Love in a time of multiple equilibria
May 18, 2018 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Picketty is back with another pot-boiler: Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict. Thrill at explanations for how elites in France, UK, and US have captured both major political wings and so prevent the correction of inequality! At 65 pages, this is a quick-for-Picketty read. (SLPSE)
posted by The Gaffer (24 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
I liked Capital, but I find this disappointing.

He says it has “long been argued” that racism is a reason that poor white people vote against their interests in building a stronger welfare state, which is dismissive. If he believed it, he would say it, not that other people have been saying it a long time. He doesn’t refute it, but he goes on to say that even if racism is a factor, it’s not the only factor. Well ok, fair enough — there’s strong evidence that in many cases it is, but let’s hear he has to say.

“First, the extent of “racism” of certain White voters in the US (or France or elsewhere) cannot simply be taken as given. At some level, it must be related to actual experience with racial relations, and also to the ability of certain social policies and institutions to unify (or not) the perception of identity and class solidarity. E.g. French Latinos are not perceived and do not perceive themselves as Latinos, unlike US Latinos. The fact that social policies have been relatively segmented in the US (i.e. targeted toward specific groups) has arguably made it more difficult to develop a sense of common interest and to counteract racist perceptions and other prejudices. “

And let’s look at that very weird paragraph more closely.

The quotation marks around “racism” in that paragraph are his. That’s a strange choice. It implies that he doesn’t believe racism exists, or at the very least that it’s overblown, that people are calling things racist that aren’t.

Then he says “at some level, it must be related to actual experiences with racial relations” which implies that what we are calling racism is actually justified based on majority populations experiences with minority populations? I mean, it really sounds like he’s saying that prejudice against minority populations is justified, and we’re wrong to call it racist.

Then he blames “policies” and “institutions” for “not unifying people around class solidarity?” What? Which “policies” and “institutions” are charged with that? Where would that happen outside Communist revolutions? And we know from the Soviet Union that unfortunately not even specific policies and institutions charged with unifying people around class solidarity eliminates racism.

Then he says “French Latinos are not perceived and do not perceive themselves as Latinos, unlike US Latinos.” Well no fucking duh. Being Latino in France and the United States is completely different. France has no history of annexing a Latino country. France’s population is not 20% Latino. As far as I know there aren’t any ugly stereotypes of French Latinos. And Macron didn’t campaign on the idea that Latinos must be kept out of France at all costs because they’re criminals and animals.

But then he says the weirdest thing of all: “The fact that social policies have been relatively segmented in the US (ie targeted toward specific groups) has arguable made it more difficult to develop a sense of common interest and to counteract racist perceptions and other prejudices.”

This is just… not true. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against anybody based on race, it doesn’t just apply to black people. The only targeting that social policies do is actually income based. There’s no special WIC for Native Americans, no Medicaid only black people are eligible for, no housing assistance you have to be Latino to get.

Honestly the fact that he would say something like this makes him sound super-right-wing, like he actually believes that minority populations are getting benefits white people are not.

Beyond all this, there’s the fact that young people and women have shifted toward the “liberal” party just as much as educated people have. He acknowledges this, but doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t analyze politics through those lenses instead of education. I mean it’s not like there was some golden age of politics in France the US or England when one party was actually run by anybody who wasn’t basically “elite” either through education, wealth or both. So it’s not clear why the shift of educated (but not necessarily wealthy) voters to one party matters more than the shift of women or young people to it. In fact, racism explains the shift of all 3 — educated, female and young — voters quite nicely.
posted by mrmurbles at 5:29 PM on May 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


Then he says “at some level, it must be related to actual experiences with racial relations” which implies that what we are calling racism is actually justified based on majority populations experiences with minority populations? I mean, it really sounds like he’s saying that prejudice against minority populations is justified, and we’re wrong to call it racist.

I think you answer your own question here:

Being Latino in France and the United States is completely different. France has no history of annexing a Latino country. France’s population is not 20% Latino. As far as I know there aren’t any ugly stereotypes of French Latinos. And Macron didn’t campaign on the idea that Latinos must be kept out of France at all costs because they’re criminals and animals.

posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:09 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well Piketty's main point is two-fold, first that the last 50 years show a trend of political opposition between educated people vs wealthy people... which seems too obvious and vulgar and if actually true maybe that's just a taboo, and second that identity divisions can thwart political solidarity... which is basically plausible.
He suggests that the way to surmount these two dimensions of education and identity is to come up with a truly comprehensive (meaning, global) egalitarian (meaning, I'm not sure) platform (so, like, Comintern??)
posted by polymodus at 8:18 PM on May 18, 2018


This is just… not true. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against anybody based on race, it doesn’t just apply to black people. The only targeting that social policies do is actually income based. There’s no special WIC for Native Americans, no Medicaid only black people are eligible for, no housing assistance you have to be Latino to get.

You are actually wrong about this. To name just two, affirmative action policies (like, for example, benefits and set-asides for minority-owned businesses) and school desegregation policies (for example) have been explicitly targeted at remedying or counteracting the effects of anti-black racism (and other forms of racism, but certainly not racism against whites). As another example, the DOJ's use of its power to supervise police departments is invoked in response to systematic racism against specific racial or ethnic groups, and those groups have never, to my knowledge, involved white people. Going all the way back to the 14th Amendment and Reconstruction, there have been social policies that were specifically designed to benefit black victims of racism. Taking a race-aware approach to social policy in the US has often been sensible, because anti-black racism has been particularly pernicious, violent, and harmful.

The right wing of the Supreme Court would have you believe that the proper anti-racist approach for US law is, and has always been, a race-neutral approach. However, that is simply not the case.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:19 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


@Rock’emSock’em

So, is your point that there’s no racism against Latinos in France? Because his dismissiveness of racism isn’t just regarding Latinos in France. He’s broadly dismissive of it, and uses Latinos in France as a straw man to effectively say that because Latinos in France aren’t self- or other-identified it’s arbitrary that Latinos in the US are. This is patently ridiculous.

I continue to disagree that in the US “social policy” “has ben relatively segmented” in any meaningful way. But if you’re going to count school desegregation as a legitimate cause of working class disunity, I’m not sure what the remedy is. The working class in the US is 41% nonwhite, so any party that enacts “separate but equal” laws or allows them to stand isn’t going to unify the working class either.
posted by mrmurbles at 9:08 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying there's a solution. I certainly am not arrogant enough to propose a race-neutral policy that will solve racism in the US (!!! my god, the stones it would take to try to do that...). I'm saying that your description of US policy is clearly inaccurate. It is factually incorrect. You said that the author's accurate statement about US policy "makes him sound super-right-wing." Given that, it might be worth taking a step back and considering whether your reaction to this piece is based on a legitimate disagreement with the author, or whether it is, instead, based on a fundamental misunderstanding about the history of race in the US.

So, is your point that there’s no racism against Latinos in France? Because his dismissiveness of racism isn’t just regarding Latinos in France. He’s broadly dismissive of it, and uses Latinos in France as a straw man to effectively say that because Latinos in France aren’t self- or other-identified it’s arbitrary that Latinos in the US are. This is patently ridiculous.

My point is that you agree with what he is saying if you think that understanding the actual operation of racism in France is important to understanding racism in France. That is clearly what he means when he says that an understanding of the operation of racism "must be related to actual experiences with racial relations."
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:28 PM on May 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


> Yes, resentment of the upper middle class is up because of bullshit articles like yours blaming the upper middle class for the sins of our ruling Oligarchs.

And also because they are the face of gentrification, even though the 1% is the ultimate cause.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:28 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


and also because they often do the heavy lifting for the 1% and have immense influence on local politics and policies that hurt the other 90%

the upper middle class is part of the problem in this country
posted by pyramid termite at 3:34 AM on May 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


I thought there was lots of interesting stuff in here, even if some bits are obvious and other bits are problematic.
...high wealth is a stronger determinant of right wing vote than high income.
This reminds me of the Thatcherite insight that they could move the politics of the nation rightward if they got more people to own their houses rather than rent them. (It also makes me think that student loan forgiveness - or upfront subsidies - for high-income professional occupations would be a smart move by Republicans.)
The process through which women have become more left-wing over time (which we also find for the US and Britain) involves complex issues which are beyond the scope of the present paper.
This would make for an interesting discussion, and I wish he had explored it more. Is it feminism? Higher education? The income vs. wealth split? Surely some of his numbers would've provided some clues.
Generally speaking, the young seem to lean strongly to the left following long periods of right-wing governments, and to lean much more modestly to the left (or even not at all) following periods of left-wing governments.
There's generally nothing worse for the popularity of a political idea than giving its proponents power for a while. When that's not the case, you know that you're looking at a truly exceptional political movement.
posted by clawsoon at 4:27 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Without a strong and convincing egalitarian-internationalist platform, it is inherently difficult to unite low-education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party.
Picketty seems to be concluding that the best way forward is for Brahmins to put more effort into selling their egalitarian-internationalism to get the poor and uneducated to buy in. It is disappointing that he did not offer any critique of the Left Brahmins, or show any sympathy for the position of the nativists. He simply assumes that the Brahmins are correct and that the nativists require re-programming. Unless and until the leadership of the Left shows some solidarity with the nativists, there will be no unity. A Left that talks about controlled immigration and improved opportunities will do better than one that espouses open borders and aggressive redistribution.
posted by No Robots at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2018


Unfortunately looking at the thread about the top 10% of income earners in the professional / managerial class I'm not convinced that 'left' is a very useful description for them, even if they strongly identify as Democrats.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:34 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It seems that the idea of redistribution is rather raw and remains an obscure reason why the religious right keeps religion in politics. Redistribution is culturally framed as a charitable gift (with divine will in play), rather than a self-serving group insurance for economic efficiency. For example, he mentions a poll question of taking from the rich and giving to the poor (noted as aggressive) and some groups not wanting to be associated with needing welfare (thereby voting differently). However, it isn't charitable to freely educate the best learners in the population, because it is strategic and self-serving as a general rule. It would be charitable to educate anyone else. Same for disease and accidents, as these save money for corporations and are not self-determined benefits. The left would be wise and historically correct to campaign on qualified group benefits to undercut the ancient charity narrative, rather than feed into it.
posted by Brian B. at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Kind of... something... this Brahmins v. merchants stuff is right out of Mencius Moldbug neoreaction from some years back except Piketty backs it up with data.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


A Left that talks about controlled immigration and improved opportunities will do better than one that espouses open borders and aggressive redistribution.

The problem is that that's the status quo. And people right now are increasingly extremely dissatisfied with the status quo.

People are not rational, they don't flock to a group because they're kinda sorta like what they believe. They do it because there is a vision, there is something they can believe in. And wishy washy "oh they're sorta bad so we should keep an eye on them" is going to lose to "kill 'em all." And just maybe "we're all in this together."

And I think if there's a place where the left is falling down with respect to connecting with people that are inclined to be nativist, it's because most people on the left don't really believe in identity as something deeply rooted and important, it's just something everyone should be free to choose for themselves. And I think, if the left needs to move forward on that front, there needs to be a vision for protecting and preserving and celebrating everyone's ethnic identity, majority, minority, or otherwise.

I don't think that's going to happen without attacking the very idea of the nation-state itself: that political divisions should fall along ethnic divisions. Because I think what's driving the Euro-skepticism and the rise of nativism in the US (among people, a lot of whose roots don't even go back that much further than they're grandparents) is that fear of a loss of group identity. And I don't think the left is really strong on solutions for that, because most people on the left don't even see it as a problem.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2018


Rock 'em Sock 'em you've mistaken the PR about affirmative action for the facts. All studies show that the primary beneficiaries of AA have been white women, across education and employment fields. Same with business set-asides.

As far as school desegregation, if you think people of color have benefited from that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The U.S. has not meaningfully confronted or moved to remediate the effects of historical or ongoing white supremacy. Full stop.
posted by allthinky at 10:50 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


save alive nothing that breatheth: Kind of... something... this Brahmins v. merchants stuff is right out of Mencius Moldbug neoreaction from some years back except Piketty backs it up with data.

Sometimes doctors offering horrible cures get part of the diagnosis right.
posted by clawsoon at 11:46 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Rock 'em Sock 'em you've mistaken the PR about affirmative action for the facts. All studies show that the primary beneficiaries of AA have been white women, across education and employment fields. Same with business set-asides.

As far as school desegregation, if you think people of color have benefited from that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The U.S. has not meaningfully confronted or moved to remediate the effects of historical or ongoing white supremacy. Full stop.


The fact that you acknowledge that these race-conscious policies exist means that you agree with me, so I'm not really sure where you're going with this.

And frankly, I have not mistaken any kind of PR for the facts. I am extremely well-informed about the legality of race-conscious policies in the US in the 20th century. In terms of the efficacy of those policies, I'm extremely well-informed in the context of school desegregation (but not gov't contracting.) Happy to talk about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of these policies, but extremely unwilling to be spoken to as though I am whichever dim anti-affirmative-action person you would prefer to be talking to.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:10 PM on May 19, 2018


@Brian B.

Could you expand on your comment? I'm too incompetent to understand its content.
posted by constantinescharity at 1:17 PM on May 19, 2018


I don't think that's going to happen without attacking the very idea of the nation-state itself: that political divisions should fall along ethnic divisions.

National identity is based on citizenship, not on race. The racialization of citizenship is the result of perverted biology.
posted by No Robots at 2:57 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


No Robots: National identity is based on citizenship, not on race. The racialization of citizenship is the result of perverted biology.

Benedict Anderson made a convincing argument that nation-states were originally built around national print-languages. You can still see this heritage in the rage about immigrants to the U.S. who don't speak English.
posted by clawsoon at 4:26 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


^There is certainly no overstating the place of literature in the life of the nation. And the day when literature binds all mankind in a single nation is a longed-for ideal. But that ideal cannot be realized without recognizing that the nation state is as essential to man as the hive is to the bee.
posted by No Robots at 5:27 PM on May 19, 2018


No Robots: There is certainly no overstating the place of literature in the life of the nation. And the day when literature binds all mankind in a single nation is a longed-for ideal.

It's quite an interesting read, if you're into that sort of thing. He talks about journalism, too, and the peculiar disconnected way in which it creates the idea of the nation. (And the way that European empires accidentally made nation states out of their colonies by circumscribing the political circulation of colonial subjects.) (And... well... I could go on, but I'd drift even further off-topic. :-) )

But that ideal cannot be realized without recognizing that the nation state is as essential to man as the hive is to the bee.

I should have added, "but you're right, racialization did become perversely tied to the nation state ideal."

I'd agree that some sort of community is essential to people, but not necessarily the nation state. It is its own historical thing. In the past, it was more common for states to be either smaller than a language or ethnic group (squabbling Greek city states), larger than a language or ethnic group (the Assyrian empire), or randomly scattered over various language and ethnic groups (the Hapsburg dynasty).

It's near-essential at this instant in historical time, though, yeah. Statelessness is not a great position to be in.
posted by clawsoon at 4:18 AM on May 20, 2018


My son was telling me about analysis showing that the optimal size for political organization is a few million, which would seem to point toward city states. It seems to me that this is where things are heading.
posted by No Robots at 7:07 AM on May 20, 2018


Could you expand on your comment?

Yes. In modern economics we should not enlist ancient begging for charity in order to redistribute wealth (or any appeal to sentimental justice), but rather make routine economic adjustments such as taxation. Uneven distribution of wealth is not a flaw of the economy, its just how systems work normally. We can adjust for uneven distribution by taxing profits and luxury spending, and by collecting environmental fees in order to cover the social costs of anything that pollutes or depletes. Nothing new here, except that higher education and public health care are also the costs of doing business. Companies need these services to compete globally but they can't afford them on their own, like highways or defense spending. Wealthy beneficiaries of capitalism try to evade these social costs to save money on income tax, as they also try to shift the burden to people who can't afford to pay, or cry socialism to pretend it isn't their cost. But it is all controlled by a publicly printed and insured money supply that functions to levy taxes for the general welfare. It works because it doesn't pretend to dictate the economy and relies on the same accounting as investors demand.
posted by Brian B. at 9:28 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


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