Gaius Publius: Why Is Thomas Frank Puzzled?

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

A Bernie Sanders event in Madison, Wisconsin during the 2016 Democratic Party primary

I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.

Tony Blair

I want to take just a few minutes to reflect on Thomas Frank’s bepuzzlement, as expressed in his recent exit piece in the Guardian. (Frank is off to write “a few books” and will return in a few years to “see how things have gone.” Those will be interesting years.)

His problem is this: “[U]nderstanding the perversity of rightwing populism only brought me to another mystery: the continuing failure of liberals to defeat this thing … My brain twirls to think that rightwing populism is still running strong in 2018 … that the invective and the journalism and the TV shows and all the mournful books about the decline of the middle class have amounted, basically, to nothing.”

He lays that failure, correctly, at the feet of the Democratic Party, which had the perfect opportunity in 2008 to reverse course, and didn’t. Which left the “task of capturing public anger” to Donald Trump.

“We’re going to pay for that failure for a long time,” he says, then professes not to know why it happened:

For all their cunning, Republicans are a known quantity. Democrats, however, remain a mystery. We watch them hesitate at crucial moments, betray the movements that support them, and even try to suppress the leaders and ideas that generate any kind of populist electricity. Not only do they seem uninterested in doing their duty toward the middle class, but sometimes we suspect they don’t even want to win.

As evidence of his suspicion, he quotes Tony Blair (see the top of this piece). Then instead of saying why all this happened, why the Democrats betrayed their roots, historical and grass, he turns instead to a plea: “Beating the right cannot simply be a matter of waiting for a dolt in the Oval Office to screw things up. There has to be a plan for actively challenging and reversing it”.

And there he ends. Which leads me to ask, why is he puzzled? He already knows the answer.

Tony Blair would rather lose to conservatives than to progressives in his own party. It’s the same in this country, where 2016 Democratic leaders, in their wisdom and hubris, were more determined to throw the dice with Clinton, who could not fill a gymnasium, than pick the candidate their voting base packed stadiums to see.

We are indeed a nation in crisis (again). That crisis, that revolutionary discussion about the shape of our next constitution, our next agreement between government and the people, is not resolved. The radical right is in ascendance and will soon take complete and lasting control of the Supreme Court unless Democrats block their candidateand stop them.

Will a completion of the radical rightwing agenda resolve this crisis and create a government most of us can live under? Of course not. The truly radical right — a small handful of people — is vastly outnumbered by those opposed to its ideas. No one, not even Republican voters, will live under the government this minority is determined to create.

Will a return to neoliberal rule, to Obamism and Clintonism, create a stable order? Again, no. It’s precisely that order that people in both parties rose to resist. The rebellion against that order, unheeded by Democratic Party leaders, created the opening the radical right just exploited.

Even a Sanders-style government, supported by the masses as FDR’s government was, will face a counter-rebellion, this time by the dethroned rich — and I strongly suspect the Obamists and Clintonists in the Democratic Party would join that “resistance” as eagerly as they join the present one.

So what is Thomas Frank puzzled about? Isn’t he really asking, why do the forces of money hate the people?

Because if he had asked that question, he wouldn’t be puzzled at all. His book provides all the answers anyone need.

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115 comments

  1. animalogic

    “Will a return to neoliberal rule, to Obamism and Clintonism, create a stable order? ” “a return to neoliberalism” ? When did neoliberalism ever leave ? Surely, Trump’s theater of protectionism hardly counts as a departure ? His massive tax cuts to Co’s & Elites are classic neoliberalism. Appearances aside, Trump is essentially owned by the same people who owned the Clintons, Bush & Obama.

    Reply
    1. 4corners

      I’ve heard you and many others call it theater but at some point we have to consider the possibility that Trump actually is doing something for the working class. At least his rhetoric includes protecting domestic industry, which is more than we’ve been getting from the Dems.

      Maybe I am duped too but his actions on trade seem to be ruffling enough feathers on Wall and K Streets that I have to think it’s a real effort with appreciable effects. And when that sacred cow of big agriculture starts to bellow, I start thinking it’s legit.

      Reply
      1. jrs

        maybe I’ll believe that if things actually improve for the working class (like you know rise in wages at the lower end). Otherwise yes it’s ALL theater.

        No, annoying some members of the ruling class does not count as actually doing anything for the working class. Improvement in real material conditions or it’s all show business.

        Reply
        1. Octopii

          More likely a rise in wages at the lower end will be accompanied by a rise in costs for everything one needs to run a household. While I applaud measures to bring industry back home, the current administration is doing a atrociously bad job of implementing tariffs. Sudden, capricious, and retaliatory is real statecraft…huh.

          Reply
          1. Harry

            Yup. Given more pay and the rent extractors will have more they can extract. Strikingly, us wages seem to be below equilibrium since the native population is not reproducing above replacement rates. Hence the need for immigration.

            Reply
            1. J Sterling

              I’m sure you meant, but I’d like to emphasize that the “need” there is on the part of the asset-owning rent extractors, and not the labor-supplying native population. Mo workers, mo tenants, mo appropriation of surplus value.

              Reply
      2. jrs

        Also even if globalization is used an excuse for a race to the bottom, and even if setting limits on this is necessary for decent conditions for the working class, is it really sufficient?

        Because it seems to me there have been plenty of times when there was plenty of domestic industry and yet workers were exploited mercilessly (why we had a labor movement after all). See whether domestic capitalists or multinational globalizing capitalists get the spoils is not that interesting compared to whether the workers are benefiting. And if all Trump versus “traditional neoliberals” amounts to is a debate between the former, count me out of giving a damn.

        Reply
      3. Yves Smith Post author

        The problem is that making some things worse for the some in the elites does not translate into making things better for ordinary people. Trump is gutting the VA. He’s out to privatize Federal land, including national parks. He’s weakening environmental regs. His tax cuts helped the rich.

        You can see more items here:

        https://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/economy/reports/2018/01/26/168366/president-trumps-policies-hurting-american-workers/

        Reply
        1. John k

          If he doesn’t blink we’re gonna win the trade war with China. If they want to minimize damage they’ll concede before midterms… Likely boosts jobs, certainly wins votes.

          Reply
          1. Glen

            China did not take American jobs, American CEOs and companies moved the jobs to China. Nothing is being done to stop American companies from continuing to move jobs to other countries. It would appear in some instances that the tariffs are increasing material costs which is adversely impacting American companies.

            Reply
            1. Tomonthebeach

              Actually tariffs do stop offshoring (somewhat, sometimes) because it makes it cheaper to produce in the USA. Or at least that is Trump’s intention. Alas, Trump’s intentions often are expressed in shortsighted and ineffective strategies and policies like Tariffs. However, surrounded by ideologues and grifters and grafters, those strategies remain unknown.

              Reply
              1. Yves Smith Post author

                We’re winning? Seriously? Talk to soyabean farmers and small businesses that depend on Chinese parts. A lost/lose is not the same as a win. See:

                https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/12/the-us-is-on-track-to-lose-trade-war-with-china-yales-stephen-roac.html

                https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-loses-trade-war-with-china-by-joseph-e–stiglitz-2018-07

                https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/07/28/us-losing-trade-war-china

                The US has gutted not just facilities, but skills. It no longer has supervisory or mid-level managers who can oversee and operate the activities that have been offshored. Look at the article in Links today re Carrier. Morale is bad and absenteeism is high because workers believe that all that has happened is the closure of the plant has been delayed a bit, not prevented.

                You also miss that the driver isn’t tariffs. Offshoring and outsourcing are a transfer from lower level workers to senior execs. This has nada to do with shareholder values, except that analysts are enamored enough with the concept that they’ll approve of these plans, typically giving the stock a pop.

                Imposing tariffs will make American workers poorer without doing much if anything to create high paying jobs. We’d need real industrial policy to do that, and both parties are allergic to doing that (we do have industrial policy by default, just look at the sectors that get lots of government bennies and tax breaks: the military, housing, health care, higher ed, to name a few).

                Tariffs are a blunt instrument and a lousy way to help workers, if that really were Trump’s aim. The Common Dreams article above lists far more sensible and less risky ways to accomplish that end.

                Reply
              2. rd

                Tariff /embargo tradewars are like wars and depressions in that they are disruptors of the status quo. That disruption creates opportunities for new industries and new competitors. Soybeans is a classic example where the current trade war may result in a permanent loss of market share to Brazil and possibly other countries. This trade war will likely create many such “opportunities”.

                https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-what-really-scares-soybean-growers-about-trumps-trade-battle-with-china-2018-07-27

                Reply
      4. Norb

        Until more people accept that the current reigning order has NO interest in directly improving the lives of working people, their interpretation of events will be distorted.

        The ruffled feathers you speak of is mostly about elite factional infighting over specific process and messaging, not fundamental principles or implementing actual change. In no way is this elite discomfort concerned at all about the demise of the trickle down flow to the working class.

        American sports truly reflect this social dynamic. The owners of our society ensconce themselves in luxury skyboxes and enjoy the spectacle in catered amusements. All the while, the adoring, and unquestioning masses- the people- participate in this ritual of growing exploitation, thinking they are part of something meaningful and great, while in reality they are the gullible marks that are slowing suffocating themselves in debt and poverty.

        The game- the charade- only works if everyone plays along. Players or workers expressing dissatisfaction with any form of the system are forced out, not accommodated.

        This boom and bust cycle of capitalism is what we are trapped in currently. Everyone should be asking themselves the question about why the required rebuilding should follow the same form and pattern that led to the collapse in the first place. That pattern is the sycophantic adoration of a wealthy elite, as if their money wealth alone conferred legitimacy to govern.

        Quit that, and a world of possibility open up.

        Reply
        1. Baby Gerald

          Judging from the first year and a half of his term, it seems that Trump is a pure neocon regarding his domestic policy [privatizing land, school, prisons, infrastructure] with a somewhat protectionist economic facade which, as 4corners mentions above, is appealing precisely because it’s more than we’ve heard from the neocon/neolib economic globalists who have been running things for the last three decades.

          Whether or not that protectionism front leads to any return to manufacturing at home or at the very least the slowing of its decline, remains to be seen. But it’s fun for an econ noob like myself to read the hair-on-fire headlines about how his tariff policies are going to ruin industries all over the place. Meanwhile his tax cuts to businesses and rich people have helped Apple sock away a literal trillion dollars. Like Yves says- all the direct benefits of his administration thus far have gone to the wealthiest of the wealthy. I doubt much will change in the next two and a half years, but maybe it will help energize people to rally to protect those institutions that remain.

          Reply
          1. XXYY

            I doubt much will change in the next two and a half years, but maybe it will help energize people to rally to protect those institutions that remain.

            I have thought this about Trump many times. The conventional wisdom is that his election is a disaster for the country, and in many ways of course, it is. But it has also led to a widespread and amazing resurgence of popular activism and, I think, a general realization that radical strengthening of popular control of our institutions is the only way forward. This, plus the fact that everyone to the left of the nazis has little influence with Trump and thus nothing to lose by antagonizing him, means it makes sense to pull out all the stops.

            By contrast, had Clinton been elected, (a) everyone would have been worried about losing their “access” to the administration if they were unsupportive, especially with the famously score-keeping and vindictive Hillary, and (b) there would have been a lot of misplaced confidence that HRC would have “done the right thing” for everyone, as we saw with 8 years under Obama.

            So Trump may not have been the one we wanted, but he may have been the one we needed!

            Reply
            1. jrs

              Honestly I think we had more and better activism under Obama than we do now. At least if one is looking for more than just Dem party movements, and looking for real economic and social justice. At least under Obama we had the Occupy movement. I can’t see much that is comparable even to that imperfect movement in scope now. Well the poor people’s movement hopes to be … and I support them in that.

              Reply
              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                And it was the Obama Administration which worked with many Democratic mayors to stamp out the Occupy movement and disperse and demoralize its participants.

                So Obama gets credit for destroying it, not for “causing” it, which he never would have wanted to do.

                Reply
      5. oh

        I wouldn’t be too hopeful about a narcissistic crook doing anything to help the people. He knows he’s in hot soup with the elites (including the repuplican ones) and he’s using distraction to fool his followers while at the same time stabbing them in the back. He’s gutting environmental regulations, allowing more fracking, helping only the rich and is not going after tax dodging companies like Google, Apple, Facebook et al. He’s increasing “defense” spending and is still carrying out the empire’s wars around the world.

        Reply
        1. jrs

          I would even take Obama’s pretense of caring over we have now. I mean it drove plenty of people, me included, up the wall, to have the drone bomber, banker bailout, deepwater coverup enabler, guy pretending to be the heir of MLK. No, the guy is not fit to clean MLK’s toilet. However … however … even the pretense of caring about people and planet is worth something it seems, compared to dropping all pretense, as we have now.

          I’d rather have an iota of real caring, like with Bernie Sanders, heck even like you get with governor Jerry Brown of this state and I know he has problems. And if all we are left to do is vote that’s what we’ll get in the best possible scenario.

          But if we can’t even get one iota of real caring, at this point EVEN the pretense of an Obama might be a step up.

          Reply
          1. Roger Boyd

            Just a case of how you would like your poison “Sweet and Caring” and oh so publicly politically correct (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) or “Sour and Boastful” (G.W. Bush, Donald Trump).

            A game of “kick the dog, be superficially nice to the dog, kick the dog, be superficially nice to the dog”; abusers implicitly know this routine, as do the elites and their courtiers.

            (No harm was done to any animals during the writing of this post)

            Reply
          2. drumlin woodchuckles

            It was Obama’s pretense of caring that conned people out of real goal-winning activism for 8 years. I would rather have the heightening-of-all-contradictions no-more-novocaine Presidential approach we have now.

            Reply
      6. Knute Rife

        The Financial Class is upset because, as the ECB has signalled but has refrained from saying, the tariff pressure on Turkey is likely to create more immigration on the EU, further riling the populist movements, which with stunts like Brexit have passed from being useful tools of the Financial Class to interfering with it.

        Reply
      7. Procopius

        I applaud your courage in stating this opinion in this forum, but you would be more persuasive if you could point to something he has done that actually benefitted working class people. The tax cut actually did minimally benefit working class people, five or ten dollars a month for what, three or four years? And of course the Democrats will never allow the tax cuts to expire, so that is actually a permanent benefit. Other than that I can’t think of anything he’s done so far that is a real benefit to anybody in the 99%, much less specifically working people, and many of the things he’s done are harmful to them.

        Reply
  2. FluffytheObeseCat

    Well written critique. Short and accurate, especially the uncommon but wholly correct use of the term ‘radical right’. Only one quibble. I’m not sure that “not even [Republican voters] will live under the government this minority is determined to create”. Many societies have slogged on for decades while subject to terrific levels of misrule. I can readily envision a USA in c. 2030 in which less than half the citizenry has any health insurance at all, most families live in multi-generation households due to financial need, and our carceral state has grown to engulf ~4% of the under 65 male population. These hypotheticals are all well within reach, given present day stats and trends.

    Reply
    1. makedoanmend

      I think you are on to something here. If USA Republican-Democrat Party, especially the radical right, are anything like Fine Gael in Ireland or the Tories in the UK, there is a certain nostalgia for the past in which the working class knew their place because their place was made* evident by their inability to afford housing, health care, and accepting punishment for infractions against the propertied that resulted in harsh life threatening penalties. When the working class is put into a hole and given a shovel to dig themselves out if it, many become so busy digging they forget who put them there while those born to it know no other way. Of course, a certain percentage of working people in this hole think they are doing virtuous work.

      In short, a people can sink pretty low and stay there for a long time if they genuinely feel there is no alternatives and the morally-legislative message of the culture is that a natural state of equilibrium has arrived between those who reap the rewards of labour and those who must simply labour in order to subsist.

      Shortest version: if you’re never e sure of your next meal, you spend time procuring food – not working to democratise society.

      As for Thomas Frank’s bewilderment, I just sort of assume that he has inhabited a world in which rationality was the guiding principle by which he and his cohorts conduced their lives. That many of his cohorts abandoned rationality or, rather, rationalised their acquiescence to the power of wealth of those who pay their wages, doesn’t seem to have made a deep enough impact on Mr. Frank. Profit has its own rationality that usurps or subsumes social and cultural rationalities. That which a society prioritises or make a priori criteria of behaviour has long range affects on all social relationships; including apparently rational ones.

      * made = manufactured via legislation

      Reply
      1. liam

        Spot on. The class system is a pretty persistent phenomenon, even in countries that purport to not have one. A mother and her kids sleeping in a Garda station and I’m listening to people questioning the moral qualities of the mother that she has kids she can’t afford. Both the lack of empathy, and the refusal to acknowledge the state of a system that can’t provide shelter for a family, really does confound me. I just don’t understand how people can hold such views.

        I suspect, in that sense, my bewilderment is similar to Thomas Frank’s. Although it’s more disgust than bewilderment.

        Reply
        1. makedoanmend

          Yeah, I read a headline about that situation which has become all too common in Ireland. It’s funny, when we didn’t have a pot to p*sh in, we often managed to help each other (putting aside the awful tragedies of when our society-state off-loaded some state responsibilities onto the various religious orders [and I not knocking religion per say].

          Tbh, I give kudos to the Garda Síochána for ‘putting them up’ for the night. I think people often underestimate the general humanity of the average Guard as they daily confront the realities of a system that rewards the haves and penalises that have nots. And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that a woman is being criticized for having children. How dare she. Those with excess means and whose lives revolve around money often can’t imagine that people fall on hard times when their wages are low or they rely on a spouse’s income. And other people, maintaining only a very think veneer of monetary respectability, are afraid that they might end up like her – and pile on.

          Reply
          1. Knute Rife

            I was talking to a friend who was talking to a mutual acquaintance who has never seen hard times. The acquaintance simply refused to get past, “Why don’t the poor just make more money and save?” Cluelessness is a cancer.

            Reply
      2. Oregoncharles

        To be fair, I think Frank just wanted his readers to figure it out themselves. His “puzzlement” strikes me as meant ironically.

        And like a lot of others, he’s reluctant to abandon the Democratic Party altogether, despite making a case for it over and over.

        Reply
        1. orange cats

          That’s the sense I got also, kind of a socratic method. Obviously he knows. Here’s Mark Blyth: “One of the most interesting things that happened on the email hacks of the Democratic Party was when they got Podesta’s email and somebody — I can’t remember who it was, it might have been Tom Frank — did a search by place name. You know what the most common place name was? Martha. For Martha’s Vineyard. Followed by the Hamptons. Followed by New York. Followed by San Francisco. You’ll be waiting a long time ’til you get to Cleveland or Baltimore.”

          Reply
      3. animalogic

        I agree:spot on.
        The establishment has abandoned ALL inconvenient rationality or honesty. The establishment has simply abandoned Principles of any kind. “Honour” is an incomprehensible noise.

        Reply
    2. fresno dan

      FluffytheObeseCat
      August 11, 2018 at 2:55 am

      I think your correct. How many NFL fans without health insurance vote republican because they are driven to react to kneeling football players?

      Reply
  3. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    Let’s simplify: man’s history has been a struggle between Capital and Labor. Today the needle is pegged on the Capital side. Dems and Repubs are simply gorging at the Capital trough, they are not Labor because they don’t labor, they are not subject to business cycles or economic uncertainty or competitive pressures. But back to history: Capital always overplays its hand, and heads end up on pikes. I for one cannot wait. As Travis Bickle said “someday a real rain is gonna come”.

    Reply
    1. Norb

      There is that, and climate change. Resilience will be of utmost importance in determining who lives and dies. This cycle of overplaying hands followed by heads on pikes only works if there are resources and worlds to conquer.

      Defining resiliency is our current political struggle. Heads on pikes or a drift into irrelevancy are two possible roads into the future for the ruling elite. Since the current order survives only because the masses shy away from physical confrontation, the pike rout is remote. Battles are fought by smaller and smaller forces. Technology allows this corrupt elite leveraging to progress. Drones and nuclear weapons are the results, and is it any wonder that the corrupt sociopaths in power seek smaller, usable, nuclear weapons? It is the logical next step in their mis-rule. They can only distract the masses, not motivate them to action.

      Let a few nuclear weapons go off and the current order falls overnight.

      Humanity is leading to a crossroads. Great distruction leading to a world of peace.

      Those who revel in destruction are a minority. Most people stand in awe in front of destructive power, but realize that actual living requires the opposite sentiments. To conserve, to create, to experience empathy. To live in solidarity, not fear and servitude.

      Reply
    2. nothing but the truth

      The story has accelerated since 1970.

      Now it is basically a resource grab, enabled by limitless fiat money credit for land.

      Rising land values relative to wages is where its at. This is why youth has no future.

      In NYC rents are now more than 50% of wages. This will not stop till financing stops. That will not stop because under fiat money banks (and therefore asset owners) can be perpetually bailed out.

      The “real” purpose of interest rates is to keep asset values in check. This is why ZIRP was such a poison. 2008 was a necessary purge of asset prices. The system just doubled down and bailed everyone out, and now rinse and repeat, with only labour being in a worse situation having flooded the economy with min wage jobs.

      Reply
    3. knowbuddhau

      Oy vey, amigo, you overshot and ended up in the 19th century. “Man’s” history is all of a couple hundred years? Or are you saying to be human is to be capitalist?

      Let’s go to the Wiki: History of Capitalism

      The traditional account, originating in classical eighteenth-century liberal economic thought and still often articulated, is the ‘commercialization model’. This sees capitalism originating in trade. Since evidence for trade is found even in palaeolithic culture, it can be seen as natural to human societies. In this reading, capitalism emerged from earlier trade once merchants had acquired sufficient wealth (referred to as ‘primitive capital’) to begin investing in increasingly productive technology. This account tends to see capitalism as a natural continuation of trade, arising when people’s natural entrepreneurialism was freed from the constraints of feudalism, partly by urbanization.[19] Thus it traces capitalism to early forms of merchant capitalism practiced in Western Europe during the Middle Ages.[20]

      I’m more in favor of the agrarian model.

      However, the ‘commercialization model’ has been questioned, with a leading competitor being the ‘agrarian model’. This notes that traditional mercantilism focused on moving goods from markets where they were cheap to markets where they were expensive rather than investing in production, and that many cultures (including the early modern Dutch Republic) saw urbanisation, and merchants amassing great wealth, without capitalist production emerging.[45][46] The ‘agrarian model’ instead argues that capitalism arose from unique circumstances in English agrarianism.

      And what of the rest of humanity, outside Europe? And even there, the Aurignacian caves were in use as shrines for something like 20,000 years. Where were the capitalists and laborers all that time? I don’t buy the “to be human is to be an entrpeneur” line, either. Many more ways of being human than that.

      So how old are humans? We’ve recently learned we’re 100K years older than we thought, at 300,000 now. https://phys.org/news/2017-06-scientists-oldest-homo-sapiens-fossils.html

      And every account of every explorer in the Age of Exploration told of the astounding natural abundance they found. It was due to living in ways developed empirically through hard-learned lessons over uncounted millenia. It didn’t just happen.

      Every history is always all Eurocentric, all the time. “It goes all the way back to ancient Greece….” Like we’re all Eurosomethings, and that’s sooo far back. (That grinding sound is me n my favorite axe.)

      People all over the world still live without the absurd inhumanities of our “advanced” economies. Lucky bastards.

      There’s much more to humanity’s history, OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL, than is dreamt of in your all too common anachronistic oversimplification. I mean, really. What would Kubrick say?

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        “What would Kubrick say?” WWKS
        He’d say: “Time for another faked moon landing! No, make that Mars landing! Is Monument Valley available?”

        Reply
    4. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      I for one will be waiting with my buckets of Tar & Feathers!

      Street Car Worker Gossip in NoLA only reenforces my beliefs…

      Reply
  4. samhill

    I think Thomas Frank’s bewilderment was more rhetorical than actual. Old style politicians functioned as brokers between the people and the elites, they got their power, success and lucre straddling the line, and they were a power in and of themselves, like old Sicilian Mafia dons. Neo-liberal politicians are straight up functionaries, employees of the elites, they play the “democracy” show for a few terms until the populace gets wound up over the umpteenth unmet promises and over-arching hypocrisy. As someone once commented here on NC “they are there to manage the decline” and ultimately go to their true rewards through phoney foundations, lecture circuits, and consulting positions. Failure to rise to challenges? Where does that fit in here? That’s rhetorical too.

    Reply
    1. John k

      Yes.
      The old fashioned ones took their cut, but fought for real benefits, or spending, for their districts and states. Especially dems, but reps, too.
      But donors don’t see any value in that, better to gut fed spending and slash taxes.
      At some point infra will be so bad it affects them, too.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether

      > I think Thomas Frank’s bewilderment was more rhetorical than actual.

      I agree. I think Frank understands he has to bring his audience/readership with him, and the way for him to do that is to ask questions. “The answer is in my next book!” (which I bet will be a barnburner). I’ve listened to a lot of YouTubes from Frank on his book tours; this one — from CSPAN — is near the end of the Rendevous with Oblivion and he sounds pretty cranky.
      If you want to think about class, it’s very hard to beat Kim Moody. But Thomas Frank is hard to beat if your focus is the professional classes — a very important part of the puzzle* — and you want a pitiless dissection of class markers, mores, language, ways of thinking, so if you spot one in the wild, you know what you’re seeing.

      I will take that as a win, even if Frank doesn’t provide the left with a blueprint for victory (which is a hard problem, starting with defining what victory looks like).

      Reply
      1. makedoanmend

        Thanks for the reference to Kim Moody. I haven’t heard of him before and look forward with enthusiasm to reading his book.

        I often have to fight the urge to frustration when people somehow assume that those who spend their time thinking about subjects and then converting their thoughts into coherent writing do not engage in actual and hard labour. It takes great laborious effort to practice clarity of thinking and even greater effort and time to learn to write effectively. Those who have to think and write for a living are in no more an envious position in a neo-liberal market saturated society than any other worker.

        On the other hand, I also detest the way quite a few office fauna assume that once someone takes a shovel into their hand that their brain automatically shuts down, as if a working person somehow is by definition mentally inferior when often the opposite is true in that a labourer often expends great mental effort during their physical labour – if only to avoid it as much as possible.

        Reply
        1. Procopius

          “… takes a shovel in their hands …” Reminds me of an article I read many decades ago, about “sand hogs” constructing something in New York, probably a bridge because they were working underwater. They were working at great enough pressure that they had to go through a decompression process that took at least an hour, and the reporter was flabbergasted that the guy he was interviewing invited him to play chess — without a chess board. He lost in about ten moves, because he couldn’t maintain a mental image of the board or remember the moves, which the construction worker could. One thing I learned from serving in the Army and living in several different countries, it is a mistake to believe somebody is stupid just because you don’t know their reason for doing something

          Reply
      2. JBird

        I have been thinking about this post and I think he has a little honest confusion; the various elites seem determined to just clear cut, burn, and lay waste to everything and then urinate like a
        dog does on to mark ownership what remains because “reasons”??

        There is no political ideology or religion that I know of to support this. Well, there’s always Nihilism or maybe Dadaism. A gigantic conspiracy to explore the essential meaninglessness of Existence by making existence worth nothing. A good an explanation as any especially since the idea that the unreasoning, narcissistic, stupidity, incompetence and overwhelming greed of our orc like elites that is likely to end our planetary civilization is more frightening.

        Reply
        1. Otter

          The religion is Maximize Profits.

          Appealing to Nihil and Dada is misleading. The elite don’t live in the waste.

          Also, don’t forget : many gods reward the virtuous with earthly wealth.

          Reply
          1. JBird

            Yes, we live in the wastes the elites are making and those charlatans would like us to think their “religion” says that the wealthy are wealthy because they are virtuous.

            Reply
    1. Lambert Strether

      That’s hardly fair! The Democrats represent the top 1% too!

      (That’s why — I should hat tip the commenter who suggested this, but I can’t remember who did — I try replace 1% with the more accurate (yes?) 0.1%, to use not 10% but 9.9%, and 9.9% + 0.1% = 10%. (There! I did some arithmetic!) I also like 9.9% because typographically the decimal point implies a split, and that class has to be split to get anywhere.)

      Occupy invented 1% and 99%. As many pointed out at the time, 1% is too big. And adding the 10% (9.9%) into the discourse is essential, and I think Frank’s Listen, Liberal did that, an enormous achievement. No wonder he was shunned and stigmatized!

      Reply
      1. willf

        I must disagree with you about the 0.1% framing.

        Unfortunately the 0.1% number was first bruited about by Lawrence Lessig before and during his ridiculous run for president in 2016. He tut-tutted the Occupy people for using “bad framing” when they came up with the 1% vs. the 99% when (he said) the 0.1% would be more accurate.

        Which seemed to reveal a huge blind spot where framing is concerned. 1% vs. 99% is a lot more catchy, whereas putting that decimal in there makes it seem as if the top 0.9% have a common interest with say, the lowest income quintile, which is absurd.

        And yes, the 0.1% have pulled away even from the rest of the top 0.9%, but those pointing out this fact (present company excepted) usually seem all too willing to let the merely filthy rich 1% off the hook — for their enabling the even more disgustingly obscenely wealthy — as the 1% certainly includes just about every member of the senate, and most big name television news personalities, as well as their bosses who shape the public conversation. One percent vs. 99 percent is just fine for framing the discussion.

        Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            How about this:

            The top 0.1%
            The next 0.9%
            The next 9% after that.
            And then the lower 90% at the bottom.

            Though the 1% and the 99% is catchier and more motivating to more people.

            Reply
      2. J Sterling

        Republicans represent the upper class minority; Democrats represent the middle class minority. America doesn’t have a party that represents the working class majority. It’s like the Conservatives and Liberals in Victorian England, before the Labor party was built.

        Unfortunately, Duverger’s Law breaks out to two parties, when classes are more a triad.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If an emerging party deliberately called itself the Lower Class Majority Party, how far would it get? How many people would be willing to acknowledge themselves as Lower Class?

          Reply
  5. Schofield

    Democrats are largely under-educated individuals when it comes to economics and their country’s monetary system. They are way too prone to accept simple nostrums. They don’t understand three basic facts.

    Except in boom times the private sector doesn’t optimize employment and therefore demand because of the risk uncertainty inherent in investment.

    Unlike a private sector clearing bank a sovereign government doesn’t create a liability when it creates money from thin air and this means it can make up for the normal under-optimized investment of the private sector either directly by public investment in goods and services, by issuing tax credits or reducing taxation.

    Both clearing banks and government can create too much money from thin air relative to real resources and financial assets and cause abnormal inflation. Only government can regulate to avoid this or take emergency action to mitigate its effects if the source of inflation is outside its country’s control.

    Reply
  6. Eureka Springs

    This post is a bit ironic since I’ve often wondered much about Mr. Publius in the same manner he is wondering about Mr. Frank. And of course I’ve wondered about Mr. Frank as well. I can’t find the post now but Mr. Franks adios for now I’m going to write a book at Salon before he wrote his last book… that post was very similar to his most recent one. I understand history repeats but when history is repeating like a broken record ‘we’ should at least get up and turn the damn thing off. Try a new record. Any non-scratched, non zombie, record!

    Both writers do great service by pointing so many of our ills yet they still fail to ‘get it’.

    As long as we the peeps and our best writers are mired in navel gazing about Dems and R’s, they have us exactly where they need us. For it’s not just the money, corruption and so on, it’s also the very anti-democratic model of our Constitution and both of those parties.

    We never were allowed to vote on the Constitution we have just as we are not allowed voice within parties unless we already agree with the owners. And I don’t just mean storming a committee or platform meeting looking for feckless platitudes, but real, constant voice, debate on real issues, established policy instructions for those elected in a binding manner.

    Reply
    1. Swamp Yankee

      Re: voting on the Constitution, there were votes taken in most of the 13 states on ratification in 1787-88 (indeed, the geographical pattern of these votes, backcountry farmers and artisans vs. mercantile port-urban interests, continues to this day in the United States).

      But I take your larger point — like Jefferson says, every generation ought to get to write its own constitution, and we certainly haven’t been allowed that in over two centuries.

      Reply
      1. Eureka Springs

        Double checking with my admittedly rudimentary web search abilities, I find Rhode Island held a referendum where it was rejected by a margin of 10-1. I see no mention of a vote by the peeps anywhere else on ratification.

        So the only place where some of the peeps were allowed a vote… it was about as popular as a witch in Salem.

        Reply
    2. JTFaraday

      I get tired of most writers after a while. I’m tired of Thomas Frank. I don’t think it has anything to do with politics. I think he knows he’s become a broken record.

      But make no mistake about it– the ability to just say “I’m going on sabbatical now because you little politicians and political activists haven’t caught up with me” comes from a place of tremendous privilege. I don’t care what he writes about.

      I rolled my eyes deep into the back of my head when I read his oh so superior sayonara.

      Reply
      1. JTFaraday

        It’s a much more interesting moment than Frank gives it credit for being:

        Why the Democratic Socialists of America Won’t Stop Growing
        http://inthesetimes.com/features/dsa_democratic_socialists_of_america_growth_alexandria-ocasio-cortez-bernie-sanders.html

        Also this:

        Socialists Practice Internal Democracy, Endorse Cynthia Nixon—And the Media Is Riveted
        http://inthesetimes.com/features/dsa_democratic_socialists_of_america_growth_alexandria-ocasio-cortez-bernie-sanders.html

        Reply
        1. JTFaraday

          In other words, Frank will come back later and pretend to lead the parade because he has that sense of entitlement that says he can.

          For now, the parade has gotten away from him.

          Reply
      2. Lambert Strether

        If one comes from a place of privilege, one should use that privilege to do good (public purpose). That’s what Frank is doing. My mother always said “Do what only you can do,” which is what Frank is doing. I would rather have him write his next book than become, say, a Walmart shelver, because of the chance that Frank’s work will help that shelver’s life become materially better off, one day. With respect to the global class structure, both Yves and I come from places of “tremendous privilege.” Would you prefer that the blog be shut down, so that you don’t roll your eyes at us? Kwitcherbellyachin’.

        Reply
  7. Andrew Watts

    I gotta admit I have trouble getting through anything that is Thomas Frank-related. Frank’s writing is that of a disappointed centralist nostalgic to preserve a relic from a bygone age. It has zero relevance.

    Even a Sanders-style government, supported by the masses as FDR’s government was, will face a counter-rebellion, this time by the dethroned rich — and I strongly suspect the Obamists and Clintonists in the Democratic Party would join that “resistance” as eagerly as they join the present one.

    An even more important problem with Sanders and other social democrats is that they are only concerned with the immediate material concerns of their constituents. They aren’t nearly ambitious or foresighted enough to see the big picture and fix it’s problems. The collapse of institutional credibility brought about by years of declining living standards, failed wars, and an economic crisis will have to be confronted at some point and any solution won’t involve anti-Russian paranoia that would make James Angleton proud.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Have to agree. And Sanders might agree. I don’t think he set out to do anything other than shove Hillary somewhat to the left. Like Trump (allegedly by some) he likely never thought when setting out that he could go the distance.

      Reply
      1. Andrew Watts

        Maybe. If I had to make a guess about Bernie’s intentions it would be that he views his role as taming a new generation of left-wing radicals and ushering them into the halls of power.

        Reply
      2. sd

        Sanders was clear, he was running because he felt there were topics that needed to be discussed and debated at the national level. H underestimated just how hungry Americans were for that discussion.

        Reply
    2. liam

      I don’t want to speak for Sanders, and I don’t have a bone in this fight, but might he not reply: “one thing at a time” ? Seems to me he’s a very canny politician who’s navigating a battlefield. From this distance he appears quite impressive.

      Reply
      1. John k

        My thoughts, too.
        Maybe he thinks he has to parrot the R3 to minimize oppo from clinton wing… plus anti war would rile up mic and deep for no reason because his existing platform is good enough to beat trump.

        Reply
      2. Andrew Watts

        Bernie has been a pretty constant source of frustration for American leftists. He’d always beg and scrape for bread crumbs when he should’ve been asking for a loaf. Which doesn’t necessarily mean he’d ever get what he asked for. This failure of dreaming big and striving for it is why he was taken aback by the response to his presidential campaign.

        However, I can easily dismiss the radicals on the American left who hold him in deep contempt. They maintain an erroneous belief of what politics can actually accomplish compared to the reality of what a successful political career looks like.

        Reply
    3. Jeff W

      I gotta admit I have trouble getting through anything that is Thomas Frank-related. Frank’s writing is that of a disappointed centralist nostalgic to preserve a relic from a bygone age. It has zero relevance.

      Although I think Thomas Frank has very insightful things to say about the professional class, as lambert points out, I have to say that I have trouble getting through passages like this one (from the article linked to in the post):

      The Democrats, however, remain a mystery. We watch them hesitate at crucial moments, betray the movements that support them, and even try to suppress the leaders and ideas that generate any kind of populist electricity. Not only do they seem uninterested in doing their duty toward the middle class, but sometimes we suspect they don’t even want to win.

      [emphasis in the original]

      I get that, to some degree, Frank might be using bewilderment as a rhetorical device, as people are saying here, that Frank “has to bring his audience/readership with him, and the way for him to do that is to ask questions” (as lambert says) but there are no questions there in that paragraph. Frank isn’t saying “What’s behind the ‘mysterious’ failure of the Democratic Party? [Read my book.]” He’s making a claim about how ascertainable the actions of the Democratic Party are and saying they “remain a mystery.” It’s a false statement and a misleading one—it’s a failure of journalism on his part.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether

        > there are no questions there in that paragraph

        I thought I made it clear that my focus was not a paragraph but his lectures via YouTube.

        Frank is, by training, a historian. We will only know what he thinks the mystery is when he writes the history and his next book comes out. I think it’s a category error to ask of Frank that he behave like a political analyst or an organizer. No doubt some here don’t want to wait and won’t read the book. That’s fine.

        Reply
      2. Andrew Watts

        I don’t question the honesty or integrity of Frank which is why I called him a disappointed centralist and stated that he is wallowing in nostalgia in his writing. But your interpretation is equally valid.

        Reply
    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well . . . a SanderSocial Democrat victory at many levels would at least permit the possible improving of material survival conditions of many people. Perhaps improve them enough to where those people finally have enough metabolic energy and free think-time to be able to think about the next bigger-step concerns you raise.

      If we simply ping-pong between yet another Obama and yet another Trump . . . Obama . . . Trump . . . Obama . . . Trump . . . America will become One Big Haiti.

      That may be the OverClass plan for now. Plan Haiti for America. And after that? Jackpot Time!

      Reply
  8. Denis Drew

    I JUST EMAILED THIS TO FRANKS
    For a long time I thought the only way a fair US labor market could be brought about was by making (already illegal) union busting a felony – even at state level. I neglected to imagine the management/labor civil war that could break out as criminal justice system grappled with long emboldened union busting genie, resisting with all its bloated might being squished back into the NLRA abiding bottle:

    Instituting a brand new enforcement arm to cover 160 million employees trying to retake collective bargaining rights?
    New labor enforcement office buildings?
    New courthouses?!
    New prisons to put away losing managements – if all this works?
    Legions of lawyers dragging every last (criminal) case down to its last appeal within appeals?
    Management with a million and one excuses for “easing out” organizers and joiners?
    Billions of billionaire backing emboldening every last line of defense?
    RICO prosecutions to begin as management excuses start to pile up and overlap – after the necessary years to qualify as a pattern?

    Elliot Ness had it easy chasing Al Capone compared to corralling millions of “legit” business owners back into (lawful) collective bargaining ways with 160 million mostly solidarity deprived employees.

    Imagine the happy labor market:
    Why Not Hold Union Representation Elections on a Regular Schedule?
    Andrew Strom — November 1st, 2017
    “Republicans in Congress have already proposed a bill [Repub amend] that would require a new election in each unionized bargaining unit whenever, through turnover, expansion, or merger, a unit experiences at least 50 percent turnover. While no union would be happy about expending limited resources on regular retention elections, I think it would be hard to turn down a trade that would allow the 93% of workers who are unrepresented to have a chance to opt for unionization on a regular schedule.”
    https://onlabor.org/why-not-hold-union-representation-elections-on-a-regular-schedule

    Wheels within wheels of poetic justice: a Democratic proposed labor market-make-over would corral a lot of blue collar voters (Obama voters, remember?) back into the Democratic win column – so we could pass said amendment in the first place.

    Reply
  9. Newton Finn

    There is a simple, irrefutable answer to why we have global neoliberal capitalism instead of a more humane, just, and beautiful economic system. Since democratic/republican government was created in the late 18th Century, the masses have always had it in their power to seize control of the economic as well as the political arena and operate it for their benefit. They have decided not to do so for a variety of reasons. All of this is spelled out with crystal clarity in the greatest Socratic dialogue ever written about capitalism and socialism. For those interested in getting at the heart of what needlessly ails us and oppresses us, check out the first chapter (and a small part of the second) of this free ebook. The picture couldn’t be clearer.

    https://www.readanybook.com/ebook/equality-63029

    Reply
  10. Olga

    I had a similar reaction to Frank’s article. How can he be now asking questions, which he himself had answered already in What’s the Matter with Kansas? Nevertheless, it is still a legitimate question – why the oppressed are not able to organise and act more effectively? Part of the answer may be in something that I think P Escobar noted in one of his recent articles… it was just in passing that he mentioned that Marx’s theories will have to be rethought somewhat to account for the (new) seductive powers of consumerism and how those have reshaped people’s consciousness (obviously, not for the better).

    Reply
    1. knowbuddhau

      Yes, I remember reading that on his Facebook page (the only reason I use it anymore). Glad you mentioned it. I think it hugely important to account for the vast, deliberate, and long-standing efforts to hack us, not persuade us.

      The reality most people live in has very little to do with the closest verifiable account of facts. It troubles me deeply that I can hardly have much more than a 5 sentence conversation with people at work before our history’s diverge too much.

      And that hasn’t just happened, either. A whole lot of effort, for well over a century now, has gone explicitly into hacking human minds, supplanting our own realities and teaching us to reject them in favor of The Narrative.

      You can’t just tell people BS for decades and call it good. We’re going, or have gone, crazy. We’re not just from different locations in the same geography. We’re not even in the same realities at all. This way mass atrocities lie.

      What reality were the 19th century authors so often quoted here living in? What’s it got to say to us now? We can’t just take their worldview as a template, it turns into blinders that way.

      Reply
  11. Whoa Molly!

    I see Frank’s question as a profound doubt about the utility of his chosen profession—writing books.

    All the books, articles and (yes) blog posts have made no difference.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      when i read it the other day, thought i saw Camus looking over his shoulder.
      Sisyphus, and all…
      But this might be my own bias, because that’s how I’ve felt for a long while.
      “frell this, I’m gonna go drink beer under that tree.”
      as far as the ongoing hysterical malaise, the thing people forget about Cassandra, is that she was always right in the end.
      It can be exhausting, I suppose.

      Reply
      1. Whoa Molly!

        Every so often when I get upset about the crapification of just about everything in America, I have to stop and ask myself, “What if BKS Iyengar had gotten involved in Indian politics instead of choosing to focus on yoga?”

        What if–instead of practicing and teaching yoga, and eventually writing the classic yoga book Light on Yoga,– what if he’d spent his time and energy getting upset about politics , corruption, and inequality in India?

        If he’d done that–instead of working on his yoga–I believe he would have accomplished nothing. I suspect no one would have cared one way or another about another agitated guy writing letters to the editor.

        Instead, by focusing on his work, he changed the world. He taught thousands of students, hundreds of teachers, and with the proceeds from his best selling book he built a hospital in his home town.

        The trick I suppose is knowing what your work is. Iyengar knew his work. As one of my teachers said, “Iyengar was an obsessive genius. We’re just ordinary guys.”

        Reply
        1. Lord Koos

          We’d all like to change the world, but if everybody simply focused on improving their neighborhood that would probably be more effective.

          Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      A book or a blogpost cannot make a difference by itself. It should not even be asked to make a difference by itself. All a book or a blogpost can do and all it should be expected to do . . . is to put some information or structured thought or both in a place where people can read it. Then those people can take what they have learned back into their own meatspace lives and make a real analog difference with it in the real meatspace reality-sphere where biological humanimal organisms live.

      Reply
  12. Michael

    “… human beings now live like astronauts, totally cut off from the natural world, yet, at the same time, connected by a fragile umbilical cord to the corporate world.”

    Add in a smart phone and social media, et voila!

    Finding renewal in the natural world while reducing the flow thru the umbilical sounds a lot like child birth, which is where I think we are in the cycle. Its my solution to surviving and thriving.

    Reply
  13. George Phillies

    Aggregate income is growing nicely. Unemployment, U-3 and U-6, are at 40 year lows. Unemployment among African American men has fallen substantially. Manufacturing jobs are increasing significantly–30,000 or 40,000 a month. The notion that working men and women are not benefiting is dubious, and may be reflected in the Fall vote.

    Reply
    1. marym

      6/1/2018 The black unemployment rate just hit a record low, but there’s a catch

      The unemployment numbers are often volatile, particularly the black unemployment rate, which hit a low of 6.8 percent in December only to climb nearly a full point a month later.

      7/9/2018 African-American unemployment rate moves up from record low

      After falling to a record low in May, the African-American unemployment rate moved higher in June, according to Labor Department data released Friday.

      The unemployment rate for African-Americans moved up to 6.5% in June after it had dropped to a record low 5.9% in May…

      …African-American unemployment has been falling relatively steadily since around 2010.

      Aggregate income

      Aggregate income is the total of all incomes in an economy without adjustments for inflation, taxation, or types of double counting. Aggregate income is a form of GDP that is equal to Consumption expenditure plus net profits. ‘Aggregate income’ in economics is a broad conceptual term.

      8/07/2018 For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades

      …today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers.

      Reply
      1. John Wright

        re: today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago.

        Does that purchasing power include the need to buy healthcare and college education?

        In the USA many non-purchased items have degraded over the 40 years such as on-the-job-training and common infrastructure such as roads/parks/bridges/schools.

        Crowded roads, long commutes and poorly maintained infrastructure is yet another “cost”/loss of benefit that people see that is not reflected in their stagnant wages.

        And relatively inexpensive public higher education has gone away.

        Then there are higher housing costs and medical care.

        I suspect the purchasing power does not look the same as 40 years ago when the societal benefits were higher

        Reply
        1. marym

          I don’t know enough to give a technical answer. Maybe someone else will respond.

          What I interpret it to mean is that it would be based on whatever goods and services were included in the index used for the calculation. That would likely be a political choice at some point, just as far as the choice of items.

          Then beyond that would be issues of value and availability as you describe, including longevity. A refrigerator or a shirt today may have a purchase price x times that of 40 years ago, but the 40-year-old ones would last much longer.

          Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Seems like a good day for “Shooter” quotes:
      “They also said that artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq and Anna Nicole married for love.”

      Reply
    3. JBird

      “Figures often beguile me,” he (Mark Twain) wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”

      Well, George Phillies, it is really nice to see such drive-by statistical BS as it means that the Naked Capitalist is doing its job. Such skillful, superficially accurate, legerdemain such as this does compels a response from me.

      :-)

      I am still trying to wake up with more coffee, but please let me ramble on with the following, hopefully more accurate, response as statistics are not a strength of mine:

      The U-3, and the comparatively more accurate U-6, numbers are less accurate every year because they do not count the increasing number of the disappeared. Look at the total labor participation rate which is at a two decade low from 67.3% in May, 2000 to July, 2018’s rate of 62.9% This rate is the combined male/female participation rate.

      For comparison, the male participation rate in 1950 was over 80% and of course they usually could support a family on that income. The Ozzie and Harriet cliche. Today, at least two adults while raising children have to work to even approximate what one adult could do a few decades ago. Now we have the majority of both sexes expected to work and their combined participation has, which a few bumps, being going down into the low 60s.

      Add the fact that for forty years, the average wages have either being stagnant, or decreasing, again with a few bumps. Also, after adding the cost of housing and healthcare which has increased faster than wage again, for decades, or that homelessness just keeps increasing, looking at a few upward bumps from the past year as truly positive is silly. Oh, and almost all of the share of the increase in income has gone to the top 1% with the top 9% holding steady, and everyone else decreasing. Again for forty years, with the trend gaining strength.

      Reply
    4. jrs

      Three words: labor force participation

      But yes things *ARE* better than they were in the height of the Great Recession. But this is accounted for entirely by The Business Cycle! We are in a certain expansion (maybe peak expansion and yet things are still pretty bad out there for joe blow) part of the business cycle. It Won’t Last. It never does. And being even our peaks are not all that good for the average person, it is not going to be pretty.

      Reply
    5. FluffytheObeseCat

      “The notion that working men and women are not benefiting is dubious, and may be reflected in the Fall vote.”

      Yes and no. I suspect the Republicans will lose ground in the House, but keep control for another 2 years because our aging Dem elite are so obviously contemptible.

      However, working men and women are so beat down now, they are in rapture when they land any regular work at all. This is not somehow a good thing. An America where most are asking, “Please sir, may I have some more?”, and feel giddy with luck over their good fortune if they finally get another scoop of porridge is…………. repulsive and wrong.

      And anyone who brags about it is bent.

      Reply
      1. JBird

        Knowing that the labor force participation numbers are the best metric is good to know, if one’s intention is to honestly study, understand, and write a true story instead of propaganda.

        I think the true issue is the deliberate ignoring of that, and other inconvenient facts, with the nonstop parroting of the misleading official unemployment statistics being a marvelous example; many can see, or at least sense, that those numbers are whacked, with the MSM and the commentariat now being semi-official of public enlightenment, a hidden Minitrue serving the Elites instead of the unofficial fourth estate that serves the public.

        This creates insanity as knowing what is true, or a least the acknowledgment of what is punching you in the groin, is essential for sanity. When I walk by the increasing numbers of homeless, and I am informed that the economy is doing so much better, is like what?

        When I can step out my door and not just see, but feel, the changes, when the written and photographic evidence has been clear for decades, and yet there are still supposedly sane, competent adults in the government, the media, academia, and business are saying that climate change, especially man made change, is not really proven, and again what?

        The horrific part of this is how many people believe the propaganda, hold onto it, and use it to deny reality. To deny the changes that need to be acknowledged. Russia!Russia!Russia! The Deplorables and the Racists! And I start to understand why it is not just the iron rice bowl but also the fear that feeds the crazy. I am use to the racists who deny racism, and the Holocaust deniers, and even global warming refuseniks.

        But this? It terrifies me.

        Reply
  14. David in Santa Cruz

    Oh puh-leeze! I’m with samhill‘s comment above — I’ve been listening to his recent book-tour interviews in support of Rendezvous with Oblivion, and Frank is clearly engaging in a wry rhetorical raspberry at the media outlets who have tried to silence him. After all, he used to write for American papers — I suspect that it’s no coincidence that he now has to write for the American edition of an English one.

    There is no doubt in my mind that there was an attempt to rig the 2016 election — but it was by the corrupt Wall Street Wing of the Democrat Party, not by the Russians (who would have been happy to have HRC to blackmail with all of the Kompromat that they had so easily hacked from those arrogant nit-wits). The Dems failed, but they blame the Left — to them, the sin is not their conduct suppressing the Left, the sin is that they were exposed.

    Silencing Tom Frank is a strategy of the corporate American media’s campaign against popular democracy. He’s winking at us here. I suspect that Gaius is too…

    Reply
    1. Whoa Molly!

      The unanimous conspiracy of silence against Frank is shocking.

      The guy wrote a book that offended the Dem Elite, and suddenly he cant write for a US big media outlet? Not one?

      Same story with Seymor Hersh and his recent Investigative work.

      Shocking to me. Yes, I am naive, l know.

      Reply
  15. tongorad

    Workers lack solidarity and are organized against their own interests.
    It seems to me the question is, how do even even think of turning this around without class-consciousness and organized labor?
    Our neoliberal bosses know the answer to this question, hence their relentless and strategic dismantling of unions.

    I’m continually amazed at how much rancor and back-biting there is at my workplace, usually caused by those who seek higher status. A front-line worker is in a very lonely position.

    Reply
    1. oh

      Many in the same worker class hate the unions because of the propaganda and the actions of the union leaders who keep betraying them. They belong to the NFL and NASCAR crowd and have been led to believe that it’s patriotic to salute the flag and stand at attention when the national anthem (war anthem) is played. They confuse nationalism with patriotism. We’re number 1, we’re number 1 no matter what the reality is.

      Reply
  16. knowbuddhau

    I remember seeing Franks on Democracy Now before Obama’s election. He was going on about Republican failings. Goodman was going along. That was it.

    My tweets, urgently and pointedly asking about the Dems, posted right there on their site, somehow failed to change the discussion in real time. Imagine that.

    The extraconstitutional party duopoly reminds me of my truck. I grew up liking trucks. I liked my truck. Now I see that it’s got the wrong power source. No reason things couldn’t have gone different enough for it to be electric. Now I don’t like it so much. But I have no other, and work is a 40-mile commute away, where I earn $4/h less than the housing wage and get only 30h, if I’m lucky.

    People talking about what kind of D or R we need sound to me like they’re asking, what kind of gas-powered car would I like?

    They grew up in it. Writing books, I’m sure, pays better than sweeping floors. If he answered his own question, would he have to move on to taking direct action?

    If he’s truly had it, I understand, I think, the desire to just go do one simple thing that one does well, for days and weeks and months on end.

    If he comes back and is still on about the duopoly, it’s just what he does. IMNSHO, time for some outside-the-box thinking.

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  17. Scott1

    Money equals power. Yves link to the American Worker Project is a fantastic accounting of true Trump policies. Trump is rich & powerful and understands government as does Putin. He believes in the Federation style Government that has essentially made Putin a Dictator able to kill and silence & exile anyone who he knows that crosses him.
    Labor wants their money. Inflation? Now that? All wage gains eaten by inflation which is more money to big business and the idea of debt write downs is unthinkable. “What about the Creditors?” Hedge funds have made junk bonds golden. “What about Puerto Rico?”.
    Soon we’ll be hearing more about Commodities, as the plan is to create more crisis and hunger, not fix the system.
    Telling American Rich People that they are to be taxed? They have all the power in the world to just change citizenship and put their money where all the spies do.
    Let us keep the Drug war going one way or another for it is the established intelligence Front.
    The nation that is the US has borders. One percent or 90 the difference is who are the jet setters for whom there are no real borders and any attempt to move their money to do anything other than oppress labor is left up to them.

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  18. Susan the other

    You’re right. It is time to move forward. And if not by a new social contract, perhaps by a new branch of government – with teeth. The new agreement between citizens and government can best be achieved by the Department of Modern Monetarism. Maybe replacing Treasury or probably better to start a fresh organization. No contamination. With an ethical mandate which answers to the environment and to the people. Maybe in addition to electing the president, and maybe on the same ticket, we can include mot only the vice president but also the Secretary of Modern Monetarism. And we’ll be off and running. Elections do sober pols up a bit. And this Secretary of MM should be in charge of implementing a long term goal paper, and a 5 year plan based on achievable goals not gaslighted by vested interests and inflation freaks. Just a do-able plan to protect the environment and create social equality. A jobs guarantee program might be part of this department’s charter. And etc.

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  19. geoff

    I’ve been reading Frank’s work for almost 25 years. My guess is that after having written “Listen, Liberal” he’s given up on the Democratic Party as an force for positive change. (Took him long enough, but I can’t say I did much better.) Which effectively leaves him no mainstream publishing outlet. WSJ won’t publish him any more, he can’t get on MSNBC, and it looks as if The Guardian has shown him the door too.

    Here’s a link to part of a Real News interview in which he trashes the Clinton administration. The word “monstrous” is thrown about.

    https://therealnews.com/stories/tfrank0901raipt3

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  20. Temporarily Sane

    Frank, Sanders and other “insurgents-lite” who hesitate at calling out the full-spectrum moral and ideological bankruptcy of the Democratic Party establishment are making the work of actual insurgents, who are genuinely challenging the corporate Dems nefarious agenda, more difficult.

    To be fair, Frank and Sanders do seem sincere about their intentions. What I can’t wrap my head around, however, is how both of them, after all these years, managed to make themselves look like completely out of touch fools. Sanders for leaping on the ‘elect HRC’ train after campaigning against her for two years and very effectively hammering away at her corrupt relationship with Wall Street..and later for jumping on the “Putler is Satan, Russiadidit!” bandwagon and revealing his shockingly regressive understanding of America’s foreign policy. Don’t candidates have teams of advisors who are supposed to help them avoid obvious blind spots?

    As for Frank, he seemed to be on the ball when he wrote Listen, Liberal, but now he’s baffled at liberal’s inability/reluctance to seriously challenge Trump from the left? Really?? Did he forget to read his own book or something? Maybe assuming good faith on their part gives them too much credit but whatever the reason for their incompetence, it ultimately helps the corporate neoliberal Dems they are ostensibly trying to unseat.

    PS – Do they know and interact with people outside of their upper middle-class bubble, i.e., card carrying members of the precariat who actually feel the sting and burn of neoliberal policies? Perhaps this is where their problem lies…

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  21. relstprof

    Where ya gonna go?

    Where ya gonna go?

    Either you support Sanders-inspired movements like Brand New Congress, Our Revolution, and Justice Democrats, or you wallow in misery with third-party no-wheres.

    Be the Chris Hedges of the world, go for it. But some of us are putting our monies and time into actual electoral change.

    Good luck.

    Reply
  22. freedomny

    My fantasy podcast would be a discussion on class/capitalism with Thomas Frank, Nancy Isenberg and Boots Riley….

    Reply

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