July 18, 2011


Alternatives to Neoliberalism (Noah Millman, 07/18/11, The American Scene)

Henry Farrell, as quoted criticizing Matt Yglesias:

To put it more succinctly – even if left-leaning neo-liberals are right to claim that technocratic solutions and market mechanisms can work to relieve disparities etc, it’s hard for me to see how left-leaning neo-liberalism can generate any self-sustaining politics.

Kevin Drum agrees:

If the left ever wants to regain the vigor that powered earlier eras of liberal reform, it needs to rebuild the infrastructure of economic populism that we’ve ignored for too long. Figuring out how to do that is the central task of the new decade.

But Matt Yglesias responds:

So I really, strongly, profoundly agree with this. The moment someone comes up with a workable idea on this front, please sign me up. But if there’s no idea to debate, then there’s no idea to debate. Debating the desirability of devising some hypothetical future good idea seems kind of pointless to me.

But this completely misses the point. Neither of his critics are primarily saying that neoliberal policy ideas are bad. They are saying that neoliberalism is bad politics – not because it can’t win an election, but because it is based on running on good ideas, winning elections, and then implementing those good ideas. And that’s not a self-sustaining politics. From a more traditional left-wing perspective, you don’t start with good ideas – you start with ideas for how to establish enduring power bases.

Broadly speaking, the alternatives to liberalism reject the goal of finding the best policy, meaning the policy that will benefit the most people, in favor of promoting policies that may hurt more people than they help, but that shift the balance of power in favor of the group you’re seeking to represent.

It's one of the great peculiarities of politics--the Right believes that if a government intervention makes you wealthier, it has nonetheless made you less free; while the Left believes that the wealth hasn't made you more powerful. Meanwhile, voters keep choosing the Third Way because we recognize that the affluence created makes us more free and more powerful.

Posted by at July 18, 2011 5:16 PM

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