On Bottom-Up Liberalism & Pity-Charity Liberalism

I’ve been thinking about bottom-up liberalism and pity-charity liberalism a lot lately, and the whole mess of ideas that swirl around between the two.

Essentially, Mike Konczal thinks that growth plus safety nets is insufficient. Without a government fighting for full employment and increased worker bargaining rights, you get “pity-charity liberal capitalism”. Thus, the next battleground in the liberal project is an examination of working conditions and worker rights. Welfare is not enough. It leaves its recipients with too little agency. Far better to give workers more say in the political process and in bargaining over wages and working conditions than to come in after the fact with state benefits. Those programs are also necessary, but anemic and insufficient without also working toward the dignity and self-determination afforded by employment.

Bottom-up liberalism, or liberaltarianism, takes numerous forms. On the one hand you have libertarians like Tim Lee and Will Wilkinson; on the other you have liberals like Matt Yglesias. Wilkinson summarizes at least a major feature of the project:

It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.

Konczal wants the government to push for full employment. For him, growth is secondary, or at least growth seems to benefit the rich far more than the working class. Increasing worker rights and pushing full employment are the best ways to increase prosperity.

Wilkinson, on the other hand, thinks maximizing growth – equality be damned – will lead to the most jobs and the most prosperity for all involved.

Konczal argues that the outcome of Wilkinson’s project will be a large underclass dependent on the largesse of the super wealthy. Wilkinson thinks that a rising tide will lift all ships, leading to fewer and fewer people falling through the cracks to begin with. A “wickedyly-funded” social welfare state will ensure that everyone lives with dignity regardless of the bad luck of birth and circumstance.

I think that, to some degree, both these arguments are true. Simply maximizing growth is not enough. If you maximize growth in a banana republic, all the rewards flow to the top. But government is ill-suited to effectively implement full employment policies. Furthermore, increasing the power of labor unions runs the risk of creating labor cartels which could have negative effects on growth rates. Without strong growth, no union in the world can make workers more prosperous.

I think the missing piece in all of this is an examination of how growth plays out in the real world, and why it tilts so much in favor of the very rich. I mean, to some degree that’s going to be inevitable. But on a deeper level, our economic system is simply rife with corporate welfare and special corporate protections. Whereas many labor protections have ultimately been watered down or compromised, corporate welfare and cronyism are still alive and well. Indeed, the entire edifice of “free trade” agreements and globalism as it currently exists is really a vast system of state-corporatism designed to benefit first and foremost the very wealthy.

Obviously globalism and the free-ish trade we have in place are also good for many ordinary people, but much of the growth we’ve seen in the global age has benefited the rich and the big multinational corporations the most, sometimes at the expense of ordinary people in both the developed and developing world.

Organizations like the IMF pave the way into the third world, helping to build the infrastructure necessary for corporations to expand their reach. Governments subsidize oil exploration. Intellectual property laws and other legal barriers to markets entrench and protect incumbent players against start-ups.

In other words, we have a system artificially tilted toward corporate rent-seekers. No amount of government pity-charity and no amount of pro-labor laws are going to change this fact. Organized labor and corporations seek to stymie innovation, competition, and growth if it comes at the expense of their bottom line. In a market, they have to compete in order to survive. Once government protections enter the picture, they simply have to lobby.

Ending  corporate welfare, protectionism, agriculture subsidies, decades-long drug patents, etc. etc. etc. would do more to empower workers and balance the scales than simply stacking a mess of labor laws and full employment policies on top of the thicket of corporate welfare we have already.

And growth would be more widely distributed, making social welfare programs less necessary to begin with.

Pity-charity liberalism cannot be cured by government, because in the end it’s the same beast whether we’re talking about government welfare or government jobs or government policies that give workers more agency. What is given can be taken away. If pity-charity liberalism is essentially a remedial effort to fix the imbalances created by all this corporate favoritism, why should we assume that labor protections will be any better?

The trick is to stop tilting the scales in favor of management and corporations. We should tear down as many barriers as possible. Building new ones is ultimately an exercise in futility.

Of course, attempting to untangle the mess we’re in now may be an exercise in futility as well. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to keep working around the margins, doing our best to keep the playing field as level as possible and ensure that the least fortunate among us have some opportunity to pursue happiness as well.

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162 thoughts on “On Bottom-Up Liberalism & Pity-Charity Liberalism

  1. The way to reduce the political power of a particular bloc is to assemble other special interests that want the opposite solution; it is not to just hope that future legislators wii be less amenable to lobbying.

    If you can think of an interest group other than organized labor that even has a chance of taking on banks+multinationals, I’d be thrilled to hear about it. Otherwise you have to pick which side is less bad.

    • I’m inclined to agree with this. In a beautiful world, I’d like E.D.’s prescription. And as a long, long, long-term project I think it’s the right one.

      But in merely the long, long term, I think we have to acquiesce to the essence of politics, power, and try to build coalitions with enough force and unction to represent a genuine countervailing force against entrenched socio-economic power.

      I think this gets done by matching the advocacy/fundraising model of modern groups like Amnesty International/NRDC with hyper-democratic anarchist-syndicalist unions. There needs to be a high and a low game, in other words.

      • “But in merely the long, long term, I think we have to acquiesce to the essence of politics, power, and try to build coalitions with enough force and unction to represent a genuine countervailing force against entrenched socio-economic power.”

        But why? What is it that you have done or seen that leads you to believe that is plausible or desirable?

  2. From E.D. “Obviously globalism and the free-ish trade we have in place are also good for many ordinary people, but much of the growth we’ve seen in the global age has benefited the rich and the big multinational corporations the most, sometimes at the expense of ordinary people in both the developed and developing world.”

    I would disagree with that somewhat. It seems like every other day NPR is running some piece about how the standard of living is rising in places like China and India, which workers are collectively benefitting the most from a global economy. And when we say the ‘rich are getting richer’ in the US isn’t that really a bit misleading because what it really means is that workers are getting poorer? The middle class is shrinking for a couple of reasons: 1) Low and unskilled manufacturing are no longer middle class occupations and workers because 2) American workers are not able to compete with foreign labor.

    What’s frustrating is that when pundits decry the ‘suffering’ of American labor, they aren’t talking about bread lines and Hoovervilles. What they are talking about is fewer wide-screen TVs, a used SUV instead of a new one and less exciting vacations. American labor seems to be suffering because they can’t maintain the same lifestyle they slowly developed since WWII. On the flip side a Chinese worker used to living in rough conditions, sharing a home with a large extended family and eating meager meals feels seems to be very fortunate when he can afford to buy an apartment for just himself and his immediate family and maybe have meat for dinner a couple of extra nights per week.

    The question I often ask is just what lifestyle we Americans have a right to expect and how fair it is for us to complain when we don’t get it?

    • Not to be glib, but I don’t think we need set our standards for living conditions based off of those of a rural peasantry in an authoritarian state.

      ETA: But, Mike, the rich are getting richer. I think the distinction you’re making there is a bit semantic — though I think I do understand your overall point.

      • From Elias:

        “Not to be glib, but I don’t think we need set our standards for living conditions based off of those of a rural peasantry in an authoritarian state.”

        I agree which is why my initial comment asked, “…what lifestyle we Americans have a right to expect and how fair it is for us to complain when we don’t get it?”

      • “I agree which is why my initial comment asked, “…what lifestyle we Americans have a right to expect and how fair it is for us to complain when we don’t get it?””

        Ya know, I just don’t see the people who use this argument about 90% of the American people stick with it when the subject is the top 10% (or 1%).

        And the raw attitude is rather unpalatable, as well. The basic idea is ‘somebody has it worse, so quicher bichin’, with a side of ‘(or we hand your job to them)’.

        The right has played the American people’s tendency to class warfare (downwards, of course) very well. Too many people feel that if things go badly for them, what they should do is find somebody at or below their own level, and trash them.

    • Middle and working class folks are suffering far more then just not having a 102 inch tv. How about not affording medical coverage, an inability to retire or drastically limited to not be poor when they retire, making house payments or even being able to work their way up into the middle class.

      Its great that poor people around the world around having growing living standards. It really is. But thats a bit weak to use as a complete justification for the damage being done to many people in the US. While the US shouldn’t be in the business of destroying other peoples economies and helping other people is morally good, we are supposed to growing our general welfare. If the middle and working classes are always sacrificed then we will eventually end up with a global super rich, almost everybody else being poor with a few groups scrambling to the next group allowed into the middle class. That is until some other group of poor people undercut them so they can become middle class, until another group undercuts them, etc.

      • An addendum: Mike’s whole rhetorical structure seems to me to assume economics is zero-sum and that the distribution levels that define the global economy are natural or inevitable rather than the product of politics and power; not entirely, perhaps, but significantly.
      • I don’t think the global economy is a zero sum game but I DO think there is a certain amount of zero-sum in the labor pool and certain sectors. If a manufacturer needs 10,000 unskilled labor he’s going to pull that finite amount of labor. Common sense dictates he will optimize cost to quality and that may make him consider China over Michigan.
      • Greginak,

        How many people can’t get coverage? The Obama administration predicited that over 400,000 peope would sign-up for high-risk insurance pools. As of March there were 18,000. So where is everyone else?

        And making house payments? If someone has steady employment and not laid off, why CAN’T they make a house payment? You’re supposed to figure that out before you take the loan.

        I’m not using foreign workforces as a justification for the demise of the middle class – I’m just pointing out the realities. A big chunk of American labor chose not to acquire the skills that would make them invaluable to manufacturing and put themselves in direct competition with foreign workers. It’s sad, but it wasn’t a conspiracy (unless you want to blame unions for selling them a fairy tale, which is a fair accusation IMO).

      • Before the ACA there were between 30 and 50 million without insurance. Many only had insurance because of government programs. Sadly the ACA is only slowly implementing its programs.

        People can’t make house payments for a variety of reasons. One of them is they can’t get a job due to a terrible economy cause at least in some part by a massive clustefuck by the financial wizards of the world.

        I don’t buy that people just didn’t get trained so they could be used properly. Why the hell would a factory worker not get trained to be able to keep their job. Your implying an incredible level of denseness. A lot of manufacturing has left the country, how does somebody get retrained for that? An american can not compete with somebody who is fine with getting paid a dollar a day, skills are irrelevant in that context.

      • I’m not talking about unemployed homeowners. I’m talking about emplyed homeowners who suddenly find themselves unable to make their payments? How many of those people are floating around?

        If you’re in the labor force the smart thing is to constantly make sure you are invaluable to your employer. Gain skills that can’t be outsourced. Did manufacturing do that?

        What I WILL say in defense of manufacturing is that in the global economy American workers still have two distinct advantages: productivity and quality. Foreign workers aren’t even close in those two categories. I see it all the time in my business when we deal with our foreign operations. If it take one American worker to do something it will take four workers in Taiwan AND the quality will not be as good. But how long until they fix that?

      • I’m not talking about unemployed homeowners. I’m talking about emplyed homeowners who suddenly find themselves unable to make their payments? How many of those people are floating around?

        A real question or rhetorical?

      • “If you’re in the labor force the smart thing is to constantly make sure you are invaluable to your employer. Gain skills that can’t be outsourced. Did manufacturing do that?”

        This should be put in the same trashcan as the idea that we would all be ‘symbolic analysts’ by now.

        Last I heard, the estimates were that there were five unemployed people for each opening. McDonald’s had that employement fair that (from memory) attracted one million applicants for 60K job openings.

      • How can you say a whole class of people — hundreds of millions — over a period of generations “chose” not to acquire necessary skills?

        Why is labor capable of making choices as if it were a unified whole operating with perfect knowledge and significant latitude while the actions of global business are entirely the consequence of abstract, impersonal and pseudo-natural market processes?

        I’d also reject what I see as an implicit assumption that all or most who are struggling in the American system are doing so out of poor choices or character failures. This is fantasy.

      • Elias,

        I will assume you have a college degree. Do you think this separates you from the workforce that doesn’t have a college degree? I would contend it does. An American worker that decides they will go into unskilled or low-skilled manufacturing makes a concious choice to limit their own marketability…right?

      • It seems this American worker cannot win.

        If he assumes massive debt in order to get the college degree necessary for post-industrial employment, and then more debt to have a home, it’s his own fault for not managing his finances more wisely.

        If he forgoes taking on such debt to gain a degree, it’s his own fault when he can’t find work, because he chose not to go to college in the first place.

        I don’t think the way you’re envisioning peoples’ thought processes has much to do with how human beings actually work — at least not in the aggregate and to such a degree to be relevant in this context.

      • Or how about the route I took? Take 10 years to go to college so you do not acquire any debt and live in apartments so you don’t have a mortgage (more debt). You graduate debt free and with an edge on 75% of the workers in your state (here in KY 1 in 4 have a college degree).

        You act as though college loans and a mortgage are inescapable realities of American life. Both are a matter of choice.

      • Hey, it’s good that you’re such a better person than those idiotic people just trying to do what society has told you is the ‘right’ thing to do.
      • Yeah. I’m sorry, Mike, but I don’t think everyone is born in the same circumstances or with the same opportunities and hindrances. It’s great that you were able to do what you did, but it’s not realistic to think that your experience is transferable to every other person in the country’s. Some people can’t afford to spend 10 years getting a degree, or to live in an apartment, or to do any number of the things you were able to do. And vice versa. Denying this does make it easier to reduce iniquity to questions of choice, but it doesn’t get us closer to the truth.
    • > It seems like every other day NPR is running some
      > piece about how the standard of living is rising in
      > places like China and India, which workers are
      > collectively benefitting the most from a global
      > economy.

      Sure. But the market economy isn’t a cooperative game (neither, to be sure, is it entirely zero-sum, but microcosms of it are).

      > And when we say the ‘rich are getting richer’ in
      > the US isn’t that really a bit misleading because
      > what it really means is that workers are getting
      > poorer?

      Well, yeah. If you look at manufacturing as a microcosm of the economy, then manufacturing *is* something of a zero-sum game: there’s only so much stuff one can make at any given time.

      Moving “making labor-intensive stuff” to China is indeedy great for the lower class in China. The problem is that the economic profit of that cheaper stuff gravitates not to the job sector that was displaced, but to the next layer of abstraction.

      So people who can afford to invest in companies that manufacture stuff benefit. People who used to work at companies that manufacture stuff don’t get the benefit of the profit, and they lost the work; double-whammy. Being able to buy a cheap TV only offsets that double-whammy so much.

      > The question I often ask is just what lifestyle we
      > Americans have a right to expect and how fair
      > it is for us to complain when we don’t get it?

      That’s a fair question. And I’d argue that right now it’s somewhat disingenuous for the American worker to bitch about their working conditions when it sucks more, most everywhere else.

      On the other hand, that doesn’t take away from the point E.D. was making: a set of people have benefited from globalism much more than anybody else. It’s even more disingenuous for those people to say, “Well it sucks that you can’t have a machinist job any more, now excuse me while I go buy a yacht. Which is tax deductible. And goddamn I pay too much in taxes, I’m going to contribute 1,000 times what you can ever contribute to 33% of the elected officials to make sure that you can’t ever change my status quo. And quitcherbitchin’ about not being able to afford a brand new 52″ TV, it’s cheaper than it would be if you were making it!”

      > American labor seems to be suffering because
      > they can’t maintain the same lifestyle they
      > slowly developed since WWII.

      That’s totally fair. It’s also one perspective. American labor is genuinely actually suffering… in *comparison* to American capital-holders -> American labor can’t maintain the same lifestyle they slowly developed since WWII (which, granted, is in the global scheme of things hardly something to board the pity train over)… but American capital-holders have not only gotten better off, they’ve done it faster and continue to do so.

      So they’re still better off than labor elsewhere, but we’re not comparing American labor to Chinese labor. We’re comparing how American labor fares as part of the American economy to American capital.

      And by *that* measure, we’ve got a clear winner.

      • We’re comparing how American labor fares as part of the American economy to American capital.

        Why is that even morally relevant in the first place. If the worst off are doing the best that they can (as compared with other alternative sets of ground rules), why does it matter how much the well off have.

        Why is relative wealth morally relevant at all? I would thing absolute wealth/poverty would be the key thing we should care about?

      • Hear, hear, Mr. Murali. It’s not whether the rich have too much, only that the poor have enough.
      • Its relevant when one group, the smallest and richest, is getting all the gains while the vast majority are either stagnant or getting worse off. If the rising tide was lifting all boats then that might be a reasonable argument, but it isnt’.
      • Not in america, probably, but in Singapore social mobility is fairly decent and we are even more globalised and have an even smaller manufacturing base to rely on. We are more reliant on the external conditions of a global economy and we still manage to do well. And when you look across countries the bottom line is that small government and the rule of law are two of the biggest factors that promote social mobility.
      • Are they getting worse off if we look at it from a transverse, instantaneous view or are they worse off when considered over their whole lifetime? The latter is morally relevant.

        Its also difficult for me to believe that the worst off in america today are as good as or worse off than the worst off were 50 years ago. All that can be said I think is that the rising tide hasnt lifted them as fast as it has lifted others.

        Also, the shrinkage of the manufacturing sector is a natural phenomenon in developed countries. Political solutions which halt or slow this down can only go so far. America is unusual in that it is unusually successful with political solutions in this regard. But there are limits and as we can see, time has run out and the market seems ready to re-adjust with a vengeance. The tension between rising standards (and therefore costs) of living and keeping manufacturing jobs america will resolve itself soon. One or the other has to give. If america insists on keeping those jobs, its standard of living will revert to that of a third world country.

      • Giving up manufacturing capacity (jobs is another affair) is a strategic concern as well as economic.

        Kinda hard to retool those factories to build tanks if those factories aren’t around anymore.

        Not that I think this is a plausible necessity scenario, but it’s something to consider.

      • Yes but America is producing more and more even as it employs less and less. The factories are there; they’re just full of dozens of people and thousands of machines instead of thousands of people and dozens of machines like they once were.
      • Sure, American manufacturing is much more efficient. It’s also apparently currently massively underutilized (check out Modeled Behavior), because people aren’t buying stuff.

        Even when people start buying stuff, a lot of the stuff they start buying will be the cheapest stuff they can buy, which is still largely imports over home built goods.

      • > Why is that even morally relevant in the first place.

        Did I say it was morally relevant? When did morality come into play? I’m not even talking about justice, let alone morality.

        Okay, look. Does a nation have an expectation, as a collective, for an economy? Do you think that it’s relevant?

        I certainly do. If you don’t have an economy, I dunno what you are but you’re certainly not a nation.

        Now if we all, *as a nation*, agree that globalism is a economic strategy we ought to get behind, for all sorts of reasons, and thus all of the worker and warrior bees agree not to vote for people who throw up protectionism or tariffs or anything else… and the end result of two decades of this process is that the worker bees find themselves finding it harder and harder to maintain what they consider to be their baseline of economic security, but the warrior bees are yukkin’ it up and eating royal jelly, what is your expectation?

        I’d expect the worker bees to start exercising their vote.

        Now whether or not they are *right* to do so (morally or otherwise) or whether or not they’re making the overall situation *worse* by whatever they propose to do, they’re going to fishing do something, aren’t they? Or no?

        I’m talking about human nature, dude. The workers are pissed at the rich. Whether they ought to be or not isn’t relevant.

      • I work in IT, man, I’m used to dealing with people who have unrealistic expectations.

        Whether or not “what they consider to be their baseline of economic security” is a real baseline or a made up one is besides the point.

        This is where Tom and I occasionally talk past each other: “it matters not how rich the rich are, only that the poor have enough” is a principle I happen to agree with, but “the poor have enough” is a perception problem as much as it is a reality problem, and the perception part ain’t up to me and him. It’s up to them.

      • SEGUE!

        Agreed. This is actually why I’ve been coming around to the conclusion that our deeply consumerist (ironic considering its superficiality) culture is as much a problem as the hard realities of poverty.

      • Pat, when will “the poor” say they have enough? I think this goes to the relative vs. absolute poverty thing. My mom always proudly said we were poor but happy.

        “Poor but happy.” Doesn’t that sound like an absolutely ridiculous thing to be said in 2011?

      • > “Poor but happy.” Doesn’t that sound
        > like an absolutely ridiculous thing to
        > be said in 2011?

        Oh, sure. I look at people who complain how hard it is to get by and how freaked out they are by retirement while they’re packing an iPad and an iPad2 and two cell phones because Junior has to have one to play Angry Birds on or he just gets difficult and I shake my head.

        I’m not too worried about the poor, Tom. They’re keepin’ on keepin’ on, just like they have since the Depression.

        I’m worried about the middle class. They see their circumstances getting squeeze (by their own perception), and they see the dream of one day becoming upper class – or their kids, one day, becoming upper class – receding in the background. The fact that maybe they’d be doing better without that $75 monthly fee for all the premium movie channels is mostly their problem, and partly our financial systems problem for giving them cheap credit beyond their ability to earn, and messing up their expectations.

        If they weren’t worried about their ability to get health care, do you think there is any way in hell that the Health Care Act would have passed?

      • This just may be me being aspy but so long as I have enough bookshelf space and my monitors and (and this is the important part) security knowing that neither my wife, my cats, the books on my bookshelves, or access to the tubes will ever be in danger… I have everything I need.

        Jesus talked about one’s treasure being in heaven… my treasure is on the tubes.

      • I’m worried about the middle class. They see their circumstances getting squeeze (by their own perception), and they see the dream of one day becoming upper class – or their kids, one day, becoming upper class – receding in the background

        The middle class has always and will always feel itself being squeezed. Of course their perceptions are not necessarily inaccurate.

        Granted, in america, there may be a persistant problem with a lack of social mobility. But the key to increasing social mobility is to increase the opportunities for people to create wealth. That means free-ing up markets regardless of the policy preferences of the middle class or whichever segment of the population we are concerned about.

      • > That means free-ing up markets
        > regardless of the policy preferences
        > of the middle class or whichever
        > segment of the population we
        > are concerned about.

        You can’t fix this problem with that solution. Well, presupposing the problem actually exists, and it’s not merely perceptual, which I’ll agree is an open question.

        I could remove every single barrier to doing business for anybody who wants to throw up a shingle today, as long as they net less than $3 million in yearly revenues. Let’s say we do that.

        Joe might want to make wooden toy trains. Guess what? Joe can’t make wooden toy trains even if there is zero government barrier, because the wooden toy train price point is at “they’re practically free”. Unless Joe is the biggest, bestest, most awesomest craftsman ever and he gets really lucky.

        Let’s say I pack it in, right now, and chuck this sysadmin gig. Drop out of grad school. Move to the father-in-law’s property in Montana, where I can probably finagle rent free if I have no shame.

        Opening a machinist shop or a wood shop is going to require tools and raw materials. Crunching numbers says I couldn’t produce handmade toys for enough to pay for food, unless I got a bunch of people to smoke crack and shell out $10 for a toy that they could buy for $3 at the local Wal-Mart. I couldn’t beat out any online widget company for simple machined metal parts.

        I *could*, just possibly, run a brewery if there were no regulatory hurdles to get over. That depends on everyone else in the neighborhood’s willingness to buy my beer instead of Bud, which is directly proportional to how well the overall economy is doing.

        I like the idea of a robust small business economy. I just don’t see it as possible.

        I can’t undo the highway system. I can’t undo the gas subsidies. I can’t undo all of the embedded stuff that E.D. is talking about (most of which I agree with, by the way) that tilts the game in the favor of people with pots of money bigger than $2 million in liquid.

        If I could undo all that stuff, I’d be all on board with this approach you’re proposing.

      • Join Appco. Seriously. I know its not very well known, but Appco is the future. I was working in appco for the past 9 months and I saw it as a place where everyone could learn how to run their own business and actually start without having any initial start up capital.
      • “They see their circumstances getting squeeze (by their own perception), and they see the dream of one day becoming upper class – or their kids, one day, becoming upper class – receding in the background. ”

        Forget that – it’s the dream of seeing your kids at least not sink that’s at risk.

      • > Forget that – it’s the dream of seeing
        > your kids at least not sink that’s at
        > risk.

        That’s a nightmare that is not, really.

        Both my children will probably be fine. Not because I’m upper class, but because I’m going to do what needs to be done to get them to be fine, up to and including setting them up so that they can be expats.

        Most people view “my children being better off than I was” through a lens with very specific (and, to me, less important assumptions). “I want my children to be better off than I was” == “I want my children to make more money, live in a bigger house, and be close by”.

        Take the “close by” part out, and you’re hitting your goals pretty easily even without moving to Somalia. Well educated people can still make lots of money, relative to their local economy, they just have to live in the right locality. With U.S. citizenship, they can always come back to the States.

        I’m waiting to see how many people of my generation figure out that the right of exit *and return* is hugely empowering for their children.

      • Not at all. I’ll take your mother’s wisdom to mean, as WFBuckley so artfully said, I’d rather be governed by the first 100 names of the Boston telephone directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard!

        Such a great Mother you have, Tom, and a philosopher to boot!! Cheers, Mrs. Van Dyke!

      • Per What’s the Matter with Kansas, Pat, the worker bees aren’t all class warfared up. Some of us don’t begrudge the rich their riches regardless whether it was through hard work, lucky sperm or hitting the lottery.

        And even if there is some grudgery, that confiscatory politics is not the best or most just solution. “We” want more opportunity for all, not the “justice” of slicing the pie in smaller amounts.

        [I hate using "we." We conservatives see human beings as individuals, not hivemembers. We would never compare ourselves to a hive. Wait, I just used "we" twice, and we conservatives don't use "we." D'oh! I just used "we" twice again! And before that, "ourselves," which is the reflexive of "we." D'oh! I just used "we" again, and then "ourselves," which is the reflexive of "we." D'oh, I just...]

      • > Some of us don’t begrudge the rich their
        > riches regardless whether it was through
        > hard work, lucky sperm or hitting the
        > lottery.

        Point of fact, T-dog, I don’t begrudge them either. I don’t, however, find it particularly odd that some people do. Again, human nature. Greed. Covetousness. You have an outhouse with *four* holes and a pretty wife and a buckboard with *two* benches. AND springs!

        This is at least half of humanity. And like it or not, they’re part of the neighborhood.

        > And even if there is some grudgery, that
        > confiscatory politics is not the best or
        > most just solution.

        It may very well be the *least* just solution. And it might not be the *best* solution. But the choice is this:

        Acknowledge the masses, and ensure that they are comfortable enough, or some day they will erect Madame la Guillotine in the square and stick our funny heads upon poles.

        I think history sort of bears me out on this one.

      • If the poor have enough, they don’t revolt. Too much like work. ;-)

        The problem—if and when it exists—defines itself, or rather, is self-evident.

      • Well, see my comment just a tad up ^^

        > If they weren’t worried about their ability
        > to get health care, do you think there is
        > any way in hell that the Health Care Act
        > would have passed?

        If they don’t come for your head literally, they’re coming for everyone’s money, figuratively.

        If people feel economically secure, they don’t vote for the government to give them money -> filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass.

        You can ignore the plight of the middle class, or pooh-pooh it as being all in their heads (and I can agree with you), that doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to vote for stuff that makes me pay for it.

      • I don’t think it’s plight, Pat. Nobody turns down a free lunch. [Unless it's broccoli.] To turn around your

        that doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to vote for stuff that makes me pay for it

        I’d say the the 2008 election was all about free lunches and 2012 is about who’s going to get stuck with the check.

        [For as we know---although we did forget there for a moment---there is no such thing as a free lunch.]

      • > 2012 is about who’s going to get
        > stuck with the check.

        It’s going to be me, Tom. The rich put their money in tax shelters I can’t afford, and the poor have no money.

        I guarantee you that HCR is not being rolled back. Even if part of it gets thrown out in court, which I doubt even though half the commentariat here seems to think that’s likely or at least possible.

        Medicare isn’t going away. Social Security isn’t going away. Not now. Not with the Boomers retiring. Too many of ‘em vote.

        I make a decent wage; more than a blue collar dude and way less than someone who can afford to buy a Congressman.

        It’s always going to wind up coming disproportionately out of my pocket.

      • Well, Mr. C, the numbers say eating the rich won’t solve the problem. Not enough of them and too many of us. Neither will taxing you & me another 10% solve much. It’s about the spending.

        And what do you mean “disproportionately? Pay your fair share! And what’s your fair share?

        Heh heh. How much you got?

        BTW, this

        If people feel economically secure, they don’t vote for the government to give them money -> filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass.

        made it occur to me that much of America’s stupid scholarship and heinous art is accounted for by people who don’t mind—and are quite masterful at—filling out paperwork, i.e., government grant forms. They should be the first to go.

        $823,200 to study genitalia washing in South Africa? $997,766 to install poetry at zoos nationwide? You gotta be able to write a helluva grant proposal to score that kind of rent. Anybody can study genitals [Weiner] or versify to hippopotami [Weiner could do that too I guess].

        But getting a grant to do it, now that takes talent!

        http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/134453-coburn-charges-government-with-billions-of-waste-in-2010-report

      • > And what do you mean
        > “disproportionately? Pay your
        > fair share! And what’s your fair
        > share?

        > Heh heh. How much you got?

        S’truth, right there.

        > much of America’s stupid scholarship
        > and heinous art is accounted for by
        > people who don’t mind—and are
        > quite masterful at—filling out
        > paperwork, i.e., government grant
        > forms. They should be the first to go.

        Now, Tom. The stunted need something to do, too. I’d rather they screw around with studying dirty dicks than get into the workforce where they’re going to get in everybody’s way.

        ‘Sides, NSF and its ilk are a drop in the bucket. Let’s focus on the military budget. At least you and I can agree that needs some serious work, right?

      • Well, Pat, some of the dirty-dick studiers get in our way here instead. Oh well, it’s our patriotic duty to abide them here instead of out in the real world;-)

        As for the DoD budget, sure, let’s bring it on. As I recall, it was Rumsfeld under Bush41 c. 1990 who first claimed the “peace dividend.” It’s the entirely “conservative” thing to do!

        IIRC, it’s $800B or so. Just one point of numerical literacy order—halve it, which seems unlikely, and we still have $a trillion to go on The Obama Deficit.

        [Might as well name names, eh, Mr. Likko? At some point, Obama44 is president and not Bush43. That point will be 2013, though, at this rate...]

      • > IIRC, it’s $800B or so. Just one point
        > of numerical literacy order—halve it,
        > which seems unlikely, and we still
        > have $a trillion to go on The Obama
        > Deficit.

        Well, the stable budget deficit is about 1.1 trillion, by my reading. The extra $400 billion is bailout charges. Unfortunately, I can’t call that back, but that’s not the same as a recurring debt, one would hope.

        So chop the military budget in half, and we’re looking at at $700 billion dollar deficit. Cut it by two-thirds and we’re down to $450 billion. We’re still spending more than China is. (Yes, I know that politically this is basically a nonstarter, but I bet you could take out even more than 2/3rds of the DoD expenditures and the country wouldn’t be any less safe than it is now, practically).

        $450 billion isn’t chump change, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, that’s basically what it was in 1991, if this chart is accurate.

        http://www.davemanuel.com/history-of-deficits-and-surpluses-in-the-united-states.php

      • Pat, without The United States of America, this world is total shit, as it was until the Pax Americana. Shit from end to end, head to toe.

        You and I and every American pay for whatever is still decent in this world with our taxes, whatever is left of our prestige and moral authority, and with a military made of its sons and daughters that even a great nation such as ours is unworthy of.

      • > You and I and every American
        > pay for whatever is still decent in
        > this world with our taxes, whatever
        > is left of our prestige and moral
        > authority, and with a military made
        > of its sons and daughters that even
        > a great nation such as ours is
        > unworthy of.

        Is that an optimal solution, Tom?

        Is it even a least pessimum one?

        Let’s say I agree with your premise. We’ve payed out about six and a half trillion dollars on DoD expenditures since 2000. Is the world safer or better off today than it was in 1999?

        How much is enough, to maintain this peace that the world reportedly don’t want, affecting areas who may rather enjoy butchering each other without us sticking our nose in and occasionally favoring one side or another, which both our allies and our enemies bitch about?

        Why do we need a surface fleet designed to fight the Russian navy? Why do we need stealth bombers when the average other country is flying our decommissioned hand-me-downs and they can’t keep them in the air for longer than a few sorties without spare parts that they have to get… from us?

        What do we need gobs of heavy tanks for, when there are no other tank armies to fight?

        How much do you think is a reasonable military budget to sustain this peace?

      • “And even if there is some grudgery, that confiscatory politics is not the best or most just solution. “We” want more opportunity for all, not the “justice” of slicing the pie in smaller amounts. ”

        First, the day that confiscatory politics are in the range of possible in the USA will be a cold day in the infernal regions. Second, so far these right-wing ‘reforms’ have not succeeded in producing much opportunity.

      • So, I’m not sure how or where you want to go from here. Now that we have a description of what workers responses are going to be like, what point are you trying to make?
      • “…but American capital-holders have not only gotten better off, they’ve done it faster and continue to do so.”

        And by now it’s clear that only part of that is due to greater productivity, or Gaultish superiority; the only question is whether looting accounts for a strong minority of those gains, or a majority.

      • Oh, I think “looting” (in the sense of gaining money without generating actual real wealth) is by far the majority.

        But “looting” is a nasty word, it assumes that those gaining the money were doing so maliciously. Lots of times they’re just playing the game by the rules.

        If I’m a mutual fund manager and I make a trillion dollars for everybody in my fund and clear 100 million for my own self, I’m doing my job and nobody ought to be complaining. Not me, not the fund holders, and not anybody who didn’t contribute to the fund.

        If I made a trillion dollars while creating zero real wealth, well, that’s something to complain about, but the fix the disconnect between money and wealth, not the disconnect between my pocket and yours.

        But that’s just me.

      • Pat -

        This is an excellent comment. In particular, I like:

        And goddamn I pay too much in taxes, I’m going to contribute 1,000 times what you can ever contribute to 33% of the elected officials to make sure that you can’t ever change my status quo.

        To my mind, this is the element of growing inequality in the US that gets lost in all the talk of “the left wants equal outcomes” and “just what lifestyle (do) we Americans have a right to expect”. The problem is disenfranchisement. Like most people in the lower 90% of the wealth distribution, I just don’t have the jack to buy a bloc of elected officials, to control a media conglomerate that will preach my gospel or to capture those who might regulate my domain. This seems to me to be a de facto infringement on my right to petition my governmental for redress of grievances, as I don’t get a seat at the table. And no amount of “pity-charity” largesse can restore that fundamental right.

      • This is ridiculous. Corporate types do more than their fair share of rent-seeking and favor-buying. But the main thing they do when they hire lawyers and lobbyists and all the rest of it, is they try as best as they can to create a context where they can safely deploy capital.

        Anybody who deploys capital is a fat target for expropriation. Therefore, the capitalist has to leverage the fact that his willingness to deploy capital is quite contingent. Therefore the political establishment wants jobs and economic activity in their playpen and they give the capitalist what he wants.

        If there wasn’t the constant threat of expropriation, we wouldn’t need all the lobbyists and the rest of it. And also, labor would be much more valuable. Actually, that’s pretty much a restatement of Erik’s OP without the welfare angle.

      • > If there wasn’t the constant threat of
        > expropriation, we wouldn’t need all the
        > lobbyists and the rest of it.

        If there wasn’t a constant threat of spammers, I wouldn’t need to run a spam filter, either. And yet I do.

        The constant thread of expropriation isn’t going away, Koz. The question is, how do you reduce the threat of expropriation?

        I’ll give you a hint: insisting that Joe Blue Collar ought to be happy with one TV because that’s as many TVs as Joe Blue Collar’s daddy had back in the 70s, and gee it’s not your fault that your capital is more fungible than his labor… isn’t going to be making Joe Blue Collar give two shits about your opinion.

        It’s also not going to go very far towards protecting your capital from expropriation. Again, whether or not you or he or the hole the wall is more deserving or morally entitled or whatever to the money don’t mean a damn thing.

        I’m just sayin’.

      • We repudiate the culture of folk Marxism and the libs and Demos who are political exponents of it.
      • Actually, given the economic and political developments over the last couple of years it seems quite practical. Why aren’t you on board yet.
      • Because half the country is liberal, and the other half is conservative.

        Me being on board or not doesn’t matter. Half the country isn’t going to be.

        Indeed, the GOP’s core constituency (older people == more conservative) isn’t going to be, either. They’re not voting away their Social Security or their Medicare. And the GOP knows it, Koz. It shows in the speeches.

      • Actually, half the country isn’t liberal and the given the failures of the Obama Administration, there are going to be fewer on Election Day than there are now.

        But that’s only part of the issue. At least as big as that, is the reality that we’ve got significant institutions and traditions of limited government, and we’ve got the political class that view such things as irrelevant obstacles to their own ability to rule.

        It is by voting Republican that we can hope to overthrow the sovereignty of the political class, defeat folk Marxism and create limited government and prosperity in America.

      • > Actually, half the country isn’t liberal
        > and the given the failures of the Obama
        > Administration, there are going to be
        > fewer on Election Day than there are
        > now.

        I bet you a beer that come the end of this election cycle, homeslice is still sitting in the chair. The old people are not going to vote for someone who is talking about privatizing Medicare and Social Security.

        Even if he isn’t, Koz, about a third of the country is reliably conservative, about a third of the country is reliably liberal, and about a third of the country is something else.

        Even if you *do* net enough of that third to give you the Presidency and one half o Congress… Medicare isn’t going away. Social Security isn’t going away. You’ve got a giant anchor on the GOP’s neck, dude.

        > It is by voting Republican that we
        > can hope to overthrow the
        > sovereignty of the political class,
        > defeat folk Marxism and create
        > limited government and
        > prosperity in America.

        I’ll give you points for consistency of belief.

      • Medicare and Social Security don’t have to go away. They have to be reformed and likely cut.

        That’s the point of one my little interactions with Elias over Hayek. In a mainstream Right policy environment, there is still public money going to social welfare causes. It’s just that such things are funded out of our available resources and adjusted accordingly if necessary.

        This way, capital can be safely deployed without fear of expropriation. Therefore we can get rid of the lobbying and uneconomic distortions and actually create enough value that we can be happy with.

      • > Medicare and Social Security don’t
        > have to go away. They have to
        > be reformed and likely cut.

        I would say that you’re operating in loonie land if you think that this is going to happen without severe and crippling political backlash. As in, all the baby boomers throw you right back out of office, en masse.

        Right now, Koz, I have to admit, part of me wishes that you get what you want and the GOP takes both halves of Congress and the Presidency in 2012.

        Not because I think they’ll disappoint you, although I think they will.

        I just want to see how you sell whatever happens in 2012-2014 as promoting the agenda you believe, right now, today, they’re going to promote.

        Or if you’re going to come back and say, “Well of *course* they couldn’t cut Medicare and Social Security *that* way, they’d get booted out of office and the Democrats would be worse!”

      • We don’t have to wait till Election Day, Pat. As I mentioned before, the things that will happen before then actually might be more important.

        The Biden Commission is going on as we speak, and they are expected to recommend a package of expenditure cuts and tax expenditure elimination to save x trillion dollars over the next ten years relative to President Obama’s proposed budget from this February.

        Elias cited a NYT piece, on the state of play. Elias’ post substantially flew under the radar here which was quite surprising to me considering how important the subject is. The key thing we don’t know is how Team Blue will react if President Obama and a couple of Demo Senators come out in favor of this once it’s done.

        Given the fact that this is substantially expected to pass (though not a lay in by any means), I think it’s fair to say we’ve left loony-land a while ago.

  3. On the other hand, due to the failures of the Obama Administration, Joe Stalin, the PRI of Mexico and a hundred other variants we can also reject the entire Left soup to nuts, including variants like liberaltarianism and bottom-up liberalism.
    • First, anybody who lumps the Obama administration with Stalin or the PRI is a liar. Second, given the hand that you gave the administration to play, they’ve done an acceptable job.
      • Why not? Stalin, the PRI and Barack Obama all represent some slice of the Left as we know it. And from what we know of history, it’s a fair simplification to say the Left is bad in toto.

        They various elements of the Left are bad in different degrees and in different ways, but they all bad. And for largely the same reason: their imagination only contains a few plays, and most of the time those plays don’t work.

        As far as the current administration goes, that’s just not true. The economic problems that GWB left were much less that what we’ve got. In fact the biggest problem at the time was the possibility that things could get worse, a possibility that President Obama has manifested into reality.

  4. Just a thought, but what if we forget about “liberalism” per se, whether pity-charity or any other kind? That is, what if we regard the forcible extraction of money from this group to give to that group (while taking a cut for bureaucratic “shipping and handling”) as morally wrong, in addition to being inefficient, ineffective, and generally harmful? In a more general sense, what if we regarded all attempts to manage (not to say micro-manage) outcomes through state power — whether we’re talking about the above bureaucratic “pity” or about rewarding political/business cronies — as not merely ugly and rife with corruption, but ultimately futile? What if, in other words, we simply tried to recall the lessons of this old but obviously still relevant essay?
    • Unfortunately, as intellectually serious as referencing F.A. may make one seem, Mr.Hayek would not agree with a radical proposal to remake society in a neo-feudal order.
      • “… Mr.Hayek would not agree with a radical proposal to remake society in a neo-feudal order.”

        Good point! In fact, didn’t Mr. Hayek write a book about the dangers of remaking society along those lines? Yes, I think he did. But didn’t that book say that just that sort of “remaking” was the end product of liberal-”progressive” welfare state distributionist policies? Pretty much. Maybe a little attempt at intellectual seriousness is what’s needed.

      • Hayek, Preface to 1976 edition of “”The Road to Serfdom”:

        “… socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state. In the latter kind of socialism the effects I discuss in this book are brought about more slowly, indirectly, and imperfectly. I believe that the ultimate outcome tends to be very much the same….” pp. xxiii-xxiv.

      • well hayak was exactly correct that if a Labor gov was elected in the mid 40′s the UK would be irrevocably turned into a socialist hell hole.
      • ahh yes, exactly Hayak’s prediction was wrong so he changed his definition to fit the data. He changed what socialism means to make it more muddy and vague and easy to apply in every case. That makes it meaningless.

        On the other hand Hayak also believed in some level of social insurance for things people can’t prepare for on their own.

      • On the other hand Hayak also believed in some level of social insurance for things people can’t prepare for on their own.

        Exxxxxxactly. I suppose the fault should lie with the man for being a politician about it all rather than with his followers for exaggerating and misrepresenting his work. But he’s dead and Larry walks among us.

      • Speaking of “exaggerating and misrepresenting”, Elias was the one who brought up what “Mr. Hayek” might say about “neo-feudal orders”. I merely pointed out what he did say. You want to argue with him, accuse him of changing his mind, etc., feel free — you won’t be the first nor the last. You should be prepared, though, for a some intellectual seriousness (so to speak).
      • The part about misrepresentation isn’t really legit. It’s weak to suggest that it’s possible to spend public money for social welfare, therefore we have to get at least some tax hikes in order to cut any element of federal outlays which is where we are now.

        I read some where recently that the difference between the Left and the Right is that for our team revenues are the independent variable and expenditures are the dependent variable whereas for your team it’s the other way around. That’s pretty clear in Hayek. You can forgive the Left for missing this since their not enthusiasts of Hayek in the first place, but still.

      • Again, Koz, historical signs point to both sides increasing spending upon that which they like to spend money.

        Ronald Regan certainly didn’t make military expenditures a dependent variable on government revenues.

      • I think you’re assbackwards on this one. The key fact of public finance for forty years is that in the guns v butter dilemma, guns are cheap, butter isn’t. And a the politics of the Obama Administration have been about reconciling liberals to that fact.
      • > The key fact of public finance for
        > forty years is that in the guns v
        > butter dilemma, guns are cheap,
        > butter isn’t.

        6.5 trillion dollars spent on the military since 2000. 7.4 by the end of next year, likely.

        That’s *half* our outstanding *national debt* and growing, which has been accruing since… what, about three days after Jefferson left office?

        Now, I can cut social security and medicare by half today. I will be out of office by the next election (if I make it that far), but it’s theoretically possible. That’s going to put an enormous strain on the elderly, retired, people who have no real measurable worklife available left to them. I guess my parents can move in with me, and my in-laws are in pretty good shape -> how’s yours? Have an extra room? You think Joe Voter is going to let this come to pass without voting you into oblivion?

        I can cut the military budget by half today. I will also likely be out of office by the next election (although I think I might survive the recall). That’s going to put an enormous strain on… who? Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Newport News Shipbuilding. General Dynamics. Engineers. People who still have years to go to retirement.

        Both are going to kill of what remains of our economy, which is still driven by consumerism and still needs people to be employed and have money (and both approaches murder the second half of that requirement if not the first). That will kill off tax revenues, which will make it all the harder to recover.

        But hey, at least cutting the DoD puts people who are employable out of work. Less time to recover (still, regrettably, a very long time).

      • No, Pat. During a couple of years of the Kennedy Administration, defense took up just over half the federal budget. There was very little debt, even allowing for WWII borrowing. It is the demographic and policy changes associated with social-welfare programs that is killing us.

        I expect defense to be cut in the debt-ceiling negotiations, but that’s not where we’re going to save our money. It’s important nonetheless. In a world where we eliminate the ethanols, the NCLBs, the high speed rail and the rest of it, Medicare will look a lot different then.

      • > It is the demographic and policy
        > changes associated with social-
        > welfare programs that is killing us.

        They certainly aren’t helping. (Demographic problems could be fixed: let more workers into the country. That won’t happen. That’s an aside.)

        Social-welfare reform isn’t likely to happen, Koz. Not sure where you’re getting the, “We’re going to reform Social Security and Welfare, and alienate one of our core constituencies doing it!” belief from, regarding the GOP. The back-stepping from touching Medicare during the last election wasn’t a surprise. I really don’t see ‘em exercising the game plan. Okay, you do. The only way to know for sure is to see what happens.

      • Look at where things are now. The GOP is taking some heat on Medicare, but they’re not getting their doors blown off.

        I suspect we’ll have a year and some before the election where Medicare isn’t an issue. Either there’s some bipartisan Medicare deal as part of the debt ceiling, which takes the issue off the table, or there isn’t. In the latter case, the GOP retreats from the Ryan plan and goes after the D’s on expenditures, and the D’s eat the bullet for the deteriorating economy. (I like Obama’s reelection chances better in the first scenario btw.)

    • Actually, no. People are familiar enough with the moral angle, and they know what they think about that.

      Therefore, the opportunities for getting traction there are limited. We should think this instead: in a lot of circumstances, more than right or wrong, redistribution can’t be implemented. That’s to say, property owners will take actions before or after the intention to redistribute their property is made clear, and such actions will profoundly distort the redistributionist plan.

      • The trouble is that, once we let go of the “moral angle” we’re stuck in the morass of liberal-technocratic state solutions, wherein we imagine that “we” (whoever that “we” is) can maximize, well, whatever — output, “social justice”, fairness, the good, etc., etc. — through the use of state power. All such attempts have ended simply in maximizing bitterness, anger, and demands for ever greater entitlements at someone else’s expense (the always handy Rich, of course). What I’m suggesting, basically, is that we not limit ourselves to the conceptual framework of the liberal-”progressives” — including their limited moral horizons
      • Oh course we legislate morality. And everybody is fine with it. Murder, rape, child abuse, etc all have a moral basis for being illegal. People re-frame it in different ways but of course morality is part of it.
      • Oh course we legislate morality. And everybody is fine with it. Murder, rape, child abuse, etc all have a moral basis for being illegal. People re-frame it in different ways but of course morality is part of it.

        Look just because murder, assault and rape (hereafter called MAR) are crimes and morally wrong at the same time, it doesnt mean that they are crimes just because they are morally wrong.

        Regardless of why people actually criminalise MAR, the reason MAR is criminalised is because doing so complies with the principles of justice.

        The distinction is between criminalising something because it is morally wrong and passing a law because passing the law was the right thing to do (and the law involved criminalising something that co-incidentally happened to be morally wrong)

        Thats because all of us can imagine some thing which we consider to be morally wrong but still consider it morally wrong to criminalise said morally wrong act. i.e. the right to do wrong

      • I don’t disagree with you. But my point still stands. Talking about principles of justice is pretty much talking about morality. Morality or ethics or justice are intertwined with all our political beliefs.
      • Morality or ethics or justice are intertwined with all our political beliefs

        Of course they are and I’m not disagreeing there. I’m just talking about whether some thing should be prohibited simply because it is morally wrong or mandated simply because it is morally right.

        I did re-read the context in which you posted. And while I agree with you on the larger point of the intertwining of politics and morality, it may have been a poor choice of example.

        My response to Larry and Mr Van Dyke may have been just to point out that once we say we should or should not, we have introduced a normative framework which is neither one of courtesy/etiquette/aesthetics nor merely legal one either. That leaves the realm of right and wrong.

      • Once again the fundamental lack of understanding on the course of legislating morality. You would think by now people would understand the cliche.

        You can’t make people moral. You can only make them criminals. A person who sees no issue with (for instance) rape is immoral. Whether s/he rapes or not. Punishing them should they rape doesn’t make them more moral. It merely makes them a prisoner. What you can do (sometimes) is provide people who have morals but who have subsumed them to other influences the opportunities to exercise moral agency. But only sometimes.

      • I’m not trying to say we repudiate the moral angle, I’m thinking more of a Mitch Daniels-style truce.

        In fact, I’d venture most people think about this in moral terms, which isn’t a bad thing of itself. We lose sight of the reality that moral or not, attempts at redistribution often can’t be implemented and we’re left with some legacy policy distortion that can’t be justified but is nonetheless difficult to undo from the force of inertia.

        This is especially topical today considering the Senate just now voted to end ethanol subsidies long after it’s been conceded that they are bad by most observers. Let’s note especially that ethanol produces very little energy and has not been promising in that regard for quite a while.

      • Okay, I take your point. But, in case there’s any doubt on this, I think, first, it’s important to note that moral issues are not confined to, and certainly not the same as, so-called social conservatism; and second, that once you begin arguing on a purely technical level with policies that aim at designing or engineering society from the state down, you’ve already conceded what may be the most important ground. That said, though, the point of my reference to Hayek’s paper on the knowledge problem above is that it makes, in a very general way, much the point you’re making.
    • We’ve tried large chunks of the neoliberal reforms, over time, with largely negative results.
  5. The topology of all these links routes back to Freddie deBoer, who seems to be in full update mode. If the Left hasn’t won many of the recent policy debates or appeared in many HREF tags, well, that’s hardly an indication of any intellectual deficiencies on the Left. Most of what passes for blogging these days is so much butt sniffing and mutually masturbatory substitution of quotations for original thought where it has not degenerated into self-referential cant and anecdotal dumbassery of that sort, wherein I stand convicted.

    Do-Gooders are the bane of my existence. The world economy has always obeyed Boyle’s Law of Gases: pressure and volume are inversely proportional. As communications and transportation technologies have improved, markets have opened and if millions of Chinese are employed at the expense of American workers, well, that’s capitalism for you. Exploitation is synonymous with employment. It cannot be otherwise: there’s no point to employing anyone if there’s no difference between the value they add to the proposition and the salary you pay them.

    Exploitation is a matter of degree. We’d all like to think workers should have some rights such as a working bathroom and reasonably safe working conditions, but let’s get real here. China doesn’t have such rights and while no sunlight shines on their conditions, workers’ rights will only decline.

    Damning management and corporations is useless. China’s beginning to hollow out as Japan did before it: jobs are already leaving for countries like Thailand and India and Pakistan in accordance with BlaiseP’s Corollary to Boyle’s Law of Gases: economic pressure and exploitable volume. No sooner will the Foxconn workers of China get a break than their jobs will go somewhere else where the exploitability coefficient is higher. Eventually the winds of exploitation will reach Africa and deep into the lawless places.

    Only when the shortages are equally divided among the peasants will we see any meaningful pushback from those peasants. In the interval, those peasants are just begging to be exploited/employed and we enjoy low-low prices on the goods and services they provide. While both these emotions remain valid, the Left has no relevance, as the Right lost relevance once the coal miners decided to fight back.

    There is no mess to be untangled. The Left has always understood the problem but nobody wants to admit we have a problem. If the Left no longer seems relevant in American discourse, it will be again, as it was when Gompers was organizing and the company store stole the coal miner’s wages. For we will return to that stage, as surely as tomorrow’s sunrise: the pressure will equalize when there’s nobody left to exploit. Oh, it will take a while. It will take another century for Africa to be fully exploited. When the whole world has been reduced to a dog’s dinner, another Robespierre will appear and he will revisit Mao Zedong’s edicts about the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie.

      • The first middle class emerged in the wake of just such a pandemic, the Black Plague. I’ve said it before: middle classes are temporary. Every time they appear in history, they disappear when they begin to face competition from hungrier competition.

        Sometimes the situation is held in check by collective bargaining, but never without a struggle. One thing is certain: they can’t hold onto their gains long term.

        Look at my industry, software. Day was a programmer could get away with teaching himself some mad skillz out of Byte Magazine and get a pretty good job. Software didn’t have many standards, demand was huge and it was possible for godawful people to get great jobs. That situation didn’t last. A consultant used to be someone who knew an industry well enough to design systems for it, now it’s some skinny dude from Pune with poor English skills, a resume which turns out to be a bigger work of fiction than War and Peace and a two-bit pimp taking 75% of his wages.

        How did it get this bad? The software industry never held itself to any kind of standards. It never formed a guild to enforce standards. The guilds were destroyed by stupid persons who thought the guilds were rent seekers. Now they go in search of high quality laborers and cannot find them. Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians and the like had the good sense to get their industries regulated. They survived as high value industries and nobody would dare tell a surgeon he’s a rent-seeker.

        Well, as I said, there will come a day when there’s nobody left to do the work for cheaper or crappier. Even the poorest African will get the point: quality sells product.

      • I’ll take that as a “yes”. :)

        Well, to rephrase, hoping doesn’t have anything to do with it. I mean, you agree that equalization is most likely to come about by a sudden and massive die-off in the available labor market (or a huge increase in production demand, like another global war).

        War, Famine, and Pestilence. They boost the middle class.

      • Uh, no. The Four My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse do not bring a cheerful suburban middle class following in their train.

        But Revelations 6 tells us the rider on the black horse will say “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine.” Sounds like he’s reading an Albertson’s daily discount flyer, nu?

      • Who said anything about cheerful (or immediately following)?

        Nobody likes them, granted. But they do often cause a big redistribution of wealth. You gotta pay the survivors more to do your work.

      • “Well, as I said, there will come a day when there’s nobody left to do the work for cheaper or crappier. Even the poorest African will get the point: quality sells product.”

        And that day may be decades away, if not longer.

  6. Let me let some of you in on a secret you might not know: the reason that capital has done so well wrt labor in the first world over the last decade or so is because it is so valuable. A substantial number of adults, maybe even most of them, want to go to work and put in their day and every two weeks collect their paycheck and cash it. It’s the existence of capital that guarantees the ability of firms to provide that security. Let’s say economic production is a function of labor, capital, plus hard-to-define exogenous things like creativity, imagination, and so on. Through real and threatened expropriations and regulation, liberals and Democrats have chased away all the capital.

    Therefore, we have a situation where we have very little willingly available capital, and lots of labor and creativity. Whichever capital is willing to deploy in this environment, is gonna get paid.

    Libs and Demo’s have created a world where the actual value of capital is artificially way higher than it should be.

    • “Let me let some of you in on a secret you might not know: the reason that capital has done so well wrt labor in the first world over the last decade or so is because it is so valuable. ”

      Have you even noticed the past few years, or the past decade and a half?

  7. I’m sorry, I thought that it was obvious. The ‘going Galt’ line is just lie, the elites seem to make a serious chunk of their change by cronyism and rip-offs.
    • In the interest of clarity, here’s Freddie:
      “So let’s say we’ve gotten the globalized economy and seen the growth. What’s my issue? There are certainly worse outcomes than that, but here’s my perspective: the goal shouldn’t be to provide for the material well-being of the worst off. The goal should be to empower the worst off to provide for their own material well-being, and I think the best way to do that is to defend the right to organize which should, if workers desire it, lead to more powerful and prevalent trade unions. I’m not, of course, opposed to a social safety net, and one has to be maintained in particular for the unemployed or underemployed. But social safety nets can’t produce equality of self-empowerment. And the issue, ultimately, is one of power.”

      http://lhote.blogspot.com/2011/01/globalize-grow-give-progressivism-and.html

      • Yes, Freddie’s written a lot of good stuff on this. I think we draw somewhat different conclusions, but I think we share many of the same ideas.
      • Perhaps you should pay a visit to Guatemala, the logical terminus of capitalism. Everything’s cheap. No unions. No social benefits. Lowlow taxes.

        But the kidnappers have a cure for excess capital in that society. You might not like it.

      • (rude laughter) Oh, Tom. Cuba has its own version of the secuestraderos, the secret police. There’s no kidnapping porque no hay dinero, voz. The shortages have been divided among the peasants.
      • Laugh away, Blaise. Rudely. You have detoured the point about “self-empowerment,” and this makes me unhappy. If you have a germane point that includes the concept of self-empowerment, pls do attempt to make it. So far you have illustrated that liberty without order is worthless. We already know that, or at least most of us do, hence the conundrum at hand. Next.
      • Nobody can empower himself. It’s an idiotic concept on its face, politically, economically and morally. Maybe you should read what I wrote above. Them what has, gets more. The meek shall inherit nothing. And eventually the monkey climbs high enough to where you can see his ass.

        There was a day when the rich feared the mob. It’s been a while seen they’ve seen a mob, but it’s not hard to predict when the mob will appear and what they’ll do. Awful hard to stop a mob once it’s moving under the command of a clever enough troublemaker.

      • Not just self-empowerment, but “equality of self-empowerment.” I too laugh at such newspeak, but try not to do so rudely.

        I don’t reject the concept of self-empowerment, but Koz rightly points out that “a substantial number of adults, maybe even most of them, want to go to work and put in their day and every two weeks collect their paycheck and cash it.”

        They don’t want risk, yet many want the rewards of accepting risk. This is not “justice,” social or otherwise, in my book.

        As for Guatemala or the rest of the “developing” world, they each have their own constellation of factors that go beyond capitalism and I have yet to see a productive discussion in this respect that does not bite off far more than it can chew. I was satisfied to flag the creeping Rawlsian subtext of “equality of self-empowerment,” which illustrates the absurdity of the Rawlsian project far more than it advances it.

      • > They don’t want risk, yet many
        > want the rewards of accepting risk.

        That’s fair, Tom.

        The flip side is that a number of the folks with capital want the perception of risk, and the rewards based upon the perception of risk, but they actually want a big giant bag of cash to bail them out when it turns out that the risk is actually real. And they have lots of nice political influence to get that risk shoved off on everybody else.

        And it’s not just bailouts, either. Like E.D. points out, businessfolk will rent-seek. Hell, if I was running my own shack, you can goddamn bet your last dollar I’d be finding out a way to become buddies with the mayor. If I’m running my own shack, I want to survive, and the other shackowners with whom I’m competing are taking him golfing at the LA Country Club.

      • Exactly. To summarize, capital has a “natural” value. We must plant before we harvest. Capital also has “political” value, ie the idea that it is committed to a particular place by extension, the political-economic culture of that place.

        Right now, the natural value of capital has never been lower but the political risk of capital has never been higher. That’s the necessary downside of the folk Marxism of the libs and Demos and the rest of the Left. If we could get rid of the folk Marxism, we could get by with compensating capital at its natural value (or maybe even less).

        But because we live in a lib/Demo policy environment, we can’t. Therefore we get to deal with Demo unemployment.

      • Well, Pat, Americans have a sly admiration for those who “beat the system,” sometimes even for those who cheat the system. Even people with ideals are human beings, too.

        ;-)

        We don’t get so mad at the businessman who buys favors—this is how it’s been done since the beginning of time. Play the game or be eaten by it. We get angrier at the mayor who let himself be bought. He’s the one who’s not doing his job. Rent-seeking isn’t as bad as rent-selling.

        The recurring theme here is anger or

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment

        Americans seem to be more immune to it, or innoculated against it by our culture. At least in Kansas.

      • > We get angrier at the mayor who
        > let himself be bought. He’s the
        > one who’s not doing his job.
        > Rent-seeking isn’t as bad as
        > rent-selling.

        Yeah, I’m on board with that. I don’t see that changing much, though.

        The American electorate has not shown itself to be serious about policing its political class for anything more serious than issues related to their dicks, more’s the pity.

      • Oh I dunno. Guatemala has zero unemployment, it’s a fully developed society with centuries of experience in managing its underclass. Everyone’s an entrepreneur, even the beggars. Especially the beggars. It’s the old one-two, while you’re saying aww, look at that poor snotty nosed kid, the beggar’s ladron partner is dipping your wallet.

        Drug dealing comes naturally to our own entrepreneurial class. Risk and reward vary directly, you know. People don’t really want jobs, they settle for jobs. Shitty jobs.

        The working class gettin’ its little paycheck every two weeks, vacation time, sick time, all that jazz? A silly myth. The working class had to force its way into such concepts as 40 hour week and workplace safety and it was not a polite struggle and it didn’t happen all at once. Individual rights aren’t won by individuals.

        Rawls was all about freedom in a world in which freedom is in short supply. Freedom isn’t free, it’s won at great cost from people who have no intention of sharing out their power and status, people who can buy their way out of consequences, people who can afford to buy the legislators who perpetuate injustice in law. There is no negotiating with such as these and the constellation of factors which make Guatemala an unjust society shine over everyone in every country.

      • I was satisfied to flag the creeping Rawlsian subtext of “equality of self-empowerment,” which illustrates the absurdity of the Rawlsian project far more than it advances it.

        Actually I can talk about self empowerment and its got a lot going for it. I worked in appco for the past 9 months and I was basically considered self -employed. One’s outlook is entirely different when one stops considering oneself as an employee and starts thinking that one is in business for him or herself and therefore starts treating others not as bosses and employees, but as equal business partners.

      • No, Guatemala isn’t “everywhere,” Blaise. That’s a gross generalization from the particular. Your representation

        Rawls was all about freedom in a world in which freedom is in short supply. Freedom isn’t free, it’s won at great cost from people who have no intention of sharing out their power and status, people who can buy their way out of consequences, people who can afford to buy the legislators who perpetuate injustice in law.

        presents freedom as a zero-sum game, and makes Rawls even more untenable than I thought, if your representation is accurate. [I am no expert.]

        Yes, you have to fight for your rights, for you and yours and your progeny. Nobody’s going to hand them to you. My wife spends two hours on the phone everyday fighting our vendors and utilities and bank and government and everybodyfuckingelse we have a $ contract with.

        Look, Blaise, if you’re going to drag your autobiography into these things, then ad hom is legitimate rebuttal, not dirty pool. I’d rather discuss these things at arm’s length. I read this blog, and that includes what you write. Something about managing or owning a restaurant in Guatemala that plays jazz at nights. And firing the bad waiters. Or something. And social work. That’s great. I really do try not to see you as a shit-talking mindless leftist bully but as a person. But at some point there’s got to be engagement on level ground and not asymmetrical rhetorical warfare.

        I’m not chapter and verse on Rawls, but shirley such a fair man as he would be down with that.

      • I can dig it, Murali. Hit that libertarian “self-empowerment” nerve, dude! It has fishing nothing to do with the unions and gov’t “equality of self-empowerment” and all that other pap.

        “I can only be an individual when backed by a group entity!” Christ, I hate that douchebag Ayn Rand, but if this is the alternative…

      • I can dig it, Murali. Hit that libertarian “self-empowerment” nerve, dude!

        I thought that this was the response to Murali’s assertion that he liked broccoli.

      • Well, Tom, we must all put up with your fact-free conclusions tossed about like so many ducats from your carriage. You can put up with my li’l anecdotes on the same basis. Got problems with your vendors? Well gosh, ain’t we all got problems. Boo fucking hoo. Empower yourself and quit complaining, I’m a solo contractor. Some of us think government regulations and union representation are not entirely bad ideas, based on what we’ve seen when systematic injustice is perpetuated on poor people in the name of the so-called Free Market.
      • Blaise, you asked for a pass for your illness and circumstances and you got one. But you can’t play both victim and attacker. Surely you don’t think your readers don’t see through this.

        I was trying to smooth things by mentioning what my wife goes through fighting The Machine. It was not an appeal for sympathy, it was an attempt at empathy.

        From now on, just play it straight. You wanna play victim, we’ll all pat your head and say poor boy. You want to man up, then defend your ideas on the up-and-up, on level ground.

        I make it a point to include content even when responding to someone Weinering me, and so:

        “Some of us think government regulations and union representation are not entirely bad ideas, based on what we’ve seen when systematic injustice is perpetuated on poor people in the name of the so-called Free Market.”

        Damn right. We’re in agreement, then.

      • I didn’t ask for a fucking pass from you, Tom. I said I didn’t want to write content here, for various reasons. The main reason, presently, is you. I am no victim.

        Why the hell would I want to write for this joint? Give me a single reason. I’m already writing content elsewhere. I put in for a sub-blog here and was told to wait my turn. That was back in late January.

        Hell, Sartre tells us, is other people. I’ve been writing out here for many years. People read me and respect what I’ve written. I can live without your little Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, Tom van Dyke. I write what I know and have seen. If that intimidates or annoys you, it is all a question of Mind over Matter. You don’t mind and I don’t matter. J’y reste ici for as long as it suits me and I will leave it to the folks who actually run this blog to ban me out of here. That’s not part of your mandate. The very fucking idea, that I’ve asked anyone, least of all you, for a pass. You keep a civil tongue in your head. If someone on the Internet is wrong, God hath not appointed you to correct his errors.

      • Great thread guys, ending with Tom and Bp urinating in each others soup. BTW, rather impressed that the LOOG turned Bp down for a subblog. Whas up wid dat? I thought ynz liked the confused consultant? I do! No one gives us a better explication of the addlepated left than he and for that reason alone he deserves a spot on the roster, a share of the spoils, the adulation of the minimally edumacated.
      • Tom, I can’t think of anything particularly (or remotely, for that matter) Rawlsian about “self-empowerment,” or the equality thereof. I wonder where you see Rawls in it.

        Also, for Rawls, justice (and I assume freedom) was not a zero-sum game, though zero-sum games do pose problems for justice and freedom.

      • While I agree in generally, I don’t think that’s particularly fair. I mean the right to assemble is certainly one individualists support/agree with and can’t be decoupled from the practical importance of assembling.

        That said, I think Freddie’s statement is on the grey line between supporting self-empowerment including the option to organize, which he sees as the best option, and those who would go further and see it as the only option or at least the only viable option, which is certainly hostile to individual empowerment.

  8. @Blaise You mentioned writing here in January and I suggested you submit some guest posts. You never did. In March I told you that I would set up a sub-blog for you but that you were behind a couple other bloggers. If you’re still interested in doing that, let me know. But this huffiness is unbecoming. You’re a fine writer and an interesting guy and I think you would make a good addition to the site, so there’s my olive branch. If you say insulting things about “this joint” however, well, I’m not sure what to think. I also wonder why you never sent me any guest posts?
    • Nevermind what I said above. Didn’t see this.
      So, Bp wants his buttocks kissed in order to play in the sandpile!
  9. This is a very thought-provoking piece Erik, and I think it touches on some of my concerns with how the left approaches income inequality. I’ll sleep on it, and post my take in the morning.
  10. Pingback: Labour and the American Middle Class — The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

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