Is Liberalism Intellectually Bankrupt?

John Goodman makes a well-informed case below but I would argue that liberalism never has been intellectual in any sense.  It is just hate in action. It is simply whatever Leftists can grab from time to time that they can use to vent their hatred of the society in which they live.  To get any significant support from ordinary people, they have to dress up their motives and campaigns in good intentions but the constant ill effects of their policies show what their real motives are.

Environmentalism, for instance, has been a Godsend to the Left.  In the pretence of "saving the planet", they have imposed great costs on sociey -- costs which hit the poor most of all.  How does that fit with the Leftist's alleged concern for the poor?  It doesn't.  The concern is a fraud, mere camouflage with zero  beliefs or principles driving it.  If there were any sincerity in their concern for the poor, they would be reining environmentalism in, not facilitating it.

Just  a requirement that all businesses and  farms should be fully compensated for losses suffered as a result of environmental restrictions and regulations would go a long way to ensuring saner and less destructive environmental policies

Howard Dean, who is thought to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, told reporters the other day that he supports our policy of using drones to kill people (and all those who happen to be near them) without warning. He also has no objection to the National Security Agency listening to his phone calls and monitoring his email.

Donny Deutsch, the reliable voice of the left on “Morning Joe,” told TV viewers that he supports the CIA’s torture activities – recently revealed in a Senate committee report.

These views are very different from what one typically finds in the unsigned editorials of The New York Times – causing one to wonder what exactly is happening to left-of-center thinking.

Meanwhile, three pillars of liberal thought – The American Prospect, The Washington Monthly, and The New Republic – are all in trouble. As Ezra Klein reports, the Prospect laid off much of its staff and is retrenching to its roots as a policy journal. The Washington Monthly has downsized to a bi-monthly. The New Republic is facing mass resignations and may not survive.

All this is happening against the backdrop of much soul searching and more than a few recriminations within the Democratic Party itself.

So this is a good time to ask: What does the Democratic Party stand for? And if the answer is: liberalism, what does it mean to be a liberal? Or if you prefer, what does it mean to be a progressive?

You would think that liberalism is a belief in a set of public policy ideas. But as it turns out, those ideas are hard to pin down.

Scott Sumner gives four examples of how easy it has been for liberals to completely flip flop their positions on important policy issues. And when they change they seem to do so like lemmings – all in lock step, without embarrassment or regret. (Warning: Summer says conservatives are equally malleable.)

In 1987, The New York Times editorial page called for abolishing the minimum wage. Today, the same newspaper calls for a higher minimum wage.

In the 1960s, John Kenneth Galbraith and the left wing Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) favored abolishing the corporate income tax and taxing shareholders on the basis of corporate profits. Today, liberal publications and columnists are defending our high corporate tax rates.

In the 1980s, Ted Kennedy and other liberals voted to lower the top personal income tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent, while closing loopholes at the same time. Today, they are more likely to join Paul Krugman in defending high marginal tax rates.

In the 1990s, liberal economists abandoned the Keynesian idea that tax and spending policies could influence the behavior of the economy and focused on monetary policy instead. Today, old style Keynesianism is back in vogue.

I would add two more bullets. It was under Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan, that the modern de-regulation movement began. The congressional push for it was led by Ted Kennedy and other liberal stalwarts. Yet today, Paul Krugman and others blame deregulation for many modern woes. And over the course of two decades (the 60s and the 70s) mainstream liberal thought went from being aggressively interventionist in foreign affairs to almost pacifist.

How do we explain all this? In What Is A Progressive? I proposed part of the answer: liberalism is sociology rather than an ideology. The same can be said of conservatism.

But what kind of sociologies are they? Years ago, David Henderson suggested that think tanks and others involved in the war of ideas are actually in the “market for excuses.” That is, politicians need intellectual justification for things they want to do for non-intellectual reasons.

For the whole of my academic career I have believed in the idea of a political equilibrium. There are underlying forces – independent of personalities and independent of ideology – that push us to the public policies we have. Across the developed world, the political equilibrium in various countries is more similar than different – suggesting that the underlying forces are much the same from country to country.

From time to time, however, the equilibrium gets disturbed and in the resulting disequilibrium advocates of certain policies group together in predictable but not necessarily rational ways. For example, in the United States we historically have had those who want government in the bedroom but not in the board room aligned against those who prefer the opposite. If ideology were dominating politics, you would expect people who want government both in the bedroom and the boardroom to be aligned against people who want government in neither.

But ideology doesn’t dominate. In fact, it gets in the way. What is needed are ways of thinking that are not necessarily coherent, but provide intellectual excuses for the sets of policy positions that emerge. Liberalism and conservatism fulfill those roles.

And when I say they are not coherent I mean that you can’t find a book or an essay that explains how their various components rationally fit together.

The problem comes when the underlying forces change. For the sociologies to fulfill their social role, they too must change. And that’s not easy.

The problem for Democrats is that the party is increasingly ruled by the “new oligarchs.” In his review of The New Class Conflict, by Joel Kotkin, a lifelong Democrat, George Will explains that there is a: "growing alliance between the ultra-wealthy and the instruments of state power". In 2012, Barack Obama carried eight of America’s 10 wealthiest counties.

Unfortunately for party harmony, the oligarchs are basically anti-job creation and anti-economic growth – which they see both as a threat to the environment and a threat to their life style. This puts them squarely at odds with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party.

As I explained in “How Liberals Live,” once the plutocrats settle in a community like Boulder, Colorado or Portland, Oregon, they become fiercely anti-development and doggedly determined to shape their community in ways that price the middle class out of the housing market. As a result, wherever wealthy liberals tend to congregate, housing is more expensive and there is more inequality. Again from Will:

"In New York, an incubator of progressivism, Kotkin reports, the “wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire city’s personal income – almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.” California, a one-party laboratory for progressivism, is home to 111 billionaires and the nation’s highest poverty rate (adjusted for the cost of living)….

California is no longer a destination for what Kotkin calls “aspirational families”: In 2013, he says, Houston had more housing starts than all of California".

We have already seen how powerful the oligarchs can be in the case of the vote on the Keystone Pipeline. Senate Democrats were so kowtowed by one billionaire environmentalist that they gave up a senate seat and voted against the labor unions – their traditional core constituency.

Not to be out done, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has banned fracking in his state – another blow to blue collar workers Democrats ordinarily rely on when elections are held. The Wall Street Journal adds: “And this fellow fancies himself a potential President.”

What Democrats now need is a new type of liberalism. One that apologizes for and defends the new Democratic Party reality. That’s a tall order.


1 comment:

  1. Please find some pithy summary descriptions of the nature of humanly created world in the 21st century from a profoundly conservative philosopher (who was not in any sense right-wing) and who was acutely aware of the state of the world and where it was inevitably heading if the current trends/momentum continued unabated.

    At present, most of the energy of humankind is going into industrial-age warrior conflicts rather than addressing urgent global realities.

    The modern everyman of consumer society is a highly propagandized individual, participating in illusions and, effectively, self-destructing.

    The modern everyman is being created by the power system of the world, because it is in the interests of that power system for there to be consumer egos who are completely self-involved, and stupefied.

    At present, a culture of total war, a culture of death, is ruling, while the people are engrossed in self-destructive consumerism.

    The power of industry and money has actually become senior to the power of governments, and is now controlling the entire world.

    It is in the interests of the institutionalized (corporate) forces that are in power to keep the voices that want a world of peace and unity separate, weal, and vulnerable.

    The globally-extended super-state is what the big warrior-states are moving toward. They are looking for there to a winner that can control the world in a totalitarian manner.

    This is the "ground zero" moment of human history, but not merely referring to the empty pit in New York. The whole world is at ground zero now. The entire basis for positive human civilization has been totally destroyed.

    Consumerism is the society of systems-in-competition. The consumers in one tribe or other are looking to be big consumers exploiting the others. The rulers and/or winners get to consume. The defeated, or the subordinates, get to live in poverty, or with very little.

    The current situation in the world is that everyone wants to live the Western style "good life" and be super-consumers. That is simply not possible. The Earth-world cannot sustain it.

    The exploitation of resources and means by corporations that are essentially independent of any form of accountability is part of what is wrong.

    Industrialized productivity throws waste products into the air and the entire environment, contributing to global warming and disastrous effects of all kinds.

    At present, relative to food production, there is the grossest exploitation of non-humans by the methods of industrialization. It is the same with land, which is being destroyed by the mono-culture of industrialized farming.

    Fossil fuels are already causing global warming and extreme weather, as well as negative effects on global economics and politics.

    The "farming" of animals as food is also a major contributor to global warming - from the transmission of methane gas into the atmosphere as a natural by-product of the "farmed" animals themselves, and otherwise through the use of fossil fuels in the industrialized production of animals as food.

    As soon as there is a class of wealth established in a culture, or a nation-state, or a group of nation-states functioning together, the motives of greed, exclusivism, and self-protection begin to appear.

    The situation has arisen that wealthy people, wealthy nation-states, and wealthy corporations everywhere are acquiring property and goods all over the world. This power of almost unbridalled wealth is upsetting the balance (such as it was) of how things were, and is having a dramatic negative effect on the global system.

    There is a global collapse happening.

    The Earth-world and all of the global human domain has already collapsed far enough. If the pattern of the whole collapses much further, the human life-sphere will NOT be retrievable


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