Ro Khanna: ‘Freedom’ Has Been Hijacked by the Right. Let’s Take It Back

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Yves here. Khanna’s proposal for the left to challenge the right’s appropriation of the word freedom is overdue. Sadly, the fact that this is taking place only now reflects the conviction that the sort of New Deal values that were once dead in the center of American politics were so obviously correct and sound that they didn’t need defending. Even as the resurgent right went from strength to strength in the Reagan era, many mainstream Dems, seeing young technocrats as the future and labor as sclerotic, were happy to ride in their slipstream. And unions acted like victimized spouses, unable to stop the abuse, yet unwilling to leave.

By Ro Khanna. Originally published at openDemocracy

Ro Khanna represents Silicon Valley in the US House of Representatives. He is the deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was formerly the co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Khanna’s new book ‘Dignity in a Digital Age’, where he outlines a vision for distributing the gains of the digital economy across the US. Khanna is also featured in the openDemocracy documentary series‘ US Progressives on a Knife Edge’.

The grand promise of the digital age is the possibility of aligning the aims of political justice with economic growth.

Our nation has created unprecedented wealth in recent decades, and now can invest in the development of “substantive freedoms” for every American to foster even greater prosperity over the long term. Amartya Sen coined this phrase, substantive freedom, to mean our capability to lead a life we “have reason to value”.

Different people will have different life missions and will value things differently. Sen’s philosophy acknowledges that, and his key point is that each of us should have the freedom to pursue the life we envision. To that end, even if we may have different conceptions of the good life, Sen argues there are some basic capabilities that everyone needs to develop to be able to pursue their ends. Ensuring that someone can develop those basic capabilities is to ensure that they have “substantive freedoms.”

Sen’s thinking echoes Franklin Roosevelt’s famous expansion of the American conception of freedom. As FDR put it, “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights called for the right to medical care, education, adequate food, and a job, and it is a vision for the type of social development necessary to increase the freedom of ordinary Americans.

The frame of enhancing freedom is important. It is mind-boggling to me that progressives have allowed conservatives to appropriate “freedom” as their constant theme.

Conservatives claim to stand up for the freedoms of Americans, but their vision is, by their own admission, limited to restricting state action. It’s freedom from excessive government regulations and interference – but it is silent about the most pressing economic and social constraints that Americans face every day. And these too are questions of freedom.

Think of the contract worker whose schedule is non-negotiable and changed at a whim, who has no bargaining power, no health care, no paid time off. Is this freedom?

Progressives have the opportunity to reclaim a more developed concept of freedom, one that reflects the full texture of American life in the digital age. We are for freedom, not just from state overreach, but also freedom to live up to one’s potential.

At present, we often defend our policies by appealing to fairness. While a fundamental principle, it needs to be married to the rallying cry of freedom. We often rail against billionaires becoming exponentially richer while the working class falls behind. Some start to believe we are for redistribution for redistribution’s sake. But that is not true.

The animating spirit behind many progressive policies is the aim of nurturing the freedom of every American to succeed. We want people to have health care so they can be free to pursue their dreams. We want them to have a quality education so they can be free to explore interesting jobs. We want them to be well nourished so they can be free to study and work hard. Grounding our policies as supporting, instead of curtailing, American freedom is not just true to our goals and beliefs, it will help us win over skeptics to our cause.

Our policies are also pro-growth. They will lead to an increase in national economic output. Amartya Sen, who rejects GDP as our north star, observes that public investments in health care and education create a more productive workforce and lead to long-term prosperity.

Similarly, Gary Becker, a champion of free markets, observes that in the technology era, a nation’s economic success depends on “how extensively and effectively people invest in themselves.” He said that the fuel for modern economic growth are investments in “schooling, on-the-job training, health, information, and research and development.” In fact, Becker argued that human capital, which is the “knowledge, information, ideas, skills, and health of individuals,” is “over 70% of the total capital in the United States.”

Sometimes, people wonder how I graduated with an economics degree from the University of Chicago and taught economics at Stanford, yet advocate for bold, progressive policies. They don’t mean it as a compliment. If I’m looking for a jab, I provoke them further by pointing out that Bernie Sanders is a product of the University of Chicago!

But my substantive answer to critics is that they have not carefully studied the work of economists and scholars like Gary Becker, one of the pioneers of Chicago’s school of economics. This is not to imply that Becker, whom I interacted with as an undergraduate, would endorse any of my proposals. But he would certainly recognize nations that cultivate “more educated and healthier populations” grow faster in the digital age.

This book, thus far, has focused on extending high-technology ecosystems with good jobs to communities left behind to foster dignity and economic growth. I devoted outsized attention to the jobs problem because it is one of the most visible causes of contemporary alienation and despair.

Sen himself holds that the lack of a good job is an infringement on a person’s substantive freedom. He argues that jobless people face “social exclusion” and do not have choices about how to make a contribution to their family or community.

Unemployment, moreover, hurts economic growth “because of a wastage of productive power, since a part of the national output is not realized.” Sen’s focus on employment is echoed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who sees “being able to work as a human being” as necessary for a meaningful life.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that good jobs policy is sufficient to overcome the stark barriers to opportunity in our society. Even if we make jobs programs available in places like Jefferson, Iowa, and Clarksdale, Mississippi, we still need an educated and healthy population to take advantage of those opportunities.

Sen suggests that every society should deliberate through the democratic process to craft a list of capabilities – what is needed to achieve our life goals. Nussbaum argues that societies can debate the amount of resources to provide for cultivating each capability, but they should guarantee, as essential to promoting dignity, health care, education, nourishment, and a means of generating income.

Influenced by Sen’s and Nussbaum’s work, my argument is that advancing substantive freedoms requires foundational investments. The central aspiration of progressive capitalism is to cultivate the potential of every American. One part of that entails a widely distributed, well- paying job market that allows them to make use of their talents. An equally important part entails developing the capabilities that will allow Americans to do those jobs and pursue their larger life goals.

All Americans should have the opportunity to flourish through their participation in our economy, if they seek that, instead of being confined to look for fulfillment outside of it.

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  1. anon in so cal

    “.@BillKristol is one of the most thoughtful voices in defending liberalism and democratic institutions in our country. Learned a lot in our conversation about shaping also an inclusive narrative around American patriotism.”

    –Ro Khanna

    10:44 AM · Jul 19, 2021·Twitter for iPhone

  2. Jacob Hatch

    White man’s slave speaks with forked tongue. He voted yes on Ukraine spending several times. Khanna is a slave of the MIC-IMATT (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-MEDIA-Academia-Think-Tank) and enjoying every minute of his play acting. He observed AOC and learned how to say one thing and do another has no downside.

    Ro Khanna’s donors, He received almost 87k from Alphabet Inc(Google’s parent company), and a whopping $464,230 from securities and investment firms, the very people profiting in the stock market off warmongering and rising oil prices. He’s supportive because his donors are raking record profits.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Comments appear automatically unless they hit a tripwire. I agree Jacob is asking to be put in moderation and we are only too happy to oblige.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Ro Khanna may have a bit of a challenge in front of him. At the moment, and as seen by that $40 billion dollars bill, Trump Republicans are to the left of the Democrats at the moment.

  4. Carolinian

    The problem is that the libertarian version of freedom is the only one Americans have to cling to (“bitter cling” to?) at the moment. I wonder just how committed Nancy Pelosi is to those FDR four freedoms. Perhaps he should visit her office and ask her.

    I recently was reading Piketty’s A Brief History of Equality which I thought was good. We all know what the problem is. Unfortunately there are lots of oligarchs (“malefactors of great wealth”?) standing in the way.

  5. digi_owl

    Ho-boy, this is a deep one.

    I think the most enlightening experience of my post-school life was encountering Adam Curtis’ long line of documentaries (his more recent ones spends far too much time rehashing what he already covered in the past, IMO).

    Among other things it mentioned Isaiah Berlin, and his “two concepts of liberty”.

    The basic thing is that with Reagan et al, the freedom concept tilted massively towards freedom-to (positive liberty as Berlin put it) where as before it was more angled at freedom-from (negative liberty in Berlin’s terms).

    This because freedom-from only really makes sense if one is familiar with serfdom and how pre-industrial society was organized. In that sense USA really was the land of freedom, as there anyone had the freedom to collect their belongings and head towards the horizon if their current lot was unbearable. Thus the ownership of a horse was as much a sign of freedom as that of a gun (and may well have carried over to the car and motorcycle, or even the idea of hopping on the grayhound bus).

    One thing to ponder was that Berlin warned strongly against freedom-to, as he saw in that the seeds for events like the French Revolution.

    That said, he was also an eastern European emigre. So his ideas may well be colored by certain events.

    1. voteforno6

      David Hackett Fischer addressed this at least in part in his history Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas. It’s certainly worth a read (as are many of his works). That tension has always been there, due to the particular cultural inheritance of the U.S.

    2. T_Reg

      I wonder if Berlin had read Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom. That’s where I read about the difference between freedom to and freedom from.

    3. anon y'mouse

      you have the froms and tos backwards, i think.

      freedom from, negative liberty: you can’t prevent me from doing so (usually, whatever i want). my freedom is made of the limitations of the state and other’s actions to restrict what i’d like to do. libertarianism

      freedom to, positive liberty: i have all i need to do so (be fruitful and productive as a human being), therefore i can do so. my freedom is made from the society providing what i needed to be able to do these things (education, health, mobility). socialism

      at least, that’s what i remember being taught in school, anyway.

  6. NotTimothyGeithner

    I hate the faux-talk like this routine. Its my memory, but Julian Bond brought up a similar point about leaders using religious talk. He noted MLK did it because he was religious, but other people simply sound like frauds because they are misappropriating and not being themselves.

    Appropriating words isn’t the issue. We just need, to borrow from LGBT+ activists, loud and proud. If we start shouting “freedom, flags, guns” to compete with the Right, we would sound phony. Trump famously squirmed when asked about his chances against Sanders. Trump knows its about sounding real. Trump is an ahole. He went out as an ahole, and the GOP voters loved him. He didn’t go to the Mittens school for GOP clones.

    This kind of argument is all the rage at DKos and other centrist rags. Democrats wore flag pins like aholes for years.

    1. voteforno6

      I don’t think that’s the point that he’s trying to make. The idea is not to parrot the language and symbols, while retaining the underlying meaning. Rather, it’s to reorient what these ideas mean. I think that such a reorientation is long overdue. If you want to appeal to as many people as possible in the U.S., the best way to do so is by using the most widely-understood concepts.

      How do you appeal to a population, the overwhelming majority having been raised in the American system of civic education? What are the stories that Americans tell themselves about what it means to be American? Whether you agree with those sentiments or not, they are still there, and they still carry a lot of power for a lot of people.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Its been done. Some Congress says this like its revealed wisdom.

        The subtext is those dopes at the country clubs ready to break out their jackboots will vote Democratic this time.

        “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”.

        This is how to do it. If you don’t use the language already, stop because you will sound like a fraud. No one is going to get tricked.

        Its like Beto. He’s a doofus, but he leaned into being a doofus yesterday and sounded great. There was no nonsense about freedom and flags.

        This is what has been missing, not Team Blue Freedumb Fries.

        1. Carolinian

          I don’t agree at all. The country is in a class conflict, not a “we’re here we’re queer” conflict. The poors get this while the ten percenters pretend otherwise. Most of the cultural noise from the deplorables is a way to try to piss off the coastals who are screwing them over economically while obsessing over the imagined enemy within or Ukraine. I say imagined because the poor are not the ones with the power except perhaps the power to take a gun and do terrible things. The above article gets it right but won’t confront the powers who are really the problem. That’s why it’s a bit on the Pollyanna side.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Its a messaging point. You don’t worry about flags and garbage like that, you simply be yourself. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” works because its just that. There is no phoniness.

            As I noted my first comment, MLK used religious language effectively because he was genuine. Other people come off like aholes. Its like Hillary. Her lines went through all kinds of filters and was designed for each audience, and the only people who liked her were attached to her decades ago.

            Bill was good with the feel your pain stuff, but all those loyalists tell stories about Bill doing the feel your pain routine in private. When he did anything else, he sounded like a fraud. Ro Khanna is repeating the same garbage Team Blue types have pushed for years as the simple keys to tricking the people who otherwise think Democrats are child molesters.

        2. jrs

          Actually I think a more left wing definition of freedom is the only one that makes any sense at all in terms of having any feeling of freedom in day to day life for the average person. Who really considers work under capitalism freedom anyway? So it’s not an appropriation. It’s such an abstraction that there is no one true definition of course, but I suspected the focus on freedom has only been defined by those with a great deal of wealth anyway, and that’s not most people under capitalism, so we need are own definitions.

          I think some on the right need to think more deeply about freedom, but I’m not sure that many are on the right for that reason anyway. Much of it is cultural, and also much of it is intellectually dishonest in that the motives claimed aren’t the real motives. So the right *really* cares deeply about freedom, give me a break, they would regulate reproductive care, they passed the Patriot and so on.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Talking about freedom is wonderful if its your wheel house. Don’t do a song and dance to win over Republicans. Stay in your lane. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is a great slogan because its all there. There is no reaching to Lincoln’s friend and Alexander the Great or anything.

            I linked to Christian Smalls. He’s done more in a few months for labor causes than Obama ever even promised to do, but look how black Smalls is. It doesn’t matter because he plays a version of himself. He doesn’t worry about flags or whether Red Sox fans will be outraged by his hat.

    2. Stick'em

      NotTimothyGeithner ~ What I’m hearing you say is the difference between who I am and “what my brand is.”

      For example, Ro Khanna uses the cliché “mind boggling” in his essay:

      “The frame of enhancing freedom is important. It is mind-boggling to me that progressives have allowed conservatives to appropriate “freedom” as their constant theme.”

      I stopped reading there. Why?

      I have an over-the-top conservative teacher who regularly uses the phrase “it boggles the mind” as he goes on his anti-liberal rants. This phrase “mind boggling” is my cue an Archie Bunker soliloquy is coming. Dunno where it came from originally, but you can bet anyone whose mind is boggled has been listening to right-wing news bubble sources. It’s a thing.

      Certainly Ro Khanna realizes it’s a thing too and chose the phrase intentionally to appeal to conservatives, just like he’s going on about freedom. That’s the problem with what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to mirror a conservative’s speech. The (unintentional?) implication is Khanna admires and wants to be like them because he knows Democrats suck.

      The biggest problem with Democratic party people is they are not authentic. As a general rule, they think all they need to do is “change our messaging” rather than change what we are doing. If the mean kids bully us with the words “left-wing,” why then we’ll just do right-wing things and speak like conservatives speak and they’ll quit picking on us. Good luck with that!

      The point being, Khanna and Pelosi and Biden have absolutely no intention of changing the policies they inact. Their patrons pay them to maintain status quo. That’s their role in the duopoly. So what they do instead of changing their actions is change the words they use, their image, their brand. Insert vomiting sound here ______.

      This is how we know the Democrats aren’t authentic, any more so than the high school kid who apes whatever the popular kids say so they too can be cool. This is why I call ’em the Inauthentic Opposition Party.

      You are exactly right. Trump is a lying asshole bully in real life and he plays one on TV too. Hypocrites like Khanna/Pelosi/Biden cockblock the Green New Deal in real life, and on TV play the “justice” role or the “progressive” role or the “freedom” role or whatever chameleon messaging role they think will get them the fabled “centrist swing voter” to vote blue team.

      As far as I understand it, the one rule of branding is you have to be true to your brand:

      Democrats fail miserably at this and everybody knows it. Democrats are fakes and at least Trump “keeps it real” is the realization of the average American. Trump may be a sociopath but at least he’s true to his brand. Democrats are sociopaths dressed in Little Red Riding Hoods.

  7. The Historian

    Ro Khanna lost me when he allowed the separation of BBB from the infrastructure bill. He isn’t going to get me back with this pap. And it is just pap. Minus the back-patting, there are no policies, nothing about what he is going to directly do – just some nice thoughts about ‘what should be done’. Yea, we already know.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      Yep, and the vote for money for Ukraine. I’m back to where I was before Bernie ran in ’16. i.e. with Red Emma:

      If voting change anything, they’d make it illegal.

    2. harrybothered

      Back when I was still at DailyKos (before the Bernie Bro purge), a local Bay area writer posted many posts on Khanna’s dubious campaign issues during both runs against Mike Honda. He even got blocked from that website for using a sock-puppet account. I liked Mike Honda and have never voted for Khanna. It’s been a persistent blank on my ballot.

  8. Ranger Rick

    If your idea of “freedom” is “freedom, but” you’re going to lose to the right’s definition every time.

  9. nippersdad

    Shorter Khanna: Nazi collaborator sees an election on the horizon.

    The question is not whether or not New Deal policies have value, it is who is willing to implement them. In the absence of anyone, including Khanna, actually standing up for the populace such words ring hollow and underscore how far we have fallen under Democratic party auspices. “Vote for me because I am a failure” may not be the winning message he seeks. He would do far better to explain why he has routinely countenanced Republican billionaires funding corporate Democratic campaigns this cycle at the expense of candidates who would further such policies.

  10. pjay

    I was prepared to argue here, but it looks like most commenters agree with me. Most of us see through the “pap” (thanks Historian).

    Khanna summarizes key weaknesses of economic libertarianism pretty well. I’m guessing the great majority of NC readers would agree with what he says. It’s what is *not* said that leads us to call BS. What is not said is 50 years of ever-expanding neoliberalism by the *Democrats*. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe this is what Khanna means by “the Right.” What is not said is how the ever-expanding security/surveillance state is beginning to make libertarian fears of government sound a lot less paranoid, and that it’s the *Democrats* (including most of the so-called “progressives” in Congress, not to mention Khanna’s Silicon Valley contituents) that are pushing it. What is not said is that we now have a unified War Party for Empire of which Khanna and the rest of his “progressive” buddies are members. Not only does the War Machine undermine the very domestic policies Khanna claims to support, but the only resistance to it seems to be coming from the libertarian right (those of us on the “dirtbag left” are too few and powerless to count).

    It took me nearly half a century, but I have now completely given up on our two-party WWF spectacle. It does, however, fit right in with the propaganda discussion in today’s essay on polarization. Divide and rule.

    1. Lee

      He’s another punk for the Billionaire software donor class.
      Along with a state assemblyman who has proposed to eliminate the public meeting Brown Act, and hand all public meetings over to his donors.

      Zoom gets to cut your off, datamine you, etc.

      Picture dead Americans lying on a beach at Normandy, “fighting for our freedom of association and the First Amendment”. Maybe they should have all stayed home?

  11. marym

    He buys (sells?) the right wing “claim to stand up for the freedoms of Americans… freedom from excessive government regulations and interference…” without mentioning all the demographic groups, and all the legally sanctioned methods, of regulations and interference actively pursued by the right.

    1. marym

      Who wrote ^that^ sentence? :(

      edit: all the demographic groups, and all the legal interference against them, actively pursued by the right to deprive people of freedom.

  12. Librarian Guy

    I agree with the majority of commenters here. Whatever Ro Khanna is selling, I ain’t buying. Max Blumenthal talked to him on the D.C. street recently about Ukraine, & Ro pulled the MIC prayer book out of somewhere down below, began loudly declaiming “America is an Exceptional Country”, “USA spreads free-dumb everywhere in the world”, recycled “Scoop” Jackson crapola from 5 decades ago, or turncoat Zionist stuff from AlGore’s veep pal Joe Lie-berman 2 decades ago while supporting the Iraq War and slavering over invading Iran next. The sad thing is that Blumenthal concluded his piece by recounting how some years back, Khanna’s staff read Max’s stuff, and even used some of it, e.g. supporting Conyers in denying US $$ to Azov Nazi crew in Ukrainian aid. But as Blumenthal stated, those days are over, all those lefties on his staff were fired by Khanna or departed of their own volition long ago. (The Blumenthal clip is likely easily found, but I won’t bother linking. I think 95% of the regulars at this site know exactly what Khanna is and who he $erves.)

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      No sale here either. If this is the best the sellout progs can come up with, then January ’23 may fine that the soon-to-be-formed Snake Handlers’ Caucus outnumbers the Dem Party caucus in the House.

      1. Librarian Guy

        I greatly respect Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Pepe Escobar, Michael Hudson, Caitlin Johnstone, etc. There are still smart and insightful anti-imperialist voices out there . . . They just seem to be somewhat fewer in # than shortly after the Vietnam war when some Dems had assimilated the truth of what Imperialism is and how it harms Americans as well as its direct victims everywhere else in the world . . . viz Blumenthal, his book Goliath is great reporting. But I think I could only read about 80 pp. because it made me so goddamned depressed at the shameless violence, cruelty and racism of our “allies” in the Mideast (or as Joe Biden said in a rare moment of lucidity, our “aircraft carrier” in the region!!

      2. Basil Pesto

        what an astonishingly confused, worthless piece. Haphazardly creates an ad hoc category of people who think that yes, actually, a SARS pandemic is worth Responding To and lumps several disparate groups and schools of thought into it incoherently (like, I’m not sure if trying to understand a pandemic through opposition to an ad hoc group of people you don’t like that you’ve just made up is the nadir of human stupidity but it would have to be pretty close). Feigning concern for workers while tendentiously misrepresenting – with typically mind-numbing Grayzonian verbiage – the disease which has, in fact, killed hundreds of thousands of them and compromised the ability to work – the health, more importantly – of many more. This is now an intractable problem that is only going to get worse. To make any of his dimwitted hodgepodge of an essay stick, Parenti has to argue from false premises and thus relies on the most intellectually bankrupt arguments to trick himself and his readers into thinking that those premises – Covid is mild and only a problem for old people anyway so it’s fine – obtain.

        Meanwhile this evergreen tweet succinctly highlights what a ridiculous manbaby Parenti comes across as, without even trying to do so.

    2. ks

      I used to vote in Cupertino and supported Mike Honda, who was principled and kind-hearted but not very effective, over Khanna who struck me as untrustworthy. His effective support for Ukrainian gangsters and Nazis dispelled any doubts I’d had about that decision.

    3. Jeff

      This is well stated. Khanna can’t hide who he is – just another fraud whose votes are available to the highest bidder.

      He’s the poster child for never voting for an incumbent.

  13. CarlH

    Ro Khanna, like the rest of the dems, including the “Justice” dems, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are placed there to give us mopes the illusion of having people on our side. All optics, all the time. I include Sanders in this cohort. So, so tired of their cynical act. As a bonus, look up Ro’s wife’s investments.

  14. Left in Wisconsin

    This book, thus far, has focused on extending high-technology ecosystems with good jobs to communities left behind to foster dignity and economic growth. I devoted outsized attention to the jobs problem because it is one of the most visible causes of contemporary alienation and despair.

    Sen himself holds that the lack of a good job is an infringement on a person’s substantive freedom. He argues that jobless people face “social exclusion” and do not have choices about how to make a contribution to their family or community.

    Unemployment, moreover, hurts economic growth “because of a wastage of productive power, since a part of the national output is not realized.” Sen’s focus on employment is echoed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who sees “being able to work as a human being” as necessary for a meaningful life.

    It would be a mistake, however, to think that good jobs policy is sufficient to overcome the stark barriers to opportunity in our society. Even if we make jobs programs available in places like Jefferson, Iowa, and Clarksdale, Mississippi, we still need an educated and healthy population to take advantage of those opportunities.

    I cop to having no interest in reading Khanna’s book but, if this is an indication of the narrative, he seems to have a large, or at best out-dated, disconnect with what is happening in this country. How is Silicon Valley possibly viewed as an “eco-system” for “good jobs?” Aside from possibly Wall Street, it has to be the most bi-polar employment ecosystem there is, wherein the small fraction of winners – many of whose jobs actually suck because of their all-consuming nature, but I digress – must be tended by a large army of service providers – everything from custodians to cops and teachers – who are mostly priced out of actually living in range of the eco-system within which they work. How is that “being able to work as a human being?”

    Also, while there are indeed many rural, quasi-rural, and older small cities that are languishing (at best), the notion that it is the lack of good jobs and failure to invest in human capital that is the cause is questionable. I can’t speak for Clarksdale MS, but every small town here in southern Wisconsin with a manufacturing plant (and most of them have at least one) is crying out for workers to take available jobs that pay noticeably better than fast-food or whatever other work Khanna thinks is all that is available. But the kids mostly don’t want to live there because they have been brainwashed since day one by Khanna types who believe they need to go off to college in order to leave their old life behind, and because so many kids follow that advice that the towns become depopulated of young people, which makes them less desirable for the young people that might otherwise stay.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      That third paragraph you quoted above is what reminded me that a fish doesn’t know it’s swimming in water. Khanna just can’t help repeating the same tired old bromides that have been thrown at us for years to the point most people repeat them without even thinking, taking for granted that they’re true.

      We need to start hurting economic growth, because runaway exponential growth is what has brought us to the precarious situation most find themselves living in today. We need to make do with less, not continually produce moar, Moar, MOAR!

      And working is all well and good and I agree it gives some meaning to life, but how many of us already work, taking care of elderly relatives or small children to name a couple examples, and don’t get paid for it? People need to eat too, not just work, and Ro Khana’s Silicon Valley constituent billionaires have created plenty of work that doesn’t provide enough remuneration to provide the basic necessities. Somehow, that isn’t brought up here.

  15. flora

    Freedom: what does it mean to me?

    Freedom means a ministry of truth to cancel any ideas or expressions that could upset my beautiful mind: freedom from thought.

    Freedom means Constitutional “work arounds” when my leader grows “impatient” and says “it’s time to do what you’re told”: freedom from anti-abuse laws.

    Satire, of course.

    1. flora

      FDR’s “Four Freedoms”:

      Freedom of speech.
      (The Dem estab is pushing more cancel culture, more ‘fact checking’, including a ministry of truth, more silencing.)

      Freedom of worship.

      Freedom from want.
      (The last 30 years of economic destruction of the 90% shows what the Dem estab thinks about that. Fraudulent housing forclosures, foaming the runway, HAMP, etc. )

      Freedom from fear.
      (It’s all fear all the time politicking now from both parties, complete with color-coded ‘danger warnings’.)

      Khanna isn’t talking about FDR’s Four Freedoms.

      1. Phil in KC

        I think Khanna is referring to the Economic Bill of Rights FDR proposed in his State of the Union address of January 11, 1944. The freedoms he described are exactly consistent with mid-20th century liberal program. That program, in a nutshell: To protect the American people from the twin perils of fascism and communism by mitigating the worst aspect of capitalism by strengthening democratic social institutions and guaranteeing a dignified way of life.

        Sadly, not only has the right/conservative wing of our politics co-opted the discussion of freedom, but they have also co-opted the meaning of liberalism. But this did not happen in a vacuum. Democrats have been coasting on fumes for decades, ignoring the vision and legacy of FDR.

        Easy enough to find FDR’s speech on Youtube. Worth a look. Then ask yourself “what happened to the Democrats?”

        1. Carla

          “To protect American WHITE people from the twin perils of fascism and communism by mitigating the worst aspect of capitalism by strengthening democratic social institutions and guaranteeing a dignified way of life.”

          There. Fixed it for ya.

  16. David

    I don’t know who this guy is, but I’d just remind everyone that there have always been two types of freedom: freedom from, and freedom to. Freedom to, which is pretty much the only type discussed is a Right/Liberal concept which requires a minimum wealth and power to exercise. The more you have of each, the more freedom you have. Very few people will have the ability “to pursue the life we envision”, and the more power and money we have, the better our contacts are in the media, the wider our network of PMC colleagues, the better we can pursue it.
    The Left has always championed freedom “from”: not the freedom to eat in nice restaurants, but freedom from hunger. Not the right to try to attend university, but freedom from ignorance. Not the right to buy a gun or employ a security contractor, but freedom from fear. Not the right to have access to drugs, but freedom from illness and pain. And so on.

      1. Grebo

        I have always thought that the primary ‘freedom’ being argued over is the freedom to exploit (right) or the freedom from exploitation (left). Not read much Isaiah Berlin but/because he struck me as right-wing and mainly attempting to obscure this. Positive/negative is just arbitrary and confusing.

  17. Alice X

    There is that impossible word ‘growth’.

    Some start to believe we are for redistribution for redistribution’s sake. But that is not true.

    It should be true.


    Universal health care.
    Universal education to tertiary, with no private schools.
    Universal basic housing.
    Universal basic nutrition.
    Universal child care.
    A universal jobs program without the military whose budget should be cut by 90%.
    All without cost at the point of service with no means testing.
    Redistribution with de-growth at the top.
    A wealth cap, say five million.
    A one hundred per cent estate tax at five million.

    Abolish money in politics and…

  18. Robin Kash

    How seriously should I take someone who represents Silicon Valley, who goes to Israel and licks boots, who votes for more war not peace? As seriously as any other menace.

  19. Noone from Nowheresville

    All Americans should have the opportunity to flourish through their participation in our economy, if they seek that, instead of being confined to look for fulfillment outside of it

    Imagine needing to look for fulfillment outside of our economy. Imagine flourishing outside of our economy. Think of the horror. Would that be a nightmare for members of the progressive caucus?


    The term freedom may need to be reclaimed but this excerpt doesn’t support that concept. Name-dropping, establishing expertise, using existing neoliberalism economic framework and jingoism. More education! Oops, wrong term. Foundational investments. It’s a book for a very specific audience. Perhaps Silicon Valley or the World Economic Forum. Definitely not the general population.

    May “everyone” have the Freedom to Follow Your Bliss!

  20. Young

    Maybe if they have free education and free healthcare, you don’t have to sell freedom to the masses who have neither.

    Ro knows the way to success is to stick with the message, stick with the leadership and stick it to the poor.

  21. Alan Roxdale

    OK, real talk: If progressives want to take freedom back, they are going to have to make peace with a lot of their own who were sacrificed on various cancel alters over the last decade. I don’t know if people are ready for that.

  22. orlbucfan

    Talk about American English manipulation/propagandra. It’s is the actual negative use of psycholinguistics. A deliberate ploy coupled with the dumbing down of the populace. This is the haves vs. the have nots. Anyone who knows how to read, write, and think are their worse nightmare. Just to be petty, I am sick of the constant misuse of ‘its’ and ‘it is.’

  23. Dave in Austin

    What a hoot. Everybody conveniently forgets where the Four Freedoms came from and what they actually said.

    Where they came from: FDR won a third term with a version of Wilson’s “He kept us our of war”. He didn’t mean a word of it, and for a damned good reason; the future of the world was at stake. But it was, as they say, “A fib”.

    When: It was in his January, 1941 Address to Congress. He pulled out all the stops and said we have to ensure the “Four Freedoms” for the entire world; in other words, it was a crusade.

    And what did he actually say, as opposed to the Norman Rockwell pictures of town meeting and turkey dinners? Here is the text:

    “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

    The first is freedom of speech, and expression—everywhere in the world.

    The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

    The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

    The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

    That is no vision of a distant millennium. ”

    My gloss:
    First Freedom- But not in the workplace or the US government will fine your employer
    Second Freedom- You WILL worship God. You will not have four wives
    Third Freedom: How far would that go in a Presidential Debate or a Congressional bill today?
    Fourth Freedom- FDR is a United World Federalist! And give him credit; the US has not “committed an act of physical agression against any neighbor”. We prefer other neighborhoods.

    And of course none of this had anything to do with the domestic policy embodied in the New Deal eight years before… except the US had now commited itself to enforcing it around the world. Limited goverment? This speech is the opposite.

  24. Skippy

    Firstly the whole philosophical freedom thingy is just such an religious term and all that it contends e.g. a contentious point religious sophistry that has endlessly favored a chosen few in a population to lord over others.

    The more accurate deception is right afforded to humans by legal political processes considering the the back drop that informs them. At this junction of neoliberalism its totalitarianism of market based outcomes e.g. all freedoms are a legal opinion about private property.

    Really strange about how Russia is more FDR like from a social aspect these days … hence needing to be crushed …

  25. Sound of the Suburbs

    What could possibly go wrong?

    What is the best kind of money?
    Easy money.
    In the past those at the top have kept it for themselves.

    The classical economists identified the constructive “earned” income and the parasitic “unearned” income.
    Most of the people at the top lived off the parasitic “unearned” income and they now had a big problem.
    This problem was solved with neoclassical economics, which hides this distinction.

    Economic liberalism does look like a good idea when using neoclassical economics.
    What happens in reality?

    Everyone had expected economic liberalism to unleash capitalist dynamism.
    Instead there was a stampede towards the easy money of “unearned” income.
    In 1984, for the first time in American history, “unearned” income exceeded “earned” income.
    The rentiers have never had it so good.

    With a BTL portfolio, I can get the capital gains on a number of properties and extract the hard earned income of generation rent at the same time.
    That sounds good.
    What is there not to like?

    We love easy money.

    You’ve just got to sniff out the easy money.
    All that hard work involved in setting up a company yourself, and building it up.
    Why bother?
    Asset strip firms other people have built up, that’s easy money.

    They love easy money.

    People do love easy money and that’s the problem.
    How on earth do you get them to do anything useful and create some real wealth?

    That’s what I like about the markets.
    I can just sit on my back side as the capital gains accrue.

    We’ve got to try and get them to do some real work and create some real wealth.

  26. ALM

    I agree that the right has successfully co-opted and mangled “freedom” to include many un-freedoms. Democrats have not fought back because they don’t have anything to fight with, having betrayed labor and joined Republicans in shredding the social safety net and throwing trillions at predatory banks, multinational corporations, and the filthy rich. And I have seen no evidence that Ro Khanna is a serious advocate of “bold, progressive policies.” The thoroughly rotten Democratic leadership is deeply hostile to such policies, and Khanna will not oppose them. While Khanna did some good work on Yemen (which changed nothing) and defense contractor monopolist Transdigm (which also changed nothing), he has otherwise distinguished himself by folding like a cheap suit right after his tough talk public blather. Khanna, who is a great disappointment like the rest of the House Progressive Caucus, is first and last a careerist and not at all serious about reform so I no longer pay any attention to him. And apparently neither does his wife who continues to trade in fossil fuel and defense industry stocks.

  27. Sue inSoCal

    Hope this isn’t too far afield. To me, freedom to and freedom from are two sides of the same coin or at the least, interwoven, but good point that as things are, money=access because we are a system of bribery. But I digress. For example, in order to be free of illness and pain, one must have access to medical care and medications. To be free of hunger, one needs access to decent food. To be free of fear, one needs a roof over one’s head. We don’t believe in sustainable housing. (Pssst-nimby) We don’t build new sustainable housing. Good example: Veterans’ outsourced housing is, let’s just say, unacceptable. (“Thank you for your service.”) I don’t see either party addressing these “freedom” issues, unless it’s appropriating money for billionaires for space, agelessness, and tax evasion. Military housing and veterans’ treatment in general is a pet peeve I’ve got and have had (remember Conyers’s treatment of vets, throwing them out of his office?), and these issues exist within the scope of “freedom”.

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