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“We were for the Contras in Nicaragua; wary of affirmative action,”
June 22, 2013 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Matt Welch, Reason: The Death of Contrarianism
Klein, then at The American Prospect, a progressive D.C. opinion magazine founded in 1990, wanted Peters, founder (in 1969) of The Washington Monthly, to answer for the way neoliberalism had degenerated into lefty-on-lefty contrarianism. “What has happened, at least to some younger folks like me,” Klein said, “is that at times this appears to have become not an honest critique, but a positioning device. The idea that it’s not about the quality of the argument, but the display: You show honesty by attacking Democrats, you show independence by attacking liberals. At times I think that has been a damaging impulse on our side.”

Jon Chait: Neoliberalism is dead - what killed it?
Why? I'd say it's because the neoliberal project succeeded in weaning the Democrats of the wrong turn they took during the 1960s and 1970s. The Democrats under Bill Clinton -- and Obama, whose domestic policy is crafted almost entirely by Clinton veterans -- has internalized the neoliberal critique.

Welch never entertains this possibility.
Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly: Do Progressives Need "Contrarians"?
One important reason the tone of liberal “heresy” has changed is that the “contrarians” won a lot of battles, from the “reinventing government” movement to a more robust support for private-sector innovation to reforms of the “welfare state” to more regular engagement with actual progressive voters as opposed to self-appointed interest group representatives. An equally important reason, which is entirely missing in Welch’s analysis, is what happened on the Right with the gradual triumph of a conservative movement that was more interested in destroying the New Deal/Great Society legacy than in reforming it.
Matt Yglesias, Slate: Presidential Elections Are Boring. Policy Is Interesting.
I think the monolithic nature of the Slate staff's voting behavior says more about the banality of presidential politics than it does about the range of public policy views one might debate. Lots of people in America are social conservatives who want to ban abortion and think legal discrimination against gay couples is a great idea. Many Americans also believe that anthropogenic climate change is a myth. But relatively few such people work at American magazines of any stripe or in any capacity. (Welch, for example, does not believe any of those things.)
via Lefties: The Death of Neoliberalism Has Been Greatly Exaggerated, Because Neoliberals Won!
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I disagree.
posted by jonmc at 6:48 AM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The dime's worth of difference has become a penny's worth of rhetoric.
posted by spitbull at 6:55 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


TNR has certainly changed! I used to read it in my high school library in the Sixties, and it offered a different perspective than did the daily paper. But...they supported the Contras?! I don't know what you call a magazine with a soft spot for death squads, but it's not liberal. I don't think it's neoliberal either. I never liked that term. Neo-Luddite? Not that one either. Does "neo" mean "kinda?" It's supposed to mean "new," I think, but it doesn't, in practice. Perhaps the prefix "quasi" would be a little more honest.

I stopped reading TNR when I got out of my high school and realized that there were a few more flavors of political thought than I had realized. On the Internet, though, I do have the occasional misfortune of running across a New Republic article. They have been having an identity crisis for too long. I guess being inside the Beltway can do that to you.
posted by kozad at 7:15 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, neo-liberalism should be, basically, old-school liberalism, with the same goals in mind, but with new ways of getting there. I think that for a lot of them, though, they just don't buy that fighting poverty or wealth inequality is a valid goal.
posted by empath at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2013


Labels. All labels.

It all comes down to what you believe in. Do you actually have a set of principles? Do you make any attempt to consistently apply those principles?

I am a liberal. And I lay the blame for 90% of our present problems at the feet of Reagan AND Clinton.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:49 AM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


If everything in the world were blue, there would be no reason for the word “blue” to exist. The same goes for neoliberalism.
posted by acb at 8:09 AM on June 22, 2013


I think of neoliberalism as an economic system based on supporting free trade agreements like NAFTA ... I find it odd to see that associated with the political left.
posted by chapps at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what you call a magazine with a soft spot for death squads, but it's not liberal.

"murderous, irresponsible shitheads" has always worked for me.
posted by mwhybark at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neo-liberalism has at least two notably separate definitions:

1. The combination of deregulation, privatization, and free trade (famously advocated by Milton Friedman) with or without the elimination of the social safety net.
2. An interventionist foreign policy devoted to the elimination of both tyrannical regimes and "ungoverned spaces" where terrorists and genocides flourish.

The latter definition contributed to what we now think of as "neo-conservative" foreign-policy, but it started off as neo-liberalism. A lot of the same people were involved in it under both monikers, as they became increasingly conservative.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


> I don't know what you call a magazine with a soft spot for death squads, but it's not liberal.

I keep seeing people talking about TNR as though it were liberal, or should somehow be liberal, or had backslid from some kind of recent liberalism, and it bewilders me. TNR hasn't been liberal in decades. When it was liberal, so was the New York Post, but nobody's referred to that paper as liberal in quite a while. Why do people cling to TNR's long-vanished past?
posted by languagehat at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Started me thinking what it was in liberalism that neoliberalism was running away from. Made me think of McGovern. Everyone knows Nixon's dictatorial tendencies, but McGovern still stands as the person you don't want to represent your party. More than Nixon even.

Now it's easy for me to condemn the general point of view that the ideals of '60s and '70s liberalism went "too soft" (both in foreign policy and softhearted counterproductive welfare programs)--the errors of the macho posturing that led us into Iraq are clear, for example. But we haven't gone back so far to revise 1970s era politics. Did the Cold War really require that tough outlook or was that just an excuse? We've had such blowback from Cold War era realpolitik (produced Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan problems), not to mention Latin American atrocities (Contras, etc.)
posted by Schmucko at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You guys are thinking of neoliberalism as referencing "liberalism" as in the dominant political philosophy on Metafilter. It's not. It's the liberalism that Libertarians are referring to when they call themselves "classical liberals". It's the ideology of Australia's Liberal Party. It's the ideology that Tom Friedman is defending in "The Golden Straightjacket".
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:09 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, technically, yes, the definition of "liberal" in modern parlance refers to a subset of liberalism, but yeah, liberal as in "liberal democracy".
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2013


Well the "neoliberals" were all about distancing themselves from the liberalism of the '60s counterculture. In their self-image they were the complex realistic, smart ones, and the '60s counterculture not a legitimate evolution from the classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill. Those are debatable points.
posted by Schmucko at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you think about the degree to which business profits in the US depend on rent from intellectual property you realize that there is nothing particularly "liberal" or "free trade" in the classical sense about agreements like NAFTA. They are at least as much agreements to protect rents on intellectual property as anything else...

But thinking about neoliberalism as an ideology has always been a mistake: it was about politics. There were two wedges which split the Democratic coalition of FDR. At the bottom you had race, splitting off white blue collar men. Once "Reagan democrat" became a thing, "neoliberalism" became a wedge to split post-Vietnam white-collar professionals (AKA the generation which traded defined benefit pensions for 401Ks) from what was left of the unions to create the Democratic party of today. The idea that free trade (i.e. exporting manufacturing jobs to low wage countries) and "market-based" solutions to the problems derived from social inequity in the US is anathema to everything that unions represent. The point of neoliberal pundits like Yglesias, and Klein, Kilgore, etc. was to convince a generation of urban professionals that there best interests lay in the markets and maximizing their income, rather than solidarity with blue-collar workers against the interests of the business elite. So, now every newscast starts with a report from Wall Street on how "the market" is doing and whenever the topics of unionization comes up you have a echo chamber of people who have never been in a union or had to deal with a union, but have the firm conviction that they are archaic, self-serving, inefficient, etc.

The problem is that in the US (and even in Europe) the prosperity which neoliberals claimed came from "free trade", "globalization," and the end of the labor movements seems permanently over. It's hard to keep on saying that your best interests lies in the markets when people look at their 401Ks and cry, when young people find themselves impoverished because of the student loans which were supposed to be the price of their golden ticket.

Neoliberalism was very successful at splitting the professional classes from "labor" but much of that success was built on a false prosperity, and era of bubble economics which collapsed and is collapsing still.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2013 [22 favorites]


ennui.bz:

Thank you. A million times, thank you.

That was the most concise hammer-hits-nail-head I've read in a long time. Favorited hard.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:22 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


languagehat: Why do people cling to TNR's long-vanished past?

I've wondered about that too. One thing about 1980's TNR is that it abandoned whatever was required in order to increase access to the people in power. They successfully moved inside the beltway, and so they are what a Washington insider will flash on when searching for a liberal. I save a lot of time by not reading articles that ponder liberalism and discuss TNR without even mentioning The Nation.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But...they supported the Contras?! I don't know what you call a magazine with a soft spot for death squads, but it's not liberal.

My family is Nicaraguan, and part of them were murdered by Sandinistas - assassinated in the streets and in our home, which was torn apart by their soldiers, even the stones to walk on torn out of the ground. Even the animals, pets, were killed.

I really wish that people not familiar with the depths of Nicaraguan politics would not take simplistic viewings of what "the Contras" were. "The Contras" is used to refer to a multitude of groups all opposing the Sandinista Junta, including for example Misurasata, which was a group of indigenous tribes banded together to fight back against Sandinista atrocities against their people and for autonomy. It is true that some members of the resistance engaged in bad actions - but they were fighting for freedom from the Sandinistas, who murdered thousands of people. The Sandinistas also had their assassins, their death squads, their rapists and torturers. To dismiss this as a simple conflict hurts those of us whose families were damaged by it.

Much of the left supported the Sandinistas because of their politics. It was a cause celebre, with people knowing nothing of what was happening. It is possible that some people also supported the Contras while knowing nothing of what was happening simply to be contrarian - but it is not true that the Contras were simply evil and every right-thinking person should have opposed them.
posted by corb at 2:41 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


That doesn't at all reflect what I heard from Nicaraguans when I was down there, but I guess different people had different perspectives, depending on how well off they were during the Somoza dictatorship.
posted by empath at 3:14 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb:

I am very sorry about your family and what they had to persevere. No one should have to go through that.

It is a fact, though, that a sizeable faction of the cobras was composed of Somoza's national guard.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:43 PM on June 22, 2013


If today's Democratic Party can be considered economically "neoliberal," I would think it is only because mainstream economics as developed at the leading academic institutions has become more "neoliberal" (i.e. supportive of free trade and global open markets with strong regulation and government intervention). In this, it seems to me, they are following the lead of the experts - Robert Reich, Joseph Steiglitz, Paul Krugman, Ben Bernanke, Jeffrey Sachs, etc.

It may have changed now, but all I remember hearing during the Clinton years from any economist was how protectionist economic foreign policy was a disaster for all involved.

John Maynard Keynes: "Am I a Liberal?" (1925)
But, above all, I do not believe that the intellectual elements in the Labour Party will ever exercise adequate control; too much will always be decided by those who do not know at all what they are talking about; and if—which is not unlikely—the control of the party is seized by an autocratic inner ring, this control will be exercised in the interests of the extreme left wing—the section of the Labour Party which I shall designate the party of catastrophe.

Civil and religious liberty, the franchise, the Irish question, Dominion self-government, the power of the House of Lords, steeply graduated taxation of incomes and of fortunes, the lavish use of the public revenues for ‘social reform’, that is to say, social insurance for sickness, unemployment and old age, education, housing and public health—all these causes for which the Liberal Party fought are successfully achieved or are obsolete or are the common ground of all parties alike. What remains? ... free trade survives, as a great and living political issue, by an accident. There were always two arguments for free trade—the laissez-faire argument which appealed and still appeals to the Liberal individualists, and the economic argument based on the benefits which flow from each country's employing its resources where it has a comparative advantage. I no longer believe in the political philosophy which the doctrine of free trade adorned. I believe in free trade because, in the long run and in general, it is the only policy which is technically sound and intellectually tight.

Half the copybook wisdom of our statesmen is based on assumptions which were at one time true, or partly true, but are now less and less true day by day. We have to invent new wisdom for a new age. And in the meantime we must, if we are to do any good, appear unorthodox, troublesome, dangerous, disobedient to them that begat us.

In the economic field this means, first of all, that we must find new policies and new instruments to adapt and control the working of economic forces, so that they do not intolerably interfere with contemporary ideas as to what is fit and proper in the interests of social stability and social justice.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:50 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


cobras contras (damned tablet keyboard)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:51 PM on June 22, 2013


It is a fact, though, that a sizeable faction of the cobras was composed of Somoza's national guard.

Certainly a sizeable faction, but not everyone in resistance to the Sandinistas. I think it would be more clear to say, "Somoza's guard were butchers always, while under Somoza and also while fighting against the Sandinistas" than to blacken everyone who took up arms for their country or freedom. I think that's another reason I dislike the term "the contras", because people usually mean one group but aren't clear about who.
posted by corb at 4:04 PM on June 22, 2013


Somewhere, some day, a left-of-center critique of the Obamaite consensus will emerge, perhaps even one that revives the neoliberal economic ideas currently out of fashion. It’s hard to know where the epistemic opening will come from, but we can say for certain where it won’t: The New Republic.

TNR: I'm Not a Sadist, You Sadists! Anti-austerians: Probably wrong about the debt, certainly wrong about me (Michael Kinsley)
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:31 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neoliberalism simply represents the corporate capture of liberalism.

corb: You say people oversimplify Somoza-era Nicaraguan politics. Fair enough. But is it possible that your heart-wrenching family experiences are leading you to miss the Cold-War forest for the personal experience trees? No doubt, the Contras and Sandinistas were both--in reality--complex and multifaceted groups full of nuance. That's humanity for you. But only one, as a group, was supported by the oppressive Nicaraguan elites and the Reagan government (by illegal means). In the mass psychosis that is war, particularly civil war, people are forced to choose sides, destroying the moral nuance and the inter-subjectivity required for compassion.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:32 AM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Once "Reagan democrat" became a thing, "neoliberalism" became a wedge to split post-Vietnam white-collar professionals (AKA the generation which traded defined benefit pensions for 401Ks) from what was left of the unions to create the Democratic party of today.

I agree with you that neoliberalism was a way of splitting off labor from labor liberalism, but you also have to put neoliberalism in the context of labor abandoning liberals. You had rank-and-file white unionists voting for George Wallace in 1964 and 1968, as well as George Meany of the AFL-CIO working in cahoots with Nixon in 1972 for no reason more profound than he thought hippie antiwar protesters were a bunch of faggots. When it comes to the schism between labor and liberalism since the mid-1960s, abandonment was a two-way street.
posted by jonp72 at 7:49 AM on June 23, 2013


Liberal Bias or Neoliberal Bias?: Neil Gross's "Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:44 PM on June 23, 2013


excuse my cherrypicking:

It all comes down to what you believe in. Do you actually have a set of principles? Do you make any attempt to consistently apply those principles?

I am a liberal. And I lay the blame for 90% of our present problems at the feet of Reagan AND Clinton.


I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, but not the number. There needs, at least, to be a large allocation of blame to the Congresses of the that/this era, as well as the GWB administration. And, regrettably, it would seem wise to reserve some for the Obama years, as a hedge against having to re-allocate in sadly short order.

You guys are thinking of neoliberalism as referencing "liberalism" as in the dominant political philosophy on Metafilter. It's not. It's the liberalism that Libertarians are referring to when they call themselves "classical liberals". It's the ideology of Australia's Liberal Party. It's the ideology that Tom Friedman is defending in "The Golden Straightjacket".

I'm not sure that this is really neoliberalism, either. In the sense that whatever its ultimate worth or harm, neoliberalism had and has more structure and substance than the emptyheaded pro-gloabalization blandishments of The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

But thinking about neoliberalism as an ideology has always been a mistake: it was about politics....The point of neoliberal pundits like Yglesias, and Klein, Kilgore, etc. was to convince a generation of urban professionals that there best interests lay in the markets and maximizing their income, rather than solidarity with blue-collar workers against the interests of the business elite.

Yes, this! This. Although there are other dimensions to neoliberalism (notably, its foreign policy, as alluded to w/r/t a global system of rents).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:47 AM on June 24, 2013


(re Friedman -- it seems to me that everything since Lexus... has just been so much hot air trying to defend the same position with updated buzzwords, in increasing self-parody.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:54 AM on June 24, 2013


LARB: What Was Neoliberalism?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:22 PM on June 28, 2013


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