On the Lack of Left Wing Discourse in the Blogosphere

Freddie deBoer’s post “the blindspot” (hat tip Richard Smith) seems to have created a bit of a frisson among political bloggers. It make a long-form argument that ” the political discourse, in our punditry, lacks a left-wing.”

That should not be a controversial statement.

For instance, this blog has started to deal with political issues as they relate to the financial services industry, and now and again to the broader economy, largely as a result of the failure to implement meaningful reforms in the wake of the financial crisis. If you are not angry about the ongoing plutocratic land grab in this country, you are either not paying attention, deluded, or part of the problem. And I continue to be surprised that my views are deemed to be left-leaning. I’m middle of the road as of the Reagan era; the rest of the US has made a remarkably large shift to the right and seems to be continuing its move in that direction.

One of the reason this post has provoked a lot of reactions is that deBoer names quite a few names, but the other is the observations regarding how personal style, meaning the sort of anodyne politeness that is peculiarly prized in America, serves to influence how the political positioning of various writers is perceived.

I suggest you read the post in full, but here are some key extracts:

There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You’d likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context– in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy– is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It’s only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left..

I hardly even need to explain the example of Markos Moulitsas. Moulitsas is a blogging pioneer and one with a large audience. But within the establishmentarian blogosphere, the professional blogosphere of magazines, think tanks, and the DC media establishment, he amounts to an exiled figure….

No, the nominal left of the blogosphere is almost exclusively neoliberal. …The neoliberal economic platform is enforced by the attitude that anyone embracing a left-wing critique of that platform is a Stalinist or a misbehaving adolescent.

DeBoer is also critical of libertarian efforts at censorship (while we do have some exceptions to this pattern among regulars, the comment section at NC confirms these observations):

I am someone who frequently develops great hope for a hypothetical libertarianism and is consistently disappointed by the actual libertarianism. …. I frequently imagine that an ideology with “liberty” right in the title might be a mad, teeming collection of every flavor of crazy and dreamer, a loose confederation rife with difference and disagreement. Difference so vast that it might, by god, lead some to find common ground with someone like, well, me.

Instead, we have only the libertarianism that exists. And that libertarianism is the America ideology least accepting of difference, most committed to policing orthodoxy..I have searched but found no libertarians particularly amenable to seeing the tension between an ideology dedicated to freedom and an institutional apparatus that enforces orthodoxy. I bring all this up because I have always thought that there is room for libertarians to at once disagree totally with left-wing policy but to support the idea that the left-wing should be given a seat at the table. The reality, I’m sorry to say, is the opposite. I find it so hard to take, when libertarians complain about how misunderstood and oppressed they are, because nobody redbaits like libertarians do. Nobody. Nobody is more eager to excise the dirty commies from the realm of acceptable opinion than your average libertarian, while the similarly berate the powers that be for confining them to the intellectual ghetto of their imagination.

The post discusses the positions of quite a few political bloggers, including Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Mickey Kaus, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum, and the economic, social and career forces that contribute to the rightward pull.

And I have to say I understand that part, even thought I do not sympathize. Readers have often said I should be on certain TV shows. And logically, I should be on at least some of them. But guess what, they won’t have me (not even Democracy Now, but that’s because they are not that interested in finance, and when they do that type of story, they seem to prefer either Real People or academics). Even though a TV veteran says it has a lot to do with bookers (they are pretty much all female and he insists they prefer to book men), I suspect another big reason is my outspoken views. One ought to think that would make me a useful guest, since good talking heads TV often involves friction between participants with diverging views. But some types of divergence appear not to be terribly welcome.

The piece ends with the obligatory rousing finale:

All I know is that I look out onto an America that seems to me to desperately require a left-wing. American workers have taken it on the chin for thirty years. They have been faced for years with stagnant wages, rising costs, and the hollowing out of the middle class. They are now confronted with that and a cratered job market, where desperate people compete to show how hard they will work in bad conditions for less compensation. Meanwhile, the neoliberal policy apparatus that brought us here refuses even to consider the possibility that it is culpable, so certain of its inherent righteousness and its place in the inevitable march of progress. And the blogosphere protects and parrots that certainty, weeding out left-wing detractors with ruthless efficiency, while around it orbits the gradual extinction of the American dream.

But then we get this remark in an update:

It’s worth saying that I once had the opportunity, not too long ago, to blog for money– not a lot of money– for a fairly mainstream progressive enterprise. I turned it down for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my continuing fear that my blogging will come back to ruin my career in the academy..

As one of my correspondents noted,

We don’t lack people willing to ask others to take a bullet for them.

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  1. bob

    All anyone has to do to “remove” a person from debate is call them a lefty-communist (pronounced just like “asshole”).

    Very libertarian indeed.

    1. Bev

      The real divide is between authoritarians (they can’t help it, they are born that way…but, they shouldn’t lead, because their aim is to control and destroy) versus regular people, non-authoritarians.


      We speak with former Nixon White House counsel John Dean about his new book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” In it, he warns that many of today’s Republican and conservative leaders are: “conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.”



      Bob Altemeyer’s – The Authoritarians

  2. Jojo

    There are an awful lot of blogs/forums overrun with right-winger/Libertarian leaning people. One can understand the WSJ and maybe Seeking Alpha, but WAPO & SF Gate???

    The right leaning population seems to have more time on their hands to hang out on the web and post comments. I suspect that many of the web posting right are really bored older retiree’s with a lot of time on their hands. But with web anonymity the rule, we’ll never know for certain.

      1. Jojo

        @John – That’s a good article!

        Here’s an excerpt that is apropos to my comment above.
        For his film (Astro)Turf Wars, Taki Oldham secretly recorded a training session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority. The trainer, Austin James, was instructing Tea Party members on how to “manipulate the medium”. This is what he told them: “Here’s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in ‘Liberal books’. I go through and I say ‘one star, one star, one star’. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars … This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in ‘Movies on healthcare’, I don’t want Michael Moore’s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click … If there’s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That’s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.”

        Over 75% of the funding for American Majority comes from the Sam Adams Alliance. In 2008, the year in which American Majority was founded, 88% of the alliance’s money came from a single donation, of $3.7m. A group that trains rightwing libertarians to distort online democratic processes was, in other words, set up with funding from a person or company with a very large wallet.


    1. Externality

      While there is an element of ranting, many of the comments on SFGATE reflect the views of the Bay Area’s very large immigrant population. Many Asian immigrants, for example, take a very hard line on law-and-order issues and have little sympathy for groups that seek to link criminal justice system involvement, poverty, or poor educational attainment to past historical grievances. Members of other immigrant groups (e.g., Muslims, Eastern Europeans) strongly disapprove of California’s prevailing sexual mores. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2007/fall/the-latvian-connection (Note: I am referring to actual people, not government-funded non-profits whose continued funding is contingent on their taking politically correct positions.)

      Also, some areas of the Bay Area are liberal only to the extent that the residents do not have to live near or pay property taxes that benefit minorities, _especially_ non-Asian minorities, or poor Whites. (Nor do they want to be inconvenienced by or live near environmentally-beneficial initiatives that they push on others, such as high-speed rail.) Marin County, which is 80% White, recently settled a fair housing complaint by the federal government alleging that it was hostile to Blacks, Hispanics, and the disabled of all races. Marin residents, for example, strongly support increased immigration to California as a whole, as it allows them the ability to hire cheap nannies and gardeners. They just do not have to live near, have their children go to school with, or pay taxes to support services for “those people.”




      1. purple

        People commenting on SF Gate are not 1st generation immigrants.

        And you may be referring to H1B and skilled immigration when it comes to being libertarian (i.e Silicon Valley), but the health care worker unions in the Bay Area are overwhelmingly immigrant and Asian.

        1. purple

          For instance, one of the CNA presidents is Filipina, and the rank and file of the union itself is disproportionately (relative to the general population) Filipina and Asian, and of course, female.

  3. A.

    “We don’t lack people willing to ask others to take a bullet for them.”

    Is that remark supposed to make his critique less valid?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think the point is pretty simple. How can you complain at the lack of left leaning discourse, then not be willing to go there yourself (at least on more than occasional basis) because you perceive there to be career risks? She has said she is unwilling to incur those costs, then laments that others are unwilling to behave differently. And this is after conceding that academia is more liberal than the country as a whole.

      1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

        No Yves! That’s the problem. Academia is “liberal”, meaning no socialist/communist need apply. And 40 years of rightward drift has pretty much removed any leftist discourse from the debate.

        Besides, the Soviet Union is dead. Isn’t that proof that socialism/communism didn’t work and won’t work. And China is becoming more like US everyday, right? End of story. End of debate. End of HIStory.

        And so long as we remain mired in the perception of scarcity, [artificially-induced scarcity predicated on private ownership of the means of production] we will remain captive of economics – the ideology of scarcity.

        But what happens when this orthodoxy is challenged by POSTSCARCITY? The rationale for capitalism evaporates into thin air as do any and/or all arguments for austerity. But to many have drunk from the fountain of scarcity and become willing penitents for its consequences.

        1. Eagle

          I don’t agree, but it’s refreshing to run into a leftist not ranting about how peak oil and climate change will be the death of us.

          Dealing with “post-scarcity” by turning to communism will simply bring back scarcity; as you mention, there are numerous examples of communist countries returning populations back to subsistence living.

          1. DownSouth

            The problem is that the word “liberal” wasn’t coined until the French Revolution. The ideal of plenty (or post-scarcity) that derives from the concept of man’s domination over nature predates this by several centuries, having its roots in the nominalist revolution that William Ockham ignited in the early 14th century.

            Thus you have the words “conservative” and “liberal” layered over preexisting doctrines that have nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism. There are plenty of people on both sides of the political divide, both conservative and liberal, who can be observed “ranting about how peak oil and climate change will be the death of us.”

          2. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


            The so-called former communist societies “returned” their citizenry to subsistence levels within or under the guise of “market reforms” which led inevitably to artifically-induced scarcities determined by price…

            The issue is whether conditions of POSTSCARCITY for most human needs in Western Europe, US/Canada, Japan exist or not? Marx merely suggested that this is the precondition for communism. Hence, neither Russia, China, nor Eastern Europe were “ripe” for socialism. That these experiments failed miserably is undeniable but as to why is debatable. How many times did “capitalism” fail before it succeeded/triumphed? The end of history is not upon us. It is still being written.

            I’m not really interested in whether this comports with Marx’s predictions or not. Let’s leave that to the pedants… But if a condition of POSTSCARCITY exists in the aforementioned countries/poltical economies, wouldn’t the reversion to an artificially-induced scarcity merely for the sake of preserving the capitalist mode of production constitute a crime against humanity?

            The bane of the humanity – scarcity induced by nature – has been overcome in agriculture and now manufacturing. Is this an objective fact or not? Is there an absolute scarcity of raw materials, foodstuffs and/or manufactured goods? I will concede that the sustainability of both is debatable but not because of “peak oil” so much as that of “cheap oil”. Only the tree huggers want to go back to nature… and they’re welcome to it. But the rest of the planet wants to move forward.

            Environmentalism that turns the rest of the planet into a nature preserve will not work. Nor will it prove viable if working people bear the brunt of the costs/externalities – polluted water/air and joblessness.

            We’re a bit of a ways from socialism/comuunism – whatever they are – but the material conditions for improving the lot of humanity exist. There is enough to go around. To pretend that capitalism is eternal is tantamount to the feudal lord and his water wheel… That capitalism has brought us to this point is cause for celebration. Let’s put up a monument dedicated to it and move on.

            POSTSCARCITY is merely a concept with which to spark debate, the one presumably missing on the Left.

      2. eric

        I admire you a lot, Yves, but I wish you hadn’t ended with a line that seemed to undermine the guy’s whole post. So he could have been more courageous; well, we all could be more courageous. So what? that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what little we do! DeBoer seems to be a young guy. Were you on the barricades when you were young? I certainly wasn’t. And if you HAD been, would you be the amazing Yves that we all know and love today? It’s by no means clear that trying to be a more radical Matt Yglesias is a better way to effect change than going the academic route like Stiglitz or that true radical, Chomsky. I love you, Yves, but I wish you hadn’t stooped to the ad hominem.

        1. JTFaraday

          Yeah, but if you can’t be outspoken, provided you’re also accurate, *even in academia* then what is academia itself good for? We keep hearing that this is the very purpose of tenure. If this is the purpose of tenure, why would we give tenure to someone who does nothing but rehearse the conventional wisdom?

          Unless he meant that academics look down on bloggers–except for the growing number that do it themselves.

          Or, maybe he meant that when he fails to land an academic job, which odds suggest, he’ll be stuck looking for a job in corporate America (or applying to law school).

          Perhaps HE should have left that little tidbit out and just stuck with his personal decision to offer anonymous commentary, which does serve a purpose–most American revolutionary pamphlets were pseudonymous.

          By bringing it up he unnecessarily opens himself up to the charge of hypocrisy. Sometimes you need to know when to stop.

          I don’t want the PAID press limiting the news or public political commentary anymore than I want academics that rehearse the conventional wisdom. I can get that from my mom.

          That’s the point.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          It wasn’t ad hominem. I used his own words. And it is hypocritical to complain about a lack of representation pretty much anywhere to the left of Obama, who is not left by any standards, and then ‘fess up you really don’t have the appetite to do it yourself, you deem it too costly.

          1. bob goodwin

            Fascinating article and comments, Yves. I agree that after 2-3 generations of dominating the intellectual political argument, classical liberalism looks to be fading. I suspect the two reasons are 1) it was successful (you won many of the arguments) 2) Politics have been co-opted, and liberalism has become a wedge.

            I have withdrawn some from this forum as it is increasingly an echo chamber, but libertarianism is having a brief moment in the sun, largely because it accepts large amounts of the liberal agenda which are now largely integrated into the mainstream, but also because people are genuinely afraid that our elites are driving the bus off a cliff. The blogosphere is full of anonymous ranters, but in my sphere of associates (mostly liberals and libertarians) there is a genuine interest in debate and mutual understanding, and an awakening that all is not right with our traditional orthodoxies.

  4. Ina Deaver

    The spirit of Joe McCarthy is alive and well. But it goes deeper. We’re moving away from valuing human labor. From the right of people to work, and from sharing ANY of the surplus of human labor with the worker. We are becoming a cog in the machine – granted, a lot of these machines are much more sophisticated than they used to be. Perhaps we’re a chip. Does that change the degrading nature of what’s happening here? Who believes that they are building something of real value with their lives, and that the whole culture is building it with them? That they are part of something larger than themselves, and are improving things for themselves, for others, and for their children?

    These are the ideals of the left, a belief in the power and honor of human work in community, and no one speaks them because they shine far too stark a light on the cancer that has pervaded the culture.

    1. DownSouth

      Ina Deaver said: “These are the ideals of the left, a belief in the power and honor of human work in community, and no one speaks them because they shine far too stark a light on the cancer that has pervaded the culture.”


      It’s full court press when it comes to advancing the greed-is-good meme, and there’s no secret as to why. Just look how the oligarchs pervert the work of Adam Smith, and then so successfully propagandize this perverse rendition. In that way the oligarchs can claim they have Smith’s imprimatur upon their all encompassing greed-is-good philosophy, extended to include every facet of human life. But that is a half-truth. Smith’s writings were more ambiguous, more nuanced. Robert L. Heilbroner explains in The Worldly Philosophers:

      But in Smith’s panegyric of a free and unfettered market the rising industrialists found the theoretical justification they needed to block the first government attempts to remedy the scandalous conditions of the times. For Smith’s theory does unquestionably lead to a doctrine of laissez faire. To Adam Smith the least government is certainly best: governments are spendthrift, irresponsible, and unproductive. And yet Adam Smith is not necessarily opposed—-as his posthumous admirers made him out to be—-to all government action that has as its end the promotion of the general welfare…

      What Smith is against is the meddling of the government with the market mechanism. He is against restraints on imports and bounties on exports, against government laws that shelter industry from competition, and against government spending for unproductive ends…

      Hence, says Smith, all these impediments must go. The market must be left free to find its own natural levels of prices and wages and profits and production; whatever the true wealth of the nation. But because any act of the government—-even such laws as those requiring the whitewashing of factories or preventing the shackling of children to machines—-could be interpreted as hampering the free operation of the market, “The Wealth of Nations” was liberally quoted to oppose the first humanitarian legislation. Thus, by a strange injustice, the man who warned that the grasping eighteenth-century industrialists “generally have an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public” came to be regarded as their economic patron saint. Even today, in blithe disregard to his actual philosophy, Smith is generally regarded as a conservative economist, whereas in fact he was more avowedly hostile to the motives of businessmen than are most contemporary liberal economists. (All emphasis is Heilbroner’s)

    2. Toby

      To me your analysis is too rooted in the old idea of what work is, and as a consequence does not look deeply enough at what value humans can bring to society going forward. I hope I haven’t misread you.

      I instinctively shy from left/right divisions for the simple reason that they are fruitlessly divisive. We all suffer a system in which The Machine, as you say, has priority over the very thing it should be serving; human society. Surely left and right can agree with that? We are, for ideological reasons, forced to contort ourselves to meet The Machine’s demands, just as Chaplin portrayed in Modern Times, when we should be constantly changing The Machine to suit our needs. Sadly, there does not appear to be enough profit in that more sensible and more logical mode. Besides, the elites generally like to stay elite, so block change, and hierarchy is baked deep into the current cake as part of the striving for bigger profits and their systemic and steady flow to the already rich.

      I therefore see money as currently having a higher priority than human concern (profit is what it’s all about), and than the environment, and believe the rapid unraveling of both environment and society is a direct result of this absurdly upside-down set of priorities. To me such an analysis is common sense, and need not hew to one political side or the other.

      Hence I doubt the profit-motive as we have it. I must then also question waged-labour, not because work is for chumps (it isn’t), but because it gives money — just a tool for enabling complex economic activity — too much power, where power needs to be distributed fairly if we are to have the healthy democracy we want, something both right and left can agree on.

      Until we see that deeply questioning capitalism — which by definition concentrates power and wealth and therefore cannot engender democracy in the way touted — is a necessary part of establishing a more distributed democracy, or a democratic economics, we are going to be mired in this tribal and skillfully stoked left/right argument that cannot progress beyond where it is today, and where it has been for too long.

      To get back to ‘work’ … There are self-evidently all sorts of ways of working for the betterment of society, but only some of them can be rewarded economically. This is truer and truer the more clever we become at replicating our abilities with various machines. We are rendering ourselves economically redundant while squandering resources in the heat of perpetual growth and insisting on creating more jobs to produce more unwanted stuff, just to keep the deadly process going.

      This idiocy demands a re-assessment of how we value human contributions to society, of how we reward, of where reward can be found, and so on. (Isn’t success its own reward?) I believe money must somehow be demoted, and that we must redefine what wealth is — it certainly is not money — and elevate wealth’s societal role in that new form. Otherwise, I do not see how we can bring about the changes humanity needs globally, how to establish a system which can afford health for all; a relevant education for all; ever lower crime rates; a revolution in energy, transport, city design, the nation state, and so on.

      If capitalism, whether of left or right flavour, can indeed deliver this type of democracy, I’d love to know how! It sure as hell would be easier that way…

      1. Art Eclectic

        Thank you, that was a great post. I, too, find our modern day worship of money to be disturbing. One thing that I rarely see mentioned is that money has become the means not just for living standards of comfort, but of continuing health. The medical system in the USA is eating us alive financially.

        The cost of health – especially health in our golden years – has become staggering to the point where I think it quietly drives much of our economic life for those not in the top 10% of income households. The middle class and working classes live in terror of health care, they seek out and stay in jobs purely based on health care. It used to be that the unspoken need for traditional work was for pension plans and I think that as IRA’s, housing and 401k accounts began to relieve this perpetual fear (poverty in old age) a new fear arose of health related family disaster.

        Most families today are one sick member away from financial ruin. Those of us approaching retirement years sit and quietly calculate how to keep our health needs covered until Medicare will kick in — the years between 50 and 65 when no regular insurer wants to touch us. We are far more likely to be laid off and lose our benefits as our premiums start to skyrocket (and our longer term health needs begin to show themselves.)

        Health care is the untold story in the discussion about the hollowing out of the middle class and stagnant wages.

        1. jonboinAR

          “lth care is the untold story in the discussion about the hollowing out of the middle class and stagnant wages.”

          That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking, lately. I’ve been going without Health Insurance for a couple of years. The only HI I could remotely afford would leave me ruined were I to get sick, so, the heck with it. I do NOT feel secure.

      2. John Merryman

        I think there is a way to do it. Money serves as a store of value and a medium of exchange. As a store of value, it is private property, but as a medium of exchange, it is a public utility, without which markets cannot exist. As property, there is the desire to accumulate as much as possible, but as a medium of exchange, more money than productive value degrades the value of the money. Money should only be treated as a public utility. In that way, it would be similar to a road system. You own your car, house, business, etc. but not the roads connecting them and no one seriously cries socialism over that. The fact is that money already is the property of the government. Just try printing some and see who owns the copyrights. By creating the misperception that it really is personal property, society is careless as to how money ingratiates itself into every possible transaction and this gives that much more power to the banking system and the government. Treating money as form of public commons would make people very careful what value they would take from social relations and environmental resources to convert into currency in the first place. This would be healthy for society, the environment and even the monetary system. We all like having roads, but there is little inclination to pave more than we need. If we applied the same principle to money, life would be in better shape. Instead of valuing ourselves by how big our bank accounts are, we would have to invest more of our efforts in our communities and environment, as well as being able to maintain resources for the future.

        1. Toby

          I think I agree with your reasoning, since it seems to be about taking the glitter from money and making it simply functional, as far as that goes. The challenge is somewhat of a catch 22 though; the better money works, the higher its utility value, which probably means it then stores value well. In steps hoarding and greed through the back door just as we bolt the front.

          Which is why I’m quite strongly in favour of demurrage, or negative interest. If money ‘rots’ like most other commodities, its function as store of value is minimized, and it circulates more quickly from place to place. This is the (roughly one century old) proposal from Silvio Gesell, now supported by Bernard Lietaer, by Bernd Senf too (a German professor of economics), Charles Eisenstein — a random thinker I stumbled upon a couple of years ago and have come to respect greatly — and growing numbers of others it seems.

          I believe also that govt. demurrage money spent into existence would make something like a guaranteed income very affordable. Indeed the whole notion of ‘afford’ would reference more resources and know-how that the whims of our current financial overlords, and serve to demote money’s role from Master of the Universe to humble medium of exchange, allowing society to focus on the good stuff at last.

          Thanks for the interesting comments jonboinAR and Art Eclectic. I’m always sad to read how deep and wide the monetization of society reaches, right into the health of our bodies and minds. It is a crime against humanity to hold humans in lower regard than a mere tool, one which is supposed to assist us, not enslave us.

          1. ChrisPacific

            Re: demurrage, I think a modest level of inflation can fulfil this function. This is why deflation is undesirable and is also (I think) the biggest argument against the gold standard.

            Good posts by the way.

          2. ChrisPacific

            Re: demurrage, I think a modest level of inflation can fulfil this function. This is why deflation is undesirable and is also (I think) the biggest argument against the gold standard.

          3. John Merryman

            There are various mechanisms by which it could work, but I think it’s important that people simply begin to think of money as a form of public commons. That its value is a function the entire community and is completely interchangeable. Then levels of organic social policing will begin to develop, as people understand the responsibilities required are equal to the rights granted. Rather than this simplistic desire for ever more, accompanied by the requirement to keep up by everyone else, more of an natural equilibrium can develop, as people understand that too much of a good thing is not necessarily equally beneficial. Then other means of expression and achievement can have more space to develop.
            Society is like a house. There are private rooms and family rooms. It’s not either or. Money is quite essentially a public medium.

          4. jonboinAR

            “Rather than this simplistic desire for ever more, accompanied by the requirement to keep up by everyone else, more of an natural equilibrium can develop, as people understand that too much of a good thing is not necessarily equally beneficial.”

            But I fear that greed stems more from an instinct for security that knows no limit, and that as much as money represents power, there is also a powerful instinctive drive to accumulate more. How can money not represent power and still be money?

          5. Toby

            @ChrisPacific: The problem with ‘using’ inflation is that there is widespread disagreement as to its causes, and it is far harder to control than a demurrage. Also, demurrage is a clear charge or fee for holding money, out in the open so to speak, whereas inflation is hard to measure, more hidden and insidious.

            @jonboinAR: I too think greed stems from fear, but fear is not a permanent state. I know no one whom I would call ‘greedy’ but I do believe insecurity generates a certain insatiability. However, this insecurity arises from the system and how it affects the human animal. In a scarcity- and fear-based environment, greed rises to the top. It need not be this way. Jeremy Rifkin has a good talk on youtube at the RSA on empathy which mentions this point quite well. Also, in terms of ever more, research by Daniel Kahneman shows that at beyond $60K annually, happiness flatlines. We don’t truly want more and more, we are frothed up by the system to believe we want more and more. It is a grand deception, whether deliberate or accidental doesn’t matter all that much.

  5. attempter

    This analysis is correct about the astroturf blogs like all those named above which are trying to destroy the blogosphere and turn it into an annex of the MSM.

    But in claiming that this system-corrupted part of the blogosphere is equal to the blogosphere itself, the analysis is idiotic and insulting. The fact is that the only place where radical political expression exists is in the blogosphere. There’s plenty of writers who cogently argue complete alternatives to the neoliberal order.

    The criticisms made by the quoted post are also truisms in the real blogosphere. The mainstream blogs are simply trying to replicate the corporatization of the media within the blogsphere itself.

    Thus we have the likes of Yglesias and Klein as aggressive criminal ideologues, while the likes of Firedoglake try to astroturf the “loyal opposition” among “progressives” who are still in the end supposed to support the Democratic Party. Meanwhile the anodyne likes of Greenwald (supporter of corporate personhood and Citizens United) define the outer limits of “left” acceptability. Yes, it’s a nasty scam they’re all running.

    But why does this post claim that’s all there is to the blogosphere? Why doesn’t it go affirmative and talk up true alternatives? Instead it tacitly supports the establishment game.

    Add to this the gutting of net neutrality, the new attempt at turning the Internet into a corporate gated community (the first time around in the 90s with AOL etc. failed, but they’re trying to get it right this time with the “apps” model), and the specter of direct censorship, often as part of the IP onslaught, and we can see that Internet democracy is indeed in dire peril.

    Which is why it’s all the more imperative for the true blogosphere, the only democratic space which even exists anymore (right now) to the best of my knowledge, to make itself heard. And let’s not let exclusionary posts like this one read us out of the blogosphere. We’ve had enough of this disenfranchisement.

    1. DownSouth

      What you say about Greenwald very may be true. I’m not familiar enough with his work to say one way or another. But he doesn’t strike me as being unaware of how far to the right the political discourse has shifted, or where he appears on that altered landscape. Here’s what he had to say in a recent post:

      For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are. One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary. Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security’s practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products — laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like — copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it.

      I’ve heard it said that Greenwald is a libertarian, but if he is it seems to me he is a libertarian cut more from the cloth of the ACLU than the cloth of the Tea Party. And as such he’s not so concerned with what the message is, but the right to say it. Here’s Greenwald from that same article again:

      [T]he Democratic Congress did nothing about this problem. But that underscores one amazing point: the right-wing of the Republican Party and its “Tea Party” faction endlessly tout their devotion to limited federal government powers, individual rights, property rights, and the Constitution. If they were even minimally genuine in those claims, few things would offend and anger them more than federal agents singling out and detaining whichever citizens they want, and then taking their property, digging through and recording their most personal and private data — all without any oversight or probable cause. Yet with very few exceptions (a few groups on the Right, including religious conservatives, opposed some excesses of the Patriot Act, while the small libertarian faction of the GOP oppose many of these abuses), they seem indifferent to, even supportive of, the very policies that most violently injure their ostensible principles.

      1. attempter

        The ACLU’s (and Greenwald’s) aggressive support for corporate “rights”, assuming it doesn’t have a more sinister interpretation, is a classic example of process liberalism, which exalts a punctilious adherence to the forms of something, in this case extending “free speech” to as many entities as possible, with zero concern for the substantive outcome.

        In this case, extending speech rights to corporations deals a devastating blow to the ability of actual non-rich human beings to exercise their free speech rights. The real world result is therefore a tremendous diminution of free speech, and a severe degradation of the right.

        But to process liberals like the ACLU and Greenwald, all that happened is you increased the list of entities who have theoretical speech rights on paper, and the length of that hypothetical list is all that matters. It’s a classic ivory tower perspective which has nothing but contempt for reality, nothing but supercilious disdain for the true essence of things.

    2. Iolaus

      Glenn Greenwald most assuredly does not support “corporate personhood.” From his blog on the Citizens United ruling:

      “…I’m also quite skeptical of the apocalyptic claims about how this decision will radically transform and subvert our democracy by empowering corporate control over the political process. My skepticism is due to one principal fact: I really don’t see how things can get much worse in that regard. The reality is that our political institutions are already completely beholden to and controlled by large corporate interests (Dick Durbin: “banks own” the Congress). Corporations find endless ways to circumvent current restrictions — their armies of PACs, lobbyists, media control, and revolving-door rewards flood Washington and currently ensure their stranglehold — and while this decision will make things marginally worse, I can’t imagine how it could worsen fundamentally. All of the hand-wringing sounds to me like someone expressing serious worry that a new law in North Korea will make the country more tyrannical. There’s not much room for our corporatist political system to get more corporatist. Does anyone believe that the ability of corporations to influence our political process was meaningfully limited before yesterday’s issuance of this ruling?”

      Other than that, you’re right: Greenwald is no kind of “leftist.” He is someone who believes that the rule of law should apply equally to all Americans, period. That this makes him a “leftist” in the eyse of so many says a lot about the way political discourse in this country is skewed toward the wants and needs of the wealthiest.

  6. John Merryman

    Libertarians are not liberals. They were the conservative/Reaganite reaction to the calcified/pc/leftover FDR liberalism of the seventies. Usually conservatives are the old guard, but to the extent liberalizing social forces had gained some control of the levers of power by the end of the sixties, the usual bottom up reaction wasn’t populist/socialist, but more nativist/states rights libertarianism.
    The problem for the US is that we don’t exist in isolation. We pretty much represent the world’s power brokers and instinctively even those unions/factory workers, etc. understand they are far above your average Chinese peasant and want to remain so. So there is no broad workers party looking for solidarity with workers of the world. Our workers have been feeding of the banker’s tit and are far more concerned about the debt bubble under them. We have become a nation of speculators. Labor has no cache.
    When that bubble pops, it doesn’t matter what those talking heads say, people will live in reduced circumstances and get used to it. Those mcmansions will be broken up into apartments and there will be gardens on the lawns and shops in the garages.
    Talk is cheap.

    1. Ellen Anderson

      Talk is cheap but it is all we have right now. The old left was destroyed by McCarthy and Stalin and by the industrial model it assumes. The new left was totally co-opted by prosperity and Madison Avenue.

      We need to figure out what the leftist model should be as we deindustrialize. We are going to be poorer, not richer in the future. The old leftist, industrial union model is pretty hypocritical once you understand that most of the world must be impoverished in order for it to work.

      I like to think that most leftists are better educated (in a broad, historical sense) than the conservatives and libertarians. They understand that there is no point in trying to resurrect the New Deal (that was not all that left anyway.)

      I would love to find a blog that discusses the questions that the left should be addressing. Let me know, Attempter, since you seem to be knowledgeable, whether one exists or will be constructed.

      Meanwhile, I suggest that all leftists run for public office in their own local communities and begin the discussion where it may actually do some good. In addition, start to build a constituency for revoking corporate personhood and corporate charters. These entities must go and that should be the rallying cry of the left for the moment (in my not so humble opinion.)

      Revoke the charters of Bayer, Monsanto, Nestle, and the food and pesticide sociopath “persons” for a start.

      1. attempter

        If you mean is there one site which really has the whole positive freedom, direct democratic, anti-neoliberal, anti-elitist package (I don’t use the terms left-right myself, since they’re no longer sufficient and obscure more than they clarify), I’m not aware of one yet. (Although with my humble efforts I’m trying to turn my own blog into something like that.)

        There’s lots of good sites out there. I don’t know how many links I can include in a comment so I’ll just mention a few names. There’s probably other excellent ones I haven’t yet heard of.

        La Via Campesina is the home site of the Food Sovereignty movement, which is the most important idea of all.

        Here’s a site dedicated to an allied movement, the Landless Workers Movement, dedicated to redeeming the stolen land.


        I’ll also add this link to Monthly Review’s awesome book-length issue which tells the whole story of the neoliberal assault on food sovereignty and descibes the many resistance movements to it.


        These ideas and movements are most vibrant in Latin America, but we need them everywhere, the world over, including in America.

        Energy Bulletin is an aggregator of pieces on energy descent and the relocalization movement.

        Ellen Brown’s sites as well as the New Economic Perspectives site at Kansas City are source of the best ideas on money, and far more on the economy in general.

        Needless to say, Naked Capitalism is the best of the econoblogs, especially unparalleled on the Land Legitimacy crisis.

        Some anti-corporate sites include the Center for Corporate Policy and Reclaim Democracy.

        There’s lots of excellent anarchist blogs and sites. One I find consistently enlightening is Property is Theft.

        There’s also sites like P2P and Open Source Ecology which combine a lot of these ideas.

        That’s just a sampling. It doesn’t seem like a coherent movement is forming yet, rather lots of pieces fermenting, simmering, searching. But it’ll all cohere, and soon. History demands it, since right now we have an extraordinary dialectical vacuum which has to be filled. I think the blogosphere will play a major role in that, if it isn’t completely castrated first. That’s why I responded in such a surly way to the OP, probably excessively. But the language of it seemed to want to give up on something which is only just starting. That’s always been the problem.

        1. John Merryman

          Douglas Rushkoff gives an interesting breakdown of the situation with Life Inc.

          While there are some much deeper conceptual issues, the main economic fallacy is leaving banking as a private function. A market needs a medium of exchange and when a private party controls it, then the rest of the market is at the mercy of that party, as has become quite evident.
          Part of the problem is that monetary policy doesn’t work that well, when it is at the mercy of political imperative either, so a viable public banking system would need some isolation from government. A good example is that complex biological organisms have separate central nervous systems, which are analogous to the function of government in society and circulatory systems, which are analogous to money(blood) and banking(circulation).
          It’s time we start work on a new economic model, because this one is rapidly breaking down.

        2. Ellen Anderson

          Thanks for the links. I will look at all of them and try to join the conversation as I am able. I have been reading the Energy Bulletin for years but many of the others are new to me.

          In my real (as opposed to virtual) life, I am involving myself more in local politics and food production. The neoliberal reformer attitude is so much a part of my cultural past that I have to keep reminding myself not to fall back into that trap.

          I very much like Greer’s concept of ‘dissensus’ right now. If the left can get a very broad philosophical consensus on general principles, then there can be room to explore a range possible political/economic solutions as the form of the coming collapse becomes clearer.

          1. attempter

            In my real (as opposed to virtual) life, I am involving myself more in local politics and food production.

            Me too. I think that’s the only way to build a foundation for future action on a more vast level.

            Detailed dissensus within broad consensus is the right idea. In fact anarchists have always subscribed to it.

  7. David W

    … perhaps people grew weary of all the gulags and corpses the ‘honoring of labor’ brought about?
    Perhaps they realized that what is advertised on the outside: justice, safety, a brave new world is not what you encounter inside?
    Having myself victims of your leftist paradises among friends and family: has anyone here encountered the thing they favor so much in real life? Anyone? Ever?

    How about this, Ina: become an entrepreneur, Ina and the rest here, and honor the labor of your employees there?!
    No governmental red robber baron and idle self-serving cussionfarting bureauocrat needed for such a feat!
    The ‘Labor-honoring’ system is a big fat lie, doing exactly the opposite of labor-honoring; whereas it will deprive you from your power to decide your matters and affairs on your own. People from cadres and hierarchies will decide for you: the job you can have, the goods you are allowed to buy, the worldview you can hold, the place you have to live!

    You beg for scarcity and tyranny in the comments here!
    Why is the left recessive in the blogosphere? Because people draw conclusions from human experience and history? I hope so.

    The better alternative (especially for Ina: [please keep reading for a while until you grasp what they are actually suggesting there: http://www.kelsoinstitute.org/pdf/cm-entire.pdf )

    1. DownSouth

      David W said: “…please keep reading for a while until you grasp what they are actually suggesting there…”

      I didn’t have to read very far to ascertain that this is just more of the same old hackneyed tripe that Milton Friedman dishes out in Capitalism and Freedom..

      For instance, just three paragraphs into the Preface we find this:

      Democracy requires an economic system which supports the political ideals of liberty and equality for all. Men cannot exercise freedom in the political sphere when they are deprived of it in the economic sphere.

      A most thoughtful and hard-hitting rebuttal to this misguided credo comes from Hannah Arendt. Writing in Crises of the Republic, here’s how she answered Friedman and the dogma proselytized in the article you link:

      All our experiences—-as distinguished from theories and ideologies—-tell us that the process of expropriation, which started with the rise of capitalism, does not stop with the expropriation of the means of production; only legal and political institutions that are independent of the economic forces and their automatism can control and check the inherently monstrous potentialities of this process. Such political controls seem to function best in the so-called “welfare states” whether they call themselves “socialist” or “capitalist.” What protects freedom is the division between governmental and economic power, or, to put it into Marxian language, the fact that the state and its constitution are not superstructures.

      What protects us in the so-called “capitalist” countries of the West is not capitalism, but a legal system, that prevents the daydreams of big-business management of trespassing into the private sphere of its employees from coming true. But this dream does come true wherever the government itself becomes the employer.

      1. Eagle

        I don’t think Friedman would disagree that a strong system of justice protecting individual liberty is key to a successful capitalist state. What exactly is the criticism?

        1. DownSouth

          What exactly is the criticism? Well, we can start with this:

          Friedman defended his relationship with Pinochet by saying that if Allende had been allowed to remain in office Chileans would have suffered “the elimination of thousands and perhaps mass starvation . . . torture and unjust imprisonment.” But the elimination of thousands, mass hunger, torture and unjust imprisonment were what was taking place in Chile exactly at the moment the Chicago economist was defending his protégé. Allende’s downfall came because he refused to betray Chile’s long democratic tradition and invoke martial law, yet Friedman nevertheless insisted that the military junta offered “more room for individual initiative and for a private sphere of life” and thus a greater “chance of a return to a democratic society.” It was pure boilerplate, but it did give Friedman a chance to rehearse his understanding of the relationship between capitalism and freedom.

          Carlos Fuentes in The Buried Mirror provides some historical background necessary to fully appreciate Grandin’s comments:

          In Chile, the socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 by a military coup headed by General August Pinochet. In a savage action, Allende partisans were rounded up, gathered in a stadium, and murdered en masse. Others were sent to concentration camps, and still others were exiled and sometimes murdered abroad. Pinochet did all of this in the name of democracy and anticommunism.

          1. Eagle

            What does any of this have to do with what Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom?

            Although I see you’re point, Friedman may as well have shot those Chileans himself by consulting Pinochet on economic matters. Had he been a better man, he would have have consulted with that icon of good governance, Che Guevera.

          2. Yves Smith Post author


            Economic “freedom” is ultimately in conflict with democracy and personal freedom. The result of economic “freedom” is concentrated economic power and it adopts as a program bending the government and broader society to a form that insures its power will be uncontested.

          3. Eagle

            Yves, I agree, there are serious issues that arise with economic freedom – as I mention below, I just haven’t seen any cures that aren’t worse than the disease.

      2. jake chase

        Unfortunately, both the legal system and the government now collaborate with the dreams of big business management. Individuals who lack shelter in a government or corporate racket are reduced to prey. The idea that we can trust government to protect people simply flies in the face of Twentieth Century experience. The big business rackets are enabled and largely created by government, through industrial monopoly, financal bailouts, military and law enforcement boondoggles, patent and copyright law, etc. Our most precious freedom is corporate freedom to conspire for economic gain.

        Both Hayek and the early Ayn Rand saw all this coming. It cannot be attacked intellectually from the left, because the left always ignores the choice of values problem. It assumes the problem will disappear when the right people are elected. This is how you get Obamas, and Obamas are what you always get.

        1. DownSouth

          jake chase said: “….Obamas are what you always get.”

          Yours is certainly a pessimistic outlook.

          I prefer Reinhold Niebuhr’s assessment which he expressed in his essay “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness”:

          Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

          1. jake chase

            What you call pessimism is the cost of rational analyis. The left conjures up a power structure which miraculously won’t become self serving. The honest right understands that freedom and power cannot coexist. We need government to create rules that prevent monopoly. Our government acts to extend monopolies and make people as dependent as possible. The so called left would favor neoliberalism if only its beneficiaries were different.

        1. M.InTheCity

          Do read some Arend. I always find something new there. And the greatest recommendation is the fact that she HATED Leo Strauss. They were in Germany at the same time and she noted that Strauss would have been a Nazi if it hadn’t been for the fact he was Jewish.

        2. attempter

          On Revolution might be the best guidebook to how the American Revolution was sidetracked and lost, and how this “lost treasure” can be regained.

          (Although I should warn you, Tao – you’ll find her soft on Jefferson!)

        3. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


          May I suggest Arendt’s THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM. It would be a timely read… Thought about pulling out my copy and rereading it again just the other day.

    2. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

      “People from cadres and hierarchies will decide for you: the job you can have, the goods you are allowed to buy, the worldview you can hold, the place you have to live!”

      And the “market” does this better? And increasingly the choices are made for you via the bureaucracy in large scale private organizations. Yet, libertarians rarely address this threat, this other road to serfdom. Hayek never considered this possibilty did he? And Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED contains a critique of the large modern bureaucratic corporation does it not? The corporation that emphazies “stakeholdsers” as opposed to “shareholders”? The STATE is not the only institution capable of “looting” is it? Perhaps we’re reading different versions of ATLAS SHRUGGED?

      Right-wing MARKET totalitarianism [civil society] is just as frightening as left-wing STATE totalitarianism. Any ideology/religion taken to its logical conclusion is TOTALITARIAN and has to be understood as such. MONOTHEISM or MONO-ANYTHING is exclusive by definition and opposition is quickly deemed heresy or worse. History is replete with examples of both – not just on the left.

      1. Eagle

        I didn’t see him defending the type state-supported monopolies portrayed by Atlas Shrugged – as you point out, they are not the result of the free-market at work.

        1. john

          …but does he acknowledge state-supported corporations that aren’t monopolies may also limit individual economic freedom? Or that corporations can/do effectively write the laws via lobbyists (and campaign contributions) to limit competition?

        2. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

          This past summer Yves asked what the libertarian response to the large corporation was? The ensuing debate was fast and furious. Too bad you missed it. I think it was one of the best…

          But what free market are you talking about? This idyllic concept is no better than “communism”. Please provide one historical example of a free market that succeeded over time, that was not destroyed by the emergence of the modern corporation? How could this happen and isn’t there a lesson for us? More importantly, how does one restore us to the ideal free market without the use of state power? Or can this be left to market forces?

          This is the same ideological posturing absent historical evidence by the “right” that accuses the “left” of ignoring Stalinism, Pol Pot, etc that is so frustrating. Stalinism is a perversion of socialism/communism. The modern corporation is a perversion of the free market. Theory itself, as a mere guide, becomes the real perversion, or is it diversion, with both sides talking past one another. Yet we are both poorer off for such posturing and no closer to a viable solution that takes us beyond the status quo.

          I just wonder if there is a libertarian-progressive synthesis in the offing that takes us beyond both ideologies.

          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            The problem in my mind is that Adam Smith’s quaint notions of ‘markets’ in Edinburgh in the 1770s is a far cry from the megacorporations of today. In other words, the concept of ‘markets’, a la Smith, doesn’t scale.

            That doesn’t strike me as a left position, nor a right position.
            It’s not even a political position, per se.

            But where is the problem of scale ever discussed directly?
            I don’t see it happening.

          2. Eagle

            I wish I had more time to answer in depth; in short, the track record of modern corporations, while concerning, is far more comforting than the track records of governments that were powerful enough to contain them.

            I’m not saying I have THE solution; capitalism is in fact the worst solution, except for all the others.

          3. Toby

            I think it’s further from us than some distant past, Mickey. Perfect markets are fundamentally impossible because they require perfect knowledge on the part of all participants, all of whom are identically motivated to get the best price and maximize their profits. Such a world cannot exist, and if it did, there could be no profits, as Franz Hoermann, professor of economics at the Austrian University of Economics points out:

            “Were this system improvable, such would already have happened within the last 80 years. Instead we see an insoluble problem in the absurd Capital Market Theory.

            Allegedly, all participants in a free market possess the exact same information and future expectations. Were such at all possible in the real world, all participants would value all goods in this market in the same way, that is, assign the same price. But that would mean no transactions whatsoever would take place since no profits would be possible. With identical information and future expectations price and value are judged identically by all market participants. In those conditions no one can make a profit, either through buying or selling. Instead there are only losses due to transaction costs.” [My translation.]

            As for eagle reminding us that capitalism is the worst system except for all the others, what about the inherent democracy and distributed power of post-scarcity and resource-based economics?

            What we ought to do is move away from large concentrations of power in either State or Market form (though that false dichotomy is about as helpful as the left/right one). We should be working out how to empower people from the ground up, not from the top down. To do this we have either to render money itself unnecessary via careful and environmentally friendly pursuance of true abundance, or demoting money’s societal role via demurrage, guaranteed income, and other such ideas. Maybe some vestiges of capitalism or socialism would remain, but who really cares? What matters is that we get out priorities right, not what we call the system.

          4. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


            Suffice it to say that I tired of the theoretical refutations of libertarianism – free market utopian anarchy – years ago and confined myself to asking for a historical referent with which to evaluate their argument. Unfortunately, few historical examples are ever provided or those that are of little consequence. Eagle’s response is typical.

            For better or worse, ideology will likely be with us for the foreseeable future. Hence, my usage of ideological referents that help to frame the debate are employed merely as heuristic devices with which to structure the debate or begin discussion with. My sole purpose in blogging here is to provoke, to stimulate discussion, to break the grip of reactionary ideologies like “economics”. It matters little whether it’s Keynesianism or Neoliberalism, both are two sides of the same reactionary coin employed to legitimate the gross disparities in wealth and political power predicated on man-made artificially-induced scarcities resulting from the centralization and concentration of private ownership of the means of production in pursuit of infinite economic growth so as to postpone any discussion of equity or redistribution – the Marxist underpinnings of which couldn’t be more obvious or clearer. I see no need to apologize for this! In fact, if Nazism has been prosecuted for crimes against humanity, the Chicago School is guilty of nothing less… and to pretend otherwise is complicity in their crimes against the Chileans, the Argentinians, and the list goes on. Let’s quit pretending.

            The concept of POSTSCARCITY is intended to shift the discussion from “economics” to something beyond conventional thinking. But the fact that so little feedback is forthcoming telling me I’m full of shit or just plain wrong makes me wonder if the argument is over the top as there are some really bright people on this blog who I wouldn’t even pretend to run with. But if we can’t “quit” on the reigning orthodoxy how will we ever devise an ideological substitute/alternative? It isn’t enough to challenge orthodoxy but also becomes necessary to destroy it, to relegate it to the dustbin of history much like the “flat earth” or terracentric theories that once held sway.

            To believe that this will simply fade away with a change of heart is wishful thinking. But the change of heart – the quitting – is the prerequisite without which the conquest of political power will not happen. I don’t think we differ that much on the broad brushstrokes, but the devil is in the details. Our task is to replace “economics” with a political economy that is equitable, sustainable, and profitable in more than the narrow pecuniary sense. Let’s get on with it.

          5. Toby

            I’m with you on all that. Though impossible to free oneself of all ideological detritus we are all obliged in periods of breakdown and rampant decadence to do our best to look at our beliefs, and especially their supporting assumptions, as coolly and deeply as we can. We should refuse to care about the emotional baggage around words like communism and capitalism and think things through.

            And I agree, POSTSCARCITY is the way forward. The devil is in the detail of how we change to that radically different direction. Consensus is a bitch!

        1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


          I don’t believe Hayek ever considered the large corporation as a threat to freedom. So long as its planning was intended to foster competiiton, he had no quarrel with size. Writing in 1941, his primary concern was directed at the state’s role in economic planning and its inevitable intrusion into the individual’s life. His primary referents were Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and the subsequent trampling of individual liberty in both.

          But inevitably the better a large corporation became at “planning”, it or a handful of successful companies would come to dominate that market. If not monopoly, then oligopoly would result. At what point does the state intervene to break up such cartels or does it? I don’t find an answer to the latter in THE ROAD TO SERFDOM.

          What is the libertarian response to large scale, global concentrations of economic power that are political entities in their own right, often rivaling the state? To me this is the weakest link in the libertarian argument. And I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. If I’m mistaken please point me to it. I’m more than willing to learn…

  8. Philip Pilkington

    A blessing and a curse, I’d say. Living in a country with an active left-wing, I know how censoring they can be once you diss/disagree with certain figures.

    But then even here (Ireland) there’s a certain tendency to classify anyone that disagrees with the ‘establishment’ as being a Trotskyist or something of the sort – but then you realise that the Trots don’t want anything to do with you because you’re a capitalist stooge.

    From what I can discern, it seems to be pretty much the same in Britain – but not elsewhere in Europe. So, its all across the Anglosphere – and its not just to do with red-baiting. Its a certain equating of vocal dissent with far-left views. In Ireland, this is then equated again with IRA-style Republicanism – but I won’t go there, that would need a history lesson in Irish middle-class culture.

    So, overall, I don’t think it has to do with politics at all. I think that its more likely to be – wait for it… a moral judgment. What do I mean by that? Well, in the above named countries in the past 30 years a certain ideology has spread – but rather than being political it seems predominantly ethical. Basically, if you disagree with ‘homo economicus’ as your base ethical model of man, you’re a leftie, or a witch or whatever.

    So, yeah, I think this is something deeper than politics – its a cultural shift. And to disagree with the predominant morality (or anti-morality) is to call the whole thing into question – most notably, the way elites act on a day-to-day basis. This is intolerable – indeed, it seems akin to standing up in public in, say, 50s America and saying that gay marriage and transgender operations are perfectly fine… it hits a nerve… a very deep nerve.

    On a side note, though. I was surprised at some of the books recommended in the comments section of that post yesterday. I’m the first to extol the virtues of certain Marxist economists… but when I saw Alain Badiou’s name pop up, I was more than a little surprised!

    1. LeeAnne

      “So, overall, I don’t think it has to do with politics at all. I think that its more likely to be – wait for it… a moral judgment.”

      ” … So, yeah, I think this is something deeper than politics – its a cultural shift. And to disagree with the predominant morality (or anti-morality) is to call the whole thing into question – most notably, the way elites act on a day-to-day basis.”

      A unique observation; and valuable. Thank you. It reminds me of the difficulty of conversations between friends on matters such as this latest Bloomberg appointee, a lady unheard of in education or public service of any kind who commented about crowded public schools, reminiscent of Barbara Bush’s comment, “They’re underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them” … Barbara Bush and George Bush visiting hurricane evacuees in Houston: here

      ‘Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial [school chancellor] pick drew criticism last month from critics who said the former Hearst Magazines chairwoman had no experience in the field of education to successfully do the job. Black took over for former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein last week.’

      “Could we just have some birth control?” Black said during a meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding task force on Thursday in lower Manhattan.

      “It would really help us out a lot,” she added. here

      To suggest that these images and words personify the work of the power elite; that, they in fact are its cause and effect, and that you’d best prepare yourself physically and psychologically for more to come, is heresy.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        Another important factor in this – in American politics, at least – was Reagan. Reagan was well known for being a kind and gentle man. He even came across that way to the camera (he was also known as a stupid and very ignorant man – but leave that to one side…).

        Reagan – through his demeanor – sold some very viscous and cruel policies to an electorate by coming across like your old granddad. He gave them a bitter pill – and one they were more than willing to swallow – but he sugar-coated it nicely, allowing it to go down while giving them a warm feeling all over. Is this actually evil? I dunno – but its certainly close.

        This is a history that has yet to written. But man – in the Anglosphere, at least – has become more of animal in the past 30 years. And this animal has turned on his own habitat and savaged it. Sometimes I wonder if this really is a crumbling civilisation – but then, I have a tendency for the melodramatic…

        1. Toby

          Empires rise and empires fall, it’s always been that way. It’s not dramatic to think we are in the midst of a crumbling empire, a crumbling paradigm, since many signs point to this. The real danger is not daring to see what is happening because group-think tells us, “it can’t be so.”

          Good posts by the way. If you haven’t already heard of him, you might find Charles Eisenstein very rewarding. His “The Ascent of Humanity” is available for free online (www.ascentofhumanity.com), though buying the book is preferable if reading almost 600 pages from your monitor does not appeal…

  9. The Maaan

    Nice post. Spot on. Another example of exclusion would be Noam Chomsky. There have been such hysterical attacks on him that it is now considered “childish” to consider his arguments or opinions seriously.

      1. The Maaan

        Your comment makes no sense (other than mud-throwing). Most of his work is on US media, and US foreign policy. When he advocates terrorising other states, and more restricted control of media, then let me know.

        1. Eagle

          Chomsky joined the faculty of MIT not as a member of the Linguistics Department but as part of the Research Laboratory of Electronics. Lab professors were blessed with lighter teaching loads, higher salaries, and extensive support staff. The only catch was that their work, reports Schweizer, “was funded entirely by the Pentagon and a few multinational corporations.” The professor saw no problem in railing against the entire defense establishment while he drew a salary from same and conducted research that the generals found useful.

          1. hb

            The Linguistics Dept was part of the Research Lab. There was no “choice” involved between a “Linguistics Dept” & a “Research Lab”.

            Linguistics was either associated with math, computers or anthropology in the 50s. There were no freestanding “linguistics departments.” And it’s still more or less the case today.

            When Chomsky joined the department in the 1950s, linguistics at MIT was classified as a “communication science,” affiliated with the Research Laboratory of Electronics.

            The department’s physical location in Building 20 encouraged formal and informal collaboration with individuals and groups working on cybernetics, acoustics, and artificial intelligence.

          1. Eagle

            I should have been more clear, my main issue with Chomsky is the moral purity he demands of others in capitalist societies. When they naturally fall short, he calls for extreme government intervention. The point is that his idealistic demands are unreasonably lofty, human flaws will make government intervention worse not better – the prime example being his own failure to live up to what he preaches.

          2. hb

            and i will add: the false information about MIT having a linguistics dept separate from the research lab apparently came from sources like this:


            and chomsky has never made any secret of where the money for most MIT research (& most research at most universities) came from:

            NOAM CHOMSKY: Let’s take where I’m sitting—MIT—which is a great university. I’ve been very happy for here for over 50 years. So I’m not criticizing it. It’s technically a private institution. But it’s overwhelmingly state-supported. Up until about 1970, I mean, I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but my recollection is that it was approximately 90 percent Pentagon-supported.

            By now, the mix is different. The Pentagon funding has declined, and funding from health-related sectors of the government, like NIH (National Institutes of
            Health) and others, has gone way up. But that’s because of a shift in the nature of the overall economy. The cutting edge of the economy for the first several decades after World War II was electronics-based, and that was covered by
            Pentagon funding extensively. That’s why we have computers and the Internet and telecommunications and so on.

            The cutting edge of the next phase of the economy is going to be biology-based. So therefore public funding, state
            funding, will be toward the biology-oriented industries.


            To his credit, & unlike most people in his position, Chomsky publicized such information & spoke out against the war machine.

            And his lifestyle is no different than any tenured professor, rather more frugal than most, in fact.

  10. Canucklehead

    … Faith, Hope & Charity…
    Those are good words to live by. How does the “Left” incorporate these ideals into their message?

    Once they are able to answer that question, they will “attract” an audience.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      Yeah… I think that was the tack they took against Reagan back in the 80s and they bombed REAL good.

      I’m thinking they should try the ‘full employment’ route – but that would require them to take their hands out of the bankers’ pockets…

  11. Moneta

    The right wing movement is not only strong in th US, it is intensifying in many other countries (i.e. Sarkozy in France, Harper in Canada…)

    80% of the wealth in Canada and the US is in the hands of the 55+ who are naturally more conservative than the young. And with the boomers being part of a growing percentage of the population over 55, conservatism can only be expected to increase over the next decade.

    The top 1% have more money than they will ever need but the next 9% could easily get wiped out over the next decade and they are nervous. A few twisted policies generating inflation would crush them. And let’s face it, for government, the best tool has always been inflation.

    Interestingly this 9% made their money off of the spendthrifts but they don’t see it that way. They somehow believe they are self made and special. They never stop to think about what their portfolios would look like if all spendthirfts had been frugal and policies of the last 3 decades had not promoted leverage.

    I am of the opinion that the core of the problem is the large percentage of boomers to the general population. The pig in the python.

    I believe that this pension/credit crisis was unavoidable. If all boomers had saved, the economy would have been smaller. Had the economy been smaller, boomers would have had smaller incomes and would have had less to save and the pension crisis would still be upon us.

    The problam is that the younger group is smaller than the boomer group and the boomer group expect the younger generation to pay for them just like they did for their own parents. But the math does not work.

  12. Steve Zielinski

    One problem that leftists confront is that it’s highly dependent on the presence and vitality of center-left and left movements. But these are lacking today. The left also lacks a political culture that includes a powerful, coherent and well-supported theory that could identify and explain current social ills while also pointing to the social and political forces that could cure those ill’s. Marx’s theory was meant to accomplish these goals, and millions believed that it did so. It no longer supports this belief. A third problem issues from the fact that radical reform or revolution is potentially a personally dangerous choice for anyone.

    1. DownSouth


      Great analysis.

      I am in total agreement that the left lacks “a political culture that includes a powerful, coherent and well-supported theory that could identify and explain current social ills while also pointing to the social and political forces that could cure those ill’s.”

      Classical economic theory posits a partial truth and a gross simplification. In reaction to the abuses that arose due to the application of this defective theory came Marxism. But Marxism is itself yet another theory that posits a partial truth and a gross simplification. So we just got bounced from one utopian vision to another. But now, with the public memory being as short as it is, we’re getting bounced back to the original utopian capitalist vision, despite the fact that its defects became so imminently manifest in the latter 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

      The question is this: Human nature being what it is, can a more realistic theory that doesn’t promise heaven on earth marshal sufficient “social and political forces” to be effective?

      1. Steve Zielinski

        “The question is this: Human nature being what it is, can a more realistic theory that doesn’t promise heaven on earth marshal sufficient “social and political forces” to be effective?”

        That’s a real problem for any political movement. Agitprop seems to be require in order to mobilize ‘the people’ or a fraction of them. Agitprop is a simplification of a theory that is necessarily less complex than the world it would describe and explain. Both agitprop and the simplicity of the representation when compared to represented can and often do combine to generate political mischief. The left can no longer look past the problem of political violence the way the right can. Authoritarian capitalism may not be considered damnable by anyone but the left, but even leftists today consider authoritarian socialism and communism to be unacceptable.

        In sume, it’s difficult to embrace radicalism when one’s moral and scientific commitments produce a demand for caution.

        1. Philip Pilkington

          Yeah, I’m not sure about this at all… Marx is dead, sure – and I, for one, shed few tears. But there’s plenty of alternative models. The most obvious being Keynes – I mean, the Scandinavian Social Democracies are incredible economies, so why not go in that direction? Hell, I’ll even give out specific policy prescriptions!

          No, I think the problem is that the middle-class – as in the ‘middle’-middle class – climbed the social ladder that the social democrats handed them and then pulled the ladder up when given half the chance.

          Then they started voting for tax breaks and the like, because most of them are horrible, mean, greedy human creatures who only care about buying a car they can’t afford to show off to a neighbour they don’t like. Finally, the crisis hit – but all the social democrats were too deeply embroiled in New Labour/New Democrat backscratching and so fail miserably when it comes to the writing on the wall.

          As I said above: full employment policies will sell an election – but it won’t buy corporate funders. Center-left parties have to make a choice…

          1. Steve Zielinski

            “As I said above: full employment policies will sell an election – but it won’t buy corporate funders. Center-left parties have to make a choice…”

            I’d say the Democratic Party made that choice years ago. I also believe it’s clear that Obama does not consider unemployment an important policy area. Time-limited unemployment compensation is not a solution. It treats a symptom.

      2. Siggy

        We could begin here and now by prosecuting the fiancial frauds that have been and continue to be perpetrated.

    2. jest

      While I partially agree with your overall point, (I feel the problem is institutional, not cultural; there isn’t a counterpoint to Cato or the NRA) I still get the feeling that people aren’t grasping Yves’ overall point:

      There is no left-wing in the United States.

      If there is no left-wing, there can be no left-wing movements, or institutions, or organized lobby, etc.

      1. Steve Zielinski

        “If there is no left-wing, there can be no left-wing movements, or institutions, or organized lobby, etc.”

        Self-organization is the key. The left is by definition committed to democracy broadly conceived and, for any left worth supporting, that commitment entails the emergence of politics based in popular sentiment and action.

        It’s not obvious what it would take to generate a popular commitment to self-organization, democracy, a fair system of welfare distribution, self-management, etc.

  13. Moneta

    I also believe that the blogospehre is mostly represented by that 9% net worth group which is naturally conservative and attratcted to the austerity movement.

  14. Ignim Brites

    Of course there is no Left or only a left out Left. There is the little matter of the gulag to get over. Can the left be separated from the materialist dialectic? Not likely. Too many boomers still around. The crucial task for the young left is to separate themselves decisively from the literally old left. Then they can begin to see if anything can be built from the rubble.

    1. jcrit

      When the lies of the Right are exposed (maybe next week), when the demonizer machine of the Right is shut down because of the war crimes that it commits, then the “missing” left will become quite visible. It’s been right here all the time.

      Who will shut it down? Citizens and their communities.

  15. Moneta

    Fixing our problems would involve a transfer of wealth. Since most of the wealth is owned by the 55+, this solution would mean taking from the old and giving to the young.

    That’s the last thing boomers, or the top 10%, would like to see.

    So it does not matter how amazing the solutions proposed are, the boomers will never agree to anything that involves taking some money from them unless it is done by force.

    1. BigBadBank

      That is both irrelevant and frighteningly ignorant. Most of the wealth is owned by the rich (obviously) and they pass it on to their children who are, at least initially, less than 55.

      1. hb

        The top 10% of income tax filers gets half the income. That’s all income, not only wage income.

        Obviously a smaller group than “baby boomers”.

        The bottomm 50% of the population gets 12% of its income.

        In 2007 the percent of total US income taken by each percent of income tax filers and their effective tax rate ( ) was:

        Top 1%: 23.4% (20.6)

        Top 5%: 39.0% (18.8%)

        Top 10%: 49.6% (17.5%)

        Top 25%: 69.9% (15.2%)

        Bottom 50%: 12% (13.6%)

        Income floor for each percentile in 2007 was:

        Top 1%: ($458K) (1.4 million returns)

        Top 5%: ($168K) (7 million returns)

        Top 10%: ($115K) (14 million returns)

        Top 25%: ($65K) (35 million returns)

        Bottom 50%: (Under $32.4K) (70 million returns)

        All figures taken from:

        Individual Income Tax Returns with Positive “1979 Income Concept” Income

        Published as: SOI Bulletin article – Individual Income Tax Rates and Tax Shares, Table 7
        Tax Years: 1986 – 2007


  16. F. Beard

    There are quite a few fascists posing as libertarians. They seek, for instance, government sanction for what should be a purely private money form, gold. Thus they seek fiat gold! Pure hypocrisy.

    As for the Left, please consider that if the banking and money system was not allowed to steal in the first place then there would be little need for redistribution.

  17. Moneta

    So, overall, I don’t think it has to do with politics at all. I think that its more likely to be – wait for it… a moral judgment. What do I mean by that? Well, in the above named countries in the past 30 years a certain ideology has spread – but rather than being political it seems predominantly ethical.
    What is morality? All in all, morality is a set of rules that tell you how the game is played.

    Who sets these rules? The ones with the money.

    Why has morality eroded? Because the new continent had a lot to offer and everyone could aspire to the American dream. As the economy matured people realized that the old rules did not work for them.

    Who is still adhering to the old code of morality? The top 10%. And the bitter disenfranchised who lost their rights and want the rights of their neighbors taken away from them.

    1. DownSouth

      Nah. The competing moral visions you speak of have been around since the inception of the American republic, and in fact since at least the beginning of recorded history. Read Kevin Phillips’ Wealth and Democracy for a good primer.

      And you say: “Who sets these rules? The ones with the money.”

      That’s constructivism or structuralism carried to an extreme. It’s a theory that originated on the left, but that the right was more than happy to adopt, because it allowed them to portray oligarchic domination as inevitable or “just natural.”

    2. DownSouth

      And who ever said politics shouldn’t be based at least to some degree on morality?

      Oh, yea, that’s right. I remember now. It was the neoclassical economists and the neoliberals.

  18. Bruce Bartlett

    Yves says that she was a middle of the roader in the Reagan years and now finds herself on the left even though her philosophy has not changed, due to the rightward shift throughout the country. I would second that. In the Reagan years I was comfortably in the conservative mainstream. Today, I consider myself to be an independent. In a sense, I have moved to the left to the same degree Yves has, but from a starting position further to the right. Like her, I don’t believe my philosophy has changed.

    Bruce Bartlett

  19. Freddie

    Your criticism is well taken, and fair. But I’m not kidding when I say that I stopped mainly because I’m not good enough. The left deserves better than me.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You say pretty much no one is occupying this space, so how can you NOT be good enough to fill a vacuum? Grover Norquist was a year or so behind me at Harvard, and generally considered to be an idiot. Look what he has accomplished.

      Or are you concern about criticism from the few remaining lefties in academia, who often are pretty cerebral? Their opinion does not matter in the policy space or arena of public debate. And if your commentary were to have roused them into being more active and effective in communicating with the broader public, that’s an even bigger plus, you will have enlarged the community.

      Plus you should know that if stick your neck out on a day to day basis and get slapped around, it forces you to get better.

      1. ScottS

        Well said! Giant vacuum needs people with brains. People who are sick of the status quo stand ready to follow a leader.

        Obama got us on mere hope and change. Someone with actual substance could take us to the moon and back!

    2. Steve Zielinski

      I once felt the same way, and came to embrace that belief when I realized that I had no answers for the social and political problems I could identify. Eventually, I began to accept my sense of the limits one faces as a political actor. Fearing the authoritarian tendencies of the federal government was one consideration that motivated me to change my mind on this issue. Another was I came to the realization that, If I held everyone else to the standard I held myself, only the opportunists would feel able to act on their political interests. That wouldn’t be a good thing at all!

      You may wish to read Hegel’s critique of the “beautiful soul” in his “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The upshot: Purity in the face of the world becomes impurity in the world when the world calls for a moral and realistic politics.

  20. Dan Bednarz

    An ecological/thermodynamic understanding of this issue would, I think, leave us with the following guide to public policy making: “how to equitably divide a shrinking economic pie?” There are limits to grwoth, and we’re hitting them now. Physical labor, in agriculture, crafts, manufacturing, awaits us as less and less energy is available to do work. Last year I got the business school at the local megaversity to invite a Marxist to speak on the current crisis. He came across very well with the students in explaining inequality and the increasing concentration of wealth, but he insisted I was dead wrong about peak oil and the limits to growth. His paradigm is all political/economy, with the biosphere and its resources as passive subjects of man’s actions.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      Mmmm… I’ve seen these ‘neo-Marxists’ too that rail on about limited growth – and I’m deeply suspicious. Limited growth is so far from Marx its not even funny. Limited growth is strictly Malthusian and it attracts all the wrong type of people.

      Just look at the recent Davos report for example – there you’ll see plenty of ‘limited growth’ and pseudo-environmental arguments for the current food crisis (no mention of investors, naturally).

      If we want to talk about limits to growth – and I believe its a real issue – we have to be VERY careful. And in my opinion Marx has nothing to add – to try and Marxise limited growth ends in Malthusianism. Now, Keynes and Smith – they had some interesting ideas on zero-growth economies.

    2. Tao Jonesing

      The U.S. economy would be much better off if our tax policy promoted actual investment in domestic businesses instead of the financial speculation that has lead to decapitalization of this country. Every dollar “invested” in the secondary stock markets is, in fact, speculation that does not create any jobs anywhere (except maybe Wall Street).

      We don’t actually have to redistribute wealth in this country. We just have to find ways to encourage the wealthy to redistribute their portfolios to emphasize real domestic investment over rank financial speculation.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        I think your plan – if we’re to be terribly realistic about it – would, in fact, result in a redistribution of wealth. You have to think about how much goods are being produced and the aggregate demand for those goods. If you have high-levels of domestic goods production – as you did in, say, the 50s and 60s – you’d also need a broad consumption base. This consumption base would then need a greater share of the wealth – otherwise the economy would slide into depression.

        There’s also the more immediate question of how high corporate pay leads to corporate predation – not to mention, the tearing apart of bi’ness by rich folk in order to generate more $$$…

        1. Tao Jonesing

          I don’t agree. The fact that the bottom 80% of the U.S. economy will gain wealth does not mean that the top 20% will lose wealth. Yes, the wealth of the top 20% will not grow as quickly as it does today, but most of that growth is due to speculative gains and rents, neither of which is useful or productive. Indeed, financial speculators are actually quite destructive (see, the Great Depression and the Greater Depression we’re in now).

          It is true that earning power will be shifted from the rentiers and the financial speculators to the capitalists and the laborers, but aren’t the owners of the means of production and the people who work it the source of all true wealth in the world?

          1. Philip Pilkington

            “Yes, the wealth of the top 20% will not grow as quickly as it does today, but most of that growth is due to speculative gains and rents, neither of which is useful or productive.”

            So… eh… what? If the top 20%’s wealth grows slower – but the bottom 80%’s doesn’t, then… well… that would be a redistribution. We’re talking about relative values here. If one grows less fast, while another increases at the same pace we have a redistribution of the total wealth.

            God… Say’s Law truly has corrupted too many minds these days.

            And just to say, even your model – which indicates wealth redistribution – is completely oversimplified. It doesn’t take into the income growth that would be necessary in order to sustain a growth in the supply of goods that real investment would bring about. But let’s not even get into that – figure out the above first. And for everyone else: please read up on Say’s Law and understand that it is rubbish of the highest order…

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            Go back and take Anthropology 101! Relative status is all that matters! But those at the top of the food chain have gotten used to having a VERY large gap between them and everyone else…

          3. Yves Smith Post author


            With all due respect, 100 years is a spurious timeframe. People make status comparisons over their lifespan. And the evidence is overwhelming that the top 1%, and in particular the top 0.1%, has really pulled away in its hold on assets and income relative to the rest of the population.

          4. Eagle

            I think Tyler’s point holds true over 50 to 70 years as well. As he points out, all the income in the world is not buying the rich significantly better outcomes than the middle class.

          5. Philip Pilkington

            Am I the only one that loathes talking about stuff like wealth inequality from the point of view of ‘ethics’?

            This is one of those typical cases where right-wingers get caught up in the real implications of their own economic constructions, get confused and finally start spewing moralistic garbage.

            “Ar, consumption is better than in 1324!!!”

            Of course, technology had nothing to do with that – or, say, the evolution of the welfare state or the trade union movement. History in a sentence – or, in the case of that trashy journalistic article you linked to: pop-history from a single perspective that means NOTHING.

            No, if we’re going to discuss income inequality, we have to take a step back and take a look at the ECONOMIC implications of it. This is what right-wingers are so desperately afraid of… because then they’d see the gaping holes in the ‘theories’.

            As I said above – but still no one bothered dealing with it – you cannot have increased productivity (i.e. the US cannot return to being a productive economy) without increased consumption. Increased consumption requires an increase in wages/income – but I’m not, as I pointed out to Mr. 20% above, talking in absolute terms; but in relative terms.

            Put more simply: if REAL wages – and not nominal wages – are to be higher, REAL income – and not nominal income – for the top whatever-percent has to decrease.

            The fact that people have yet to grasp this 80 years since Keynes (not to mention 150 years since Marx), shows just how brainwashed economists and their ‘pupils’ actually are. But don’t worry, they’ll tell you – it all equilibriates… what nonsense.

            Rant over…

          6. Philip Pilkington

            One more thing on that article – because I hate these types of articles (perhaps having had to write similar stuff for too long myself….):

            “Bill Gates is much, much richer than I am, yet it is not obvious that he is much happier if, indeed, he is happier at all.”

            What is this crap? “Happier”? What does this even mean? What if Gates has a tragic life event and slips into a depression? I mean, really – when did a serious policy issue like inequality start being talked like from this perspective? Completely meaningless…

            “A key lesson to take from all of this is that simply railing against income inequality doesn’t get us very far. We have to find a way to prevent or limit major banks from repeatedly going short on volatility at social expense. No one has figured out how to do that yet. ”

            No one has figured that out? Really? Hmmm… I’ve figured it out… Does that make me extraordinarily special? No, I think most people that post on this blog have figured it out.

            Not just that, but the author’s selective view of history seems to miss that rising income inequality and the growth in finance go hand in hand. Another observer might actually go as far as to think there might be a connection – but then we might have to go into details, I guess… And, God knows, we wouldn’t want to do that…

  21. Transor Z

    A discussion of Left/Right is as stupid and phony as Democrat/Republican or Tastes Great/Less Filling. And tactically it’s as moronic as trench warfare c. 1914-1919:

    “Pass Financial Reform, forward boys!” Rat-tat-tat boom boom boom. All dead. Then the counter-attack: “Eliminate entitlement spending, forward boys!” Rat-tat-tat boom boom boom. All dead. Stupid stupid stupid.

    What IS illuminating is discussion of the evolution of prevailing ideas and theories across disciplines. What makes behavioral economics more/less promising than classical economics going forward? This kind of discourse requires rigor.

  22. Jonathan Bernstein

    I can personally attest to how the enforcement mechanism works. I occasionally blog on my site and most of these posts get cross posted at Seeking Alpha. A couple months ago I wrote a post that basically said gold investors need not fear that Pres. Obama is out to seize their treasure. I pointed out (as Yves has here) that Obama is very friendly to big business and to investors in general. In my comments at Seeking Alpha I got all sorts of accusations of being a “Stalinist,” “collectivist,” you name it. And I am one who has warned about the need to hold some gold as a hedge against a weak dollar, not exactly a left wing position. Like Yves, I too was middle of the road back in the Reagan era…

  23. pink tide

    Ridicule, stigma, and silencing are the three lines of doctrinal defense. Yves has breached the first two because she’s so infuriatingly competent, so silencing is all that’s left but it’s pretty effective, particularly if there’s a circumscribed debate to crowd out the real issues. Ultimately the national fantasy gets maintained by an insular society. That’s what patriotism is for. Soros has mostly withdrawn from domestic politics to operate in a transnational plane. We’re at the point where external pressure is the only chance of reform. Fortunately the world knows that too.

  24. Eric

    This is a curious post and series of comments. In 30 minutes I was able to find many, many examples of commentary that was sufficiently left to satisfy everyone here. So what is the real complaint then? That the potential audience isn’t sufficiently swayed by these opinions?

  25. Dan Duncan

    This post and the “Blindspot” post it discusses are freaking awesome!

    ON the Blindspot post: A sad case, whereby Freddy deBoer exhibits his ongoing battle with Anton-Babinski Syndrome: A rare symptom of brain damage. People who suffer from it are “cortically blind”, but affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing. Failure to see is dismissed by the sufferer through confabulation.

    All one can do with the sufferer of this malady is to try and empathize, whilst not patronizing the afflicted.

    Then, change the subject. Quickly.

    “Gosh Freddie, that’s an interesting observation. I never realized that there is a paucity of Leftist views on the internet. Yeah…OK, then. Thanks for that. Hey, did you catch the Golden Globes last night?”

    Of course, the person that manages to do this with Freddie deserves some kudos for being sensitive and stifling the irresistable urge to ridicule such blatant stupidity.

    I think what really helped me resist the compulsion for mockery is Freddie’s use of the term “Blindspot” as the title of his post. Now, it’s just getting downright pathetic. Freddie projects his confabulation AND his blindness onto the whole of the internet.

    “Gosh Freddie. Great point, there. Yes, it is the rest of us who are blind.”

    Even though blindness is the metaphor, Freddie’s ultimate goal really is quite transparent and, frankly hackneyed: Freddie wants to establish a new frame of reference for the Left. And in that frame, Freddie hopes to anchor the notion of the Left to something far more extreme. And into the gap of this reference shift, Freddie hopes what are now considered “extreme” Leftist notions will appear more moderate.

    Wow. That’s really novel. Never seen that before.

    Freddie’s post can be summarized as “The Right has Beck and Sarah. But the Big Bad Internet won’t allow us to have our own far-out heroes. It’s just not fair!”

    Freddie’s a Blind Man, Framing.

    As for Yves’ supplement:

    Yves, exhibits the etymological fallacy. She assumes that the term “Political Left” is static with a true and original meaning. Therefore Yves feels justified in harkening back to its usage 30 years ago to support her laugh out loud funny observation: “Hey, I’m middle of the road.”

    Maybe the CDC should get involved as Anton-Babinski Syndrom appears contagious.

    As for not appearing on television….

    Your outspoken views are mitigated by the fact that “Yves Smith” is a fake name. It’s not impossible, but it is more difficult to take a person seriously who wants to push buttons and be controversial, yet won’t use her real name.

    Regular viewers will accuse the network of deception. “Wait a second! You’re letting this person come on your show, make inflammatory, controversial statements, but you don’t even require that they reveal their true identity?”

    Perception matters on television. And even though I don’t necessarily agree (because I am familiar with your work and I really believe that you DO have integrity)…what exec is going to want to deal with that?

    Just as importantly: Any cursory examination of Naked Cap by a TV executive would reveal crackpot buffoonery like George Washington, as a sponsored guest on your site: “9/11 was an inside job!” “Rape is an official policy of our military!”

    A TV guest who doesn’t use her real name, and who utilizes useful idiots like GW to spew Leftist vitriol…just isn’t as “courageously outspoken” as you would like to believe.

    1. pink tide

      You’re sounding awfully enraged lately. You’re not going to go blow some chick’s brains out, are you? Life’s not fair, I know, all the sneering leftists from Soros on down to ordinary educated people like us, we make money off your patriotic obedience, and eat your lunch, but now is a time for healing and forgiveness… So will you forgive us? Please?

    2. Tamara G Ecclestone III

      Dan darlin’, don’t let all this lefty talk get you so riled!

      Now be a good boy, and fetch me that Qianlong Chinese porcelain vase….

      1. pink tide

        I don’t think Dan’s trained as a domestic, I think he’s trained to be what the Enarchs and Eurocrats call an internet plumber. What frequently happens in that subclass is that they make educational decisions for purely extrinsic vocational reasons. They wind up with deficient critical thinking skills, but at the entry level they are marketable and they anchor their identity on that. Then salary compression, technical obsolescence and foreign labor competition hit them and they face insecurity and acute status anxiety. Then they get very angry and buy guns and wave signs, in a regimented way, and often blow some random woman’s brains out or commit suicide by cop.

  26. Francois T

    On this “anodyne civility” so prized in America:

    Glenn Greenwald took a well-deserved swipe at a tool (Benjamin Wittes) from the Brookling Institution who had nothing else to do with its time than to extol the merits of Obummer refusing to prosecute Americans who engaged in torture. (Oh Lord! This pesky “rule of law” again! Spare us will ya?)


    Will I shock anyone if I wrote that the tool in question just wouldn’t deign to answer the substance of Glenzilla’s article? Here’s what GG wrote in reply:

    as a defender of torturers, he’s much too high-minded and civil to engage those who aren’t. Leaving aside the fact that everything I wrote here was purely substantive, few people are in greater need of reviewing this satirically profane though brilliantly insightful post explaining the distinction between (a) decency and (b) shallow notions of civility: for the record, I value the former infinitely more than the latter. Bill Kristol and John Yoo are both extremely “civil” in the sense that Wittes means this — all while they advocate indecent and repellent ideas. That, by itself, demonstrates the irrelevance of these vapid notions of “civility” to which Wittes and most DC denizens cling as a means of justifying what they’re actually advocating (we may be defending repulsive and destructive ideas — we’re cheering on wars and insisting on legal immunity for torturers — but at least we’re doing it in a soft-spoken manner while sitting in plush think tank conference rooms with name plates and pitchers of water, which entitles us to respect and deference).

    Civility without decency; the refuge of the ideological scoundrels.

    1. mikkel

      Yeah, if Patriotism is the last refuge, then civility without decency is surely the covered path to skip down.

      It’s like Orwell is being read as a recommendation instead of a warning.

  27. sick transit


    I also share your view that while we’ve stayed centrists the country has shifted sharply to the right. But one small suggestion. Perhaps instead of using the term “left” begin to substitute the term “progressives” to describe ourselves. From the era of Jennings Bryan probably up until Henry Wallace a cornerstone of the Progressive movement was aimed at the TBTF’s, the plutocrats and the warmongers. Sounds like our kind of movement. Anyway, my point is that the notion of a left-right continuum in American politics is meaningless. Witness the right wings incessant attacks on Obama as a socialist. Huh? Does that make any sense to you? Also, thanks for all the great posts.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree the term “progressive” is more apt. But even that is being debased (see this for an example, where Krugman calls Obama a progressive. Aargh!)

      I’m cribbing this from an e-mail by sometime contributor Doug Smith:

      I read this today and believe it helps inform Michael’s excellent question about why it is that Krugman, notwithstanding his perch at the times, his Nobel and his admission into circles of power, nonetheless seems ineffective:


      When you read it, you’ll find parts 1 and 2 quite cogent as high level summaries of what and why the Obama administration has fumbled away the historic opportunity presented in the 2008 election.

      When you get to part 3, you’ll see some of what possibly explains Krugman’s ineffectiveness.

      First, note the linguistic problem: Part 3 (echoing the title of the article) purports to lay out, “What Progressives Can Do”.

      Yet, read carefully, and you’ll see that Krugman and Wells immediately substitute “Democrats” for ‘progressives” (until the very end when they talk about MoveOn). This is a key point: Having just spent parts 1 and 2 describing how ineffective Obama and the Democrats have been, Krugman now somehow rhetorically equates “progressives” with “Democrats”. It’s sloppy thinking. He and Wells would have been much better served had they focused clearly on ‘progressives” — had they gone beyond the suggestion at the end about ‘delinking from Obama’ to ‘delinking from corporatist, Blue Dog and centrist Democrats as well as Obama” and done this from the start, then suggested specifics about how progressives could do that. Instead, they conflate progressives with Democrats when, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

      Now, why do they do that? Just sloppiness? Krugman is a pretty smart guy. How can he be so sloppy? I don’t know the answer to this question… but I fear that Krugman is just not enough of a street fighter — that he doesn’t want to burn his bridges to the Democratic center.. that he himself isn’t ready to ‘delink’. There’s no law against that. But it does, I think, help answer Michael’s excellent question because, unless and until people are crystal clear in this situation, they are unlikely to make any progress against the entrenched power structures.

  28. JTM

    Ultimately this is nothing more nor less than a triumph of capitalist (or plutocratic) propaganda. Creating a miasma false consciousness.

  29. frances snoot

    If we “all kneel to pray”, as Obama indicated in his much-lauded Tucson speech, don’t we use both the left and the right knee? Would ‘the left’ now be antiquated with the “jewish way of thinking”? I speak not as an anti-semite here, but as one who wonders why those who support the orthodoxy wonder at the binding of feet.

  30. Goin' South

    I had to laugh when I saw deBoer mention Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos as one name that was perhaps legitimately Left. Markos is a Capitalist through and through, running DK as a profit-making enterprise. He’s also a loyal Democrat who especially loves “fightin’ Dems” with military backgrounds.

    A few of us did start an “Anti-Capitalist Meetup” on DailyKos in the summer. There was quite a lot of pushback from the many DLC and ConservaDems on the site at first, but we hung tough and have grown. Even people who consider themselves Democrats are beginning to wonder if there’s any hope for reforming either the political or economic mess.

    Yesterday, the Anti-Capitalist Meetup announced the formation of a more formal and explicitly democratic administrative format in anticipation of DK4, Markos’s move into the social networking world.

    deBoer would have done better to take a look at Stop Me Before I Vote Again, the Chrisses Hedges and Floyd, Counterpunch, the seriously ill Joe Bageant and Lambert Strether whom we see around here regularly.

    And there are active sites with discussions and teaching going on like libcom.org and zcommunications.org.

    It seems deBoer is too caught up in the “progressive” world to have really explored all the territory.

  31. Bernard

    dissembling the Left has been going on for a long, long time. Growing up in the 60’s America’s problems were blamed on the Left. Losing in Vietnam was blamed on the left. Truth from Newspapers, Nattering Nabobs of Negativity, Vice President Agnew’s opinion.

    the destruction of the Left has been an ongoing and successful pogrom of the Right, to use a now popular word thanks to Sarah. The middle/center has been afraid of the Left for so many years now thanks in part to the Propaganda of the Right and other various players.

    i don’t think the Left could be organized against such an amorphous power structure. Yet i never hear much criticism of the Right by the Right. i always hear much about circular shooting squads on the left. some on the left like to be held accountable to the truth, no matter the source.

    the Right is focused and has been since before Reagan. That is so simple to see and track as the years have passed. The lies of the Right are quite evident to see but no one in power or those who suck up to the Powers that Be, will admit such.

    Our economic system is the result of the Right wing fantasy that Government is the Problem. Remember Reagan?? Well. that comment about there being none so blind as those who will not see is so true.

    the energy spent at deconstruction the Left works at keeping unity from coalescing into some more unified form. The truth of the Left still remains the truth, no matter how Orwellian the Right wing Doublespeak. the Right is better at lying due to the years of Propaganda and their lies they continually spew in their successful delegitimizing of the Left.

    that is what we have here today. A society captured by the successful Lying Right, as far as economics is concerned. The whole Faith Based World includes economic, and moralistic thinking. the whole ball of wax is based on non-sequitors and keeping up appearances, so to speak. Morals, ethics the whole society based on Faith Based Lies keep/kept Republicans in power

    now we are nearing the end of the economic lies., this form of capitalism passed off by the Republican Faith Based Reality/Freshwater thinking, set up years ago, is what we see it today. Shock and Awe Capitalism works for the Elites not the little people who once were part of Society. The implosion will change minds in ways the leaders of the Left and Right would never be able to do.

    of course, having persuasive BSers like Rush, Beck, Reagan, Palin and all their sweet talkers does help pull the Bull over one’s eyes as lots of white Americans have eagerly lapped up.

    People in America like to be led. What can i say, they choose to be ignorant and take the easy way. lol. And they followed the Right, with all the BS, cause the Right knew how to sell the BS. The Right used Madison Ave to use psychology and marketing. Gosh how hard is this to see.

    that’s partially why labels are losing their “worth.” the myths of our society are being redefined, as the old myths have lost their “meaning” in the present, we look to new “myths” to make sense of our living here and now.

    after 40 years of lies, the house of cards is falling.

  32. Paul Tioxon

    Yves, is it possible that I could fall more in love with a woman whose beauty is only surpassed by her the boldness of her intellect. Really, if you I and could run away from all of this madness I’m sure my wife would understand. After 29 years I think she is tired of me.

    One of the founding members of the John Birch Society was Fred C Koch. He is father of the Koch brothers, so well exposed by Jane Mayer in her New Yorker article. The sons are continuing in the fathers footsteps to undermine democracy in order to maintain their property holdings, the basis of all wealth of all nations. The Huntsman family, mormans from Utah, control Huntsman chemical, the father has donated over $1.5BB to wipe out disease from humanity. His son Jon Jr, former Gov of Utah and current Ambassador to China. They both have donated heavily to the Wharton school, having a newer office building there bearing the name of Huntsman Hall. They are big supporters of Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. Mitt as you know, headed up that outfit. They seem to further the Morman faith and are willing to conform to whatever faction of the property holding ruling elites seems to hold sway. Mitt Romney’s foray into Social Democracy with the Mass state health care plan, shows the strategic pragmatism of the liberal faction of politics. So we have the conservative, right wing republicans as birchers/libertarians/tea party and the liberal thousand points of light/medicare part d/pell grant giving/ gays in the military liberals. Where oh where can a radical be found?

    The most amazing thing here on NC is to read the intellectual masturbation of the sadly mistaken educated middle class. At least most Blacks know they have been miseducated, at least they know they have been socialized to see the world through white eyes, to see themselves through white eyes, and still have a Black body, with a Black experience and Black eyes to see the world from a second perspective. But the false consciousness here is garden variety petite bourgeosie at its most pedestrian, with standard issue aspirations to haute status. Good fucking luck.

    The missing component is not left, it is radical analysis. The conservatives want to mitigate any and all change that threatens their property holdings, they support the standard bulwarks of church authority, in today’s world, abortion, gays, family values. The liberals know that there will be change and seek to carefully guide the masses with reason and science, of which they are they gatekeepers. They know that some property will have to be redistributed, especially to the 20% of the technocrats and bureaucrats necessary to manage the industrialized technology of the nation state. This elite cadre, the well educated, the well adjusted and the politically not too ambitious, are all of the same property owning class or the well paid agents of the class. The rest, will have to gut it out, as they always have. The union movement, the Women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, peace movement are all separate movements but at least they are moving. The liberals want incremental change, if any at all, just enough to act as a safety valve from the rioting and real possibility of actual change. The conservatives will resort to the blunt police power of the leviathan state to keep people in their feudal roles, permanently relegated to menial servitude and for their benefit: the endless accumulation of capital, the perpetual creation of wealth, and its political confiscation for the ruling class and the ruling class only in the form of property rights. The radicals want the equity of their work to have value and it can not in the face of political oppression masquerading as property. When the Koch brother inherited their fortune, what did they do to earn it? What is their contribution, their equity in the business entity? Minuscule, nada, less than zero. But they have property rights, no equity, but the natural god given right to hold and possess and do with as they please because they control the blunt force of the state.

    Radicals want change now, and we have the means via a democratically controlled republic. The problem is that even through the vast majority of people work, with employment rates in the US measured at above 90% for most all of the people most all of their adult working capacity, they don’t even believe that they are entitled to much more than they have, or they feel guilty about it, or they think it can’t happen or they are worn down and brain washed into believing that even thought they grow and pick all of the food, manufacture and distribute all of the goods and do everything else to maintain and grow the economy, because it is not their property, they have no right to derive any more benefit that a wage.

    That is the radical point of view and that is why is it not talked about in the least bit. It is revolutionary, it will kill some people, but then, we do that everyday all around the world so we can get oil, rare earth minerals, copper, iron, pussy for the sex industry, dope to opiate the populace not castrated by religion, and simple profits and the political maintenance of the relations with the ruling class of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and whoever else is temporarily associated with our US business and political interests.

    The allocation of resource and industrial policies for the benefit of the citizenry, not Wall St and NOT the redistribution of wealth, but the distribution to the common wealth. If we keep the present collapsing system as it is, and try to bandage it, there will always be the discussion of re-distribution. With the elimination of the current political economy and the creation of some new form of social order, it will simply be distribution. At the present rate of cartel formation in the US, the new social order will be an easy task, as only 2 or 3 corporations will have to be taken over by the government in each critical sector to achieve common wealth scale of enterprise.

    How’s that for leftwing?

  33. Jessica

    About using the blogosphere to construct a worthwhile left

    Nowadays the problem is not lack of information or lack of communication, but an excess of it. There is probably an analogous phase in an infant’s development, when the brain has created most of its connections but has not yet refined them into useful patterns.
    At this stage of things, I think it helps to identify what is useful in a discussion and respond to that and allow the not-useful to just go by.
    For me, true civility is about finding what is worth responding to in someone’s statement, even if they present it in a form that puts me off. Faux civility is using politeness violations as a reason to not deal with something one didn’t want to deal with in the first place.
    Mostly, I focus in on thoughts that are based on “let’s see how we can do better” and try to not pay attention to those based on “let’s prove we can’t”.

    1. frances snoot

      “There is probably an analogous phase in an infant’s development, when the brain has created most of its connections but has not yet refined them into useful patterns”

      Are you referring here to ‘real time’ or to babbel? Do we organize patterns as individuals, or is the new wave to organize patterns as a collective way of thinking? If so, then the infant better watch what it puts into its mouth. Is this infant, then, reared and trained by the theocratic adultus, now to be ‘watched’?

      1. Jessica

        You may have taken my analogy farther than I can.
        What I meant is that right now, many useful ideas are out there but they have difficulty reaching each other and forming useful higher-level patterns because of the incredible flood of information. And because most of the flood is basically noise because our social system rewards grabbing attention by any means necessary rather than rewarding educating and uplifting.
        If we take the analogy farther and ask “who is raising this infant”, then I think the analogy breaks down or goes into metaphysics.
        What I am searching for is a way for us to consciously advance the process of getting beyond the phase of lying on our backs being overwhelmed by stimuli and starting to make sense of things by reinforcing and prioritizing useful connections.

          1. Jessica

            Good question
            In one sense, the human race, in another sense those parts of the human race connected into the Internet and broadcast media flows (which is most of the human race), in yet another sense, those who are consciously trying to make some sense of it all.

          2. frances snoot

            I only questioned the context because it seems, to me, that there is subconscious and conscious thought. I wondered if the move is for us to share our rational thought; it seems we already have a conduit going for subconscious dialogue.

            If so, I like sharing.

          3. Jessica

            I think the move is for us to share our rational thought in order to shift part of the society-wide discussion out of unconsciousness into consciousness.

  34. alan

    One point is missed by most of the commentary here: follow the money.

    The powerful don’t care particularly about philosophy. They care more about economic rents. Since Reagen era, the Finance Sector and the Defense Sector have emerged as the powerhouses of rent-seeking.

    The powerful don’t want us to be like Scandinavia. What – reorg the banking sector like Sweden did? What – have the level of Defense spending like Norway? What – have the energy-efficiency of Finland?

    Get real, folks. We are in a multi-generational war about the allocation of social surpluses. Has nothing to do with left or right.

  35. Jessica

    I think the pivot point right now is that the economy is more and more about non-material production but our social rules are really still about material production.
    That sounds so dry, but the implications are important.
    (By the way, social rules for non-material production have to do two things at once: fully unleash the richness of non-material production and reward/motivate producers.)
    1) We will have to dig down to a very fundamental level in order to get a real grip on things. The task is larger than most of us realize, but the rewards also vast.
    2) Until we do dig down far enough, theory will flounder and any attempts at humane politics will be very weak. (I.e., the past decades)
    3) Our existing political institutions are decaying. They are past their “Use by” date. The human race has outgrown its clothes (which is a good thing) but right now is being choked (which is a bad thing) because we haven’t changed to a larger (more developed) set of clothes.
    4) Truly fundamental development will change everything. Including what “human nature” seems like. We will have to develop as individuals to create a society that can support that development.

  36. Max424

    Thought I met a liberal once (when I was a young fella, in a pool hall down in Erie,PA), an older, battle tested room rat, going by the name Neo-liberal Joe.

    If I remember correct, Neo-liberal beat me easy out of $140 dollars — playing one-pocket, twenty and table time. As I was counting out his one-forty, I said, “As a fellow liberal, I ask; brother, can you spare the time?”

    “No can do,” he replied. “You have me mixed with someone else. The last liberal was strung up on a hilltop, 2,000 years ago, alongside two beggars. Loser pays the counterman, son, that’s just the way it is.”

    True story — more or less.

    1. John Merryman

      Then the conservatives took his story and ran with it.
      He tried pushing the reset button, but the program is bad to begin with. The absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell. Age only tempers this sense of being.
      We always keep pushing upward, like grass through the concrete. Then one day we wake up and find we are the concrete and there is this damn grass trying to push us out of the way.

  37. Ron

    leftists/right/democrats/republican/conservative/liberal are terms of the past and have little or no meaning in today’s corporate lifestyle world. Labor cannot generate public appreciation for its plight to organize when garbage collectors earn annual pay of 100K with overtime along with firefighters and police or government workers with only 20 years service retire with 90 per cent pay. The modern oil/credit driven economy has created a wonderful life relative to what humans experienced during past centuries and so most citizens are concerned with enjoying this economic dividend as the great issues of womens rights or gun ownership are not as critical as FICO scores and access to credit. Nobody wants to be left out of the great economic payoff so social and political beliefs that dominated the past take a backseat to accessing economic payoffs.

  38. frances snoot


    “It is man’s misfortune to be confused in time..’a man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune'(Faulkner-Sound and the Fury) This is the true subject of the novel. And if the techniques adopted by Faulkner seem at first to be a negation of time, that is because we confuse time with chronology. Dates and clocks were invented by man: ‘constant speculation regarding the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial which is a symptom of mind-function. Excrement Father said like sweating.’ To reach real time, we must abandon these devices, which measure nothing: ‘time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life’. Quentin’s breaking his watch has, therefore, a symbolic value; it forces us to see time without the aid of clocks.” (Sartre-criticism Sound and the Fury)

    And so. Was/is the defining emphasis on returning man to his natural state or on returning man to the statute of being?

    For the infant neither prattles nor babbles: the infant merely experiences within the contextual space provided by the adult.

    1. F. Beard


      You can break all the watches but the Sun still tracks along the sky and the Earth moves round it too.

  39. Chris

    I believe the reason that the “left” does not have the level of activity in the sphere is that everything represented as “left” appears to want to inflict their solutions via force of government. The “right” is represented as just wanting to be left alone.

    True or not, this is what I see when I spend time in the sphere.

    But it seems that the left right paradigm has broken down to the point where they are individual cheeks on the same buttocks.

    We end up in the same place with either.

    I can see no reasonable solution other than an economic reset, where we will have some time to prosper until we find ourselves in this place again.

    1. ScottS

      So how does private labor rights organizations, private socialized health care, and private regulation of corporations work?

      I’m not disagreeing, just asking the how we make lefty policies happen in a private milieu.

      Alternatively, how do we make public structure sexy?

  40. agitator

    Its amusing that anyone would expect someone from the far left to post on a mainstream blog.

    For example, this site is not encrypted and does not use proxies to hide IPs. It is also hosted in Canada, a nation that has allowed the US government virtually unfettered access to digital communications.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have the wrong idea of what creates safety (and if you are that concerned re safety, pray tell what kind of agitator are you?).

      Safety does not lie in encryption or servers in Sweden. Assange is proof of that.

      Safety lies in numbers. The right wing has managed to create numbers.

  41. Hugh

    Again this is a topic that has been discussed a lot in certain areas of the left blogosphere but squelched, even censored, in the most well known ones. The defining moment came during the healthcare debate when those on the left really saw what was what and who was who.

    The progressive left was for single payer universal healthcare. In itself this shouldn’t even have been that left of a position. Almost every advanced industrial country has some version of it. Even we do to some extent with Medicare and Tricare. And Medicare is a very popular program with the American public. But more than this, most Americans when the various options are laid out side by side actually go for universal single payer.

    But the Democratic party is as corporatist dominated as the GOP. Universal single payer was taken off the table from the start. Now what this has to do with the present topic is that the “liberal” organizations (unions, HCAN, Moveon, etc.) and elite blogs (Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and Moulitsas’ dkos, etc.) all came out in favor of something called the public option. They did so without consulting their membership and commentariat or without at any point in the debate actually being able to say what this Public Option was.

    I saw most of this from Firedoglake (fdl). There was something of a war that developed between the site’s regular posters and many of its commenters. The commenters pointed out the absence of substance and political nature of the public option and the regular posters basically told them to STFU. Toward the end of the healthcare debate, those of us who were universal single payer supporters pointed out that the posters were on the verge of losing all credibility by sticing with a public option when even the mainstream media was reporting it as nothing more than a political ploy by Obama, to get liberals onboard but always meaning to dump it in the end.

    It was really only then after the Administration had repeatedly stomped on the public option that Jane Hamsher eventually came out in opposition to the healthcare bill.

    Events proved the more progressive commenters right both on the merits and on the politics. But the reaction of Jane Hamsher and her posters was not so much to accept that they had been had by the Democrats (not just Obama but every Democratic member of Congress, including those, or especially those who claimed they were “progressive”) but to lash out at those of us who got it right.

    As I said, the healthcare debate clarified a lot of what is wrong with the American left. A lot of that has to do with its ongoing association with the Democratic party. Some sites like Moultisas’ dailykos make no bones about their Democratic orientation first, and their progressive stance a distant second. Others like fdl are more problematic. They criticize individual Democrats and Democratic actions but steadfastedly refuse to move outside of the traditional two party framework. In one sense this is unsurprising. Jane Hamsher tends to hire on posters and administrators who are Democratic activists and more conservative than much of her community.

    The upshot of all this is that most of the places on the left that have the resources to organize around progressive left issues and promote independent progressive candidates don’t because virtually all of them, in practical terms, are controlled by the Democratic party.

    The problem with the left is that it refuses to look beyond the Democratic party. You see this even with individual bloggers like Glenn Greenwald. He does good media critiques and reporting on human rights issues. But shortly before the November elections he was trying to garner support for Russ Feingold as a defender of human rights. What Greenwald missed or looked past was that Feingold was deficit hawk corporatist, that he had had endless opportunities to take a leadership role in the progressive left but, in fact, had never done so because behind all the hype Feingold just wasn’t that progressive or left.

    So what we have for the most part is a left that is unwilling or afraid to break with the Democrats yet rendered completely impotent by its ties to them.

    This is not to say that there isn’t a real left out there, one that reflects the priorities of most Americans, good jobs, healthcare, education, housing, and retirements, a clean environment, a sustainable industrial base, and real fairness in our social system, but it is starved of resources. The first battle the left needs to have is with itself.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Again this is a topic that has been discussed a lot in certain areas of the left blogosphere but squelched, even censored, in the most well known ones. The defining moment came during the healthcare debate when those on the left really saw what was what and who was who.

      The health care debate was an eye-opener.
      Part of what it revealed was the dysfunction of DC, but it also revealed that American politics is still in the grip of a market fundamentalist mentality.

  42. karmanline8

    It might be more correct to say the left has done a poor job in the blogsphere rather than blaming the right for shutting it down.

    The blogsphere is a reaction to the control of the dialog by the MSM and academia, both of which are more to the left than the average American. It’s ironic that the discourse over the last week or so, largely attacks on the right by the MSM, generated this post but it’s understandable since the MSM has increasingly failed as a voice of the left. There were several times in the last week when the ‘with friends like these’ quote came up while following the news.

    Another more subtle reason for the lack of authentic leftist dialog is the difficulty of doing so in a blog format. Most leftist arguments require framing and the ability to assert several basic assumptions. This is why they have flourished for so long in the media and continue to succeed in academia. Both of those situations rely on a top down communication structure. If you disagree with the talking head on TV you can change the channel or yell irrationally at it. Neither is a dialog. If you disagree with your college professor you can drop the class or play along. Again neither is a dialog.

    On a blog, if you allow comments, you are subject to real criticism. If you don’t allow comments you aren’t much of blog. In this environment leftist arguments are very hard to defend. There is no one who writes leftist arguments out of the conversation. There is no body of leftist blog articles sitting in the delete bin of the Blog Committee Chairman’s computer. If there is a lack of leftist discussion, which I’m not convinced of, it is because the leftist have stopped making credible arguments.

    The reason many bloggers on the right believe they’ve answered leftist criticism is that they freely open themselves up to criticism and have responded to leftist arguments. The results usually follow the pattern laid out in Krugman’s recent op-ed. i.e. we believe in all things right and good while those who disagree are evil. Freddie goes down this road himself with his invocation of a hidden ‘they’ who’ve ‘systematically written [the left] out of the conversation’. Once an argument has been dealt with it there’s no reason to answer it again. Recycling the same criticism because you didn’t like the answer is a waste of time.

    Closer to home; criticism of corporate stupidity and corruption isn’t a leftist issue. It’s a common sense issue. If it’s anything it is a criticism of corporatism and is just as valid from the standpoint of a free market capitalist.

    1. Hugh

      Trot out a bunch of tired narratives, erect and knock down various strawmen and declare conservative victory. The right wing has dominated American politics, Republican and Democratic for the last 35 years. During that time, it has managed to drive the economy to the wall, trash the Constitution and the rule of law, transfer most of the nation’s wealth to a tiny few, and put the soon to expire middle class on the ropes. I think it has been able to do so because of noise like this.

      These massive and multiple failures of the right are not so much brushed aside they are not even brought up. There is just something so upside down about this, that if the right can shout everybody else down then that shows the superiority of its ideas. The problem is that the right keeps telling us that 2 + 2 = 7. No matter how many times they say it, it won’t make it true. Yes, Virginia, the left has its problems. Its messaging and organizing have been variously stifled, co-opted, and neutered.

      But the choice we have is a simple one. We can stick with the same rightwing Republican-Democratic policies that are marching us over the cliff or we can try something else, something based less on rhetoric and more on reality.

      1. karmanline8

        I hear this same argument with left swapped for right on right leaning blogs, i.e. if it didn’t work out it was the other guy’s idea.

        In this case you mock yourself. After criticising the straw man argument you make one. America’s wealth isn’t in the hands of a tiny few. The economy is on the wall but right-wing conservatism didn’t drive it there alone. The middle class isn’t about to vanish even if times are tough. And most laughably any arguments about ignoring the rule of law or destroying the Constitution made by the left are ridiculous. The rule of law and the Constitution are supposed to limit the power of the state and are seen as an obstacle by the left.

        I don’t pretend to represent The Right(tm) but the left has no credible argument. You can claim you want prosperity for all or a policy based in reality but you don’t deliver.

        After the fall of soviet style central planning the left pointed to European style socialism or Scandinavia. The Europeans are further in the toilet than the US and whatever successes exist in places like Sweden are because of free market reforms not in spite of them (http://mises.org/daily/2259).

        Yes, the European model doesn’t have the gulags or the body count of some Asian models but it also doesn’t offer the rainbows and sunshine promised by the left either. It has high unemployment, slow economies, and a stifling regulatory system. I think few Americans long for European style ‘prosperity’ and the left doesn’t win friends by saying this is because Americans are greedy and stupid.

        1. ScottS

          European socialism is confounded with the Euro monetary union and the lack of a fiscal union. Germany has had quite robust employment and economic growth. Peripheral countries are suffering due to malinvestment in real estate bubbles.

          The US is suffering from a real estate bubble too. Shall we write Capitalism’s obituary on that basis as well?

          I hear Scandinavian socialism is doing quite well, and still quite Socialist. I knew a Swedish emigrant who complained about the job protection legislation. His father was an entrepreneur and couldn’t fire people at will.

          To think that pro-market reforms are the solution to every problem is silly. If we take Capitalism at it’s word about creative destruction, then public funds must go to public universities to educate people for the “creative” part of the dynamic. Otherwise, we can call it just plain destructive.

        2. cassetoi_abruti

          karmanline8 said: “America’s wealth isn’t in the hands of a tiny few.”

          So what about all these studies showing the that the gap between the wealthiest 10 percent and the rest of America is worse than at any time on record. Two-thirds of all income gains from 2002-7 went to the top 1 percent. The Walton family alone is worth more than the bottom 100 million Americans combined, etc, etc.

          I understand this isn’t going to make any difference to you, but as of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.7%.


          But whatever, someone calling himself karmanline8 says “America’s wealth isn’t in the hands of a tiny few.” so it must be true.

          So let’s get it to the point where the top 1% have 75 percent of all the wealth and the top 20% have 99 percent.

          Or better still, let’s get it to the point where the top 1 percent have 90 percent and the top 20 percent have 99.00 percent.

          Whatever it takes to make you happy. What would do it for you? Perhaps 99.9 percent for the top 1 percent, and 00.1 percent for the rest?

          Would that work for you?

          1. karmanline8

            You are right. I’m familiar with these statistics and they don’t move me to support the solutions I hear from the left. If you want to worry about concentrations of wealth look to China, India, Latin America, or South America where wealth is truly concentrated and has a very real negative effect and it isn’t evil right-wing corporations doing that.

            There are several issues with the ‘concentration of wealth has changed’ in America slogan. First there are reasons to suspect the historical numbers are not accurate. If you are looking at pre-Kennedy years you are dealing with tax rates that provide serious incentives to hide wealth and the issue of comparing apples to apples goes beyond just a pre/post Kennedy breakdown. There are valid differences in the method of creating and holding wealth as well as changing demographics over time. These issues complicate the meme of the evil rich getting rich on the backs of the poor.

            The second more important question is so what? You ask me what concentration would make me happy and that misses my point. I doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I’ll ask you what concentration would make you happy? Is there a specific year we should use as the benchmark? Should there be some sort of magic bell curve? If so why? What makes the current distribution bad and some other distribution better? Would some other distribution be more efficient and can you explain how? Would some other distribution be more fair and can you justify that? Is there some other metric for making this determination other than your feelings?

            Do I like the fact that the Walton family is rich as hell? Not personally but can you give me an argument that doesn’t sound like jealousy. Can you explain a way to the state of uniform fairness that doesn’t involve violence? That doesn’t involve making a list of people, the top 1%, with stuff you don’t think they should have, taking it by force, and giving it to people on another list made for no other reason than it seems like the fair thing to do and makes you feel better about the world?

            The implicit assumption seems to be that the current wealth distribution is based on malfeasance by the top 1% and this justifies redistribution. This is taken as a article of faith on the left.

            Do you have anything better than ‘the rich are evil’? In the case above with India, etc. I would argue that the bigger issue is corruption by state actors and how that corruption is impacting wealth creation and distribution. If you want to argue about corporate and regulatory corruption you are preaching to the choir. Sadly, I don’t hear that. The left wants to argue that all corporations, except unions, are inherently corrupt and ignore corruption by state actors unless they are right-wing.

        3. Larry Elasmo

          “America’s wealth isn’t in the hands of a tiny few. The economy is on the wall but right-wing conservatism didn’t drive it there alone…..etc etc

          Two wrongs are only the beginning…..

        4. cassetoi_abruti

          karmaline8 said: “…you are right. I’m familiar with these statistics and they don’t move me…”

          Then, to avoid censorship, I can only repeat what I said above:

          Casse-Toi Abruti!

      2. hb

        In 2007, 10% of tax filers took 50% of income.

        The top 1% of filers (those making adjusted gross income over $458K) took 23% of income.

        50% of filers took 12% of income.

        The financial sector took 40% of all US profits.

        To me, that says wealth in the hands of a few, and a big change from even just 15 years earlier.

        Not sure what your definition of concentrated wealth is.

        When I was young, statistics like that were for dictatorships. We used to talk about how those kind of concentrations of wealth were typical of third world countries.

        Which is what we’re devolving into.


        In 2007 the percent of total US income taken by each percent of income tax filers and their effective tax rate ( ) was:

        Top 1%: 23.4% (20.6)

        Top 5%: 39.0% (18.8%)

        Top 10%: 49.6% (17.5%)

        Top 25%: 69.9% (15.2%)

        Bottom 50%: 12% (13.6%)

        Income floor for each percentile in 2007 was:

        Top 1%: ($458K) (1.4 million returns)

        Top 5%: ($168K) (7 million returns)

        Top 10%: ($115K) (14 million returns)

        Top 25%: ($65K) (35 million returns)

        Bottom 50%: (Under $32.4K) (70 million returns)

        All figures taken from:

        Individual Income Tax Returns with Positive “1979 Income Concept” Income

        Published as: SOI Bulletin article – Individual Income Tax Rates and Tax Shares, Table 7
        Tax Years: 1986 – 2007


  43. Petey

    “Readers have often said I should be on certain TV shows … I suspect another big reason is my outspoken views. One ought to think that would make me a useful guest, since good talking heads TV often involves friction between participants with diverging views. But some types of divergence appear not to be terribly welcome.”

    I don’t think your outspokenness is the problem.

    The problem is that your worldview, (which is reality-based), doesn’t fit into the narrative currently being pushed by either major political party, and thus your worldview doesn’t fit into the narrative that TV finds easiest to cover.

    Your worldview ought to be part of the big-tent Democratic narrative, but the Obama Presidency has so successfully neutered the left that your worldview is no longer part of the Democratic narrative.

    1. Jessica

      I agree.
      I think what makes Yves unacceptable for a lot of the MSM is that she starts from the evidence. The MSM wants only people who start from the assumption that the system is basically benign and that any problems that come up are exceptions and then examine only evidence that can be fit within that assumption.

      1. ScottS

        The Harball/Crossfire-style cable news organizations want someone who is undeniably Democrat (not necessarily left) and someone else who is undeniably Republican (no necessarily right) to have at it, and see who is the loudest and most vehement.

        Throwing someone in like Yves to question the entire contest would just confuse what’s going on. Look at Jon Stewart “debate” the mainstream media:

        Pundits are so confused by him that it derails the normal shouting match. You can’t pigeon-hole Yves any more than to say she feels that servicers and investment banks should follow their own rules, and we shouldn’t bail out insolvent corporations. Any more than that, and these debate show producers wouldn’t have any control and would confuse and lose audiences.

        Which is why you get the crap that you do. If the audience can’t identify easily with one or the other (usually from the R- or D- next to their name), then it’s too complicated and you lose the average viewer.

        1. readerOfTeaLeaves

          You can’t pigeon-hole Yves any more than to say she feels that servicers and investment banks should follow their own rules, and we shouldn’t bail out insolvent corporations. Any more than that, and these debate show producers wouldn’t have any control and would confuse and lose audiences.

          I respectfully disagree.
          I think people want exactly the kind of information at NC; for evidence, note that only last week NC was the #1 econ blog in terms of being linked to. Also, look at the astronomical number of site visitors – it’s impressive.

          People like you, me, and everyone here — most of us — come because we are interested. That’s a mighty powerful interest, and given the number of other ‘top 10′ blogs suggests that there’s something fermenting, culture-wise.

          I think audiences are thirsty for the kind of info that Yves’ explains; anyone with enough brains to book her would be doing themselves (and their viewers) a favor.

          There’s an audience, it’s just that no one but the blogs (and Dylan Ratigan) have started tapping it yet.


          1. ScottS

            You and I may be curious, but “read a lot and come to the conclusion that sensible reforms” is a tough sell. It’s the diametric opposite of the info-tainment in cable news.

            Do people want change? Yes.

            Can they agree what it is, or want to do the research to come up with the solutions themselves? That remains to be seen.

  44. lark

    Well I’m a bruised member of the software techno grunt ‘class’ and seeing up close and personal how the industry has changed, due to the ravaging effects of outsourcing etc ad nauseum, has pushed me left. Very much so. And I find there is no comfortable home for me in American politics.

    Why is that?

    Leftists are academics for the most part, that is a problem. They don’t grow their politics in the workplace most of us suffer in. So they are out of touch and fail to connect.

    The liberals have abandoned the American middle and working class, at least when that loyalty conflicts with raising up poor people in the 3rd world. Yglesias is a good example. Note his commenters though – he is swimming against the stream. Sentiment is against him. He is a minority. Institutional forces have selected those with views like his for representation.

    The Democratic party is in effect sitting on middle class and working class discontent, as it works assiduously for the financial elites and outsourcers. It has the impact of coopting and thus preventing a new movement.

    Finally, we need consciousness raising. I heard two stories in 15 minutes the other day. One about racial prejudice in the workplace, which met with instant indignation and a clear moral stance. The other about just another outrage by a dictatorial workplace against a working stiff. There was a big sign and abject acceptance. This is where we must learn our own struggles, share with each other, and fight back.

    1. Bevis

      The radical blogs seem to attract a cadre of intellectuals addressing matters far above the average American’s education level. I don’t think the blogosphere will be a vehicle for change until we can bring things down to the lowest common denominator, like the mainstream media does so well.

      1. ScottS

        How do you turn pro-labor policies into slogans that have no whiff of socialism? That’d be a good trick.

      2. jonboinAR

        Good point. The people I know have no idea what you all are talking about. I barely do, I often think as I read, and I read this a lot (but I lack background study). What the working man struggling along very small business man fears is that rocking the boat as the left tends to want to will likely end up sinking it. That’s always been the reaction in this country, and what the Right has, for 40 years, systematically played on.

        1. lark

          How’s this:

          Starting in the 70’s, we the people accepted a profound shift, from being citizens to consumers. Also we decided that the folks who ran the show were right when they argued against unions and for the freedom to run their businesses with maximum freedom and minimum regulation. We cheered as they conquered overseas markets, and we identified when the rich made a killing. Unions are unAmerican, we thought, because real Americans are individualist.

          There was a problem, however. Basically we gave up political power for dubious pleasure: of sucking on rich butt. We licked and sucked on their rich butt as they told us we were one lucky break from being just like them. They told us to keep licking as wages and benefits began to stagnate. We slobbered as they busted unions, and then we went out and bought designer knockoffs. We rushed into debt, imitating their spending without their resources, as they sent our jobs overseas. We grabbed bargains at Wal-Mart as they pushed through ‘free trade’ agreements.

          And whenever progressives argued for campaign finance reform, some working stiff would get shoved before a camera to spout the line that this was a “waste of taxpayer money.”

          After decades of this, the hard cold truth is visible: we sold our democracy and our children down the river for debts, smelly rich folk butt slobber, and cheap Chinese goods. We got an economy that has been stripmined of opportunity as far as the eye can see.

          And we also turned ‘our rich’ into a spoiled class of bullies. They are used to the soft touch of our lips and they don’t take our shame, our losses, our hopelessness seriously. Why should they? We’ve given up everything for the illusion that we are just like them.

          Now what?

          We have to learn the hard way that you hang together or you hang separately. It will be harsh but it’s time to grow up and get real about who we really are and what we really need.

  45. john

    On the “take a bullet” front, I submit you may have misread deBoer’s motives. As someone who has labored for modest and pretty insecure income my entire life, someone who has never had a well paying corporate job or never been part of a lucrative sector of the economy, I have dabbled at blogging but can not see how it will ever pay my bills. If I had 10 grand and three months I could spend working it out, maybe I could figure it out. Maybe not.

    Success at blogging, with my opinions, would almost certainly alienate some percentage of my customers. What percentage? Only way to find out is to find that 10 grand and three months and abandon what income I already have to take the plunge. So from this we learn that I’m probably not a great business man, I’m certainly not rich and I probably have less of that blind self confidence that draws certain people to high stakes gambles with their careers. While this may make me a wimp buy certain standards, there are lots of us and our political views are likely to support better policy outcomes than are currently on the table.

    I’ll happily take the bullet if someone will pay my bills. But there are other people who depend on me to pay those bills so I hold my fire and keep my head down. I think that this posture is pretty generally that which most decent non-corporate and non-financial people in the US economy now take. The right likes to kvetch about academic salaries but they are not all that great, I’m not one but I know a few and they certainly do not compare to corporate or financial pay packages.

    Maybe deBoer can afford to step out more, but comments above amply demonstrate that on the other side people are paid to do this and supported to an extent when they do that simply does not happen for people concerned about common goods, labor concerns or “liberal” ideas. It seems to me that this is central to the problem: by monetizing the market place of ideas as Buckley vs Valeo did in 1976 the conditions were created where only ideas backed by money could be expressed in that market. What we now have is money politics pure an simple and until the rest of us get some money we are excluded from the debate, our votes a mere referendum on the money decisions already made.

  46. dojero

    This is sound and fury. The criticisms of Greenwald are unfair (as he nearly concedes if you look at the comments on his site) and that’s just for starters.

    It’s wrong to claim that the only “real” leftist is a socialist. The leftist traditions in America are far broader than that.

    And it’s wrong to claim that the left of socialism is absent from the blogosphere. Consider Alexander Cockburn, for example. Or Chris Hayes. And in the world of academia, there are plentiful examples.

    In the end, this sounds more like a sulky teenager who is hurt that some of his best friends don’t agree with him about everything than a substantive critique of the blogosphere.

  47. Oracle

    As a former democratic socialist, now a left-wing New Deal Liberal/populist, it has been hard to avoid disillusionment with the actions of democratic socialist governments–the Swedes did not/could not go far enough–and to avoid horror at the economic inefficiencies manifested by the regimes established in the wake of violent revolutions. BUT, there is no question that Marx’s framework is perfect for analyzing today’s dominant economic trends: increasing technological unemployment,overall increasing immiseration, the emergence of new powers within the capitalist class as a whole, e.g., finance capital with a power it lacked at the turn of the twentieth century. No other economist has had the prescience of the unfairly maligned Mr. Marx.

    1. ScottS

      Oracle, I respectfully disagree. I admit that I haven’t read Marx, but Communism as I understand it does not have much to say about a post-scarcity world. Communism, as well as Capitalism, prescribe ways of compensating people for their labor and risk-taking. If there is no risk, and little-to-no labor going on, what do either ideology have to say that’s relevant anymore? The entire field of economics is worthless. Demand is flat, and supply is infinite.

      We’re beyond the looking-glass as far as economics is concerned.

      1. Jessica

        Communist governments that came to power in poor nations (which is all communist governments) had nothing to say about post-scarcity. Marx wrote about it in the “Grundrisse”. It is a kind of notebook for the much longer Capital that he intended to write but only completed the first three volumes of before he died. (For Tolkien fans, Grundrisse is to Capital and the Silmarillion is to the Lord of the Rings.)
        He mentioned there that eventually the capacity for production would be so enormous that the main factor would be knowledge and that when that happened, it would change everything. Which it has. Only that our social arrangements have not changed with it.
        This mismatch between rules evolved for material production being applied to non-material production is the key deep factor driving society the past few decades.

          1. Jessica

            It is fascinating. How something so obvious is so thoroughly not seen. Our politics and economy are driven by the sense of lack, by fights over how to allocate scarcity. Who will do without what.
            But clearly the economic problem is “lack of demand”. Which is a backwards way of saying that we have taken the overflowing abundance of modern production technology and managed to make a problem out of it.
            Scarcity also drives our psychology, of course.

          2. ScottS

            The problem with selling the idea of post-scarcity is that there is in fact plenty of manufactured scarcity. This begs for a moral judgment — should we allow people to benefit from their work and resources without constraint and horde resources, or do we redistribute resources because we can and should?

            People say that redistribution is a moral judgment, but ignore the fact that NOT redistributing resources is also a moral judgment. That is, if the person did not earn the resource (“earn” typically coming from rent extraction), then they don’t deserve food, water, heat, light, etc.

            That moral judgment makes sense in a scarce-resources world. If you don’t contribute to the tribe by bringing in resources, you are a parasite and the tribe won’t survive. And those who contribute the most should be rewarded to encourage more resource-gathering.

            It’s not so clear that we live in that world anymore, so does the moral reasoning still stand?

      2. Greg

        ScottS is not the only one who has not read Marx but nevertheless feels qualified to discuss what Communism says or not.

        Nor is he the only one who points to the boogeyman (communism) before revealing his argument.

  48. Jim

    Questions for a revived Left:

    Is the cultural disintegration(i.e. collapase of community and individuality) that this country has experienced caused by the historical evolution of both the market and the state?

    If Capitalism successfully subverted autonomous individuality through a regimentation imposed by an authoritarain, profit driven, productivist logic on the factory floor–could it not be the case that the process of nation/state building has also contributed significantly to the process of cultural disintegration?

    Could it be argued that the figure of the intellectual/public bureaucrat is at least as guilty as the capitalist in fostering contemporary social disintegration?

    Does the modern state (as well as the modern market) de-activate ever growing numbers of citizens into clients (or consumers) perpetually dependent on a state-funded bureaucratic apparatus (or a privately funded private bureaucratic apparatus) that is increasingly incapable of carrying out its own public or private functions?

    How would communites in a post-liberal world be governed and power distributed, exercised and limited?

  49. Moneta

    In this environment leftist arguments are very hard to defend. There is no one who writes leftist arguments out of the conversation. There is no body of leftist blog articles sitting in the delete bin of the Blog Committee Chairman’s computer. If there is a lack of leftist discussion, which I’m not convinced of, it is because the leftist have stopped making credible arguments.
    Most of the fiancial bloggers or those who post are probably in the top 20% in net worth.

    I haven’t met very many leftists in finance, let alone in the top 20% of the population.

    And as a Canadian, I haven’t met a leftist American that was a true leftist by a non-American definition of the word.

    We should define left and right, maybe we’d be surprised.

  50. Doc Holiday

    Re: “positions of quite a few political bloggers, including Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Mickey Kaus, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum, and the economic, social and career forces that contribute to the rightward pull. ”

    ==> Never heard of any of them, and as usual, politics is a waste of time (inside this economic black hole).

    Thanks Bush!

  51. Patriot

    Agree with the other commenters that it’s indicative of a lack of organized left i the USA. I would trace that to the 1) the breaking of the labor movement via Taft-Hartley 2) lack of lionized resistance movement 3) lack of education.

    Taft-Hartley banned general strikes in the United States and severed the ability of the left to engage in labor solidarity. This is what creates the conflict between various sectors of the organized economy. It would be an interesting world indeed if grocery workers went on strike in solidarity with trash collectors and city workers, and vice versa.

    In Western Europe, leftist/Communist parties, whatever their other faults, also participated in armed struggle against the Nazis and Fascists. For many years I had a hard time understanding why anyone in France would take Communists seriously, especially after the rise of the Warsaw Pact states. It wasn’t until I learned that the Communists spear headed the resistance against the Nazis, that I understood. People remember those who stood up when so many others stayed silent.

    Finally, most Americans have little contact with actual left wing thought. I have spoken to more than a few Tea Party types who go off to me about “Marxian” or “Maoist” or “communistic” actions by Obama and I have yet to have one be able to explain to me what that means. When I do start to talk to them about what those phrases actually mean, then the vitriol goes away and we’re able to have a real discussion. This is not to say that I’m endorsing Marxism or Maoism either. Both offer some trenchant observations about our current state of affairs, and my experience has been that people can actually see that if you lay it out for them. On the other hand, all that stuff about a “scientific theory of history” and “inevitable proletarian revolution” is pretty much bullshit.

  52. francis

    Yves, you and Ms Hamsher and her crew are the only non shill bloggers left with any juice. You should get together and primary Obama, time’s a wastin’! Drum, Klein, Yglesias, et al are disgusting little worms, that’s all.

    Thank you!

  53. Michael Fiorillo

    I’d like to make two points.

    First, as for a voice of the Left, particularly on economics, people should follow Doug Henwood, who publishes the estimable Left Business Observer, and has a radio show on Pacifica (archived and podcast on his website, with guests providing a wide and erudite range of left analysis and topics, and NOT the Pacifica of health food quackery and 9/11 trutherism). Henwood is a superb and witty writer, and parses economic, financial and political events with a deft Marxist eye and a humane, internationalist heart.

    Second, if the demise of the Left can be attributed to any one cause, it would have to be the decline and fast-approaching disappearance of the labor movement. The decline of the Left is the decline of Left institutions, many with conections to readicals in the labor movement. As self-financed working class organizations, unions have the potential for organizational independence from capital and its institutions, unlike most current leftist configurations, dependent as they are on foundation money. The decline of the unions has even had its impact on civil liberties, as unions are largely responsible, through their struggles to picket, for expanded rights to assemble publicly.

    Because Capital in the US needed a social contract with Labor during the Cold War for its ideological and military struggle against the Soviet Union, unions were tolerated, as long as they purged their radical elements, as they did in 1946 and after. But that contract expired long ago, and it’s now onward with the repeal of the 20th century.

  54. ScottS

    Preface: I agree with the original piece that the old and new media tend to dismiss any classic socialist arguments, and treat mild leftist criticism as the entire left-hand spectrum of political ideas.


    The left provides the bread, the right provides the circuses.

    The right-wing hate speech has a narrow, but enthusiastic appeal. It has catchy slogans and easy answers. They represent (but may not embody) the protestant work ethic — that hard work hard leads to earthly rewards.

    But as for the left — bread is not that popular to a population that has never gone hungry.

    Anyone under 30 in America remembers that communism (and, by implication, socialism) “lost.” We were brainwashed by GI Joe and Top Gun to hate communists, and communism “lost” when the Berlin Wall fell. Game over.

    The corpse of the left is dead and rotting. What would the effort to revive it accomplish? What does the left have to say that’s really relevant?

    The myth of American mobility has people convinced that wealth is around the corner, which is why tax cuts for the rich have such broad support. What does the left counter with? “You aren’t likely to ever be wealthy anyway.” Wow, what a message! Besides, people buy the idea that the rich create jobs, and are happy to throw money at them hoping for more jobs.

    And if the middle and lower class were rich, they would start their own businesses. They aren’t, so that’s why they work. Unfortunately productivity increases mean we need fewer human beings to work, so giving the worker a voice is a long-term losing strategy.

    The employer-employee dynamic is obsolete. Capitalism and Communism are both focused on how to organize industrial labor, and we live in a post-industrial world.

    A winning platform would be neither left nor right, since giving the employer OR the employee more leverage is a canard. Talking about labor a nullity, a no-op. Our efficiency gains have given us all the material things we can reasonably dream of. We are living in a post-scarcity world but we still try to make it fit into a scarcity-shaped hole.

    Under-30’s are not in the mood for a fight against employers. I see nothing but disillusion for working-age youth for the foreseeable future since there are no jobs for them. They think their voices don’t count, and after Citizen’s United, they are correct. The political process has left them out. Their interests aren’t embodied in either the left or the right.

    Neither party reflects things that are important: style, status, talent, empathy, responsibility, fairness. Fairness is especially elusive — fair often means that hard work should be rewarded, but that you shouldn’t be too greedy. You can see how the concept of fairness has been divided up along party lines, neither one in isolation satisfying the new generation.

    Frankly, I’d call it progress that the left is dead. Now with the financial crises, I had hoped that we can call the right bankrupt of useful ideas as well and move on. Unfortunately, Obama is picking up the mantle of the dead left and providing a useful foil to keep the right going.

    Why is there no significant leftist discourse? Because it’s a joke. Hipsters will use it as fodder for irony. It’s old news. You could try bringing it back like bell-bottoms, but it’ll be a fad at best.

    Left/right is a boomer distinction. The future will be organized along another axis that isn’t even apparent yet.

  55. joebhed

    Even if I could add anything, I wouldn’t.
    Just want to say thanks to Yves for the post, and y’all for the discussion.
    Classroom stuff, again.

  56. solo

    (1) Addendum to Ms. Smith’s political self-characterization: Yves Smith is not merely a centrist on a Reaganite spectrum but she is also a bourgeois reformist. The latter category applies to those who think we can have our cake (capitalism) and eat it too (i.e., substantially mitigate its evils). Smith’s many recommendations for reform on this website, some quite valuable–although very few politically feasible– place her squarely in the reformist camp. This very helpful website, which must command much of her time, is also an earnest of her reformism.
    (2) Correction to author deBoer: As Smith observes, the dearth of a U.S. Left worthy of the category is a longstanding truism. But it needs to be added that the worldwide death of the Left (failure of socialism, etc.) is THE news of the 20th century. That there is No Left left in the USA is only a footnote to this epochal failure. Prediction: Marx was right when he declared, Ruin or Revolution; as also, Socialism or Barbarism. There will be no socialism. Ergo, get ready for an exciting generation of fascism, war, environmental calamity, pestilence and, of course, the continuing degeneration of a political culture that is already beyond belief and beneath contempt. Enjoy!

    1. Elliot X

      Solo said: “…get ready for an exciting generation of fascism, war, environmental calamity, pestilence…”

      Over 20 years ago, in a novel entitled “Vineland”, Thomas Pynchon saw where this was all heading: the repression, the silencing of dissidents, the coming Police State:

      “In the olden days we called it the last roundup,” DL explained. “Liked to scare each other with it, though it was always real enough. The day they’d come and break into your house and put everybody in prison camps. Not fun or sitcom prison camps, more like feedlots where we’d all become official, nonhuman livestock.”

      “You’ve seen camps like this?”…

      “Yep, I’ve seen ’em, your mom was in one, you’ll recall, but better than us reminiscing and boring you, go to the library sometime and read about it. Nixon had machinery for mass detention all in place and set to go. Reagan’s got it for when he invades Nicaragua. Look it up, check it out.”

      Pynchon, “Vineland” pg 264

  57. mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d.

    I think solo is right to characterize our hostess as a a bourgeois reformist – not that there’s anything wrong with that – couldn’t you apply that label to social democrats in general? But the logic of the situation we find ourselves necessarily drives such a person further and further from the center – partly because the center is moving (becoming more inhumane and corrupt), but also because one step leads to another, and another. Look at how Greenwald, another one of these bourgeois reformists, has evolved over the last few years.

    The dire prognosis of an exciting generation of continuing degeneration may indeed come true, but maybe not – although we necessarily adapt ourselves to structuree of oppression, there is also a core of basic goodness in each of us, deep down – sometimes deep, deep, deep down. A metanoia, a Renaissance, a Reformation, may surprise us. As they say, it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

    The transition phase may be a bit uncomfortable.

  58. 60sradical

    Good grief!!! Just mention “left wing” and look at the mass of comments. Yves, I’ve got 5 decades of so-called left-wing, progressive political viewponts behind me. “Liberals”, as I knew them , lacked moxie.
    This deBoer person makes one of the first errors of syllogistic logic,namely, OVERGENERALIZATON. That level of rant soon loses my attention. It dissolves into mere opinion.
    Yves, I really couldn’t care less obout your political leanings because right now exigencies have created people who have that rarest of qualities–INTEGRITY. That is why this off-the-chart unclassifiabe “radical” has your back. You have integrity! Just do what you do,Yves. If Amy Goodman can’t handle your sharp insghts, well that’s her loss(I’ve been listening to her for many years and she sometimes misses key items.) Onward!

  59. Oracle

    This has been a fascinating discussion.I suspect that most contributors are Louis Brandeis type, trust-busting progressives: they understand that institutions that are too big not only stifle real economic competition but also can tyrannize (control)the democratic political system. Organizing an opposition around this program used to involve door to door and street corner speaking. In rural areas farmers could talk at market places; in urban areas workers frequented bars close to large factories. This kind of organizing is no possible any longer. And lets face it, for now (things may change signifcantly over the next decade), the historically high standard of living of middle class Americans has them seduced by consumerism to the point where they do not think of much else. This is why so many of the old left/liberal New Dealers are so concerned about the present and the future.

  60. Paul Repstock

    Since Attempter refuses to blow his own horn, I’ll do it for him. It is so appropriate that this topic comes up today
    Rus wrote a wonderful tribute article including many quotes from Mr.King some of which detailed his understanding of the dangers of the civil ‘fence sitting position’ being debated here. This is not about right and left really, it is about me having a voice and wanting to deny yours.


  61. magersh

    Maybe I am from a different dimension from you folks – seems to me that every possible point of view is out there. The thing is, far left thought is so far out of the mainstream that they get little traffic, since they are so unpopular. Still, if you want to read about it, you can find a plethora of blogs on any subject or point of view.

  62. Hugh

    Your mainstream is headed over a cliff. Solutions that work and that could change the country’s cliffward trajectory have been propagandized against by our kleptocratic elites for the last 35 years. The result is a schizophrenic hodgepodge which confuses, distracts, and enables looting which is all those elites are concerned with.

    On the other hand, you have Americans’ kneejerk rejection of socialism at the same time the two most popular programs are the very socialist Medicare and Social Security. So you really need to be careful about how you use the word “popular”. Socialist rhetoric may have been demonized but socialist programs remain popular.

  63. David W

    “Such political controls seem to function best in the so-called “welfare states” whether they call themselves “socialist” or “capitalist.”

    … well, DownSouth, Nazi-Germany was one.
    Caring and providing very well for widows and households with many children. The working-class felt understood as well.
    It was also big on animal rights, being the strictest on earth at that time. Dont’t know if beaten yet. Alas …
    Whereas,from Kelso’ people’s capitalism to Pinochet, that’s quite a stretch.
    Capitalism works best, exactly because it harnesses the selfinterest of self-serving people, not because it produces so nice guys.
    Depending on the scale it’s allowed, it will forestall the “kleptocratic elites”[Hugh] of the corporations, and even more the the way more murderous and absolutistic ruling “kleptocratic elites” of Socialism and Communism … and also the in-between “kleptocratic elites” of the moderate wellfare state models.
    The people’s capitalism beats corporatism and socialism, I think.
    Keep reading, longer than DownSouth @ http://www.kelsoinstitute.org/pdf/cm-entire.pdf
    Thank me later.

    1. DownSouth

      Well actually, David, I did read a bit more, not the entire 279 pages of course, but I did read the Preface in its entirety as well as the Concluding Summary. This stuff is all boilerplate so doesn’t require a great deal of time or effort to evaluate.

      (By the way, you should know that Arendt was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. So it’s not as if she’s completely ignorant of the things she speaks of as you infer.)

      It is one of the greatest tragedies in American history that Milton Friedman was, hands down, the most influential economist of the second half of the twentieth century. Any thoughtful observer from either the left or the right acknowledges this. The ideas he puts forth in Capitalism and Freedom, which he might have “borrowed” from Kelso since Capitalism and Freedom wasn’t published until later, have triumphed. They constitute the reigning ideology of America.

      For this reason the Kelso and Adler book should not be taken lightly, nor dismissed cavalierly as so many on the left are want to do. It needs to be thoroughly examined and refuted point by point.

      The comments section is certainly not the forum to do this, but let me just throw out a few quick points.

      The belief that underpins the capitalism and freedom ideology is that human beings are capable of operating rationally in the economic realm but are complete numskulls in the political realm. From this follows the idea that it is best to insure economic freedom, with political freedom being subordinate, since people are incapable of making prudent political decisions anyway. We see this in Adler’s quote I cited above:

      Democracy requires an economic system which supports the political ideals of liberty and equality for all. Men cannot exercise freedom in the political sphere when they are deprived of it in the economic sphere.

      This is great sophistry, a beguiling play on words. But it takes reality and turns it on its head. It should read:

      ▬ Economic freedom requires a political system which supports the political ideals of liberty and equality for all. Men cannot exercise freedom in the economic sphere when they are deprived of it in the political sphere.

      Under the urging of those like Kelso, Adler and Friedman, Americans were persuaded to abandon the formula of One Person = One Vote and in its place put One Dollar = One Vote. For instance, Kelso and Adler never mention human rights or civil rights, but instead bemoan “the alienation of private property in capital and the erosion of its basic rights.” Property, money and capital now have rights. And these rights trump human rights.

      We recently witnessed the complete triumph of this capital-has-rights ideology in the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited money in political campaigns. Money—-economics—-is now the be all and end all of America. Human beings are subordinate to money, property and capital.

      The sales pitches of those like Kelso, Adler and Friedman promised Americans that they could exchange their political power for economic power. Americans went for the deal, but are now waking up to the fact that, having surrendered their political power, they have neither political power nor economic power.

  64. Hal Horvath

    Sane people that are self aware realize that we all have a left and right.

    Sure, we could divide ourselves into the “blues” and the “reds” or the “East” and the “West”, etc., but that is more the primitive brain thing. Football, etc., is adequate for this purpose in my experience.

    For philosophy, political economics, etc., I have little need for teams and sides.

  65. David W

    Hey, Downsouth
    1. I’m not infering anything about Arendt; I’m just describing a model of a welfare state (remember: socialistic/capitalist welfare state, your solution). But, I’m not a Guru-addict, also not with regard to Arendt; obviously she didn’t see those facts clearly enough which I stated about National-SOCIALISTIC Germany. Not my fault – hers.

    2. People being “complete numskulls in the political realm” is what Collectivists (and those close to it) usually insinuate, and quite logically so: Pseudo-“Labor honoring” systems, i.e.Socialism(s) usually require the the whole system and state, otherwise they are not feasible. They are not renowned for tolerance (you know, the numskulls-thing)

    3. Corporatism: With his “People’s Capitalism” Kelso wants to prevent huge accumulations in the hands of a few (i.e. corporatism), which would be only gradually better than a huge accumulation of power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats in a welfare state.

    4. “Human beings are subordinate to money, property and capital.” – this is exactly what Kelso wants to prevent.
    … and it’s exactly one of the deceiving slogans of left-wing power grabbers who abandon their sweet promises as soon as they have a say on public affairs.
    It’s not only Obama’s inauguration party and the price tag attached, it’s history’s testimonial time and again: as soon as people are in office and wield some power (left or right, by the way),they’re prone to pretty self-serving behavior, no matter what the slogans were.
    Checks and balances is what we need, and there’s an economic side to it (therefore, ceterum censeo: … people’s capitalism) (Need anecdotes about European socialists, EU, etc? Get your copy of Paul van Buitinen’s books… t’will make you puke)

    4. Your mentioning, DownSouth, of: “Economic freedom requires a political system which supports the political ideals of liberty and equality for all. Men cannot exercise freedom in the economic sphere when they are deprived of it in the political sphere.” – what’s wrong with that?

    Excuse me, DownSouth, I just don’t want to see this world going “down south” and belly up, just because some people stick to outdated and proven noxious recipes. There is a history out there to learn from and people’s experiences to draw conclusions from. Why wouldn’t we?

  66. David W

    To Downunder
    … and about Kelso: I’m sorry that you don’t go for it. The preword and the summary won’t do the job.
    I was mad at the guy probably the first hundred pages or so – because of it’s alleged social injustice!
    It took me a while to understand what he wanted to say – and see it by myself. Some time of meditation and thinking it through wouldn’t hurt either.
    So, Downunder, why don’t you give it a REAL shot, opening up to new ideas, broadening your world? More thoroughgoing for new traits?

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