Some food for thought by Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator for the Financial Times and author of The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, in interview with Yascha Mounk.
Wolf: It was pretty obvious that something had happened in recent years which undermined the confidence of a broad part of our population in the economic and political systems together, leading them to listen to [populist] voices which I simply hadn’t expected to be listened to, particularly in sophisticated, advanced democracies like the U.S. and U.K. …
[Back when industrial capitalism emerged, the working class was] too important and too potent in society to be ignored. They couldn’t be forever repressed or suppressed. They had to be bought out, as it were … They wanted to get more prosperous. They wanted welfare. But they didn’t want revolution. That created the welfare democracies of the mid-20th century. It was a solution to the conflict that Marx had described but a solution that he didn’t envisage. And they became incredibly prosperous by historical standards.
[But] the technological and economic forces that created this widely-shared prosperity were, I think, temporary. [Look at] the difference between Apple and General Motors, for example, the two most valuable companies of their age. In the United States, Apple basically doesn’t invest anything in physical terms. It doesn’t employ many people. It’s a tiny labor force compared with what GM had. All the people it does employ are very skilled university graduates. It is a completely different sort of business. Finance is the same … [and] it doesn’t look as though the economy is going to go back.
… Mounk: For listeners who agree with you about the crisis of democratic capitalism, what can we do in order to maximize the likelihood that democratic capitalism may survive?
Wolf: We should try, so far as we can, to have a politics that focuses on broadly-shared welfare rather than fundamentally divisive cultural issues. The big problem with cultural issues is they really are zero-sum; they’re war to the death, as it were. And that’s not necessarily true if you focus on giving people opportunities for a better life. You have to pay more tax—that I accept. But if you give people childcare, better education, better chances, greater equality of opportunity, better health care in the U.S. (which is crucial) … greater involvement of workers in corporate governance … If you combine it with training, people who you wouldn’t think you could get to do completely different jobs actually learn how to do so. This all requires, of course, an active state with some greater level of tax support. But it seems to me that those things … are things that most people will recognize as worth doing if the alternative is a political breakdown.
I couldn’t care less about what will one day be known as The Amazing 2023 Gas Stove Incident, in which the feds consider banning gas stoves, except that it’s a segue to my own safety pet peeve: cars. Everyone knows that car accidents are a leading cause of death and of traumatic brain injury. Every sane person must also know that wearing football helmets while driving would reduce these deaths and brain injuries. So why no mandate for football helmets? We could argue about percentages, but that some lives would be saved is indisputable. And think of the savings in hospitalization. Not to mention the carbon footprint of all those ambulances and hospital machines using up resources to keep brain damaged accident victims alive. I’d start a Change.org petition if I could figure out how. Meanwhile, please ramp up the buzz:
MANDATED FOOTBALL HELMETS IN CARS!
Rest assured. If I sustain a head injury in an auto accident, I will sue my local, state, and federal government for their negligence in not forcing me to wear my helmet. And in the continued spirit of civic zeal, I will spend every penny of my settlement not on myself but on my next public safety project – rubber bumpers on cowboy boots – you know, the kind of bumpers they use for kids in bowling alleys. Why? As a sometime hippie in a honky tonk, I can tell you those damn boots can do real harm. Well, maybe not as much real harm as the harmful words Stanford has recently vowed to eliminate, but to be fair, any physical violence would fall short of the carnage caused by such words as “walk-in,” “tone deaf,” “submit,” “field” and “you guys” – all on the Stanford chopping block. My “boots with bumpers” law may not save as many people from harm as Stanford’s forbidden words list, but if it saves even one stray hippie from hospitalization or death, isn’t one life worth it?
Who gets the last-week microphone? Right or wrong, that’s what matters.
If Dems can keep the spotlight on abortion, they win (as a large majority favors Dems on this issue).
If the Repubs can keep the spotlight on crime, they win (a majority favors Repubs here).
If the Dems can focus on how undercutting election integrity is now part of the Repubs’ fixed platform, this helps them.
If the Repubs focus on inflation, this helps them (absurdly, since inflation is worldwide and the US numbers are better than the global average).
In the fight for the mic, it seems Repubs are winning in the home stretch. As for me, I’d like to see the biggest spotlight on abortion, due to the enormity of what’s at stake for average families. Just imagine your daughters (and sons) going to college where they make one dumb mistake and abortion is a criminal offence, where your daughter doesn’t want her doctor to have information that might be used to track her periods, or where every text message about her period could be tracked and seized as criminal evidence.
Choose your meme and get it out there. Keep the focus where it should be this week. Don’t wait for the media to do it.
Larry Kudlow of Fox News recently noted that Liz Truss’s economic plan for Britain “looks a lot like the basic thrust of [Republican] Kevin McCarthy’s Commitment to America plan.” (9/23/22)
If you haven’t been listening, Liz Truss was the UK prime minister from Sept. 8 to Oct. 20 (the shortest-lived prime minister in UK history). “In her 45 days in office, her central economic plan was ditched, she lost two senior ministers, her poll ratings nosedived, her authority was destroyed, her parliamentary party rose in mutiny, and the UK’s international reputation was left in shreds.” (Euronews, 10/21/22)
Not to mention, in those brief weeks, the British pound plunged to a record low, yields tumbled, and “fears of a housing market crash mounted as UK banks pulled mortgage deals and lending rates skyrocketed … The Bank of England stepped in on Sept. 28 to stabilize markets.” (CNBC, 10/21/22)
When even your Fox News allies say your 2022 plan for America is like Liz Truss’s plan, that should be a chilling message for voters.
(And that’s not even counting the Republicans’ eagerness to dismantle women’s abortion rights.)
I’m not saying I like the Democrats much either, but it seems we need to do anything right now to keep the Republicans at bay.
(For the inspiration to ply this blog back into the perilous waters of politics, I thank Makita Yuki, friend and resident dignitary of Tokyo. May God and the rest of you forgive me.)
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had blocked states from denying abortion rights to women, is no doubt a 50-year setback for women’s rights. No way around it. But besides the problem that millions of women will now face in their personal lives (many of whom will have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term), there is also the immediate political problem. Republicans/conservatives had held a very large advantage going into the 2022 midterm elections. Because about 2/3 of Americans favored keeping Roe v. Wade, there will no doubt be some swing against Republicans in favor of women’s rights. But beware of overconfidence. The Republican advantage has gone from large to small but they are still likely to gain some seats in Congress. And Democrats/liberals are famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The 2016 presidential election is a case in point. The Republican nominee (Trump) was probably the most spectacularly unqualified candidate in U.S. history, both in terms of competence and temperament, and the Dems found a way to lose. And after the election? Did Dems look in the mirror to see how they may have alienated so many voters that they were thrashed by the worst candidate in history? No, they doubled down and wrote off everyone who disagreed with them as racist. Perhaps a harmless strategy if you are preaching to the choir, but hardly a way to win back some of those you have alienated.
So what’s the problem today? Just looking at the electoral side for now, the problem is stopping the Dems from self-destructing. A large majority is on your side on abortion rights. Don’t give away the electoral advantage this gives you. Two pitfalls in particular are easy to avoid, and yet I fear they are exactly the kind of pitfalls Dems generally dive into.
Don’t frame this as women against men. Nothing the right-wingers would like better than to split us along gender lines. If it’s the pro-choice camp (most men and women, most moderates and liberals) against them, they are far outnumbered. (A Pew poll last week found 58% of men and 63% of women think abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.”) It’s really the men and women who are pro-reproductive rights against the men and women who are against reproductive rights. The problem is that right-wingers get a lot of help from progressives on this point – progressives whom I already see on social media framing it as men v. women, drawing a battle line that gives far too much to the other side.
Don’t let this get twisted into the far less popular views associated with progressives these days – a fear of using the word “women” because it may somehow be offensive to some trans activists (activists who are fighting a noble fight, but as with broader justice movements in race and gender, have to deal with factions within that are counterproductive if not downright destructive). Don’t let it be broadened into the amorphous idea that Americans are generally a bunch of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic idiots. Yes, some Americans are like that, and yes, that is a branding of liberals and Dems largely initiated by their opponents, but please don’t help them to do it. “You’re a bunch of racist, sexist idiots who should vote for me” is not a winning electoral slogan. Don’t forget that there are a lot of Americans out there who are fighting the good fight in their small ways, if not on the front lines.
Now I understand that I may get some pushback on #1 and #2 from my younger progressive friends – fair enough, we can haggle out how to hone the ideology and prioritize strategies as we go forward. But if there is pushback, remember that I’m actually on your side. Multiple and diverse points of view is good, not bad, in the same way that genetic diversity moves the species forward. Mainly, though, just be careful how you frame your case. It could be the difference between having 2/3 of the country at your back or having things go as they did in 2016.
Let’s face it. I skip much of the pulp (non-) fiction on cultural politics in today’s media, but I’ll occasionally find a bit in The Atlantic worth reading. This one by Conor Friedersdorf, e.g., shows how “outrage entrepreneurs on either side” of hot-button issues like racism sometimes dance each other round until they swap places. Maybe I like this one because I have argued the same in this fine blog, sometimes humorously, as in my entry on Jonathan Swift and the Arc of Liberalism, sometimes more pedantically, as in my entry on Buckling and Curling in the US Political Spectrum. In any event, if you skip the Atlantic link, you can at least link to my previous entries for more entertaining, equally informative, and much shorter elucidations of Left and Right dancing around in their little (we can hope) death spiral 😊
 The Atlantic is one of the few media outlets that has not zipped itself into an ideological straitjacket in the past few years. It leans left and includes new (woke) progressive voices like Ibram X. Kendi, but also includes regular contributors such as former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum, and anti-woke liberals such as John McWhorter.
 A note on terminology: I am sometimes criticized for using the word “woke,” as if that aligns me with a conservative rhetoric. Although the term was at first amply used as a badge of honor for left-leaning politicians like my own New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, it is true that the right has seized the narrative and largely turned “woke” into a slur. In my case, I have always identified as progressive, not conservative, but for clarity today I need to distinguish between “progressive” as rooted in the 1960s radicalism of MLK and the hippies (which favors free speech and less racialization in our value judgments about people) and “woke progressive” (the identity politics sort, which favors stifling dissent and emphasizing race in value judgments about people and interactions). Thus, I use the term to distinguish two very different versions of progressivism which are often conflated because they carry the same “progressive” tag.
It’s time to move radicalism beyond the old, deadening left-right spectrum. If you’re on the left, you’re not radical. You’re as trapped in the old spectrum as the right. Here are my thoughts for a new radicalism, one that I hope disregards all current allegiances.
Favor every form of “cultural appropriation” in every direction. Carry the integrationist torch to an extreme that would appall today’s progressives and conservatives equally. Bust open the cultural lockboxes and play with each other’s stuff, continually wear the other’s shoes – black, white, female, male, every ethnicity and sexual orientation – incorporate, collaborate, and share a laugh when cultural cross-pollination becomes clumsy, as it often will. Distrust any form of liberalism or conservatism that says we need to respect walls of separation. Better to throw open all the doors and windows than to build barricades around your turf.
Never dissuade artists from representing characters and events outside of their own demographic. When creatively identifying with people from other races, genders, etc., becomes the #1 cultural sin, we have pretty much lost everything the Civil Rights movement fought for. Celebrate each other in every direction. Never stay in your lane.
Go with Obama on free speech: “I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.” This doesn’t mean infinitely free. Harassment laws have a place. But be prepared to engage dissent, not stifle it. As genetic variation pushes the species forward biologically, multiple voices at the table push us forward socially and culturally. Try to find the good in those with whom you disagree.
Recognize continuing inequalities, racial and otherwise, and join hands across demographic lines to fix them, without regard to whether the hand in yours is white, black, or other, and whether that means flaws to be noted or sins to be expiated. Just join hands and cherish each other. Just say no to those who would play the old shame and division game.
Take care of the environment. This is not a partisan issue.
Forget everything you learned about politics, especially if you went to college. Throw it off like the dead snakeskin it is. Start over by engaging your neighbors near and far with the only tools left after those preconceptions are tossed – heart and imagination.
Remember our shared humanness. We are all on spaceship Earth together and will flourish or crash together.