Thomas Frank: How Democrats Created Liberalism of the Rich

By Thomas Frank, author of the just-published Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books) from which this essay is adapted. He has also written Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, and What’s the Matter With Kansas? among other works. He is the founding editor of The Baffler. Originally published at TomDispatch

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

Let’s go to Boston, Massachusetts, the spiritual homeland of the professional class and a place where the ideology of modern liberalism has been permitted to grow and flourish without challenge or restraint. As the seat of American higher learning, it seems unsurprising that Boston should anchor one of the most Democratic of states, a place where elected Republicans (like the new governor) are highly unusual. This is the city that virtually invented the blue-state economic model, in which prosperity arises from higher education and the knowledge-based industries that surround it.

The coming of post-industrial society has treated this most ancient of American cities extremely well. Massachusetts routinely occupies the number one spot on the State New Economy Index, a measure of how “knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven, and innovation-based” a place happens to be. Boston ranks high on many of Richard Florida’s statistical indices of approbation — in 2003, it was number one on the “creative class index,” number three in innovation and in high tech — and his many books marvel at the city’s concentration of venture capital, its allure to young people, or the time it enticed some firm away from some unenlightened locale in the hinterlands.

Boston’s knowledge economy is the best, and it is the oldest. Boston’s metro area encompasses some 85 private colleges and universities, the greatest concentration of higher-ed institutions in the country — probably in the world. The region has all the ancillary advantages to show for this: a highly educated population, an unusually large number of patents, and more Nobel laureates than any other city in the country.

The city’s Route 128 corridor was the original model for a suburban tech district, lined ever since it was built with defense contractors and computer manufacturers. The suburbs situated along this golden thoroughfare are among the wealthiest municipalities in the nation, populated by engineers, lawyers, and aerospace workers. Their public schools are excellent, their downtowns are cute, and back in the seventies their socially enlightened residents were the prototype for the figure of the “suburban liberal.”

Another prototype: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, situated in Cambridge, is where our modern conception of the university as an incubator for business enterprises began. According to a report on MIT’s achievements in this category, the school’s alumni have started nearly 26,000 companies over the years, including Intel, Hewlett Packard, and Qualcomm. If you were to take those 26,000 companies as a separate nation, the report tells us, its economy would be one of the most productive in the world.

Then there are Boston’s many biotech and pharmaceutical concerns, grouped together in what is known as the “life sciences super cluster,” which, properly understood, is part of an “ecosystem” in which PhDs can “partner” with venture capitalists and in which big pharmaceutical firms can acquire small ones. While other industries shrivel, the Boston super cluster grows, with the life-sciences professionals of the world lighting out for the Athens of America and the massive new “innovation centers” shoehorning themselves one after the other into the crowded academic suburb of Cambridge.

To think about it slightly more critically, Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and which increase at a far more rapid pace than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, 30 grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, that another category in which Massachusetts ranks highly is inequality. Once the visitor leaves the brainy bustle of Boston, he discovers that this state is filled with wreckage — with former manufacturing towns in which workers watch their way of life draining away, and with cities that are little more than warehouses for people on Medicare. According to one survey, Massachusetts has the eighth-worst rate of income inequality among the states; by another metric it ranks fourth. However you choose to measure the diverging fortunes of the country’s top 10% and the rest, Massachusetts always seems to finish among the nation’s most unequal places.

Seething City on a Cliff

You can see what I mean when you visit Fall River, an old mill town 50 miles south of Boston. Median household income in that city is $33,000, among the lowest in the state; unemployment is among the highest, 15% in March 2014, nearly five years after the recession ended. Twenty-three percent of Fall River’s inhabitants live in poverty. The city lost its many fabric-making concerns decades ago and with them it lost its reason for being. People have been deserting the place for decades.

Many of the empty factories in which their ancestors worked are still standing, however. Solid nineteenth-century structures of granite or brick, these huge boxes dominate the city visually — there always seems to be one or two of them in the vista, contrasting painfully with whatever colorful plastic fast-food joint has been slapped up next door.

Most of the old factories are boarded up, unmistakable emblems of hopelessness right up to the roof. But the ones that have been successfully repurposed are in some ways even worse, filled as they often are with enterprises offering cheap suits or help with drug addiction. A clinic in the hulk of one abandoned mill has a sign on the window reading simply “Cancer & Blood.”

The effect of all this is to remind you with every prospect that this is a place and a way of life from which the politicians have withdrawn their blessing. Like so many other American scenes, this one is the product of decades of deindustrialization, engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats. This is a place where affluence never returns — not because affluence for Fall River is impossible or unimaginable, but because our country’s leaders have blandly accepted a social order that constantly bids down the wages of people like these while bidding up the rewards for innovators, creatives, and professionals.

Even the city’s one real hope for new employment opportunities — an Amazon warehouse that is now in the planning stages — will serve to lock in this relationship. If all goes according to plan, and if Amazon sticks to the practices it has pioneered elsewhere, people from Fall River will one day get to do exhausting work with few benefits while being electronically monitored for efficiency, in order to save the affluent customers of nearby Boston a few pennies when they buy books or electronics.

But that is all in the future. These days, the local newspaper publishes an endless stream of stories about drug arrests, shootings, drunk-driving crashes, the stupidity of local politicians, and the lamentable surplus of “affordable housing.” The town is up to its eyeballs in wrathful bitterness against public workers. As in: Why do they deserve a decent life when the rest of us have no chance at all? It’s every man for himself here in a “competition for crumbs,” as a Fall River friend puts it.

The Great Entrepreneurial Awakening

If Fall River is pocked with empty mills, the streets of Boston are dotted with facilities intended to make innovation and entrepreneurship easy and convenient. I was surprised to discover, during the time I spent exploring the city’s political landscape, that Boston boasts a full-blown Innovation District, a disused industrial neighborhood that has actually been zoned creative — a projection of the post-industrial blue-state ideal onto the urban grid itself. The heart of the neighborhood is a building called “District Hall” — “Boston’s New Home for Innovation” — which appeared to me to be a glorified multipurpose room, enclosed in a sharply angular façade, and sharing a roof with a restaurant that offers “inventive cuisine for innovative people.” The Wi-Fi was free, the screens on the walls displayed famous quotations about creativity, and the walls themselves were covered with a high-gloss finish meant to be written on with dry-erase markers; but otherwise it was not much different from an ordinary public library. Aside from not having anything to read, that is.

This was my introduction to the innovation infrastructure of the city, much of it built up by entrepreneurs shrewdly angling to grab a piece of the entrepreneur craze. There are “co-working” spaces, shared offices for startups that can’t afford the real thing. There are startup “incubators” and startup “accelerators,” which aim to ease the innovator’s eternal struggle with an uncaring public: the Startup Institute, for example, and the famous MassChallenge, the “World’s Largest Startup Accelerator,” which runs an annual competition for new companies and hands out prizes at the end.

And then there are the innovation Democrats, led by former Governor Deval Patrick, who presided over the Massachusetts government from 2007 to 2015. He is typical of liberal-class leaders; you might even say he is their most successful exemplar. Everyone seems to like him, even his opponents. He is a witty and affable public speaker as well as a man of competence, a highly educated technocrat who is comfortable in corporate surroundings. Thanks to his upbringing in a Chicago housing project, he also understands the plight of the poor, and (perhaps best of all) he is an honest politician in a state accustomed to wide-open corruption. Patrick was also the first black governor of Massachusetts and, in some ways, an ideal Democrat for the era of Barack Obama — who, as it happens, is one of his closest political allies.

As governor, Patrick became a kind of missionary for the innovation cult. “The Massachusetts economy is an innovation economy,” he liked to declare, and he made similar comments countless times, slightly varying the order of the optimistic keywords: “Innovation is a centerpiece of the Massachusetts economy,” et cetera. The governor opened “innovation schools,” a species of ramped-up charter school. He signed the “Social Innovation Compact,” which had something to do with meeting “the private sector’s need for skilled entry-level professional talent.” In a 2009 speech called “The Innovation Economy,” Patrick elaborated the political theory of innovation in greater detail, telling an audience of corporate types in Silicon Valley about Massachusetts’s “high concentration of brainpower” and “world-class” universities, and how “we in government are actively partnering with the private sector and the universities, to strengthen our innovation industries.”

What did all of this inno-talk mean? Much of the time, it was pure applesauce — standard-issue platitudes to be rolled out every time some pharmaceutical company opened an office building somewhere in the state.

On some occasions, Patrick’s favorite buzzword came with a gigantic price tag, like the billion dollars in subsidies and tax breaks that the governor authorized in 2008 to encourage pharmaceutical and biotech companies to do business in Massachusetts. On still other occasions, favoring inno has meant bulldozing the people in its path — for instance, the taxi drivers whose livelihoods are being usurped by ridesharing apps like Uber. When these workers staged a variety of protests in the Boston area, Patrick intervened decisively on the side of the distant software company. Apparently convenience for the people who ride in taxis was more important than good pay for people who drive those taxis. It probably didn’t hurt that Uber had hired a former Patrick aide as a lobbyist, but the real point was, of course, innovation: Uber was the future, the taxi drivers were the past, and the path for Massachusetts was obvious.

A short while later, Patrick became something of an innovator himself. After his time as governor came to an end last year, he won a job as a managing director of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that was founded by his predecessor Mitt Romney — and that had been so powerfully denounced by Democrats during the 2012 election. Patrick spoke about the job like it was just another startup: “It was a happy and timely coincidence I was interested in building a business that Bain was also interested in building,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Romney reportedly phoned him with congratulations.

Entrepreneurs First

At a 2014 celebration of Governor Patrick’s innovation leadership, Google’s Eric Schmidt announced that “if you want to solve the economic problems of the U.S., create more entrepreneurs.” That sort of sums up the ideology in this corporate commonwealth: Entrepreneurs first. But how has such a doctrine become holy writ in a party dedicated to the welfare of the common man? And how has all this come to pass in the liberal state of Massachusetts?

The answer is that I’ve got the wrong liberalism. The kind of liberalism that has dominated Massachusetts for the last few decades isn’t the stuff of Franklin Roosevelt or the United Auto Workers; it’s the Route 128/suburban-professionals variety. (Senator Elizabeth Warren is the great exception to this rule.) Professional-class liberals aren’t really alarmed by oversized rewards for society’s winners. On the contrary, this seems natural to them — because they are society’s winners. The liberalism of professionals just does not extend to matters of inequality; this is the area where soft hearts abruptly turn hard.

Innovation liberalism is “a liberalism of the rich,” to use the straightforward phrase of local labor leader Harris Gruman. This doctrine has no patience with the idea that everyone should share in society’s wealth. What Massachusetts liberals pine for, by and large, is a more perfect meritocracy — a system where the essential thing is to ensure that the truly talented get into the right schools and then get to rise through the ranks of society. Unfortunately, however, as the blue-state model makes painfully clear, there is no solidarity in a meritocracy. The ideology of educational achievement conveniently negates any esteem we might feel for the poorly graduated.

This is a curious phenomenon, is it not? A blue state where the Democrats maintain transparent connections to high finance and big pharma; where they have deliberately chosen distant software barons over working-class members of their own society; and where their chief economic proposals have to do with promoting “innovation,” a grand and promising idea that remains suspiciously vague. Nor can these innovation Democrats claim that their hands were forced by Republicans. They came up with this program all on their own.

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  1. allan

    As if on cue:

    Boston Welcomes General Electric As Company Disputes EPA Cleanup Plan

    When Massachusetts officials put on a luncheon feting General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt last week, they were celebrating the company’s decision to accept hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer incentives and move to the state. At the same time, however, GE is not backing off its refusal to fully remove the toxins it dumped in one of Massachusetts’ largest waterways.


      1. Pookah Harvey

        P.S. From the above NYT story:

        “What does GE’s headquarters bring? There are the jobs, for sure. About 800 people work at the Fairfield headquarters. Its new Boston office will include 200 corporate jobs and about 600 tech-oriented jobs: designers, programmers and the like.”

        “But GE is closing down a valve factory in Avon, eliminating roughly 300 local, largely blue-collar jobs — and shifting the work that’s done there to a new plant in Florida.”

        What a deal for Mass middle class taxpayers.

        1. Pookah Harvey

          Sorry about multiple replies but decided to check out the valve plant move. GE got a $15,400,000 tax incentive from Florida and Jacksonville for making the move.

          “I grew up in a family that struggled to get a job,”(Gov.)Scott said during his stop at the JAX Chamber’s office in downtown. “My parents struggled to get jobs. It’s the most important thing you can do for a family.”

          The race to the bottom is obvious. Middle class tax payers make up for tax losses due to these incentives. Taking jobs away from middle class people in Massachusetts to give them to middle class people in Florida just so a giant multinational can cut its tax load is nothing to be proud of.

          1. fresno dan

            Thanks for the links Pookah, and of course, you bring up a great point – the lack of examination of how much these jobs cost, and who the JOBS are FOR, and who is actually paying for them.
            Attributed to Marx that capitalists will sell communists the ropes with which to hang them but probably should be updated that Dems will hang the poor to make the capitalists richer….

  2. animalogic

    I guess, the expression: “the D’s are no better than the R’s” can never be repeated enough. And certainly the concrete evidence of Massachusetts, putting the lie to the nonsense of “the Republicans made us do it” (sook-sook) is useful.
    But, I feel sure, most NC readers are way beyond discussion of the character and differences between the kabuki appearances of the one…sorry, TWO institutional business parties.

      1. David

        The Clinton Bush Establishment Party is just about dividing the spoils.

        They don’t need 320 million people – it will work with 30 million or less

        1. hunkerdown

          But they’re still members of the same player’s union, so taking one for the sport now and again is part of the package.

    1. James Levy

      It depends on where you stand. If you are a woman contemplating having an abortion, or a gay or lesbian citizen, the difference has, over the last 40 years, been stark. If you are a working stiff, the differences are miniscule. I contend those women and homosexuals can no more be thrown overboard than the workers (whose ranks I have joined). It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.

      1. Benedict@Large

        I feel for people on the wrong side of our social issues, but the fact is that you’re never going to come up wit a governing majority unless you are talking about putting food on the dinner table. As soon as you bring the social issues into that group, the group will start to fracture, losing strength until it no longer has that majority. This is how the elite’s divide-and-conquer strategy works.

        1. Pookah Harvey

          This is Nader’s two headed snake. The parties can differentiate on God, guns and gays as long as they both agree to corporate control of the economy. This is the Clinton Third Way legacy that left the Democrats kowtowing to the corporate elites. Hillary continues this tradition.

          Education and healthcare as rights are “unrealistic” in the richest nation the world has ever seen for Hillary. Even while every other advanced nation on the planet provides for it. Why is it unrealistic? Maybe because it will cut into corporate profits.

      2. Ulysses

        “It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.” Absolutely right! Yet I think many working class people are beginning to realize how they have been played by identity politics.

        I heard a self-identified “blue-collar conservative” express it this way: “the republicans always talking about Jesus, but they never try to help the people our Lord cared about. People who are sick, in jail, whatever.”

  3. Ray

    Deindustrialization has been occurring in all advanced OECD nations for the last 40 years, including before and after trade liberalization, before NAFTA, the WTO, Most-Favored Nation Status for China, in countries with strong interventionist industrial policy, and even in countries with strong labor unions.

    De-industrialization, like De-agriculturalism that preceded it, in which 98% of the populace moved from farming to factory jobs, seems to be a fundamental aspect of massive increases in productivity , and advanced economies moving to services.

    The forces that were responsible for this really can’t be laid on the Democrats or Republicans, since it’s occurring everywhere at roughly the same rate. You can see a graph here:

    This can only get worse with the likes of self-driving cars and trucks, mobile e-commerce, warehouse automation, AI based customer support, etc. Moving into the future, fewer people will be needed to produce more with less, in addition to a demographic inversion from a low birth rate producing countries where 30-40% of the population are 65 or older.

    It’s really time to stop playing with partisan politics and past models that imagine a return to the Ozzie and Harriet days of large blue collar labor in manufacturing. Our populations are getting older, and our technology is making work less relevant.

    If anything, we should be looking at a move to universal living income model in which no one needs to work to live, it becomes optional.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      What you are describing is a non-authoritarian fulfillment of Marxist communism. Except unlike Marx, you left out all the conflict that happens in a class society. Pray tell, you seem to be expecting a classless society to appear out of the fulfillment of automation. Human beings aren’t classless creatures. We love division into classes, and the resulting conflict between them, if we aren’t loving ethnic, religious or national conflict.

      1. hunkerdown

        Another evo-soc just-so story? Tell me, how many generations does it take to turn selective breeding into “human nature”?

    2. Massinissa

      What Disturbed Voter is trying to say, is that no major change ever goes unnopposed by those who benefit from the existing system. Be prepared for the oligarchs and their quislings to fight you tooth and nail. If you expect the Masters of the Universe who benefit from modern capitalism to ‘stop playing with partisan politics’ then im afraid youre believing a fairy tale.

      Its called class WARfare for a reason

    3. tony

      The assumption that increasing automation will continue in a world of diminishing natural and energy resources is highly dubious. In societies which do not have privileged access to energy, a lot of work is still performed with human muscle. If the energy resources the rich countries rely upon become scarcer, the same is likely to be the case in what are now rich societies.

      1. nowhere

        Agreed. That automation still requires energy – whether you want to account for the human (food, shelter, etc.) or the machine (resources to produce the machine, resources to program the logic, resources to power the computation, etc.) you can’t escape the 2nd Law.

    4. Left in Wisconsin

      You are not correct that that US deindustrialization has been primarily a function of massive increases in productivity. First of all, mfg productivity has decreased in the US since 2004. (See recent Brookings paper). Second, the vast majority of the increase in overall mfg productivity over recent decades is has been due to giant measured increases in one sector – computers – and those giant measured increases (which are probably mismeasurements) have been accompanied by massive offshoring of manufacturing jobs in this sector, not the elimination of work.

      Also, deindustrialization is not like de-farming because farmers could move to higher productivity work, where as laid off factory workers are having to move, when they can find work at all, from high productivity work to low productivity work.

      fewer people will be needed to produce more with less: this has been the case for the last 100+ years at least yet has never led to the elimination of work. Indeed, average workdays are longer now than they were 50 years ago and most families have more people working today than families did 50 years ago.

    5. Eric

      Tony: Increasing automation will absolutely occur and increase, irrespective of current rates of resource extraction from the ground. Here is why: as resource prices increase, capital will begin to apply AI, etc. to the task of maximizing efficiency in recycling, etc – in order to continue the march towards elimination of the variable price input they despise most (humans). As far as energy goes, keep in mind that solar is rapidly increasing in efficiency too. Add to that, the following: there are trillions of tons of scrap metal that, absent the need to pay humans to harvest and handle them for recycling, can be reused to make more robots. If you are a 95% automated company, you locate your factories in hellholes like Death Valley where solar is cheap. You make robots whose task is to make more robots from scavenged metal, precious metals, rare-earths, etc.

      The thing is, the holders of capital are now (or are all becoming) fundamentally sociopathic. Ultimately, in order to stem the tide of automation (that, goshdarnit, they wish they wouldn’t have to resort to, but darn those pesky wages and benefits and so on), minimum wage laws will be eliminated. I see this in comment sections all the time – if you allow people to compete on price, the lowest will always win.

      If, following a long period of rentier-extraction of all economic value (i.e. forced liquidiation of any assets the workers hold, sales of personal belongings, you fill in the blanks), the final answer is dystopian nightmare. Eventually, it will be accepted that people will be allowed to indenture themselves again. Those agreements become currency – tradeable like bonds or other instruments. Eventually, the rich, having used up everything else to buy/sell/crapify will resort to the outright trading in human lives – it’s easy to envision a world in which one obligates oneself at, say, 16, to 30 years of labor and your contract is then bought or sold by the rich depending on your apparent worth.

      All of this will be sanctioned and embraced by the collective sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome that we are all becoming.

    6. pfitzsimon

      But why do those negotiating our trade deals do everything possible to protect agriculture even though it employs few while telling us that manufacturing is gotta go because it’s too productive?

  4. I Have Strange Dreams

    Frank finally gets it: Liberalism still means the same thing it did 150 years ago.

    1. Massinissa

      Curious, other than things like Free Trade and voting rights for white men, what else does it mean? Are there things Im forgetting? Because those are what come to mind.

  5. DakotabornKansan

    What Thomas Frank writes is a measure of our civilization.

    It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of light, it is the season of darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair.

    Everyone wants the American dream. But the dream isn’t there anymore. Most fall more than they climb.

    Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, writes that “Growing class segregation means that rich Americans and poor Americans are living, learning, and raising children in increasingly separate and unequal worlds, removing the stepping-stones to upward mobility.”

    The politicians and the media tell us that we have to further tighten our belts and live on hay, while the collapse of the middle class continues to accelerate, and promise us pie in the sky. What a mockery!

    The masses, having been deceived, are now agitated and in ferment.

    “Long ago it was said that “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat. There came a time when the discomfort and consequent upheavals so violent, that it was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter. Information on the subject has been accumulating rapidly since, and the whole world has had its hands full answering for its old ignorance.” – Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives

    To future times the face of what now is!

    1. diptherio

      What a great (and apropos) quote! Thanks. Now I’m going to have to look into what else went down around 1890…the more things change.

  6. Larry

    Politicians ultimately serve their most important constituents, which across the country means the wealthy. In traditional Democratic enclaves where getting out the vote meant giving out benefits like housing and health care, the pressure from the masses is no longer there. Rather, whoever raises the most money for campaign cash is able to win most elections. Scott Brown tapped into the dissatisfied and down trodden of the state for his brief turn as our Republican representative in the Senate, but he turned out to be nothing more than a barn jacket driving an F150. Moreover, witness the massive rewards that are now possible for retired technocrats. Deval Patrick made a fantastic wage as a lawyer prior to being governor and now waltzes into Bain Capital to continue harvesting economic gains. Why would a politician do anything to bite the hand that feeds it?

    1. cojo

      Another fitting quote from “that” time:
      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
      Upton Sinclair Jr.

  7. John

    “Google’s Eric Schmidt announced that “if you want to solve the economic problems of the U.S., create more entrepreneurs.”’

    Entrepreneurs are going to solve the problem that Americans
    only have money for gas, food, health insurance and rent?


  8. DWD

    The thing that gets lost in all of these discussions concerning inequality and the changing nature of work and education is that all of these things are the result of policy changes.

    Yes. We did it.

    Willfully and purposefully.

    And those who benefit the most and therefore are able to contribute the most to professional associations and personal giving continue to demand that these policies not only continue on the same track but that new wrinkles be added to aid the people giving the money to do even better – whether it is regulatory, statute, or enforcement of existing laws; all of these can be enhanced for the rich and successful.

    At this point the working class person (whether by choice or necessity) has no champion. A few years ago The Onion posted a faux news story detailing how the American People had hired lobbyists to influence policy.

    Like too much of the Onion’s Stuff, the lampoon becomes the harpoon as it flies directly to the heart of the matter.

    Again what is missing is that these things are the result of policy not some organic sea-change as the poster above delineates. (For the policies that are fomenting these changes are copied around the world – “improved” – in come cases and sent back creating an endless loop of denigration for working folks)

    IOW, change the policies, change the outcome.

    It really is that simple.

    Well, the idea is simple anyway.

    1. diptherio

      We did it.

      Willfully and purposefully.

      Who’s this “we” you speak of, kemosabe? Those with the power to influence policy have designed these outcomes. I have never been among them. Have you?

      But you are correct in asserting that what we are seeing is the result purposeful action. The policies are bad, but before we will be able to really change them, I think, we’ll need to re-frame the debate in such a way that every possible solution turns out to be a win for the elites. We need to get back to basics. What is the economy for? Hint, not making money.

    2. Massinissa

      Are you an oligarch of some kind? If not, then saying that ‘we did it’ is wrong, because the oligarchs bought all the politicians and had them enact these changes. To blame the electorate when the majority of choices available to vote for were pre-selected to be answerable only to the masters of capital seems to me to be disingenuous.

  9. mad as hell.

    I’m glad Mr. Frank didn’t mention “Boston Strong”. There’s a term that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The Boston that was so strong that it was shut down and stilled for a while by two brothers then one remaining brother, the teenager. A primer for how to apply Marshall law to populous American cities during times of trouble. “Coming soon to a city near you”, if need be.

  10. Torsten

    The attitudes were no different in Massachusetts fifty years ago, but you had to venture into Southie or Roxbury or Fall River to see past the liberal rhetoric and observe the contempt the gownies held for the townies. All that has changed is that now the manufacturing jobs are gone; only the contempt remains.

  11. mle detroit

    Same essay posted at theamericanconservative com (!), also with thoughtful comments like these: go look.

  12. farrokh bulsara

    Whither the bolsheviks? This sure explains how HRC won the MA primary essentially by winning only the Boston metro area.


  13. Tim

    Frank doesn’t really mention though that de-industrialization in places like Fall River started even before World War II. To be fair at this point it was textile mills and tanneries moving to other places in the US with cheaper labor(i.e. the South). So Massachusetts historically was really not hurt per say by free trade with other countries but free trade within the United States.

    1. Lexington

      That’s a reductionist argument, like saying that since you already had a cold the fact you’ve now been diagnosed with cancer really isn’t that big a deal. It’s important to disaggregate different trends and analyze their distinct contributions to changes in economic fortunes. Such an analysis is likely to show that while the migration of some industries from the North to the South, largely to exploit cheap labour, did have some non negligible regional impact the effect was completely swamped by the subsequent shock of trade liberalization and globalization. The initial movement involved labour intensive low skill light industries while the latter saw the decimation of the heavy industries that were once the bedrock of the American economy. Moreover, fluctuations in employment patterns within the US doesn’t effect aggregate employment and output, while the outsourcing of jobs overseas represents the dead loss of both, not to mention the negative impact on the trade account of having to import all the things that were once produced domestically.

  14. michael k phippen

    Thanks for your comparison article on MA, maybe you should look at Minnesota the only state that has been mostly democrat for the longest period. Of course if you did you could not manage your theme it just would not play-

  15. Brindle

     The Nation has mostly the same excerpt of Frank’s book and gives it a headline that is a misdirect—“Why Have Democrats Failed in the State Where They’re Most Likely to Succeed?”….The Democrats didn’t “fail”, the leaders of the party were successful in their desired outcome.

  16. michael

    I guess you forgot to look at Minnesota, it would be uncomfortable for you to so as it would not support your theme –

  17. Ranger Rick

    Remember when Boston wanted to bankroll the corrupt Olympic Games and the general population rose up as one and said “no!” in much less polite terms?

    There’s hope yet.

  18. Keith

    If only it was just a US phenomenon.

    A two party system has been rolled out globally where the choice is:

    1) Neo-Liberal (Left flavour)
    2) Neo-Liberal (Right flavour)

    In the UK we used to have three parties Labour, Conservative and Liberal. Now there is no room between the slightly left and slightly right parties and the Liberals have been squeezed out of existence.

    Unfortunately the Neo-liberal ideology failed in 2008.

    Everyone has now noticed the Neo-Liberal, Centrist main parties are not working in the interests of the electorate.

    Unconditional bailouts for bankers and austerity for the people.

    How can there be any doubt?

    New parties or leaders are required that aren’t, Neo-Liberal centrists.

    In Europe we have Podemos, Syriza and Five Star with a myriad of right wing parties including Golden Dawn.

    In the UK, UKIP and Corbyn.

    In the US, Trump, Sanders and the Tea Party.

    The elite haven’t quite worked out how badly they have failed their electorate.

    Get out of your ivory towers and discover the new reality.

    1. Keith

      UK based.

      It is important to establish the difference between Liberal and Labour/Socialist.

      Where even the UK term Labour, and US term Socialist, are just versions of Capitalism that lie on the Left, not true Socialism.

      Liberals are left leaning elitists who are always using words like “populist” to show their disdain for the masses.

      They want those lower down to have reasonable lives but very much believe the elite should run things, people like them.

      New Labour were really Liberals, but the UK election system meant they had to hide under the Labour banner to get into power. They lived in places like Hampstead where they never had to mix with the hoi polloi and believed in private schools, so their children don’t have to mix with the great unwashed.

      Labour/Socialists represent the people and identify with them.

      With the technocrat elite messing things up globally it is time for real Labour and Socialists to make their presence felt.

      There is a world of difference between Liberals and the real Left and a three party system makes sense.

      The New Labour sympathisers need to get themselves under the correct banner, Liberal.

      The US needs a third party too.

      Clinton – elitist Liberal
      Sanders – Left

    2. Massinissa

      Have you not been reading news about Greece for several years? Syriza is neoliberal to the core, it was a Trojan horse of a political party.

  19. susan the other

    All those innovative new spin-off businesses will fail. Most of them. There are only so many things an economy needs. A bubble of innovation isn’t one of them. But it is good for the “consumer” as Hillary tells us, because competition. Progress. So everyone can have more cheap crap. Who says we have been deindustrialized? All this misbegotten innovation is going to bury us under mountains of garbage. Just to keep the economy churning. We are not just wasting time and resources for the sake of a bad idea, we are creating critical mass. It’s almost as if policy makers think that if we don’t all run around in a frenzy of creativity the world will stop turning. Liberalism is a silly, self indulgent thing.

    1. James Levy

      I think you are largely right but let’s give the devil his due: most of us would not like to return to the world of 1760 before the first stuttering steps of industrial innovation. It was a world even more unequal and authoritarian than our own. So when people talk about progress and innovation, they have history and some powerful evidence from the past to call upon. The question now is appropriateness, which I think is what you are driving at. We need to determine as a community what is appropriate for our future well-being and how we want to use the technology we have, under democratic control, to make a better future than the consumerist ecological disaster looming close on our horizon.

    2. Lexington

      “Innovation” is what limousine liberals propose to offer the masses in place of secure employment and a decent standard of living. It’s effectively old fashioned social Darwinism -innovate or die- dressed up in fadish contemporary buisiness-speak that provides an ideological justification for throwing the masses overboard while flattering their own prejudices about “meritocracy”, “flexible labour markets”, and what have you.

      As you said most of these businesses will fail, because the idea that innovation is an end in itself is a conceit dreamed up by business school professors who have never spent a day running the day to day operations (like meeting payroll) of an actual business. In reality innovation is largely a serendipitous process that can’t be taught in classrooms and is at best only slightly responsive to external support (“incubation”). Very often it is largely dependent on dumb luck – the proverbial being “in the right place at the right time”. People like Deval Patrick are never going to acknowledge that however because to do so would be to admit -first of all to themselves- that having championed policies that stripped workers of security and a respectable livelihood what they are offering them in its place amounts to a handful of beans.

  20. Punta Pete

    For at least 30 years Democrats have run on a platform of ‘Identity Politics’ which pits gays against straits, people of color against whites, skeptics against the religious, immigrants against nativists, etc. In short, deviding the country against itself in almost every demographic category except the one that really counts – labor against capital. The party once led by FDR who famously welcomed the hatred and wrath of Wall Street is now led by the likes of Chuck Shumer and Steney Hoyer who have their heads so far up the ass-end of Wall Street that it’s amazing that either one of them can still breathe.

    1. Dave

      “Gays against straits”? Almost as good as “marshall law”.

      Remember, he who controls language, controls thoughts. Notice how the use of language forces concepts?

      “Gay,” and “straight,” in a sexual sense, are words invented, promoted and used by homosexuals.They are biased words.

      “Homosexual” and “heterosexual” are neutral terms and are thus more democratic and unloaded with preconceptions, bias or hate.

  21. JohnnyGL

    $145M in tax breaks for 800 jobs that we stole from CT! Innovation!!!

    I’m guessing employees aren’t going to get paid the $181,250 a year that that comes out to? Perhaps the state could have just hired 800 people and saved a bundle. But then we couldn’t brag about how we have so many world class businesses based right here!!!

    So, where’s the money coming from???

    “The city’s education budget is $50 million short, despite a $13 million hike in school spending.”

    “Schools are facing the deficit due to rising costs and declining state and federal aid.”

    Oh right, that’s where. Sometimes, it’s like you can actually watch our wonderful leaders making our society worse, more unequal right before your very eyes?!?!?!

    1. JohnnyGL

      It’s also worth pointing out that this is one of the few states (possibly the only) where Trump has exceeded 50% of the Republican Primary vote.

  22. Paul Tioxon

    I just got Thomas Frank’s new book, and so far it seems to have gathered together in a coherent narrative the journey of the leadership of the Democratic party to split off from the blue collar workers who used to fill the factories. We no longer have the factories to occupy the time of the least educated, and the dems have done precious little to confront this problem. I don’t know what else he has to say about his ideas towards the middle and end of his book, but I know the real conclusion should be that the work week needs to continue to drop down another couple of days. The level of automation and smart manufacturing design from the past 100 years has steady improvements in productivity. The vast majority of our time is simply no longer required to sustain the standard of living and increases in productivity. We may need to give over 3 Eight hour days to work for the economy, the rest of the time should be left to own pursuit of happiness while we live the short span allotted to us in the world.

    The economic restructuring is a political decision making process that so far, no one party as a whole has picked up as their primary unifying cause. While there are plenty of dems who have a working class politics, they are in a minority within the dems.And while they understand the value of supporting a tech based new economy, that doesn’t mean we still don’t needs tables and chairs, refrigerators and stoves and other manufactured goods. It may mean we need fewer people to make them, but the other alternatives for people without college or professional degrees needs to be supported in numbers required to give everyone a decent paying job.

    There is enough deferred maintenance of falling down buildings, homeless people that can be housed in abandoned homes, potholes in roads, bad bridges, not to mention the enormous transition to solar and wind power. The social order needs to change to allow people a quality standard of living from our economic activity. And our economic activity can not just be based upon apps, video games and 3-D printed birthday cakes. We still need to eat, so we did not abandon agriculture. We still like to live in comfortable homes, so we do not have to abandon furniture making. And we all benefit from being educated and healthy. All of our industrial base does not have to be jettisoned for the sake of computers and the internet of everything. We still need something manufactured if we are going to put the internet inside of it, whatever it maybe.

  23. Political Economist

    The best way to encourage innovation is to assure a strong safety net so that everyone can innovate. The Scandinavian countries lead in measures of innovation (look it up). The US is also a leader but only because of the large presence of government (read the book, “The Entrepreneurial State).

  24. gary

    Artisanal furniture, Artisanal coffee. Artisanal this and Artisanal that
    but Artisanal Liberals, Artisanal Democrates, now that’s where it’s at!

    ~ a forgotten forklift driver who doesn’t deserve a decent life because a decent life costs more here than it does in Asia, with the difference going to those who don’t need it for anything more than cocktail party bragging rights

  25. Plenue

    Seems like Frank has finally caught up to what Mike Davis and Chris Hedges have been saying for decades. What’s the Matter with Kansas? was in large part him berating voters for ‘voting against their own best interests’. No, they cared about having jobs, correctly saw that the Democrats had completely screwed them over on that front, and voted for Republicans promising to put them back to work. The Republicans predictably turned out to be no better; the voters are trapped within the two-party duopoly, but from their perspective they were voting in their own economic interests. The Democrats utterly suck, that’s the biggest driver of people voting Republican.

  26. Claudia

    I don’t think despair is required here. The Neo-Liberalism that Frank describes is meant to work for the top 10%- and no one else.

    For nearly 50 years the ‘watch the birdie’ lesser-of-two-weevils two-party crowd have played us cheap and served their Corporate masters. Now that many are fed up and waking up, this old scam just isn’t working anymore. That’s cause for rejoicing!

  27. Gary

    “His ignorance is gonna do him in and nobody’s gonna cry
    Because his children they are growing up
    With bigots and their silver cups they’re fed up
    They might throw up on you”

    ~Stephen Stills, “Word Games”

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