Uncommonly radical and eloquent history
May 14, 2024 12:19 AM   Subscribe

All these right-wing thinkers are much more comfortable thinking about the blurred lines between sexual and economic politics than many thinkers on the left. And they understand that Keynesianism rests on a certain kind of sexual contract. Any challenge to this order—whether it be an escalation of wage or benefit claims, or the flight from sexual normativity, or unmarried women claiming welfare benefits—disrupts the fiscal and monetary calculus on which Keynesianism rests. Public spending becomes profligate, debt burdens become intolerable, inflation spirals out of control. All of which is to say that the state is subsidizing marginal lives more than it is subsidizing capital. from Extravagances of Neoliberalism, a conversation with Melinda Cooper [The Baffler; ungated]
posted by chavenet (53 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is really interesting, thank you!
posted by Wretch729 at 4:11 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


there’s always a limit to the concessions that the capitalist state is prepared to make. And that limit is: “We will not go beyond the white male citizen worker.”

I think the understanding of this is also behind a lot of the current anger of a certain kind of white men - they aren’t wrong that with the rise of marginalized people came a lessening of their personal benefits, they just misunderstand why and who is to blame for it. So they take it out on the people themselves rather than capital.
posted by corb at 4:57 AM on May 14 [21 favorites]


This was a great interview, and leaves me anxious to hear what the next thing is, what's the revolution against neoliberalism? We've seen austerity, but here in the US at least, austerity didn't really work--deficits didn't decrease, household debt skyrocketed--there's some psychological thermostat of spending that we can't seem to turn down. We are funneling so much money from the future, but with a lack of investment (Biden's recent moves notwithstanding) so that we can actually build out that future to pay for today. I've asked before, who is our modern Marx, but I might also ask, who's our Friedman? Who on the conservative side can explain where this goes next? A financial feudalism where only liquidity is wealth, where you are future-poor, with a house ever-appreciating but unable to be sold to another human being because it's too expensive? (That is, what use is the sort of domestic-control the focus on homeownership supplies, if the home is a locus of debt that can never be paid off or sold?)
posted by mittens at 6:10 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


I liked this, and she articulates a vision of the future that is close to what I'd like to see. I don't know enough details of economic theory to evaluate all her claims, but I certainly can't argue with her conclusion:

MC: With greater public abundance, intimate coercion becomes escapable. It becomes escapable for those whose historic economic dependence have made them most vulnerable to personal violence: women, mothers, children, the young. We’ve seen this historically. In periods where unemployment benefits rise, tuition is free, and housing is cheap, people are much more free to experiment. They have more space not just for creating new kinds of relationship or kinship structure but also for escaping them when they don’t work.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on May 14 [16 favorites]


The revolution against neo liberals is fascism, because neolib doesn't do enough to actively suppress The Other
posted by Jacen at 6:37 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


Us proud neoliberals are working to reclaim the term.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:49 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Not directly related to this thread, but David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism was both amazingly eye opening and a page turner. I never read nonfiction but stumbled onto this book due to work and couldn't put it down.
posted by Literaryhero at 7:10 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


what's the revolution against neoliberalism?

I would argue that it's Modern Monetary Theory, with a glaring caveat of needing a better narrative around inflation mitigation. Stephanie Kelton (and perhaps Piketty) covers the topic for the wonk set, and Steve Keen does the same for the crank set. But you could argue that if neoliberalism sits in the center (albeit center-right to appease capital), MMT sits on one side (public sector economies), full-scale laissez-faire corporatism (private sector economies) on the other. I also like Mariana Mazzucato's framework of the entrepreneurial state for an incrementalist response.

I hesitate to add political framings like fascism or libertarianism or anarcho-syndicalism here, muddying the economic drivers.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 7:12 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


Thought collective actually originates in the work of Ludwik Fleck.
posted by HearHere at 7:43 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


> I've asked before, who is our modern Marx

i know right, i'm over here like am i going to have to do this myself
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 8:00 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]


i know right, i'm over here like am i going to have to do this myself
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements


The Buttsist Manifesto
posted by notoriety public at 8:21 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


I think it's more than a little weird that they conflate Neoliberalism (an unambiguously Supply-Side Capitalist ideology with an allergic aversion to any labor power whatsoever) with Keynesianism, which is more of a paleo-liberalism, much more Demand-Side Capitalist and when it was ascendant for a couple decades or so was very keen on labor power.
posted by tclark at 8:39 AM on May 14 [12 favorites]


The revolution against neo liberals is fascism...

Wouldn't that be more of an evolution?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


> The Buttsist Manifesto

funkadelic had it backwards: free your ass and your mind will follow

anyway the original post is interesting but — and i thought for a little while about whether this is just a tetchy quibble and upon consideration have decided that it is in fact nota tetchy quibble — the failure to mention neoliberal foreign policy and its centrality to the neoliberal project is a glaring absence and kind of compromises the thesis as a whole. neoliberalism is an unstable system that can only balance itself through opening up new markets at a steady clip.

like basically you can't discuss neoliberalism without also discussing chile
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 9:21 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


what's the revolution against neoliberalism?

Burning money
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


TFA is interesting enough to make me consider reading the book. That the New Deal was basically affirmative action for white guys is old hat to a certain fraction of us. But TFA makes it sound like capital was ever on board with the New Deal, which was never the case. The argument that "owners were OK with unionism until it started to extend to women and POC" is ahistorical. I think it's more convincing that it just literally took 50 years for Conservative governance to lose the shitty stink it acquired in the 1920s. A whole big chunk of America literally had to die before there could be enough R voters to elect another President. It is really hard to imagine, in today's world, the near-universal rejection of R governance that results in a 59-37 Senate in 1932, a 71-25 one in 1934, and finally an 80-16 Senate majority for FDR at the start of 1937. It takes six years for The People to reject a Party in the Senate, and in this case that definitely happened. The contemporary R Party has not yet come close to wrecking so many peoples' lives that they are in any danger of a result like that.

And to reiterate, capital never agreed to abide by the results of how FDR used that Senate majority. It took until after FDR was dead but they got the Taft-Hartley act in over Truman's veto, basically castrating the labor movement. It was the work of further decades to use the results of Taft-Hartley to make unions irrelevant to most workers but capital never slept on the job there. It was the influence of Taft-Hartley that let Reagan get away with firing the controllers. It is Taft-Hartley that makes the notion of a General Strike nonsensical in America.

Another narrative about Neoliberalism v Keynesianism says that, during and after WWII, the old Snidely Whiplash capitalist owners were replaced by a specialist professional management class who did not have the owners' visceral antipathy toward labor organization, and these are the people who made the accommodation with labor in the 1945-1975 period(1). At length, a conservative case was made to corporate boards and shareholders' meetings that new incentive structures were needed to align the interests of management with those of the owners. That was accomplished, and the firing of the controllers by Reagan was both an expression of the movement and a support for it. So we have the world of today, where executive team compensation is tightly tied to short-term bottom-line performance of the company, and political hostility to organized labor has regained its historical position of total dominance (until Biden came along).

Nonetheless TFA was a good read and thanks much @chavenet.

(1) This is a capsule summary of John Kenneth Galbraith's One Idea, expressed over and over again from The Affluent Society through The New Industrial State.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 9:31 AM on May 14 [31 favorites]


The argument that "owners were OK with unionism until it started to extend to women and POC" is ahistorical.

I would argue rather that capital was okay with giving limited benefits to unions of white citizen men, as a sop and compromise to divide the unionist movement, to unions that were okay with kicking out the communists and noncitizens and women and people of color. Unions started more diverse and then rapidly narrowed into a less threatening configuration. The AFL accepted the strictures quickly; the CIO fought for a while then eventually got taken. And it was always a trick. So it’s not that capital was okay with unions, it’s that capital tolerated pie cards and restrictive unions as a shield against more powerful ones.
posted by corb at 10:33 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


@corb, it's the kind of topic where multiple narratives can be illuminating. But saying "Capital was okay" is not how it was. Capital temporarily lost most of its political representation and the class interest of owners was temporarily pushed aside by a perceived national interest in using organized labor to defuse tensions that might lead to revolution. Capital had labor unionism rammed down its throat and promptly pushed back as hard as it could as soon as it got some political mojo back. "Capital was okay" does not illuminate in this case.

To explain why the benefits were limited to white guys all you need is the white supremacist male chauvinism of the political actors who were ok with some redistributionist policy, if it could help foil the Commies.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 11:00 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


I was watching a documentary recently which argued that it was the oil crisis that took a giant chunk of money out of the hands of elected governments and put it into the hands of bankers and other financial actors and made all this possible. The neoliberals (and the politicians who loved them) jumped on the opportunity to turn a de facto change in power relationships into law.

Money flows to oil princes; they hand it over to bankers to invest it for them; the US dollar is propped up by being the currency that all this happens in. The money (and power that goes with it) stays safely out of the hands of workers. Like the interviewee says, as much debt as you like can slosh around in the top of this system, as long as it all stays up there.
posted by clawsoon at 11:18 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


I'm looking forward to when they're able to put the Pandemic into this context. The level of aggression used to roll back emergency protections and unemployment benefits was awfully conspicuous.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:27 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


In reality, supply-side neoliberals were all about extravagant spending, but they were very clear that this spending had to take the form of so called tax incentives, their euphemism for tax expenditures

Cooper correctly points out that the fiscal impact of a tax cut and spending increase is the same on the bottom line budget, but uses this to assume that all other impacts and aspects of tax cuts and spending increases are the same and treats them as equivalent in the rest of her work.

However, this is an overreaching equivalence. Tax cuts are different from spending increases in several important ways and there's a reason that programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are distributed through tax credits/cuts.

The most important ways are:
Tax cuts are cheaper and more responsive to changes in the economy. Social spending remains constant or increases during recessions, while the fiscal impact of tax cuts declines as people make less. This was especially important in the 70's and 80's when the US Federal Government was in a more precarious fiscal position.

Incentives are different. Incentives for tax cuts are to increase personal income, which has follow-on effects that make others better off by lowering prices and beneficial trades. Incentives for direct benefits are to cut income below caps to ensure qualification and for service providers to raise prices to extract the entire benefit. If you're given 1 month in a section 8 apartment, you don't care if the landlord gets 600 or 800 a month so prices increase towards the cap.
posted by hermanubis at 12:47 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


The article is interesting, and Piketty is on my shelf but i haven't dived in yet.

...the accommodation with labor in the 1945-1975 period

Source forgotten, but I recall reading an essay or article that claims that post WW II, the US chose to throw concessions at labour as a visible counter to communism. Look, see.... workers are better off under capitalism!

Then in 89 the Berlin wall falls and the USSR is no more, and the honeymoon with labour was over.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:53 PM on May 14 [13 favorites]


hermanubis: Tax cuts are cheaper and more responsive to changes in the economy. Social spending remains constant or increases during recessions, while the fiscal impact of tax cuts declines as people make less. This was especially important in the 70's and 80's when the US Federal Government was in a more precarious fiscal position.

"More responsive" depends on what kind of response you want to have to economic changes, doesn't it? Tax cuts are more of a pre-Keynesian idea, where you want spending and money circulation to go down when the economy slows down, while social programs are more of a Keynesian idea, where you want spending and money circulation to be pushed back up when its tendency has become downward.

And how expensive a tax cut is or isn't for the government depends a lot on who the beneficiary is, doesn't it?
posted by clawsoon at 1:04 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


> Tax cuts are cheaper and more responsive to changes in the economy. Social spending remains constant or increases during recessions, while the fiscal impact of tax cuts declines as people make less. This was especially important in the 70's and 80's when the US Federal Government was in a more precarious fiscal position.

for funsies i'm going to try to restate this in mmt terms:
  1. since taxes are how governments destroy money/remove it from circulation, a tax cut is the government refraining from destroying some amount of currency it would have otherwise destroyed
  2. social spending is on the other hand the state creating money
the amount of money destroyed through tax cuts is less when there's a downturn, since ceteris paribus or whatever the recipients of the tax cuts make less money and therefore less of their money gets destroyed. the amount of money created through social spending remains relatively fixed, though, aside from adjustments for inflation — which, if they exist, are increased by the existence of tax cuts, since the government choosing to destroy less money results (again ceteris paribus or whatever) in increased potential for inflation.

tax cuts appear to be appropriately counter-cyclical, since more money remains in circulation during downturns. social spending is also appropriately counter-cyclical, since the money created becomes a larger portion of the total available money when there's a downturn.

one problem with tax cuts, though, is that there's a finite amount of money you can refrain from destroying. another is that the people whose money the government refrains from destroying are necessarily people who have money to be destroyed.

i guess in these terms the eitc is best understood as social spending rather than a tax cut due to how it can run the meter backward, i.e. it injects money into the accounts of people who don't have money to destroy. things like the eitc — measures that look like they're refraining from destroying money, but actually work through creating money — are maybe very good, since they're a means for doing social spending that can sneak past the legislative guards against social spending.

it feels like refraining from destroying money is on the whole the weaker method, since if someone has no money there's no way to refrain from destroying it. but also this is just a feel rather than a real thought — i'm half-bright at best and operating well out of my domain of competency.

also i am certain that my understanding of mmt is very, very shallow, so if anyone has the time and interest required to educate folks, you would be doing all of us a meaningful solid.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 1:32 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


> Artful Codger: "Source forgotten, but I recall reading an essay or article that claims that post WW II, the US chose to throw concessions at labour as a visible counter to communism."

Oooh, if you manage to remember this source, I would be very interested to learn of it. I've had some recent thoughts regarding whether or not the decline and ultimate end of Soviet communism helped speed the deterioration of social safety nets in general (labor-oriented or otherwise) in the West. For example, I can't help but wonder if the US govt (federal, state, and/or local) would have addressed things like, say, the homelessness crisis more aggressively if they knew that the Soviets would have a field day incorporating videos of urban tent encampments in their propaganda.
posted by mhum at 1:37 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Source forgotten, but I recall reading an essay or article that claims that post WW II, the US chose to throw concessions at labour as a visible counter to communism.

I feel like this was one of the themes of Schlesinger's histories, either or both of The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933 and The Coming of the New Deal, 1933-1935.
posted by clawsoon at 1:51 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


the more i think about it, the more

> Tax cuts are cheaper and more responsive to changes in the economy. Social spending remains constant or increases during recessions, while the fiscal impact of tax cuts declines as people make less.

appears straightforwardly wrong and/or a distraction. it's good that social spending effectively increases during recessions, and it's also good that taxes effectively decrease during recessions, and both means of ensuring additional money remains extant have "natural" counter-cyclical effects during recessions, and if a mechanism exists whereby government has to respond to popular pressure, that pressure can result in both the government refraining from destroying money and also in the government injecting extra money, like, the two methods can't really be distinguished in terms of popular pressure hypothetically resulting in government action..
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 1:53 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Oooh, if you manage to remember this source, I would be very interested to learn of it.

A quick Google brings up The Cold War and the Welfare State in Western Europe. I believe it is one of many essays on a similar theme.
posted by clawsoon at 2:08 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


A more readable essay on the same theme: The Cold War and the Welfare State:
During the Cold War, the choice facing ruling elites in Western countries was between perpetuating the interwar laissez faire system that had created working class misery, and which in turn threatened to create an opening for Communists, and building welfare states. Even for conservatives, that was an easy choice. Building North Atlantic welfare states in the postwar period was an explicitly counter-Communist political project shared by Christian and Social Democrats alike. Its explicit political goal was to marginalize the influences of the far Left.
posted by clawsoon at 2:14 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


For example, I can't help but wonder if the US govt (federal, state, and/or local) would have addressed things like, say, the homelessness crisis more aggressively if they knew that the Soviets would have a field day incorporating videos of urban tent encampments in their propaganda.

I think this idea, like the rest of the actual post's conversation, is so wrong it's not even close. Like the downzonings that created the housing crisis we are currently experiencing started with the outset of the Cold War 1940-1990 - when the USSR was at its strongest. You can read what people thought about it then and why they did it- the USSR doesn't get mentioned.

At best you could say they really took environmentalism damage to heart, but just drew bad conclusions due to thoughtless thought experiments rather than actual data. Also, the leadership groups were able to exploit public concerns about the environment for nefarious reasons. It's easy to see this to this day - what gets derogatorily described as 'Soviet architecture'? Basic apartment buildings, not single family homes. At worst, you could say they were racist, classist, and mean. But they knew what they were doing.

Also, I just don't quite buy the thesis - the 'neoliberal' causes caused the erosion of the welfare state, at least not in the US. I think the article hints at the actual causes, but it just flies right over it. "There’s almost a theological element to their reading of debt and deficits as tantamount to sin. " Taking this analogy to it's second level, the poor are all so because they are dumb and crooked (obvious racism here too, but also paternalism) therefore welfare must make doubly sure they are on the straight and narrow first, and then help them second. That's been a policy for a long time - it was a feature of The New Deal efforts (you have to work to get accumulate Social Security), and probably since before. I'm not sure what the first means tested social policy was, but I'd bet it predates the US.

Social assistance in the US is larger than it ever has been - it's just extremely poorly allocated. Only 70 million people in the US - about 20% of the population, are even on Federal 'social assistance' programs, at they get $779billion dollars. that's enough to give everyone on it $11k per year in cash. But they don't get that much, because there are a bunch of programs, and they all have different rules about allocations.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:33 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


The article also makes a big deal about consumers using debt to shore up uncertain (or falling) income. But the actual data doesn't tell that story. The median credit card balance at the lowest income tier is only $1400, debt increases almost linearly with income, and the aged (the vast majority with a home and constantly described as 'fixed income') generally have the least amount of debt. Read this article about personal debt - when people got increased covid payouts, they didn't use it to lavishly pay for wants- they paid down debt. How much more responsible can you expect people to be?
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:55 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


> The_Vegetables: "I think this idea, like the rest of the actual post's conversation, is so wrong it's not even close. Like the downzonings that created the housing crisis we are currently experiencing started with the outset of the Cold War 1940-1990 - when the USSR was at its strongest."

Sorry about that, but I think I was a bit imprecise in the statement of my theory. I'm not suggesting that the decline of the USSR caused things like the housing crisis. I'm more theorizing that the decline of the USSR removed one of the major impetuses for, say, the US to act to address large-scale social problems, regardless of the origin of the problems. For example, in this theory, it would also apply to things like the Bush admin's response to Hurricane Katrina. Would they have been so casual about leaving millions to suffer as they did if they knew that the Soviets (and their satellites) were watching?

I haven't had a chance to go through the sources that clawsoon to see how their theses align with my own speculations.
posted by mhum at 3:01 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


@Artful Codger, @clawsoon, @mhum

The notion that Cold War priorities helped sustain White Guy unionism is another narrative that can shed some light maybe, but

1. Keep in mind that unionism and middle-class entitlement were starting to fray by 1975. When Reagan fired all of the controllers and implicitly declared war on unions, everybody still expected the Soviet Union to be around forever. I'm particularly clear on this last point: I was there, and I was taking notes.

2. The focus is on how unionism got a foothold in the first place, and any explanation for that which does not prominently feature the catastrophic failure of conservative governance in the Great Depression, the concomitant collapse in support for the most capital-friendly of the Parties is too incomplete to be really informative. It is OK to claim that anti-Communism had a role here too: the D technocrats were smart enough to know that unions are natural enemies of Communism and there were real fears for the stability of the country in the 1930s.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 3:01 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


the D technocrats were smart enough to know that unions are natural enemies of Communism

Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but where does this claim come from?
posted by Dip Flash at 3:15 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


The_Vegetables: I just don't quite buy the thesis - the 'neoliberal' causes caused the erosion of the welfare state, at least not in the US.

Believe it or not, it's in the article and taken as truth by most people who deal in this area:
Technically, [neoliberalism] refers to the economic philosophy that populations tend to prosper to the extent that markets are free and the government sits on its hands. In practice, the philosophy was most often honored in the breach by those administrations friendliest to it; government budgets remained about the same size, and markets were still managed, only now to the clear advantage of owners rather than workers. Socially, neoliberalism is therefore associated with a host of opposite phenomena to the Keynesian cohort: retreat of the welfare state; uneven and sometimes undone progress in the emancipation of women and minorities; mounting inequality; lower income taxes; a cowed labor movement; and so on.

You might think you have a better explanation, but the consensus uses this one.
posted by k3ninho at 4:16 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


i thought the consensus considered the foreign policy element of neoliberalism crucial to the definition? i am though not one who's good at determining what consensus intersubjective reality is.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 4:21 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


> Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but where does this claim come from?

The Communist attitude about unionism is quite obvious if you've done any reading about what leftists were talking about at the time.

Many of these D technocrats were leftists, at least Socialist-curious. They would have been doing that reading.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 6:12 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Aardvark Cheeselog: 1. Keep in mind that unionism and middle-class entitlement were starting to fray by 1975.

What do you think of the narrative that it was the oil crisis which really kicked things off?

(I have a second half-baked theory that government support for mobsters in unions to get rid of commies in unions, which resulted in a mobster triumph in unions, which resulted in a lot of bad feeling toward unions, was also part of the story, but that was a slower burn.)

2. The focus is on how unionism got a foothold in the first place, and any explanation for that which does not prominently feature the catastrophic failure of conservative governance in the Great Depression, the concomitant collapse in support for the most capital-friendly of the Parties is too incomplete to be really informative.

I have also read - though I forget where - that the memory of what happened immediately after WWI also loomed large in the mind of post-WWII planners. There was very conscious planning to ensure that there wasn't another Winnipeg General Strike, or German hyperinflation, or Wall Street bomb, or, heaven help us, October Revolution. Over 4 million workers--one fifth of the nation's workforce--participated in strikes in 1919, and nobody wanted that to happen again after WWII.
posted by clawsoon at 6:21 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


The Communist attitude about unionism is quite obvious if you've done any reading about what leftists were talking about at the time.

Many of these D technocrats were leftists, at least Socialist-curious. They would have been doing that reading.


With the caveat that I'm not a labor historian, this seems like a clear misreading of history. Communists were involved in union formation, activism, and strikes from very early. For a single example, here's a snippet from a University of Washington project about communists in the Pacific Northwest:

After 1933 the Communist Party (CP) made great strides by switching from activism in the unemployed sector to aggressive union building among those who did have jobs. There was a great upsurge in Communist participation and influence in labor unions – especially in the Pacific Northwest. This participation brought the Party new members and new credibility. In his book Labor and Communism: The Conflict That Shaped American Unions, historian Burt Cochran argues that the party gained influence and credibility by taking the lead in union-building struggles and doing the hard work of organizing and taking risks where others held back. Party members gained a reputation as fighters for the working class...

Communists were a major part of early union organizing in Europe and the UK, too. (That said, it's also correct to note that in countries where communists actually took over, they weren't amenable to independent union organizing in the slightest.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


I mostly know about Communists in unions - and how they were beaten up and chased out by mobsters in unions - from a post I made a couple of years ago about the union mobster that the Liberal government of Canada invited up from the US to get the job done.
posted by clawsoon at 6:29 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Communists were avid to infiltrate unions wherever there was both a Communist party and a labor movement. This was not because they were supportive of the goals of unionism but because they thought it important that unionism should fail. Because unionism is about making life tolerable under capitalism, not about transforming the relations of production to end the exploitation of men by other men.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 6:31 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


They both end up endorsing austerity of a certain kind—it’s just that the supply-siders have realized that the United States can spend ad infinitum on subsidies to financial asset-holders. As long as they’re subsidizing an increase in asset prices, rather than the social wage, it’s all fine. They can only indulge in spending extravagance if its redistributing upwards.


The Cantillon Effect in action. The rich get richer while everyone else gets an invisible tax. It's no wonder that new digital gold is catching on.
posted by neonamber at 9:12 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


This was not because they were supportive of the goals of unionism but because they thought it important that unionism should fail.

I would be interested to see any sources you have for this being the motivation. (Genuinely, this is not a rhetorical device.)

Regardless, there are definitely leftist in unions that are very serious about labor organizing. The Wobblies being the clearest example.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 3:55 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


@The Manwich Horror, I am no scholar of Leftism to be able to provide cites. I just read a lot, and at one time that included a lot of what international socialists were saying to each other from roughly 1890-1940. These people were not reformists. They wanted to utterly transform the world (in a good way) and they thought they had the key to do that. And to a person, as far as I could tell, they condemned labor unionism as a pointless half-measure, at least in the earlier part of that period. By the end of the time I'm talking about, "international socialism" basically meant the Comintern, and their remit had become essentially "push whatever talking points Moscow wants pushed."

Note also that we are not talking "leftism" generally, but Socialism (really Communism) specifically. The revolutionary forms of Socialism. When Social Democrats and their ilk (reformers, not revolutionaries) appear they are all in on labor unionism. The Wobblies were kind of a special case, revolutionary (in rhetoric at least) but drawing on other sources than Marx. They are leftists but not Socialists for purposes of this discussion.

This topic has turned to a distraction from the main point which is namely that TFA wants to paint the legitimization of labor unionism under the New Deal as a bargain that Capital made rather than an outcome that got imposed on Capital. The author of TFA appears to be an actual Marxist and thus unable to make the distinction between Capital and the State, the latter being merely the tool that the owners use to perpetuate their ownership with no impulses of its own. In fact the State escaped the control of Capital temporarily during the New Deal era.

This is an important point because TFA wants to insist that the realignment of 1945-75, where inequality actually decreased, and the great mansions of the Gilded Age became museums or apartment buildings because nobody was rich enough to staff them with servants anymore, was a one-off that cannot be repeated, especially not while including people other than white guys as beneficiaries. That is what I really want to push back at.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 8:19 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Any talk about women, economy and state (referring to the interviewee) might want to mention the Nordic model, or something parallel, or we are free to assume they are avoiding it.
posted by Brian B. at 10:26 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


> I've asked before, who is our modern Marx, but I might also ask, who's our Friedman? Who on the conservative side can explain where this goes next?

maybe not marx, but engels? reading steven johnson's emergence, this passage struck me early on:
Manchester’s most celebrated and influential documentarian was a young man named Friedrich Engels, who arrived in 1842 to help oversee the family cotton plant there, and to witness firsthand the engines of history bringing the working class closer to self-awareness. While Engels was very much on the payroll of his father’s firm, Ermen and Engels, by the time he arrived in Manchester he was also under the sway of the radical politics associated with the Young Hegelian school. He had befriended Karl Marx a few years before and had been encouraged to visit Manchester by the socialist Moses Hess, whom he’d met in early 1842. His three years in England were thus a kind of scouting mission for the revolution, financed by the capitalist class. The book that Engels eventually wrote, The Condition of the Working Class in England, remains to this day one of the classic tracts of urban history and stands as the definitive account of nineteenth-century Manchester life in all its tumult and dynamism. Dickens, Carlyle, and Disraeli had all attempted to capture Manchester in its epic wildness, but their efforts were outpaced by a twenty-four-year-old from Prussia.
kinda in that same vein, i think albert wenger[1] -- a german venture capitalist -- wrote the (free online) book on post capitalism: World After Capital

here is the political-(socio)economy he sees evolving in a nutshell: "We went from forager to agrarian, so from food scarcity to land scarcity, then we went from land scarcity to capital scarcity. And now, we're going from capital scarcity to attentional scarcity."
RITHOLTZ: So you say something about these transitions that really jarred me. Previous transitions like agriculture emerged over thousands of years and was incredibly violent. Industrial Age lasted over hundreds of years, and also involved lots of violence and bloody revolutions, and two World Wars, which raises the obvious question, what sort of violence is the next transition based on attention scarcity potentially going to involve?

WENGER: Well, at the moment, the leading candidate is the climate crisis. [...]

WENGER: Yes. So we know all of this. And here’s the interesting thing. When we went from the agrarian age to the industrial age, we didn’t get rid of agriculture. This agriculture today, right, we all eat food that’s grown in agriculture. But what we did is we shrunk how much human attention is required to do agriculture, and we took it from being like 80% of human attention to like sub 10%.

RITHOLTZ: It’s less than 2% in United States. It’s tiny.

WENGER: So what I want to do is, let’s do the same with the rest of the economic sphere. I’m not an anti-capitalist. I’m not a degrowth. Person. I’m not suggesting we should get rid of markets. I’m just saying we should compress market-based activity from absorbing much of human attention to absorbing maybe 30% of human attention, and we should free the rest up to work on these incredibly important thing. Some of them are threats, and some of them are opportunities, right, opportunity to cure cancer, opportunity to create incredible wildlife habitats, restore those wildlife habitats, opportunity to travel to space. I mean, all these opportunities that we’re not paying attention to because they’re not — again, they’re not really market price based and can’t be market price based. There’s just no prices for them.
there's also danielle allen, rebecca solnit, jeremy rifkin[2], glen weyl[3], audrey tang and others :P
posted by kliuless at 5:32 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


We went from forager to agrarian, so from food scarcity to land scarcity, then we went from land scarcity to capital scarcity. And now, we're going from capital scarcity to attentional scarcity.

I remain unpersuaded that any VC has a historical perspective worth taking seriously.

Scarcity is almost always and almost everywhere a relative thing: it depends both on the availability of the putatively scarce resource and the number of people competing for access to it. I am unaware of any instance of genuine historical scarcity that has not been brought on by the success of a few in enclosing what was formerly a common resource so as to shut down and/or gatekeep most of the competition for it.

Attention, unlike food or land or capital, is an inherently distributed resource that cannot be enclosed. It can only be competed for. So it looks scarce from the point of view of people accustomed to avoiding genuine competition via enclosure strategies.

For a VC to be handing out advice on reducing the attention devoted to market-based activity is pretty funny.

People suck at taking advice. We all do. The better the advice, the worse we suck at taking it. And the advice we all suck at taking the most, hands down, no question, is the good advice we offer unsolicited to other people.
posted by flabdablet at 12:10 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


And no, Facebook and Twitter and TikTok do not enclose anybody's attention. There is no fence there, metaphorical or otherwise. If anything stops a social media user from deciding to go outside and touch grass instead, it's not coercion from their platform of choice.

If a tech company could create an actual walled garden for attention, Apple would have been running its own social media sites long since. It's only not doing that because it can't.

The best any of these fuckheads can do is continue to dangle shiny baubles over our little cots for us to gurgle and bat at. With any luck it won't take that much longer before we remember that we walked into those cots.
posted by flabdablet at 12:22 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Attention, unlike food or land or capital, is an inherently distributed resource that cannot be enclosed. It can only be competed for.

This is my first exposure to Wenger's writing.

The theory being put forward, if I am understanding it, is that for most of today's populations, food is solved; (yes, TONS of caveats here - sustainability, climate crisis, wars and man-made famines, current upswing in food insecurity for the lowest rungs) but the broad point is that most of us no longer spend most of our day worrying about where the next meal will come from.

So, the idea is that the getting and managing of money should become less of a preoccupation too. (where "money" is the resource to meet our other needs - housing, health, security, and so on up Mazlow''s thing). Hard to argue with that, right? Whether your concept of an economic utopia is Galts Gulch or luxury gay space communism, freedom from want is a given, and this freedom would unleash time and attention to address higher needs and issues.

So yeah, if we weren't so preoccupied or worried about our individual or collective economic security, we'd probably be spending more time solving harder problems?
posted by Artful Codger at 6:51 AM on May 22


No.
posted by flabdablet at 8:47 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I have to take your 'No' as really a 'Not Yet', else I'd lose what few shreds of hope I still have (somewhere, behind the couch maybe).
posted by Artful Codger at 10:21 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


wouldn't greater cognitive surplus from the reduction of (time devoted to) market-based activities be nice? humanist even? in an attention-based economy -- when people's time is a scarce, fundamentally limited and non-renewable precious resource -- the ability to generate, marshal and direct collective cognition more effectively would seem like a competitive advantage among groups acting within society. i doubt devoting more attention to transactional bullshit work[4] -- in service of nostalgic autocrats -- instead of non-market, literally priceless or invaluable, but still meaningful (non-rival, non-excludable) public goods like restoring nature, curing disease and space exploration would be conducive to human flourishing. rather freeing minds[5,6] can let us imagine -- and enact -- a better world and future.
Thus we stand at a crossroads. Technology could drive us apart, sowing chaos and conflict that bring down social order. It could suppress the human diversity that is its lifeblood, homogenizing us in a singular technical vision. Or it could dramatically enrich our diversity while strengthening the ties across it, harnessing and sustaining the potential energy of ⿻.[7, cultivating 'plurality']

Some would seek to avoid this choice by slamming on the breaks, decelerating technological progress. Yet, while of course some directions are unwise and there are limits to how rapidly we should proceed into the unknown, the dynamics of competition and geopolitics makes simply slowing progress unlikely to be sustainable. Instead, we face a choice of directions more than velocity.

Should we, as Libertarians like Peter Thiel, Marc Andreesen and Balaji Srinavasan would have us do, liberate individuals to be atomistic agents, free of constraints or responsibilities? Should we, as Technocrats like Sam Altman and Reid Hoffman would have us do, allow technologists to solve our problems, plan our future and distribute to us the material comfort it creates?

We say, loudly and clearly, neither! Both chaos and top-down order are the antitheses not just of democracy and freedom, but of all life, complexity and beauty in human society and nature. Life and ⿻ thrive in the narrow corridor on the "edge of chaos". For life on this planet to survive and thrive, it must be the central mission of technology and politics to widen this corridor, to steer us constantly back towards that edge of chaos where growth and ⿻ are possible. That is the aspiration and the imperative of ⿻.

⿻ is thus the third way beyond Libertarianism and Technocracy, just as the life is the third way beyond rigid order and chaos. It is a movement we have perhaps three to five years to set in motion. Within that time frame, a critical mass of the technology that people and companies use every day will have become deeply dependent on "AI" and "the metaverse". At that point, we won’t be able to reverse the fait accompli that Technocracy and Libertarianism have generated for us. But between now and then, we can mobilize to re-chart the course: toward a relationship-centered, empowering digital democracy in which diverse groups of people, precisely because they do not agree, are able to cooperate and collaborate to constantly push our imaginations and aspirations forward.
maybe those shouting 'no'(!) -- standing athwart history :P -- to preserve their ancien régime hastens their downfall? consider math youtuber grant sanderson of 3blue1brown fame, who recently gave some career advice for harvey mudd's commencement address, asking how we can best add 'value' to others -- or everyone -- knowing what we know now that wasn't possible before. if this is something most people can get behind, maybe there will be (eventually) a critical mass for it?
posted by kliuless at 4:43 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Attention, unlike food or land or capital, is an inherently distributed resource that cannot be enclosed. It can only be competed for.

Competing for attention includes the idea of eliminating other choices in order to own attention, perhaps inherently so. "Humans don't fight over territory and food...they fight over imaginary stories in their minds."
posted by Brian B. at 10:54 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


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