Lynn Parramore: Guess What? Fewer Americans Call Themselves Economic Conservatives

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By Lynn Parramore, a senior editor at Alternet. Cross posted from Alternet

2013 has not exactly been an inspiring year on the economic front so far: Between the news of banks too big to prosecute, consumer protection stalled, financial reform thwarted, corporate taxes dodged, privatization pushed, and Social Security attacked, it has been hard to find something to smile about. But then, suddenly, out comes a little ray of sunshine from behind the clouds.

A new Gallup survey shows significant changes in the way we Americans see ourselves. The big news? We don’t like to call ourselves economic conservatives as much as we used to; in fact, that number is at a five-year low. On top of that, more of us say we’re social liberals.

What’s going on? How did something good happen when everything feels so bad?

After the shattering experience of WWI, Freud wrote about the pervasive discontent and unease with society, and he examined how humans tend to react to these feelings. In facing misery, would we throw in the towel? Would we become more aggressive? Or could we embrace the opportunity to improve our reality and transform our thinking? Freud, it must be said, was not overly optimistic about the answers to these questions.

Today, there’s a widespread feeling of skepticism about the form of capitalism we’re saddled with, which works well for a few and causes the rest of us various kinds of misery. Many Americans are beyond sick and tired of bankers, financiers and political hucksters. We see that crony capitalism is destroying our communities, our democracy, our economic well-being, and the natural world.

But will anything ever change it? I have been writing about economic matters since the Great Recession hit, trying to foster different ways of thinking. Honestly, most days it seemed like what I was trying to say was falling on deaf ears – that smart regulation was vital, that jobs must be our primary focus, that austerity was a foolish and deadly policy, and that, at a fundamental level, we need an economy that will serve society rather than the other way around.

Meanwhile, monopolies flourished, financial fraud ran rampant, deficit hawks commanded the scene in Washington, economic quacks were treated as oracles in the mainstream media, the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer.

Republicans won big-time in the 2010 midterm election, seizing control of the House and many state legislatures, including my home state of North Carolina, where they are bent on turning one of the most progressive states in the South into Mid-Atlantic Mississippi. Polls in 2010 showed that the number of Americans labeling themselves conservative, especially on the economy, jumped. Things looked pretty bleak.

Relinquishing old ways of thinking is a painful process, and more often not, a slow journey fraught with setbacks and reversals. It’s not easy to examine old assumptions about how we work, view money and allocate power. Older generations were also challenged to change the way they thought about the economy. The Great Depression etched itself deeply into America’s collective memory: The idea that the government had to step in with jobs programs, education, housing, transportation, and research investments in order to save the economy from Wall Street-driven ruin impressed itself on our grandparents. That view held sway until Ronald Reagan came along and convinced everyone that government was the problem, not the solution, and recommended that the wild horses of capitalism be set free.

America became more “economically conservative.” The idea that economic conservatism equals prudence is an old association, dating all the way back to 18th-century thinker Edmund Burke, and it’s one that proponents of reckless free-market fundamentalism took full advantage of. They vigorously repeated the lie that markets can regulate themselves, that they are resistant to fraud, and that things would be fine if the government would just let the capitalists alone. They claimed, ad nauseum, that liberals were financially naive and irresponsible spendthrifts. They more or less got away with this package of deceit until the financial crash, which happened on the watch of a free-marketeer, and one who, by the way, had the worst record on job creation in modern history. That was a serious blow to their mythology.

Gradually it become harder to argue that government should be shrunk to the size where it could be drowned in a bathtub because it grew obvious that government intervention and things like unemployment benefits (what economists call “automatic stabilizers”) kept us from plunging into a Great Depression. Slowly, painfully, Americans have begun to see that focusing on austerity and debt reduction is a road to nowhere, and that the economists whose work is frequently cited by proponents of this view doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We’re gradually getting the message that economic prudence means government making long-term commitments to investing in the kind of robust education, research and infrastructure that our future well-being depends on.

The new Gallup poll reveals that only 41 percent of Americans now characterize their economic views as “conservative,” or “very conservative,” the lowest since President Barack Obama was elected, and substantially lower than the 50 percent who labeled themselves that way in 2010. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now call themselves “economically moderate,” up from 32 percent last year. The percentage identifying themselves as economic liberals has stayed put since 2001, when Gallup started its annual Values and Beliefs poll. But part of this may be semantics – the association of the word “conservative” with “prudence” or “care” in economic matters is hard to shake. Yet the polls suggest that a shift may finally be happening. “Moderate,” at least, is a start. We may see a new notion of fiscal responsibility emerge that doesn’t involve casting people into unemployment and allowing our schools and roads to crumble.

Even conservatives are beginning to rethink what it means to be an economic conservative. They have begun to focus on breaking up the big banks, and a few, as Ryan Cooper reports in the Washington Monthly, are going even further and bringing out their closeted inner Keynesians. It remains to be seen whether or not they can get anywhere with their recalcitrant party, but there is dissent in the ranks.

The link between self-identification and voting is tricky. If you think about it, the fact that the number of Americans calling themselves economically conservative in 2010 increased in the polls might not have been so much a sincere expression of ideology as an expression of discontent with the political and economic status quo, whatever it happened to be. After the election, political scientist Thomas Ferguson noted in an interview that in periods of turmoil, the prevailing sentiment is usually “throw the bums out.”

“What the election really shows,” Ferguson said, “is not that the parties can’t agree — Democrats and most of the GOP leadership finally agreed on the bank bailouts, for example — but that the American people will not accept the policies that leaders in both parties prefer.”

The Gallup poll also shows that the percentage of Americans describing their social views as “liberal” or “very liberal” has reached an all-time high: 30 percent. That’s considerably higher than the 22 percent who identified that way in 2010. (Thirty-five percent of Americans say they are conservative or very conservative on social issues, while 32 percent call themselves socially moderate.)

Maybe, just maybe, more people will realize that being socially liberal and economically liberal are really the same thing. That wanting gay people to have the right to marry and women to have the right to decide what to do with their bodies are intimately connected with economic equality and the influence of money in politics.

Until then, the idea that Americans are at least trying out new political identifications is a promising trend. It’s up to us on the left to make sure that “economically liberal” has a clear, positive meaning that a wider swath of people can get behind.

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  1. digi_owl

    Liberal, conservative, both labels are so muddled these days that they are virtually meaningless.

    1. from Mexico

      I agree.

      In 18th-century speak, liberal meant small government, and conservative meant big government.

      Adam Smith was a liberal when it came to economic matters. (Was he also a liberal when it came to cultural matters?)

      Smith’s liberal theology, however, was never anything but a pipe dream. What his theory in practice immediately led to was big government, but big government in the service of the capitalists.

      Enter labor, who experiencing the reality of economic liberalism and not the hype, saw through the bait and switch of “small government.” “Small government” was never anything but a fraud and a scam. So labor pushed for big government, but big governemnt that served its interests. This, in what Jacques Barzun calls “The Great Switch,” then became known as liberalism.

      Then enter the culture wars of the 1960s, where the left finds itself in the grips of an orgy of hypocrisy every bit as acute as that of the 18th-century economic liberals. It says it wants more individual choice and small government: the goverment out of the bedroom and out of women’s wombs. But almost in the same breath, it argues for big government to pay for abortions and to pass laws which punish discrimination aganst gays.

      So it seems to me the new cultural liberalism is caught up in the same internal contradictions as the old economic liberalism.

      1. lakewoebegoner

        If people actually read Adam Smith, they’d realize that Adam Smith actually was more socially and economically liberal (in today’s sense) than the bulk of today’s Democratic Party.

        Just as many religious adherents cherry-pick words from their favorite holy text, lots of free-marketers cherry-pick Smith’s concepts on laissez-faire and ignore his comments about social justice.

        1. from Mexico

          Maybe so.

          But let’s be very clear about Smith’s place in history, and that is that he was a mythologist and not a scientist.

        2. banger

          Well not that liberal in some areas. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments he wrote that the chief source of virtue in young men is war. It was a common idea back then. The neocoservatives did not advocate war as a way to achieve individual virtue but believed that war would give a sense of common purpose that would move society away from hedonism etc.

      2. banger

        What you say is spot on! The nature of the divide between left and right as defined by the media which seeks to misinform and misdirect us in every way possible. In the real world the distinctions tend to be more fluid. People like to line up by regions, tribe, religion, race and so on. Also people are divided within themselves on these issues. Where I live most Christians are pretty conservative theologically and they’ll oppose gay rights in theory but will be completely accepting of gay people socially.

    2. spacecabooie

      My understanding is that liberalism originated as a reference to an economics philosophy; an economic liberal believed in the virtue of laissez faire – liberal – econimc envrionment in which transactions between private parties are free from government restrictions, tariifs, etc., i.e., the same as free trade, a gussied-up reference to colonialism, slavery, etc.

      So, when someone proudly holds up there hand to loudly proclaim their “liberal” bona fides, I can’t help but laugh (while wanting to cry over their naivete)… errrr … Lynn ?

      I suspect, though, that most of the Liberal political leadership understands what they are saying about themselves. (And the sooner a critical mass of the citizenry understands it the sooner we can deal with this scourge.)

      I think progressives understand this problem … but they, too, have been infiltrated … by population reductionists of other types.

    3. jrs

      Yea if the Dem party is the opposite of economic conservativism, then they are still likely just as economically conservative as they have ever been, just they use other terms.

    4. William C

      Yes and what you in the US call economic conservatism we in the UK would call economic liberalism. The Conservative party since Thatcher have been classic Liberals.

  2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    When more Americans are economic conservatives, we just need to be educated.

    When more Americans are socially liberal, our voices need to be heard.

    1. nonclassical

      …needless to say, the trend is towards”sell-phone soma”…(Brave New World) intended ignorance..rather than “fully educated workforce”…

      Parramore hits several pertinent notes IMO…perusing actual history, 30’s depression era was one of blame-game, passing government back and forth between 2 parties…

      TRUTH appears to me to be the actual issue-but as Parramore, I am encouraged that more and more ameriKans are beginning to figure out TRUTHS of Wall $treet economic disaster, largely thanks to Yves, Satyajit Das, Shaxson, Phillips, Perkins, Klein, William Blum, etc…

      But we have to remember DLC dems control the “alternative”, such that it is…
      therefore, repubLIEcons get away with false equivalency argument….and will continue scapegoating VICTIMS of economic disaster…to likely 2016 win of white house…and more, and more austerity-privatization…ala 30’s depression era…(and more “Armed Madhouse” military imperialism)..

  3. Wayne

    I’d have to agree with digi_owl.
    Also, let’s look at the term “progressive”

    The way “progressive” is used now, by centrists and center-right people, is to get otherwise staunch formerly liberal people to accept crappy bills in order to “move forward.”

    “Liberal? That’s an old term like Whigs and Federalists. I voted for no-strings-attached bank bailouts because we have to ‘move forward’.”


  4. allcoppedout

    The labels make little sense now. The underlying issue is about belief in democracy and belief in allowing concentrations of money subvert it. Religion continues to play a peculiar role. Definitive sides are difficult – one can hardly be ‘pro-abortion’ even if one wants women to have this choice. It’s difficult to justify pacifism faced by armies of bandits or the intolerant. Even the popular vote isn’t much use to democracy if it gives a mandate to end – er – democracy.
    Lynn is right that there is a link between decent economics and such as women’s and gay rights. I guess all visiting here would want quality of work and private life to be the main feature of economic provision – yet this would presumably stop at allowing bandits rights to banditry and groups wanting to force others to conform to sexism, religiosity and keeping women in black bags. The concept of freedom we want is not simple, but in some senses we are asking all to conform to it. Our thinking and especially our politics in this are often primitive and involve ideologies trapped in non-modern habits and views of human nature not informed by science. I doubt we need to work hard for everyone to have much better lives than at present, but rather that current work ethic is a major feature of political control fraud. This and many other medieval/ancient ideologies are in the way of a genuinely liberal society, though this would need some way of sharing necessary work/reward and having people motivated to do this and involve themselves in development activity. All politics I can vote for ignores this.

    1. from Mexico

      allcoppedout said:

      …current work ethic is a major feature of political control fraud. This and many other medieval/ancient ideologies are in the way of a genuinely liberal society.

      I think hard-wiring might also have something to say about it. Braudel argued that even culture was not as malleable as the Enlightenment and Positivist true believers thought.

      From Descartes to Kant, then on to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, and finally to the Marxists and neoliberals, we see the development of the notion that with enough “education” we can “transform” man into what the more “enlightened” thinkers believe he ought to be. Of course “education” all too quickly morphed into indoctrination, coercion, and violence. So all the beautiful dreams of the Modernists, in the end, came full circle back to the 16th-century philosophy of the Conquistadores: “Christianize ’em or kill ’em.”

      As John Gray put it:

      The Romanitic belief that the world can be reshaped by an act of will is as much a part of the modern world as the Enlightenment ideal of a universal civilisaton based on reason. The one arose as a reaction against the other. Both are myths.

      –JOHN GRAY, Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern

      1. allcoppedout

        We see this these days in ‘deficit theory’ – recent studies on why we don’t accept global warming have emphasised we need to get the facts out there to make up for a deficit in public understanding – somehow the facts will persuade. A lot of mistakes concerning human ‘hard-wiring’ are made in making these assumptions on what facts are and how humans deal with them. As Mexico points out this is a long story. Many of the difficulties with the underlying empiricism were laid out in 1953 by Quine. ‘Facts’ impinge on a networked world-view in individuals that is usually highly resistant to change. Today’s neuroscience supports and elaborates on this.
        Levels of public debate on this are low, but such as teacher training is almost void of serious consideration of the area. The most stunning example of hard wiring I’ve seen is the case of a man committing paedophile offences until his brain tumour was removed. Monarch butterflies follow a migration path over three generations, wired so hard none of them could learn it in a lifetime. There is flexibility in hard-wiring too. Bees can change genetically between foragers and nurses if there is a shortage of one or the other group.
        When it comes to “facts” even our universities struggle to establish and teach them. A classic area is that of excellence and kwality – one can find Peter Drucker calling them ‘union bashing’ as far back as 1950 – yet many of my former colleagues still teach them as gospel and little idea that the excellence of Peters and Waterman was shown to be nothing of the kind within 6 months of their publication.
        Most of us a probably hard-wired to default to thieving, killing, selfish deception and so on if times get hard enough.
        I favour a much more scientifically organised economy – scientists are rarely right-wing fundamentalists (PEW poll of 2009) – but how does this come about through learning biology, chemistry, maths and physics? Would scientists try scientifically organised economics by ignoring such as Critical Theory critique of technology as ideology or forcing ‘motivation’ through poverty and want? Or by unilaterally laying down arms in some fringe anarchist belief in a human nature fundamentally about love-trust and all truth lying in the main destruction? Or in a motivation system in which some get the lifetime pay of many in a few months – and here we should remember that even a liberal university lecturer’s annual pay equates to more than a lifetime spent as a mud-wall builder in a Thai shrimp pond?

        This is a world in which middle-class fuddy-duddies retired on pensions made through jobs in which they closed the door in the face of people in need (from kids complaining of abuse, mothers trying to do something about sexual grooming of their kids – to a list book length), complain in all self-importance that striking flight attendants are bastards for ruining their holiday plans and should be glad about their pay and conditions because there is plenty of cheap labour who would jump at the chance to take their jobs.

        We are no doubt hard-wired to be such moral wuckfits – but it is possible to imagine cultures that would not encourage and support such. Slaver ants are hard-wired to steal the work of other species, but this doesn’t justify a class of humans stealing the work of others. Most chemical reactions are hard-wired to go a particular route – we interfere to produce what we want. Much that our societies are stuck with as “rational” is man-made and as such changeable to emphasise the better defaults of our hard-wiring.

    2. JTFaraday

      “current work ethic is a major feature of political control fraud.”

      This is the second time I’ve seen you(?) say something to this effect. This is a very nice formulation.

  5. Min

    Sorry. Socially liberal and economically liberal are not the same thing. Bill and Hillary Clinton are socially liberal and economically conservative. So was Andrew Jackson. Roosevelt ran on a balanced budget the first time, although he did not pursue a balanced budget until 1936 or 1937. Jimmy Carter is socially liberal and economically conservative. Obama is an economic conservative, but was a socially liberal senator. Nixon was socially conservative and economically liberal.

    1. Chris Engel

      “Tory men and liberal policies are what have changed the world.”

      – President Richard Nixon, 1969, after reading a biography of Disraeli and of Lord Randolph Churchill.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Bill and Hillary are socially liberal? Survery says:

      -massive expansion of the drug war in the U.S. which was ultimately directed towards African Americans
      -the weasel wording of abortion as “safe, legal, and rare.”
      -ignoring the rollback on voting rights

      They found Jesus when Hillary needed to run in 2008.

      I don’t think Bill and Hillary are socially liberal or economically conservative. Self-serving is their primary description, but I suppose most people are this. I just don’t think its right to suggest Bill and Hillary’s new found support for social issues isn’t based on anything other than the demands of likely Democratic voters.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        Thank you for not letting the absurd assertion that the Clintons (or any other mainstream Democrats, really) are in any sense “social liberals” pass unchallenged. Maybe to someone who refers to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” they would appear so, but not from any remotely objective perspective.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        He said nice things about gay marriage when gay voters held a gun to his head.

  6. David Lentini

    Maybe, just maybe, more people will realize that being socially liberal and economically liberal are really the same thing.

    I’ve been trying to make people understand this point for years now. The true winners of the “culture wars” were the liberals–Outside of some very tough issues like abortion, the GOP has slowly and quietly adopted the social liberalism of the ’60s and ’70s. Correspondingly, the Democrats have moved to the “right” on economics. The Great Promontory Point where left and right met happened with Clinton’s first election and when Barry Goldwater claimed solidarity with the gay righs movement.

    The key (for me anyway) was to realize that liberalism is about freedom of action, whether it’s buying stocks or cars or choosing whom to marry. In other words, “We’re All Liberals Now.”

    What’s killing society isn’t the lack of liberalism; it’s too much freedom from the sorts of social obligations needed to engender trust in society. The erosion of that trust is destroying our economy through a revitalized socical darwinism, and it’s destroying our politics by destroying our capacity to listen and compromise. In short, many key elements of our national life are treated as nearly life-or-death struggles.

    I think this explains much about the fascination with death and decay in our culture over the past two decades. The popular “gangsta” and “ghetto” music and styles, the fixation with zombies and vampires (i.e., the “undead”), the obsession with guns and self-defense, are all consistent with a culture that is dying from lack of trust.

    I’m not sure how this will end. Wars and social crises do have a way of bringing people together, and I thought right after 9/11 there would be a chance to do that in the US. But our politicians and financiers had other ideas, preferring to grab more power while further distracting and dividing the country.

    1. from Mexico

      David Lentini said:

      Wars and social crises do have a way of bringing people together…

      Well they do and they don’t. Just take a look at the two very different trajectories of Germany and the United States during WWII.

      The Russian scientist Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War writes that “The critical assumption in my argument is that cooperation provides the basis for imperial power.” And no one can argue that the US has not been a powerful empire.

      Whereas Nazi Germany based its imperial ambitions on the racial strategy of Pan-Germanism and the naming of supranational enemies – e.g. the “Jew in general” is a “Jew everywhere and nowhere” – and searched for internal as well as external enemies, the US employed a strategy of tribal nationalism and concentrated its search for enemies outside of the nation. “Politically speaking,” Hannah Arendt writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by ‘a world of enemies,’ ‘one against all,’ that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.”

      “Historically speaking,” Arendt goes on to explain, “racists (and I would put Nazi Germany in this category, but not so much post-1940s USA) have a worse record of patriotism than the representatives of all other international ideologies together, and they were the only ones who consistently denied the great principle upon which national organizations of peoples are built, the principle of equality and solidarity of all peoples guaranteed by the idea of mankind.”

      What evidence exists to substantiate this theory? I would cite the following:

      A Class Apart, video documentary from PBS:

      Then came WWII… And it is this generation who fought in WWII who begin to demand civil rights for Mexican Americans. They form important social organizations like the GI Forum. These organizations are committed to fighting for equality for Mexican Americans as well as fighting for pride in Mexican origins.

      Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, David Montejano:

      Social conflict and national crises provided the necessary impulse for the decline of the old race arrangements. World War II, in particular, initiated dramatic changes on the domestic front. The need for soldiers and workers, and for positive international relations with Latin America, meant that the counterproductive and embarrassing customs of Jim Crow had to be shelved, at least for the duration of the emergency. In more lasting terms, the war created a generation of Mexican American veterans prepared to press for their rights and privileges. The cracks in the segregated order proved to be irreparable.

      The cracks did not rupture, however, until blacks in the South and Mexican Americans in the Southwest mobilized to present a sharp challenge from below in the 1960s.

      In addition to greater racial equality, the US imperial strategy and militarism also brought about greater class equality, as Arendt argues in “Thoughts on Revolution”:

      Marx may have said that the proletarian has no country; it is well known that the proletarians have never shared this point of view. The lower social classes are especially susceptible to nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialistic policies. One serious split in the civil-rights movement into “black” and “white” came as a result of the war question: the white students coming from good middle-class homes at once joined the opposition, in contrast to Negroes, whose leaders were very slow in making up their minds to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam. This was true even of Martin Luther King. The fact that the army gives the lower social classes certain opportunities for education and vocational training naturally also plays a role.

      I would argue that US imperialism and militarism have now become so vitiated that they serve the interests of no one except a highly privileged transnational capitalist class. What keeps them propped up, however, are their past glories. The popularity and appeal of US imperialism and militarism amongst those who have to work for a living is due, at least in part, to their usefulness in the WWII and post WWII eras in achieving greater racial and class equality.

      1. charles sereno

        “Maybe, just maybe, more people will realize that being socially liberal and economically liberal are really the same thing. That wanting gay people to have the right to marry and women to have the right to decide what to do with their bodies are intimately connected with economic equality and the influence of money in politics.”
        Is that the heart of the dispute between the Red and Blue wings of our National Party? The Blues seem to be winning that argument but god forbid it has anything to do economic equality or money in politics.

    2. nonclassical

      …I would say you are contorting “political” with “economic” historical documentation….economics having held sway, as DEregulatory legislation has led to ECONOMIC takeover of politics…

  7. Chris Engel

    It’s a question of messaging and newspeak.

    “Economically conservative” is good messaging because the counter position would be “economically liberal” which sounds like profligate spending when someone is relating it to personal economy.

    So I think once people realize what “economically conservative” means in practical terms (forever tax cuts, non-military spending cuts no matter what, ignoring or promoting corporate welfare, ignoring or suppressing workers) then they won’t be so proud to label them as such.

    In fact that’s what many so-called moderate Republicans claim — that they are socially liberal, but economically conservative. What that means, who knows. Maybe they think that means they will be perceived as more frugal? I don’t know. But if people realize that 1) Govt budget is different from family/business, 2) What it really means to be economically conservative …. then this trend will continue onward.

    I never understood anyone who would have the type of ideology where no matter WHAT is going on in the economy, you want tax cuts, spending cuts and more deregulation. It’s downright fundamentalist. Even when there’s ample evidence that deregulation was a major contributor to the financial crisis (FCIC), the go-to Republican solution is more deregulation and less government involvement. Even when inequality has grown over the past few decades as the tax code has gotten less progressive, the GOP’s only idea is to cut taxes and fuel this inequality more.

    It’s really a bizarre situation in the political spectrum right now. I’m still crossing my fingers for a Populist Party resurgence.

    Back in the Gilded Age it took damn near 30 years to get the pro-worker agenda really pushed to the point of having the safety net developed and taking power away from the money interests. We’re just beginning in this long fight against the oligarchs. Obama wasn’t the reformer some had hoped but there’s room for an Elizabeth Warren in 2016…

  8. kjboro

    Americans who classify themselves as ‘economic conservatives’ support neoliberal economic orthodoxy (albeit perhaps out of ignorance). But that’s the point: it’s neat trick to successfully brand and sell something liberal (even if ‘neo’) as conservative.

    Meanwhile, many among the 78% who call themselves economic conservatives or economic moderates ran up unsupportable debts in housing, student loans, car loans, and other consumer expenditures beyond what a conservative approach to personal finance would indicate.

    Gallup’s poll, therefore, is nearly meaningless. People are asked to characterize their economic views with a label — very conservative through very liberal. Yet, Gallup doesn’t bother evaluating what those terms actually mean to such folks and, even more critically, whether those folks practice any thing remotely in line with those meanings.

    This is all Plato’s Cave — and the oligarchs are laughing, eating caviar and getting high while watching everyone else interpret the shadows on the cave wall.

    1. sleepy

      I agree wholeheartedly.

      I would also add that individuals’ personal economic expectations have been in a long, slow slide for decades. Years ago, it was assumed and expected that the kids would be better off than the parents.

      Nowadays, just minimally keeping your head above water or the wolf from the door–whether for the kids or the parents–is considered a success.

      Unemployment drops from 10% to 8.5% with lower wages all around, and people shout “happy days”.

      And the liberal dems who produce this result are congratulated as liberals while the conservatives are derided as obstructionists.

    2. jurisV

      The Oligarchs may be eating caviar and laughing, but they forget that they are looking at the same shadows on various walls in different parts of the cave. The depressing part is that all of our “tribes” think the same about their shadows — we alone are correct in interpreting the shadows and seeing the “truth.”. The Myths we need to survive are based on cooperation and connectedness — as Banger so succinctly noted yesterday. We humans evolved in small hunter-gatherer groups that needed everyone in the group to work together to survive.

      The Oligarchs may have the “cool” part of the cave for now, but we’re all in the cave together! And remember, there are a lot more of us “little people” in the cave.

  9. E.L. Beck

    Burke’s prudence has nothing to do with today’s free-market financial hedonism, and a straight line connecting the two should not be drawn.

    Contemporary free-marketeers completely overlook the realities that faced the 18th century economists of the day: numerous local producers competing in local markets. At the time of America’s founding some 86% of its citizens were self employed. These decentralized economic entities come closer to the proper functioning necessary for free markets to work, and even then it is not a given.

    Nevertheless, such a decentralized structure of the 18th century is a far cry from the heavily centralized structures we face today, lergely operating in monopolistic or oligarghic markets. The free market approach will never function properly under such conditions.

    1. nonclassical

      ..agreed-historical documentation does not favor “conservative-free market should regulate itself” ideology…good reason to attempt to devolve public education-contort TRUTH of…

  10. TomDor

    “free market” used to mean ‘a market free of economic rent’
    Today “free market” SHOULD mean a market free of economic rent – the definition has been ground out of existence and with that grinding, Free Market is no longer meaningful as we have economic rent destroying the wealth of this nation.

    It is not the wickedness of predatory wealth, but the weakness of progressive economics which keeps special privilege in the saddle in the United States.

    However, the evolutionary process by which monkeys made men of themselves was considerably slower than the reverse process.

    “In spite of the ingenious methods devised by statesmen and financiers to get more revenue from large fortunes, and regardless of whether the maximum sur tax remains at 25% or is raised or lowered, it is still true that it would be better to stop the speculative incomes at the source, rather than attempt to recover them after they have passed into the hands of profiteers.
    If a man earns his income by producing wealth nothing should be done to hamper him. For has he not given employment to labor, and has he not produced goods for our consumption? To cripple or burden such a man means that he is necessarily forced to employ fewer men, and to make less goods, which tends to decrease wages, unemployment, and increased cost of living.
    If, however, a man’s income is not made in producing wealth and employing labor, but is due to speculation, the case is altogether different. The speculator as a speculator, whether his holdings be mineral lands, forests, power sites, agricultural lands, or city lots, employs no labor and produces no wealth. He adds nothing to the riches of the country, but merely takes toll from those who do employ labor and produce wealth.
    If part of the speculator’s income – no matter how large a part – be taken in taxation, it will not decrease employment or lessen the production of wealth. Whereas, if the producer’s income be taxed it will tend to limit employment and stop the production of wealth.
    Our lawmakers will do well, therefore, to pay less attention to the rate on incomes, and more to the source from whence they are drawn.”
    Written around 1925

    “Getting something for nothing
    The great sore spot in our modern commercial life is found on the speculative side. Under present laws, which foster and encourage speculation, business life is largely a gamble, and to “get something for nothing” is too often considered the keynote to “success”. The great fortunes of today are nearly all speculative fortunes; and the ambitious young man just starting out in life thinks far less of producing or rendering service than he does of “putting it over” on the other fellow. This may seem a broad statement to some: but thirty years of business life in the heart of American commercial activity convinces me that it is absolutely true.
    If, however, the speculative incentive in modern commercial life were eliminated, and no man could become rich or successful unless he gave “value received” and rendered service for service, then indeed a profound change would have been brought in our whole commercial system, and it would be a change which no honest man would regret.”- John Moody, Wall Street Publisher, and President of Moody’s Investors’ Service. Dated 1924

  11. Susan the other

    The big problem I have with the term “liberal” is its association with “free trade” and “free marketeering” and free lunch for big corporations. This is the dangerous aspect of all things “economically liberal” which lurks behind all the political talk of getting the economy going. No politician will ever lift a finger to do something socially liberal (fund socially good things) when they can help the parasitic corporations and be rewarded for their vote. The reason I do not like it is because “Free Trade” agreements are the result. As if it could not possibly get more complex, it just got very much more complex with the TPP pact finalizing the manifesto for what appears to be the most liberal government ever concocted on planet earth. A government by and for big corporations. Which will crush democracy and good government, what’s left of it.

    1. nonclassical

      Susan’s point-bushbama WILL SIGN “Trans-Pacific Partnership”…end of democratic America…

      1. skippy

        2 June 2013
        For immediate release
        Chile’s ex-chief negotiator drops a bombshell on TPPA

        In a dramatic public statement, Chile’s former chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) Rodrigo Contreras has urged fellow Latin American countries to work together to defend their interests against the demands of rich countries in the talks.

        Contreras warned that unless they held back those demands the TPPA will become ‘a threat for our countries: it will restrict our options for development in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies’.

        It will also provoke a backlash from Latin America’s increasingly active social movements.

        The warning came in an opinion piece in the 16 May edition of Peru’s Spanish language weekly Caretas, at the start of the most recent negotiating round in Peru.*

        Contreras stood down from the role in February 2013. Informed bloggers note ‘It’s widely believed that he left his post voluntarily. He’s held in high esteem not just in Chile but among his fellow trade negotiators. His departure left people on the trade beat scratching their heads. It now appears probable that the reason for his resignation was that he saw where the TPP was likely to go and didn’t want his name attached to it.’

        ‘Chile’s former chief negotiator has dropped a bombshell on the talks’, said Professor Jane Kelsey who is a critic of the negotiations.

        ‘While his concerns are targeted at the poorer countries at the TPPA table, the risks are essentially the same for New Zealand’ Professor Kelsey observed.

        ‘Here is an insider who knows the texts. Rodrigo Contreras has sat in the negotiating room for several years and tried to get the US and others to back off their most damaging demands. He now believes the current direction of the TPPA poses a threat to his country’s economic and social development’.

        ‘The evidence continues to mount against this agreement every day. New Zealand cannot continue to negotiate the TPPA under the shroud of secrecy. With many chapters nearing closure, it is way past.

  12. MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

    I think what happened is actually pretty simple. Even the folks who grew up in the 80s have finally figured out that “capitalism” as currently practiced is a lottery they’re unlikely to win. Too much depends on choosing your parents, genes and other lucky circumstances wisely. If working hard, saving money and living frugally actually worked to be a success in America, sentiment might be different, but after 30 some years of watching the money flow to shysters, con artists, banksters, politicians, lawyers and a few very lucky entrepeneurs, nobody should be surprised that change is in the wind.

  13. allcoppedout

    It’s back to the day job for me – doing stuff I don’t really believe in to earn the ‘coin’ that keeps me and family afloat. What we talk of in here butters no parsnips. The quality of debate here lies in the comments and this says something on the quality or the organisers. Anyone can talk social liberalism – think of the vile Tony Blair (I joined the Labour Party to support this conman). I suppose in a way, that Yves should really distribute the “vast T-shirt profits” equally on time spent – not a real suggestion, just a comment that we even rely on economics to organise talk to each other.
    I’d like to see a wider literature based on views in this blog – Lynn’s story writ large. One can find this dotted about Internet video, blogs and so on. I dream of protagonists (say ancestors of me and Mexico)trying to stop the war of the Spanish Armada on different sides on the basis of all the common sailors and soldiers really being ripped-off by the powerful and doomed to death from disease in squalid on-board conditions or starvation on not being paid (the Spaniards at least paid their boys off). We are “captivated” by a literature much wider than economics – Marx lost out to Hollywood sort of stuff. The truth is that there is a vicious circle preventing a literature of truth. I believe this starts with the need for a day job, and although this need is ‘real’ (to pay rent, be able to enjoy a walk with my dog), we have little idea if it is really necessary – it would not be in 100% robot heaven – and to what extent making us work is control fraud.
    I’d like to know whether we could be getting by on a 2 day, 6 months of the year work obligation. If you think that 50% of employment in France around 1958 was in agriculture – down to 2% now – you can see the work time in producing today’s food could be cut by 25 times if people were redeployed to 50% levels. I’m not sure what else these people do today and generally preferred 1958 to today. Such outline as this is not argument, but where are the facts on what work is being done or necessary? We crave jobs to restore the economy, but do we need these jobs other than because the system forces them on us as ‘Mexico and I’ might have been pressed into different sides of a stupid imperialist war in the hope of buying food for our kids?

    I do believe economics may be so ideologically captured that it has lost all connection with what a decent structure of work could be with new organising technology and existing and developing robotics. Are we as ‘dumb’ wanting jobs, jobs, jobs as the suckers signing up to fight other people’s wars in history? I’ll be signing new contracts to assess managers next month – my day job. I’d like to know this is as hapless and unnecessary as it feels – just my role in ‘Parks and Recreation’. Come on economists – where is the spreadsheet-database of necessary world work? Agriculture is enumerated in GDP at 5 – 7% of it.

  14. Me

    I don’t for the life of me understand what people think economic conservatism is. If we go by what it is supposed to mean, who in their right mind would support it? It definitely stands for lower taxes. Since Reagan, well since JFK, the top marginal income tax rate on individuals has gone down massively. It has gone up here and there, but the overall trajectory is downward. Same thing with corporate taxes. Free trade would definitely be conservative, although there were 19th century socialists who were supporters of free trade. Attacks against unions are right wing, as is financial deregulation, the lowering of the estate tax, privatizations of public assets, pro-corporate intellectual property rights, etc. We have done all of that. We have lowered taxes on the rich and corporates, have more not less free trade, have a protectionist intellectual property rights regime, have deregulated finance, privatized and cut massive amounts of government services and resources and unions have been attacked and barely exist. What has been the impact? Decades of stagnating wages, de-industrialization, a massive increase in wealth and income inequality, a massive build-up in private debt and the complete corruption of the political system. It has been a disaster.

    If this poll had clearly defined what it means to be a conservative, if it described what we have done as far as economic policy going back decades and if the people doing the poll had explained what the record of these policies have been, what we all think denotes economic conservatism would go the way of the dinosaurs. As it stands, these words (along with words like socialism) have lost their meanings. What people identify with has to do with how well the propaganda apparatus has been, it has little to no connection to reality or what these words used to mean.
    Besides, no one in power offers an alternative economic vision. The liberals don’t have an alternative economic program and they certainly aren’t willing to entertain radical notions in regards to economics. So while economic conservatism would collapse if it were clear what the term meant, there is no clear alternative being articulated by anyone in, or with, power. So, where could people go even if they wanted to? This “liberal” president wants to cut massively popular programs, as do the knuckle draggers on the right. So, if you oppose those cuts or free trade, where do you go?

    Alternatives exist in theory and in practice but how many people are aware of those alternatives? We are, because of the lack of knowledge and the lack of a leftist groups articulating alternatives on a mass scale, stuck in a TINA moment. Even if THIS system is dying and will only make the situation worse, what alternatives can people turn to?

    By the way, is it me or is the term socialist now more popular with some groups in the US than the word liberal? I remember a poll not long ago in which younger people actually had a higher opinion of the word socialist than capitalist. It seems that the neoliberals have destroyed the word “liberal”. If “liberal” is NAFTA, the WTO, the TPP, the privatization of the education system (Clinton & Obama’s economic worldview) then you can keep the term “liberal”. If that is all liberals have to offer then liberalism is dead. If Obama and Clinton are “liberals” then good riddance.

  15. PQS

    “Today, there’s a widespread feeling of skepticism about the form of capitalism we’re saddled with, which works well for a few and causes the rest of us various kinds of misery.” —

    Many Americans are beyond sick and tired of bankers, financiers and political hucksters. We see that crony capitalism is destroying our communities, our democracy, our economic well-being, and the natural world.

  16. PQS

    “Today, there’s a widespread feeling of skepticism about the form of capitalism we’re saddled with, which works well for a few and causes the rest of us various kinds of misery.” —
    Shorter: Lots of folks realized that when the RW started attacking “the takers” they meant THEM. See: Romney and his “47%” comment. Many Americans were totally content to let the RW blather on about how “THEY” are ruining America. Once they realized they themselves were in that camp, they started to see that as an attack, not a counterattack.

    “Many Americans are beyond sick and tired of bankers, financiers and political hucksters.”

    This is an old refrain in American life: Americans love nothing more than to see people brought down a peg. And when Elmer Gantry arrives in a $3000 suit, the desire to see him fall is great. Even greater when he represents the banker who stole your house.

  17. craazyman

    I’m economically and socially liberal as long as the people on the bus eating greasy fried chicken with their butts taking up two seats and smellin’ like men’s room don’t get too much of my taxes. Actually the chicken eaters butts don’t smell, usually that’s the psychos. The ones on drugs with obese butts that sweat and they don’t shower or bathe, you get the whiffs even while you look away.

    The greasy chicken eaters and the military. There goes your taxes. Chicken nuggets and drones.

    Between the two of them it’s hell on the installment plan. Is that liberal or consoivative? They run together like anger and misery.

    Imagine going to hell and getting an invoice for the fires and the whipping? That’s what it’s like.

    On the bus being a liberal. You don’t last long.

    After 5 minutes you’re a consoivative. After 10 you’re a libertarian. After 15 you can understand genocide. Intellectually speaking, that is.

    How has humanity made it this far? To 6 billion people from 2 in the Garden of Eden? Holy Cow, if you’re on the bus you can’t imagine. It’s only when you’re on the sidewalk and you see some hot woman walking by, then and only then, it makes sense.

    Timing is everything.

  18. harry weijs

    i expect that u are aware of this organization that now has in excess of 13 millon me this is the way to try to force chance.parpicipation in the US relativity low,but an org likeNK may expand its influence for the better gratly.

  19. Replica Ray Bans

    Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

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