February 18, 2017


The "Identity Politics" Debate Is Splintering the Left. Here's How We Can Move Past It. : We must redefine "identity politics," because the debate about it is mostly wrong. We can start by recognizing that Clintonian identity politics aren't intersectional--they're racist. (THEA N. RIOFRANCOS AND DANIEL DENVIR, 2/18/17, In These Times)

We might instead frame it like this: People from left to center are engaging in heated, rarely helpful and often confused conversations about "identity politics" that present false choices about how to move forward. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, the debate has become somewhat muted as left to liberal resistance has coalesced into persistent, multifaceted and enormous nationwide protest movements. Disputes, however, will no doubt reemerge and continue to fracture the left wing of this resistance. While internal debate is productive, a united front is crucial. At issue is not only the future of the Democratic Party but, more broadly, the strategies of political resistance and social mobilization under a Trump presidency and the future of an independent Left that has now set its sights on winning power.

Some liberal writers, like Rebecca Traister, are concerned that appealing to white workers will ultimately distance the Democratic Party from the "women and people of color" who make up its base. Meanwhile, other liberals, hostile to "identity politics" but by no means leftists--intellectual historian Mark Lilla, for example--argue that "American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity." On the socialist left, Shuja Haider and others skewer "identity politics" for dividing the collective "we" necessary for revolutionary politics.

The first argument assumes that a focus on class entails a narrow focus on the grievances of white workers and the abandonment of a diverse Democratic constituency; the second and third that narrow identitarian appeals undermine the more encompassing identity ("Americans as Americans" per Lilla; the "working class" for socialist critics) required for a successful liberal or left coalition. Ironically, despite their vehement disagreement over whether "identity politics" should be the mobilizing strategy, all three positions presume the same neoliberal framing of identity politics--positing a zero-sum game between individual groups with narrow and mutually opposed interests--that has guided the liberal establishment for decades.

If the Left is going to have the discussion, they need to at least start from reality.  It is Progressivism that proceeds from the notion of the economy as zero-sum and Donald has just latched on to it by arguing that any wealth that goes to a person of color is denied to a white person.

Neo-liberalism embraces the capitalist idea that we can continually build wealth and have ever more of it to distribute, irrespective of anyone's color, gender, creed, etc..  Indeed, every society can--and we believe will be--capitalist and enjoy the same sort of economic growth we of the Anglosphere specifically and the West generally have enjoyed the past few centuries.

Not coincidentally, since neo-liberalism has become the default politics of the developed world we have nearly eliminated extreme poverty globally, putting the lie to the entire zero-sum canard.  Revealingly, Lester Thurow went from the great popularizer of the zero-sum view to a neo-liberal himself.

To revive the left all that is needed is a return to the election-winning neo-liberalism of Tony Blair and Bill Cinton, but so long as the Left hates neo-liberalism that won't be easy. 

If you were trying to locate the moment at which we reached the End of History, you could worse than this :

A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto (Charles Peters; Charles Peters is the editor of The Washington Monthly. September 5, 1982, washington Post)

If neo-conservatives are liberals who took a critical look at liberalism and decided to become conservatives, we are liberals who took the same look and decided to retain our goals but to abandon some of our prejudices. We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

We have found these responses not only weren't helping but were often hampering us in confronting the problems that were beginning to cripple the nation in the 1970s: declining productivity; the closed factories and potholed roads that betrayed decaying plant and infrastructure; inefficient and unaccountable public agencies that were eroding confidence in government; a military with too many weapons that didn't work and too few people from the upper classes in its ranks; and a politics of selfishness symbolized by an explosion of political action committees devoted to the interests of single groups.

Our primary concerns are community, democracy, and prosperity. Of them, economic growth is most important now, because it is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve. Our hero is the risk-taking entrepreneur who creates new jobs and better products. "Americans," says Bradley, "have to begin to treat risk more as an opportunity and not as a threat."

We want to encourage the entrepreneur not with Reaganite policies that simply make the rich richer, but with laws designed to help attract investors and customers. For example, Hart is proposing a "new capacity" stock, a class of stock issued "for the explicit purpose of investment in new plants and equipment." The stock would be exempt from capital gains tax on its first resale. This would give investors the incentive they now lack to target their investment on new plants and equipment instead of simply trading old issues, which is what almost all the activity on Wall Street is about today.

We also favor freeing the entrepreneur from the kind of economic regulation that discourages healthy competition. But on matters of health and safety, we know there must be vigorous regulation, because the same capitalism that can give us economic vitality can also sell us Pintos, maim employes, and pollute our skies and streams.

Our support for workers on health and safety issues does not mean support for unions that demand wage increases without regard to productivity increases. That such wage increases have been a substantial factor in this country's economic decline is beyond reasonable doubt. But -- and this is a thought much more likely to occur to neo-liberals like Lester Thurow than to neo-conservatives -- so have ridiculously high salaries for managements that show the same disregard for performance. The recently resigned president of International Harvester was being paid $1.4 million a year as he led his company to the brink of disaster.

We also oppose management compensation that encourages a focus on short-term profit instead of long-term growth. And we favor giving the worker a share in the ownership of his company.

In this connection, a perfect example of the neo-liberal approach was provided by Tsongas during the Senate debate over the Chrysler bailout. The United Auto Workers sought guaranteed wage increases for its members. Tsongas objected. Why should a company on the verge of bankruptcy pay wage increases? On the other hand, Tsongas realized that workers would feel exploited if their efforts produced profit for the company and it all went to the shareholders. The Tsongas solution was to give the workers stock instead of money, so that if their efforts helped save the company, they would not be suckers. They would share in the success.

Another way we depart from the traditional liberal's support for organized labor is in our criticism of white-collar unions for their resistance to performance standards in the evaluation of government employes. We aren't against government, period, as -- with the exception of the national security apparatus -- many conservatives appear to be. But we are against a fat, sloppy, and smug bureaucracy. We want a government that can fire people who can't or won't do the job. And that includes teachers. Far too many public school teachers are simply incompetent.

Our concern about the public school system illustrates a central element of neo-liberalism: It is at once pragmatic and idealistic.

Our practical concern is that public schools have to be made better, much better, if we are to compete economically with other technologically advanced countries, if we are to have more Route 128s and Silicon Valleys. Our idealistic concern is that we have to make these schools better if the American dream is to be realized. Right now there is not a fair chance for all because too many children are receiving a bad education. The public schools have in fact become the principal instrument of class oppression in America, keeping the lower orders in their place while the upper class sends its children to private schools.

Another way in which the practical and the idealistic merge in neo-liberal thinking is in our attitude toward income maintenance programs like Social Security, welfare, veterans' pensions, and unemployment compensation. We want to eliminate duplication and apply a means test to these programs. They would all become one insurance program against need.

Meanwhile, Conservatism has had to adjust too:

What Is Capitalism? (Joseph Pearce, 2/18/17, Imaginative Conservative)

It would be helpful, therefore, to understand what Belloc and Chesterton mean when they use the word. For both men, the word is used to denote an economic system whereby a small minority of the population owns the vast bulk of the capital, thereby forcing the dispossessed majority, or proletariat, to work for this small minority for a wage. In short, and paradoxically, the problem with capitalism is that it leads to there being too few capitalists! Or, to put the matter another way, the distributism which Belloc and Chesterton advocated affirms that the more capitalists there are in society, the healthier society will be. [...]

Let's begin with the basics, or the very foundations of economics, the four pillars on which all economic activity depends, i.e. the so-called "factors of production": land, capital, labour, and the entrepreneur. Although people differ with regard to which of these is more important or more necessary, and though socialists seek to subsume the entrepreneur within a generic understanding of labour, these factors serve as a good starting point from which we can move towards a mutually acceptable definition of capitalism.

If we begin with the assumption that an entrepreneur is a "capitalist," and we understand an entrepreneur as one who has the use of capital and/or land with which to produce wealth, we will see that distributists, such as Belloc and Chesterton, believe that a healthy society is one which is characterized by the greatest number of such "capitalists," i.e. those who own their own land and their own capital and are therefore economically free. If this is our understanding of "capitalism," we can see Belloc and Chesterton as "capitalists." 

Ironically, while Distributism was agrarian, if not outright Luddite, it is the super-mechanization of the modern world that makes possible the more equal distribution they dreamed of.

Posted by at February 18, 2017 8:26 AM