Masaccio: The Sorry State of Progressives on Economic Issues

Yves here. This post gives a historical account of how “progressives” have become a shadow of their former selves. It overlaps with a 2013 post, Why Progressives Are Lame.

By Ed Walker, who writes as masaccio at Firedoglake. You can follow him at Twitter at @MasaccioFDL, and here’s his author page at Firedoglake.

The Economist says Eric Holder is the most liberal US Attorney General in recent memory, and explains with a quote from one of those liberals at MSNBC:

[He] has shown amazing leadership on the issue of LGBT rights. He’s challenged Republican restrictions on voting rights. He’s fought for sentencing reforms. He’s condemned “Stand Your Ground” laws and showed effective leadership during the crisis in Ferguson. He cleared the way for Colorado and the state of Washington to pursue marijuana legalization. He’s worked to reverse the disenfranchisement of the formerly incarcerated.

Buzzfeed sent a couple of reporters out to interview nominally progressive groups about a replacement for Holder,   and they all confirmed that they think Holder is with them on their issues, except, of course, national security and spying on US citizens. They interviewed the ACLU, sentencing reform groups, LGBT groups, and vote protection groups.

That’s a lot of liberal box ticking, but what’s missing? That’s right, not a single word about the real power of the office, the right and duty to enforce securities and anti-trust laws against white collar criminals. On those issues, Eric Holder stands further to the right than most Republican AGs. And what’s really sickening is that not a single one of these groups thought to mention these crucial economic law enforcement in their list of demands for a replacement for Holder. It’s just one more indication of the absence of progressives from all discussion of the economy.

Before we see how this happened, I want to point out that progressives are doing a lot of good work on financial matters, including the SEIU and others on the minimum wage, and those working on health care like National Nurses United and Physicians for a National Health Program. I am especially impressed with the work done by the FACT Coalition which is working effectively towards tax reform. This group is a good example of different organizations putting staff and efforts behind a coordinated push for economic fairness.

There are a number of powerful writers on these issues as well, including Bill Black on control fraud, Dave Dayen on the housing disaster, and blogs like this one which keep a sharp focus on the FIRE sector and its predatory tactics. Still, neither the Economist nor Buzzfeed thinks these individuals are worthy of consultation on the priorities of a new AG.

It wasn’t always like this. Here’s a short refresher on economic issues and politics. Beginning in the late 1800s, there was a powerful wave of economic liberalism, fiercely and sometimes violently opposed to the rampant capitalism of the times. Outbreaks of violence include the Ludlow Massacre, the Pullman Strike, and the Homestead Strike, where states and the federal government and armed thugs attacked striking working people and their families. Sometimes there were electoral fights such as the campaigns of William Jennings Bryan as a Democrat demanding Free Silver and trust-busting (along with his support for prohibition and against Darwinism).  Journalism in the form of the muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair was a vital and vibrant part of the US political scene. I read The Pit and The Octopus by Frank Norris in high school, and they showed in melodrama both the extent of the crimes of the rich of that era, and the damage they did to hard-working people.

The progressives and their labor class supporters had some successes, but many of them were stolen by the Supreme Court in cases like the 1905 decision in Lochner v. New York, which struck down New York’s 60-hour work week for bakers over a vigorous dissent by Oliver Wendell Holmes. That process of victories in the legislature destroyed by the Supreme Court was a constant in the early 1900s. As legislative victories turned to dust, economic progressives became more aggressive. Leftist intellectuals and labor leaders turned to Socialism and Marxism as alternatives to bloody capitalism. Workers continued to strike and there was violence in the streets. The economic elites continued to use their control of state and national government to put down those strikes with more intense violence. The few public figures who espoused Socialism were subject to bad-faith prosecutions and jailed, among them Eugene Debs, jailed on specious charges on the watch of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and his horrid Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. This was an early example of Democrats running from the shadows of non-capitalist economic theory.

When the Depression came and deepened, the nation seemed to teeter between bitter acceptance and bitter anger. Roosevelt was elected, and progressives played a major role in the economic reforms he adopted. Eventually the Supreme Court was cowed into submission and the absurd idea that they were capable of dealing with economic issues was shelved for a while. The leftist intellectuals of the day were able to install the New Deal and the economy began to recover.  With the advent of the Second World War, the economy thrived.

The economic elites suffered short term defeat in the 30s and 40s, but unfortunately, their views were not eradicated. The Republicans took over Congress in the wake of the war, and launched an assault on the Democratic party and its labor allies as infiltrated with communists and socialists. The attack on labor resulted in the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, weakening the ability of unions to organize and setting the stage for further weakening of the union movement and the ability of the working class to protect itself. Majorities of both parties joined approving the bill and in overriding President Truman’s veto.

It probably wasn’t necessary to attack the Democrats, because they were purging themselves. They had already thrown out the Communists and Socialists, and with the advent of the red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy and the slimy attacks of Richard Nixon and others, they became even more cowardly. Soon they and all their academic and intellectual allies (there were still people identified as intellectuals in those olden days) had joined in what the sociologist C. Wright Mills called the “American Celebration”. They all pledged allegiance to the premise that the US was the exceptional and indispensable nation, and that the capitalist system was the most perfect of all possible systems. The great projects of the 30s were now cemented in law, and protection of those gains became the only goal of the self-neutered left. In an essay titled On Knowledge and Power, Mills wrote

 As the administrative liberalism of the Thirties has been swallowed up by economic boom and military fright, the noisier political initiative has been seized by a small group of petty conservatives, which on the middle levels of power, has managed to set the tone of public life. Exploiting the American fright of the new international situation for their own purposes, these political primitives have attacked not only the ideas of the New and Fair Deals; they have attacked the history of those administrations, and the biographies of those who took part in them.

On the one hand, we have seen a decayed and frightened liberalism, and on the other hand, the insecure and ruthless fury of political gangsters.

That analysis holds up well for an essay published in 1955 in Dissent Magazine, which kindly provided me with a copy. It puts an end-date to the idea of a left organized to deal with economic issues. The only thing the left had was recriminations among themselves, social issues beginning with Civil Rights, and, of course, the Viet Nam War. That war, I think, solidified the wall between labor and the active left, because most unions supported a war that was anathema to leftists.

It turns out that the Socialists and other leftists never really had much influence on the economic policies of FDR. The actual policies were drafted by reformist Democrats, who believed that tight economic substantive regulation would solve the problems created by rampant capitalism. They and FDR effectively co-opted the activists seeking genuine change, people like the millions of supporters of the Townsend Plan who had to accept FDR’s Social Security, a much weaker version of that proposal. It was easy for the Democratic party to dump the few real leftists and start their inexorable movement away from leftist economic issues and towards the American Celebration of Capitalism.

Things are worse now. The putative left is required to prostrate itself before the altar of neoliberal economics. They must at every opportunity explain that their policies are business and market friendly, and will cause more and more economic growth. They can’t just point out that we are poisoning the planet and argue that we should stop, they have to say that wind and solar power will produce economic growth. Apparently health is irrelevant in the neoliberal marketplace of “ideas”.

We cannot expect leadership from politicians. Each of them is hostage to the money primary. They spend hours every day calling rich people and asking for money. They aren’t going to do anything that might make that miserable job any worse. More bluntly, they are all chosen in the first place because they won’t rock the boat, at the policy level, the party level, and certainly at the biting the hand that gets them elected level. Speaking for myself, I’d say that they are true believers in neoliberal economics, and simply cannot comprehend the possibility that there are other and better ways to think about the economy. Others have harsher views, and they may be right. As a side note, the disconnect between the way politicians perceive themselves and the way the public perceives them is astonishing. Check out the series at Esquire, like this one.

The unwillingness of politicians to lead was never more clear than it is this year, in the wake of the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, and the raft of data flooding us about the sickening inequality of wealth in this country and globally and the likelihood that it will get worse. The Republican responses are hypocritical and bone-ignorant. The Democrats translate clear prose and simple graphs into a murk of stupid talk about “social mobility”, “equality of opportunity”, and the rare mention of “income inequality”. As far as I know, no Democrat has ever described wealth inequality as an actual problem. The issues of wealth and income inequality galvanize voters but you won’t see them discussed in the race to the absurd that constitutes the US electoral process.

And that brings us back to the issue of nominally liberal interest groups, the groups that didn’t think it was important that the new AG be interested in law enforcement against white collar criminals and anti-trust law. There are few organizations which support progressive economics. There are only various levels of support for a failed neoliberal theory and the rich people who love it. All nominally progressive organizations get massive donations from the rich too, and that probably explains why they are mute in the face of the greatest financial disaster of our lifetimes, so far. They don’t acknowledge that there won’t be change on their issues as long as money dominates the political process, and that only by forcing the filthy rich to defend their pig behavior through taxes and harsh criminal sanctions can we hope to see any of the good policies they support come to pass.

If we want fair economic policy, or any other progressive issue that involves money, we have to take away the advantage the rich hold. A good first step would be to withhold donations to organizations that don’t actively support progressive economic initiatives, and funnel those donations to groups that do.

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  1. DJG

    A particular problem is that the Democrats have detached the idea of social well-being from a well-run economy. Homo homini lupus. That applies to the uses of money and the power distortions caused by money. There is a strange idea that it is possible to be comfortable in a same-sex marriage or to live as as “postracial” black in a country with enormous income inequality and deformed (resultant) power arrangements. But the government is spying on Bob and Ted’s wedding, too. And there is no postracial America without major economic reforms because American black people are an oppressed social class (mainly so, I believe). The Republicans, unfortunately, mainly think that hierarchy is just great for everyone. Toeing the line is good self-discipline. And these attitudes are considered political stances, these days.

  2. susan the other

    The banks have always run politix. Money always wins. Which is why it is disconcerting to now, in a time of extreme inequality, get the unmistakable feeling that politix is dead.

    1. Banger

      No bankers don’t always run politics–they have always been a power but not THE power. At the moment Finance is THE power. Wages and productivity went up at, more or less, the same rate through most of our history until the late seventies when financialization of the economy and our political system began. Now productivity can rise and there’s no rise in real wages.

      1. susan the other

        Just thinking about all the previous power brokers like the Dulles brothers who came from a banking family; the Bushes, the same; all the east coast blue bloods like the Lodges and Dean Acheson and how JP Morgan stepped in to take over the reins of the country before we had the Fed. I think the difference between the banksters ruling politix and financialization designing a banker-friendly world is very small but financialization comes at the end (or it brought the end) of an era. The era of exploitation for profit. Wages. The environment. you know.

        1. Ignacio 2

          Capitalists have been the dominant (not the only) power since the fall of the old order in the West, and now worldwide (probably). But capitalist is a broad term, the interests of financiers for example not always has been the same as the interests of industrial capitalists.

          Now it’s more homogeneous because big biz & the state have become deeply involved in the financialization machine forming an almost homogeneous symbiotic system of wealth extraction. So there are no internal frictions and no capacity for the public to leverage, through political action, upon those. in that sense I agree with Banger.

        2. petercoop

          “If the attempt is successful (to pass the Federal Reserve Act, then pending in Congress) , it will be the first and most important step toward changing our form of government…… from a democracy to an autocracy .
          No imperial government in Europe would venture to suggest, much less enact, legislation of this kind. “”

          Sen Nelson Aldrich speech to the Academy of Political Science in NYC.

          au·toc·ra·cy noun \ȯ-ˈtä-krə-sē\ : a form of government in which a country is ruled by a person or group with total power

          The bankers run this town……. by design of their money system.

    2. petercoop

      First, the failure of progressives to grasp economic system understandings and realities PALES in comparison to their money system understandings.
      For instance…
      Senator Nelson Aldrich, designer of the Federal Reserve Act, while pending in the US Congress, in a speech to the Academy of Political Science, as documented in the Aldrich Proceedings of the Academy….
      “”If the attempt is successful, it will be the first and most important step toward changing our form of government…… from a democracy to an autocracy .
      No imperial government in Europe would venture to suggest, much less enact, legislation of this kind. “”
      au·toc·ra·cy noun \ȯ-ˈtä-krə-sē\ : a form of government in which a country is ruled by a person or group with total power

      So, today we HAVE an autocracy for sure, yet progressive debate whether that FRB system of private design and profit is part of the government, or not. Why is that…….. because Wray found that Money IS Debt ???

      We have Martin Wolf calling for an end to that system, and replacing with government debt-free money issuance.
      Where are the ‘progressives’ on that one, progs??
      Pitiful. Indeed, tragic.

      1. Auburn Parks

        Only ignorant conspiracy theorists think the Fed is a private organisation.

        “The Federal Reserve System fulfills its public mission as an independent entity within government. It is not “owned” by anyone and is not a private, profit-making institution.

        As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve derives its authority from the Congress of the United States. It is considered an independent central bank because its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by the Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms.

        However, the Federal Reserve is subject to oversight by the Congress, which often reviews the Federal Reserve’s activities and can alter its responsibilities by statute. Therefore, the Federal Reserve can be more accurately described as “independent within the government” rather than “independent of government.”

        All private corporations remit their profits back to the Govt, $320 Billion just since 2010. Oh wait they dont.

    1. diptherio

      Oh yes, a one-party oligarchy would be so much better than the two-party one we’ve got now.

      Let me guess, you’re one of these people who think the problem with politics is too many Republicans in office. Did you read the article above? Did you understand a single word of it? Didn’t think so…

      1. Tyler

        The Republican Party is far worse than the Democratic Party. At least the Democrats have a Progressive Caucus. Are you really going to argue that people like Barbara Lee and Keith Ellison are awful human beings?

        The Republicans are fascists. They’re pure evil.

        1. Jess

          The Republicans are fascists? Implying that the Dems aren’t? Must be nice, that delusional cloud you live in. Here’s a news flash: If you use Mussolini’s classic definition of fascism as the marriage of business and government, then we’re already there and Obama is our Il Duce. Embedding lethal capitalist health insurance companies in the health care sector and calling it reform? Letting the banksters all skate on criminal prosecutions for the greatest theft in history? No prosecution for torture and war crimes because Obama and the Dems feast at the same MIC teat as the Republicans?

          The Dems are worse than the R’s because the Dems still pretend that they care. The Progressive Caucus is a painful, gutless joke. Kucinich caved in on HCR, as did Grayson, Boxer, Pelosi, and every other so-called “progressive”. Warren is a pro-war hawk, staunch defender of anything Israel does, and opposes single payer health care. If she’s a progressive, all hope is lost.

          1. Tyler

            There’s no evidence that Mussolini defined fascism as the marriage of business and government. Find me a reputable site that attributes that definition of fascism to Mussolini.

            The Democrats are the lesser of two evils.

            1. Jess

              Turns out you’re half-right; the accuracy of the Mussolni quote is in question, although it should be noted that the question is whether he wrote it as part of an essay or simply might have said it at some point.

              OTOH, from Wiki:

              Originally, “fascism” referred to a political movement that was linked with corporatism and existed in Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini.

    2. LifelongLib

      The Republican Party is a catch-all for people who think that America has been on the wrong path since (pick your date) 1865, 1935, 1965, 1995… There are enough of them that something like the Republican Party will continue to exist no matter how many people vote.

      1. hunkerdown

        And as long as they have marketed themselves as Grandpa’s revanchists, there will be a need for Whigs to sell *reverse* revanchism, that is, in a back-to-the-future style.

  3. Banger

    The Democratic Party does exactly what the Republican Party does. It caters to tribal/cultural differences to garner votes and serves the oligarchs in all other areas. The exception are that both parties cater to different oligarch factions. The Democrats are more Goldman-Sachs, the Republicans more Walmart.

    1. David Lentini

      In the end, they’re all Wall Street. The right sells the public on less government, which is less regulation and law enforcement for the rich, while selling them on an illusion of personal responsibility and self-made riches that could be theirs if only the gov’mint didn’t get in the way; the left sells the public on “personal freedom”, incluidng the right to get rich, all the while knowing that the rich can do what they want to anyway.

      So, both sides play everyone against the middle. Until we develop a new vision of a society—and social obligations—we’ll be stuck here until something breaks.

      1. bruno marr

        Excellent observation. We all may be unique in some way, but we are individuals who live in and have responsibilities to a larger (civil?) society. (Personally, I’m distraught at the number of folks literally begging for food and money today, in my location.)

      1. Sam Adams

        HillBillary was brought up Walmart but was educated and graduated to Goldman SacKs. Enviornment vs. Nature argument.

  4. washunate

    Masaccio, I’m not sure you actually answer the headline question? There is no common meaning of progressive. Some are comfortable with a war footing and centralized decision-making. Others are wary of it. The authoritarians of various stripes have used this split to concentrate wealth and power for several decades now.

    except, of course, national security

    Isn’t that, like, the key area of disagreement? Especially for the ACLU? Why would one expect them to be focusing on financial fraud? They’re one of the few organizations dedicated to the Bill of Rights, the nation’s guardian of liberty as they like to put it. The ACLU is about as far from what is wrong with our country as it gets.

    1. diptherio

      Maybe it’s just my misunderstanding of the legalese involved, but ISTM that “equal protection” under the law would include a requirement that elite criminals go to jail just the same as everyone else.

      This dividing and sub-dividing of issues (civil rights vs. economic rights) that are actually indivisible is yet another thing wrong with the left, imo.

      1. washunate

        I don’t know why as an organizational philosophy we would expect every group to advocate every issue?

        There are technical and procedural and even credential matters involved in many policy areas, from healthcare to national security. Quite the opposite, I think it’s rather healthy having a few groups like the ACLU focused specifically on liberty, or like FAMM, that is focused specifically on working within the system to reduce sentencing rigidity. Or like PNHP, focused specifically on healthcare. Forcing the ACLU to start advocating who ought to be subject to the state in addition to who ought not be is a potentially disastrous form of mission creep. At the very least, it distracts focus and splits competency. This is especially true in such a central area as national security because there are so few organizations even capable, let alone willing, of taking on the government in court with anything remotely resembling a chance to succeed.

        The author doesn’t even really make an argument to be evaluated, while he simultaneously tries to downplay the central importance of the assault on Constitutional governance, as if opposing the Administration on national security is some kind of minor sideshow. He simply asserts that one shouldn’t give money to the ACLU or FAMM. Because WWII and Buzzfeed, apparently.

        In fact, if there’s one group worth calling out for their silence on bank bailouts and financial fraud, it might actually be the SEIU, a group Masaccio holds up as an example of what to do. As a union, they are at the center of both wage stagnation and pensions. It’s their silence and wishy-washyness that is much more impactful than the silence of organizations focused on other matters.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Yep. The SEIU were also instrumental in funding the apparatchiks who pushed the public option magic sparkle pony, and also imposing a news blackout on single payer during the passage of ObamaCare (i.e., the daily news feed on health care they funded never mentioned single payer, not once).

    2. Ed Walker Post author

      It’s not surprising that all groups have separate focuses. The problem is that they all ignore the reason they are losing. The big money wins every time. The only way to stop that is to insure that the big money loses the ability to attack. The way to do that is to attack big money while you attack on your issue. I point to the FACT Coalition as the effort of a huge number of groups to do something about the rotten tax evasion system. They all continue their work, but this Coalition is focused on the money. Why isn’t every progressive group doing that?

      As I point out, the original progressives recognized the need to attack the filthy rich. They had specific issues, but they won because the rich were afraid of socialism, ie, very high taxes and as an alternative, increased violence.

      Or you could ignore the concentration of wealth and assume that your technical arguments will somehow overcome the resistance of big money. What do you think will happen when the middle class wakes up to the realization that their wealth and prospects have been stripped away? Do you think it will be peaceful? Do you think the ACLU will lead the way forward? Do you think the current crop of corporatist democrats will lead change? What do you think will bring change?

      It’s clear that the liberal elites are on the side of big money. As I note, the academic community has deserted the economic field. How do you propose to change that?

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Yes, there’s the singular unifying “theory if everything” that must coalesce the resistance to neoliberal plutocracy. “The love of money IS the root of all evil,” but Americans have been conditioned to its worship — idolatry and plutolatry, taking the amassing of wealth by whatever dubious means as an honor and sign of divine blessing. Until the taboo of treating the rich and shameless as anything less than untouchable demi-gods is broken, the piecemeal social-issue gains of special liberal interests will be marginal and hollow. Diversity may foster strength but only in solidarity, and it’s time for leader(s) who will unapologetically tackle the fundamental issue of economic inequality which has eroded the constitution and democracy. There is no such thing as equality of opportunity without a degree of income parity.

      2. washunate

        Personally, I would offer a slightly different perspective. Not the love of money. Rather, the love of power. That is the root problem, the will to dominate. I agree money is a subcomponent of power, a tool, just not the whole story.

        I actually think there is too much focus on money, on economics, that that itself is one of the problems on the ‘left’.

        As far as the ‘original progressives’, that I think really highlights our challenge of what constitutes a modern notion of progressivism or leftism or whatever. In terms of direct politics, the Progressive Party was built around one man. That’s not a sustainable model. And that man, like all human beings, was a complicated and nuanced individual. Can we take some components of progressivism (such as worker rights and environmentalism) while leaving behind others (in particular, the war mongering)? No way does TR ever even become President without imperialism in Cuba. And guess what, Cuba still haunts us today, from sanctions to prisoner abuse. And then of course there’s WWI and WWII and the Roosevelt family basically singlehandedly destroyed any lingering notions that perhaps isolationism is an important voice in the chorus of American politics. And of course one of the ironies of MMT is that the other major legacy of FDR is social insurance, something that MMT decides to let whither rather than enhance. Jobs programs in the 1930s were to accomplish specific projects, and the most lasting pieces of legislation are the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. If we simply amended the SSA and FLSA to offer health and unemployment insurance for all and decent wages and working conditions for the employed, there would be no need for abuse-prone make-work projects of an ELR model.

        Also, we’re in a fundamentally different position. A century ago, government was too small, both in terms of power and money. But that problem has been rectified. The federal government is now an enormous entity, and state and local governments are sizable in their own right, too. This presents a different set of problems to identify and address.

        Anyway, I fully support calling out the fauxgressive groups. I just think it’s okay to have some groups working within the system to try and mitigate some of the damage. Otherwise, what are you proposing? That no legal group should ever oppose the government because it’s a waste of money? There’s way too much preventable suffering for me to be comfortable with that.

    3. Carla

      washunate: “The ACLU is about as far from what is wrong with our country as it gets.”

      You do know, of course, that the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United. Which by my lights, would put the ACLU about as close to what is wrong with our country as it gets. But that’s just me.

      1. washunate

        What does Citizens United have to do with what is wrong, though? I’d say it’s a symptom, a warning signal that the system is broken, not a cause. At any rate, it’s one of many policy areas, and they have a pretty well thought out argument on it.

        I guess I’m not comfortable with the notion that the only valuable kind of organization is one that agrees with you 100%. I think groupthink is one of our primary problems, so I like groups that are willing to zealously advocate a principle. Plus, and this gets back to the main point of the article, the ACLU isn’t a ‘progressive’ or ‘leftist’ group. That’s not their role. They’re an American group, one whose loyalty and interest lies in the individual rights protected by the Constitution of the United States. That there is some interpretation and controversy involved in what they do means they’re doing something right, I’d say.

        When you can disagree with something, you know where they stand. It’s the people and groups that don’t seem to stand for anything that are the problem.

  5. Cujo359

    The article doesn’t complain that some progressive organizations didn’t mention the issue of financial fraud, but that none of them did. Of course, it’s possible that The Economist didn’t see fit to mention those, but given the POV of that magazine, I’d think they would have made a point of it. I wouldn’t have expected the ACLU to have raised a fuss on that point, but what about labor unions?

  6. Left in Wisconsin

    There is, and has been for at least the last 50 years, a huge gulf between cultural progressives and the economic left. I see two reasons why they get lumped together as “progressives,” “liberals,” or “the left.” It makes it easier for cultural progressives who are not economic leftists to hog the political space. And it makes it easier for the other “side” (that uneasy coalition of corporate capital and religious fundamentalism) to keep the focus on cultural issues and away from economic ones.

  7. David Lentini

    While I agree with the main thrust of the piece, statements like this, “Beginning in the late 1800s, there was a powerful wave of economic liberalism, fiercely and sometimes violently opposed to the rampant capitalism of the times”, only make me shake my head.

    The capitalists were the economic liberals. The masses opposing them were a varied bunch, organized in different ways and under different banners. Between about 1870 and 1890 the dominant opposition, albeit largely in the Southwest, South, and Midwest, were the Populists, who foremost wanted to break the power of the great eastern banks. That’s where the “free-silver” movement started, in order to break the gold standard. But Mark Hanna, Karl Rove’s icon, used that movement to discredit the Populists and actually launch a strain of Progressives who argued that “adult”, “scientific” supervision of the economy was needed to save capitalism from the great unwashed mob of ignorant Populists. This end produced the likes of the FTC, Sherman Acts, and the Federal Reserve.

    Another huge movement was the Social Gospel movement, which also appears as a Progressive strain through the likes of Jane Addams and Randolph Bourne. From this movement, we get many of the great social innovations of that age. We also got the eugenics movement.

    And of course, the Progressive movement destroyed itself by getting behind the effort by Wall Street to drag the US into WWI.

    The original Progressives were a varied bunch, so much so that many historians claim there is little useful in the name. They were a far cry from today’s Progressives, who are largely foucsed on single issue politics and who have no real large-scale social vision. As with their earlier namesakes, one reason for this is that Progressivism is largely identified with the educated and intellectuals, who are live among the élites and eventually succumb to their economic views, leaving only questions of personal freedom for differences. This describes quite well the transformation of the Democrats from a working-class party of FDR to the corporatists of Clinton and Obama.

      1. montanamaven

        I agree that this is a very good comment.

        The original Progressives were a varied bunch, so much so that many historians claim there is little useful in the name.

        I think it’s high time we stop writing and reading essays on why progressives are lame, suck, are losers, are back stabbing bamboozlers and come up with a whole new narrative or at least rekindle the idea of cooperative communities and the mutual aid societies of the early left libertarian/ anarchist movements. The Wobblies fought, yes fought, for shorter work days and work weeks, not “progress” i.e. working yourself to death for the GDP. “Progress” needs redefinition or retire it.

    1. Yves Smith

      Actually, no. Read Railroading Economics, by Michael Perelman. Ruinous price competition among railroads, which were the most politically powerful business of its day, lead for businessmen to call for controls in order to create what the Japanese would call “orderly markets”. This was a widely held view at that time.

      1. David Lentini

        I’m not sure I understand your comment Yves. There was far more going on than just railroad price wars in that period. Lawrence Goodwyn has written excellent histories about the populsts in that period, explaining the “free silver” movement. Theodore Roosevelt’s impatience with the industrialits and Wall Street was well known.

        1. hemeantwell

          Other writers support Perelman’s argument about capital seeking to regulate competition, and not just by gaining monopoly status. Weinstein’s “The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State” is very good on this. This went beyond market organization, e.g. regulation of the meatpacking industry got the support of some corporations because they were interested in establishing confidence in their product.

          1. David Lentini

            I understand that and also agree. In fact Karl Polyani points out that the original reforms undertaken in Britain in the mid-1800s were driven by businesses that found capitalism too destructive. And I made a similar point in trying to describe the branch of Progressives that focused on regulating capitalism.

            But I don’t belive that hard-pressed busnesses were the only source of reform pressure—they certainly didn’t argue for workers benefits, regulated work hours, health benefits, union rights and the like. As usual, it was the story of “only for me, and not for thee.” There was a lot to this story, as I tried to point out, and focusing on one aspect in isolation does an injustice.

            Nor do I believe that railroad story justifies the juxtaposition of “economic liberalism” and “rampant capitalism” as Masaccio did. Strictly speaking, they’re the same thing, as I tried to point out. What it really shows is that the rampant capitalists had to reject economic liberalism at some point or risk losing everything, either to each other or to social chaos.

    2. not_me

      “That’s where the “free-silver” movement started, in order to break the gold standard.” David Lentini

      Under the gold specie standard, anyone in possession of gold bullion could deposit it at a mint where it would be processed into gold coins. Less a nominal seigniorage to cover processing costs, the coins would then be paid to the depositor; this was free coinage of gold by definition. The objective of the free silver movement was that the mints should accept and process silver bullion according to the same principle, …

      Both “free gold coinage” and “free silver coinage” are morally bogus since they both amount to the creation of fiat by the private sector. But fiat should ONLY be created by monetarily sovereign governments and it should be as inexpensive as is practical.

      … notwithstanding the fact that the market value of the silver in circulating coins of the United States was substantially less than face value.[3] from

      But the same might be said about gold in that gold’s market value was boosted by its convertibility into fiat!

  8. OIFVet

    All nominally progressive organizations get massive donations from the rich too, and that probably explains why they are mute in the face of the greatest financial disaster of our lifetimes, so far. They don’t acknowledge that there won’t be change on their issues as long as money dominates the political process

    What say you, Banger?

    1. Banger

      Depends which rich people. The rich run it–that’s a fact and there is no avoiding that and no discernable counter-movement. So, I believe, there are rich people sympathetic to the idea that we ought to create what we might agree is a decent society–we may disagree about what that looks like but that’s were dialogue/dialectic comes in. Again, what’s the alternative? No tall rich people are the same and not all poor people are the same–most do fall somewhere near stereotype but not all.

      1. Eureka Springs

        So, I believe, there are rich people sympathetic to the idea that we ought to create what we might agree is a decent society

        Name a few, por favor?

  9. James Levy

    I think a big problem is the cultural understanding of what fairness means. When proposing substantive changes that would take away from the rich/owners to help the poor/workers, the “liberals” are stymied by the claim made by the right that such actions are “unfair.” For the Conservative, life is by definition unfair. However, they see this unfairness in two distinct flavors–“natural” and “unnatural.” The unfairness that some who work prosper and some who work still live miserably is simply ascribed to God or Nature’s way of doing things. That children of the poor go hungry is simply a signal for the poor to be more industrious (yes, I know that’s often bullshit, but it is axiomatically true for millions of Americans). Thus, the lousy state of the poor and the workers is just the way things are–perhaps in some abstract way unfair, but the nature of things nonetheless. Anything done to change it would be “unnatural”, willful unfairness forced on society by nudnik do-gooders (this is just Burke boiled down to essentials).
    Most liberals have no answer to this. They would have to challenge all the assumptions they have about how much they themselves “deserve” what they have, and what right anyone would have to assess that and find their own place and privileges unwarranted, in order to get beyond this “how can you take something away from me to help someone I don’t even know–that’s unfair!” argument. Advances for women, blacks, and gays (all of which are absolutely great in my opinion and I’d love to see them go even further) have been predicated on the “fairness doctrine”. The idea is that to give an equal chance to a woman takes nothing away from anyone else but simply reinforces and expands the capitalist ideals of competition and efficiency. The old system where the dumbest white guy had to have a higher position in the hierarchy than the smartest black guy was, from a capitalist perspective, stupid and counterproductive. So liberalism and capitalism could find themselves allies in the struggle against Jim Crow. But wealth redistribution is a zero sum game. Whatever the worker and the consumer gets is going to come out of the pocket of the “haves.” There is no “reasonable” and non-confrontational way for this to happen. The Liberal would have to admit that there are winners and losers, and redefine the notion of “fair” in an ethical rather than an instrumental way. This is economically, psychologically, and philosophically very difficult or impossible for the educated class of modern liberals. They therefor wring their hands at the inequality and lack of opportunity and all the rest of the ills that befall us, and have no answer other than hoping that nice men come along and change all that nastiness in the interests of the common good and the long-term stability of the established order.

    1. steelhead23

      While I agree with much of the essay and have enjoyed reading comments, I simply had to stop. Folks seem to be arguing that economic progressives were subsumed by poor alliances and half-way measures that reduced suffering and took the wind out of their sails. That is true enough, but I think it misses the effects of mass media and propaganda. Power comes from exerting influence. At the time of the Haymarket event, I would guess (I truly do not know) that the actions of a single bomber were laid at the feet of the labor movement by the influence peddlers. Similarly, the murders of the Czar and his family in Russia, likely lead to the demonization of Lenin and communism. Today, I recognize that in my youth (50s and 60s) much of what I was taught of U.S. history was sanitized and propagandized. Communists were “dirty commies,” etc. I also note that even today, we use the word progressive as if what we all want is progress. In fact, rampant progress has led man to the edge of catastrophe. To call oneself a communist or socialist, at least in this country, is to self-identify as a pariah. Hence, the fact that the Democratic Party is today a staunchly neo-liberal, pro-corporate organization is not so much a defection from labor and workers as it is a response to entrenched popular views, many of which are held even by the working poor.

      I then tend to believe that the blame does not lie in the cowardly and feckless leaders of the Democratic Party as much as it lies in our general willingness to self-marginalize ourselves and our beliefs. How many of you are willing to identify yourselves as socialists? Recommend marginal tax rates near 90% for the wealthiest americans? Socialized medicine? A right to a job? How many of you are willing to shout down your local school boards when they censor history At some point, we need to stand up, speak truth to power, and take our lumps as the come.

      1. bruno marr

        But it’s sooo much easier to let Matt Taibbi contextualize all that for us ;)

        No change unless from thy self.

  10. Jackrabbit

    We should always make a distinction between the institutional left/institutional progressives that use race and gender issues to scare up votes and real progressives that want to tackle real problems.


    Language has become a battleground. : (

    H O P

  11. impermanence

    The increasing complexity of human life insures that we move further and further from the truth. For example, the enactment of a national health care system would greatly improve the quality of life the of nearly all Americans. What prevents this from taking place is complexity of forms.

    If you can simplify processes, the truth of the matter would reveal itself. This is why all institutions create complexity as cover, not just as method of administration.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      “To what extent is the truth capable of being known?” asked Soren Kierkegaard, in the first sentence of The Philosophical Fragments. Eventually, he proposed his own answer: “Subjectivity is the truth.”
      I agree with Kierkegaard. There is no objective truth to know. There is no real actor called truth that has any power to reveal itself, or any power to do anything at all. There is only consensus among self-referential subjective beings seeking to satisfy an emotional need for agreement with other beings like themselves.

      “Objectivists” are tyrants: Not only Ayn Randian “Ojbectivists”; but also all totalitarians, including those who call themselves Marxists, socialists, progressives, whatever; everyone who believes that their own ideas are better than other people’s, and therefore other people should be guided by their views. “Objective Truth” is a lie that liars tell in order to deceive and gain advantage over the uncritical.

      Do you want to know the truth that will set you free? Then seriously heed the ancient admonition “Know thyself!” Know thyself well enough to know thine own limitations. Learn humility. Learn patience. Learn to practice the ancient virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice in your dealings with your next door neighbor. Know yourself as the person that is always becoming what it already is.

      1. Bunk McNulty

        Anyone can get away with proclaiming Truth. But the intention to deceive can more easily be uncovered. It seems to me that we are having an epidemic of lying–and it seems to be going largely untreated.

      2. hemeantwell

        Yikes. What are you talking about? Most of here know the truth of rising inequality, of radical expansion of state surveillance, of racism, etc. These cautionary paeans to the subjective often end up weakening it by either producing cynicism or ineffectual spirituality.

  12. Yonatan

    “‘Progressives’ have become a shadow of their former selves”.

    That implies passive change. Actually it was the result of deliberate actions, particularly the co-option of leaders, the subordination of NGOs and ‘left’ parties actually running policies to the right of their predecessor ‘right’ parties. What was once a plausible two party establishment is now a single party establishment with two public faces. This is the true meaning of ‘There Is Not Alternative’ beloved of Thatcher and her like.

    1. Yves Smith

      Read the Kline essay I linked to, Progressively Losing. He argues that progressivism was always a moral cause, and progressives care more about being right than winning. It’s when progressives were aligned with radicals, who had economic grievances, that they got stuff done.

      So the progresssives basically were always weak but now are obviously weak by not longer being allied with radicals.

      1. MaroonBulldog

        “Being right”–and getting others to agree what one is right–is a false ideological pursuit–if “being right” means to hold and articulate a theoretically correct perception and narrative of the state of the world and how it comes to be the way it is “Being right” in this sense is only a pursuit; it is not even goal, because it is not attainable. If that is what “being right” means, then I agree with the conclusion that it is a critical flaw of “progressive” aspiration.

        The agreement that matters is agreement concerning what to do, and which part one is to take in getting it done. If you and I are cooperating to get the same thing done, what does it matter whether or not we share common subjective opinions about why we are doing it?

        So if you want to deal with radicals, go ahead, more power to you! You don’t need to worry about them turning on you, once the common enemy is out of the way. Oh, I know that was a problem for the Old Bolsheviks who co-conspired with Stalin, but there aren’t people in the world like Stalin any more.

      2. not_me

        He argues that progressivism was always a moral cause, Yves Smith

        I disagree. In my teens I considered myself a Progressive and those beliefs then correspond to this:

        The Progressives strongly supported scientific methods as applied to economics, government, industry, finance, medicine, schooling, theology, education, and even the family. They closely followed advances underway at the time in Western Europe[8] and adopted numerous policies, such as a major transformation of the banking system by creating the Federal Reserve System in 1913.[9] Reformers felt that old-fashioned ways meant waste and inefficiency, and eagerly sought out the “one best system”.[10][11] from [bold added]

        “Pragmatic Modernists” is a more accurate description since a central bank, for instance, is just about the furthest thing in the world from moral since it is based on usury and systematic oppression of the poor.

  13. TarheelDem

    This is an excellent overview, but progressives need to disabuse themselves of the idea that the Democratic Party ever was a party of liberal reform or that the Democratic establishment ever itself pushed for liberal reform, much less reality on economic issues. Despite it’s alliance with the AFL-CIO in the 1950s and 1960s, the Democratic Party never was the party of labor its rhetoric pretended it to be.

    Woodrow Wilson, an arch segregationist was a corporate tool as President of Princeton, Governor or New Jersey, and President of the United States. That’s why his policy in Central America was what it was and why the panic over German subversion was turned into the first Red Scare by Mitchell Palmer, who was the mentor for a young J. Edgar Hoover.

    And labor was willing to undercut itself for identity politics. In the 1938 textile workers strike in the South, which included many desegregated locals, the national unions allowed the suppression of the strike because the northern unions did not want to have to deal with desegregation of their unions. That allowed employers to continue to use minorities as scabs and divide labor against itself. FDR was quite content to allow Southern governors to use the Home Guards (predecessor of the National Guard) to suppress the striking workers on behalf of the Democratic donors who owned the textile mills.

    Labor did not gain power until the CIO wartime strike in which most of the foundational agreements were negotiated and the federal agencies given responsibility for protecting labor actually given real power in order to facilitate the war effort. Many of those agreements were undone by Taft-Hartley–with the votes of Democratic politicians who never were supportive of labor. Anti-labor Democrats assembled the votes for Eisenhower in a lot of states in 1952 and 1956. Only later did they jump to the Republican Party.

    So let’s lay to rest the conflation of progressive and Democratic Party that has so muddled our thinking over the past five decades. The Democratic Party is a big-tent non-ideological party of late dominated by business interests of a distinctively neoliberal cast that are opposed to the business interests in the Republican Party. Which industries are involved in this dance of the two parties changes as the economy evolves, but the corporate cast of both parties has been obvious forever going back to the era of slaveowning planters and national merchants before the Civil War. When push comes to shove, neither party — the Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Money Republicans nor the Farmer and Labor Democrats — have been true friends of working people except when circumstances forced them into that position.

    Now, let’s talk of the real issue here–the lack of progressive clarity on economic issues and economic policy and the too quick retreat into principles and theories.

    And here the rub is the lack of actual power to put sweeping proposals into action from the top down. Or from the federal government down, there is the power to grow an new economy from the local upward. Both in terms of economic institutions and in terms of changes in governmental policies.

    The key level is state government. Here’s why. States regulate incorporation and corporate powers. States also grant or constrain the power of local governments (except in honest-to-goodness “commonwealth” states). In North Carolina, the radical GOP legislature curtailed subdivision and zoning regulations meant to protect watersheds, including the watershed for the water source of the City of Asheville. Without state power, any economic innovation at the local level can be crushed by interests (and the Koch brothers are only one of them) opposed to seeing that alternative succeed. Consider the Fight for $15. People have gotten municipalities to mandate minimum wages of businesses operating in the city. In most states, the state legislature can nullify that. Look at what Michigan has done in Detroit, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, and Flint. That is the economic future if progressives don’t start building some political strength fast instead of waiting for the Democratic Party to do anything and accepting the fait accompli of corporately screened Democratic Party candidates.

    Knowing that, what are the approaches that progressives need to take to economic issues? How many progressives still bank with too-big-to-fail banks? The Occupy Wall Street campaign to move money to credit unions began three years ago. How many progressives still are not shoppers at local farmers markets or local shops? How many have not seen Will Allen’s experiment in urban agriculture in Milwaukee and Chicago? How many have not thought about how to disintermediate oneself and deal directly with customers? How many have not developed community-based scrips for local shopping? Or struggled with the decision-making in trying to get a homeowners association to become an authentic democratically-based economic unit? Or had the same struggles in one type of co-op or another?

    That, not the universities or the blogs or the think tanks, is where the economic future will be worked out. And unfortunately, unlike the 1960s and 1970s, one of the biggest impediments to breaking into that future is people’s current employment and job responsibilities.

    There is a huge contradiction between individual action and the power of social consequences right now that cannot be solved theoretically or ideologically. It requires political discourse about the nitty-gritty things that economics embraces. And strategies of how to disempower those who rely solely on money flow by shutting off our own participation in that flow. And still be able to survive and live with a sustainable quality of life. This is a tough issue. And it will be solved outside of and likely in spite of the current institutions, including government.

    1. wbgonne

      The more I see and read the more I am convinced that what we Progressives really need is organization. We have a lot going for us but we are unfocused, untargeted and ultimately ineffectual. A firm break from the Democratic Party would, IMHO, be the proper place to start because it will clean the slate and remove the primary confounding factor inhibiting new forms of Progressive organization.

      1. TarheelDem

        Progressives and others dealing with the central economic issues had an organization. It was an informal association of people called Occupy Wall Street. And it impacted the public consciousness to the point that it was shut down forcibly by the police. Adding to the plethora of self-serving third parties seems a simple solution. Except electoral politics is the chronological end of the process not the beginning. And it is beginning to seem that even the major parties can’t survive much longer as with traditional party functions. The big money going directly to candidates has bypassed that. All they remain are caucuses in Congress and legislatures and localities that have avoided the ruin of “nonpartisan” elections.

        1. proximity1

          This thread is “Must-reading.”
          RE TD’s comment—

          All of which illustrates a movement which starts from a position of weakness and accepts it as a given. Both parties have done this on occasion. E.g. : The right-wing, concerning abortion rights, took the battle to the states where various groups tried to (with some success) chip around the edges and reduce the value and effect of the right of abortion. With time, their gains actually undermined what was thought to have been won at the national level from Roe v. Wade. That state-level centered strategy made sense since the Republican party had more favorable power-relations in state houses and in governors’ mansions while the Democrats typically controlled both the national legislature and the White House—yes, we’re referring to history here.

          But, today, the state-level picture for those who want the kinds of reforms we’re talking about is not terribly favorable even as the national government has, more often than not, also come under the purview of either outright “conservatives” or reactionaries in the form of Republicans or that of Democrats who, for most practical intents and purposes might as well be Republicans.

          In such circumstances, there is no particular advantage to waging the fight primarily at the level of the 50 separate states, where conservative power is already quite at home. One might as well place what meager resources there are at a national-level fight and try to make gains there, where the outcomes should be felt in every state. If Lochner v. New York did anything, it focused the minds of early 20th century progressives on the fact that U.S. Supreme Court rulings packed a powerful wallop and that winning there (meaning both in the national legislature, the executive and the courts) moved the game-marker ahead quite appreciably. We ought to read not only about the Lochner era [ ] but by the impressive reforms which followed it when the conservative log-jam was broken and so many of Justice Holmes’ former dissents came to be ruling case-law– overturning (at times more or merely de jure than de facto ) decades-long retrograde anti-social legislation.

          I think focusing on state-level action is misguided since the results are going to be scattered and quite dissimilar. They’ll then require further reform efforts later at the national level to harmonize them and all the formerly won battles shall then have to be re-fought.

          Currently–as others have noted in different terms–we have an electoral system which affords us only a very-fine-tuning “knob” while, across the band-width, all we get is static noise. We’ve no effective gross tuning knob to locate a clear frequency signal. So, instead of working on fine-tuning, we need a knob that locates a clear signal–that’s the affair of the nation, not the state or the county–despite that elections (and, not least, public education) are organized and done state-by-state.

          At this point, so much has now been lost, rolled back, degraded, that, waging the fight across 50 states shall mean, I suspect, that the polar ice-caps and wholesome food from natural crops will be long gone before serious significant gains are made politically–to say nothing of other matters such as the death and destruction of myraid wars and insurgencies.

          We no longer posses the luxury of fifty post-World War II years to piddle away over small-bore local and, even nation-state-focused issue-politics. With little time in which to accomplish it, we have to rescue both democratic civil society and the world-wide livable environment from their mutual betrayers and enemies before it’s simply too late to even make an organized attempt. Both moral and scientific facts are heavily in favor of enlightened political progressives and any who pooh-pooh that term as passé are being suicidally foolish.

          This thread is vitally important in its focus–numerous of the following comments haven’t done it the justice it deserved.

          1. TarheelDem

            Unless you have a magic way of persuading 7 billion people to do the right thing, all politics is local persuading one person at a time. It is the 50-year long refusal of progressives to do small-bore politics, especially in perceived hostile territory that has led to this continued erosion and has not provided the popular counterbalance to monetary politics.

            Yes, we’ve now ignored states and ALEC has captured a half dozen of them and created state-level legal obstacles to sane environmental policy. And this election will likely see governors of some of those ALEC states change but not their legislatures because doing 50 separate states is such heavy lifting and the time is growing short. Change Texas and Oklahoma and you change the whole energy and environmental debate. Meanwhile globally, the same forces are putting in trade agreements that will overturn national legislation from the global transnational corporate level. And the defenders of the environment can’t come up with a mulltilevel geographical strategy because doing local is so small-bore. In terms of political power, when you’ve lost global institutions, Congress, the Presidency, state legislatures, and county and municipal governments, the only thing you have left is hope in an epidemic of local neighborhood transformation at the grassroots. Forty years of diddling on the environment have brought us to that point.

            1. proximity1

              “…all politics is local persuading one person at a time. It is the 50-year long refusal of progressives to do small-bore politics, especially in perceived hostile territory that has led to this continued erosion and has not provided the popular counterbalance to monetary politics….”

              I’m not questioning the primacy of first educating and informing, on the contrary, I’m advocating that it be done better, in more strategically effective ways which, in particular, emphasize what may be achieved by focusing on national-level reform. Of course this entails reaching individuals in towns and villages, in cities, and states across the counrty. But the matter concerns what these individuals are told about what has happened and how and why–and where their collective efforts could best be applied. To accomplish that of course requires organized effort which is planned, coordinated and supervised. I don’t dispute that, either.

              You’ve taken a dismissive attitude toward the former gains under FDR and the New Deal when, in fact, we’d be fortunate to have just some of those gains back once more. They were accomplished despite the lack of a 50-state plan of political capture and control; FDR, using 1930s technology, successfully sought and found a national audience to which he effectively communicated some essential political facts about the nation’s political circumstances and plight. To assume that something similar could not possibly be achieved today–in the midst of another economic debacle, and one far less well attended to by national political policy and its administrators–is to accept a diminished regard for the possibilities of our present day which is even more impoverished than that which I take as a working assumption. No one can doubt that there today’s mass communications— both actual and potential–far surpass what FDR had to use.

              If one is going to do one way or the other the same work of organising, of educating and of informing a public which has been left in too much ignorance of its political and economic circumstances, one may as well use the public’s attentions–so gained–to describe and detail the aims and objectives of effective national level reforms, the local and state analogues of which, if the education is effective, should not be lost on the audiences reached and informed. Still, the fact remains that, if all remain exclusively devoted to efforts which do not extend beyond the town-limits, the county-line or the state-line, the power-relations at the national level shall prove a powerful bulwark against the efficacy of these local and state efforts, since, as is well understood by the forces which so effectively control political and electoral affairs currently at all levels, every weakness is exploitable by their ample resources so that, what towns, counties and states may seek to vouchsafe, can be rendered neuter in force by effective national-level–or, indeed, as today’s political world testifies, international -level–measures. While it’s true that the Great Depression presented dire circumstances which lent themselves to an attitude of urgent need to address dire conditions, we have all of that again today–all except the people in influential places who recognize and act on the urgent aspect of our difficulties. We might consider trying to make a full awareness of that factor a prominent part of any effort to change people’s assumptions about the nature of their predicament.

              Since you implied that I pin my hopes and strategic thinking on what you call “magic” means, I want to expressly reject and refuse such a charge as completely antitheticalin both theory and practice to my views.

              The world of people and technology of the 1930s and 40s was no more magical than is our time. Ordinary worldly means and methods and thinking can and should suffice.

              The essential importance of such improved politifal and economic education and public awareness is, of course, what this site is all about it and forms the basis of this site’s importance.

              (Note, on the matter of education, that, despite long participation here, I had to look up and read about the acronym “ALEC” since I wasn’t familiar enough with it to have read and recognized its meaning. If that’s true of me, then relatively few people have ever heard of it. )

    2. proximity1

      RE: “The key level is state government. Here’s why. States regulate incorporation and corporate powers.”

      Well, that’s simply a feature of historical coincidence–a thing which merely happens to be true as things were established once upon a time. But there is no reason why, legally, it could not be quite arranged quite differently. Incorporation could be handled legally at the national level–just as it is in France or in Britain, where, it happens, there are no states in a federal system. Nothing in U.S. law forbids a national-level prerogative over such things. The Constitution’s terms already locate the power to regulate trade and commerce between the states in the (national) Congress. Congress could, under that power, devise and administer national law of incorporation which supercedes the states’ corporate laws.

  14. Andrew Watts

    In a letter to the New Republic entitled “The Twilight of Liberalism” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1919 why liberals/progressives were lame. This was when the hopes and utopian dreams of the progressive movement died with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

    “The ‘liberal-minded’ men feel inclined to blame the President for the defeat of their ideas. They would do well to consider that his defeat is due… to the limitations of liberalism itself. Liberalism is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history. It is the philosophy of the middle aged, lacking the fervency of youth and its willingness to take a chance and accept a challenge.”

    Look at how easily the liberals give up these days. Everything old is new again.

  15. Globus Pallidus XI

    Well, yes.

    But one of the worst things that the rich have done is to so corrupt the language that even the word ‘progressive’ is often associated with an anti-labor pro-rentier agenda.

    Old school progressives like FDR and Samuel Gompers were for a moderate rate of immigration that did not depress wages or increase crowding. Now ‘progressives’ led by sociopaths like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates demand that the borders be opened to the overpopulated third-world so that wages can be crushed into the dirt and billionaires can get even richer. Meanwhile people who champion the working class are maligned as ‘the extreme far right’.

    Check out this piece by Jeff Sessions. It could have been written by FDR!

    So ‘progressives’ who believe in ‘immigration rights’ want to use third-world poverty to crush American workers, and do nothing at all to reduce third-world poverty (because that would hurt global competitiveness and be racist!). The ‘extreme far right’ feel that the American people have a perfect right to limit foreign nationals entry to their country in order to avoid having their wages destroyed, and that we should instead concentrate on helping to lift the third-world up. That’s clearly insensitive and racist and fascist.

    When the rich have bought even the terms of the debate and the definitions of words, well, we are surely in trouble. Senator Sessions is right: the world is turned upside down.

  16. Mattski

    Masaccio’s is an anhistorical POV. How could progressivism per se be the problem? It’s liberalism that now utterly bankrupt, morally and as a social force. Because neoliberalism has pushed it in the direction that it always t(r)ended–preaching economic freedom and conceding to the demands of liberals for sexual freedom while conceding ever more freedom to corporate interests. All of these excesses were inherent even in the post-revolutionary French state (and bourgeoisie, who after all, led the charge for such
    “freedoms” then and in Eastern Europe and elsewhere today), let alone in the demands of English liberals (all of them horrified by the “excesses” of the French liberals). Blair and Clinton–with Obama not far behind–have been perfect exponents of neoliberalism, much more so than a reactionary Thatcher or Reagan. LIBERALISM, as historic philosophy, is the problem; it is dead. The middle class–with its continual structural fear of losing everything, even after it has already lost everything, submerged in endless debt–was never going to lead us anywhere.

  17. Steve

    What options to neoliberalism do we have?
    If we don’t pursue market efficiency, other nations will; capital will move there, eventually giving nations following neoliberal policies economic and political hegemony.
    Therefore, any solution has to be a global solution. Good luck with that.
    Economic policy has to match human nature. Human nature is, in part, greedy. Greed is most effectively
    met by market efficiencies pursued by open markets.
    The idea that we are going to sell social and environmental health at the cost of productivity does not
    dovetail with human nature, imho. But I’m not an economist, and am eager to hear actually viable
    Alternatives to neoliberalism

  18. Oregoncharles

    “and funnel those donations to groups that do” – and which would those be?

    Broadly, for all its virtues, this piece is based on a very common category error: confusing progressives (at least in the current meaning) with Democrats. You can’t really be both (granted, I’m defining progressive much more stringently than he does); the Democratic Party is irredeemably right-wing.

    Personally, I realized that back when Slick Willy was pushing through NAFTA and the WTO. I’ve been a Green ever since.

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