Out of left feild
April 27, 2005 9:44 PM   Subscribe

I ran into this article on the The Progressive website. Upon reading it, I said, "Who is this guy and why haven't I heard of him?" You Vermonters know him. He's your congressman, Bernie Sanders. Does anyone else (besides the Vermonters, of course) think this guy's got the right ideas?
posted by Jon-o (27 comments total)
I don't really care if he's got the right ideas.

I like him because he has different ideas, and that serves to prevent uncritical lock-step group-think.
posted by orthogonality at 9:54 PM on April 27, 2005

Does anyone else (besides the Vermonters, of course) think this guy's got the right ideas?

posted by hackly_fracture at 10:10 PM on April 27, 2005

Different? They seemed like boiler plate left wing ideology to me... If you're a die hard leftie (and I am), what's new or shocking in what Sanders says, and why would you believe it would resonate any more than when ANY liberal recites similar notions ("concentration of wealth=bad" "must raise minimum wage" "globalization at the expense of the American middle class is destroying our society", etc). These aren't radical ideas, you can hear them ad nauseum on Air America until your ears bleed.
posted by jonson at 10:17 PM on April 27, 2005

It'll please you to know, then, that Sanders is thinking of making a play for Jim Jeffords's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.
posted by felix betachat at 10:20 PM on April 27, 2005

No, I think, by and large, he's got the same old populist-rhetoric-with-no-underlying-plan ideas that are exactly the problem with the democratic party:
In the last three years alone, we have lost over two-and-a-half-million manufacturing jobs that were paying people decent middle class wages. And when you talk about patriotism, and when you talk about the American flag, what is corporate America doing by throwing American workers out on the street, moving to China, moving to countries where people can't even form a union or stand up for their rights?
The thing about manufacturing is, it's susceptible to improvement by automation, and this has helped productivity to go up faster than 1) other sectors' productivity and thus 2) demand for manufactured goods (I can't link to "Pop Internationalism", it's a print source, but here's something like a book report).

The fact is, the theme of manufacturing jobs as the basis for middle-class society is going to have to come to an end; whether the jobs go overseas or become obsolete due to automation, they're disappearing. If we really want to discuss a progressive alternative, let's talk about improving education to ensure that people who grow up in a lower class aren't stuck there for life. Let's talk about finding ways to better share the benefits of increased productivity. But let's not just whine about jobs going overseas when it's not even the core of the problem.
posted by rkent at 10:24 PM on April 27, 2005

Ah ha! The relevant chapter is online:

"Technology's Revenge". It makes a great counterpoint to the Sanders speech.
posted by rkent at 10:52 PM on April 27, 2005

The Democratic party might start getting some play out of the shocking notion that 15% of the population owning 85% of the wealth is not so cool if they stop running off with their tails between their legs every time a Republican says "class warfare."
posted by nanojath at 11:02 PM on April 27, 2005

With exceptions, the richest have the most money because they are more capable and more intelligent. Moving jobs overseas is not necessarily a bad thing just like installing machinary to improve efficency isn't a bad thing. These are facts of capitalism. Corporations are not "greedy." CEOs are paid large sums of money because they have unique talents.
posted by yevge at 11:15 PM on April 27, 2005

yevge, nice troll, couldn't have imitated a filthy WSJ editorial board writer better myself.

posted by Space Coyote at 11:20 PM on April 27, 2005

With exceptions, the richest have the most money because they are more capable and more intelligent.

With exceptions, that is the stupidest sentence I've read in the blue in quite some time... With exceptions, it's okay to kill someone. With exceptions, I am the greatest poker player in the world. With exceptions, jews are greedy. With exceptions, TV sitcoms are the greatest source of comedy in the history of mankind.
posted by jonson at 11:45 PM on April 27, 2005

Corporations are not "greedy."

Oh contraire. Corporations are the embodiment of greed.

Corporations exist for no other reason than to enrich their shareholders.

They must do so according to law.

Polluting the air, ground, and water…poisoning thousands in order to save a few bucks is the very epitome of greed, and America is filled with corporations like that.
posted by rougy at 12:00 AM on April 28, 2005

Didn't mean to spark such anger. This country provides great opportunities for those who are intelligent and willing to work. Welfare is a great stepping stone. Many of my friends from high school come from families that arrived in the U.S. in the late 80s or early 90s. Their parents speak little English (their native languages are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean making English especially difficult to learn). Yet these people are some of the most successful I know. They own businesses, they invest, they work long, long hours. When they first arrived they took advantage of government programs to get on their feet, but now they used that help and have become successful. And all of that without the command of the English language (and without a college degree too)!

If America wants to retain its status, we need to address the place of education in our culture. Supurb education must become engrained in American culture just like it has in Indian culture and in Chinese culture.
posted by yevge at 12:19 AM on April 28, 2005

Sanders is clearly a populist - (I particularly enjoyed this : " They don't have to get on the airlines like you do. "). But perhaps it's the best you can do on the American progressive left, where 'class system' refers to three strata (down-and-outs, the middle class and the rich). Anyway, here's Zinn, whose writings are probably on Sanders' bed-side table.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:24 AM on April 28, 2005

rkent, thanks for linking that excellent Krugman article. Hundreds of his shrill, not terribly original editorials in the Times had made me almost forget how interesting Krugman can be in his specialty as the great debunker.

For example: "One intriguing hypothesis about the relationship between technology and income distribution ... is the 'superstar' hypothesis of Sherwin Rosen ... Technology may not so much directly substitute for workers as multiply the power of particular individuals, allowing these lucky tournament winners to substitute for large numbers of the less fortunate." Which reminds me of power laws on the Web. And: "I would make a speculative argument that in the long run technology will tend to devalue the work of "symbolic analysts" and favor the talents that are common to all human beings."

Of course, analyzing current and future trends is one thing, and what to do about them is another. Hopefully Sanders has some good ideas for the latter.
posted by Turtle at 2:09 AM on April 28, 2005

With exceptions, the richest have the most money because they are more capable and more intelligent.

This is not trolling. Most Americans believe this.
posted by DuoJet at 3:12 AM on April 28, 2005

Supurb education must become engrained in American culture
Supurb: the new gold standard of American culture! Order yours today.
posted by a_day_late at 4:01 AM on April 28, 2005

Corporations exist for no other reason than to enrich their shareholders
That'll be the normal hard-working people who'll need a pension in 20 years time then.
It's nice that there are people in the US that talk like this, but it's a naive ideology and it's doomed to failure. Nothing short of a revolution will change the political structure, and you're all too concerned about your SUVs and iPod minis for this to be anything other than nice words to make the liberal elite feel better about themselves.
posted by seanyboy at 4:29 AM on April 28, 2005

He's a regular feature in Robert Greenwald's documentaries, I think - Outfoxed and the like.
posted by Wataki at 4:51 AM on April 28, 2005

I have to agree with jonson - Sander's comments are rousing and great, but I don't see anything particularly new nor (more importantly) any persuasive plans for how to make these beliefs a reality in the contemporary American political system.
posted by twsf at 5:34 AM on April 28, 2005

Actually, in terms of roll call voting, Bernie is #54 on the left in the House. Seattle's Jim McDermot is #1

These stats come from the VoteView program, a very interesting rank-ordering of roll call votes in congress.

According to Keith Poole, the major mover and shaker behind VoteView, two dimensions are sufficient to predict over 90% of the roll call votes in Congress: the governments role in transfering wealth upwards or downwards (which is by far the most determinative) and racism (which is minor but detectable).

So Left/Right really translates to economic class and race.
posted by warbaby at 6:35 AM on April 28, 2005

As a regular user and sometimes generator of W-NOMINATE scores, I should note that that's not 100% correct.

NOMINATE in all its variants, along with other ideal-point estimators, can't tell you anything about the content of any extracted dimension. You feed in a matrix of roll-call votes and a number of dimensions, and it finds the best-guess estimates for ideal points in that many dimensions.

All that happens with content is that Poole (or whoever is generating them) looks at the recovered dimension and says "Okay, this has Alice and Bob at one end and Charlie and Eve on the other, so that looks like a left-right dimension to me." You can do work correlating estimated ideal points against policies too, but that's just a better way of making the same guess.

But indeedy Sanders is far from the most leftist Representative. More like a basic union Democrat, but on steroids.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:05 AM on April 28, 2005


1. Sanders isn't a Democrat. I think everyone here understands that there isn't really a facile one-dimensional spectrum in practice, so it's kind of ridiculous to talk about Sanders in the context of the Democratic Party just because he's on the "left."

2. The difference between Sanders and Air America isn't that one is a voting member of Congress and the other is a radio network, with no voting rights in the US government, unless proposition 304 passes, and we all pray it will.
posted by aaronetc at 7:23 AM on April 28, 2005

Er, make that "...is that one..."
posted by aaronetc at 7:25 AM on April 28, 2005

Turtle, I don't know what you mean to prove about the article I pointed to by saying that a newspaper opinion column on a completely different subject is unoriginal. They share the same author; if an author comes up with some boring work, does that invalidate everything else he's ever written? If it makes you feel better, I'll grant that pretty much everything Krugman has done since Fuzzy Math (at least outside the academic setting) has been a restatement and reapplication of that book, and thus not very original.

And the thing about Bernie Sanders coming up with a plan, rather than just analyzing, is that if you start with incorrect analysis, you can only through astounding coincidence produce a plan of action that stands a realistic chance of getting anything done. If his plan is based on "they took our jobs!" kind of offshoring fears, then I want none of it because I doubt it will address any of the real problems. There were some good parts to that Sanders speech; it just so happens they were the parts that had nothing to do with that xenophobic pandering.
posted by rkent at 9:07 AM on April 28, 2005

If his plan is based on "they took our jobs!" kind of offshoring fears, then I want none of it because I doubt it will address any of the real problems.

I agree. I'm a "leftist" kinda out on my own wing-nut (I do believe in restricted private property rights, but I don't believe in private ownership of land or natural resources (yes I know that's impossible)), but I don't agree with the nationalistic rhetoric here:

We want the people in China, in India, all over the world, to do well, but we want a globalization that does not lead to a race to the bottom but uplifts all of the people of the world.

You say tomato, I say tomato.

I do agree with his fiscal analysis of the current presidential administration, however. History will not be kind.

Nice link, rkent. Thanks.

The high-skill professions whose members have done so well during the last 20 years may turn out to be the modern counterpart of early-19th-century weavers, whose incomes soared after the mechanization of spinning, only to crash when the technological revolution reached their own craft.

I agree completely. Witness the rise in wages for apprentice-type jobs like plumbing, carpentry, electrical, etc. Just think about wiring houses for the devices yet to be invented (until we all run out of energy).
posted by mrgrimm at 11:26 AM on April 28, 2005

rkent, I'm very confused! I didn't mean to prove anything about the article you posted, except to say that it was good. I suppose I expressed myself wrongly. I mainly meant to call to people's attention that the article you linked to is quite interesting, and that's what I tried to show by quoting him. Did you suppose I was being sarcastic? I wasn't.

I really enjoyed reading Krugman's columns when he wrote for Slate in the 90s. I linked to his latest NY Times column because in general I find his writing for the Times less interesting, more partisan, and less fun to read. But I meant this just as a remark in passing.

I meant that Krugman was doing his job of analyzing (and rightly so), and I looked to Sanders, as a politician, for action. For example, it's one thing to show that income inequality is growing and to explain why; it's another to propose what to do about it. Both are useful. Like you I'd prefer Sanders not resort to "foreigners are stealing our jobs" types of arguments, particularly since a solution to the problem based on such a flawed premise probably won't work. But I'd be interested in what Sanders suggests we do.

Basically I thought I was agreeing with and approving of your comment. I'm a bit bemused that you took it as a criticism. I tried to be clear but I guess I wasn't at all.
posted by Turtle at 4:48 PM on April 28, 2005

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