Yves here. It’s frustrating that writers treat it as news that Americans want more social spending. It’s another example of how positions presented in the media as mainstream are actually to the right of the center of gravity of political opinion.
As Richard Kline wrote in a classic post, Progressively Losing:
“Progressive goals are not popular.” Even with the systematically distorted polling data of the present, this is demonstrably untrue. Inexpensive health care, progressive taxation, educational scholarship funding, curtailment of foreign wars, environmental protection among others never fail to command majority support. It is difficult to think of a major progressive policy which commands less than a plurality. This situation is one reason for the lazy reliance upon electioneering by progressives, they know that their issues are popular, in principle at least. Rather childishly, they just want a show of hands then, as if that is what goes on really in elections.
“The ‘Right’ is too strong.” The oligarchy specifically and the Right in general are far less strong in American society apart from what their noise machines and bankroll flashing would make one think. The great bulk of the judiciary remains independent even if important higher appellate positions are tainted. Domestic policing is, by tradition and design, highly decentralized, with a good deal of local control, making overt police state actions difficult, visible, and highly unpopular (think TSA). While the military is a socially conservative society in itself, it is also an exceptionally depoliticized one, with civilian control an infrangible value. Popular voter commitment to the nominally more conservative political party has never been narrower or more fragile.
The rightist oligarchy does have a stranglehold on the major media, despite which accurate, uncensored, news is widely and readily available to anyone who wants to hear it. The other principle advantage of conservatives is that they are highly organized. Consider how the oligarchy effectively took over the ‘Tea Potter’ lunatic fringe in no time, and still presently stage manages it behind the curtain, or how they are paying some outfit(s) to constantly monitor and surreptitiously disrupt liberal to progressive blog-spaces. The powers of the Right are broad but thin and brittle, like a coat of lacquer on everything. Any organized citizen resistance would shatter that surface grip without great difficulty.
By John Duda, the Director of Communications at the Democracy Collaborative. Originally published at openDemocracy
The debate around modern monetary theory (“MMT”) is picking up steam – with its partisans pushing the model further into the public sphere than one might expect, and the old guard of establishment economics, together with some more interesting critical voices, pushing back.
The questions at stake can make the average person’s head spin: can a government with sovereign control over its currency create money at will to meet social needs, or would this create out of control inflationary spirals? Does tax income precede government spending, or does spending create the money that’s then taxed back to tweak the distribution of incomes and rein in inflation?
To most Americans, this is all probably a bit opaque and abstract – the inner workings of our money supply and its deep connections to the banking sector are, after all, as Bill Greider memorably put it, “the secrets of the temple.” But when we look at the core issue, we find that more Americans than not agree with the basic political judgement that MMT tries to justify theoretically – namely, that deficits shouldn’t matter if social needs are not being met.
At the Democracy Collaborative, a poll we commissioned with YouGov shows this preference clearly. 50% of respondents thought “the government should worry more about basic social needs like healthcare and housing, even if it means more deficit spending” compared to just 32% who felt that “the government needs to relieve our tax burden by cutting the deficit, even if it means scaling back basic social programs for healthcare and housing.” So while most Americans probably don’t have an opinion on the intricacies of heterodox monetary theory, by a significant margin, more of them agree with MMT’s political conclusions about spending.
Of course, with trigger words like “tax burden” and “deficits” included, we did see a sharp partisan tilt in our results. Still, it’s encouraging to see that nearly 1 in 3 Republicans don’t think deficits matter more than social spending. And with 74% percent of Democrats ready to spend more to meet basic needs even if it increases the deficit, the kind of austerity-lite Paygo triangulation advanced by Speaker Pelosi seems utterly incomprehensible.
The point is to recognize that whether or not we can decide in favor of or against MMT is somewhat academic. There are a wide range of important technical issues to be worked out around tax, interest, and full employment policies – but when we’re operating in a context where actually existing financialized capitalism regularly features negative interest rates, trillions of dollars of central bank asset purchases, and seemingly unlimited tax cuts for the rich, letting ourselves be boxed in by technocratic assumptions about what’s feasible according to economic theory seems uncalled for.
We should identify the priorities we want, and then build the monetary and fiscal mechanisms we need to get there – rather than cowering before the supposedly terrible and unknowable forces of money and the economy. The lesson of the last crash should not be that the market is an unpredictable and capricious god, it should be that when you design a system to incentivize untrammeled financialization you get exactly what you asked for. So let’s start instead with what the majority of people want the economy to do for them, and then design and build with those goals in mind.
As our polling showed, these goals are simple but powerful. Fundamentally, most people agree that the economy should be delivering better outcomes, and believe that government intervention is a good way to guarantee that these outcomes happen. We asked whether people had a right to “an income that can support them and their family,” “a job that pays at minimum a living wage,” and “affordable housing” – for all three of these basic demands, respondents who thought people “should” or “maybe should” have this right was between 65% and 68% of those surveyed, compared to just 26%-30% of respondents who felt that people “should not” or “should not necessarily” enjoy those rights.
Austerity’s insistent nag “but how will we pay for it?” should not be the starting point of our political imagination. Rather, we should start from an economic agenda designed to deliver better outcomes on key goals in the most direct way possible, and then creatively work out “how will we pay for it” as a matter of technical due diligence – with the understanding that deficits are only an absolute constraint for those intent on austerity at all costs. The answers we arrive at may or may not draw from MMT’s proposed insights, although they should be honest and realistic in either case. When the policymakers and central bankers of the 1% are willing to break every rule in the economics textbook to protect and expand an unequal status quo, we shouldn’t be afraid to demand basic economic human rights first, and leave it to the economists to invent a way to pay for it.