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“Neoliberalism” isn’t an empty epithet. It’s a real, powerful set of ideas. - Vox
"It’s hard to think of a term that causes more confusion, yet is more frequently used in political debate, than “neoliberalism.” It’s one thing to argue that the term should be discouraged or retired from public discussions, because it generates heat instead of light, but it is another to say that it doesn’t have any meaning or use. Jonathan Chait makes the second case in New York magazine.

Whenever I find myself reaching for “neoliberalism,” I look for a different phrase, simply because it will better communicate what I’m trying to convey. But if we throw away the term entirely, or ignore what it’s describing, we lose out on an important way of understanding where we are right now, economically speaking.

Neoliberalism, at its core, describes the stage of capitalism that has existed over the past 30 years, one that evolved out of the economic crises of the 1970s. The underpinnings of this stage are buckling under the weight of our own crises, perhaps even collapsing, all of it in ways we don’t yet understand. A careful consideration of the term can help us grasp a lot of what is going on in the world, especially as the Democratic Party looks to change.

Jonathan Chait’s sweeping condemnation of the word “neoliberal”

For Chait, the term neoliberal “now refers to liberals generally” and indiscriminately, regardless of what views they hold. The “basic claim is that, from the New Deal through the Great Society, the Democratic Party espoused a set of values defined by, or at the very least consistent with, social democracy,” but then, starting in the 1970s, “neoliberal elites hijacked the party.” However, the efforts at hijacking that the critics identify “never really took off,” in Chait’s view. As such, to use the term is simply to try “to win [an argument] with an epithet.”

Chait correctly points out that the left has historically been disappointed with the New Deal and Great Society, viewing them as lost opportunities. But he oversteps when he goes further to say that “neoliberal” is not only devoid of meaning, but that there was no essential shift in Democratic identity toward the end of the last century.

The difficulty of the term is that it’s used to described three overlapping but very distinct intellectual developments. In political circles, it’s most commonly used to refer to a successful attempt to move the Democratic Party to the center in the aftermath of conservative victories in the 1980s. Once can look to Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck’s influential 1989 The Politics of Evasion, in which the authors argued that Democratic “programs must be shaped and defended within an inhospitable ideological climate, and they cannot by themselves remedy the electorate's broader antipathy to contemporary liberalism.”

Galston and Kamarck were calling for a New Deal liberalism that was updated to be made more palatable to a right-leaning public, after Reagan and the ascendancy of conservatism. You might also say that they were calling for “triangulation” between Reaganism and New Deal liberalism — or, at worst, abandoning the FDR-style approach.

In economic circles, however, “neoliberalism” is most identified with an elite response to the economic crises of the 1970s: stagflation, the energy crisis, the near bankruptcy of New York. The response to these crises was conservative in nature, pushing back against the economic management of the midcentury period. It is sometimes known as the “Washington Consensus,” a set of 10 policies that became the new economic common sense.

These policies included reduction of top marginal tax rates, the liberalization of trade, privatization of government services, and deregulation. These became the sensible things for generic people in Washington and other global headquarters to embrace and promote, and the policies were pushed on other countries via global institutions like the International Monetary Fund. This had significant consequences for the power of capital, as the geographer David Harvey writes in his useful Brief Introduction to Neoliberalism. The upshot of such policies, as the historical sociologist Greta Krippner notes, was to shift many aspects of managing the economy from government to Wall Street, and to financiers generally.

Chait summarizes this sense of the term in the following way: It simply “means capitalist, as distinguished from socialist.” But what kind of capitalism? The Washington Consensus represents a particularly laissez-faire approach that changed life in many countries profoundly: To sample its effects, just check out a book like Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents. The shock therapy of mass privatization applied to Russia after the Soviet collapsed, for example, reduced life expectancy in that country by five years and ensured that Russia was taken over by strongmen and oligarchs.

International pressure forced East Asian countries to liberalize their capital flows, which led to a financial crisis that the IMF subsequently made use of to demand even more painful austerity. The European Union was created to facilitate the austerity that is destroying a generation in such countries as Greece, Portugal, and Spain. (The IMF itself is reexamining its actions over the past several decades; titles it has published, including Neoliberalism, Oversold?, demonstrate the broad usefulness of the term.)

Markets are defining more and more aspects of our lives

The third meaning of “neoliberalism,” most often used in academic circles, encompasses market supremacy — or the extension of markets or market-like logic to more and more spheres of life. This, in turn, has a significant influence on our subjectivity: how we view ourselves, our society, and our roles in it. One insight here is that markets don’t occur naturally but are instead constructed through law and practices, and those practices can be extended into realms well beyond traditional markets.

Another insight is that market exchanges can create an ethos that ends up shaping more and more human behavior; we can increasingly view ourselves as little more than human capital maximizing our market values.

This is a little abstract, but it really does matter for our everyday lives. As the political theorist Wendy Brown notes in her book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, the Supreme Court case overturning a century of campaign finance law, Citizens United, wasn’t just about viewing corporations as political citizens. Kennedy’s opinion was also about viewing all politics as a form of market activity. The question, as he saw it, was is how to preserve a “political marketplace.” In this market-centric view, democracy, access, voice, and other democratic values are flattened, replaced with a thin veneer of political activity as a type of capital right.

You may not believe in neoliberalism, but neoliberalism believes in you

Why does this matter if you couldn’t care less about either the IMF or subjectivity? The 2016 election brought forward real disagreements in the Democratic Party, disagreements that aren’t reducible to empirical arguments, or arguments about what an achievable political agenda might be. These disagreements will become more important as we move forward, and they can only be answered with an understanding of what the Democratic Party stands for.

One highly salient conflict was the fight over free college during the Democratic primary. It wasn’t about the price tag; it was about the role the government should play in helping to educate the citizenry. Clinton originally argued that a universal program would help people who didn’t need help — why pay for Donald Trump’s kids? This reflects the focus on means-tested programs that dominated Democratic policymaking over the past several decades. (Some of the original people who wanted to reinvent the Democratic Party, such as Charles Peters in his 1983 article “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto,” called for means-testing Social Security so it served only the very poor.)

Bernie Sanders argued instead that education was a right, and it should be guaranteed to all Americans regardless of wealth or income. The two rivals came to a smart compromise after the campaign, concluding that public tuition should be free for all families with income of less than $125,000 — a proposal that is already serving as a base from which activists can build.

This points to a disagreement as we move forward. Should the Democratic Party focus on the most vulnerable, in the language of access and need? Or should it focus on everyone, in the language of rights?

We’ll see a similar fight in health care. The horror movie villain of Republican health care reform has been killed and thrown into the summer camp lake, and we’re all sitting on the beach terrified that the undead body will simply walk right back out. In the meantime, Democrats have to think about whether their health care goals will build on the ACA framework or whether they should more aggressively extend Medicare for more people.

Chait argues that “[t]he Democratic Party has evolved over the last half-century, as any party does over a long period of time. But the basic ideological cast of its economic policy has not changed dramatically since the New Deal.” Whether you believe that’s true hinges on what you think of the relative merits of public and private provisioning of goods. For there was clearly some change in Democratic policymaking — and, arguably, in its “ideological cast” — sometime between 1976 and 1992. It became much more acceptable to let the private market drive outcomes, with government helping through tax credits and various nudges. One influential 1992 book, Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, described a government that should “steer, not row.” (FDR believed government could and should row.)

Another place we can see a break in the Democratic Party … [more]
neoliberalism  capitalism  democrats  history  politics  2017  mikekonczal  jonathanchait  billgalston  elainekamarck  newdeal  liberalism  conservatism  economics  policy  liberalization  privatization  government  governance  josephstiglitz  globalization  markets  berniesanders  ideology  dvidorsborne  tedgaebler  finance  banking  boblitan  jonathanruch  education  corporations  1988  ronaldreagan 
july 2017 by robertogreco
I don’t know what to do, you guys | Fredrik deBoer
[See also the notes in this bookmark, which reference this article at one point: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:13419c858fc0 ]

"So, to state the obvious: Jon Chait is a jerk who somehow manages to be both condescending and wounded in his piece on political correctness. He gets the basic nature of language policing wrong, and his solutions are wrong, and he’s a centrist Democrat scold who is just as eager to shut people out of the debate as the people he criticizes. That’s true.

Here are some things that are also true.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.

By the way: in these incidents, and dozens and dozens of more like it, which I have witnessed as a 30-hour-a-week antiwar activist for three years and as a blogger for the last seven and as a grad student for the past six, the culprits overwhelmingly were not women of color. That’s always how this conversation goes down: if you say, hey, we appear to have a real problem with how we talk to other people, we are losing potential allies left and right, then the response is always “stop lecturing women of color.” But these codes aren’t enforced by women of color, in the overwhelming majority of the time. They’re enforced by the children of privilege. I know. I live here. I am on campus. I have been in the activist meetings and the lefty coffee houses. My perspective goes beyond the same 200 people who write the entire Cool Kid Progressive Media.

Amanda Taub says political correctness “doesn’t exist.” To which I can only ask, how would you know? I don’t understand where she gets that certainty. Is Traub under the impression that the Vox offices represents the breadth of left-wing culture? I read dozens of tweets and hot take after hot take, insisting that there’s no problem here, and it’s coming overwhelmingly from people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Well, listen, you guys: I don’t know what to do. I am out of ideas. I am willing to listen to suggestions. What do I do, when I see so many good, impressionable young people run screaming from left-wing politics because they are excoriated the first second they step mildly out of line? Megan Garber, you have any suggestions for me, when I meet some 20 year old who got caught in a Twitter storm and determined that she never wanted to set foot in that culture again? I’m all ears. If I’m not allowed to ever say, hey, you know, there’s more productive, more inclusive ways to argue here, then I don’t know what the fuck I am supposed to do or say. Hey, Alex Pareene. I get it. You can write this kind of piece in your sleep. You will always find work writing pieces like that. It’s easy and it’s fun and you can tell jokes and those same 200 media jerks will give you a thousand pats on the back for it. Do you have any advice for me, here, on campus? Do you know what I’m supposed to say to some shellshocked 19 year old from Terra Haute who, I’m very sorry to say, hasn’t had a decade to absorb bell hooks? Can you maybe do me a favor, and instead of writing a piece designed to get you yet-more retweets from Weird Twitter, tell me how to reach these potential allies when I know that they’re going to get burned terribly for just being typical clumsy kids? Since you’re telling me that if I say a word against people who go nuclear at the slightest provocation, I’m just one of the Jon Chaits, please inform me how I can act as an educator and an ally and a friend. Because I am out of fucking ideas.

I know, writing these words, exactly how this will go down. I know Weird Twitter will hoot and the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it. I know I’ll get read the intersectionality riot act, even though everyone I’m criticizing here is white, educated, and privileged. I know nobody will bother to say, boy, maybe I don’t actually understand the entire world of left-wing politics because I went to Sarah Lawrence. I know that. But Christ, I wish people would think outside of their social circle for 5 minutes.

Jon Chait is an asshole. He’s wrong. I don’t want these kids to be more like Jon Chait. I sure as hell don’t want them to be less left-wing. I want them to be more left-wing. I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest fucking idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect."

[also posted here: http://qz.com/335941/im-fed-up-with-political-correctness-and-the-idea-that-everyone-should-already-be-perfect/ ]
freddiedeboer  politics  politicalcorrectness  discourse  2015  culture  pc  jonathanchait  liberalism  liberals  amandataub  megangarber  alexpareene  left  patriarchy  marginaalization  weirdtwitter  gender  race  ableism  racism  sexism  homophobia  inclusion  exclusion  intersectionalpolitics  progressivism  debate  discussion  prohibition  allies  kindness  empathy  inlcusivity  inclusivity 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Other People's Pathologies - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
"What's missed here is that the very culture Chait derides might well be the reason why I am sitting here debating him in the first place. That culture contained a variety of values and practices. "I ain't no punk" was one of them. "Know your history" was another. "Words are beautiful" was another still. The key is cultural dexterity—understanding when to emphasize which values, and when to employ which practices."



"No, they need to be taught that all norms are not transferable into all worlds. In my case, physical assertiveness might save you on the street but not beyond it. At the same time, other values are transferrable and highly useful. The "cultural norms" of my community also asserted that much of what my country believes about itself is a lie. In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and Malcolm X, it was my responsibility to live, prosper, and attack the lie. Those values saved me on the street, and they sustain me in this present moment.

People who take a strict binary view of culture ("culture of privilege = awesome; culture of poverty = fail") are afflicted by the provincialism of privilege and thus vastly underestimate the dynamism of the greater world. They extoll "middle-class values" to the ignorance and exclusion of all others. To understand, you must imagine what it means to confront algebra in the morning and "Shorty, can I see your bike?" in the afternoon. It's very nice to talk about "middle-class values" when that describes your small, limited world. But when your grandmother lives in one hood and your coworkers live another, you generally need something more than "middle-class values." You need to be bilingual."



"Chait's jaunty and uplifting narrative flattens out the chaos of history under the cheerful rubric of American progress. The actual events are more complicated. It's true, for instance, that slavery was legal in the United States in 1860 and five years later it was not. That is because a clique of slaveholders greatly overestimated its own power and decided to go to war with its country. Had the Union soundly and quickly defeated the Confederacy, it's very likely that slavery would have remained. Instead the war dragged on, and the Union was forced to employ blacks in its ranks. The end result—total emancipation—was more a matter of military necessity than moral progress."



"Ames was totally accurate. For the next century, the United States legitimized the overthrow of legal governments, the reduction of black people to forced laborers, and the complete alienation—at gunpoint—of black people in the South from the sphere of politics.

Chait's citation of the end of lynching as evidence of America serving as an "ally" is especially bizarre. The United States never passed anti-lynching legislation, a disgrace so great that it compelled the Senate to apologize—in 2005.

"There may be no other injustice in American history," said Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, "for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility." Even then, a half century after Emmett Till's murder, the sitting senators from Mississippi—the state with the most lynchings—declined to endorse the apology.

"You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches," said Malcolm X, "and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."

The notion that black America's long bloody journey was accomplished through frequent alliance with the United States is an assailant's-eye view of history. It takes no note of the fact that in 1860, most of this country's exports were derived from the forced labor of the people it was "allied" with. It takes no note of this country electing senators who, on the Senate floor, openly advocated domestic terrorism. It takes no note of what it means for a country to tolerate the majority of the people living in a state like Mississippi being denied the right to vote. It takes no note of what it means to exclude black people from the housing programs, from the GI Bills, that built the American middle class. Effectively it takes no serious note of African-American history, and thus no serious note of American history.

You see this in Chait's belief that he lives in a country "whose soaring ideals sat uncomfortably aside an often cruel reality." No. Those soaring ideals don't sit uncomfortably aside the reality but comfortably on top of it. The "cruel reality" made the "soaring ideals" possible."



"James Baldwin was not being cute here. If you can not bring yourself to grapple with that which literally built your capitol, then you are not truly grappling with your country. And if you are not truly grappling with your country, then your beliefs in its role in the greater world (exporter of democracy, for instance) are built on sand. Confronting the black experience means confronting the limits of America, and perhaps, humanity itself. That is the confrontation that graduates us out of the ranks of national cheerleading and into the school of hard students.

Chait thinks this view is "fatalistic." I think God is fatalistic. In the end, we all die. As do most societies. As do most states. As do most planets. If America is fatally flawed, if white supremacy does truly dog us until we are no more, all that means is that we were unexceptional, that we were not favored by God, that we were flawed—as are all things conceived by mortal man.

I find great peace in that. And I find great meaning in this struggle that was gifted to me by my people, that was gifted to me by culture."
ta-nehisicoates  2014  jonathanchait  us  history  slavery  whitesupremacy  democracy  greatmess  pathology  culture  fatalism  cultureofpoverty  poverty  jamesbaldwin  progress  values  race 
april 2014 by robertogreco

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