Beat the Right Wing Framing: How to Make the Case for a Better, Fairer Economy

Yves here. This post summarizes a major UK research project in how the right wing has sold its economic policies and how progressives can best counter their PR. This is important reading since the researchers tested and refined various messages to settle on the framings that were most effective. Given that neoliberalism is the dominant ideology in the Anglosphere, these findings seem relevant to the US.

It is probably not news to most of you that that the shift in the political center of gravity to the right in America was no accident. Starting in the 1960s, a group of extreme conservatives, many of them aligned with the John Birch Society, embarked on a program to undo the New Deal and make American values and politics more supportive to business interests. That campaign was codified in the so-called Powell Memo. As we wrote in ECONNED:

….wealthy conservative lawyer and later Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 that galvanized the right wing. He argued that corporations needed to launch a coordinated and sustained attack to discredit liberals. Among the key elements was the creation of a well-funded effort that looked like a “movement” to press its cause with the media. Generously financed “scholars, writers, and thinkers” would demand fair treatment and “equal time” as the wedge for forcing the press to treat them seriously. In turn, they would recast issues, with the aim of reshaping opinion from the elite to the mass level.

Too often, people on the left seem to believe that their team is obviously more virtuous than the other side, and they seem to regard having to sell their case as somehow beneath them. The assumption of moral superiority also leads them to dismiss people who differ with them. That may be emotionally satisfying but it is a lousy political strategy.

While some are too deeply invested in their views to be open to new ideas, the reality is that despite “liberal” having been turned into a borderline dirty word, Americans for decades have polled as consistently supporting “progressive” positions, such as strengthening Social Security and Medicare, taxing the rich, reducing war spending, spending more on infrastructure, strengthening social safety nets. Even though the US has become more conservative, the press also depicts the US as more conservative than it really is. So there is more opportunity to move the debate than you might think.

By Rosie Baines, media training officer for the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) Spokesperson Network. Originally published at openDemocracy

In 2010, the British right wing media and political parties told a very convincing story about the economy that persuaded the public we had no choice but to make massive cuts to public spending. You probably know it already: there was no money left, the economy was like a household budget, we’d maxed out the nation’s credit card, and it was time to tighten our belts. Anyone who watches the news will be familiar with this story, and if you’ve ever gone door knocking, you will have heard people repeat it back to you with total conviction. Since 2010, there have been 120,000 excess deaths linked to austerity, the Red Cross declared a humanitarian crisis in the NHS, and use of foodbanks has soared. Why, in light of all of this, did people still support it?

This was the backdrop for the Framing the Economy project. We believed the public endorsed a right wing story about the economy because progressives had failed to come up with an alternative. There weren’t that many progressive spokespeople on current affairs programmes, and when they were it was like they didn’t know what to say. So four organisations came together to understand how British people understood the economy and what new story could be told to persuade them to share our ideas. The four organisations that led the project were NEF (New Economics Foundation), NEON (New Economy Organisers Network), PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre) and the Frameworks Institute.

Of course a lot has changed since 2010. We didn’t expect the host of The Apprentice to become the American President, for example. But the tumultuous politics of the last eight years do suggest the austerity consensus is breaking down, and that there is a real opportunity for a resonant progressive story about the economy to win public support. After the 2017 election, where the Labour Party defied all odds to destabilise the government on an anti-austerity programme, the need for a project like Framing the Economy seemed more urgent than ever. The public are finally ready to hear about an alternative economy. This project is to help communicators explain how we might create one.

So in June 2016, shortly after 52% of the British public voted to leave the European Union, we got to work. The project consisted of three phases: first, we would conduct in-depth interviews with a cross section of British voters to understand how they conceive of the economy. Second, we would compare these interviews to how progressives think of the same thing, to identify gaps in our ways of thinking. And finally, we would come up with a new and resonant story, rich with metaphor, that would be able to close those gaps. The eventual story would be rigorously tested, so we could safely say it moved people’s thinking from where they were originally to where we wanted them to be.

Our interviews revealed several “cultural models” held by most members of the British public to understand how the economy works. We use the word “how” because cultural models show us how people think of the economy as a whole, rather than what they think about single issues – which is what opinion polls tell us. Cultural models are the durable, deep assumptions we hold to organise information and interpret the world around us. They are shared by all of us. Here are the main cultural models we found:

Cultural Models

What the economy is and how it works

  • People only really understand the economy as the monetary system and expressed this through the metaphor of circulation. They don’t consider things like social care, for example, to be part of the economy.
  • People think the economy is always on the edge of disaster, using language like ‘tumbling’, ‘falling’, and ‘rocketing’ to describe it.
  • People conceive of the economy as a container, with people putting in (contributing) or taking out (draining). The government was assumed to control what goes in and out of the pot, as well as how its contents are distributed.
  • People actually don’t understand how the economy works, by and large – except for in quite limited ways. They also lack confidence in talking about it.
  • People think that the economy exists in competition with the environment – what is good for the environment is thought to be bad for the economy and vice versa.

Why the economy works as it does

  • People think the system is rigged by elites in government, business, and the media who pull the strings of the economy for their own benefit.
  • People viewed the media as having a hidden agenda and were very distrustful. Having said that, several of our participants who said they distrusted the media later dispensed arguments that correspond with popular news frames.
  • People assumed greed is a basic part of human nature: all people are motivated by a desire to enrich themselves, even at the expense of others.

How the economy should work

  • People wanted Britain to have more national self- reliance, producing key products at home and be able to meet its basic needs without relying on other countries. Globalisation and, to a surprisingly small extent, Europe are the foil for this model.
  • People often idealised an earlier time – typically the post-war period – when wages were high, jobs were more secure, inequality was low, there was a greater sense of community, and ‘we did more manufacturing’.
  • People believe the government has overall responsibility for managing the economy.
  • Overall people were extremely fatalistic and didn’t think the economy could be changed for the better. This meant that they often drew a blank when asked about different ways to run the economy.

Telling a New Story

Because we found so much fatalism in the responses of our interviewees, we felt that we could not make economic arguments to the public if there was a pervasive belief that change simply wasn’t possible. For that reason, the story we told argued that the economy had been designed as a result of human choices, made by a small elite, and could be redesigned with different choices. After testing and analysis, we found two powerful but fairly different stories that help shift people’s thinking. If you want to use them in your work, we recommend you read our full report on the project first. It contains lots of information how to best deploy the stories so they’re most effective, and there’s some pointers on what to avoid doing so you don’t undermine your argument.

Story 1: Resisting corporate power

There are a lot of different ways to interpret the term “populism,” so it is important to be clear that when we use the term, we mean a story that pits elites against the people. Story 1 is a fundamentally populist story. It contains the following elements:

  • The value of equality or economic strength
  • The explanatory metaphor of reprogramming the economy
  • An explanation that connects the dots and explains: 1) how corporate elites have programmed the economy and how this has undermined equality/economic strength, and 2) how the economy can be reprogrammed to promote a strong/equal economy.

Here’s a sample message that uses the value of economic strength. Our research shows this value is particularly successful in convincing Conservative voters, but this story can also be employed using the value of equality (but not both at the same time).

Over the last forty years, our government has become a tool of corporations and banks, and as a result our society has served their interests while failing to provide the broad-based supports that our economy needs to work well. This has weakened our economy, so it doesn’t meet people’s needs.

Our economy is like a programme that is constantly being revised and updated. Corporate elites have gained the password to the economy, and have programmed the economy to work well for corporate users. But the public have been locked out, so the parts of the economy they rely on have been neglected. As a result, many users of the economy experience constant glitches, and the economy as a whole doesn’t run well.

By programming the economy for financial services rather than manufacturing, we’ve destroyed the types of good jobs that put money back into the economy. And cutting taxes and privatising industries has undermined our ability to invest in ways that strengthen the economy and keep it running smoothly.

As a society, we need to prioritise a strong economy over the desires of corporations and wealthy elites. We need to reset the password and give control of the economy back to the public. That way, we can reprogramme the economy so it works better. We can create a strong and durable economy by guaranteeing decent wages for the least well-off, investing in local communities, and restoring public ownership of common resources like energy and transport. Creating a good society means taking back the password to the economy from corporate elites and reprogramming the economy so it runs smoothly and makes a good life possible for all users.

Story 2: Meeting our needs

Sometimes it might not be appropriate for communicators to tell a populist story about the economy. So for these cases, we recommend the second story, which doesn’t blame elites but instead focuses on how the economy fails to meet people’s real needs. It includes the following elements:

  • The value of fulfilment
  • The explanatory metaphor of economic tracks
  • An explanation that connects the dots and explains: 1) how our economic tracks have made it difficult for people to reach fulfilling lives, and 2) how the economy can be rebuilt to get people to their real needs.

Here’s a sample message that shows how these elements can be put together:

A good society makes it possible for everyone to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. Yet, our society is currently focused solely on profit, and people are forced to chase money rather than happiness.

Our economy is like a railway network—it’s built to take people to particular places. The laws and policies that we make lay down tracks that determine where the economy takes people. Right now, our economy is built around profit, rather than being built to get people to their true needs. By allowing businesses to use zero-hour contracts, provide low wages, and require people to work more and more hours for the same pay, we have built economic tracks that move profit forward but leave people without the things they need to achieve wellbeing and realise their potential. When people don’t have decent wages or stable jobs, this undermines wellbeing in all sorts of ways. And for those of us who do have stable jobs, the need to work more hours means less time with our families and to pursue our goals in life outside of work.

As a society, we need to prioritise happiness and fulfilment over profit. We need to lay down economic tracks that make it possible for people to arrive at a meaningful life. We can build an economy that gets people to happiness by guaranteeing decent wages for the least well-off, banning zero-hour contracts, and reducing working hours. Creating a good society means laying down economic tracks that enable us to get to our real needs rather than keeping us all on a train whose only destination is profit.

Making Sure People Listen

So we’ve got a new story on the economy. But we need to make sure the public will actually hear it. To do this, NEON is founding a Communications Hub which will provide tools, research and training to make sure people in communications will be able to get the stories we’ve identified into the public sphere as efficiently as possible. We know certain frames already exist in political discourse – like the ‘system is rigged’ cultural model – but progressives need to insert themselves into public debate to make sure these frames are wielded in a way that does convince people to share our ideas.

The Communications Hub will launch in Spring 2018. It will expand on NEON’s existing programme to train progressive spokespeople who appear in the media, as well as introducing new training programmes like a training programme for press officers. The Hub will also help communicators frame their messages effectively, connect communicators in the same sector to one another, and share the latest research on framing and public opinion. In short it will do all of the things communicators should be doing, but simply don’t have time for. With the Communications Hub and the two stories from the Framing the Economy project, NEON will be able to provide the tools for communicators to fundamentally change the way we talk about economy – and then progressives can start telling stories that are as effective and impactful as the one the public bought into about austerity.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    This is great, we need much more of this. I’ve often been reduced to impotent anger at constantly witnessing the utterly awful messaging from the left, from ‘soft’ social democrat types right through to the hard left. Identity politics has made it even worse (maybe a feature, not a bug). I do believe that most people are instinctively anti-corporate and in favour of redistribution and fairer laws – its just that the language itself has been twisted such that attempts to argue for this sound weak or ‘unrealistic’. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard people who are in many ways to the left accept framings such as ‘well, there isn’t enough money to do this’, or ‘people won’t accept higher taxes’, etc., etc.

    The left constantly sabotages itself by setting up as being ‘against’ things instead of actively promoting positive policies. Years ago I simply gave up reading most left wing publications as I could only take so much whinging about the evils of capitalism without any practical alternatives being set out – my love of NC is because this blog actually focuses in an intellectually serious way on real solutions to the problems we face.

    I think is the best legacy of Sanders campaign – he focused relentlessly on what could be done and refused to allow himself to be side-tracked by the issue of the day. He is a model for how all progressive campaigners around the world should realign their arguments.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Part of the problem is that nobody knows what the left or the right or liberal or conservative is supposed to mean anymore. As you note identity politics makes it worse and that is a feature and it was deliberate. So we have ‘liberal’ defined as latte guzzling Volvo drivers and ‘conservative’ defined as gun clutching bible thumpers in the minds of many, while the economic interests they have in common are completely ignored.

      The points in the article are very good but it’s fairly long winded and short on specifics – what constitutes ‘investing in local communities’ for example? That’s the type of phrasing one hears from both sincere reformers and complete charlatans.

      If you want a good political message you need to keep it simple and easy to understand. One word can get the point across and it does not appear in that article – Solidarity.

      When I was a kid, that word was plastered all over the US media every single day in the early 80s. Even as a 10 or 12 year old I could figure out the simple version of what it meant – that we’re all in this together.

      The media was possibly better then than it is now but in hindsight, it’s pretty clear why that was on the news so much in the early 80s – the Cold War was going strong and Lech Walesa represented a threat to the Soviets so he got lots of airtime in the US. The networks didn’t play it solely out of the goodness of their hearts, but regardless of the reasons for it being on the air, that message of Solidarity I first heard nearly 40 years ago still resonates with me today.

      Time to bring it back.

      1. marym

        Time to bring it back.

        Solidarity Forever

        When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
        There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
        Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
        But the union makes us strong.

      2. Jeff N

        Are you from Chicagoland? I remember the “solidarity” bumper stickers everywhere, back then (large Polish population)

      3. WILLIAM

        Dear PlutoniumKun,
        “utterly awful messaging from the left” Why not provide some examples, since it is so easy to be so dismissive!! to me, there is no “the left,” but many different view points.
        “Years ago I simply gave up reading most left wing publications as I could only take so much whinging about the evils of capitalism without any practical alternatives being set out”

        So, after you gave up reading which publications?, you decided to do what? to ‘do the right thing?

        lyman alpha blob — what do we say after pronouncing “solidarity” Douglas Valentine has linked the rise of Lech Walesa with assistance from the CIA/NATO program, to attempt to insure the uni-polar U.S. military dominance, and the continuation, as we see today, of a phony new Cold War. Martin-Marietta & G.E. are quite pleases

        1. KYrocky

          “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.”

          As to slogans, you be the judge:

          2018 – “A Better Deal” or “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” – DNC

          Does that fire you up? How about these side by sides? Can you pick the winners?

          2016 – “Hillary for America” and “Stronger Together” – Hillary vs. “Make America Great Again” – Trump

          2012 – “Forward” – Obama vs. “America’s Comeback Team” and “Restore America Now” – Mitt Romney

          2008 – “Change We Can Believe In”, “Hope” and “Yes We Can” – Obama vs. “Country First” and “Reform, prosperity, and peace” – McCain

          2004 – “A Stronger America” – John Kerry vs “A Safer World and a More Hopeful America” -W Bush

          2000 – “Leadership for the New Millennium” – Al Gore vs. “Compassionate Conservatism” – W Bush

          1996 – “Building a bridge to the twenty-first century” – Bill Clinton vs “The Better Man for a Better America” – Bob Dole

          1992 – “Putting People First” and “It’s the Economy Stupid”– Bill Clinton vs “Stand by the President” George HW Bush

          1988 – “On Your Side” – Mike Dukakis vs “Kinder gentler nation” George HW Bush

          1984 – “America Needs New Leadership” – Walter Mondale vs “Let’s Make America Great Again” – Saint Reagan

          1980 – “A Tested and Trustworthy Team” – Jimmy Carter vs “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago.” – Saint Reagan

          1976 – “A Leader, for a Change” – Jimmy Carter vs “He’s making us proud again” – Gerald Ford

          1. Jean

            “Leadership for the New Millennium”

            You mean Joe Lieberman?

            Gore committed political suicide by teaming up and hitching his wagon to Eeyore.


          2. Paul Cardan

            The latest is most revealing. Better skills, because anyone who prefers work to leisure can get work, and, since the market rewards all productive factors according to contribution, better skills translate into higher wages. That, in turn, means a better job, a job in comparison with which leisure (aka unemployment) comes in a distant second. So, better skills are also the key to a lower rate of unemployment. But how do the Democrats know this?

            To the best of my knowledge, such claims are based on the work of late 19th and early 20th economists who, having made a number of questionable assumptions about rational agency, were able to deduce (perhaps with a bit of cheating here and there) these claims and many more besides. Now, what kind of theory begins with assumptions and ends with conclusions by way of deductive argument, without ever bothering to engage in observation, controlled (we call them experiments) or otherwise (as in, e.g., history, anthropology), and so without ever bothering to revise the theory in light of experience to the contrary (e.g., depressions, recessions, and other things unexpected)? Sounds like math to me. Math is of course very useful. It’s an invaluable means of getting from one description of the facts to another. It seems to me, then, that this is largely what economic theory of this kind does: it takes us from one way of talking about the world to another.

            Now, in whose interest is it that we re-describe the facts in accordance with this theory? Well, whoever they are, the leading faction of the Democratic Party works for them, and it’s no secret. Their slogan says as much.

            I realize that the left-center-right scheme for political talk has its limitations. But it also has its uses, one of which is to identify the opposition. No one who’s left should assume Democrats are on their side.

          3. Oregoncharles

            You actually remember all those? I thought they didn’t matter because no one paid attention – with a few exceptions.

            “Change” was brilliant, directed primarily at Hillary, who represented more of the same-old when people were deeply discontented.

    2. DJG

      PlutoniumKun and alpha lyman blob: I think that the bulleted lists in the article are worth the price of admission. Some of the explanation between lists gets a tad highfalutin. But I’m carping.

      The problem with the Anglosphere is that people are embarassed at saying out loud the basic leftist position, which is partially enunciated here by alpha lyman blob: Solidarity.

      One of the reasons that I quote Antonio Gramsci and Norberto Bobbio here is that leftists on the Continent understood that they had to have a positive, uniting, humane message. As Bobbio wrote in his book Destra e Sinistra (Right and Left), the principles of the left go back to those first conceived of during the French Revolution: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. In U.S. terms, liberty, equality, and solidarity.

      Check out some of the newest articles about France Insoumise and its plans for reviving the French left.

      Thomas Frank understands this message quite well, too. So do the people I am listening to at Our Revolution and community forums here in Chicago. We have allowed the conservatives to hijack both parties. The “glass ceiling,” the “robust foreign policy,” the freedom to own guns, the idea that government is incompetent–not one of these is progressive or leftist. So let’s remind people that they aren’t. And let’s not fall into left incrementalism, where every damn thing has to be gummed to death.

      1. hemeantwell

        I think the piece is very good, and appreciate the research behind it. But I’m puzzled by

        Sometimes it might not be appropriate for communicators to tell a populist story about the economy.

        and then how story B is about meeting our needs. Although you can tweak emphases depending on the conversation, the idea that elites are not primarily interested in meeting our needs and, moreover, have become reliant on bubble mechanisms that are relatively indifferent to material production and generate chaos seems an inescapable part of the picture.

      2. readerOfTeaLeaves

        I think this post makes an excellent point about the ill effects of what might be called ‘leftist assumptions of moral superiority‘. Been there, done that. It’s corrosive and unproductive.

        I’m really relieved to see this post — NEON seems to have ‘moved beyond sanctimony’, and that’s progress!

    3. witters

      “He [Sanders] is a model for how all progressive campaigners around the world should realign their arguments.”

      And yet the Russia-gate exceptionalism shows all this to be, in the end, empty and deceptive, as the Show Must Go On as It Always Has! (It seems to me the obvious parallel is Obama 2009.)

  2. The Rev Kev

    I have to confess that all this talk of models to convince people what to think and telling stories about the economy-as-railway-network makes me feel very uneasy. Do that sort of stuff and conservatives will have a field day in picking it over for inconsistencies. Then you get a situation of one story versus another story which will end of confusing the same sort of people that you are trying to convince. I’m sure that this organization is trying to do good but I really don’t think that this is the way to do it.
    I have a different idea and it is this. You tell people the truth. I’m sure that Yves and Lambert could put together an outline over a pot of coffee about how we got here from where we were, what the costs are of how we do things, and how we start to get out of the mess that we are in. An example of what happens when you don’t do this is the Democrats. If they came out and said that our platform is single-payer health, reduction in overseas military commitments and low-cost college education for those capable of it, they would sweep the decks of all opponents. You show people your plans and how you are going to do it.
    But they don’t. They have focus groups, consultants, a story of how America is already great and any changes must be done incrementally. And that is how Trump got in.

    1. paddlingwithoutboats

      There is already an outline of what happened and how to unwind it. See, an economist who has, unfortunately, changed his web site to a harder to navigate the archives style, but hosts a monthly Global Capitalism video and weekly Economic Update radio shows. He’s been doing them since about 2010.

      Try ‘Crisis; It’s How Capitalism Works”

      Or a list of the YouTube videos, still not as navigable as the original web site, but a start and filled with good historical context, which is generally missing in the discussions of where we are and how we got here.

      Really useful to check out the old ones, the more current are so stuffed with all the current issues there are fewer of the context/history/background chunks.

    2. Lee

      Well yes, focusing on policy or goals, is exactly what Bernie did: His platform included single-payer healthcare and low-cost to free college and an increase in minimum wages. Jill Stein’s platform was that and more as she added on reduction of military spending…but she lacked the brand of Democrat . It seems to me that the neoliberal powers that be are now trying to paint them both as Russian red complicit with electing Trump. . And I think Jeremy Corbyn also ran into some of that paint.

      The reason why the Democratic Party elite is/are NOT adopting this platform has to do with the fact that many of them feel attached at the bank umbilical to the industries that would be hurt by this. In essence they have chosen to work for donors rather than society and constituents.

      1. WILLIAM

        Bernie = support for Israeli Thugs = support for the informal U.S. Empire = support for the the ‘Russians are really coming’ And when voter turnout is about 20% in 2018, the Russian Thugs will have a field day

        1. Jean

          The hallucination team:


          Clif, comment down below here:

          “Maximizing the usage of our human commodities”?

      2. WILLIAM

        When did the ruling Democrat elites ever ‘voluntarily’ work for the people, without organized people, often literally in the streets: including FDR; JFK, and any other initials you can conjure up. Perhaps 1877 was a turning point for both ruling elites of the ‘robust’ 2 party domination

  3. Clif

    One issue is this has not been adapted to the American dialect.

    I applaud the effort, but why the childlike abstraction? The real story with examples would be much more convincing to me.

    “cutting taxes and privatising industries has undermined our ability to invest in ways
    that strengthen the economy and keep it running smoothly”

    This phrasing lessens the impact of the redirection of government policy from the public to care taking business, from Enron related deregulations to FIRE securitization and over-leveraging.

    Equate those approaches, include dog call phrases, personal responsibility, public welfare, and freedom of choice and you’d get traction. Good luck breaching the media racket. Perhaps call the Russians?

    1. Jamie

      I think you are right that telling the truth in simple terms is more effective than swapping out metaphors. If the majority of people already subscribe to the notion that “the system is rigged”, telling the truth means first acknowledging that. Unless you are one of very few fortunate individuals the system is rigged against you. Changing ‘rigged’ to ‘programmed’ doesn’t tell people anything they don’t already know, and telling them it could be otherwise without giving specifics of how to make it otherwise sounds like white tower theory. “We could reprogram the economy”… how exactly? Hire a bunch of economists? Vote for candidate X? If we already know the system is rigged we already know that, theoretically, it could be different. How do we make it different in reality? What people are waiting to hear, longing to hear, are: 1) how do we un-rig it? and 2) how am I supposed to survive in the meantime?

      Who are they trying to please by inventing new language to “reframe the debate” when working people have perfectly good language they already use to describe the problem?

  4. Disturbed Voter

    National level unionization, and general strike. Global level unionization, and global strike. There is a reason why these were called “soviets”. Unfortunately a revised and re-centered Soviet Union or People’s Republic won’t turn out well. The alternative is resource exhaustion and environmental degradation … returning us to neo-feudalism. History is never a free lunch.

  5. Kentucky Fried Tofu

    Very interesting to contrast the value emphasized in both stories.

    right wing/conservative voters:
    efficiency / strength / control

    left wing/progressive voters:
    people’s needs / happiness / fulfillment / meaningful life

    Also elite blaming paired with a focus on economic strength could be used to sum up the Trump campaign message (as opposed to the Trump administration’s message – to the extent that there is one). It’s also a message that is close to a lot of successful right-wing European populist parties.

    In my opinion, those voters couldn’t care less if the party is identified as right wing or left wing as long as this is the core message.

    1. d

      – meetings people’s needs promotes efficiency
      – happiness brings strength
      – a fulfilled and meaningful life gives you control

  6. Steve Ruis

    In the U.S. the plutocratic masters are completely anti-collectivist. This is not just pro-individual but anti-group action. (The logic is impeccable: they are superior and could only lose to a much larger group “ganging up” on them.) They have co-opted the word government and have tainted it, much as they did with the word liberal. We need to re-establish that the government is just “us” acting collectively. When the oligarchs captured the reins of government, they made themselves “us” and us “others.”

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      I’m pleased to see this, as well…and agree that it would need to be translated into the various American Dialects.
      I’ve been working on just that for years out here with Rural Texas People…mostly ranchers and farmers.
      I recommend an understanding of George Lakoff, and a thorough familiarity with the dialects in question(as well as their contexts)
      With habitually goptea folks, many of the words of the Left…and even those of regular econospeak…will have been corrupted by 40 years of mindF&^k, and are now Trigger Words(or Terrorwords…or mean something upside down)
      You just can’t use words like “collective” or any derivation of “Social” or Union or what have you. They push a button in the minds, and these folks fall immediately into the rhetorical rut, parroting Beck and Rush, et alia.
      “Fellowship”, otoh, is a word that is well understood in this cohort(Churchspeak), and can be glommed in in place of those others.
      Since I haven’t kept any notes on this(it’s been a long term organic process), I don’t have a lexicon prepared(yet).
      but I hope to one day.
      I hope you get the gist.
      (also see the language of the Catholic Social Teaching(rerum novarum, Dorothy Day, etc). I’ve had some success using this with my Hispanic in laws)

      1. hemeantwell

        Thanks for your suggestion.
        How do you talk with them about malefactors? Do terms like “Wall Street” or “international financiers” get you into trouble? Are they aware of the 19th c Populist struggle — quite strong in that area, I’d think — with another version of the same bunch?

        Lakoff strikes me as saying pretty much what any anthropologist or good organizer would tell you.

        1. hemeantwell

          But unlike an organizer, Lakoff, from what I’ve seen, seems to duck addressing the inevitability of ramping up conflict. That’s an important part of understanding why people are hesitant to think differently about their situation. Their existing orientation is an adjustment to coercion and threat, and if you start to question it, clouds form on the horizon. In No Shortcuts Jane McAlevey is good on this question.

        2. Amfortas the Hippie

          the most recent Wall st blow up…and all the shenanigans that have come to light since…have had a big effect on these folks.
          they were in a pickle…here was obvious evil by Banksters(a word that they use now), their own party was finally seen as complicit…but simultaneously there was the “Kenyan Usurper”.
          all that=> cognitive dissonance.
          so in their own corn pone rhetoric, they’ve arrived at a distinction between Main Street and Big Bidness…something I never could have accomplished, and a Good Thing, all around(makes one of the main goptea bullets into a dud(raytheon=small business).
          I’ve had success, when they bring up “evil unions”(seldom, since there are none out here)—I say” why can’t workers get together? Bidness sure does” which brings a confused look:” everything from NAM, to teh Other NRA, to the Chamber of Commerce down on the square…all are Unions for Bidness.
          This has traction.
          also, there is a tradition of ag co-ops and even the Grange, from back when, that is still remembered.
          the churches do all manner of organic Socialist things, too….and there’s always a bake sale or something going on to help some poor soul(brown or white doesn’t seem to matter) who got sick…at those, I hear lots of quiet discussion about how fubar healthcare is, and “wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to look after one another better?”…
          My point is that it ain’t impossible…and given the upsets of the last 15 years, the Narrative Framework they were used to is fallen into the mud…and they are rudderless,disillusioned, and fearfully casting about. Now is the time to present an alternative Framework…I just wish there was some organisation with reach and resources to help in this effort. I can’t do it alone.

          (too, out here, the German Idealist strain is near to the surface. the first settlers were the basis of the still extant large families and landowners…the task is pushing those buttons to bring such things closer to the surface. This particular part won’t translate to other places without that history(see: Adelsverein)

      2. Anon

        your post brings to mind a really insightful historical study : When Farmers Voted Red: The Gospel of Socialism in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1910-1924. Author : Garin Burbank. Greenwood Press, 1976.

    2. marym

      I agree with by Rev Kev above calling for simple, broadly effective policy proposals that achieve the common good whatever the framing language; and with you and AtheH on the need for succinct language expressing a vision of shared interests and efforts.

      As someone who likes to opine, but is without the gift of succinctness, it’s frustrating not to be able to contribute much to the discussion about language, but some possibilities:

      How we take care of each other
      What we can do better for ourselves if we do it together
      “What work needs to be done?” instead of “where are the jobs?”

      Thanks to NC for promoting a discussion of this topic. Whatever the pros and cons of this particular piece, if the authors want to promote a new way of communicating, solid blocks of unreadable italics may not be a good start.

    3. Arthur J

      Of course they are anti-collectivist. Any rational person would be. It is an extremely ignorant or malevolent and evil person who could look at the examples of the USSR under Stalin and China under Mao and still advance the claim that collectivism is a philosophy that is worth pursuing.

      Anyone who says well, that wasn’t really collectivism and they can do it better is demonstrating such a lack of understanding of human behaviour and evil arrogance that they should be immediately ostracized from society.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Many of the words one might use to argue against the Neoliberal framing have already been thoroughly co-opted and twisted into useless shapes. No small part of constructing arguments will be fashioning the vocabulary. I agree with what I believe is the core to your comment, that the new vocabulary suggested in this post is weak-tea.

      2. WILLIAM

        Yo, guys — if you do not think the ‘relative cohesion’ of the ruling elites/deep state?/shadow government? is a powerful variant of collectivism of the ruling classes, what should we call it? thanks.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          The expression ‘relative cohesion’ applied to the ruling elites rings to my ear like an anodyne euphemism and ‘collectivism’ [of the ruling classes] approaches being facetious. For the concept you have in mind I like the expression ‘Power Elite’, referencing C. Wright Mills, or ‘those who rule us’, my expression referencing the work of G. William Domhoff whom I view as the inheritor of Mills work.

      3. Clif

        [this is a reply to Arthur J at 11:28]

        This is dumb. One might as well argue that the propensity of the collective impulse itself is evidence enough of its legitimacy.

        Your dismissal of any collective action is absurd. Corporations are collections of people, despite what Citizens United tries to maintain, as well as families and the vaunted American armed forces.

        One could argue that collections require authoritarian principles of organization. Or, insist on the transparency and accountability of their operation.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I read Arthur J’s comment the same way you did the first time through. But on second reading I think he’s pointing out the unsavory prior usages of the word ‘collectivist’ and its derivatives. As the post argues the framing of an argument and the words you use are critical to an effective argument. Consider the term ‘death tax’ as an example.

        2. Oregoncharles

          Corporations are NOT just collections of people. They’re legal and organizational entities with something of a life of their own. A thought experiment will make this clear: what if we swap out all of the people? This does happen over time. The corporation’s legal structure, assets, and ownership are much the same, so its behavior will change little, mostly in response to the passage of time, hence different circumstances. The people at the very top can make radical changes if they care to, but even for them that can cause mostly chaos.

          To a great extent, organizations like corporations dictate the actions of the people in them, not vice versa. IOW, we’ve unleashed a legion of Frankenstein’s monsters that are far bigger than we are and capable of living forever (or until the next financial collapse). That’s why people always think corporations are too powerful. It’s a great starting point.

      4. ebbflows

        “Of course they are anti-collectivist. Any rational person would be.”

        Categorical error – “they” used in a collectivist grouping and extrapolated to [would] be “rational” e.g. confusing an ideological a priori axiom derived ex ante with logic, so its substituted with the term rational – see preference.

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” Thatcher 1987

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        when my mother in law hears a siren, she calls me.(I have the scanner).
        “where is it? what’s going on?”
        we can generally determine, using address and “patient information”, who it is…and she runs over there, and then gets on the phone: “i need somebody to look after the kids”, “we’ll need food to the family”,” can anyone provide transportation to follow the EMT’s to the (100 mile away) hospital?”
        This is the Good Side of the Gossip Mill in a small town(one could argue that the Bad Part, being all up in anyone’s business, is the “Tax” we pay for this necessary service.)
        It’s a decidedly collective effort, and happens every time there’s some personal crisis.
        while there is a sizable portion of “virtue signalling”(see: gift economy, and “pot latch” in the Native American sense), the biggest part is Compassion for one’s neighbors, and Solidarity with same.
        Your conception of what “socialism” is is woefully out of date, and the result of top down efforts to force such changes, as well as the poisonous rhetorical soup we’ve labored under for 100+ years.
        You do socialist things every day, I’d warrant.

  7. Steven Greenberg

    I had never heard of zero hour contracts until reading this article.

    Q&A: What are zero-hours contracts?

    ===== quote =====
    Zero-hours contracts, or casual contracts, allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

    They mean employees work only when they are needed by employers, often at short notice. Their pay depends on how many hours they work.

    Some zero-hours contracts require workers to take the shifts they are offered, while others do not.

    Sick pay is often not included, although holiday pay should be, in line with working time regulations.
    ===== /quote =====

  8. drumlin woodchuckles

    The Neon-hub could be a very interesting and worthwhile method for basing and co-ordinating the telling and spread of interpretive economic stories. Even people who end up not liking the language or even certain elements of the story themselves might want to study the Neon-hub concept and how it works . . . to build their own Neon-hub for their own stories.

    Many Americans like an enemy to hate, fight, beat down and destroy. I know I do. Who is our economic enemy? How did they get that way? What did they take away from us and how did they take it away? How do we fight them, beat them down, and destroy them in order to take back what they took away from us? That might also be a story with a present-and-future action-moral worth developing and telling.

    I suspect it would go further back than the John Birchers. It would go all the way back to the pro-Nazi anti-FDR American Establishment at the very least. It would talk about anti-workeritic laws like Landrum-Griffin. It would talk about the Free Trade Conspiracy to exterminate American industry in order to exterminate American industrial unions. That’s just a thought which I offer, of course.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      at least as far back as the Palmer Raids, and likely before that. the Bosses saw immediately that the existence of Marx would be bad for them, and set out early to try to counter it.
      Another interesting thing with my ad hoc symposia in the feed store:
      These people put a lot of stock in “Personal Responsibility”. when I ask,” why does a business incorporate?”
      they don’t know.
      but it’s obvious, in the first paragraph in the entry in the dictionary,lol:” to Avoid Responsibility”…”to protect investors from Risk”(which is just a nice way of saying the same thing)
      This Revelation has the effect of engendering Thoughtful Silence among my subjects…it shuts them right up, and makes them think.

  9. vegeholic

    This is a valuable conversation, and I applaud the researchers for their initiative. But you cannot fall into the trap of replacing one false narrative with a different false narrative and hope to succeed. Two examples illustrate the point. The authors seem to be unhappy with (1) the widespread consensus that the economy is in conflict with the environment, and (2) the pervasive outlook of fatalism, and then try to navigate around these unpleasant obstacles. Both attitudes are in many ways justified, and you cannot succeed by denying them, you must confront them directly and unflinchingly. There is essentially a 1.00000 correlation between GDP and energy use.You can hide it by outsourcing manufacturing but it is still there. So the economy(as we now practice it) is in conflict with the environment, and any successful counter-narrative has to start by accepting this. Regarding fatalism, we have exponential growth in population, consumption, resource use, everything, on a finite planet, with apparently little self-awareness of the these facts. Exponential growth in closed systems always leads to unhappy outcomes. People may not explain it to themselves in these terms, but they have a vague feeling that something is wrong.

    You must admit these facts before you have any credibility to suggest solutions. There are many fairer ways to organize economic activity, but you cannot retreat into pollyannish denial of the obvious. You must start by acknowledging the situation and only then proceed to reframe the conversation.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Is the “one to one” link between GDP and energy use such a very strong Iron Natural Law? I am not so sure that is always true.

      Case in point . . . if I can weatherize and window-ize my dwelling unit enough to meet half my heating needs through captured sunlight, thereby cutting my use of bought and paid for natural gas . . . I am just as rich in home-heating as I was before. I can use the money thereby saved to buy more-nearly-handmade goods and services . . . made with more labor and less fuel-energy. If the goods and services are just as good, then I am just as good-and-service rich as if I had bought the oil-intensive/ labor-deprived goods and services.

      Or also, I have discovered that if I “steam” eggs instead of boiling them, they get just as hard on a tiny fraction of the natural gas burned at my stove. Have I thereby forced the creation of less humanly useful value?

      Now . . . to the extent that GDP is indeed correlated with energy use ( even though at a less than one-to-one level) . . . we come back to who is the enemy and how do we destroy them? And the enemy is the people who force us to keep spinning the wheels of production and consumption to keep them rich first of all while keeping ourselves just barely alive enough to keep on spinning the hamster wheels which keep them rich.

      If we were to shrink the economy from the top down in order to shrink-wrap it around the heads and faces of the upper class in order to cut off their financial air supply, we could shrink our economy to half its present size without shrinking what WE receive at all. IF! we could direct the shrinkage against the upper class which demands to be supported FIRST.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        To expand a bit: the message needs to both respect the finite nature of the planet’s resources and, at the same time, to offer realistic hope of a better life within the constraints that imposes. If you omit the first, you will inevitably be promoting policies that simply aren’t realistic. And if you omit the second, you will largely lose whatever audience you have.

  10. Norb

    While the story and narrative is of utmost importance, actually building and operating alternatives is more so. There are plenty of intellectuals – very smart people- who have already worked through the shortcomings of predatory capitalism, but fail to actually create any alternative social structures, from within which a more collectivist narrative can be taught and cultivated. Something must be built, and this is where the left is crushed.
    Words alone mean nothing. Somewhere along the line, vision has to be turned into reality.

    I am seeing more food drives, charity book collections, and other charity events taken up to relieve the poor and suffering being perpetrated by the current economic system. But this is just another tool that redirects energy from building lasting alternatives and makes people feel better about themselves, while they still fundamentally support the system that created the problems in the first place. But not once is the root problem addressed or mention made that it doesn’t have to be this way. And when it is, dissent is brushed aside as irrelevant to the operation of the current system. The argument is get on board with the program or be prepared to face the wrath.

    Narrative, or charity alone will not correct or relieve the problem. Only physical infrastructure and institutions dedicated to the principles imbedded within the narrative have a hope of succeeding.

    It seems collective effort must be channeled into producing more collectivism. The current system channels collective effort into individual gain. Once that hurdle is crossed, the rest becomes easier, as in not being counterproductive.

    1. grayslady

      “But this is just another tool that redirects energy from building lasting alternatives and makes people feel better about themselves, while they still fundamentally support the system that created the problems in the first place.”

      I think this remark is essential to understanding what we need to overcome in the U.S.–individual freedoms versus group achievement. In a way, it’s similar to arguing why we don’t need to relinquish privacy in order to obtain security.

      In many parts of the U.S., people have been indoctrinated to believe that individual bootstrapping is what has “made America great.” However, it is actually our willingness to help each other that makes any society “great.” So-called rugged individualism is a type of John Wayne movie fantasy that our government, since the Reagan era ( and possibly before), has tried to perpetuate in order to further enrich the already advantaged.

      In this country, I would start with simple slogans that reverse the propaganda press narratives. For example: “Social Security: You’ve earned it!”; or, “Medicare: You’ve earned it!”; because, in fact, both of these statements are true. Or, in appealing to the better angels of people, maybe: “Medicare for All, because great countries don’t leave any of their citizens behind.” We really have to start, IMO, by reversing the emphasis on individualism and point out how urbanization and technology have only succeeded in making people more lonely and isolated.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      If you don’t object to micro-capitalism ( and I don’t), then there are examples of what you suggest. Slow Money . . . . Solari . . . . etc. Artisan pickle makers, if enough pickle eaters buy artisan pickles from enough thousands of artisan pickle makers . . . buying artisan cucumbers from thousands of artisan cucumber growers . . . who buy artisan fertilizers from thousands of artisan fertilizer suppliers. For example.

      Of course, if someone is eye-diddy-ologically committed to Socialnizm as a goal and a practice and a religion, such examples of artisan micro-capitalism won’t impress them much, even if such examples number in the thousands or tens of thousands.

  11. Norm

    Whenever I have go-arounds with people who believe things can’t be improved because they are too firmly committed to right wing and MSM cant, I point out the situation’s fundamental absurdity — namely that the world, especially the US, has all the human and physical resources it needs for everyone to have a decent life, but a better realization of that potential is actively thwarted by people with power who like things just as they are. Mostly people I speak to agree with my argument, but then the question becomes how can anything be changed when the powers-that-be and their hold on the the media, and therefore the public discourse, are so firmly entrenched.

    Of course, the problem is so much more than the greed of the oligarchs. There is no conceivable way to address these issues without attacking the sanctity of debt, a notion to which most people subscribe. The sense that it’s wrong to break the bonds between rentiers and debtors is still bedrock to most people. As a somewhat prosperous investor, I would certainly need to take a few breathing exercises before I could contemplate seeing the bond part of my portfolio undone by any sensible plans to have a jubilee. But if it would mean getting the world, or at least the US, out of the debt nightmare that Michael Hudson so eloquently eloquently describes, I’d end up saying, “let’s go for it.”

    But this all the stuff of fantasy, for now. Naked Capitalism does a great service not only by putting out article after article about the current situation’s absurdity, but, more importantly, by promoting the arguments of Hudson and others who point out that a solution is possible if only enough people were willing both to swallow a very difficult pill (the chaos that would ensue from the overturn of the established order) and to accept that some cherished notions (the sanctity of debt) have to be discarded. But people won’t be willing to see things differently or embrace the need for radicle solutions until the large and growing amounts of pain and discontent get even further out of hand than they already are.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      there again….and I only speak of my experience out here in this place…”Jubilee” is right there in the Bible.(and Hudson does a lot of work on that, if I’m not mixing him up with someone else).
      when I hear…”but…but …Debt…”
      I quote Leviticus

      the neoliberal/neoconservative narrative is anti-christian, and the thin sheet the Bosses have used to cover this fact up is easily removed, if one but learns the language.
      throwing such Biblical references at them serves to make them think…it shocks them out of their usual unthinking state.
      These folks put a lot of stock in the Bible, and that can be used to grow a different Framework.
      Narrative Frameworks aren’t just words…as someone said.
      It’s the Lens through which we see and understand the world, the context we hang our experiences on.
      when examined closely, it’s remarkable how well the Mind%uck has worked, since it’s shaky and vaporous, at root.
      How did the Bosses hijack the Hippie from Nazareth,lol?
      That was a major coup.
      The most useful language I’ve found in changing hearts and minds towards a fairer and more compassionate worldview, have been those of Jesus….at least for the people out here.
      (and full disclosure: I am not a christian(more of a druid, i guess))

      1. Harold

        It’s anti-ethical and thus anti-all ethical systems (religions). The idea of the jubilee is not Christian, but goes back to Ancient Babylonia.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    I am growing unsure what purpose is served by convincing people one way or another, assuming they were willing to be convinced. I think the people are already convinced we are headed in a very wrong direction. The trouble lies in how little what we the people think or believe really matters to those who rule us. Our betters own and control the media, the financial and productive capital, the markets, the military, the secret and public police and the government. Of course they like to be well thought of but in lieu of that they can tolerate our chagrined amusement with the antics of their puppet theater entertainments.

    How many people know in their heart-of-hearts what we might try to convince them of? The direction and acceleration of decay in our society and polity is as plain as the evidence for Climate Disruption. How many people know, cannot face, and deliberately avoid believing by grasping for whatever lies and misrepresentations the media throw to them like lifesavers cast from the Titanic? [I disagree with the Babbit fallacy from yesterday. I believe people are quite adept at self-deception and some can react precipitously when that self-deception is questioned. The conclusion leading into a future discussion of rhetoric begs the question whether any concept of advocacy remains in public debate — a question this post begs.]

  13. Carey

    There are good things, in this essay, but I, too say it’s *way too long*.
    Eye-glazing stuff.

    With most people who are doing economically badly, meaning
    most people, period, we might have a few seconds to make a
    difference, with a few words.

    “Solidarity” seems like a good starting point, and maybe endpoint, too.

  14. Bobby Gladd

    I come here every day to get educated. It rarely fails. Even when what I learn leaves me more confused, given the diversity of thoughtful opinions set forth by the authors and the commentariat.

    I worry about Frase’s “Quadrant Four” drawing nigh — Hierarchy + Scarcity = Exterminism.

    But, yeah, OK, “framing.” “Don’t Think of an Elephant.”

  15. Travis Bickle

    Framing, is indeed the underlying problem and the one which must be addressed. This article may be just a glos, but this sort of overly intellectualized and academic approach is wrong, and will play into the hands of the opposition.

    Powell’s genius lay in his commitment to a long term strategy based on a cynical, but accurate, understanding of the minds that needed to be molded.

    The mindset that now exists would have a knee jerk reaction to an approach like the above, that the alternatives proposed were mere “socialism” or worse, “communism”. Their minds would summarily shut down, at best.

    It’d be better to have calm conversations about values, and engage people in looking at models that work for those values. As people use for approaching any issue: avoid any hint of condescension, of which this piece reeks. Take health care: if your goal is to have the most profitable health care system, the US is what you emulate; if you’re looking for the most efficient delivery of service for the citizens you look elsewhere.

    The Great Con that needs to be addressed is that individuals best interests are not to be confused with those of corporations, or even the State. The older generation, indoctrinated with Cold War schematas, was more susceptible to that stuff, so focus on younger people or those with more open minds. Think long term.

    So, the point of contention can be focused more properly on disabusing people of the Trickle Down Con. Using concrete examples, and health care is a great one, achieves this goal. Forget railroads and focus groups: make it personal for people, because only then will it matter.

  16. Carey

    Jeremy Grimm at 12:31 pm, thank you for that fine post.

    Travis Bickle at 12:58 pm, I like your last sentence very much.

    Abstractions are a mistake, IMO. Focusing on people’s
    real, lived lives is the way to go.

    Common Good

    1. berit

      Working together for the common good, that’s solidarity, for wages that support decent food, decent housing, decent education, decent healthcare, not for the few, for all. In other words: Regulations in place to ensure justice and protect against discrimination and exclusion, free public education at every level, singel payer health care, payed for by the government through just taxation of all kinds of income. It has been done. It’s called social democracy.

  17. Tomonthebeach

    INDEED, the HOW is key; not the WHAT.

    How neoliberalism became the mainstream zeitgeist in the West (UK & US especially) is far less important than discovering ways to highlight the disconnect between personal values and the binary belief system that dominates how most people make sense of their perceptions. Sadly, educational systems do not instill an appreciation for nuanced thinking until graduate school. That makes non-binary thinking a very elite way of processing information.

    Offering an easier-to-relate storyline might be a way to reverse the process, but I remain skeptical. In the myriad discussions I have with my psychologist colleagues, we seem to be as flummoxed by the devolution of mass binary thinking as any group. Psychology too would embrace an effective intervention to reverse things. Alas, too few of us are working that problem.

    1. Travis Bickle

      You’re right, that ultimately it all comes down to education, but personal as well as critical. Binary thinking is the very definition of uneducated, but that’s what any number of college grads, and some with graduate degrees I can think of, cling to. It makes life in a complex world something they can handle. There is entirely too much ambiguity in modern life and they cling to a sense of understanding, if not mastery, in order to cope psychologically.

      Having an education that includes good, critical thinking, can be gained in a variety of ways short of graduate school. But, in too many cases, there is this intolerance of ambiguity: a drive for closure as a matter of identity, not to mention a fear of the unknown due to awareness of our inherent mortality. It’s the Human Condition to be weak and lean backwards in these regards. The good news is that people can transcend their weaknesses if they can be brought to understand the alienation and dis-ease of modern life is not natural: we are by nature hard-wired to relate to a larger community, notwithstanding our greed and other personal weaknesses.

      What really stops progressive arguments short is not so much a lack of critical thinking abilities, but a dearth of time and access to information. I’ve found lawyers who were quite amenable to such alternatives once more fully informed, at least up to the point where pursuit of power, personal financial interests, or a lack of confidence in a longer term perspective became involved.

  18. Paul Cardan

    I like the idea behind the article and some of their proposals. But I think it would be a mistake to imagine that the neoliberal narrative is just part of a plan hatched by elites to undermine the New Deal (which is not to say that anyone here is making that mistake). The roots run much deeper than that.

    Why, for instance, do most people feel so unsure of themselves when talking about economics? Science is authoritative in this culture. Economics presents itself as a science, and it certainly seems to be one, partly because economists couch their claims in mathematical terms. Math is taken for a hallmark of science, in spite of the fact that most of us don’t understand much of it. To make matters worse, the dominant, neoclassical approach is often accused of fetishizing mathematical models. And neoclassical theory, whatever its explanatory merits, functions as an apology for neoliberalism in practice. This means that most people are to economists as illiterate medieval peasants were to priests.

    Additionally, the manner in which economic processes are instituted in our society lends credence to such theories. For instance, the authors’ note that most people in this society think that humans are naturally greedy. If that’s how human nature seems to be, then our institutions will look supremely well-adapted to nature. Hence, TINA. Actually, a bit of anthropology should be able to show that it’s just the opposite: relative to how we’ve chosen to institute economic processes, greed is an adaptive characteristic. Of course, you don’t have to turn to examples drawn from anthropology to reveal the limitations of the homo economicus model; you have only to consider human relationships that don’t involve commodity exchange: parent-child, friend-friend, teacher-student, even citizen-citizen or worker-worker (relationships for which solidarity is adaptive). But with the encroachment of markets into most every part of our lives, the counter-examples become less and less noticeable. People think people are naturally greedy because, by and large, they’d better be – and so they are.

    So, I’m all for stories contesting the dominant narrative (even if they only cause confusion, since confusion is an improvement on complacent error), but I think there’s a need for heterodox economic theory in popular form too. Somewhat more nuanced discussion of science would also be helpful. Some influential examples of social science are in fact nothing more than pernicious bs and should be called out as such. Finally, an idea from Marx: “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” Ultimately, the best way to undermine the dominant narrative is to live differently. There’s a reason why intellectuals stopped defending the idea that kings rule by divine right: the rest of us got rid of kings.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Then again, or maybe also too, we could offer more things for us humans and other humans to be greedy for. We could be greedy for safety and security. We could be greedy for peace, quiet and calm. We could be greedy for leisure.

      Offering people these other things to be greedy for might lead to discussions of tradeoffs. How much less of “this” are we ready to be greedy for in return for getting to be greedy for more of “that”. If we decide we want to be greedy for more free time and leisure, perhaps we will become greedy for a political economy which makes us work less time to earn less things . . . . so we can greedily enjoy more work-free free time and more unstructured leisurely leisure. For example.

      If we no longer have to keep the rich people rich, we no longer have to do the work involved in keeping the rich people rich. And that means more leisure time for us. For example.

  19. Ping

    What is this “democracy” you speak of?? While we have Citizen’s United allowing undisclosed unlimited funding of elections with privately funded think tanks researching and delivering strategies, very successfully, at the behest of the global elite “superstructure” , democracy is a mirage. I have heard that the American public is the most propagandized in the world and no one gets elected unless they are neutered or deemed manageable.

    If we were serious about democracy, Citizen’s United would be reversed, our election campaigns would be around 6 weeks only and MSM would be required to broadcast candidates opinions and positions free of charge and public service.

    However the NRA’s obscenities may have just ignited the next generation of activists and engaged citizens who are not baked with indoctrination and ideology.

  20. cripes

    Preznit Trump’s budget, which he neither read or understands except as a vague attack on the general welfare, constitutes a massive assault on disabled, aged, unemployed, children and poors. Housing, nutrition, healthcare all will be viciously slashed causing thousands of avoidable deaths and untold misery.

    During a contrived economic expansion, not recession, expect evictions and homelessness, people camping out on streetcorners waiting for food boxes of pasta and peanut butter, and “work” requirements pushing millions off miserly Medicaid’s 3rd class health care. Hospitals and Jails will fill with casualties.

    If this is not a rallying point for social welfare, then what is? Will the struggling muddle classes who themselves live a paycheck from destitution turn away from the suffering of their friends and neighbors; their own families?

    Will Russian meddling and gun legislation propaganda, regardless of its accuracy or merit, crowd out this blatant and naked escalation of the War on the Poor?

    Will there be anyone left when they come for you?

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      during the first big shutdown of Obama’s terms, there was a lot of triumphalist posturing out here.
      I ended up sending this letter to the editor of the local paper(more of a brochure, really,lol), reminding them of just how much our tiny community relies on Big Gov

      To my surprise, the leadership of the local GOP had nothing to say, and there was a sudden and noticeable silence on the matter after my letter.
      On Ep’s manufaturing comment, below: the evacuation of our physical plant to china was a choice, not a necessity.
      “efficiency” cuts both ways, and is often only “efficient” if other costs(like fuel for ships, or demand destruction) are forgotten/ignored.
      The case I make out here is a hypothetical drive for “Toilet Paper as a Cottage Industry”…all our Poors..lets give them the opportunity to take all the paper that piles up at the recycling place, and let them make toilet paper from it.(I understand the details make this harder,lol, but it’s a useful thought experiment). It may be more economically efficient to continue to get bunghole fodder from the Kock Brothers, far away, but that neglects the reason we have so many Poors(lack of useful industry). I present it all as a Balance of Trade Problem, with our County thought of as a Country…we export cash, and import everything we need.
      This, too, has traction with these folks, if presented in the right language, and calmly and quietly, in corners.
      (and I’m sorry I’m all over this thread,lol…but this topic is near and dear to me, and is a project I’ve been working on for many years)

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        and, I feel i must point out, the drafts ended up on my blog…I removed such talk about “nutters” etc, ere sending it to the paper.
        Avoiding that fighting language, dissing the majority, has been very difficult.(and it has been very hard to hide my contempt for the Randian Hypercompetitive, “service to self” ideology, and the hateful way it’s been enforced)
        but it’s essential to swallow one’s pride and prejudice in these efforts, and to approach them as Fellow Humans.
        the hardest part, maybe, is approaching this without a party backing me up.
        I could hardly say “if we’d all just vote Team Blue…”…given their part in actually making so much of the Righty Agenda happen…as well as the kneejerk parts of the propaganda that has every R thinking Dems eat babies.(Billary are still blamed for the Peanut Program’s demise,etc)
        So I’ve been compelled to be strictly non-partisan in my dealings with folks, and to hide my irate outbursts behind anonymity online.
        Last 3 years, the Bernie Stcker on my truck has been a conversation starter…and FDR-ism has great appeal…but none of that is seen as standard Democratic stuff(which is interesting on it’s own).
        Instead, I’ve appealed to their Humanity, and their deep belief in Jesus, as well as the strong sense of community that is already extant(so, may not be applicable in the anonymous city).
        So much of the Reaganist Narrative is contradictory all by itself, that there are numerous openings, ready to be exploited.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          The reason FDRism is not seen as standard Democratic stuff is because it is indeed not standard Democratic stuff. Sanders has been trying to make it into standard Democratic stuff again. But he would need millions of follow-on mass-human-wave attack-Sanderists overrunning the standard Democratic party and “exterminating” all the standard Clinton-Obama Democrats to be able to turn FDRism back INTO standard Democratic stuff.

          So perhaps a good first stage is seeing who among the Trump voters and all the weary fatalist non-voters would like to regain the FDR stuff if some party would offer it. And perhaps then a good second stage would be to eventually work with all those FDR-stuff wanna-haves to conquer or create a political party for use as a political combat weapon for regaining and rebuilding the FDR-stuff and imposing it upon our enemies.

          If we can do that, then the Pink Pussy Hat Clintonites and Obamazoids can all join the Republican Party, which is their true social class home.

        2. dimmsdale

          Amfortas, a quick thanks for your contributions here. Lakoff’s descriptions of how the human brain processes information, and the necessity of meeting peoples’ worldviews where they are, with compelling counter-narratives rather than dense policy-speak, has always struck me as correct, and necessary for a dialogue that really makes a difference; but it requires us lefties (or at least some of us) to change our own framing of the issues–even in small ways, like talking about “gun safety” as opposed to “gun regulation”, or “taking public resources away from the public” as opposed to “privatization”. One of the threads in American thought we’d have to address specifically (IMO) is the equation “if you help THEM you’re taking from ME so I’m against helping anybody!” I wonder if you encounter that, and how you deal with it. (This is usually expressed, in my experience, as an observation about someone buying something they ‘shouldn’t have’ with food stamps; or same person wearing expensive sneakers while doing so; it only takes an example like this to send an entire discussion down a rabbit hole of ‘helping THOSE people is a waste and takes from ME’). There are many areas in American life like this; maintaining the feeling of unity of “us in solidarity” in discussions like that, is challenging to say the least.

  21. Ep3

    Bravo Yves, great find and post. I plan on reading this further, as it supports many of the things I have been thinking lately (that personal fulfillment needs to come before profit, that when it doesn’t, we get all kinds of negative things that don’t appear to be linked to this attitude but are).
    Second I want to state briefly about the comments of manufacturing. I think manufacturing will continue to become a smaller part of our job sector as computers continue to evolve. But what we have, the service economy, that have issues that manufacturing does not, when dealing with livable wages. Say I mow lawns for a business/job. I charge $25 a lawn. If I was building you a lawn mower, and charged u $25, there is tangible value in that mower that says, above all else, that this mower is worth $20 in inputs. Yet, in the service of mowing, what are the valuable inputs? Oil, gasoline, maybe time. But those are a small percentage of the cost to mow the lawn. Therefore, my labor, say $20 of the cost, becomes a variable in the marketplace. My competition can say “I will charge $22 and get more work which will grow my business make me more money”. Then another person cuts their labor. My point is manufacturing has a minimum floor for the value of the inputs, and labor cost is less than those inputs. With service, the floor is far lower, and could theoretically drive down the cost of the service to where something that once had value (accountants, lawyers, engineers, other professional services jobs) could suffer wage deflation.

    1. cnchal

      Manufacturing labor has a worse problem. That was the whole point of outsourcing to China and Mexico. Nobody here can live on the wages the Chinese make.

      The difference between manufacturing and the service sector is your lawn mowing competition cannot do it below the price of existence. That’s the floor for the lawn mower business. The floor for manufacturing is six feet under or below.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The solution to that problem is to abolish Free Trade. The US could solve that problem for itself by cancelling and abrogating all the Free Trade Agreements, walking out of the WTO, and cancelling its membership in all the GATT rounds right back to GATT round one, if necessary.

        Then America would be international-legally free to begin banning imports sector by sector while rebuilding those sectors within the US. Banning the import of kinds of food growable here would be the easiest first step. The overseas markets farmers here would lose would be made up for by the opened up domestic markets for those same farmers created by banning foreign food from reaching domestic buyers. The sanctions imposed against Russia give a back-handed illustration of how this would work. As I understand it, the US and EU have banned themselves from selling a whole range of foodstuffs into Russia, in the belief that hungry Russians would pressure their government into obeying US/EU commands. But what has happened instead is that Russians are buying more food from Russian food producers, who are thereby selling more food to Russian food buyers. The “same amount” of money is circulating circulaterally more and more withIN the Russian body political-economic, allowing for more production and consumption FOR Russia BY Russia. And strengthening Russia’s ag sector and all the downstream and sidestream sectors which connect to or with ag.

        Once America was Food Sovereign Secure, America could pick the next easiest-to-rebuild sector and ban imports into that, and then the next easiest-after-that sector to rebuild and ban imports into that, and so on.

        It would be a multi-decades project to achieve. It took the International Free Trade Conspiracy decades to destroy the American economy down to its present level.

        Free Trade is the New Slavery. Protectionism is the New Abolition.

  22. WheresOurTeddy

    If you live in a society that does not provide food, housing, health care, employment, and education to all who want them, you live in a failed state

    If you live in a society that does not provide food, housing, health care, employment, and education to all who want them, while allowing someone like Bezos to exist, you live in an immoral state

  23. Fastball

    The economy is based on rules. When the wealthy define those rules, the wealthy , or those inclined to use the rules for self enrichment, benefit to the detriment of others.

    When people say that wealthy people “earned” their wealth, what they mean is that amoral lazy people used the rules to their economic advantage. The degree of amorality and laziness is a function of the effect that the rules have to benefit them.

    Part of the solution is an economy that values work over any type of finance. Interest for example is an aspect of lazy people not working to gain their lucre to whatever degree people earn interest. I earn about ten dollars per year of interest and I have no other “investments”, so that is the degree of my laziness. Ten bucks per year.

    In any kind of “fair” economy, it ought to be extremely difficult, pre-retirement and post childhood, to have any kind of economic advantage even including hard resources like factories, without work. Your money would vanish like mist in the sun, to whatever degree you do not put your money and yourself to work. Put simply, Elon Musk’s latest adventure should never have been able to happen. In a fair world, he would be just another worker, since his “work” is basically nothing but self-aggrandizement.

    Having money is ultimately hoarding money. In any kind of system that values work, hoarding money or what money can buy, including property, especially the means of production, would be financially penalized rather than rewarded.

  24. djrichard

    “Well it’s 1, 2, 3, 4, what are we fighting for?”

    This I think is the crux of the problem. Per

    The blood-dimmed tide of Neo-nationalism currently sweeping the Western world is a simulacrum in the classical sense. It isn’t a deceptive (i.e. “fake”) alternative concealing an authentic (i.e. “real”) alternative to globalized neoliberal Capitalism, but, rather, an all-too-real phenomenon concealing the fact that there is no alternative, and that, at present, an alternative is unimaginable … literally unimaginable, in the sense that we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system, or a way to get there.

    The global capitalist ruling classes are extremely fond of this simulacrum, as it distracts us from facing where we actually are, and from working together to conceive that alternative, or even just asking the kind of questions that might help us actually get there, someday.

    I propose we run some things up the flagpole. One I would like to suggest is a positive money system (the Lincoln greenback). If we can get the genie of the federal reserve system back in the bottle, that in turn would move us off the animus for global finance which is the need for debt to continually grow. E.g. which grows now through selling into the markets that we send all our surplus currency to (which instead of being repatriated back for goods and services is repatriated back for debt issuance (private and public) and equities). It seems to me that a positive money system would make a great centerpiece.

    Part and parcel with this, instead of the issue being “white supremacy”, it gets us back to bringing the focus to “bank supremacy”.

  25. Mrs. Bob

    I haven’t read all the comments so I apologize if this has already been said. The right wing extremists that I know and they are plenty (Mormons). Lots and lots of relatives. They all believe that if you are smart enough and have “earned” a lot of money then more power to you. You must deserve that money or you wouldn’t have it and that you should be allowed to keep as much of it as possible. That the constitution is infallible. That if you aren’t making enough money it is entirely your own fault for not doing x y or z. Luck or good connnections or privilege has nothing to do with it. That if you use the social safety net then God is looking down on you for being weak and needy and you need to pull yourself up by your boot straps and get a better job. There is a lot of prosperity gospel mixed in even though most would deny it. Jesus came to the poor and sinners. We have lost that perspective. The poor and sinners have done it to themselves apparently. I don’t see how these arguments presented will change their perspective one iota.

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