of the plutocrats who created the middle class misery; The Waltons of the world have nothing to fear from Trump.
                    But dark skinned people here and abroad would be in for a world of pain.

                    See, for as much as I might chide yuppie liberals for not being sufficiently in solidarity with the working class, they at least support solid policy that has a proven track record of helping the working class- e.g. labor unions, Social Security, Medicare.

                    Its Trump who really offers nothing but lip service, cynically using the working class misery for his own advancement.

                    Report

              • However I’m sick of upper middle class liberals who make disparaging comments about working class whites one minute then pretend to care about them the next.

                Two notes:

                I make critical comments about just about every group of folks, all the time. Once you put more than N people in a group, they’re going to have collective traits, and some of those traits are positive and some of them are negative. Criticizing them for their negative collective trait isn’t necessarily done to tear them down.

                And, even when it is, that doesn’t mean folks don’t care about them. I care about a lot of people who are just a hot mess for all sorts of reasons. If you think that folks that care deeply about some class of folks don’t also occasionally critique (or even disparage) them, you probably haven’t ever socially interacted with a bunch of slightly drunk social workers (or EMTs, or charity workers).

                Your use of “pretend” there may therefore include some projection.

                Report

                • “I make critical comments about just about every group of folks, all the time.”

                  So you prefer to think in generalizations and engage in “othering” rather than taking people as individuals?

                  And here I was thinking that rational intellectual superiority was hard.

                  Report

                  • So you prefer to think in generalizations and engage in “othering” rather than taking people as individuals?

                    You know, excluded middle comments really aren’t that interesting.

                    When people organize *as a group*, engaging with the *group* under its own self-declared organizational principles is not “othering” anybody. Treating everyone in the group as individuals sorta ignores the point that they organized as a group in the first place.

                    Granted, misrepresenting why they organized as a group, or misunderstanding why they organized as a group, or identifying someone as part of the group when they are not… those are all pretty problematic.

                    But group dynamics actually are a thing, Duck.

                    Report

                • Two notes:

                  I make critical comments about just about every group of folks, all the time. Once you put more than N people in a group, they’re going to have collective traits, and some of those traits are positive and some of them are negative. Criticizing them for their negative collective trait isn’t necessarily done to tear them down.

                  And, even when it is, that doesn’t mean folks don’t care about them. I care about a lot of people who are just a hot mess for all sorts of reasons. If you think that folks that care deeply about some class of folks don’t also occasionally critique (or even disparage) them, you probably haven’t ever socially interacted with a bunch of slightly drunk social workers (or EMTs, or charity workers).

                  Your use of “pretend” there may therefore include some projection.

                  There’s a difference between constructive criticism from people within the group and cultural sneering from the outside. What bothers me is latter and it often describes the attitudes of high SES liberals. They will often talk about how terrible working class Americans are usually because of silly cultural issues, they will wonder why these people don’t want to vote for them.

                  Report

                  • I’ve been meditating a lot (a lot a lot) about equality, trust, and collaboration over the last month or so and the number one thing that I keep running back into is the “why doesn’t that jerkface trust me enough to work with me?” question.

                    The reason Christmas works (FSVO “works”) is not because people like getting presents.

                    Report

                  • What was once irritating and is now just funny is the way you engage in precisely the same stereotyping that you condemn.

                    Keep going. Every time you post you confirm all the horrible prejudices that I have about working class conservatives.

                    (btw, how is Kansas doing these days? Has that economic boom promised as a result of those tax cuts materialized?)

                    Report

                      • Is Dand a conservative?

                        No, at least not anymore, I used to a libertarian but discarded to economic part of; I’d describe myself as either a heterodox liberal or a populist.

                        Report

                          • I was inclining that way myself (well, a little bit anyway…) but I have to admit that Hillary’s performance in front of the Benghazi committee’s prosecution (which I actually watched quite a bit of) is making me hit the refresh button on this whole election cycle. Not only has the politics about EmailGhahh! turned in her favor, but she demonstrated – unequivocally, in my mind – that the GOP isn’t emotionally mature enough to actually lead the country right now while she is, as well as demonstrating that she understands how geopolitical AND domestic institutions actually function while the GOP folks demonstrated that they don’t.

                            Not that I could definitively say Sander’s wouldn’t have been able to withstand that kind of scrutiny and antagonism and all, of course….

                            Report

                            • Adding one more thought to that: right after the hearing lots of pundits were joking that the Benghazi committee and subsequent hearing MUSTA been paid for by the DNC or a Hillary PAC since the whole mess played out like it was planned by Hillary herself. I agree. I think that hearing is gonna be rued (RUED!) by GOP strategists deep into the general election since it completely flipped the narrative on a bunch of levels, including (but not limited to!) eliminating the biggest threat to her campaign: the constant dripdrip coming outa that committee.

                              Report

                  • There’s a difference between constructive criticism from people within the group and cultural sneering from the outside.

                    Those are not the two things I’m talking about.

                    There’s a difference between these things:

                    (a) People putting themselves into a group and advertising themselves as being about some set of things they hold strongly in common (see: political parties)

                    (b) People putting themselves into a group and arguing about being about some set of things they hold loosely in common (see: libertarianism, feminism)

                    (c) People being put into a group by an individual for the purpose of generalizing (see: I think folks in this class are like that) <- note, this often doesn't work, and often is a better signaling device for the group creators own biases than anything else, but it is also something humans do. We're classifiers by nature.

                    (d) People being identified as part of a group, by an individual for the purpose of otherizing because the individual sees that group as other [see: what folks do a lot when they start talking about groups of type (a) or (b), or what happens when MRA folks start trying to tell feminists what they believe or who they are, or what folks used to do to Jason and James a lot on this blog, where they tried to tell them what libertarians are).

                    This is not an exhaustive list, mind you.

                    Where folks are talking past each other on this thread is where they're talking about critiquing (a) – or some subset of (a), and someone is accusing them of (d).

                    What's amusing here is we have individual people saying they're doing (a), and you (Dand) are saying they're doing (d), and (oddly) you're saying that everybody like them also does that.

                    Report

                    • I don’t agree with this last part, Patrick, tho I haven’t followed this part of the thread very closely so I could be wrong. I think Dand is making a point that could be backed up by actual evidence: that lots of upper middle class liberals look down on poor liberals even as they purport to have their best interests in mind. The first is the expression of a negative judgment based on class or “sophistication” or whatever; the second strikes me as an insulting form of condescension.

                      I don’t know why anyone disputes this, actually. I mean, I’m a liberal and I see this type of stuff all the time. (Sometimes on this very site!) And while this fact could be used to otherize others, merely recognizing it doesn’t.

                      Report

                      • I think Dand is making a point that could be backed up by actual evidence: that lots of upper middle class liberals look down on poor liberals even as they purport to have their best interests in mind.

                        I don’t dispute that point – at least, not too strenuously* – but that’s not precisely the point he was making either.

                        He said that upper middle class liberals don’t care about poor liberals.

                        I think that’s changing from critiquing someone’s behavior (dude, you really shouldn’t talk about those people that way) to projecting a motive on them (dude, you talk about those people that way because you’re a terrible person). Those are two pretty different conversations to have.

                        I’m totally fine with someone telling me, “I don’t like the language you chose there, I find it offensive”. I do mind “That language you chose there is because you’re an active and engaged and supportive member of the patriarchy”

                        * It’s possible to find a goodly number of things boring as hell, or uninteresting, or whatever… without necessarily “looking down” on the folks who do them, even while you say, “that thing is stupid” (although you probably shouldn’t call that thing stupid, for lots of reasons, your imprecise language doesn’t immediately translate into class prejudice).

                        “I don’t like NASCAR, I think it’s stupid” can be shorthand for “Rednecks are stupid” or it can be shorthand for “Indy car racing is much more interesting” or it could be shorthand for “Thoroughbred racing is the bomb” or any one of a number of things.

                        Hearing “NASCAR is stupid” as “Rednecks are stupid” may be an indicator that you’re more inclined to see those two phrases as equivalent than the person uttering them is.

                        (Folks who do this level of language policing very often already have their own biases against the person making the statement, because they themselves are making the same sorts of category errors).

                        Report

      • There seems to be a school of thought that believes wealth can only be created by a brutal and never ending slashing of prices and costs.

        I am not sure I believe in this school of thought. It has merits but also costs which are often hand-waived away like brutal working conditions that attack the body and spirit.

        Report

              • Verizon steals about 10 dollars a month from me alone, in undeserved fees that a free market wouldn’t bear.
                Now multiply that by about a billion customers…

                [In all seriousness, not all wealth is stolen from people. Just nearly all wealth ever created].

                Report

                • Verizon doesn’t “steal” from you. They have duly paid off the regulators and conform to a quasi monopolistic service. Your issue is with the bureaucrats that allow them to get away with this fee.

                  Report

                  • My issue is with both sides. And it doesn’t even need to be the fees that bother me. Executive pay could be my issue, just as easily. (and yes, that’s a conflict of interest, right there, boards of directors picking CEOs from their friends…)

                    Report

                • In that same free market, many rural people wouldn’t be able to get cell-phone or internet-access service. The “fees” that Verizon collects almost all go to fund various government subsidy programs with roots going back to the 1930s.

                  Report

                  • Pardon, but how the fuck is that possible?
                    We have cell phones in the deepest depths of the heart of Africa, and we need subsidies to get them in the middle of the United Fucking States of America? That math doesn’t seem to add up…

                    Report

                    • It’s called “regulation” Kim.

                      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Service_Fund

                      Scroll down to the section on “Components”.

                      1. Connect America Fund. The largest and most complex of the four programs, the high cost program subsidizes telecommunications services in rural and remote areas.

                      2. Low income (Lifeline) The lifeline program provides a subsidy of up to $10.00 a month for Americans below 135% of the poverty line for land line or cell phone service

                      3. Rural health care The rural health care program provides subsidies to health care providers for telehealth and telemedicine services, typically by a combination of video-conferencing infrastructure and high speed Internet access, to enable doctors and patients in rural hospitals to access specialists in distant cities at affordable rates.

                      4. Schools & Libraries Program (E-Rate) The E-Rate program provides subsidies for internet access and general telecommunications services to schools and libraries.

                      You pay for all that.

                      Report

                      • Regulations are regulations.
                        Often they’re out of date.
                        You’re still not answering the question of how they are Needed and Useful and Good and most important Necessary to rural access.

                        Maybe Cain’s making the argument that we wouldn’t have cellphones without the original subsidies (or he could be making arguments about getting cell phone reception where it’s not cost-effective).

                        Report

                        • I’m sorry Kim, you expect a Libertarian to explain to you why specific regulations are needed/necessary? Not gonna happen. Your masters deemed it necessary for 1) their political survival, 2) some group lobbied for it, 3) the folks demanded someone else pay for their free stuff, 4 etc. It doesn’t matter.

                          Report

                          • And this is why I was surprised you were jumping in. I was asking Cain, who I don’t think was a libertarian, why the regs were required…
                            (Now, yes, we can talk about whether they’re good ideas. I’m willing to listen on medical teleconferencing (still skeptical, but I work in the field) and rural education… I think the other stuff is basic crap, and burners are cheaper than hell.)

                            Report

                        • These days, I argue internet access more than anything.

                          A bit over fifteen years ago, the State of Colorado paid (indirectly, through some odd accounting) to have one of the big telcos run fiber to every county seat. Absent that subsidy, half of those towns would never have gotten fiber links to an internet backbone — there simply isn’t enough revenue potential for a private company to justify plowing in 50 or more miles of fiber. With the fiber in place, though, Damon’s (1), (3), and (4) subsidies that apply to the local aspects of service become useful. Eg, useful telemedicine requires end-to-end broadband. As it turned out, such links were also necessary to implement the statewide voter registration system required by HAVA.

                          Report

                            • I say “cell phones” but really mean “ongoing evolution of smart phones”, which is me being less than clear. The LTE networks that are the future are pure IP and require hybrid fiber-wireless networks to function well. Despite claims by the hardware companies, you can only push the wireless part so far and get acceptable service. East of about 100° W and along the Pacific Coast the rural areas are dense enough to justify fiber if you plan well. The western Great Plains and Mountain West are largely unprofitable to serve at high bit rates outside of the few metro areas.

                              Sprint’s 4G LTE map is interesting. There are sizable dead spots within walking distance of my house, even though we’re a reasonably dense suburb.

                              Report

        • There seems to be a school of thought that believes wealth can only be created by a brutal and never ending slashing of prices and costs.

          I am not sure I believe in this school of thought.

          Maybe you don’t believe in it, because it does not exist.

          Wealth is the accumulation of resources. In the long run, the only thing that creates wealth is an increase in productivity. Yesterday, you could make 10 widgets in an 8 hour shift; today you’ve found a way to make 11. In the short run, it is exchange that creates wealth. If I have $20 in my wallet, but what I really want is a cup of coffee, so I exchange $2 for the coffee because the coffee has more value to me than the $2. The person selling the coffee is in a similar situation. We both exchange something that we have for something that we want more. Wealth is created (although, in the case of the coffee it is immediately consumed).

          If you want to make people wealthier, then you need to either facilitate technological improvements that increase productivity or find ways of allowing people to trade on more favorable terms. Artificially increasing or decreasing the price of goods and services does neither. One of the best pieces of economic advice is to never reason from a price change.

          Report

        • But if we switch to robots, then there suddenly aren’t any jobs for the former factory workers, or warehouse sorters, or whatever*. And that wouldn’t be American.

          *Why do those Amazon jobs even exist? The employees are basically just walking (running, panting) barcode scanners. I don’t even remember any actual moving of packages being involved in that famous article by the reporter who went slumming in the warehouse that one time.

          Report

            • No, not delivery jobs, those make sense. The “run around a factory, hope you don’t get a heart attack” jobs. I read some long huffpo/slate/atlantic/somewhere article about the experience of a seasonal/temp worker in one of those jobs, and I could not for the life of me figure out what the purpose of her employment was. She ran around the factory with a barcode scanner, found packages, and swiped them. And then did nothing else with the package. I literally do not understand what that accomplishes. Or rather, I understand what it accomplishes, but it seems like half a job.

              Report

              • Just throwing out wild ideas….

                Maybe it was a audit check to confirm that the packages were actually where they were listed in the computer?

                Maybe it was to track down “lost” packages.

                Maybe it was busy work.

                Report

    • Opinion journalism doesn’t get outsourced.

      Seriously? Anyone who speaks English can compete with them. I see this claim made about economics professors, too, when in fact a great many foreign professors teach economics at American universities. As a computer programmer, I also face huge amounts of competition from China, India, and Eastern Europe. Outsourcing aside, opinion journalists get an awful lot of competition from people who are literally willing to do their jobs for free. You may have heard of something called “blogging.”

      The difference between neoliberals like Yglesias and Matthews and the populist left isn’t values—it’s economic literacy. Maybe cosmopolitanism, as well, in the sense of caring about the welfare of foreigners enough to acknowledge that this (speaking of outsourced wonkery) is, on the whole, a pretty good thing.

      Report

      • when in fact a great many foreign professors teach economics at American universities

        Technically I guess that’s not outsourcing, although it’s functionally equivalent, in that they have to compete with foreign academics. Outsourcing would be research produced by foreign academics, which is also abundant.

        Report

        • One of the things I’ve heard from people who’ve published more than I have is that even in medical journals, there is a bias against research done outside of US and Europe. i.e there is something that looks like affirmative action for American research. I don’t know whether it is deliberate or unconscious, but American researchers often face less stringent competition as a result.

          Report

          • Outside of the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Korea maybe (though I’d want to see the data). As someone who’s helped researchers from outside those countries get published, my suspicion is that the primary barrier is English, though.

            Report

            • Leaving data aside…

              Command of English cannot necessarily be it. Researchers in India, Malaysia and Singapore on average have better command of English than people in Japan or Taiwan (from my experience with grad students from those countries).

              I have observed some parochialism where (somewhat more overt in Australia) where a degree from NUS (which ranks 12th in the world) still counts for less than an equivalent degree from a local university. I was rather explicitly told that the masters level courses I took only counted as honours level courses as far as the University of Sydney was concerned.

              Report

              • That’s interesting. What criteria does the University of Sydney use in making that determination, I wonder.

                I haven’t worked with or known many Indian researchers in India. I wonder to what extent they are likely to collaborate with English-speaking researchers outside of India. In Korea and Japan, it is pretty much accepted practice to use consultants to help with writing, if not collaborating with native English speakers, which is why the language issue is significantly less important in those two countries than in, say, China, though Chinese researchers seem to be reaching to “ghost writers” of a sort, now.

                (I know someone who teaches at NUS, by the way. I suspect we have a mutual acquaintance, in fact, given what he teaches. Small world.)

                Report

    • And this seems like a good place to inject a reference to Denmark, which has both a much more robust social safety net, and freer markets and trade policy than the US.

      This is the direction I would prefer to go, actually. Having your job outsourced would be far less of a catastrophe, and all the folks who benefit from cheaper stuff would still get that benefit.

      I don’t know how one manages the politics for that, though. It seems to me much easier for a place like Denmark to manage it, since they are so much smaller, it makes it hard to complain that “those people” are getting stuff. Which is what I think the central problem in the US is.

      Report

      • Vox did have an interesting article on Denmark after the Democratic debates. Denmark gets a lot in terms of services and free time but little in terms of consumption because of high taxes. Americans get low services but high consumption.

        Report

        • When we vacationed in Denmark, the shopping seemed robust enough but people might have fewer things than Americans. What does Vox mean by services? Strictly government stuff or does it include commercial services like gyms, recreational instructing, and company.

          Report

          • Government stuff like healthcare and low-tuition, great infrastructure, etc. The taxes on autos is something like 180 percent the value of the car according to the Vox article.

            Report

      • “Freer markets” is debatable. That claim is based on the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index. This year the US and Denmark are neck-and-neck, with Denmark 0.1 points (out of 100) ahead of the US.

        Denmark scores well on most measures, but its limited government scores are utterly abysmal. The Heritage rankings weight each of the ten categories equally, so government spending accounts for at most 10% of the score, with taxes as another 10%. This is a somewhat arbitrary choice, and I think it underweights taxes and spending. Having government spending at 58% of GDP is a huge deal, and no matter how free the other 42% is, I’m not sure how free an economy can be when government is calling the shots on 58% of spending.

        Report

        • Heritage’s numbers break down badly when we look at Greece.
          Actions that Heritage supported decreased Greece’s economic freedoms.

          Not that I’ve looked at where they’re pulling the data, but I trust the greens more. They at least have a rep for being punctilious (according to my friend who’s worked for nearly everyone in Washington…probably not Heritage, actually, but definitely for conservatives).

          Report

    • I think the issue with many neoliberal writers is that they are often not personally effected by the policies they advocate.

      Why should that matter when evaluating the content of their claims? I mean, presumably you already believe that the policies those folks advocate are wrong.wrong.wrong, and you could – if need arose! – quickly demonstrate that they in fact are wrong, yes? So why not just do THAT instead? All you’ve done in the above comment is provide a psychological account of why those people hold what strike you as obviously incorrect beliefs. Which just isn’t that dang interesting as far as a discussion of policy goes. It also seriously begs the question.

      Report

    • Free Trade neo-liberalism has always worked for them because they are in positions that have yet to be outsourced. They haven’t had back-breaking labor or much physically demanding labor.

      Neither have you and you seem to have all sorts of views on the trades.

      Report

    • I think the issue with many neoliberal writers is that they are often not personally effected by the policies they advocate.

      I agree with Stillwater’s response. But if I didn’t, we’d have to spread the standard to everybody, such as the tariff-protected autoworker’s higher wages vs. the single parent who needs an affordable car. Or the person whose job is priced out of the labor market because employer insurance mandates prevent hiring more people. (For the record, I support Obamacare, but that’s one of the drawbacks to it as its currently formulated. Of course, since I still have my job, I’m not personally affected by it. But I might be should I need to find another job.)

      Or turn it around a little bit. While I haven’t done backbreaking labor or hard labor, I’ve certainly done minimum wage labor. By your standard, that fact means my arguments against raising the minimum wage are stronger. (For the record, I’m becoming more ambivalent about my anti-raising the minimum wage position, and ambivalent or not, I don’t believe my personal history makes my argument stronger.)

      All that said, I do have some sympathy to your position and to your point about “tone deafness.” If I haven’t done backbreaking labor or hard physical labor–and while I’ve done quite a bit of manual labor or standing for a long time labor, I certainly haven’t done much backbreaking labor or labor that could be described as hard–I should be chary before explaining what regulations would work or not work for them. (But please keep in mind that I believe health and safety regulations are good things and don’t fit into my “jobs first” calculation.)

      And back to the minimum wage example. I do realize the issue is much different for me, who no longer works a minimum wage job, than it is for someone who does, especially someone who is likely to have that type of job for much of their life.

      Report

  3. An excellent point, but it’s one that’s universal; every ideologue should embrace humility as a vaccine against blinders. Neoliberals, though, with their emphasis on measurable benefit should definitely seek to be especially humble, especially as they’re currently the ones closest to the levers of power in most parts of the developed world.

    Report

  4. Many, maybe almost all, of those accused of “market anarchy” concede the necessity of laws to protect against fraud and courts to adjudicate disputes and enforce contracts and concede the necessity of provision for the less fortunate.

    Without invalidating your point, here is an example: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/. You may not have heard of him, but you have heard of his father.

    Report

    • If you haven’t heard of David Friedman, your intellectual life is the poorer for it. I’m not sure why he never achieved prominence in the academic world—probably because he didn’t switch to economics until after getting a PhD in physics—but he really is a first-rate thinker, and a good exemplar of the values Gabriel’s describing here. He’s pretty up-front about not being sure how well anarcho-capitalism would actually work; I read him more as making the case that the idea is underrated than that it’s definitely correct. In general he strikes me as unusually scrupulous about not overstating the strength of whatever argument he’s making.

      His blog’s great, though infrequently updated, and Law’s Order is a pretty good (and IIRC apolitical) introduction to the field of economic analysis of law, which is much more interesting than it sounds, even if you already think it sounds interesting.

      Report

      • Heard of him? I have met him (in the historical reenactment context: I doubt that he would remember me) and debated with him (in the usenet context, where it is slightly more likely that he might remember me).

        He once threw out on usenet the challenge to identify an area where the free market demonstrably fails. You remember my post a while back about the reserve system in professional team sports? That is a reworking of my response to him. His solution was to declare all of organized baseball to be a single entity, making the reserve system simply a matter or internal resource allocation. I am unimpressed. This is not analysis. It is merely hand-waving. There may be a substantive rebuttal to my argument, but he didn’t make it.

        As for anarcho-capitalism, it is the sort of idea that is fascinating to the undergrad. This is well and good. Undergrads should be fascinated by stuff like this. (I classify Marxism exactly the same, by the way.) Holding onto it even after exposure to the real world, populated with real people? That is less admirable.

        Report

        • You being the one who mentioned him, it was pretty clear to me that you’ve heard of him. That was more addressed to others who might be reading.

          He once threw out on usenet the challenge to identify an area where the free market demonstrably fails.

          That seemed a bit out of character, so I looked it up. First thought: People still used Usenet in 2011? I thought Web 2.0 killed it off. Second thought: Seriously? Even today?

          Once I got past that, I found that it didn’t at all happen that way, though it’s understandable that you don’t remember clearly after four years. Friedman’s first post in that thread (page 2) was invoking Coase’s Theory of the Firm to explain that market mechanisms are not in fact the best way to do everything. Then you volunteered your theory that professional team sports are an example of an area in which free markets suck.

          You remember my post a while back about the reserve system in professional team sports?

          Yes, and IIRC it had a number of errors which I pointed out at the time, some of which overlap with Friedman’s objections there.

          Anyway, his point, as I read it, is that the organization of Major League Baseball is not an example of the free market failing to produce good outcomes any more than the existence of firms is. Firms are centrally-planned organizations formed through voluntary cooperation in the context of a market economy in order to manage coordination issues. That’s not a refutation of capitalism, but rather an essential feature, and there are important reasons, described by Coase, why these exist, and why this approach doesn’t scale up to the level required to run a national economy this way.

          Likewise, professional sports leagues are formed through voluntary cooperation in the context of a market economy in order to manage coordination issues. It’s not exactly like a firm, but it is like a firm in the particular way that’s relevant to your argument. If you conclude that professional sports leagues are an example of free markets not working, the same logic compels you to conclude that firms are an example of free markets not working. Which I guess is true in some academic sense for some definition of the terms involved, but not in a meaningful or politically relevant way.

          I think you’re probably correct that this arrangement is preferable to a league of teams operating wholly independently, but more because it helps to keep the teams (kind of) balanced, which makes things more entertaining, than for the reason you give, which doesn’t really make sense for reasons both Friedman and I outlined. In particular, the assumption of perfectly inelastic demand for the best players is implausible.

          Regarding another point you made there, I think you make too much of the fact that sports teams don’t go out of business. Sports team owners sometimes sell teams because they can’t make it work, right? This is, in effect, a sports team failing. The roster, stadium, and name remain the same because the team is worth more intact than liquidated, but this serves the function of replacing bad management with (hopefully) better management, as does an owner replacing the management without selling the team, which I assume also happens now and then.

          Report

          • But it’s not just leagues. It is the entire system. Organized Baseball is a system of both major and minor leagues, working together in a distinctively non-free market way. What happens if a league doesn’t want to toe the line? Open warfare.[1] This hasn’t happened in about a century, but there are multiple precedents from back in the day. If we are going to treat Organized Baseball as a single entity, then it turns out that it can only exist as a monopoly. Any competing Organization must be either crushed or absorbed. Treating Organized Baseball as a single entity, we have what is arguably an even bigger market failure.

            [1] Unless it is a marginal player that can be ignored. The modern independent leagues fall into this category. They are technically outside Organized Baseball, but are tiny in comparison to it. In practice they serve as a useful auxiliary to the formal system. This no more counters the monopoly point than does observing that some company only controls 98% of its market.

            Report

        • “He once threw out on usenet the challenge to identify an area where the free market demonstrably fails.”

          Retail municipal water supply. Invention and pricing of pharmaceuticals (a true free market would not have patents). Criminal defense of the indigent. Education of children. Eradication of multi-generational racial prejudice. Provision of military, police and firefighters. etc. etc. etc.

          Report

          • We can add healthcare in general. And any number of other examples. As I have observed elsewhere, the problem is of overgeneralization. Free markets were great at setting prices and levels of production of widgets. It does not follow that therefore they are great at everything else.

            Report

    • I’d never heard of him, but I’ll take your and Saul’s and Brandon’s word for it that he self-describes as an anarcho-capitalist. I do believe such folks exist, I just don’t think that most of those to whom the label gets applied in casual discussions really are. (I should still bear in mind Brandon’s point that he’s worth reading. I probably won’t read him–too many other things on my list–but maybe that’s my loss.)

      I suppose by “you have heard of his father” means he’s Milton Friedman’s son. My understanding of Milton–who I’ve never read–was that he favored government manipulation of the currency, which doesn’t strike me as market anarchism. I do have several, several nieces and nephews, and I suspect they don’t agree with me on a lot of issues.

      Report

  5. What kind of corruption do you find most acceptable?

    Institute the system that will have the most acceptable corruption.

    When it comes to people who prefer different kinds of corruption… well, I don’t know what to do about that sort of thing.

    Report

  6. It seems to me that the real big split when it comes to economics is between the people who think that the market are something akin to physical forces like gravity that can not be tampered with and those that see the market as an entirely social creation that humans are free to modify to suit their own needs. If you see the market forces as similar to natural forces than market anarchy is a natural economic choice. If you think that the market can stand human modification because it is a completely social contract than all sorts of possibilities come into the open from still allowing market anarchy because you think it is the optimal way to run an economy to trying to eliminate the market in it’s entirely.

    Report

    • Both are utterly ridiculous positions.
      A market is simply a fun game. And like all games, there are rules lawyers and people who game the system.

      You rewrite the market to prevent the loopholes you don’t like.

      Report

    • Even the most basic Econ 101 stuff that people regularly lecture on about – e.g. “as prices rise, demand goes down” is really just a set of observations about human behavior. Given constraints X and Y, people will behave like so.

      Racism is the classic example. It never makes sense to turn away black customers, but we have empirical evidence demonstrating that businesses did exactly that, even to the point of favoring bankruptcy rather than serve them.

      Report

      • “as prices rise, demand goes down”

        In defense of economics, it’s more accurately phrased as “price is a function of supply and demand, if the rate of demand rises at a greater rate than the rate of increase of supply, the price will go up”.

        While price has a bit of feedback to demand, it is far, far from the only piece of feedback that demand has and, as such, it is better to see price as a function of the relationship between the rate of growth in supply and demand than to see a mere relationship between price and demand.

        Given that “demand” also includes more intangible wants than mere “money”, it’s easy to be confused by someone holding “money” as less important than some vague feeling they have inside.

        For good or ill.

        Report

      • Hmm. If there’s a big enough monolithic block of racists in your area, being seen to be publicly enforcing tribal mores – not to mention having a shop that’s guaranteed to have none of those people around rubbing elbows with their betters – seems like it might be the economically advantageous choice.

        Your bigger point stands, though. People, especially those higher on the Maslow pyramid, will sacrifice a bit economically if they get a return somewhere else.

        Report

        • This is what happened during the South during Jim Crow. I remember reading articles with immigrant business owners who sympathized with the civil rights movement but also knew that refusing to go along with Jim Crow would be dire for their business in terms of a loss of customers and possibly physical vandalism and other violent acts.

          Report

          • Jim Crow laws were just that, laws – segregation was enforced like fire codes would be. (even though, yes, vigilante justice would have probably preempted most government action).

            edit – but they did serve to cartelize the inefficient practice of segregated facilities, and why the railroads tried to fight against them until the Plessy decision.

            Report

            • You keep bringing up this point but can you provide actual period evidence that the railroads fought against segregation. Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses segregated with glee when they could get away with it.

              Report

                  • Lee, you’re right that it wasn’t all the railroads, but it also seems to me that opposing segregation for instrumental reasons (because it requires the purchase of more coaches, say) is different than taking a position on segregation itself and leaves a little bit of wiggle room for moral theorizing to stick its nose in. Eg, one could argue that the East L. RR company, given the grounds upon which its opposition to segregation were based, held no views about segregation in and of itself. So they weren’t opposing segregation as much as the financial burdens imposed by making it the law of the land (or whatever).

                    Course, if we go down that road, we’re entering terrain very amenable to libertarian views on regulation and markets and whatnot, and in particular – and this seems relevant! – that economic decision-making and unconstrained choice from consumers sorta leads to, without purposeful intention, morally better outcomes. At least, someone could argue as much given the Plessy case.

                    The other course here is that lots of business interests probably were served, and enhanced by, codifying separate but equal laws since it took the burden of enforcing established norms and practices off of them, as business owners, and placed them squarely on the state.

                    So it seems to me it cuts both ways. One of the very interesting quotes from the Wiki article Dand linked to is the following:

                    In answering the charge that segregation perpetuated race prejudice the Massachusetts court stated: “This prejudice, if it exists, is not created by law and cannot be changed by law.”

                    Seems to me that how one views that quotation at the end, whether it’s true or false and to what degree, is an issue that hasn’t been decided to this day and probably never will.

                    Report

                    • Most White business owners had the same racial prejudices of other White Americans at the time. There wasn’t any law demanding Jews be segregated but during the late 19th to mid-20th century, lots of places instituted policies of their own to keep out Jews. Hotels, swimming pools, and other places of recreation would say that they were for Christians only. Universities and colleges instituted quotas to keep the number of Jewish students at an acceptable level. Restrictive covenants would require that houses be sold only to Christians.

                      While what Jews faced was not even close to what African-Americans faced in terms of segregation and discrimination, the amount of voluntary attempts to exclude Jews suggest that even without the law a lot of businesses would have excluded African-Americans because of the dominate belief system even if it was a cost.

                      Report

    • That’s a pretty good distinction, Lee, and I think I mostly agree with the spirit of your comment, but I’d phrase it differently. Instead of drawing the big split

      between the people who think that the market are something akin to physical forces like gravity that can not be tampered with and those that see the market as an entirely social creation that humans are free to modify to suit their own needs

      I’d draw it

      between people who think that the market is something akin to physical forces like gravity that cannot be tampered with without exacting irreparable harm and those who see the market as an entirely plannable* construct that humans are free to modify to suit their own needs

      The reason I’d draw the distinction differently is that those positions seem to define what’s at stake better. Even the “market is akin to physical forces” group probably acknowledges that markets are social and even a social creation, and that “akin” is more a metaphor than a simile. Even the “plannable” group acknowledges that there’s such a thing as scarcity and tradeoffs have to be made for whatever policy.

      *Ick, I know “plannable” is not a word. But I hope you know what I mean.

      Report

    • I see the question as being how widely we can generalize free market principles and still have them be useful. Reading Adam Smith is a beautiful experience. It helps that he is a good writer, but he provides an elegant system. If you want to understand the volume of production and the pricing of widgets, Smith is a brilliant place to start. The problem comes from over-generalizing. This elegant system explains the production and pricing of widgets, therefore it must explain every sphere of economic activity, and indeed any sphere of human activity that can be squeezed into a description in economic terms. Wackiness follows.

      Report

  7. I liked the article about Denmark, since it pointed out something I have been considering a while.

    We get fixated on the ideological battle between socialism and capitalism, these abstract ideas that never occur anywhere in the actual world.

    Denmark isn’t socialist; the main driver of its economy is the private ownership of the factors of production.
    The US isn’t capitalist; it has [a form of] a cradle to grave social welfare system, although markedly different than other countries.

    For that matter, “Free Trade” also doesn’t occur anywhere. The structure of laws and regulations governing international commerce is a labyrinth of fences and fetters, gates and switches that allow this and prohibit that.

    Report

    • To many people, even the merest hint of government regulation is socialism and a betrayal of capitalism. Karl Marx actually made fun of this phenomenon in his criticism of Napoleon III so it isn’t even strictly an American thing.

      Report

  8. Brandon Berg: I read him more as making the case that the idea is underrated than that it’s definitely correct.

    Isn’t that a bit like Mark Twain’s observation about Wagner’s music, that it was better than it sounds?

    Report

  9. I know I’ve been AWOL for most of this discussion. But I want to say that I’ve read most of the comments and appreciate them. (Well, I only skimmed the ones about whether words have meaning in context….they’re kind of over my head.)

    Report

  10. There are plenty of things that I think should be sold on a free market and one that is free of government intervention. Ask me about jeans and books and DVDs and I am a “neoliberal”. The problem I have with many people calling themselves neoliberals is they seem to think that every damned thing should be treated as a market and I think that the market is one sphere in society and not how every sphere of society should function. When it comes to things like privatized prisons and universities being restructured on a free market business model, not to mention an unregulated derivatives market, I simply don’t think the results have been impressive, or at least not in a good way. And when you try to argue this to neoliberals and get told again and again that this is not True Neoliberalism it does sound like just one more ideology, if not the mania of the age, and one we’ll eventually abandon.

    Report

    • I think I agree, but I’ll also say that privatized prisons aren’t really “free market.” They’re more like arms of the state, or as Judt would say, “tax farmers.”

      As for derivatives markets, I don’t know much about them. I imagine they’ve never been “unregulated” since 1933 (and perhaps earlier if you count boards of trade and mercantile exchanges as quasi-public regulatory bodies). I do admit that these types of markets probably have been poorly regulated in the past.

      To me, privatization doesn’t need to define neoliberalism.. But I know that that’s part of Judt’s definition.* So maybe I am doing the “No True Neoliberal” fallacy. At the same time, I’m not really attached to the label, and if it becomes clear that my definition of neoliberal is too different from how most other people use it, then I’ll happily jettison it and return to my descriptive, but difficult to say in one breadth, self-label of “a supporter of welfare and other state supports for everyone but also a supporter of freer markets, even though these approaches are sometimes in tension.” I’m not sure what a good label for that is.

      *for the record, Judt is hard to argue against. When I read Ill Fares the Land, I kept saying, “what about x?,” and he’d then go on to write about x. And even if I didn’t agree with what he had to say about x, his comments were usually quite thought provoking. What a shame he passed away so soon!

      Report

      • He certainly was a fine historian. I found Ill Fares the Land a bit overwhelming at times, but also hard to dismiss.

        The word is definitely tricky. I understand how it can be frustrating too when words are coöpted by people who mean very different things by them. To my understanding, though, privatization is pretty important because the ultimate goal of neoliberals is for the private sector to have a greatly expanded role in the economy and the government to have a greatly reduced role. And, living in Canada, I can tell you there is much to agree with there. I just think where we can differ is where the ideas are applicable.

        Report

        • We (as in “you and I”) might not even differ that much, . I think privatization can work on a case-by-case basis, but it has to be justified in and out, and the costs taken into account. (And I think “privatized” prisons are an abomination. Or rather, our prisons now are an abomination, and privatization makes them worse.)

          To be fair, I wonder if I’m the one trying to co-opt* the word “neoliberalism.” If that is what I’m doing, then I don’t really have much room to get all huffy when others use it differently.

          *Diareses are too hard for me right now. It’s been a long day :)

          Report

Comments are closed.