Buying useful things, like roads and universities and health care and solar energy and spaceships, should be better stimulus than fighting wars.
September 30, 2012 8:34 AM   Subscribe

"Liberals have not always been very good at communicating why liberalism works. There’s many reasons for this, but part of it is that it can be hard to defend the obvious from an absurd and deceptive attack. For half a century you had to be a crank to oppose what Roosevelt accomplished; liberals got out of the habit of arguing for their beliefs. I hope this page will help. Liberals don’t need to apologize for their vision of how American society should work. Liberalism saved American capitalism and democracy, defeated Naziism, created a prosperous middle class, and benefited every sector of society, from the back streets to Wall Street. " Mefi's own Zompist (previously) on Why Liberalism Works.
posted by The Whelk (109 comments total) 112 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wasn't it Lee Atwater who masterminded turning "liberal" into a slur rather successfully? Maybe if we repackaged the ideals as "progressivism" we'd get the votes of the poor ignorant people who consistently vote against their own interests. After all, who doesn't like the idea of "progress"?
posted by Renoroc at 9:00 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Renoroc: The linkes of Limbaugh and Beck have been telling their audiences that "progressive" is just a codeword that means "nazi" for years now, so I don't think that would help much.

On the other hand, if we had a left wing in this country, one with an actual socialist agenda, liberalism would look like a center-right business friendly position, and I think that would help it quite a bit.
posted by idiopath at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


Oh, there are many reasons, there are!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:05 AM on September 30, 2012


On the other hand, if we had a left wing in this country, one with an actual socialist agenda, liberalism would look like a center-right business friendly position, and I think that would help it quite a bit.

I'm pretty sure one exists, it's just not allowed to reveal itself publicly.

Anyway, thanks for posting this. I've already tossed the link to a friend who is endlessly involved in political back and forth on faceboot, and I think he'll find it useful in clarifying his thoughts and shaping his discussions. Very well written and lucid.
posted by hippybear at 9:05 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


faceboot

If you want a picture of the future...

posted by danb at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2012 [59 favorites]


Zompist is great at this (see his previous essays linked) and this seems extra great for him.

"Liberal" as a slur has always bothered me. The idea I get from it is someone who is really generous with other peoples money and resources, like when you invite a friend over and he brings one of his friends and they both proceed to eat everything in your refrigerator. But when I consider the deeds of the two political parties, independently from their words, this very particular notion of "liberal" well fits the accusers of "liberalism". So much so that I have come to assume that when "conservatives" talk about "liberals" they are speaking of their own intentions. Lock up your refrigerators when having those guys over.
posted by wobh at 9:18 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most religious conservatives went along with liberalism because they knew they had to put a smiley face on capitalism in the presence of a communist "domino theory" that threatened to sway allies abroad during the cold war.

Especially difficult for conservatives is supporting any policy that limits the number of children born, even in drug addicted poverty, because they themselves are under the feed and breed doctrine of life, not perceiving their own servitude because they are fooled by the racism of being white.
posted by Brian B. at 9:19 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Liberalism doesn't exist anymore...at least in the classical form...if you want to talk about neoliberalism that's a whole different story, but as we've seen since 2008 neoliberalism definitely does not work.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:23 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been picking up "liberal" as a nasty word from my very left-wing acquaintances a lot recently. Haven't yet sat down and extracted a precise critique yet - though perhaps the historical tendency of the moderate left to get scared and ally with the right is to blame.
posted by Zarkonnen at 9:23 AM on September 30, 2012


So sure are you?
posted by larry_darrell at 9:25 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


but as we've seen since 2008 neoliberalism definitely does not work.

If that's going to be your line, you at least need to be honest enough to admit that there has been very little opportunity for "neoliberalism" to be enacted since 2008, as it has been blocked at every turn by neoconservatives and tea party types.

Let me know when we've had 4 years of actual "neoliberalism" policies which were enacted, not just proposed and blocked, and we can continue the discussion of whether it actually works or not.
posted by hippybear at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2012 [36 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the oligarchs could mondegreen a hamburger into sounding like shit sandwich, so I don't think the word that progressive thinkers use is all that important. What amazes me is their raw talent for kicking the absolutely perfect demons out from under exactly the right rocks, and scaring the hoi-polloi into thinking that the falling sky is actually made up of socialist shrapnel. The depressing part is how all the Chicken Littles are so eager to do their bidding.

Name calling is a juvenile tactic, simple, impossible to refute. Your only option, to disengage from the rhetorical loop, amounts to political submission. My hope is to keep electing adults.

Notice how we drifted from the Hawk/Dove dichotomy to Liberal/Conservative? I guess the difference is the cut of the coat, not its function.

Thanks for this post.
posted by mule98J at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The liberal Achilles' heel is that conservatives stopped caring about being even remotely rational about 10 years ago.

Talk all you want, present all the reasoned rhetoric you like, but the response from the right will be "LIBS!!!" and that's all they need to say to feel like they won the argument, and literally every single person in the GOP base will nod and agree.
posted by Aquaman at 9:28 AM on September 30, 2012 [21 favorites]



"Liberal" as a slur has always bothered me.


Same thing with "conservative". There's a lot of things I consider worth conserving.
posted by dubold at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


as we've seen since 2008 neoliberalism definitely does not work.

Unlike the awesome successes of Neo-Conservatism, right?
posted by Aquaman at 9:30 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Zarkonen: the left has hated liberalism for about as long as there has been a left.

dubold: if conservatism is about conserving things and being cautious about change, the hippies are one of the most conservative force in the US right now.
posted by idiopath at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


hippybear I don't think you know what neoliberalism is...

on preview: Aquaman, neoconservatives are neoliberals economically...where they differ is foreign policy.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:34 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


larry_darrell: Thank, that in fact looks like the book to read for a leftist critique of liberalism.
posted by Zarkonnen at 9:34 AM on September 30, 2012


You could always explain your point, instead of obliquely asserting the ignorance of others.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:35 AM on September 30, 2012


Fastest "No True Scotsman" Ever.
posted by Aquaman at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Talk all you want, present all the reasoned rhetoric you like, but the response from the right will be "LIBS!!!" and that's all they need to say to feel like they won the argument

I think perhaps the word 'socialism' is scarier than 'liberal', and mostly because it's been equated with 'communism' in the conservative mindset.

My wife and I were walking our dog a couple days ago, and an otherwise nice gentleman was sitting in his garage, waved hi to us, and pointed at the Romney sign in his front yard. He then proceeded to regale us with the horrible, horrible things that were going to happen to the country if we gave 'that socialist' another four years in the White House - that our taxes were going to go to 30%, that the extra money would go for food stamps. Explaining to him that a) congress did the taxing, not the president and b) I would probably support such a measure if it came up would probably have gone over like a lead balloon.

As we walked away, smiling uncomfortably, he followed us out onto the sidewalk, yelling that we needed to open our eyes and see what was happening to the country.

So yeah - liberal may be a bad word, but it's only because they're terrified we're all socialists at heart.
posted by Mooski at 9:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


There seems to be a tendency for people to organize into insular groups. Symptoms of this are statements like these: "part of it is that it can be hard to defend the obvious from an absurd and deceptive attack." It's always easy and gratifying to categorize the opposition as "absurd and deceptive." Witness some of the descriptions and anecdotes of "conservatives" in this thread.
posted by cheburashka at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hawk/Dove

Everyone is Hawks now.
posted by grobstein at 9:45 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Liberalism (n) - the ability to defend the rights of Neo-Nazi but not defend one's own values.

It's not a problem of communication. It's a problem of weighing principles over outcomes. Everyone says the want a new LBJ but really they prefer feeling good about themselves when they go to sleep. And so we have a neutered centrist party that is righteous is losing and obsessed with procedure & bipartisanship when governing.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:51 AM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Neoliberalism as a modern political movement has almost no overlap with the American Liberal movement. I think the name is derived from deep philosophical roots (e.g. open markets are a classical liberal position, as opposed to state monopolies).
posted by benito.strauss at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's only one major error in this essay.

It may run up debt to deal with a crisis, but it pays down the debt in prosperous times.

No it doesn't. In the past 62 years since 1940 we've had 12 years with surpluses and with the exception of 1948 and 1999-2001 each of those surpluses was an absolute pittance.

Debt in a liberal society is government leverage for economic growth which needs to be managed carefully to balance against the force of inflation that the resulting economic growth will bring. The fact that we occasionally have a surplus is a fluke rather than by some grand economic principle.

Fighting WWII ran up a debt that would be in the region of two trillion dollars in today's money. And that was on top of the already existing debt fighting the great depression. You think the equivalent of $160 billion in surpluses during 1947-1949 paid it off? What "paid it off" was the unequalled economic growth during 1950-1972.
posted by Talez at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


[A few comments removed. Cool it.]
posted by cortex at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2012


The problem with the term "liberalism" is that depending on context, time period, and region of use, it refers to very different concepts. (Perhaps because the progressivism of one era is the conservatism of the next?) Historical liberalism and economic liberalism concerned laissez faire economics and free markets. "Neoliberalism" refers to that tradition, the new liberal economics of international free trade/markets. So in that since, neoliberalism has nothing to do with social/political progressivism or liberalism, and has been a strong part of both political parties agendas for a couple decades now (though ostensibly a somewhat libertarian goal.)

On preview, looks like there is a whole 'nother teapot boiling now. Not sure if I want to step into it, but this is my $0.02 anyway.
posted by insert.witticism.here at 9:57 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


From wikipedia:

Neoliberalism is a label for economic liberalizations, free trade and open markets. Neoliberalism supports the privatization of nationalized industries, deregulation, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modern society. It is commonly informed by neoclassical or Austrian economics. The term neoliberal today is often used as a general condemnation of economic liberalization policies and advocates.[1][2] Neoliberalism shares many concepts with mainstream schools of economic thought.

And who are these liberals and conservatives some of you speak of?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:59 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh wait it's been 72 years from 1940. The point still stands though. :D
posted by Talez at 10:05 AM on September 30, 2012


The Meaning Of Liberal - "Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reviews Marilynne Robinson's recent essay collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books. He especially focuses on her recovery of the term 'liberal' - as an adjective, not a noun."
These essays are pure gold. Written with all her usual elegance, economy, and intellectual ruthlessness, they constitute a plea for recovering the use of "liberal" as an adjective, and, what is more, an adjective whose central meaning is specified by its use in scripture. "The word occurs [in the Geneva Bible] in contexts that urge an ethics of non-judgmental, nonexclusive generosity" - and not a generosity of "tolerating viewpoints" alone, but of literal and practical dispersal of goods to those who need them.

Psalm 122 is, you could say, the theme song of this vision, and it is a vision that prompts Robinson to a ferocious critique of the abstractions of ideology - including "austerity" as an imperative to save the world for capitalism. She offers a striking diagnosis of the corrupting effect of rationalism: rationalism as she defines it is the attempt to get the world to fit the theory; and because the world is never going to fit the theory, the end-product of rationalist strategies is always panic.
public opinion on immigration...
posted by kliuless at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


neoliberalism has nothing to do with social/political progressivism or liberalism

exactly!
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:10 AM on September 30, 2012


What "paid it off" was the unequalled economic growth during 1950-1972.

I think the argument which is being made is not that government surpluses paid off the debt, but that the growing economy created a growing tax base across all income categories which increased revenue and THAT is what allowed the debt to be paid down.

A crisis means that there is no available source for revenue for the government. So it has to borrow money to get out of the crisis. The resulting recovery will then provide the basis for the engine through which revenues can increase and debt can be retired.

One fascinating thing about more recent history was that Greenspan and others were arguing against using the Clinton surplus to pay off government debt, as they could not fathom what might happen to the global economy if the US no longer was beholden to international lenders. And then Bush II was elected and he sent checks to everyone he deemed eligible rather than eliminating borrowed money. It was all done in the name of economic stimulus, as by then the dotcom bubble had burst and we were once again in a crisis.
posted by hippybear at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think you know what neoliberalism is...

I'm not really comfortable with the word "neoliberalism" itself because the implications are confusing: (wikipedia:Neoliberalism). I'd rather say "neolaissefairism" or something...

But hey, there's a lot of funny stuff in the semantics of economics...
posted by ovvl at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2012


" ... liberals got out of the habit of arguing for their beliefs."

You haven't hung out with many Unitarians, have you?
posted by Relay at 10:24 AM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Fastest "No True Scotsman" Ever.

But that's baked into the whole essay. He doesn't try to explain why the last two "liberal," Clinton and Obama have run against unions and social welfare. Wrt Obama in particular, you can't be for expanded free trade agreements and for unionized manufacturing... and if you read Obama's books, they are full of hosannas for the return to classical "liberalism" i.e. reducing tariffs, allowing free flow of capital across border while making sure the cost of labor is also determined by "free markets."

But, my basic response is that it's all kind of counterfactual: if Liberalism is so great, why did it fail politically in the US (and now in Europe) to the point that "liberal" politicians feel the need to run against the "social democracy" aspects of it?
posted by ennui.bz at 10:26 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Evenstar: so why did you bring it up. nobody mentioned neoliberalism or classical liberalism until you did. was the whole pendantic derail just so you could smug out about irrelevancies.

But the problem is that once you start talking about actual support for unionism, or against "free trade" or for government payments to the poor, suddenly you split off all these "liberals" who actually don't support these things. Why wasn't Mondale president? Without these things "liberalism" looks a lot more like classical 19th century liberalism than FDR. This essay manages to avoid talking about the specifics of FDR. When Obama is re-elected you are going to see a lot of "liberals" crawling out of the woodwork to argue that we can't actually afford FDR's vision of "social security."
posted by ennui.bz at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why wasn't Mondale president?

Because while not actually on Mount Rushmore, he came across as more stone-faced and boring than any piece of carved rock in existence?
posted by hippybear at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


For half a century you had to be a crank to oppose what Roosevelt accomplished

Actually, looking at this graph you see that pulling the US out of the depression may have been Hitlers achievement since he forced the US to put 40% of GDP into war related expenses.

As I have posted before:

"War was the economic stimulus of last resort when politicians were so confused in their understanding of economics that they would not allow the government to go into debt except for national emergencies. But Keynes said there are less destructive ways to get money into people’s pockets and stimulate the economy."


"...A less costly alternative would be Milton Friedman’s hypothetical solution: simply drop money from helicopters. This has been linked to “quantitative easing” (QE), but QE as currently applied is not what Friedman described. The money has not been showered on the people and the local economy, putting money in people’s pockets, stimulating spending. It has been dropped into the reserve accounts of banks, where it has simply accumulated without reaching the productive economy. “Excess” reserves of $1.6 trillion are now sitting in reserve accounts at the Federal Reserve. A helicopter drop of the sort proposed by Friedman has not been tried." (source)



Honestly I think that debt is only a part of the current problems. Exponential Debt (collapse is not a bug, it is a necessary feature of the system), globalization, over-aging populations, limited resources, technological advances that makes many people unnecessary, peak oil, law of diminishing returns... There are many possible problems that makes the future look more unstable then the past 60 years.

Capitalism has to rely on growth, no one has come up with a working kind of "steady state" economy. Infinite growth won't be possible, at least on earth. Based on natural limitations a doubling of world GDP may be possible. Another doubling of world GDP, that would equal 4 times of today's world GDP, is unlikely to happen. Just select a growth rate of your choice and you can calculate the date where the system comes to a halt. Since growth is exponential, its actually not much. I guess we are talking 20-60 years.

Another interesting concept is the energy required to sustain wealth.

Maybe Keynes was right and in the long run we are all dead.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:59 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because while not actually on Mount Rushmore, he came across as more stone-faced and boring than any piece of carved rock in existence?

Ok, now how about Dukakis? Something about Willie Horton and looking like an idiot riding around in a tank... right? But GHWB was just as uncharismatic as Dukakis: adenoidal, dyslexic, and totally out of touch.

The ideological shift within the democratic party from Mondale -> Dukakis -> Clinton -> Obama is striking. I mean, we just recently had a teacher's union strike that was essentially against Obama's education policy, a policy which adopts some classic right-wing attacks against teacher's unions.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:07 AM on September 30, 2012


When Obama is re-elected you are going to see a lot of "liberals" crawling out of the woodwork to argue that we can't actually afford FDR's vision of "social security."

I think you are correct ennui.bz. I just finished reading the article by Kevin Baker in the October issue of Harper's. His general point is that the very meaning of democracy in the west has been gutted. The transactional nature of democracy is gone. Nobody ever gets everything they want, whether you are the elected politician or a voter, but what we get now is exactly the opposite on the big ideological questions and directions. Here is a snippet:

Hence Barack Obama, on a trip to England, could stand next to David Cameron and proclaim with him: “We can honestly say that despite being two leaders from two different political traditions, we see eye to eye. We look at the world in a similar way, share the same concerns, and see the same strategic possibilities.”

Yet how can this possibly be, if democracy today is to have any meaning? How can two politicians from “two different political traditions”—one, Britain’s Tories, the oldest conservative political party in the world, protecting the dominance of privilege and wealth; the other, America’s Democrats, the oldest populist political party in the world, advocating the rights of man and progressive opportunity—possibly share the same worldview?


So liberalism hasn't failed. The very notion of democracy has failed. We vote to reassert liberalism in troubled economic times but what we get is the opposite. And so it goes.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 11:11 AM on September 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Fastest "No True Scotsman" Ever.

I am not comparing species. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism, as philosophies, are economically indistinguishable. Where they diverge is their opinions on "soft power" vs. "hard power" in matters pertaining to how to properly "open markets" for said economic philosophies to be implemented.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:16 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe Keynes was right and in the long run we are all dead.

keynes was an idiot, albeit a useful one. his methods were adopted via political fiat. As a result of the extensive use of Keynesian economics, government now runs the country instead of citizens running the government. Americans have become mere tokens in a power struggle that they will surely lose on the current path.
posted by crushedhope at 11:24 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


POST YOUR FAVORITE ABSURD AND DECEPTIVE ATTACK IN COMMENTS.
posted by fleacircus at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


It doesn't even make sense in regard to plain English, anyways. "Conservatives" are in favor of lax and liberally permissive regulation of industry, business, and the financial system, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2012


As a result of the extensive use of Keynesian economics, government now runs the country instead of citizens running the government.

Oh, bullshit. You're seriously suggesting that "citizens" ran the government before Keynes and his political counterparts came along? Special interests ran the government, which FDR and his crew either co-opted, threw out, or balanced off against other social forces (the labor movement, especially) via legislation and mediation. Pre-Depression America was not a sacred land of pure yeoman democracy by a long shot.

Obama is definitely coming from a different direction than FDR, but then FDR's liberalism is very different (as many people have pointed out already) from 'liberalism' in the classical sense. It's not a very useful word, at this point in our history, and I think that the split-off into different 'progressive' and 'mainstream' liberals is a useful and intelligent distinction.

Obama (and in a slightly different register, Clinton) are both more akin to Tony Blair's Labor, which abandoned its traditional roots after the collapse of the Labor Party itself fell apart under the combined stresses of infighting, the Thatcherite Tory resurgence, and eventually the defeat and humiliation of the unions themselves at Thatcher's hands. Blair's Labor, and Clinton's Democrats, were and are both friendly to free-trade and globalisation, more interested in minority and 'identity' indicators than 'class' as a concept through which to view injustice and structural violence, and skeptical at best of union organizing.

A key element here is the focus on individuals, rather than groups - the proper way to protect workers, for example, is to pass legislation that protects individual workers from their employers, and those workers can then choose to sue/settle themselves via recourse to the justice system. The focus on race, gender and sexual orientation rather than class is also related to this shift. It's an open ideological shift away from the notion of communal action and identity, and I think it's actually not just imposed from above - I don't know any of my peers who, even if they approve of unions in principle, would join a union themselves or, even if they had to, feel any form of identification with it, or interact with it any more than they would with the DMV. Likewise with many other forms of community life. It's just not part of their world, and in the case of those whose parents are middle class, was not a part of their world either.

This ties, interestingly, into the way a lot of liberal (in the Obama-Clinton sense) young people I know relate to social conservatism. For them, social conservatives are, among their other negative attributes, intensely communal people. They want everyone to obey traditional values, live in small, homogeneous communities of people who all know each other's business, enforce standard values across society. That's offensive, and to the degree that it is offensive, it seems to taint, for many people, the whole notion of groups which are formed for anything other than a whim or a common interest, which you can enter and leave at will and without penalty. Add to that the fact that even (perhaps especially) the successful ones don't expect or intend to spend more than a couple decades at most in a single career path, the hierarchical, dues-paying, seniority-based union is not going to look like a particularly liberating concept to them.

Even Occupy Wall Street, which I feel a lot of people around here see as a 'true' liberal movement, struck me as very individualized and atomized in this respect. I mean, there were people who were talking about communal activity, but it was obviously important for a large number of participants that their ability to come and go, decide their own role in the movement and be unconstrained was a core element of the movement's legitimacy. I don't think that's a surprise. I think it's part of that wider consciousness. And I think that even if you elected Elizabeth Warren and a pure progressive liberal Congress this November, rather than Obama and a maybe Democratic majority on the Hill, that would change. Because its more than an elite phenomenon.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:05 PM on September 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Also, neo-liberalization worked extremely well, given what it was intended to do.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2012


A key element here is the focus on individuals, rather than groups

This right here is key to understanding why the left holds liberals in contempt.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, neo-liberalization worked extremely well, given what it was intended to do.

Which was to redistribute wealth from the American middle-class to other countries, where it accumulated naturally among the oligarchs and ruling class, right?
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:48 PM on September 30, 2012


This right here is key to understanding why the left holds liberals in contempt.

In my experience, a common feature of the Left is that they hold everyone else in contempt, including and especially other members of the Left who differ from them on some point or another.

Which was to redistribute wealth from the American middle-class to other countries, where it accumulated naturally among the oligarchs and ruling class, right?

Er, I'm not sure where you get that idea. Go look at the list of billionaires. How many of them are outside of America? How many massive globalized enterprises (aside from a few state-owned behemoths) are at the top of those tediously masturbertory Forbes rankings? The elites that have been most enriched are our own, and arguably Americans have gotten less of the shaft than most people on the ground outside the developed world. We're starting to feel the draft of the whirlwind others have been living, that's all.

Do you mean China holding such a huge chunk of our national debt? Because that's a bit more complicated than just "look, those Chinese ogilarchs are stealing from the working man"....
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it an accident that social democracy and the Soviet Union rose and fell together? That's because social democracy was created in a time when capitalists were scared shitless of communism and needed to make concessions to labor to quell unrest. As soon as the threat disappeared (the waning power of the Soviet Union in the mid 70s), social democracy began to disappear. And it will continue to disappear, regardless of whether "it works" or not. It's not a real option, it's just a temporary stopgap measure that's put in place whenever capitalists feel threatened.

Zompist makes a big deal of social democracy as the sensible, practical, moderate option between the idealistic utopias of both left and right, but really, it's his position that is unrealistic. He thinks we live in a world where the people have sovereignty over the economy, and we can peacefully vote on how we want society to be organized -- in other words, a society that has historically been called "communist".
posted by AlsoMike at 1:21 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


> Buying useful things, like roads and universities and health care and solar energy and spaceships, should
> be better stimulus than fighting wars.

Bear in mind we're arguing here with our current quite liberal (in the American sense) President and administration almost as much as with his/its opponents. At least since Kennedy the fundamental Republican position has been "We're not rich enough to have Guns and Butter, so Guns hell yeah!" while the fundamental Democratic position has been "We are so rich enough to have Guns and Butter, so Guns hell yeah!"
posted by jfuller at 1:27 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wrt Obama in particular, you can't be for expanded free trade agreements and for unionized manufacturing...

Protectionism or an anti-free-trade is not necessarily a requirement of liberalism or progressivism. In fact, the pro-tariff party in the late 19th century were the pro-business Republicans of Gilded Age America, not the Democrats. The reason is that Republicans preferred financing government through tariffs, whereas more liberal governments (e.g., Lincoln during the Civil War, New Deal Democrats) favored financing government through income taxes. There is no problem with free trade as a concept. The problem with free trade is that it is not enforced on a level playing field. Capital is allowed to freely across borders, but labor is not.
posted by jonp72 at 2:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know this much: whether you call it liberal or progressive I believe that a primary purpose of government purpose should be to protect the weak from those who would prey upon them, physically, monetarily or however. And I also believe that government should protect and uplift the poor and the weak and that includes such things as Social Security, equal access to health care , equal access to primary and higher education and unemployment compensation. I think every American should be guaranteed necessary healthcare, a good education and income protection when they are too weak to support themselves. If all that requires taxing a billionaire who already enjoys a lavish lifestyle and is already reaping the benefits of living in America then I see nothing wrong with that.

I know that there a whole lot of people out there who do not believe in such things and I never in my life will be able to relate to such people.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


ennui.bz: "But that's baked into the whole essay. He doesn't try to explain why the last two "liberal," Clinton and Obama have run against unions and social welfare. Wrt Obama in particular, you can't be for expanded free trade agreements and for unionized manufacturing... and if you read Obama's books, they are full of hosannas for the return to classical "liberalism" i.e. reducing tariffs, allowing free flow of capital across border while making sure the cost of labor is also determined by "free markets." "

Free trade is excellent. What we have now, however, is not free trade because the playing field is not level. We play by a different set of rules than the Chinese and others. That's fine, they are "free" (in some senses, but not others) to do whatever they like economically. For some odd reason, rather than leveling the playing field through tariffs that compensate for the differences in labor and environmental laws, we declare all tariffs evil incarnate.

I don't completely disagree with that view, as I think that protectionism for protectionism's sake harms both us and the rest of the world. However, allowing people that don't play by our rules to sell into our market and undercut us doesn't help anyone either. It perpetuates shitty labor practices elsewhere and reduces our competitiveness. There's no need to force other countries to adopt our standards, but we do need to account for those differences rather than ignoring them as we have been. We've seen how well that works.
posted by wierdo at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


By the way ... Zompist's article , Why liberalism Works, is awesome ! and should be spread around. I've bookmarked it.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:50 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Podkayne, I think you win a square in MeFi Bingo with that comment.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it an accident that social democracy and the Soviet Union rose and fell together? That's because social democracy was created in a time when capitalists were scared shitless of communism and needed to make concessions to labor to quell unrest.

It isn't just limited to social democracy. I think the embrace of torture by the Bush Administration was also a post-Cold War phenomenon. Without the United States engaged in a life-or-death ideological struggle, where the country absolutely had to prove that it was the better system among a choice of two adversaries, the United States no longer has the incentive to be on its best behavior in the eyes of the world. In movies in the Cold War era, torture was something that American heroes never did, but rather something that only Nazis and Communists would do. Now in the post-Cold War, you have heroic torturers like Jack Bauer on 24 and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
posted by jonp72 at 3:13 PM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's a great article about the successes of liberalism, as well as the current bad economic conditions. My criticism is that Zompist's article doesn't understand the macroeconomic reasons for the failure of liberalism.

I would argue that Johnson failed because of inflation, gold fleeing the US and also a failure to understand how to create aggregate demand in the economy.

Inflation happened because government spending on social programs and Vietnam escalated. Additionally, at the time the US was on the gold standard, as fixed by the Bretton Woods agreement. The US agreed to redeem dollars for gold at the rate of $35/ounce. The redemptions only happened at the government to government level. The problem was that by the end of the 1960s, the US was scrambling to maintain enough gold reserves to do this, as it was sending lots of dollars overseas because of the Vietnam War and the Cold War generally. Countries realized they could redeem dollars for gold and then sell the gold on the international market for more. Michael Hudson has covered this in depth-- he was the first person I read who made sense on the issue of the gold standard and how it really worked.

As far as aggregate demand in the economy, Johnson's War on Poverty focused on job creation mainly via skills training. At the state/city level this happened via a variety of nonprofit agencies, which were supposed to train people so they could work. The theory was that no one had jobs because there was a skills mismatch. Unfortunately it didn't work that way-- Hyman Minsky[PDF] warned LBJ about this, that only direct jobs creation could do it.

From the link:
Minsky considered the war on poverty “a conservative rebuttal to an ancient challenge of the radicals, that capitalism necessarily generates ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’” (1965, p. 175).2 As he saw it, Johnson’s version of this “conservative rebuttal” was fundamentally flawed. Instead of providing the impoverished with an opportunity to work, it provided them with the opportunity to learn how to work. Thus, by emphasizing education and job training, Johnson sought to change poor people, rather than changing the system that leads to their impoverishment.
There's also the problem of balancing out the various oligarchic enterprises. I don't think that can simply be done via regulation because what we've learned over the past 40 years is that the oligarchs will simply buy down the regulators. There is definitely a place for regulators but it's not enough.
posted by wuwei at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


So much so that I have come to assume that when "conservatives" talk about "liberals" they are speaking of their own intentions. Lock up your refrigerators when having those guys over.

Many times, when a person is stridently against something publicly, it's because he secretly an aficionado, and the conflict ends up warping his perspective so that he sees the whole world in terms of it. That's why it's always the most sternly anti-gay preachers who turn out to be closeted homosexuals, and it's the law-and-order conservatives who turn out to be crooks.
posted by JHarris at 4:03 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Woo zomp!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:04 PM on September 30, 2012


Woo zomp!

He's already married.
posted by stebulus at 4:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


They want everyone to obey traditional values, live in small, homogeneous communities of people who all know each other's business, enforce standard values across society.
don't worry, the pendulum is swinging back and things are about to get really really shitty for anyone who is weird
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:03 PM on September 30, 2012


I disagree with zomp on some stuff, but damned if he isn't one of the nicer folks I've met online. He's also a damned good guy to have your back in L4D2.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:40 PM on September 30, 2012


Thanks for the plug, The Whelk...

(Talez:) No it doesn't. In the past 62 years since 1940 we've had 12 years with surpluses and with the exception of 1948 and 1999-2001 each of those surpluses was an absolute pittance.

Government debt doesn't work like a mortgage. You don't have to pay it off; you have to keep it under control. Thus the emphasis on the debt-to-GDP ratio.

(ennui.bz:) if Liberalism is so great, why did it fail politically in the US (and now in Europe) to the point that "liberal" politicians feel the need to run against the "social democracy" aspects of it?

A bunch of reasons, including opponents of liberalism getting their act together, a reaction against the '60s, the '70s oil shock, and the defection of southern whites from the Roosevelt coalition. But the question, I think, hides a false assumption: that a successful political system will be seen by voters as obviously worth preserving. Passion pays off in an electoral system, and it's hard to maintain passion for fifty years. Plus, if a system was created in the wake of some disaster, the generation that remembers the disaster dies off.

I like AlsoMike's point too. Though Reaganism preceded the fall of the USSR, losing our big rival definitely removed a strong motivation for promoting egalitarianism.

The Bell/Wray paper is quite interesting, I'll have to read it again more thoroughly.
posted by zompist at 10:14 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has the Left Won? An Exchange Between Tim Barker and James Livingston
The following is an exchange between Tim Barker, assistant editor at Dissent, and James Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University and author, most recently, of Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul. In this exchange, Barker and Livingston argue about the thesis of that book as well as a number of recent essays by Livingston on socialism and socialists.
It's quite a read.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Left vs. the Liberals
posted by homunculus at 11:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think liberals are bad at explaining why liberalism works for liberals. They're just either bad at explaining why it works for other people, or they're great at explaining why those other people don't count, they'll never be able to empathize with them, and their desires don't matter.

I think most conservatives would agree that if you take enormous amounts of other people's money, you sure do come out with money. But where they differ is on the morality, not the practicality, of taking that money to spread it around.

The article quotes,
"So, liberalism does a far better job distributing the productivity gains in a modern society
But that only matters if you think that distributing productivity gains is an important, good, or fair thing.
posted by corb at 6:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


if Liberalism is so great, why did it fail politically in the US (and now in Europe) to the point that "liberal" politicians feel the need to run against the "social democracy" aspects of it?

Because there have been concerted, politically motivated efforts to discredit "liberalism" in that sense going back to the days of FDR's administration--a time when polls consistently showed that most actual, everyday Americans were happier with the role of the Federal government in their lives than at any time before or since.

Massive amounts of money and resources--probably billions and billions by this point--have been dedicated to discrediting FDR style liberal progressivism in America and it was essentially all done at the best of large private sector industrial interests who didn't like giving up any of their power to set the rules and otherwise dictate the terms in which we all participate in the US economy. Liberalism killed (or at least severely diminished) the Company Store, Debt Slavery, Child Labor, Share Cropping and Company Towns--those are all things many big industrial interests would still like to see in the world today.

The American people didn't reject liberalism; when they had it, they loved it so much they elected FDR for four successive terms (presidential term limits were only instituted as a political backlash to FDR). But the right has worked relentlessly, using every dirty trick at their disposal and fully leveraging their vast stores of accumulated wealth to re-engineer the American culture and political landscape. That's what happened. Liberalism "failed" in America because it was outspent and out-organized by people in the business of making money 24/7 and relentlessly dedicated to that cause because it also pays immediate short-term financial benefits to be a crony.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


(In fact, in FDR's day, polls showed approvals of the US government in the range of 80--90%! Imagine those kinds of approval numbers for the US government today, now that we've all but expunged liberalism as a positive political concept from our public dialogue.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2012


AdamCSnider: " I don't know any of my peers who, even if they approve of unions in principle, would join a union themselves or, even if they had to, feel any form of identification with it, or interact with it any more than they would with the DMV."

Not to derail things here, but a lot of folks don't even have this opportunity, and the unions have become so insular that they're largely to blame. Sure, their hands have often been forced, but it's pretty hard to find a union job these days.

(Still, that was one of the most fascinating comments I've seen here in a long time. It's really interesting to think about how the Liberals and Conservatives espouse individualism/collectivism in practice almost directly opposite of the popular perception.)
posted by schmod at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2012


They're just either bad at explaining why it works for other people, or they're great at explaining why those other people don't count

This is idiotic. If you know anyone who ever drew SS benefits, benefited from the GI bill, public roads, or who uses the Internet, for just a tiny, tiny number of possible examples, you don't need an argument explaining how it works for "other people."
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


And no one on the "liberal side" is arguing anyone doesn't count. By definition, that would be illiberal (in the original, meaningful adjectival sense of the term "liberal"). The current bogeyman "Liberal" (noun form) that all those right wing think tanks and their water-carriers in the media have brought into rhetorical existence is a fictional straw man who embodies any and all negative associations anyone might have with the word "liberal" and nothing more.

Basically, these mercenary armies of cultural revisionists meticulously expunged all the positive cultural connotations of the term "liberal" (all the senses in which that term was used positively, for example, by most of those actual Founding Fathers whom the right still pretends to lionize), and then they set about rhetorically bundling up all the negative cultural associations with the word into the fictional composite character we now know as the American Liberal.

I mean honestly, it's gotten to be such a confused picture in the US, by the end of Clinton's second term, I was running around bashing Clinton's liberalism and encouraging people toward embracing conservatism on the basis of Clinton's "neoliberal" economic policies--which as I only realized much later, after Bush took office, were embraced even more wholeheartedly on the side of his so-called political opposition.

In other words, I had been mislead to conflate the more negative aspects of economic, social, and all other senses of the word "liberal," and as a young voter, in attempting to reject what I saw as the excesses of Clinton's economic liberalism (or "neoliberalism" in the latest argot), thanks to this confusion, I ended up in effect supporting political interests that were even more economically liberal because I thought they weren't liberal--and in fact, there simply is no economically conservative or left-wing economic liberalism on offer in our current political environment.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:18 AM on October 1, 2012


(ach: "misled")
posted by saulgoodman at 8:19 AM on October 1, 2012


This is idiotic. If you know anyone who ever drew SS benefits, benefited from the GI bill, public roads, or who uses the Internet, for just a tiny, tiny number of possible examples, you don't need an argument explaining how it works for "other people."

Yes, yes, actually you do. Because there's some people who don't benefit from social security - people who keep working, or who make over a certain amount of money, for example. And saying "oh, public roads", or "oh, internet" is disingenuous - it supposes that there's no way private roads or a private internet would have ever come into being or been effective or useful. And the GI bill, at least as it currently stands, is a benefit earned, not an entitlement given, for participating in military service.
posted by corb at 8:23 AM on October 1, 2012


And no one on the "liberal side" is arguing anyone doesn't count.

Really? Look on Metafilter itself. How much do people arguing for the liberal side care about the needs, feelings, wants, or desires, of conservatives, Republicans, or the wealthy?
posted by corb at 8:24 AM on October 1, 2012


it supposes that there's no way private roads or a private internet would have ever come into being or been effective or useful.

Look at Sydney. Toll, toll, toll, toll, toll, toll and for shits and giggles, another toll.

There's your private roads.
posted by Talez at 8:28 AM on October 1, 2012


ecause there's some people who don't benefit from social security - people who keep working,

People, I suppose, who never turn 68 and draw retirement benefits and who've never had a relative who did so? And what about roads and the internet? What private sector entity do you know of that would fund development (like the railroads for another example) that might take decades or even as much as a half-century to return any profits?

You are in denial corb. There are many, many aspects of modern life that simply cannot be created through individualism.

If you don't agree, then let me challenge you to go out by yourself into the desert and within your lifetime, purely on your own, build me a working desktop computer that can access the internet or do anything even remotely resembling what we would expect from a modern computer.

No individual can achieve as much as we can achieve working together. If you accept that premise at all, regardless of how you view the role of government, then you do not really believe in the hard form of conservatism that dominates the current "Movement."
posted by saulgoodman at 8:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Basically, dead people, in other words.)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:30 AM on October 1, 2012


No individual can achieve as much as we can achieve working together. If you accept that premise at all, regardless of how you view the role of government, then you do not really believe in the hard form of conservatism that dominates the current "Movement."

That's not even kind of true.

Conservatives do believe in working together. But they believe in doing so voluntarily, for the better benefit of everyone who has voluntarily chosen to associate with each other, and not for the benefit of outsiders. This is absolutely not the liberal model - the liberal model is for involuntary association and working together, which doesn't allow you to exclude anyone.

For example, the school example cited in the article, about how middle class communities only wanted to pay for their own schools. Let's say a community wanted to spend all of their money on providing good schools only for people who lived in their district. They wanted to voluntarily band together to improve things for their community. Conservatives would probably say that sounds fine - why shouldn't you be able to do this? Liberals would tend to say, "No, because then they have better schools than other children. They should pay some of their money to the lower-funded schools."

So what liberals tend to want is a lower, but equal, outcome for everyone. In the ideal liberal world, school spending is equalized, which means that no child gets a better education than any other child - but it also means that there will be some children who will have worse educations than they could have obtained under a more unequal system.

This is what I'm talking about when I'm saying that for some, this is not a desirable system.

No individual can achieve as much alone as when working together with other individuals - but individuals who choose to selectively work together can achieve much higher outcomes than individuals who are hobbled with members of the group they do not choose.
posted by corb at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2012


And again, under this system, the people whose children get better outcomes will probably laud the system - but those whose children get worse outcomes will not be benefiting, and will be justified in questioning the much-touted "benefits" of the liberal system.
posted by corb at 9:37 AM on October 1, 2012


So what liberals tend to want is a lower, but equal, outcome for everyone. In the ideal liberal world, school spending is equalized, which means that no child gets a better education than any other child - but it also means that there will be some children who will have worse educations than they could have obtained under a more unequal system.


No, no, no. In an ideal liberal world, every child gets a great education. Liberals don't want a lower outcome for everyone. They want a better outcome for everyone.
posted by ambrosia at 9:44 AM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Conservatives do believe in working together. But they believe in doing so voluntarily, for the better benefit of everyone who has voluntarily chosen to associate with each other, and not for the benefit of outsiders.

Yeah, conservative comment boards and media commentary are just full of community spirit and an emphasis on the need for all Americans to put aside their cultural differences and commit to strengthening American society in the interest of shared prosperity and the common welfare. And followers of Ayn Rand totally believe "it takes a village."

Right. Where the rubber meets the road, modern conservatism is all about vilifying half the American population to try to peel votes away from their political opposition through stoking and exploiting the resentments of various different groups of Americans against each other.

The entire "Silent Majority" campaign under Reagan was explicitly in pursuit of this divide and conquer political strategy; the "Real Americans" rhetoric we hear from right-wing politicians and pundits alike today is, too.

No, no, no. In an ideal liberal world, every child gets a great education. Liberals don't want a lower outcome for everyone. They want a better outcome for everyone.

Exactly right. But pseudo-conservatives believe all outcomes exist within the context of a zero-sum game. If black communities, for a simplified example, start doing better as a result of public policy, then in relative terms, white communities must now be doing worse, which in the conservative view is an unfair outcome. Liberalism by definition (in the original, pre-right-wing revision sense) wants better outcomes for everyone and believes this is possible.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, no, no. In an ideal liberal world, every child gets a great education.

Genuinely curious - do liberals (or at least you) really believe that it is possible to give every single child in America a world-class education? Not just good, or competent, but the best of the best? And how does that square with differing abilities? Do liberals estimate the cost of that, or do they just think it's worth it?
posted by corb at 10:16 AM on October 1, 2012


Inequality and Its Perils: Emerging research suggests that the growing gap between rich and poor harms the U.S. economy by creating instability and suppressing growth.

corb, you're using 'conservative' and 'liberal' in unique and different way than the ways I'm familiar with. Terms that sound more appropriate to me for the manner in which you use them are "anarchist" and "statist" (or perhaps "authoritarian"), respectively.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:22 AM on October 1, 2012


Is that it, defined then, right there? Conservatives want a capped number of people see improvement and liberals want an uncapped number of people to see improvement?
posted by J0 at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Genuinely curious - do liberals (or at least you) really believe that it is possible to give every single child in America a world-class education?

I believe that is the whole point of trying to build a public education system, and that while it may not be possible to achieve perfection, that ideal should still be the governing aim.

Biological science tells us that, yes, there appear to be differences in innate ability among humans--but in context, those differences are so slight that they shouldn't really matter. In other words, the abilities of people who tests average or slightly below average on some hypothetically perfect IQ test, and someone in the genius range, are within the range of statistical noise when you compare similar measures across different species. Sure, some people start with a leg up (my son, for example, recently became the youngest kid in his elementary school to be considered for testing for the gifted program--sorry, I guess I'm kind of not-so-slyly bragging on him here), but what people often fail to realize is that the differences in capability even between so-called geniuses and other people are in fact pretty marginal. There's a lot of research that shows even people with much lower results on tests of "general intelligence" can, through education, perform at the same level as those who seem to do better on these kinds of tests from the get-go.

Now, do I think there's room to improve our educational system to make it more attentive to individual learning styles, personal goals and innate capabilities? Definitely. But not by dismantling it. If anything, what's called for is more effort and yes, even money, put into the system. But above all else, these systems need to be better shielded from the consequences of short-term political interests and private sector opportunism.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


corb, you're using 'conservative' and 'liberal' in unique and different way than the ways I'm familiar with. Terms that sound more appropriate to me for the manner in which you use them are "anarchist" and "statist" (or perhaps "authoritarian"), respectively.

I often use "libertarian/anarchist" and "statist/authoritarian", but given that most people define by the "conservative/liberal" dichotomy, I sometimes fall into the trap of using it, particularly when it seems that people tend to apply the realities of the former to the labels of the latter. So I see liberal as "we need more government, and we need more income equalization", where I see conservatives as "we need less government, and less government direction of incomes."

I would be interested though in other ways - are there nonpartisan ways of seeing the conservative/liberal divide?
posted by corb at 10:54 AM on October 1, 2012


corb: Originally the terms were used in political science to describe different styles of governing, independent of ideological conviction: "liberal" was a term used to describe politicians who wanted to make sweeping reforms (whether toward the left or the right) while "conservative" was used to describe anti-reform political interests.

So, say you wanted to radically reform an existing government system like social security (whether you want to expand it or diminish it and regardless of you ideological motives for doing so), in the now all but forgotten older sense, that would have been called a "liberal" political agenda; those on the other side of the issue would be considered the "conservative" bloc.

We've always used the term in different senses in different contexts, too ("liberal" in the not specifically political sense it used to enjoy in uses like "liberal arts" or "being liberal with one's spending")--which, for a lot of modern Americans is somehow part and parcel of a coherent political ideology now when that's actually not at all the case. But all the different unrelated meanings of the term "liberal" have been so hopelessly (and deliberately, I think) confused in our own public dialog at this point, that's all kind of irrelevant.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:04 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genuinely curious - do liberals (or at least you) really believe that it is possible to give every single child in America a world-class education? Not just good, or competent, but the best of the best? And how does that square with differing abilities? Do liberals estimate the cost of that, or do they just think it's worth it?

Do you believe that conservatism really can provide that kind of voluntary, everyone-works-together, it-takes-a-village philosophy? I'd say not, but I give you the benefit of the doubt when you say it because I assume you're talking of an ideal. So it is with liberalism.

But furthermore -- why wouldn't it be possible to not give everyone a world-class education? I think that certainly is possible, but conservatives have always been on of the biggest obstacles to that, between trying to get creationism taught in school, mandating obsolete, quaint and nationalist dogmas get taught in history class, and in their steadfast rejection of sex education.

There are some things that would be easy if we simply had the national will to do them. I refuse to believe we could put a man on the moon yet we can't afford to teach our kids.
posted by JHarris at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


the liberal model is for involuntary association and working together, which doesn't allow you to exclude anyone

And excluding people is what's really important here.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


do liberals (or at least you) really believe that it is possible to give every single child in America a world-class education?

My response took issue with your allegation that liberals want a lower outcome. I felt it was important to jump in and take issue with that, because I see as a frequently used trope, that liberals want mediocrity instead of excellence. I understand that we all begin our educations with different resources. That's not a reason to leave people behind. A good education can be a ticket out of poverty, and I believe that giving everyone an excellent education would redound to our society's benefit in ways that would pay for the cost many times over. So I'm unwilling to say "oh well, they are poor, sucks to be them." We can do better than that.
posted by ambrosia at 11:39 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


corb: In the ideal liberal world, school spending is equalized, which means that no child gets a better education than any other child - but it also means that there will be some children who will have worse educations than they could have obtained under a more unequal system.

I wonder if you're familiar with the notion of the veil of ignorance.
posted by stebulus at 4:33 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


do liberals (or at least you) really believe that it is possible to give every single child in America a world-class education?

I certainly do. Whether that child takes full advantage of that education depends on their own inherent abilities (which I accept will differ), as well as their ambition, interest and strength of character. Equality of access is, in my view, an inherent right, and that access should be to the very best. Equality of outcome might well not follow. But everyone should have the chance.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:49 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you believe that conservatism really can provide that kind of voluntary, everyone-works-together, it-takes-a-village philosophy? I'd say not, but I give you the benefit of the doubt when you say it because I assume you're talking of an ideal. So it is with liberalism.

I think that conservatism can absolutely provide that sort of voluntary, individuals-work-together, it-takes-a-village philosophy, but I don't think everyone would be included in those villages.

But furthermore -- why wouldn't it be possible to not give everyone a world-class education?

Primarily cost, and also the problem that I think that giving everyone the best education they can is at cross purposes. For example: from what I am told by special education advocates, it is better for developmentally disabled kids to be put into classrooms with normal children. But it is also better for the normal children to not have those children in their classrooms. It's better for normal children to be in classes with gifted children, but it's better for gifted children to be in classes by themselves. So you can't actually give everyone their best possible outcome.

I wonder if you're familiar with the notion of the veil of ignorance.

I am, but I think outside of mental exercises, it's irrelevant. We all make decisions based on our lived experiences of what is best and most moral. No matter what we decide in said thought experiment, we wouldn't actually have to live it, so we can say anything. And I think it's inherently difficult to separate yourself from your biases anyway.
posted by corb at 6:28 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it is also better for the normal children to not have those children in their classrooms.

You say that as if it were obvious, but that's far from clear. Developmental disabilities aren't contagious, you know?
posted by Daily Alice at 6:49 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can argue against the cost of giving everyone a world-class education when so much money is spent on war. There's no lack of money, it's a question of priorities and values.
posted by harriet vane at 8:40 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


You say that as if it were obvious, but that's far from clear. Developmental disabilities aren't contagious, you know?

Well, for a few reasons. First, the pace of progression is affected. If everyone must learn a subject in order to move on, there is more effort spent on getting those near the bottom edge up to par rather than getting those performing adequately towards performing excellently.
Within-class and cross-grade programs, which entail moderate amounts of curricular adjustment, boost test scores of higher aptitude students by about 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviations, or by 2 to 3 months on a grade-equivalent scale.

Benefits are larger in special classes for higher aptitude learners. Gains on standardized tests are especially large when the programs entail acceleration of instruction. Classes in which talented children cover four grades in three years, for example, usually boost achievement levels a good deal. Test scores of children accelerated in this fashion are about one year higher on a glade-equivalent scale than they would be if the children were not accelerated.
Secondly, the presence of students with severe behavioral issues is detrimental to a good, safe learning environment. Students are often subject to inappropriate, disruptive behavior, that they see other children not being punished for. It can make them feel unsafe and discriminated against: first, when they complain about disruptive behavior and receive no justice, and secondly, when they engage in behaviors similar (but milder) to those they see other children doing and are in fact punished far more severely.

I don't think you can argue against the cost of giving everyone a world-class education when so much money is spent on war.

Well, personally I agree that war is expensive and unaffordable! But I think that just because we're currently engaged in unsustainable war spending, doesn't mean we need to engage in unsustainable other spending.
posted by corb at 12:52 AM on October 2, 2012


It is absolutely a question of priorities. Corb-style glibertarians (self-professed libertarians who vote Republican) are absolutely consistent in treating government spending on health, education and welfare as a vastly greater moral outrage than government waste on war and prisons - presumably because the latter is much less 'redistributive', and therefore much less 'immoral'.

Similarly, government intervention into the very wombs of pregnant women, or the literal torture of suspects in government custody can be overlooked when the choice is between these and the vastly greater evil of 'stealing' a slightly larger fraction of a wealthy man's millionth dollar, or the monstrous crime of regulating deadly poisons out of the air we breathe.

It is a political outlook that bases itself on a purely sociopathic set of moral priorities. And its disciples feign confusion as to why nobody else can see what is so very obvious to them.
posted by moorooka at 1:28 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, it'd be awesome if people didn't try to decide what I think when those are not positions I have, you know, actually espoused. I do have major problems with spending on war, as I said above. I've also said previously that I support exile rather than prison in most circumstances.

You are setting up false choices. We don't have choices between a party that believes in having war and prison and one that does not. We don't have choices between a party that believes in freedom from intervention in the wombs of pregnant women and one that does not. Both Democrats and Republicans support varying degrees of regulation of abortion. Nor do we have a choice between a party that tortures and one that does not - see Obama's treatment of Bradley Manning.
posted by corb at 2:29 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not a false choice. It's a two party system, Republicans and Democrats. Republicans support water-boarding and the criminalization of abortion. They are manifestly stronger supporters of the drug war and of military waste. So if you support them over the Democrats, that means that these things are lesser moral priorities to you than the "freedom" of billionaires to pay fewer taxes, the "freedom" of corporations to ruin the environment unfettered, the "freedom" of poor children to go hungry and die for want of affordable medical care.

There is no viable Libertarian party in the US. There are two non-Libertarian parties and the one that choose will depend on your moral priorities. You've made your decision based on what you think is important, and revealed your warped priorities to everyone here, no mind-reading necessary.
posted by moorooka at 2:52 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


And just to clarify the basic point which you obviously missed: I didn't say you like drug wars, military aggression, torture or abortion-bans, I said they don't bother you as much as higher taxes on the rich, environmental protections, quality public education or universally accessible medical care. You may think the former are bad but you obviously think the latter are worse.
posted by moorooka at 3:03 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of third parties, Democracy Now! is evidently going to be blending its coverage of the Presidential debate tomorrow with responses from third party candidates. Unfortunately the conservative third parties at this point either aren't participating or weren't invited:

Third Party Candidates to Join in Real Time on Democracy Now!’s Live Coverage of First Pres. Debate
posted by XMLicious at 9:28 AM on October 2, 2012


Justice Will Take Us Millions of Intricate Moves, Some of Them Annoying and Even Dispiriting
I personally don’t think anything we do re this November’s ballot, including voting Libertarian or Green, will fix the country’s bipartisan commitment to militarism and panopticon. So I favor deciding what to do with November’s ballot for other reasons. That does unfortunately mean choosing which slate of war criminals should occupy the White House starting in January, as opposed to whether a slate of war criminals should do so.

That hurts! I mean, I’m not putting you on here. It’s a shitty choice. In my case it compounds the stupidity I feel over thinking I was voting for something else entirely in 2008, and I hate feeling stupid. The reasons why I think it’s worth doing anyway are:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:24 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Originally the terms were used in political science to describe different styles of governing, independent of ideological conviction: "liberal" was a term used to describe politicians who wanted to make sweeping reforms (whether toward the left or the right) while "conservative" was used to describe anti-reform political interests.

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." --G.K. Chesterton, 1924

I guess when it comes to today's politics the Progressives want to correct the mistakes of the New Deal and Keynesian economics, which will unavoidably lead to new mistakes, and the Conservatives want to just undo it, and the Civil Rights Act, etc., and bring us back to where we were in the 1960's? 1930's?
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:38 PM on October 2, 2012


But I think that just because we're currently engaged in unsustainable war spending, doesn't mean we need to engage in unsustainable other spending.

Fair enough. What makes you think education spending to achieve a world-class standard for all US children would be unsustainable? Keep in mind that global historical data shows that increased spending on education leads to reduced spending on welfare, healthcare, crime prevention, and other social goods over time. It's a far more efficient way of building a community people want to live in than cutting taxes for the rich.
posted by harriet vane at 10:36 PM on October 2, 2012


The Nation, editorial: Re-Elect The President
Progressive opinions on Barack Obama’s first term are as conflicted as his record. These differences are a sign of a diverse and spirited left, and we welcome continued debate in our pages about the president’s record and policies. But that discussion should not obscure what is at stake in this election. A victory for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in November would validate the reactionary extremists who have captured the Republican Party. It would represent the triumph of social Darwinism, the religious right, corporate power and the big money donors who thrive in a new Gilded Age of inequality. It would strike a devastating blow to progressive values and movements, locking us in rear-guard actions on a range of issues—from the rights of women, minorities, immigrants and LGBT people to the preservation of social insurance programs and a progressive tax structure. Inside the Democratic Party, Obama’s defeat would embolden the Blue Dogs and New Dems, who have greased the party’s slide to the right. Whatever disappointments we have with Obama’s first term—and there are many—progressives have a profound interest in the popular rejection of the Romney/Ryan ticket.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2012


The Claremont Institute: The Crisis Of Liberalism
For most of the past century, liberalism was happy to use relativism as an argument against conservatism. Those self-evident truths that the American constitutional order rested on were neither logically self-evident nor true, Woodrow Wilson and his followers argued, but merely rationalizations for an immature, subjective form of right that enshrined selfishness as national morality. What was truly evident was the relativity of all past views of morality, each a reflection of its society's stage of development. But there was a final stage of development, when true morality would be actualized and its inevitability made abundantly clear, that is, self-evident. Disillusionment came in the 1960s when the purported end or near-end of history coincided not with idealism justified and realized, but with what many liberals, especially the young, despaired of as the infinite immorality of poverty, racial injustice, Vietnam, the System, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Relativism rounded on liberalism. Having promised so much, liberalism was peculiarly vulnerable to the charge that the complete spiritual fulfillment it once promised was neither complete nor fulfilling. History's test was postponed indefinitely, or cancelled rather, because there were no final and true standards by which to judge it. As Obama's own life shows, intelligent and morally sensitive liberals may try to suppress or internalize the problem of relativism but it cannot be forgotten or ignored. Despite his rhetorical investment in "deliberative democracy" and pragmatic progressivism, Obama is willing to throw it all aside at the moment of decision because it doesn't satisfy his love of justice or rather his love of a certain kind of courage or resolute action. "The blood of slaves reminds us that our pragmatism can sometimes be moral cowardice," he writes in a revealing section of The Audacity of Hope (2006). In a moment like that, he argues, a great man must follow his own absolute truth, and the rest of us are left hoping it is Abraham Lincoln and not John Brown, much less Jefferson Davis, whose will is triumphant. The great man doesn't anticipate or follow or approximate history's course then; he creates it, wills it according to his own absolute will, not absolute knowledge.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:09 PM on October 8, 2012


Whatevers left of the Left
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:02 PM on October 10, 2012


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