On Fauxgressive Rationalizations of Selling Out to Powerful, Moneyed Backers

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I’m surprised that my post, “Bribes Work: How Peterson, the Enemy of Social Security, Bought the Roosevelt Name” has created a bit of a firestorm within what passes for the left wing political blogosphere. It has elicited responses from Andy Rich of the Roosevelt Institute, Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal, as well as two groups only mentioned in passing in the piece, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

They all illustrate the famed Upton Sinclair quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” And so it is not surprising that all of them engaged in straw man attacks and failed to engage the simple point of the post: if you have a clear purpose and vision, you do not engage in activities that represent the polar opposite of what you stand for.

These “the lady doth protest too much” reactions reveal how naked careerism has eroded what little remains of the liberal cause in the US. Despite the fact that the left, as does the right, has a moral stance underlying its political positions, operatives on the left have been willing to sell out, not just to make the occasional compromise, but on bedrock principles. Here the fish has rotted from the head; this posture reflects the corporatist-in-sheep’s-clothing stance of Obama filtering through the Democratic party infrastructure.

What has happened with Roosevelt, and to a lesser degree with EPI and the CBPP, is blindingly obvious to those who are paying attention. For instance, Randy Wray wrote on the Roosevelt site:

Sorry but Pete Peterson has NEVER funded any open discussion of deficit issues. He has ALWAYS stacked the deck. While some months ago New Deal 2.0 did allow a modicum of dissent from the deficit hysteria, it has closed ranks with the conventional wisdom, made conventional by the massive funding provided by Pete Peterson’s billions of dollars.

The notion that students who rely on Peterson’s billions will come up with a reasoned position on the deficit, while all anti-Peterson discussion is sidelined from New Deal 2.0 is–shall we say–”quaint”.

If you look at the comments on the Roosevelt post, or the ones by the CBPP, the EPI, and Konczal, you’ll see considerable opposition. That’s a reflection of the frustration of the gap between the policy elites and those they purport to represent. And notice how common it has suddenly become acceptable to use the word “elites”. If you had talked about “elites” even as recently as three years ago, you would have been seen as a wingnut, whether of the Marxist or Alex Jones variety. Why the shift? The man-behind-the-curtains apparatus has become more visible as the concentration of wealth has increased and the corruption purchase of influence has become more open.

Let’s try flipping the right/left wing associations to make what happened crystal clear. Let’s say that George Soros sponsored a high profile conference on how to fund abortions. His organizers call the Catholic Church and say they’d like to hear views of young Catholic officials from across the nation and will pay any such group handsomely to attend the conference and present a paper.

Do you think in an nanosecond they’d be takers?

This comparison isn’t even adequate, since Soros has spread his donations across a broad spectrum of liberal causes, while Peterson has concentrated his considerable spending on a very few pet issues, with eviscerating Social Security and Medicare top of his list. But you get the drift.

Left wing operatives seem unable to grasp what outsiders see clearly: that what advances their resume is often inconsistent with what is in the best interest of the causes they say they believe in. Some face this tradeoff more on an institutional rather than individual level. The EPI and CFPB were both created to counter the right supply side phantasmagoria with fact based analysis. They’ve been truer to the left wing principles than the Hamilton Project infested Center for American Progress. But they depend on Democratic party infrastructure for much of their fundraising. As a consequence, they are often asked to take dives, such as the stance we highlighted in our post, that of supporting an extension of the Bush tax cuts last fall. The payoff was not explicit as in the Roosevelt case, but maintaining good relationships with money sources is as important as grant funding.

The “you need to have a seat at the table” crowd misses how best to steer a path in complex systems. As John Kay points out in his new book Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, one does better by sticking with principles, since it is beyond our capabilities to map a straight path. He compares the performance of companies within a number of different industries who set out to maximize profits against those that set higher and more complex objectives. The ones that had the richer, more aspirational aims did better in financial terms. Apple is a classic example.

And if you put values first, you need to be willing to incur costs, another issue lost on the careerists. The Roosevelt Institute has only recently evolved into a think tank that would promote and defend New Deal principles. One big step forward was getting Elizabeth Warren involved, since she had done landmark research on how middle class families were losing out in the financialization of the economy.

One can debate whether Warren was wise to join the Administration as an advisor, but she is taking an extraordinary amount of punishment to defend what she believes is right. Pretty much anyone else would have taken the hint and announced a date certain for leaving her post as de facto head of the CFPB; Brooksley Born took far less abuse before beating a retreat. But the spectacle of Warren refusing to fold in the face of a Congressional and media onslaught has galvanized the public around her. This is what leadership is supposed to look like and the country is desperate for someone, anyone who isn’t a sellout.

Often the betrayal isn’t even done with bad intent but falling back on habits that might make sense if elite institutions had some concern for the public interest.  Let’s look at the Mike Konczal post as an illustration. It’s an odd mix of misdirection, rationalization, and coded ad hominem.  His opening sentence depicts me as “unhappy”, thus tagging me as being emotional rather than having a reasoned critique.  It also characterizes the critic as someone who doesn’t see the system as legitimate, and thus cannot be trusted as a credible system-supportive messenger.

 But that’s precisely the point – my priority is not sustaining a corrupt order, while that is exactly what he is doing.  I feel no allegiance to the powerful officials and interests who made decisions, and I believe they owe the public an accounting for the deeply destabilizing and immoral two-tiered system of justice they have foisted on all of us.  He is keen to marginalize those who demand answers from our self-appointed guardians of discourse. For instance, his peculiar emphasis on word count is to suggest that people like me are tiresome and irrelevant.

His post is not even an argument, it’s a tribal signal to the insider class that, though he may have liberal sympathies, he can be trusted at crunch time.

The fact that Konczal is in theory aligned with the pinko cause only makes him more valuable to Peterson, not less.  If the legitimacy of the system was not at stake, Konczal might be a competent technocrat.  But at this moment, at this time, the lack of a moral sensibility is deeply disturbing and potentially dangerous.  It is the opposite of Elizabeth Warren, the opposite of valor.  It is in fact an argument against moral courage.

Indeed, this extract suggests that Konczal thinks you can somehow be progressive and support Peterson, and he does that by trying to claim I’m not making a moral argument:

There’s an argument to be made that even if the Campus Network could make a strong, progressive budget for the summit it is a moral wrong to participate in this summit. This is usually predicated on the idea to never mention a long-term deficit problem and implicitly on the idea that the budget right now, with all its waste in health care and military spending, is at a progressive optimum. I think this argument is insane because we are not at a progressive optimum, but either way it is not the argument Smith puts forth, and not what I will respond to.

So get this:

1. He accepts the Peterson notion is a long-term deficit problem. That’s explicit. All there is to discuss is the “progressive optimum” in the solution space defined by Peterson and the deficit hawks (and notice the use of the technocrat “optimum”)

2. Konczal is saying I did NOT make a moral critique. I’m not certain how he could have missed that, the post had “bribes” as the first word in the headline and the post proper.

As NC contributor Doug Smith pointed out via e-mail:

Because he either missed that you were speaking about a moral position or because he’s just slick, he goes on to offer a refutation of the moral argument that is a straw man — even to the point of being silly.

Pretty amazing in terms of what this reveals. To Konczal it seems all that exists is Washington DC back room dealing. It’s all about negotiating positions and transactions, and very little about morality. The consequentialist position he accuses you of is of a piece with this. He says, in effect, your critique was grounded solely on proposition that had student network been corrupted it would be seen in their end product. He then goes on to extol their end product as progressive. Hence, arguing that the end product (their budget) was not corrupt, therefore their taking money from Peterson Institute was not corrupting.

He reveals either a stunning lack of insight about human affairs and morality — or a cynical winking of the eye.

Konczal similarly chooses to ignore that Roosevelt could have found a way to engage in this debate without taking the Peterson money or accepting their framing. For instance the students could have protested the Peterson confab; that would likely have gotten more media play than they did by tagging along for his ride. Or Roosevelt and other progressive groups could have had their own forum on budget priorities, as a way to argue that the budget hysteria was wrongheaded but still provided an opportunity for a much more radical rethink of national priorities. By contrast, there’s a tacit, and erroneous either/or in his piece: you either take the Peterson “sweet gig” or you are irrelevant.

But the reality is that the Roosevelt participation was utterly irrelevant save for its PR value to Peterson. It’s simply an ornament that allows Peterson to claim millennial support for his toxic game plan. No one cares what the student paper says; the only reason I bothered dealing with it substantively was to show I had indeed read it and point out how it failed to build on or even acknowledge prior (better) Roosevelt work.

The technocrats are kidding themselves if they think they can optimize anything in system under as much stress as ours. The Mark Buchanan book Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen describes how complex systems are not just unpredictable but also subject to upheaval. Interestingly, you cannot tell what event, like the self immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, will unleash disruptive change, nor can you predict what direction it will take.

But you can tell when a system has reached a supercritical state, when small events have the potential to produce massive shifts. The escalating efforts of the powers that be to extend their web of control suggests they sense the potential for radical change. But the irony is efforts to prevent small disruptions, like the now-discarcded American forest management policy of preventing small fires, can increase the odds of raging conflagrations when they do occur. And it is impossible to foresee what disruptive actions might cascade into bigger changes. As Johann Hari wrote in the Independent:

A small group of women from Iowa lost their sons early in the Vietnam war, and they decided to set up an organization of mothers opposing the assault on the country. They called a protest of all mothers of serving soldiers outside the White House – and six turned up in the snow. Even though later in the war they became nationally important voices, they always remembered that protest as an embarrassment and a humiliation.

Until, that is, one day in the 1990s, one of them read the autobiography of Benjamin Spock, the much-loved and trusted celebrity doctor, who was the Oprah of his day. When he came out against the war in 1968, it was a major turning point in American public opinion. And he explained why he did it. One day, he had been called to a meeting at the White House to be told how well the war in Vietnam was going, and he saw six women standing in the snow with placards, alone, chanting. It troubled his conscience and his dreams for years. If these women were brave enough to protest, he asked himself, why aren’t I? It was because of them that he could eventually find the courage to take his stand – and that in turn changed the minds of millions, and ended the war sooner. An event that they thought was a humiliation actually turned the course of history.

And that’s why it’s important not to sell out. You can’t know what small action will have broader ripple effects. And in the end, even if you do not succeed in changing the terms of engagement, you have at least stood up for your dignity.

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  1. Jessica

    Great piece
    One tiny addition
    One reason why right-wingers are less likely to sell out than leftists/progressives is that they don’t need to. The system takes care of its own.

  2. Z

    Yves wrote:
    “And that’s why it’s important not to sell out. You can’t know what small action will have broader ripple effects. And in the end, even if you do not succeed in changing the terms of engagement, you have at least stood up for your dignity.”

    Exactly … even if you lose the battle, you don’t lose yourself.


    1. Richard Kline

      So Z, not exactly. In support of Yves systemic argument for maintaining action of conscience, I’d rephrase that. Resistance isn’t about the battle, it’s about the system. Resistance destabilizes the system by denying cooperation.

      The denial of cooperation is essential because social systems depend upon the tacit acquiescence of the many far more than they depend upon the overt cooperation of the few. The point of resistance is to muck up the tacit acquiescene, ideally to the point that social behavior no longer optimizes around cooperation. One result may be that space for overt resistance is created where it did not previously have a coherent form. Another is that the cost of buying outright cooperation goes up. Another is that the system fails to deliver what little it did. Another is that tacit acquiescers realize that that is what they were doing, and in consequence some of them do something else while some of them demand actual payment for cooperation; both results further destabilize the system in a cascade effect.

      This cascade effect from dispersing acquiescence is why countering ‘the official line of propaganda’ is so important, far more than the mere facts: the tacit buy-in becomes evident. Consider the Wikileaks effect as a prominent and discrete instance of this. Break the frame, and we see the real picture, in all its breadth and taint.

      The point of resistance of conscience is to short out cooperation with the system. Those who take ‘a seat at the table’ are useless to this end. One could say, with justice, that the co-opted are useless to any end: one can never change a system from within; only become a better, less costly part of it perhaps, propagating its frame, taking its coin, selling its shame, part of its lie where not wholly part of its mechanism.

      Winning ‘the battle’ is desirable of course; we all would like to do that. Presuming one can identify a relevant particular issue or action to battle, and muster the resource. But most of the time, resistance of conscience means that one will lose in the immediate event. I happen to think that in moral terms one must still resist, but increasing ones ‘moral karma’ is not the real reason for remaining apart from the system. I once summarized the typical sequence of nonviolent resistance as ‘you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, they give up.’ They give up because by then tacit aquiescence has collapsed, paid-for cooperation has eroded, and the system has anyway ground to halt, requiring enormous resource to restart that just isn’t available. This point was reached both in Iran’s revolution a generation ago and in Egypt’s revolution a few months ago as large scale examples. Caps on old growth logging in some parts of North America were another example. So the larger point in refusing to ‘buy in and sell out’ isn’t a moral one, it’s a strategic one. Refusing the system is the only way to beat it. Shake the system’s hand and it’s already got you, long before they find a ragged card table to sit you down in the wayback and hand you your party favor while the band and the game plays on.

      1. DownSouth

        Gandhi…spoke…of the existence of two kinds of power. “One is obtained by the fear of punishment,” he said, “and the other by acts of love.”


        What summons up the love that produces the consent, the support, the willing agreement on which power depends?


        Gandhi, of course, gave a clear and unequivocal answer to the question. The love that should guide political action, he believed, was the love of God, or truth, which for him were the same. “If God who is indefinable can be at all defined,” he wrote, “then I should say that God is TRUTH. It is impossible to reach HIM, that is TRUTH, except through LOVE.” Havel, too, resorted to the word “truth,” but in a secular definition, though now and then he ventured metaphysical explanations. Many other political figures have, without resorting to religion or metaphysics, also drawn a distinction between love, always associated with freedom, and fear. John Adams was drawing it in 1776, when he wrote that in an independent American republic “love and not fear will become the spring of their [the people’s] obedience.” And Montesquieu stated that “government is like everything else: to preserve it, we must love it.” The love he had in mind was “love of the laws and of our country”—-a love, he added, “peculiar to democracies.”


        If, as Mill pointed out, opinion guided the will, and the will moved people to give political support, and political support was the foundation of power, then the most powerful people seemed to be those who, whether in government or out, had the capacity to create or do something that inspired the respect, admiration, loyalty, faith—-of others. Power, according to this conception, which dovetails closely with Arendt’s, begins with the capacity to create or discover something (including, for example, a republic) that other people cannot help but love—-a definition about as far as one can get from A.J.P. Taylor’s “organization for war” or Jouvenel’s “to command and be obeyed.”


        The power that flows upward from the consent, support, and nonviolent activity of the people is not the same as the power that flows downward from the state by virtue of its command of the instruments of force, and yet the two kinds of power contend in the same world for the upper hand, and the seemingly weaker one can, it turns out, defeat the seemingly stronger, as the dissolution of the British Raj and the Soviet Union showed. Therefore, although it may lead to paradox and linguistic tangles to speak of martyrs as being more “powerful” than the authorities who put them to death, the exercise is inescapable. For it is indeed a frequent mistake of the powers that be to imagine that they can accomplish or prevent by force what a Luther, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, or a Havel can inspire by example. The prosperous and mighty of our day still live at a dizzying height above the wretched of the earth, yet the latter have made their will felt in ways that have already changed history, and can change it more.
        ▬Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World

      2. Rex


        I disagree!
        My new battle cry.

        Not making fun, Richard, to the contrary, we just need a million or two disagreeable people to stand with us!

        PS. You write some great posts. Keep up the good work.

        PPS. Let Ryan be a martyr to his oh so twisted cause. I strongly disagree with that buffoon.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Rex, I understand exactly what you mean. Needful change isn’t just made by saints and earth mothers. It’s as often made by cantankerous malcontents, and disruptive jesters. One both admires and recoils from the English suffragettes for an example. In some respects, this diversity of motivations is a strength because one can’t buy off or silence an oppositional core if their perspectives do not sum. On the other hand, the most effective overt movements for change are those both explicitly organized and highly disciplined.

          I see diversity of protest as a strength then, with the cavaet that the onus is on those taking action to undercut others doing so as little as they can. So yes, be disagreeable, where and as that works.

      3. Anonymous Jones

        First of all, I really do love this post (and Richard’s response). They are both clear and persuasive, with (yes, I’m the jerk who has to do this) a few caveats.

        Second of all, I understand I am going to be attacked for saying a few things that are extremely threatening to the ego and/or sense of self of some on this site. Whatever, I have no desire to “change the system from within,” and I never give a dollar or even a second of time to “progressive” institutions or the Democratic Party (I only spend my time and financial resources on direct help to the severely impoverished: local, community-based SROs for the homeless, local community-based mental health clinics in areas of high homelessness; local, community-based shelters for women and children who have been domestically abused; I encourage all of you to do the same).

        OK, that said, I have to do this.

        1. “Interestingly, you cannot tell what event, like the self immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, will unleash disruptive change, nor can you predict what direction it will take. But you can tell when a system has reached a supercritical state, when small events have the potential to produce massive shifts.”

        This just annoys me so much. I’m sorry. There’s no way to prove that you can in fact tell this “supercritical state.” The system of human activity on this planet (even when looking at small groups) is chaotic. Small events *always* have the potential to produce massive shifts in any complex, chaotic system. Our perception of tension does not add to this. It is simply a delusion of our own ability to detect, determine, predict, and control. This is the thing: the future is uncertain. That’s it. There’s nothing else to say about it. Yeah, *everything* is unsustainable. The sun is going to eventually cease to exist. Yes, we’re in a supercritical state. Whatever. So when’s this supercritical state going to resolve itself? No one knows. No one. The system is too complicated and chaotic. Do I have to really get all Keynes up in here? “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” OK, yes, these are aphorisms, not proof. It’s as impossible to prove that you cannot predict the future as it is to actually predict the future. Yes, this is not a big deal, but it annoys me nonetheless (especially because focusing on what we actually know makes our arguments more persuasive). Confirmation bias, people. Learn about it. We focus on what supports our theory, we focus on the few times our predictions are correct (Broken Clock Theory again!), and we forget all the times we predicted the end of the world when it didn’t actually end. I still love you, Yves.

        2. “One could say, with justice, that the co-opted are useless to any end: one can never change a system from within; only become a better, less costly part of it perhaps, propagating its frame, taking its coin, selling its shame, part of its lie where not wholly part of its mechanism.”

        I’m sorry, but this is just so off-the-rails. I’m not trying to pull it of context; so I brought in more of the quote. In any event, the only way that the thought “one can never change a system from within” can possibly be any approximation of the truth is if one completely redefines the words “never” and “change” to mean something that is nothing even close to the generally accepted meanings of those words. Obviously, you can “change” things from within. It is completely absurd that I even have to point this out. Richard has simply redefined “change” to mean a “threshold of change that is acceptable to him in his own personal opinion.” He has also redefined the word “never” to mean “never in any of the examples I choose to focus upon,” which just happen to be the examples that confirm his bias. Again, the future is uncertain. Is radical change good? We’ll see. Is incremental change good? We’ll see. Am I glad that Gandhi and MLK were so successful in radical (mostly non-violent) change? Of course I am. Can I think of examples where radical change was the just the road to hell paved with good intentions? Of course I can. In our current “supercritical state,” would I like to see those who committed fraud be stripped of their assets and serve time incarcerated while at the same time distributing power within the superstructure of society more broadly? Without a doubt. Am I going to say things that are clearly not true in order to effectuate that? No way. Can I continue to ask myself questions? Endlessly. Well, maybe not…even that is unsustainable.

        1. John Emerson

          Whatever, I have no desire to “change the system from within,” and I never give a dollar or even a second of time to “progressive” institutions or the Democratic Party (I only spend my time and financial resources on direct help to the severely impoverished: local, community-based SROs for the homeless, local community-based mental health clinics in areas of high homelessness; local, community-based shelters for women and children who have been domestically abused; I encourage all of you to do the same.

          This is nothing to be proud of. It amounts to admitting that the bad guys have won, and we can only clean up after them. You may be right, but you don’t seem to understand the consequences of that.

          Small events *always* have the potential to produce massive shifts in any complex, chaotic system.

          You talk skeptically, but you seem pretty cocksure about your skepticism. This fits perfectly with your political defeatism / indifference.

          You basically seem too pleased with yourself.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          You need to read the book Ubiquity. It’s a strong claim to say you can see the supercritical state, but that’s the claim he makes. The premise of his book is that societies operate according to the same rules as complex systems, and he then spend some time saying that typical social sciences approaches very often miss what it means to be in a complex system that is subject to chaotic forces.

          There is also a difference between a critical state and supercritical state. You can always have events that will have a disproportionate impact, but in a supercritical state, they have very high odds not just of disproportionate impact, but massively disproportionate impact. And this is more true of human affairs at some times than others. For instance, society was so fragmented during the Dark Ages that you couldn’t have any individual action have any impact beyond a very small location.

          Although he does not state it this way (and I certainly didn’t) the implication is that social scientists should be able to recognize supercritical states if they started to look for them. A related issue is the way our financial system has become tightly coupled, as Ricard Bookstaber discusses at length in his book A Demon of Our Own Design. Tightly coupled systems are prone to destructive chain reactions. The fact that finance is so fragile, so prone to collapse, and yet we’ve done nothing meaningful to make the system less risky alone is a sign what we are not far from being at a supercritical state, if not in one already.

          1. TC

            Taking my cue from the name you have given this blog, I will chime in on this matter of our being in a “supercritical state” using the benchmark of confidence foundational to the workings of capitalism, and cite in the mainstream the admission that, a Greek sovereign default is not a matter of “if,” but rather “when,” and with this, too, a chain reaction collapse of the European banking system whose details, although ending in their description with calamity’s arrival in the UK by no means is thought likely to stop there. Indeed, it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that, just as quickly did Lehman’s collapse jump the pond, so too would Greece’s collapse jump right back to the American side of the Atlantic. And with lenders of last resort “all in” per the credibility of their backstop — their last gasp of capacity sustaining confidence spent — any argument about our being in a supercritical state seems an academic exercise akin to deciding at what point did Neville Chamberlain become a pathetic “appeaser” to Nazi Germany.

        3. Francois T

          “This just annoys me so much. I’m sorry. There’s no way to prove that you can in fact tell this “supercritical state.”

          No one has to “prove” anything. The perception of a social “supercritical state” is easy to validate if one pays attention. It is like chart trading; the most difficult step is to believe what the chart tells you.

          A social system is in a “supercritical state” when:

          1) Problems that are a) objectively easy to solve and/or b) socially necessary to resolve become self-perpetuating logjams due to misadapted rules, laws or obstinate blockades from interest groups.

          2) Institutions within a society become totally unhinged from reality. Case in point: the House voted that global warming did not exist because THEY didn’t believe the science behind it. Wherever you stand on the problem of climate destabilization, the logical fallacy of this position should be obvious to any honest person. Responses to this comment will show who is and who is not honest.

          3) There is a severe deficit of trust among a majority of the population. This is a biggie: the consent of the governed mandate that said governed have trust in those who govern. The financial crisis of 2008 has amply demonstrated to many, that those who govern do not deserve that trust at all. It is megatoxic to any society to witness a government that, not only help and abet those who are responsible for the crisis, but also prevented any attempt to obtain a modicum of justice for the victims. By the way, between 1976 and 2006, the ONLY institution in which more Americans claim to have “a great deal of faith toward” is…the military. Every other institution lost a significant % of this goodwill. Only medicine barely kept the same % of people proclaiming a great deal of faith in it. Is this the sign of a healthy society brimming with dynamism and stability?

          4) Crucial indicators of population health are sliding backward. Note to those who believe that “the US has the best health care system in the world”: abandon all hope.
          As per Munning and Glied in the October 2010 edition of Health Affairs:

          In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands. The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world. As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.

          The speed and steepness of the decline cannot be overemphasized: as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy.

          By the way, and just to make sure no one harbors any false hope: No other country in the OECD has experienced any decline of these indicators in the last six decades. Which means the USA stands alone in the backwardization of crucial health indicators of a nation.

          5) Erosion of the rule of law Is it necessary to elaborate on that one? Is it really? From the indefinite detention without any charges on the simple say so of the Executive, due process-free targeted assassinations of American citizens upon mere designation of being an “enemy combatant” by the President or one of his minions, to the shameful demand by the press that political elites be protected from criminal prosecution while harsher and harsher sentences and longer prison terms are dispensed willy-nilly (most especially toward minorities) to non-violent persons for mere drug possession. The result of this incredibly unjust policy is this: More African-Americans are in prison in the USA for mere marijuana possession than the number of black South Africans were in jail at the peak of the apartheid regimen.

          Does that look like a society in a great state of social health to you?

          Should we also address the topic of income inequality while we’re at it?

          Or is the demonstration enough?

          You tell me!

      4. smintheus

        Solidarity was hugely influential in destabilizing and bringing down Soviet power in eastern Europe, not just because of its organizing and protests. Its main influence came from the leadership’s refusal to buckle after the government crackdown and to make a show of accepting the opposite of what they stood for. In other words, they rejected the cooptation that Soviet authorities traditionally offered to those they viewed as political threats. And by simply refusing to cede their principles, they eventually won out and it was their opponents who became thoroughly discredited.

      5. Susan Truxes

        Keep thinking about Isiah Berlin’s “negative freedom.” I don’t know Konczal from a hot rock but I do know he doesn’t want to talk about reality. He wants to keep talking about negative freedom. Yves, you will know soon enough when you no longer seek the truth: all your commenters will wander off. I’m gleaning information in bits and pieces because I go to NC in the morning and don’t quit till I have to fix dinner. So the Elizabeth Warren discussion always falls short for me. I have yet to see it stated – exactly what she is going to do that is so terrifying to the establishment? I do think she is tough, brave and smart. As opposed to some shithead who mushmouths around about negative freedom.
        Apparently a negative freedom can be financed by borrowing at compound interest from private banks for a long term deficit. And a positive freedom can be financed by public concensus banking through a nationalized system. So is “freedom” (the word not the reality) just another word for ” finance?” Don’t tell Janis Joplin.

      6. Jason Rines

        Very powerful thinking Richard, you must be a conceptual level thinker. The biggest challenge in these times is deciding where and to what extent to handshake with the system to make a living.

        Your strategy is one I prefer. One does not have to compromise core values such as truth and integrity to earn a living, but the result will be either be working harder and longer to have slight increase or downsizing.

        Take for example blogs attempting to educate the public. To subsidize this service, many have to accept advertisers, the very corporate system many decry.

        But what to do we REALLY decry? The lack of fair markets to compete. The current system is eating itself at the core now.

        Will America break free of Fascism as it largely succeeded at in the 1930’s or will it be terminated through violence of world war and huge atrocious losses?

        As for Pete Peterson, I have spoken with him. He himself was open to educational ideas that outside centrist innovators such as myself, including public debate utilities.

        But once he referred me to others within his organization they stone-walled all attempts at a meeting with David Walker that runs Peterson Foundation. David is the former Comptroller of the U.S. A 15 year appointment. The Comptroller is the true accountant of the country. Medicare is unsustainable and requires structural reform. SS is far more salvageable in its current form with CBO recommendations such revising eligibility upward five years, withdrawing the exemption when $108,000 income is reached and increasing contribution by 2%-3%.

        Now to finish the story after three months of awaiting for an appointment, David’s secretary said to me that I wouldn’t get an appointment because “they didn’t know me”. One of my suggestions for Peterson Foundation was building a screening algorythm so that those with intelligence but not connected would not be excluded. Now, I did write Mr. Peterson explaining these problems. The organization decided to work with Roosevelt which does attempt to be Centrist but the real problem is that the thinking is so foundational and old school Fascist groupthink IS the Washington Consensus. But I refuse to put Pete Peterson into this camp as some of you on this forum are doing. He is a visionary and does care about this country and it’s people. However…

        I am sad to report that the reality is that until the well meaning but too old and tired to really fight this Fascism and the Boomer Geneneration (all for me means less collaboration) retires, I believe the best we can all do for service is loss mitigation. We are not going to stop the country from further going off the rails of WW3. It is the attempt at doing so which mitigates the pain of the existing and future losses which accelerates the rebalancing of power. Being there when us “outsiders” are finally needed for fiscal policy and serious reform. Same for people like Elizabeth Warren and Yves Smith.

        As for me I started down the national path but find myself more effective at the local level which probaly doesn’t require much explaination as to why to an intelligent crowd on NC. What is frustrating is that true public servants that could fix a large portion of the current problems with less pendulum-style corrections (far more pain than necessary) are crowded out by those in ivory tower who really feel no pain, at least not yet. Most will finally move their ass when the aligator of Fascism starts devouring them last. A shame 1/3 of the people on this planet will be dead to come to the same recognitions about human rights that emerged from the horror of WW2. Now the lesson will be taught all over again but on an unimaginable scale.

        So I will play in this system but reserve implementing my most powerful ideas until later for when those in charge actually give a damn because of pain to themselves and family. Believe it or not, we don’t have long to wait. Growth is now stalled globally and going into reverse. The stimulus was applied toward continued malinvestment and elite foundational preservation. This will only amplify the pain of evolving, part of the Theory of Reflexivity.

        As for Central Banking. This model exacerbates the natural cycles of mankinds progress in boom/busts. That this model is now fully understood yet continues to exist shows the true characters of the people that run it and our world. Selfish pricks one and all. Bankers I know decided to retire away from this model and some of them are attempting internal reform. Like Elizabeth Warren, some of us must reach out the minority of Kingmakers to also mitigate losses. Win-Win models toward renewed growth between the people and Kingmakers is possible. Little can success with criticism alone. Please keep that in mind.

  3. IF

    Yes, thank you! There was a time when Rortybomb was worth reading. Unfortunately he seems not independently wealthy and had to make a living. Well, it was noticeable and I scratched him off my daily list.

  4. Doug Terpstra

    Thank you Yves, for a bracing post. Chris Hedges sure shares your views on the death of the liveral class. But I do hope Konczal recovers from his coal burns.

    You say “…you can tell when a system has reached a supercritical state, when small events have the potential to produce massive shifts. The escalating efforts of the powers that be to extend their web of control suggests they sense the potential for radical change.”

    Wow, and here’s Alan Greenspan on Friday: “The fact that I am in favor of going back to the Clinton tax structure [raising taxes] is merely an indicator of how scared I am of this debt problem that has emerged and its order of magnitude.”

    Sounds like panic from the author of the crisis. Go long on guillotines.

    “This above all: to thine ownself be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”
    —Shakespeare’s Hamlet

    “…If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
    But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck”

    “‘n’ it’s all right now, learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”
    —Garden Party chorus by Ricky Nelson

    1. psychohistorian

      THANK YOU YVES!!!!! A true American patriot, in the sense we (some of us) were taught in high school.

      and thank you Doug for sharing the Shakespeare quote that is on my wall, along with the long on guillotines chuckle.

      Another wall quote is from Janis Jopline, ” Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.

    2. Rex

      “Go long on guillotines.”

      Oh my! I do love a great line when I see it.

      Thanks for making me go (*).

      * hard to make a typewritten facsimile for the sound/expression.

      1. Dave of Maryland

        Guillotines wiped out the good as well as the bad.

        Here’s another quote:

        Kill them all, let God decide.

        1. DownSouth

          I dislike the methaphor too, because it conjures up a mental image that gets the class battle lines drawn in the wrong place. It makes it sound as if the Terror was a product of the hoi polloi. Hannah Arednt casts doubt on this portrayal:

          However, no sooner had Robespierre risen to power and become the political head of the new revolutionary government—-which happened in the summer of 1793, a matter of weeks, not even of months, after he had uttered some of the comments which I have just quoted—-than he reversed his position completely. Now it was he who fought relentlessly against what he chose to name ‘the so-called popular societies’ and invoked against them ‘the great popular Society of the whole French people’, one and indivisible. The later, alas, in contrast to the small popular societies of artisans or neighbors, could never be assembled in one place, since no ‘room would hold all’; it could exist only in the form of representation, in a Chamber of Deputies who assumedly held in their hands the centralized, indivisible power of the French nation. The only exception he now was ready to make was in favour of the Jacobins, and this not merely because their club belonged to his own party but, even more importantly, because it never had been a ‘popular’ club or society; it had developed in 1789 out of the original meeting of the States-General, and it had been a club for deputies ever since.
          ▬Hannah Arendt, On Revolution

          So The Reign of Terror (5 September 1793, to 28 July 1794) was not visited upon France by the French common man, or any “excess of democracy,” as the mythmakers would have us believe, but by the French elite.

          1. Dave of Maryland

            We might also recall Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Which started out like a good idea, but quickly degenerated into settling old scores by the most gristly means.

            If America avoids this fate it will only be because eighty years of evil zoning has destroyed community life, leaving us detached, embittered and isolated. Read Jane Jacob’s Death & Life of Great American Cities. Can there be a revolution, or even worth-while protest, without sufficient population density?

            I mentioned to one of my suppliers that, in metaphysics, massive amounts of unresolved anger builds in the atmosphere & triggers severe weather. She gasped and said that in the Chinese system, anger generates wind. Tornadoes?

            If that’s true, we can look forward to increasingly violent & severe weather, globally warmed or not. If the fall is anything like the spring, there will be lots of hurricanes.

            Or would you rather have guillotines? Me, I’d rather have good government, if it can be found.

  5. salvo

    great post, Yves, I love you, sincerely

    it is really an encouraging experience to know people like you are still around and stick to what they know are right principles. You are absolutily right that the crucial problem of what pretends to be left or progressive or whatever any emancipatory stance is called is that they simply do not stick to what they claim to stand for and so just lose any credibility. Thats the reason for the decay of the west european socialist and social democratic parties: the more they conform with the right wing discourse (personal careerism being the principal drive) the more they alienate their social base.
    Thats also the reason for the rise of the right wing extremism in europe: in absence of any credible alternative, who used to vote for a left wing party just truns to those who simulate to represent what the left betrayed, of course in a xenophobic nationalistic fashion

    In absence of a solid moral base any cause will fail and get what it pretends to fight. The problem is that the very definition of careerism requires an absence of any solid moral base

    just look at what the people at Tahrir square achieved by courageously sticking to what they knew is right

  6. Chris Rogers

    Great post and yes its sad that supposed left leaning critics of the system are prone to ‘sell out.’

    However, as one of the more left of centre opponents of our current economic make-up, its tough conveying your opinions if you don’t have independent means or ‘backers’ happy to fund your opinions.

    Personally, having organised multiple gatherings in Asia, and publish a Journal which is certainly no cheerleader – I do like balance though – I’m pleased to report, having been poor most of my life, I’ll probably remain so and much prefer to be labeled as someone who cannot be purchased.

    However, reality dictates when hosting events that funding has to come from somewhere – they are most expensive after all, and this means one is reliant on those one is actually most critical of – this being much of the financial services sector – the reality is, its a difficult square to circle. After all, we all need to make a living, even if its a basic one.

    Having morals and principles is tough though, particularly adhering to them in a capitalist society – selling out is not an option though, so at the end of the day I’d rather be poor with my principles intact, than rich with no principles whatsoever.

    For what its worth, many who proclaim to care and be on the side of the average Joe in reality do no such thing, they have their noses in the trough much as those they are critical of – I call this ‘gross hypocrisy’.

    I’ve come across many in my time, thankfully Yves, I cannot accuse you of this rather distasteful trait.

  7. Jersey Girl

    “It’s all about negotiating positions and transactions, and very little about morality.”

    There must be something in D.C.’s water because this is how Obama himself operates this way. He also explains his actions in those terms when criticized for negotiating away the farm. This was him justifying the potential cuts in Social Security and Medicare: “”This is not a matter of, ‘you go first, I go first,'” he said. “It’s a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.”

    Sounds good, no? It would if the other people in said boat weren’t sociopaths committed to reaching the middle of the ocean to push you overboard. Both his actions and his defense of them clearly illustrate an aversion to being disliked in any way. So playing the game instead of having the temerity to stand up against it is convenient for him and any functionary in Washington. Money for access is a pervasive dysfunction that has become a cancer on our democracy.

    1. Rex

      “Bla bla” [look right, thump podium]
      “bla bla” [look left]
      [look center] “bla bla” [repeat for several minutes]
      Leave podium, do what massa wants.

      Or Obama: a robot lying machine that sounds better than Bush.

      1. Art Eclectic

        You just described every single politician in Washington DC. They all run the same basic script and use the same basic time-tested bombast that has been focus grouped and carefully staged for impact.

      2. Jason Rines

        Exactly Rex, now I will say what you failed to by attempting to be a gentleman and a bit PC.

        Bill Clinton, a King of several years to Obama, a newcomer King back in 2008: “You should be getting me a cup of coffee”.

        Tranlation: Hey nigger, your still a nigger even if the Kingmakers allowed you to temporarily opine about the Plantation as President.”

        President Obama has destroyed the fine work of MLK by kissing the ass of the plantation owners to such extremes he has allowed liberty itself to be in jeapordy.

        I do apologize for the use of the word nigger. But that is how the plantations owners view him and other words do not suffice on this topic. Clinton’s and other CFR Kings and their banker Kingmakers are no different than the plantation owners of the South before the Civil War. Obama has erased fifty years of important work on equality in our diverse culture in America. And this statement of mine is coming from being a former Republican.

        Now go be a good nigger Obama and get Clinton that cup of coffee and sign some more finance-friendly, citizen looting operational bills for the Central Banker plantation owners. Geez guy, you could have at least pulled some Malcom X if you weren’t going to attempt to follow the value system of MLK.

  8. David


    Well said. Konczal ought to acquaint himself with Lenin’s
    “useful idiots”.

  9. KFritz

    Marshall Auerback’s encapsulation on consorting w/ the enemy demonstrates ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’

    “It’s a bit like taking money from the SS Waffen to fund a bar mitzvah celebration.”


  10. F. Beard

    Great post, Yves!

    One reason the Left sells out is that they know they are lame with regard to economics. After all, American banker fascism did out-compete the Soviet Union.

    But now the fascists are vulnerable. Having conquered the world with banker fascism they can no longer blame anyone else for the world’s economic woes.

    1. Paranoid Som'Bitch

      They are blaming like crazy. The poor, the “illegal”, the borrowers, the “untrained”, outspoken, peaceful or otherwise gently non-conformist. In the police state, most are assumed to be guilty of something – ergo the Patriot Act, FISA. etc which are aimed at those in the list above. The system is broken.

      1. F. Beard

        They are blaming like crazy. Paranoid Som’Bitch

        True. But increasingly, as the Depression deepens, they are going to blame more and more people who know very well they are not to blame. Furthermore, those who are to blame, the bankers, will be forced to act even more savagely to attempt to balance their books.

        Leverage – Once or twice I have stepped on the upward pointing tines of a garden rake. A lesson was firmly implanted.

  11. art guerrilla

    small voices, kampers, small voices…

    we all know the drill: *everyone* in the class is dazed and confused by some ill-presented concept, but no one dares speak up to say so…
    *then*, one of the braver souls squeaks up with a small voice, and *then* EVERYONE says, ‘Yeah! i don’t understand this crap either!’…
    …but if that one small, quavering, scared voice hadn’t had the temerity to speak out of turn, no one else would have spoken out either…

    small voices can turn into loud demands…

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy

  12. DownSouth

    One has to wonder what sort of a black man would accept an invitation to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan.

    The “you need to have a seat at the table” crowd, if not outright traitorous, is certainly a victim of an illness that Amitai Etzioni calls “mad rationality”:

    [N]ormative values, as factors that influence the choice of means, help ensure the primacy of ends. The preoccupation with means, with enhancing their strength, scope, quantity and quality, is the essence of industrialization, market economics and economics, technology and applied science, in short, of the modern age. However, this preoccupation, through a process known as goal displacement, tends to lead to the primacy of means over ends. Studies of organizations are replete with reports of organizations designed to serve a specific goal; however, when the design proved to be inappropriate, rather than adjust it, the organizational goal was replaced to suit the existing design (Sills, 1957)…. Executives work “for their families,” destroying their family life in the process. Societies undermine their fabric in order to accelerate economic growth. This phenomenon has been referred to as irrational rationality, or mad rationality…

    Normative values serve as an antidote to goal displacement because they weigh-in against the use of certain categories of means (those that undermine ends) as well as excessive preoccupation with means (or efficiency), to the neglect of other values.
    ▬Amitai Etzioni, The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics

    1. DownSouth

      F. Beard made a futile attempt yesterday to explain to Philip Pilkington that the battle against mad rationality—-Pilkington had fallen victim to this malady when he invoked MMT theory to advocate a position for Ireland that could only lead to austerianism—had its most recent revival in Protestant Christian thinking. This strain of Reformation thought, with its empirical emphasis, grew out of William of Ockham’s nominalist revolt against Platonic rationalism that occurred in the 14th century, and is described here by Jacques Barzun:

      The Puritans who appealed to reason in support of popular rights pointed out that human institutions were a matter of choice designed for a purpose and maintained by custom. They should be changed when the purpose was no longer served. Mere length of time—-custom—-is arbitrary, not in itself a reason. Consciously or not, some of the Puritans shared the scientists’ trust in experience, in results, in utility. With these tests one could condemn any part of the status quo.
      ▬Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life

      1. john


        How about a series of posts where DownSouth recommends books or provides a series of quotes on a particular topic?

  13. Michael Fiorillo

    A fine piece, which implicitly underscores the need for a strong labor movement: whatever their (many) shortcomings, as self-financed working class organizations, unions are not beholden to the interests and whims of wealthy funders, but of the members they represent. Thus the unending assaults against them.

    1. Goin' South

      Sadly, the D.C. based union Internationals are as prone to this kind of thing as any “liberal” institution. Those bureaucracies are as bought-and-sold as any other, despite the fact that their salaries are paid with working people’s dues.

      The only solution is solidarity unionism that operates without bureaucracy on the model of the CNT in Spain. Better than the current compliant unions are the remaining militant, revolutionary ones like the IWW and the UE.

  14. yankeefrankee

    Oh Yves thank you. And everyone else who is part of the stand. The betrayers are playing lawyer-ball with their souls.

  15. Jessica

    I was quite encouraged by your well-phrased and well focused outrage.
    Right now the main obstacle is how many of us do not believe things could be different. That is what this kind of selling out reinforces.

  16. Rex

    For reasons I can’t explain I was reminded of Hunter S Thompson,
    “Have you ever put a brick through a big plate glass window, Ralph? It makes a wonderful god damn noise and people inside run around like rats in a firestorm.”

    Yves wasn’t even trying to throw a brick but accidentally broke a very thin window. That it made some “rats” run around is a good thing.

    Keep up the good work, Yves. I hope it causes more rats/people to wake up and see what might really be going on.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Yes, it appears that Yves had no idea the earlier post would spark such a firestorm.

      The fact that it did is intriguing, and I take it — along with the news that Daryl Issa has now ordained that Elizabeth Warren must clear **an entire DAY of her June schedule** to come before his committee as they attempt to berate her into submission an additional encouraging sign that the system, which is deeply amoral, environmentally disastrous, and has been so based on fraud-generated bubbles, is in dire distress.

      It’s extremely interesting to me that these two events are causing such a ruckus:
      1. The idea that people might not be fooled by convoluted, overly complex, dishonest contracts
      2. The idea that people should *refuse* to be co-opted by those whose view of economic behavior is fundamentally Darwinian and predatory

      Basically, the business model based on Darwinian, predatory, fraudulent contracts is being called into question by quite a few forces each day now, and it’s interesting to see the panic in the power structure as this new questioning occurs.

      Wonderful post.
      Wonderful comments.

  17. Deb Schultz

    Yves, I am wondering if you ever read The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby’s blog covering the media and politics. Initially motivated by his disbelief and disgust at the treatment of Al Gore, way back in the ’90s, he has gone on to write daily critiques of the establishment punditocracy and media. His contention, which he has begun making more and more explicit, is that we are being played for suckers by a cadre of careerist ‘journalists’ and opiners who substitute tribalism for objectivity — because it pays in terms of wages, acceptance, and prestige.

    Much of what Somerby writes about the influence of rich media moguls sounds very much like what is happening in the think tank world. The desire to have influence, to be heard and taken into consideration, makes it easier to overlook the half-conscious concessions made to gain access to ‘the table’. And of course, most everyone who is tapped to join the elite wants to believe it’s because they’ve demonstrated something special, unique, and vital to the debate–that they themselves are elite.

    The rest of us are just consumers of their product and pretty dumb ones at that, because hey! we don’t object very much. Or so it appears to those at the high table. The people the elite do hear all seem to be asking to join them — funny about that.

  18. John Emerson

    Where is the progressive money? Most big Democratic donors are centrists on most issues — some on all issues. Some Democratic donors are rightists on key issues (especially military policy and Israel). Even the “liberal” donors are usually only liberal on their pet issues, not the whole range.

    As long as you depend on big-money donors you’re going to have these problems. For there to be a successful grass-roots progressive movement, you’d need three things. One would be a very large number of small-to-medium donors. These would be not-rich people who were willing to put political causes ahead of some other things on their spending queue, i.e., to make a sacrifice. Only the rich have money to throw away cost-free.

    Second you’d need a lot of volunteer time, which means people who reorganize their lives in order to do political work.

    Third, you’d need a lot of people willing to work at low-paid careers. This is a tricky thing to say, because non-profits do exploit their staffs, and a lot of the big money people are too insistent on demanding sacrifices from the people they fund. Nonetheless, I don’t see how a progressive movement can be run by people expecting an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

    Where is the money? A tremendous amount of money goes to feel-good projects with no political angle, projects which patch up the damage without attacking the causes. A lot more goes to single-issue groups which try to be non-partisan, even though the Republicans have sent a pretty clear message that they won’t play. The poster child for this is NARAL, which sometimes supported pro-choice Republicans over pro-choice Democrats and even supported Republicans who were mushy on choice. Many environmentalist groups and third-world relief groups fall in this category.

    A single-issue group can be successful only if its issue is genuinely ideologically and politically neutral. These issues are increasingly few as the Republicans move left.

    I hasten to say that, while the Republicans are insupportable, Democrats aren’t necessarily that much better. My point is that progressivism can be attained only by political fighting, against the Republicans and most Democrats. Nothing much can be attained on a single-issue basis by trying to find areas of agreement or compromises.

    But a large proportion of the progressive base is so disillusioned with politics and the Democrats,and in many cases, so averse to conflict, that they only contribute to single-issue groups.

    1. JTFaraday

      “Nonetheless, I don’t see how a progressive movement can be run by people expecting an upper-middle-class lifestyle.”

      People really do need to own up to the fact that they are a big part of the problem here. Many start out wanting to do something competitive (journalism is a good example) so they parrot what they’re fed and don’t ask too many questions. Or they want to do something broadly beneficial to society but they also want the benefits available to life within society as currently constituted, so they can’t be too oppositional as they might upset the apple cart. Or, they simply *don’t* want to work in business settings because they perceive them to be crass and anti-individualistic.

      This last is particularly precious because it is all about themselves and the way they view themselves as opposed to any genuine social concern–of any sort. To work in an anonymous cubicle is an insult to their sense of self. The regimented pro-business bent of the right and center means there are many such individualist entrepreneurial careerists amongst “progressive” media and policy cadres–for really no other reason than that. They’re not really fully critical of concentrated economic power. It can be mobilized in their personal individual cause, and that’s the objective.

      In addition, much of the country is polarized, and people who come from genteel environments where supremacist attitudes are much more discreet won’t dirty their hems by associating with the grotesque, in yer face political right.

      And let’s face it. For the most part the people who can break into the media, including the “progressive” media and policy circle, are increasingly from the upper middle class. Such people are *not* going to be content to make a living “doing what they would like to do.” Noblesse oblige is dead. Once they’ve broken in, they next look to secure the class status from which they’ve come.

      This really *is* a priority, and because this same group of people has promoted the line about the attack on the “middle class,” from which they perceive themselves to have come, they really do believe that policy positions that (merely) advance their interests–as well as their own careerist advancement–is politically “progressive” and a form of social justice itself.

      Obama illustrates this most clearly. His bid for the presidency was presented–once again by this same “progressive” circle– as the form of social justice itself. Given to the ridiculous nature of racial oppression in the US, you could make such a case for Obama’s personal ambitions, but somehow the idea that he was supposed to use that position in the service of a vision of social justice that extended beyond his own careerism was completely lost and even transformed into its opposite. He’s now serving as a bad example for those who advanced his candidacy during the election.

      For anyone who doubted that he would do this, it should have been cleared up the day he started announcing his economic team. There were people who publicly broke ranks with him and criticized him right then and there. Now we have people who have hijacked the Roosevelt name making common cause with deficit hysteric Pete Peterson.

      Peterson has inadvertently cut straight to the heart of the problem with the so-called “progressive” movement and laid open it’s rotten core– and that problem is not money. FDL, for one example, has solicited substantial amounts of money through the web for specific efforts (whether you agree those efforts were worthwhile or not).

      The Roosevelt Institute could *easily* have done the same in response to Peterson’s trolling. They didn’t do it because they don’t really want to do it. Most of the people involved in the progressive media and policy circle do not–or do not yet–really see their *own* interests in opposition to Peterson or the political and financial establishments.

      This fundamental problem with individualist careerism is why every time the Roosevelt Institute extols their student involvement *directly* (no less) with the Peterson Institute, expecting us to pat the kiddies on the head, they solicit further criticism. It’s not the content of the budget or whether or not it’s marginally more progressive than Peterson’s (one would hope it were!), it’s the class curriculum, giving “students” lessons in how to assume their class position, knifing the public interest in the back, while still looking genteel.

      Or, rather, they’ve shown them how to make that attempt. As the spots on the life raft diminish, the competition to hop in so will continue to heat up. This is all Good News for Peterson et al. This is not really such great news for the students, most of whom will end up begging for a cubicle.

      But until they see their *own* individual butts and careerist plans firmly on the line the people who have successfully penetrated the “progressive” media and policy circle are going to go along with the plan for eviscerating most of the rest of us.

      They’re no different than bank risk managers and portfolio analysts at the rating agencies who knew there was a problem and who said nothing rather than risk their own careers. I predict the same end for the so-called “progressive” movement that arose out of Bush derangement syndrome. It is not a genuine movement and it is not “progressive.”

      1. DownSouth

        Superb analysis.

        The grandiose expectations of the oligarchs are mindboggling. They seem most confident that they have everything all figured out and under control. But just like Napoleon, they may find out the hard way that human nature is a fickle and unpredictable thing:

        But suddenly, in 1812, the French win a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken, and after that, with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself…

        The victory did not bring the usual results because the peasants Karp and Vlas and the whole vast multitude of others like them, did not bring their hay to Moscow for the high prices offered them, but burnt it instead.
        ▬Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

        In her essay “Civil Disobedience” Hannah Arendt takes aim at the Platonic rationalism that informed Napoleon’s disastrous miscalculations:

        Hence, the rules of conscience hinge on interest in the self. They say: Beware of doing something that you will not be able to live with. It is the same argument that led to “Camus’s…stress on the necessity of resistance to injustice for the resisting individual’s own health and welfare”. The political and legal trouble with such justification is twofold. First, it cannot be generalized; in order to keep its validity, it must remain subjective. What I cannot live with may not bother another man’s conscience. “If the decision to break the law really turned on individual conscience, it is hard to see in law how Dr. King is better off than Governor Ross Barnett, of Mississippi, who also believed deeply in his cause and was willing to go to jail.” The second, and perhaps even more serious, trouble is that conscience, if it is defined in secular terms, presupposes not only that man possesses the innate faculty of telling right from wrong, but also that man is interested in himself, for the obligation arises from this interest alone. And this kind of self-interest can hardly be taken for granted. Although we know that human beings are capable of thinking—-of having intercourse with themselves—-we do not know how many indulge in this rather profitless enterprise; all we can say is that the habit of thinking, of reflecting on what one is doing, is independent of the individual’s social, educational, or intellectual standing. In this respect, as in so many others, “the good man” and “the good citizen” are by no means the same, and not only in the Aristotelian sense. Good men become manifest only in emergencies, when they suddenly appear, as if from nowhere, in all social strata. The good citizen, on the contrary, must be conspicuous; he can be studied, with the not so very comforting result that he turns out to belong to a small minority: he tends to be educated and a member of the upper social classes.

        This whole question of the political weight to be accorded moral decisions—-decisions arrived at in foro conscientiae—-has been greatly complicated by the originally religious and later secularized associations that the notion of conscience acquired under the influence of Christian philosophy. As we use the word today, in both moral and legal matters, conscience is supposed to be always present within us, as though it were identical with consciousness. The voice of conscience was the voice of God, and announced the Divine Law, before it became the lumen naturale that informed men of a higher law. As the voice of God, it gave positive prescriptions whose validity rested on the command “Obey God rather than men”—-a command that was objectively binding without any reference to human institutions and that could be turned, as in the Reformation, even against what was alleged to be the divinely inspired institution of the Church. To modern ears, this must sound like “self-certification,” which “borders on blasphemy”—-the presumptuous pretension that one knows the will of God and is sure of his eventual justification. It did not sound that way to the believer in a creator God who has revealed Himself to the one creature He created in His own image. But the anarchic nature of divinely inspired consciences, so blatantly manifest in the beginnings of Christianity, cannot be denied.

  19. Goin' South

    Somebody said something once about having to serve either God or Mammon, it couldn’t be both.

    Substitute truth or justice for God and you have the modern “liberal’s” dilemma. Make like a good little bureaucrat/expert and spout the owners’ line or get cast into outer darkness with the rest of us proles. In D.C. or in the academy, nearly everyone chooses the former.

    As I read each paragraph of this post, Yves, I found myself saying, “Yeah!” Great, great stuff.

    Be careful, though. If you refuse to surrender, they really do cast you into the pit where there are no book contracts and no TV interviews. We find ways to have fun out here though.

      1. Rex

        Nothing to do with Yves abilities, but a friend of mine with lesser qualifications hasn’t found anything but low pay teaser jobs that don’t even last — he has been out of any useful work for over two years and his basic reality is crashing into homelessness.

        Just a check point into the “cheesburger” option. Many who would accept even that option can’t get it.

        1. frances snoot

          I was speaking of options via the barbarian smorgez-board. I’m sure they’ll supply hamburgers to those who ‘protect our freedom and dignity’. Else, who will bother?

          1. Rex

            Perhaps I should be more definitive than, “What?”

            I interpret your snooty attitude to be that Yves is worth saving (I don’t disagree) but my friend as grist for the machine can be dropped from the equation as insignificant.

  20. doom

    Magisterial. Suzilla versus 30-40 mediocre suckups on the make, that’s a fair fight.

  21. frances snoot

    Theocracy demands sellouts:

    “I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today and will stand by you tomorrow.”Obama-speech-Tucson


    After the Obama/Tuscon speech, the blobosphere-patrician citizenry (those who define the domain and range of ‘our reality’) couldn’t say enough to support sentences like the above. Indeed, to show dissent at that point would be categorically self-destructive within the context of shared contextual space (like: as in not the basement/comments section but up-on-top).

    Isn’t that so?

    As the NY Times indicates: sometimes there is ‘room for debate’ and sometimes no. If sometimes no, then everyone, everyone speaking from the ‘anointed oracles’, is sold-out.

  22. John Emerson

    The alternative to selling out for the sake of “access” is being able to make enough trouble outside the system that people inside the system are forced to deal with you. That’s how the right wing has worked — Norquist, Koch, Club for Growth, Tea Party, Religious Right.

    Unfortunately, the Democrats banished all their troublemakers as early as 1948 and are now completely an establishment, managerial party. Democratic militants eventually end up in the outer darkness with Nader and Chomsky. (And a lot of individual liberals and Democrats aren’t people who like to make a fuss.)

    The right wing has completely outdone the left in these respects, partly because of the dominant Democrats’ hatred of their party’s left wing.

    1. DownSouth

      Do you really believe that Norquist, Koch, Club for Growth, Tea Party, Religious Right are people who are not “inside the system”?

      Could Nader and Chomsky’s ending up “in the outer darkness” have something to do with their own shortcomings?

      I certainly don’t think a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King or a Havel comes along every day, but could it be that Nader and Chomsky don’t measure up?

      1. Ping

        Down South,

        How would you describe Chomsky’s shortcomings other than he dosn’t convey clear alternatives?

        1. DownSouth

          I think that might be it. Chomsky has superb analytical skills, but without a message of hope, it’s difficult to inspire.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          He also says things that are so at odds with America’s propaganda, erm, self image, as to get him shut down pronto. In Manufacturing Consent, he showed how various acts of terrorism were depicted in the US media when they were perpetrated by US allies v. US foes. It was black and white, bad deeds in countries Not On Our Side got big time coverage, while those in allies were picked up abroad but not reported at all or reported so minimally as to be effectively not reported. He also predicted in the book that his findings would be ignored, which they were.

          1. Dave of Maryland

            Chomsky is not a leader. He’s an analyst, and a dang good one. He cannot do a job (be a leader) for which he is unsuited.

            Leaders are not analysts. Leaders lead. That we lack leaders is an indication that the society, overall, is hostile to their appearance.

      2. John Emerson

        Norquist, Koch, et al have taken over the Republican Party from the outside. The formal RNC is a husk. Look at Boehner, or McConnell or Michael Steele. Elected Republicans read from scripts. Why are they committing political suicide by threatening Medicare? Because they’ve been told to.

        Since 1994 we’ve had a transformation of American politics, through the Republican Party, coming from outside the Republican Party. Remember the moderate Republicans? There are two left in the Senate, and they’re Norquist’s slaves.

        The Democrats still don’t know what hit them.

        As for “outside the system” — yeah yeah yeah, The Ruling Class all the same bla bla bla. Nothing’s changed. Things are the same as they ever were.

      3. John Emerson

        You could try to read, Downsouth. What I said is that the left wing of the Democratic Party has been exiled to the Nader-Chomsky zone. We’re pariahs with no voice at all within the party. I didn’t say anything about whether Nader and Chomsky are good leaders. But we happen to be in the same jail as they are, outside the Overton Window.

        1. random lurker

          The overton window grows ever narrower. There is no “public option” anymore.

        2. DownSouth

          Your concept of the function and purpose of the Democratic Party is quite at odds with mine.

          [N]either the people in general nor the political scientists in particular have left much doubt that the parties, because of their monopoly of nomination, cannot be regarded as popular organs, but that they are, on the contrary, the very efficient instruments through which the power of the people is curtailed and controlled.
          ▬Hannah Arendt, On Revolution


          Finally, Senator Allen announced that the People’s Party had nominated the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer, William Jennings Bryan, as its own candidate for President.

          It no longer made any difference what Bryan thought of the Populist platform; it no longer mattered whether he would accept Tom Watson as a running mate. He was nominated. In a convention wracked by chaos and haltingly stabilized only by the disingenuous statements of the convention chairman representing the shadow movement in Nebraska, the strategy of the silverites had prevailed.

          The convention was quickly adjourned. Knots of mid-roaders gathered in an effort to discover a course of action that would save the Populist cause. They discussed the few options remaining open to them and made a few desperate plans. Then, disheartened and defeated, they left the hall.

          The democratic agenda embedded in the Omaha Platform had shrunk to the candidacy of a Democrat named Bryan. The cause of free silver was intact. The agrarian revolt was over.
          ▬Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment

          1. DownSouth

            This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary northerners.


            What we are witnessing today…is a sort of quasi liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.
            ▬Martin Luther King, Jr., “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” address before the First Annual Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change, Montgomery Alabama, December, 1956

          2. John Emerson

            If you look at American political history 1890-1948 you’ll see that whatever progress there was nationally came through one of the major parties, but in response to outside pressure from third parties and party renegades unresponsive to the party leadership. For better or worse, the two party system is pretty well institutionalized, and the third parties mostly only flourished where one of the major parties was almost nonexistent.

            The Democratic Party has a left wing, but since about 1976 it’s been marginalized, and no effective outside force has arisen. Partly this is because, with a very few exceptions, the Democratic left wing shuns the out of party left wing. Partly it’s because the out-of-party left wing is small, disorganized, and fragmented.

            By contrast, the out-of-party right wing has the republican Party under its control. The difference is an enormous superiority of the right-wing popular outreach, as well as the willingness of these outside groups to defy the party (for example by primarying party favorites.)

            People tried this with Lieberman, but failed. There just don’t seem to be enough horses at this point.

          3. DownSouth


            For guys out there in the trenches like you it must be very difficult at times to keep your chin up.

            I have to admit that I couldn’t do it. My skin’s not thick enough. Plus it requires the patience of Job.

            But I’m convinced that what you’re doing is important, that it has great value, and that the potential is there to make a very big difference.

    2. ambrit

      Dear Friends;
      Norquist, Koch Bros, Tea Party, etc., we could go back, way back, to the Birchers and the Trilaterals here, did indeed start out on the ‘outside.’ Back then, ‘everyone’ laughed at them as ‘fringe nutcases.’ Over time they made their billions and nibbled away at the ‘main stream’ of the day. The change comes when ‘serious’ people stop laughing at you and start taking you seriously. How you get there isn’t important. Results count, and you get them, through co-option; bribery, flattery, blackmail. Thus the eternal, insidious threat of narrow interests working for their own, and only their own, best interest.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        Yes, they ‘succeeded’, but mostly institutionally, which appears to be what they were after: they got to appoint judges (their main objective, along with controlling the legislative agendas).

        But in the background, fewer and fewer people were voting.
        The GOP originated out of the field of P.R.

        Michael Deaver, a key imagemaker of Ronald Reagan, once observed: “In the battle between the eye and the ear, the eye wins every time.”

        Americans stopped being participants and citizens, and shifted to being an ‘audience’, or ‘spectators’. Spectators are fickle; they’re not going to cover your back once they figure out that you’ve been looting them.

        Karma is a bitch with a very ironic sense of humor.

        1. ambrit

          Dear Reader;
          What if the “Forces of Evil” turn the game on its’ head and paint the victims as the villains? This is quite visible in recent policy debates. Thus the Eye vs. Ear quote gains legitimacy.
          What bothers me in all this is how to define the “Line that can’t be crossed.” Over time the conservative cabal, (too harsh I know, but emotionally satisfying,) has moved the “Limits” of ‘civilized discourse’ farther and farther to the Right. Hence, the questions in many peoples minds about the co-option regime; its’ origins (Conspiracy Theorists I, II, III, etc.) its’ methodology (may I suggest sitting in on some introductory Law classes?) and its’ evolution (Red Anarchists to Birchers to Beast Starvers and on.) What happened to good old fashioned rabble rousers? Are they all now to be disappeared as proto Terrorists? Thus, we do indeed appear to have reached a supercriticality state. When the forces of the domestic state start viewing their own population as potential adversaries, the stage is set for a major disruption. As Bill Clintons campaign manager wrote on the wall above his desk; “It’s the Economy Stupid!”
          Oh well, I’ve ranted on a bit. Let’s keep this up and see if we can figure a way out of the trap before it’s to late. God willing, we’ll get to that shining city upon a hill yet.

          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            I think that you raise serious issues.
            And I also think that much of this craziness comes from people who are not emotionally well-balanced, and who see the world as a scary, scary place and they’ve made a lot of money telling other people that the world is a scary, scary place.

            The only thing that I know to deal with that kind of nuttiness is to try and be decent, strengthen the bonds of community, and learn about the adversary. Then remind myself that grass grows up through concrete.

            And then, for a dose of sanity, I try to see whether Betty Sue has shown up around here to update us on the latest doings at Norma Jean’s Nail and Beauty Salon; in the end, it’s in places like the (proverbial) Norma Jean’s that life happens and in the chitchats of scandal and outrage, people get informed. Plus, you know, that whole community thingy…

            And when the forces of the domestic state start to view us as some kind of threat, well… maybe we should all just explain that we have pedicure appointments and that Norma’s counting on our pennies to cover her rent. And if those Forces of Evil want to get nasty, then we should all reveal our well-manicured toes in a veritable rainbow of shiny colors and let them know that we’ll be available after the manicures have dried ;-)

            Sometimes a sense of the absurd is actually kind of sane, and may be our best hope. Plus, you know, it’s things like a chit-chat at the local salon that build community.

        2. Susan Truxes

          Michael Deaver was clearly wrong because he never listened. I know lots of visual people intimately, artists in tune with shape, line, color and texture. And they do not buy what they hear because they saw somebody say it on TV. I know from personal discernment than the moment I see a quaver, or the twitch of an eyelid, or a rise in tone, even a hesitation, I know something is amiss. I would say that my radar is set off always by what I hear, by some ineffable contradiction therein.

          1. ambrit

            Dear Susan;
            I get what you’re saying because my wife is a painter, mainly watercolor still lifes now. The attention to detail and gesture though is generally a learned behaviour. I don’t know if there are any cognitive psychologists out there, but if you are, what’s the latest on innate vs learned sensory filtering? Thanks Susan.
            Mr Reader;
            Absurdity is my favourite all right, but, and it’s a big but, I don’t know if it’s a survival strategy when dealing with “True Believers.” Experience must be my guide I suppose. Then again, no one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition! Truth to tell, Norma Jean and the others down at the Hair Salon do give a very good indication of the sentiments of The Street. As the recent Arab convulsions are showing, the Street is quite capable of dispossesing at least the worst of the entrenched elites. All it takes is a triggering mechanism. I always enjoy your comments. Keep up the Good Work.

  23. craazyman

    why do these guys even need money from somebody like Pete Peterson?

    how much money does it take to sit around all day, make a few phone calls, engage in contemplation, then type something up and post it on the internet?

    what am I missing here? The PR budget? LOL.

    This doesn’t sound to me like it shoud be expensive stuff. Even the Apostles themselves made it happen with togas and sandals.

    Togas and sandales wouldn’t work today, to be fair. Maybe khakis and sneakers. And a Metrocard for the subway instead of a donkey. That’s about $100 per person.

    Who needs Pete Peterson?

    1. Cedric Regula

      I can’t think of any reason the Roosevelt Institute wouldn’t just print money whenever they need some?

      But having the Roosevelt Institute attend a Peterson seminar does sound like the Keynes (tongue in cheek) prescription for fixing the economy…dig a hole and fill it up again. And if Peterson did spend some money that he was hording in an idle bank account, then GDP did increase a bit. This stuff does work!

      1. Dave of Maryland

        A good part of it is simple lack of imagination, so far as PR goes.

        Back 40 or 45 years ago, someone made an overnight sensation with the Nude String Quartet. Four young ladies with instruments – and nothing else. They no sooner got on-stage than pandemonium broke out, which continued until the performance had to be cancelled. This was repeated several times.

        Much later it was discovered that none of the “players” could read a note of music, and that chaos – and publicity – was the whole point.

        It’s not what you present, it’s how you present it.

        1. Cedric Regula

          So you’re saying the Roosevelt Institute METers should get naked before telling us about economics?

          That would be the only way to get more laughs than they do now.

          Unfortunately, I think the only ideological direction that the Roosevelt-Peterson brain trust can go is to propose that we dig a hole in the ground, plant a retiree in it, and fill it back up with dirt. This will require the government to employ an enormous number of gravediggers. To avoid making the debt ceiling problem worse, they will eliminate the Federal Reserve Act, which will then allow the Fed to print as much “debt-free money” as the undertaking, as it were, requires.

          They will somehow have to pacify the death panel wing of the Peterson group. I’m not sure how, but they have PhDs and I don’t, so I’ll leave that one to the smart guys to figure out.

  24. frances snoot

    Oh, the patricians never were allowed imaginative digress, but merely play-acted in the shadow game.

    Isn’t that so?

  25. Max424

    The link in the first piece to the helpless ants of Thailand was a classic.

    I wonder how CAP master-blogger Matty Y. feels about being compared to a zombie ant enslaved by a parasitic fungus.

    I use to tell Yglesias all the time that he was allowing the core of his brain to rot out, and the hole emerging at the center was so large you could drive a high speed train — of Chinese design — right through it; but little did I know, poor Matt was just another involuntary, faux-progressive victim of a central planning, brain eating fungus.

  26. Deb Schultz

    John Emerson, that is a very cogent comment on what has and is happening. Thanks.

  27. alpwalker

    The reason the right isn’t selling out today is because they have nothing left to sell. They’ve already sold their souls lock stock and barrel years ago during the Reagan admin. Their peers on the left look with envy at their right wing counterparts’ “success” and hope by selling out now they’ll get a piece of the action.

    I also sense an intellectual smugness with the establishment left. Since they are so much smarter than the right wing sellouts they will strike a much better bargain for their souls. Their sellout will be framed as pragmatic compromise aka Seriousness.

  28. Rex

    Yves said, “This is what leadership is supposed to look like and the country is desperate for someone, anyone who isn’t a sellout.”

    I’m drawn back to the last prez elections where some guy was talking about change we could believe in. Barack O sounded like our man but turned out to be Barack O’MumboJumbo the well spoken lie machine.

    We all want Superman. Odds are that we are more likely to get Adolph. They both appeal to the same desperate crowd.

  29. Sam Adams

    Your vices and our virtues are so dear to you
    So learn the simple truth from this our song
    wherever you aspire
    whatever you may do
    first feed the face
    and then talk right and wrong

    For even honest folk
    May act like sinners
    unless they’ve had their customary dinners.

    What keeps a man alive?

    What keeps a man alive
    He lives on others
    He likes to taste them first then eat them whole if he can
    Forgets that they’re supposed to be his brothers
    That he himself
    Was ever called a man

    Remember if you wish to stay alive
    For once do something bad and you’ll survive
    — Brecht

    1. DownSouth

      Now compare Brecht’s highly pessimistic message of dialectical materialism to Martin Luther King’s upbeat and optimistic message of Christian spirituality:

      Finally, the method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is this deep faith in the future that causes the nonviolent resister to accept suffering without retaliation. He knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith. There is something at the very center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums. Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. So in Montgomery we can walk and never get weary, because we know that there will be a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom and justice.

      This, in brief, is the method of nonviolence. It is a method that challenges all people struggling for justice and freedom. God grant that we wage the struggle with dignity and discipline. May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem. Through using this method wisely and courageously we will emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright daybreak of freedom and justice.
      –Martin Luther King, “Nonviolence and racial justice”

  30. Philip Pilkington

    You’re right Yves. There’s a subtle change taking place at the moment. But no-one has told the elites — or, more succinctly, they’re not listening. Their funeral.

    1. Justicia

      I used to wonder how the aristocrats in France and Russia couldn’t hear the rumbling thunder of mass discontent. I suppose those equally distant from our era will likewise wonder about our current elites who are hell bent on wrecking our country and destroying our planet.

  31. Dan Duncan

    Wow–look at Yves taking a page directly from the Bush Playbook on dealing with Iran.

    [“You don’t want to do the expedient thing. You want to do the right thing, the thing that’s effective,” said Condi Rice on the refusal to sit at the table, directly, with Iran.]

    Good for you, Yves!

    Also, I share your cynicism with regards to the Roosevelt Institute accepting any money out of concern for its budget. We all know…a Rooseveltian concern for budgets and fiscal prudence is an utter joke.

    That stated….I just gotta ask:

    How much money was actually transferred from Peterson Foundation to the Roosevelt Institute? [Cuz I don’t think you even know…]

    And it’s not a trivial point, either. You are making a bold claim of bribery…on the sole basis that you don’t believe in “legitimizing” the Peterson Summit.

    If the money transfer was simply to cover the costs of attendance, you can disagree all you want—but it doesn’t mean there was a bribe. It just means you don’t think they should have attended this summit.

    Your comparisons between Roosevelt and GLAAD, NAACP, etc. are also false. Those organizations undertook policy positions that actually undermined their constituents. All Roosevelt did was a attend a conference. So what?

    On May 25, 2011, Roosevelt had an opportunity to go into enemy territory and raise some hell. Did they? Curious that you don’t even mention–not once–the presentation made by Roosevelt. Was it effective? Was it a strong position in against “Austerianism” decrying “Deficit Terrorism”?

    I understand your Cialdini-inspired concern that any money transferred could lead to a compromising “a foot in the door”, leading to a more pernicious corrupting influence. But you don’t know how much money was transferred. Additionally, and more disturbingly: You don’t appear to even know whether the actual Roosevelt presentation was authentic and true to the spirit of the organization’s principles.

    1. Rex

      Hey, Dan,

      Speaking (in a disclaimer) just for myself,

      I am so tired of finding myself wading into your tripe before the stench makes me stop and pull back.

      1. Dan Duncan

        Rex…I can’t tell you how much it hurts that you don’t like me. Seriously, it’s tearing me up. Don’t-know-how-I’ll-manage-to-continue-on…

        OK, now that we got that out of the way…Hey, IF 200k was transferred to New Deal, then you win. It stinks. And that’s fine with me because I hate everything the Roosevelt Institute stands for.

        But if a nominal sum was transferred, then who gives a shit?

        But Yves didn’t commit to an amount. For all we know, she hasn’t a clue and right now $200k just seems like a rumor.

        So…Yves–I put it to you: Do you have ANY idea as to how much the Roosevelt Institute was paid? If so, how much? If not, then your rant just is not credible.

        [Yes, the amount is relevant. We are talking bribery here. The amount matters.]

        1. mrmetrowest

          $200k is confirmed on the New Deal website by a New Deal ‘Communications Staffer’. You’re quite correct that the amount matters – that’s a large amount.

    2. OnThe2

      What a passive aggressive temper tantrum we have here. Did Yves hurt your feelings?

      “Wow–look at Yves taking a page directly from the Bush Playbook on dealing with Iran. ”

      I find it ironic how you try to distract from the argument Yves makes by attacking her character. That would be Karl Rove’s first move. So congratulations to you for making yourself useful and lifting a few plays from the Rovian playbook.

      Then you continue to overlook the essence of what she says to setup a strawman:
      “How much money was actually transferred from Peterson Foundation to the Roosevelt Institute? [Cuz I don’t think you even know…]”

      The only conclusion to ascertain here is, they sent in the lightweight to try, unskillfully, to muddy the waters.

    3. mrmetrowest

      the new deal web site is down at the moment so I can’t check, but I recall from reading their response yesterday that the amount from Peterson was $200k. Not an insignificant amount in my neighborhood.

      1. mrmetrowest

        “It’s no secret that every think tank that participated in the Peterson summit was given $200,000 to create a budget”

        Posted by someone named Tim Price at the New Deal web site. Price is identified as a “Communications Officer” at New Deal 2.0.

      2. Lloyd C. Bankster

        mrmetrowest says:”…I recall from reading their response yesterday that the amount from Peterson was $200k. Not an insignificant amount in my neighborhood…”

        Hah. Peterson is such a cheapskate. My wife just paid $200,000 for a dead horse. The one called Trigger that used to belong to Roy Rogers, I think she said.

        And she paid another $160,000 for the preserved remains of Rogers’ dog, Bullet; about 60 pairs of cowboy boots; the Rogers family dining table; and the Jeep “Nellybelle” from the Roy Rogers TV show.

  32. PaulAr

    Envy – thats what it is Yves. These fellows under the shelter of Think Tanks envy your independence. Its something that would like but don’t have. They are more to be pitied than censured. Keep doing what you do Yves, its important, lets not get distracted by these clowns. I used to be a great Krugman fan – I still am, but after reading your blog and book I am clearer about Krugman’s limits and his blind sides regarding mathematical models. So, your work is very important in terms of educating laymen like us. We may not grasp all the nuts and bolts but we can discern the truth.

  33. financial matters

    I liked this recent commencement address by Chris Sacca (( from Wikipedia..

    Christopher Sacca is a venture investor, public speaker, private equity adviser, and former employee of Google Inc. He is an investor in Twitter.[1))


    some of my observations…

    Pretty amazing story of going from 12 million to the good to 4 million to the bad and then recovering again. Nice to hear him describe success as happiness. Like the control alt delete reference. Also great stuff about being in the present.

    I like his step 3 to seriously reflect on what you want as your personal goals. Great stuff on being helpful.

    He also describes the current corruption in much of the business environment very well. Being your ‘weird self’ is also pretty cool advice..

  34. lambert strether

    First, I’d add The Overton Window to the toolkit here. Peterson and his ilk are paying loons like Ryan to hold down the right end of the spectrum of permitted discourse, and now the Roosevelt Institute to hold down the left. All along the spectrum, the invaraint is “ZOMG!! The debt!!!” and that Roosevelt’s legacy must be cut, all of which — and I know this will surprise you — benefits Peterson and his golfing buddies.

    Second, here’s the contact page for the Roosevelt Institute. Why not ask them if they plan to change their name? Or, better yet, call them at (212) 444-9130 and ask.

    1. Rex

      “All along the spectrum, the invaraint is The debt!”

      All along the watchtower
      Princes kept the view
      While all the congress came and went
      Their foot-servants*, too


      (slightly modified from the original Dylan)

  35. Petroluem Spirits

    “We” could bring “them” to their knees. All witty semantics aside, if we pull our money out of their banks, stop paying our mortgages en masse, reject their perpetually secretive draconian creep, they will break. BOA goes first.

  36. rafael bolero

    Careerism…the word’s been going through my head the last few years…and Walker here in WI, Ryan, too seem so blatantly so…but they are right-wing and were born that way…you can’t sell-out to the left, can you…isn’t that an oxymoron, a contradiction, a paradox?

  37. FatCat!

    FatCat! here, so listen up my little serfs or else!

    I buy whoever I please. I am FatCat! and I make the rules. I got the dough, I got the power, and I’m gonna kick me some middle class ass. Why? Because I can. That’s why.

    Is that clear? Capiche? You dumb ass peasants!


  38. El Snarko

    I am digitally applauding in a sort of reverse imitation of what John Goodman used to do online in Treme WELL DONE.

    YOUR BEST EVER….and you have done three supurlative ones these last two years. Definately for the anthology, and for history because you are the only person who has so clearly defined and delineated what I used to call (in mental shorthand) the Clinton disease, although properly it should have been called the DLC disease.The problem was how to have a seat at the table, be an elite, make that kind of money and still be progressive, honest, intellectually consistent and effective. Properly understood the real answer is yo have to make your own place there, and it takes elbows. Oh dear!

    This post is a singular act of patriotism, intellectual honesty,applied rigor,and cohesiveness with the tradition that says that truth can be the only guide to reality.

  39. Mannwich

    Yves – you are just killing it lately. Wow, thanks for making my morning with this post! Keep going. More and more are slowly coming around.

  40. Jersey Girl

    Yves, did you ever know that you’re my hero?

    Excellent work, as always. I’m profoundly grateful for all you do.

  41. Paul Tioxon

    Yves, you’re instincts are so good, I just love you. The largest pile of money from a dedicated source of funding, separate from federal income tax, if the FICA. It is the NATIONAL RETIREMENT PENSION PLAN. What was originally devised by the social scientists, funded by and on behalf of private industry, to create a pension plan off of the books of corporations, and hence not their responsibility became an overwhelming success story of the last 75 years. It is not structurally weak, in danger or the least cause of any fiscal problem of the federal government. But it is under attack.

    The Unexpected Origins of the Social Security Act of 1935
    (And the recent efforts by the corporate community to “reform” it)
    by G. William Domhoff


    I know that Peterson will fail in his efforts and he flushes his money down the toilet. And knowing this, it is not good for the Roosevelt Institute to take his money under any circumstances. What ever research they produce will always be tainted by the obvious conflict of interest that can not tell when money influence begins and objective analysis starts. Just don’t take the money, and you will not have this problem. I would like to leave all of us here at NC with another insurmountable problem for the ELITES. You can easily confirm that anywhere from 75-90% of America does not believe that JFK was killed by a lone gunman, acting out some sort of demented mentality. No matter that for decades, every branch of the media from printed magazines that are suppose to mold national opinion to all of the major TV networks with their talking heads, consistently denigrate everyone and any attempt to say otherwise as conspiracy nuts. The almost universal cadence of Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy is the mirror reverse of the line from the Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life. ”

    The deficits hawks are a cult of austerity, but no one is joining in from the populace. No matter how many times and how many places they say that ” Social Security is the most unsustainable, most broken, most bankrupting cause of federal deficits I have ever known in my life”, it does not make it believable.

    America is shaking their heads in disbelief at the bullshit the Ryan swindle is attempting. What is even more pathetic, is that the Democrats, even some, think for a second that they need to negotiate this point. It is as unforgivable a mistake that can be made. Since business has completely abandoned defined benefit pensions, since Wall St has repeatedly annihilated 401-ks, what over half of the voting public has left is the SSI check. Don’t even think for a minute that a person who has worked for over 65 years in this miserable fucking world that you can then lie to them about social security and get away with it. With age comes some wisdom, that won’t be dislodged with bright eyed and bushy tailed think tank yuppie assholes telling me when to retire and at what level of poverty I am to descend to. No body believes them. They have lied as big a lie in public as you can lie about Kennedy, and they have failed to convince anyone but their paid media agents. Social Security is the same story. They have repeatedly failed in their attacks and they will fail again and again.

    Lift the income caps on Social Security contributions and include all income, especially capital gains, rents, corporate profits, unrealized, deferred gains, incomes etc and a gusher of cash will miraculously appear. Social Security is the load bearing wall of Democracy in America. Take it out, and watch what will come crashing down on your thick skulls.

    1. gmanedit

      “it is not good for the Roosevelt Institute to take his money under any circumstances. What ever research they produce will always be tainted by the obvious conflict of interest that can not tell when money influence begins and objective analysis starts.”

      Co-opted and discredited.

      Those in these groups who have not been co-opted face a serious threat to their credibility, by association. They should be furious.

    2. readerOfTeaLeaves

      It is as unforgivable a mistake that can be made. Since business has completely abandoned defined benefit pensions, since Wall St has repeatedly annihilated 401-ks, what over half of the voting public has left is the SSI check.

      Yes, but to me this point ties in with the post’s discussion of how people behave when they lack principles. This is Exhibit A of how people behave when they have no principles.

      They have no principles, but they certainly obsess on how to ‘improve markets’: make them more open, more free.

      But if you start to talk about making markets more transparent, watch the commotion that ensues. Ye gads! Send in the flying monkeys…!

      If y

  42. Justicia


    Deepest gratitude for this brilliant post. Your firm and eloquent stance for moral compass to guide political strategy and action is a beacon in the shadowy cave. I’m reassured to hear thoughtful and trenchant critics (you, Christopher Hedges)expose the professional flim-flam of American liberalism has become.

    “The con man does give you something. It is the sense of your own worthlessness. A good question to ask: ‘Does this event exist without me. If the answer is no, leave.”
    — Within the Context of No Context, George W.S. Trow

    @ downsouth “One has to wonder what sort of a black man would accept an invitation to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan.”

    Members of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, maybe.

    1. ex-PFC Chuck

      The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics

      Or a person who has African, but not African-American ancestry, and thus without the historical burden that entails.

      1. Tao Jonesing

        Or a person who has African, but not African-American ancestry, and thus without the historical burden that entails.

        You mean someone like Obama?

        1. ex-PFC Chuck

          How’d ya guess?

          BTW, I just noticed I pasted in the wrong quote. It should have been “Members of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, maybe,” which is from Justicia’s comment.

  43. Mike ConzOil

    Now that funds are available, the Roosevelt Institute held its first ever themed masquerade ball on Friday, June 3, at the Four Seasons Hotel, 57 East 57th St, New York.
    First prize for most original costume: Lunch with Pete Peterson at Alain Ducasse. Runner-up Prize: Lunch with David Walker at Sugiyama.

    I went as a mass murderer, complete with a sign painted on my back that read MASS MURDERER (which was decidedly lighter than the sandwich board I had constructed earlier that day that read DRILLER KILLER), and beneath those two words I had written in blood Yep, that’s me and the suit was also covered with blood, some of it fake, most of it real. In one fist I clenched a hank of Victoria Bell’s hair, and pinned next to my boutonniere (a small white rose) was a finger bone I’d boiled the flesh off of. As elaborate as my costume was, Ezra Klein still managed to win first place in the competition. He came as Pete Peterson, which I thought was unfair since a lot of people thought I’d gone as David Walker at last year’s Halloween Costume Party.

  44. Tao Jonesing

    For those of you who haven’t seen it, Yves cross-posted this piece over at Firedoglake.

    Jane Hamsher, in particular, had a very interesting comment:

    Thanks so much, Yves. It’s really, really important to have this conversation.

    I remember back in early 2009 when Peterson was scheduled to be the key note speaker at Obama’s first fiscal summit. Out of the blue I was invited on an emergency call with maybe 40 people, mostly liberal economists and other wonks, who had been informed by the White House that this was going to happen. Many even had received written confirmation from the White House about it.

    I soon realized why I’d been invited — nobody else was going to say anything publicly about it and risk the ire of the White House, everyone knew I didn’t give a shit. So I wrote about it, knowing that the BEST case scenario was that that they’d cancel him and then deny it was ever true, and try to make it look like I’d made the whole thing up:

    Hedge Fund Billionaire Pete Peterson Key Speaker At Obama “Fiscal Responsibility Summit,” Will Tell Us All Why Little Old Ladies Must Eat Cat Food

    Which was, of course, exactly what happened. They cancelled him, and then White House “anonymous sources” denied the whole thing. But that headline was the birth of the “catfood” meme.

    Robert Kuttner finally confirmed in the Washington Post that it was true, and Peterson had been scheduled to speak. But by then the storm had passed.

    The point is that many of the people who represent the institutions you’re talking about in these posts were on that call. They all knew the importance of the symbolism of Peterson being the key note speaker at a big White House “fiscal responsibility” confab. To now claim that the symbolism of selling the Roosevelt Institute name off to Peterson means nothing is quite a reversal.


    1. Tao Jonesing

      They all illustrate the famed Upton Sinclair quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

      Not only do people like Mike Konczal understand what you said, they understand what it really means. That’s why you are being attacked as emotional, irrational and even insane, all for having the temerity to say that an allegedly progressive organization like the Roosevelt Institute should not be taking money from its putative political enemy, who is seeking to destroy everything that the progressive organization says it stands for. They need to stop people from following your observation to its logical conclusion.

      The fact is that Roosevelt and Peterson aren’t enemies at all. Clearly, they have the same goals. They just have different roles to perform in the morality play they are putting on for our benefit to convince us that Social Security must go. Morality is for the masses, not for the elites.

      Yes, I know that there are a lot of good people associated with the Roosevelt Institute and New Deal 2.0 (Marshall Auerback came to your defense over at Rortybomb), and I’m not trying to paint them as bad people for that association. But they should stop lending legitimacy to the Roosevelt Institute, which is clearly just a false front for the neoliberal Washington Consensus.

    2. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Jane Hamsher is brilliant at calling b.s. on the economic insanity we labor under. And IMVHO part of what makes her so qualified, and so persuasive, is that – like Yves – she cut her teeth in business. She gets it in a way that think tankers, who don’t appear to have to deliver all that much for a paycheck, simply don’t grasp.

  45. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

    “And that’s why it’s important not to sell out. You can’t know what small action will have broader ripple effects. And in the end, even if you do not succeed in changing the terms of engagement, you have at least stood up for your dignity.”

    Right. Last year a small group of bloggers including myself and lambert strether noticed that Peterson was holding a fiscal summit on April 28th to spread the deficit terrorist narrative. None of the veal pen “left” organizations in Washington, DC were organizing a counter-summit, so we decided to organize and hold one ourselves. We decided this about 3 weeks before the summit. With Correntewire.com as the primary organizing blog, our group put up a Conference web site (www.fiscalsustainability.org) and an event we called The Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In Counter-Conference to answer Peterson. Yves supported us by helping to publicize that effort.

    The Teach-In was held at the Marvin Conference Center at George Washington University on April 28th, the same day as Peterson’s “Summit”. We got about 25 attendees other than participants and some media for our event. Altogether, perhaps 45 people came to our full day event. Not many, but our attendees included Ed Harrison, Lynn Parramore, Bryce Covert, Roger Erickson, Dennis Kelleher, Matt Franko, Joe Bongiovanni, Jason Rosenbaum, and Alex Lawson, all well-known in blogosphere circles

    The counter-narrative developed at the Conference is based on MMT and the speakers included MMT’s “big three” Warren Mosler, L. Randall Wray, and Bill Mitchell, as well as three other fine MMT presenters: Marshall Auerback, a frequent contributor here, and also Stephanie Kelton and Pavlina Tcherneva, great teachers and MMT researchers both. Our narrative denies that there is a fiscal crisis and deficit/debt problems.

    I don’t know what impact our very intense effort to produce this Conference had. At the time we thought we did well given our very short time frame and the small amount of money we were able to raise for Conference expenses. The Teach-In also seemed to fuel a good bit of blogging as the months went by. But there’s little doubt that our message has been swamped by the Peterson PR juggernaut promoting deficit hysteria and austerity.

    Nevertheless, those who put together and spoke at the Conference, did what we had to do. We stood up for what we believed. I think we would have done so again this year, if word of Peterson’s latest Summit had gotten out to us earlier than a week before the latest Peterson Summit. But however, that may be, we’ve succeeded in creating a record of our counter-narrative to Peterson’s deficit terrorism that continues to be available on the web. In addition to blogs at Correntewire.com, FiredogLake.com (the Seminal and My FDL), and fiscal sustainability.org, an MMT page on the Conference providing transcripts is here: http://www.correntewire.com/mmtfiscal_sustainability_conference In addition, one of our blogger organizing group, selise, has posted a pretty complete record of the Teach-In, including: transcripts, presentation files, audios and videos of the speaker presentations and all the very extensive Q and A sessions here: http://www.netrootsmass.net/fiscal-sustainability-teach-in-and-counter-conference/

    This public record of the Conference is a standing counter-narrative to the Peterson message that anyone can stumble upon at any time. Our effort, poor as it was in resources compared to the hundreds of thousands Peterson must have spent on his summit, still has the potential, due to this web record to fuel opposition to the austerity drive. Let the truth on the impact of austerity on jobs and the economy begin to sink in even a little bit; then people will begin seeking out counter-narratives to austerity economics. And when they do, the record of our conference and its case against austerity will be there for them to see and to use to turn the tide once again towards a New Deal.

    1. JuliaWilliams

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
      — Margaret Mead
      In Re: The Fiscal Sustainability Conference-
      This event not only galvanized me, as a Green Party candidate, but it led to my sharing these principles with my fellow Greens, and many many others. So, in essence, it was like a stone landing in a pond, creating ever-widening ripples, occasionally disturbing and agitating the denizens of the pond, the lilies, frogs, birds,etc., thus creating even more movement that spread to other ponds, etc. So, it was meaningful and momentous.
      And, BTW, TY Yves for a superb analysis of the rot at the heart of our so-called allies! To think, morals and ethics could possibly have any bearing on success and influence. /s

    2. lambert strether

      Joe, thanks for getting this on the record. There were a surprising number of people involved, and all of us have been in there punching on the various sites where this controversy is evolving.

      When will the Roosevelt Institute give Peterson’s money back?

  46. ScottW

    Chris Hedges does an excellent job of chronicling the marginalization of true liberals who are critical of the power elite in “The Death of the Liberal Class.” I highly recommend the book.

  47. hareli

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Tears of joy that I am not alone in thinking values matter.

    Thank you.

  48. Tom Hickey

    It is interesting that not even one of the defenders has attempted to counter the principal point, namely, the charge that a supposedly progressive institution bearing the name “Roosevelt” took what is essentially a bribe from an a ultra-conservative billionaire. Nor have any even acknowledged it, in spite of many commentators reminding them that this is the issue rather than the distractions they persist in multiplying.

    Am also gratified to see principal MMT professionals, some of whom participate in the RI or its affiliate ND 2.0, like Marshall Auerback, Scott Fullwiler, Warren Mosler, and Randy Wray, clearly distancing themselves from the craven.

  49. Clonal Antibody


    On the topic of careerism, a must read book is “Disciplined Minds” by physicist Jeff Schmidt

    From http://www.uow.edu.au/~bmartin/dissent/documents/Schmidt/index.htm

    Who are you going to be? That is the question.

    In this riveting book about the world of professional work, Jeff Schmidt demonstrates that the workplace is a battleground for the very identity of the individual, as is graduate school, where professionals are trained. He shows that professional work is inherently political, and that professionals are hired to subordinate their own vision and maintain strict “ideological discipline.”

    The hidden root of much career dissatisfaction, argues Schmidt, is the professional’s lack of control over the political component of his or her creative work. Many professionals set out to make a contribution to society and add meaning to their lives. Yet our system of professional education and employment abusively inculcates an acceptance of politically subordinate roles in which professionals typically do not make a significant difference, undermining the creative potential of individuals, organizations and even democracy.

    A radio reading of the book can be found at the A-Infos Radio Project

    A book by Jeff Schmidt about the social agenda of the process of professional training, and how it is used to promote orthodoxy by detecting and weeding out candidates with the most critical view and by exerting pressure on the rest to obey their instructors and abandon a social agenda or efforts to reform injustices. So that they, in turn, can squeeze the life out of the next generation. Shortly after writing this book, Jeff Schmidt was fired from his position as Editor of the academic journal, Physics Today. After many years of legal battling, he was judged to have been dismissed without good cause, awarded a considerable sum of damages and reappointed, whereupon he swiftly resigned.

  50. john

    I’m not nearly a good enough writer to pen an appropriate fan letter for this one! Great, great post! Thank you!

  51. Tao Jonesing

    And that’s why it’s important not to sell out.

    Is it “selling out” if you’ve been a wholly owned subsidiary of “the opposition” from day one?

  52. coral

    Great post! Hardly anyone talks about not selling out these days. It’s more important than ever.

  53. wafranklin

    Yves: Really great article. I checked, I was the first to really insult Price et al by calling New Deal 2.0 a “corporate whore”. Went back a little later and the place was like a hornets nest. For once, I also want to see people act on conscience, on principle, on honor. It did not matter if Price and friends did not think about their afilliation with Peterson, they should have not only thought more about it and rejected on the face of things.
    What hypocrisy.

    Keep it up, I live to come to your site.

  54. MikeJ

    Awesome, awesome post.

    What this country needs is an enema, to clear the putrid filth that clogs the D.C. sewer and chokes us when we try to breathe.

  55. Alan in SF

    Stunningly good analysis. I’m tempted to print this out and send it in lieu of a check to every “progressive” fundraising appeal I receive.

  56. EoH

    Mr. Obama cares about avoiding public controversy, he cares about avoiding personal controversy, he cares about making deals that avoid both, that allow him to preen without taking sides, which amounts to adopting without challenge or question the views of those already dominant.

    He seems to savor irritating his base and the average man and woman by disappointing them, and by promising something better tomorrow. He has perfected Wimpy’s promise to pay on Tuesday for the hamburger he eats today. In his calendar, Tuesday never comes.

    His idea of compromise is to give the other side what it wants without obtaining anything comparable from it in exchange. Before he came to Washington, that was called capitulation. He calls it pragmatism. It doesn’t work in politics, it doesn’t work in parenting or marriage, in management, in buying a car, a house or support. He has no base except those whose power he hopes to amplify.

  57. francis

    “His post is not even an argument, it’s a tribal signal to the insider class that, though he may have liberal sympathies, he can be trusted at crunch time.

    The fact that Konczal is in theory aligned with the pinko cause only makes him more valuable to Peterson, not less. If the legitimacy of the system was not at stake, Konczal might be a competent technocrat. But at this moment, at this time, the lack of a moral sensibility is deeply disturbing and potentially dangerous. It is the opposite of Elizabeth Warren, the opposite of valor. It is in fact an argument against moral courage. ”

    That’s gotta sting, Mikey.

  58. salvo

    well, Peterson seems to have succeeded in two ways: First he integrated a seemingly progressive narrative into his ideological discourse, so that it assumes a thorough bipartsan appearance. But what may be more important is that he managed to deepen the wedge within the progressive community. It is obvious that those who accepted the bribe won’t admit that they did and therefore they will start attacking those who oppose such a deal and name it. In the mainstream discourse, while the RI will surely be labelled as the serious part of the progressive community (what in Germany is called ‘Realos’, the pragmatic wing of the political left, adapting to the neoliberal discourse – the Green German party i.e. is thouroghly neoliberal), the counterpart will be further marginalized and labelled as fundamentalistic reality deniers.

    As M. Konczal ended his post

    “And if Pete Peterson wants to give the Campus Network money to talk about optimal financial transaction taxes, the best way to raise the Social Security payroll cap and create a health care public option, that’s a pretty sweet gig.”

    as he refuses to face the fact that the RI put a progressive seal of approval to the profoundly reactionary Peterson cause, and that it is that very seal of approval what Peterson paid for – the students’ contribution as such is irrelevant. Yet, determined to ignore the evidence, the wrongdoer has no other option than to repeat the wrongdoing

  59. Betty Sue

    Me and the gals here at Norma Jean’s Nail and Beauty Salon have been closely following this Roosevelt Institute / Pete Peterson conflict of interest story.

    Thelma Lou’s got herself a young’un name o’ Jofestuss, and that boy’s not the brightest bulb on the porch. He sometimes gets to eatin’ cowshit and his mama have tuh whack’em upside’da head wida stalk’a corn.

    But even dim-witted little Jofestuss can see right through that Pete Peterson con. Why, just the other day he was sayin’ to his mama: “Mama! that Pete Peterson he ain’t nuthin’ but a two-bit snake oil salesman, a con artist and a thief! Anybody with a lick o’ sense can see through that lyin’ crock-o-shit.”

    And so, if even a retard like Jofestuss can see through Pete Peterson’s con, what does that make Mike Konczal?

    From all us rednecks out here in the heartland, keep up the good work!

    1. DownSouth


      Thanks for the link. I think Curtis Adams is even a better radio interviewee than he is a film producer.

      Impressive guy.

  60. TC

    Hey Yves, why don’t you tell us how you really feel? You go girl.

    Elites, shmelites. These folks might better pay greater attention to Hosni Mubarak than the so-called “long-term deficit problem.” After all, both are a product of imperial policies the likes commonly uphold and, apparently, once that spark you mentioned at the close becomes a conflagration, justice all too likely will be served.

  61. bob

    Excellent post. Keep it up.

    Right = stand with us and our “values”, you may get some crumbs, but none are ever promised.

    Left = lend us your name just long enough to sell it off to the highest bidder. Your crumbs, while promised, may fail to materialize after the real power feasts.

  62. Jennifer A Hill

    For those of us who are social justice advocates, it has been heartbreaking to watch the increased suffering of our communities and friends communities across the US. For those of us who are rational and critical thinkers it has been frustrating to be silenced when not much of what is being done helps folks much.
    I’m tired of the phrase, “considering the political realities” that frames every negotiation on program, appropriations, policy and rules regarding anything for the common good. From health care to education the irrational has become rational, it is good for government to stop coordinating, financing, and policing the most important social institutions of our country. It is good for corporations that function by the principle of bottom line be given free course to make their profit at all times no matter the means. This is 1984, Through the Looking Glass stuff people.
    We must do more to stop the pillage and get back to community values and the common good. This will require principled action, intestinal fortitude and a constant attack on the abuse of law and process that is undermining the civil society. Please join us, we welcome everyone.

  63. Jim

    Intellectuals, because they are a relatively small social stratum (running from left to right historically), tend to shop for an appropriate historical agent in order to gain prominence politically (as well as secure their material interests) and tend never to be completely committed to only one such alliance–in other words they often tend to be quite slippery as to their ultimate commitments.

    In our emerging post-democratic era the new market-state political formation calls to intellectuals from across the political spectrum to align their cultural capital (education, knowledge and expertize)with the interests of Big Capital and Big Government.

    Such a convergence of interests tends to result in what we see more and more today–an almost post-ideological managerialism(with an increasing concentration and centralization of power) which masks a profound committment to the status quo.

    Yves statement that “my priority is not sustaining a corrupt order..” shines a spotlight on those who would increasingly use their knowledge and expertize to help in the domination of large segments of the American population.

    1. JTFaraday

      “Such a convergence of interests tends to result in what we see more and more today–an almost post-ideological managerialism(with an increasing concentration and centralization of power) which masks a profound committment to the status quo.”

      I think this sums it up pretty well, but in that case, are you sure we’re really talking about “intellectuals” here?

      For example, here is the Think Progress analysis of the Peterson brouhaha courtesy of Matty Yglesias:

      “The latest crusade up in FireDogLake land is to castigate the Roosevelt Institute, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for having the temerity to participate in the Peterson Foundation’s effort to get six think tanks to write down scored plans for reducing the long-term debt load of the country. I take it that the selloutery of my colleagues at the Center for American Progress goes without saying to such an extent that we don’t even warrant a mention in Yves Smith’s righteous condemnation. But personally I’ve always liked EPI’s work, and CBPP’s, and Roosevelt’s, so I’ll be happy to welcome them into team sellout and let Jane Hamsher keep tending the lonely flame of true faith.

      On another level, I believe we should judge an exercise like this based on its outcome. And it seems to me that progressives have a lot to be proud of here. Four of the six proposals (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, and Bipartisan Policy Center) argue for defense spending cuts. Four of the six proposals (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, and AEI) argue for a carbon tax. Three (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt) call for financial transaction taxes, and three (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt) argue for a public option. Four (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, BPC) call for short-term fiscal stimulus. Five of the six proposals feature good ideas about farm subsidies. Four of the six proposals feature higher income revenues than called for by current law.

      Now of course there are also of plenty of bad ideas on the table in this exercise. I disagree with the vast majority of AEI’s ideas, basically all of Heritage’s, and many of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s. But the point is that when you look at the debate as a whole inside the Peterson Fiscal Summit, it’s actually a debate that’s titled way to the left of the official debate that’s playing out in congress. On Capitol Hill right now, bank taxes and carbon taxes and defense cuts and income tax hikes are all marginal ideas. Inside Pete Peterson’s Stealth Plan To Destroy The Welfare State they’re at the heart of the debate. That, to me, sounds like a job well done. It sounds to me like progressives ideas have real merit, and that the main thing we learned from this exercise is that progressive policy prescriptions will have to be a major part of any realistic long-term fiscal solution.”


      I agree with the MMT-ers that restricting your range of thought to a laundry list of already well rehearsed policy prescriptions, most of which are directed at raising taxes and most of which have already failed in Congress, does not alter the already distorted terms of debate ONE IOTA.

      I also don’t consider RE-rehearsing an already well re-rehearsed laundry list of policy prescriptions ANY kind of “thinking” whatsoever. Granted, these are young people, but their handlers aren’t much better, obviously, because this thin gruel comes straight from them. We may as well get that *really* depressing fact out on the table right from the start. Most students don’t even know what policies *to* re-rehearse.

      Assuming he could– which I by no means believe he can– Matty does not so much as offer any commentary on whether or not these so-called “progressive” policy prescriptions are adequate their task.

      Take for example this one, which has been touted for its additional capacity to address the on-going Too Big To Fail problem that represents the most likely case that the US has a long term National Debt problem that adds up to a national emergency:

      “Three (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt) call for financial transaction taxes.”

      Well color me flabbergasted. How exactly does a financial transaction tax address the monstrous *root* problem of Too Big to Fail, and the criminal culture that created it and will drive us into crisis again?

      *I* don’t have an instant answer to Too Big To Fail, but at least I have the humility to *know* I don’t have it. I’m not pushing my thin gruel to the center of the poker table for $200K.

      I also have enough common sense to know that whatever policies inside the beltway “progressives” have laying around on dusty shelves will not rise to the occasion today. Like this one, for example:

      “Four of the six proposals (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, and AEI) argue for a carbon tax,” already profiled by Matt Taibbi:


      We don’t really have intellectuals who seek bureaucratic positions–and, sadly, academics are by no means people who actually think. (I don’t think the institution permits it).

      We don’t even have genuine policy ANALYSTS who seek bureaucratic positions. We have policy parrots, like unthinking academic parrot, Jacob Hacker, who re-rehearsed the health insurance industry/ Heritage Foundation/ Mitt Romney plan for the consumption of the so-called “left,” who promptly fell for its vaporous “public option” and individual mandate trap.

      What we *do* have is witless bureaucrats who seek to advance themselves through bureaucratic positions. And we have their ThinkProgress (etc) web interface– aptly known as the Bots for their reknown ability to exercise that human capacity known as thought.

      That flip comment about Bots took off because it was only too true. The academic, policy, and web interface Bots may be “slippery” like intellectuals, but that’s pretty much as far as it goes.

  64. jo6pac

    I’ve come back several times today to read comments and once again Thank Ives and this time THANKS ALL for The Great Thoughtful Comments. It shows that there are a lot more than just a few voices in the wilderness called Amerika.

  65. MIWill

    I sense from the newdeal20 response thread that they feel they’re right and everyone else is wrong because:

    1) the students worked hard on the budget and it’s not conservatively icky. Hey, lighten up the the kids!

    2) the peterson funding should really be viewed as an off balance sheet, special vehicle, let’s-everybody-not-mention-it-to-mom, item that inadvertently occurred when support staff were changing the furnace filters.

    3) we have said poopy things about peterson in the past.

  66. Bruce Webb

    Yves you combined a perfectly fair critique of Roosevelt Inst/New Deal 2.0 (which latter was a sellout since day one) with some low blows at EPI and CBPP in an attempt to sell a wholesale “the Beltway sold us out” narrative not exactly sourced. As Max Sawicky pointed out in a conversation today EPI (where he used to work) has been on the SS beat for a couple of decades and just about all defenders of SS have been parasitical on the numeric analysis coming out of EPI, CBPP and Baker’s CEPR. These people know full well where Peterson’s agenda is, that they participated and maybe had some coffee and lunch on Pete’s dime isn’t proof of wholesale sell-out. I have no brief for Konszal or New Deal 2.0 but you smeared by direct implication some good people at EPI CBPP and by extention the entire Strengthen Social Security Coalition (270 advocacy and labor groups and counting.

    Your brush was just too broad and your conclusion well in advance of your evidence, at least as it relates to orgs not directly affiliated with Roosevelt.

    1. Archie


      I luv ya man. Your tireless work tediously defending Social Security and debunking the myths of its demise is a singularly heroic contribution. But you are wrong on defending EPI.

      They accepted, and rationalized, the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts. That was Yves’ main point in their regard. Of course, when you look at the composition of the present and recent deficits, the Bush Tax Cuts and the off-budget expense of the Hegemonic Wars ARE THE DOMINANT contributors. But since these topics are not part of the “adult (Peterson) discussion”, the only “REAL” items to be considered are “entitlements”, especially SS and Medicare.

      Bruce, it is class warfare and has always been. Perhaps you don’t buy into that idea but I do. And having read hundreds upon hundreds of comments and reactions at several websites today regarding Yves’ posts, I definitely get the sense that a great many feel that some kind of “taboo” has finally been broken.

      Your colleagues at EPI, CPBB, and elsewhere, may be well-intentioned, indeed. But nothing short of outright repudiation and contempt for the likes of the Pete Peterson and his satellites, will win the day for those of us who pay attention.

  67. allis

    As always, a great post.

    You and Elizabeth Warren should be on a third party ticket for president and vice-president. The two of you decide between you who gets the top spot. Interesting to speculate what would happen if you won!

    Odd, isn’t it, how much more often it seems that women rather than men are able to maintain their integrity.

    And how sad.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      People want to make a big deal about women as more virtuous. I think it’s a crock. I was raised by wolves and didn’t get any of girl programming (I have learned how to fake normal conditioning pretty credibly).

      IMHO, it is almost entirely due to women not being part of the power structure. Even if you do get a seat at the table, your hold on influence is precarious. So you have less to gain by playing the game, you are far more likely to be used and discarded.

      1. ambrit

        My Dear Mz Smith;
        I say, just wait a minute! Wolves have ‘women’ too, or how else do baby wolves get raised? (I do get sarcasm, unless you are hinting that you grew up in a [insert favorite scapegoat group here] household.) You have adapted marvelously to your environment, but underneath, there is compelling evidence that female brains are wet wired to nurture and defend young. Male chauvanism? Maybe so, but how many men do you know that truly understand female psychology? (I am not one of them, alas.) Please, (my apologies here,) do not confuse the ability to be tough with Machismo.
        As for your last point, “your hold on influence is precarious.” I would suggest that the “Reproduction Revolution” has basically altered the ground rules for human society. Before modern times a huge portion of the female population simply died young in childbirth. And they had no real control of their fertility, so, barefoot and pregnant it was. Hence, in earlier times, a womans primary role was as fecunditator. Now, women have been freed up to expand into other spheres previously reserved for the males simply because there was no serious competition, on a society wide level. Now it’s a movement. Why do you think that the “Forces of Evil” are so strongly supporting reactionary religious movements that oppose birth control, much less abortion, with fanatic zeal? Strong women are a threat to male dominance. And rightly so.
        (How am I ever going to face the guys down at the bar now?)

      2. allis

        I agree with you. Also, women’s egos are not so tied up in being right or in being one of the boys or in proving they are women. Even the phrase sounds silly.

        Let’s all be thankful for people of integrity, and who cares if they’re male or female?

  68. MichaelC

    Nice going Yves.

    If you dare to ask the simple question (Why is that emperor naked?,or, why weren’t the notes passed to those trusts?) or in this case, (Why is that Roosevelt Institute fellow trying to describe Peterson’s wardrobe?) we should expect the same initial reaction as that clear eyed child received. The crowd did wake up pretty quickly and realized the kid was right, so good on you. I imagine that a reeassesment is taking place at the Institute today, (damn that irritating Yves!, “who will rid me of this odious priest?) as it should be if they’re sincere.

    I’m late to this, but what surprises me in comments here (from regulars, yikes) is the reflexive emotional first reaction to the destabilizing observation. I thought sobriety would have set in by the second post but…, especially since I didn’t think your observation was terribly contoversial.

    FWIW. For the most part I usually admire MKs analysis. I’m willing to listen to his defense (although he’s just wrong, and disingenous in diverting to the budget proposal, which I don’t think you would object to in principle) is age, earnestness, and inexperience with having his core principles challenged so publicly.) You did him a service calling him out, and the Roosevelt guys needed a shake up call. What remains to be seen is if they’re good enough (and decently humble enough, in good progressive tradition) to make proper amends or to accede to the tender mercies an affiliation with the Peterson folks provides them.

    Frankly I don’t care what the institute’s face saving or cooptive next move is, as long as you continue to observe and objectively describe the potential damage to their legitamacy their compromises invite.

    They(the think tanks, lobbyists) need to be challenged in this arena (the blogosphere). I think most voters assume party differences, and inteparty compromises have been vetted by the leaders they support. They want to have faith, however misplaced. Voters aren’t sheep, although they are denigrated as sheeple, they’re just stupid enough (and they know it)to count on the folks with a real stake to have negotiated a net compromise that won’t kill them.

    It’s obvious to any (non 99% )voter that the Rs are their enemy but the Ds are not their friends. The Roosevelt Inst has done a disservice to the FDR faithful. and you were right to call them out..

  69. Francois T

    Great post Yves,

    This is what singer Jacques Brel meant by “Je persiste et signe! which could be loosely translated by “I insist and here’s my signature with that!”

  70. Carla

    Yves, many, many thanks. Please just keep telling it like it is. God knows, almost nobody else is doing so.

    @MichaelC: the D’s are a much more insidious enemy of the people than the R’s. The R’s at least announce their criminal program in advance. In this so-called 2-party system, it’s pick your poison: rape by a stranger, or date-rape. Either way, we’re still F***ed.

  71. lambert strether

    So, when is the Roosevelt Institute going to give Peterson’s money back? They’re at (212) 444-9130.

    Or, if there are any entartistes in the readership, RI is at 570 Lexington Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY. Ask for “Rich.”

  72. Chris Rogers


    As an outsider looking into the USA, I’m impressed that Liberal/Socialist inspired dialogue still actually exists in your nation – the likes of Nader and Chomsky exemplify all that is good about the USA, as do many of the Posters and contributors to this website.

    I’m often reminded of JS Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ and its central theme that one cannot hold opinions or ideas if there are no opposing ideas – the ‘Rights’ failure is to develop a narrative devoid of substance and sell it as fact – ably assisted by the Corporate media.

    Being a Brit, you’ll understand why I cherish the BBC and UK’s Channel Four – both media outlets anathema to the Right – much as PBS is anathema to the US Right.

    As they used to say on the X-Files, ‘The Truth is Out There,’ and blog sites like this fill in where the mainstream media fail.

    Hence, do keep up the good work, regardless of political affiliation – I have a lot of respect for Ron Paul, it does not mean I agree with him though – much can be said for many I respect.

    If we sell out our ‘Principles,’ we are nothing, hence, do stick to your principles and keep hammering away with your message – Corporate Socialism really does suck, especially when most of the funding comes from the average Joe – it time many understand they have been taken for a ride, and this is particularly so of those who take ‘Rightist Coin’ and Tea Party maniacs.

    1. Carla

      Unfortunately, over time, PBS has sold out to the Right much as the Roosevelt Institute did to the Peterson Institute, only many times and repeatedly.

      Leftists are our own worst enemy. We’ve got commenters on other “progressive” blogs complaining that Yves was too hard on the poor, unjustly maligned Roosevelt Institute.

  73. ScottS

    The problem with think tanks is the same as representative Democracy and Communism and Fascism and corporations and churches and the Boy Scouts and any vertical power structure — agency.

    Sociopaths and authoritarian manipulators worm their way to the top of every pyramid. We can’t even always tell them apart from “normal” power-hungry people.

    There is no cure. We can’t cut out of society everyone who wants authority. We would put in people with good intentions who will run things into the ground. And sadly, people mostly want to be told what to do, and by people they perceive as better than themselves.

    I disagree that changing the system is the solution. Changing the system won’t solve anything. It’s just Animal Farm all over again. Whatever the system is, it’s up to people who “get it” to complain and point out authorities’ mistakes and hold them to a higher standard. I agree with Yves’ main point quite emphatically — it’s up to her and us to educate ourselves and start throwing rocks at the powers that be, and let’s land those rocks with precision.

    And never assume that getting “the right” people in a position of authority will change anything. Changing the ones we already have will be more productive, since any replacement will simply be another sociopath and we would have to start from scratch.

    For whatever reason, Dick Nixon started the EPA. We can still hold him accountable for everything he did wrong, but even a “wrong” person can do the right thing, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

    The sociopaths have found a solution for being voted out of office. They become lobbyists or think tankers or Fox News corespondents. When W said (in effect) that he only represented the 50% of people who (supposedly) voted for him, it was a defensive measure. He didn’t want to have to listen to the left because the left can’t always be wrong. So let’s not take sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and going “la la la” as an answer to anything.

    Talk to others, even when they don’t agree with you. Talk to your congressperson, even if they are on the other team. It can’t hurt. At worst, an educated, clear-eyed person will have disagreed with them, and it will stick in their subconscious like a grain of sand in an oyster. Go make some pearls.

    1. Chris Rogers

      LETS ALL MAKE PEARLS – for what its worth, the same processes at play in the US are in play in the UK – we have a voice and keyboard, use them or lose them!!!!

  74. aletheia33

    yves, i chime in with others here who have expressed deep gratitude to you for your brave step in speaking out on this concern. brava, brava, and keep it up! you are a lighthouse. keep beaming your reliable signal through the long, dark night we are now facing. your example is encouraging others in unknown, invisible ways. know that this one is inspired and draws strength here for the long passage. thank you.

  75. Nikhil

    It is incredibly refreshing to hear the “dignity” mentioned by anyone on the progressive end of the spectrum. Thank you Yves for a great post.

  76. Nat

    Finally. Your hurt their feelings. You pissed them off. You did not apologize. This is amazingly rare on this side of the divide.

    The EPI guys are great, and they will get over it. But someone has to point out the ugly truth that making nice will be the end of us. At some point compromise becomes capitulation.

    We need junk yard dogs, and evidently wolves.

  77. SH

    “But the irony is efforts to prevent small disruptions, like the now-discarcded American forest management policy of preventing small fires, can increase the odds of raging conflagrations when they do occur. And it is impossible to foresee what disruptive actions might cascade into bigger changes.”

    I love to see Talebesque philosophy come out.

  78. Nell

    This is a tremendous post, something that’s needed to be said plainly for quite a long time now.

    I felt as if a giant steel door were clanging shut when Max Sawicky early in 2007, while still at EPI, defended the cave-to-the-insurers approach to health insurance. From that moment on I looked at all of the institutionalized “progressive” organizations differently, and realized that we were doomed to austerity policy whichever party won in 2008.

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