Thomas Frank on How the Feckless Democrats Trashed the American Middle Class

I’m not sure what to make of this Thomas Frank talk, which he gave to “activists” all over America. I assume the audience you see briefly in the opening is representative: old enough to believe in the New Deal, and by their attire, not members of the PMC.

Frank gives a pointed history of how the Democrats abandoned the working class and went all in for “smart”: if you hadn’t at least gone to college, you weren’t deserving. He has some wonderfully acute asides, like on the Democrats’ love for wildly complicated programs.

Yet he’s bereft of solutions. He bemoans the tendency of the flyover working class to vote Republican, seeing Republicans as con artists. Yet he effectively admits the Democrats are hardly better, while trying not to do so (see his painful defense of Biden). He seems not to comprehend the desire for punishment, particularly when the Democrats sneer that the lower orders should be grateful for the crumbs they receive.

Frank wants a movement to pressure or perhaps even take over the Democrats, one that demands a decent standard of living for ordinary Americans. Yet his only model is the Populists, which took nearly a generation of grass roots organizing to gain momentum. An oddly, he fails to mention Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 campaign had a strong economic message, while his 2020 push watered that message down to focus more on inclusivity…perhaps due to the influence of the “professionals” whose help he was told was necessary to win?

Look at how this campaign video only makes a glancing reference to the economic elite (“Everybody outside of that 1% has been denied”):

You will notice Frank’s moral fervor. As argued by sometime Naked Capitalism writer Richard Kline, in a 2011 post, Progressively Losing, the righteousness of progressives produces neither the policy orientation nor the muscle to effect economic change:

The first key point is that the tradition of progressive dissent is integrally a religious one. The goal isn’t usually power but ‘truth;’ that those in the right stand up for what is right, and those in the wrong repent. The City on the Hill and all that, but that is the intrinsic value. This is a tradition of ideas, many of them good, many of them implemented—by others, a point to which I’ll return. Coming forward to a recent and then present American context, consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as progressive:

Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights

Consider as well notable progressives who have held executive or even power positions in national governance. I struggle to name one. Progressives largely worked in voluntary organizations and reform societies outside of the notoriously corrupt political parties of America. (It is interesting and relevant to note that as a society we recapitulate that endemic historical venality once again c. 2011.)

A most relevant point is that these are value-driven policies. Notably absent are economic policies. I wouldn’t say that progressives are disinterested in economic well-being, but employment and money are never what has driven them. A right-living society, self-improvement, and justice: these are progressive goals. Recall again that many of them were already bourgeois; that most of historical notice had significant education; that their organizational backbone was women of such background. These conditions apply as much now as ever. Some progressives, many of them women, were radicalized by their experience of social work among the abused poor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Consider Beatrice Potter Webb or Upton Sinclair. Some progressives will fight if backed into a corner; many won’t even then, as there is a strong value placed on pacifism in this socio-community. Think John Woolman and Dorothy Day….

The origins of Anglo-American radicalism are far less tidy to summarize… ‘Poor or oppressed communities’: these are the fuel for radicalism, and one finds them far more in Continental Europe than in England. Serfdom was far more advanced there than it ever was in Medieval Britain or Scandinavia (for complex local reasons)….

Howsoever, it is difficult to argue for a radical activist community in the US before extensive non-Anglo immigration. Radicalism certainly hasn’t been limited to industrial or even urban contexts, but then neither has immigration. American mining drew heavily upon experience European mining communities, many of whom who brought radical ideas with them, for instance…

The key point is that the tradition of radical activism is integrally an economic one, and secondarily one of social justice. It was pursued by those both poor and ‘out castes,’ who often had communal solidarity as their only asset. It was resisted by force, and thus pursued by those inured to force who understood that power was necessary to victory, and that defeat entailed destitution, imprisonment, and being cut down by live fire from those acting under color of authority with impunity. This was a tradition of demands, many of them quite pragmatic. Few were wholly implemented, but the struggle to gain them forced the door open for narrower reforms, often implemented by the powers that be to de-fuse as much as diffuse radical agitation. Consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as radical:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate

While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

Critically, these are grievance-driven policies. One could say that the goal of radicals is to force an end to exploitation…Notably absent are ‘moral uplift’…

Reviewing the summary above, it will be evident that the supply of aggrieved militants has thinned out. One could say, uncharitably, they their residual objective has been a piece of the pie, and to be left alone to eat it in dignity. “Share the wealth,” is the substance of their message…

What radicals do best is bunch up and shove, that is organize and agitate. Those now don’t bunch, and have little inclination to shove as opposed to fit in. But for blatant discrimination, present immigrants would be a reliable, conservative voter base not inclined to pursue economic grievances through activism. Without that muscle, labor has no strength. What labor has are mortgages, debt, and a lot to lose, not a matrix congruent with agitation.

From the perspective here, progressive and radical vectors and their policies overlap directly only in a few areas…they have been more powerful in combination than either would be alone. If radicals might have achieved some of their goals without progressive support, though, the reverse is not true. Progressive advocacy particularly lacks any traction at present absent effective radical agitation to make the progressives seem like ‘the reasonable ones.’

Kline did offer a prescription:

Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing. They need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them). They need a defined activist strategy, no matter how large the difficulties or time horizon appear. They need to build genuinely activist organizations with specific plans to achieve a core set of goals. And they have to reclaim militancy as a word, and deed, of pride. If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

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  1. Suter Hans

    What Rorty had to say about Europe applies also to the US: “ It is not possible to have European democratic government without something like a European standard of living – without the middle class, and the well-established institutions of civil society, which such a standard has made possible. Without these, you cannot have an electorate sufficiently literate and leisured to take part in the democratic process.”

    1. hunkerdown

      Rorty liked that “alpha sub” dynamic too much, like most liberals. I think there’s a lot of good to say about rejecting the very idea of a “middle class” that sets itself apart from the working class and presumes to morally form them. We should instead build societies without petty bourgeoisie or Great Chains of Being so that moral perfectionism isn’t even possible. Everyone can and should be sufficiently literate and leisured, which can’t happen in a private property system.

      1. LifelongLib

        I agree the middle class should be part of the working class. Actually it already is but neither bunch is willing to admit it. Now what about the rich?

        1. hunkerdown

          I don’t agree with that. Consumption-based theories of class like Weber’s tend to generate flag-waving exercises, obscuring and concealing the antagonistic nature of class interest beneath the noise of a mere sporting contest (as intended). They are not serious roads toward the abolition of class identity or class property, but ring routes to their conservation and expansion.

          Wherever it has been observed, the “middle class” qua a social rank of petty property owners has been aligned with the conservative interests of elites and leisure classes in general, notably including themselves. Thus, it is inherently antagonistic toward labor and laborers, from which it has (if only fictively) performed its ascension. It constructs and upholds a social order where surplus value appropriation is normal and acceptable, and is permitted by the owners to appropriate some measure of that surplus for themselves. The PMC largely defines this class role under finance capitalism, supplementing and succeeding the thugs and bosses of capital as they in their turn succeeded the proto-industrial apprentice/master economies of medieval Europe.

          But, the individuals are not actually the class itself, regardless of feeling. The individuals that perform classes serve the same function as actors donning a theater mask and performing a role. They are only “enclassed” insofar as they are personally committed to the bit of their class roles and relations. They can expropriate themselves at any time, but, historically, tend not to.

          Regardless of dedication, class abolitionists shouldn’t see any particular need to admit particular class interests, ambitions, pieties, or other particular properties into their discourse or spaces, or to respect such innovations on their own terms when they are proposed. Contest as a liberal (i.e. capitalist) value collapses on itself when it is rejected.

          As for the “rich”, wealth too is a relation to consumption, not to production. Their money was received in recognition of capitalist values, namely the effective maintenance of a captive, exploitable, self-reproducing army of labor. Here, too, applies the grand strategy of opportunistic constructive trespass: “Your money’s no good here” cuts both ways. “Your property’s no good here” either, and culture jammers such as the Pirate Party, Caitlin Johnstone, and the late Mark Fisher have done yeoman’s work in tactically subverting liberal-capitalist social property. Where the strategy of constructive trespass extends into the material world, things get complicated and beyond my expertise, on which I must defer all counsel to better (i.e. real, actual) lawyers.

          Everyone with disposable money should stake it all on NFTs, though. ;)

      2. Elizabeth Burton

        The “middle class” is an artificial construct created to divide blue- and white-collar workers and avoid their working together by establishing in the latter a false sense of superiority. By encouraging white-collar working stiffs to believe their sort of labor made them one with the Elite, with the implication they reached that hallowed position because of their superior skills, intelligence, education and/or morality, an artificial dichotomy was created that continues to this day.

        Even when the “middle class” baby revolutionaries scream for overthrow of the status quo, it’s always from a framework that either ignores the very real problems faced by the working poor or smugly insists suffering for the “greater good” is just the cost of what seems all too often to me to be their own desire to be the boss.

        We are a culture well-trained to seek demagogues to “lead the fight”, dilute even the most complex matters down to two polar options only one of which is correct, and dismiss alternatives not on the basis of their validity but on the source from which they come.

  2. bwilli123

    The small part of the working class that ascended the vaulted ranks of society (primarily through state paid higher education) resented that Marxism thus re-defined & re-classified them, as inescapably bourgeoisie (regardless that they still held many of their previous sympathies) They no longer had the authenticity of being working class, but were now, at best fellow travellers- & by convenience rather than necessity.
    With the fall of Soviet Russia they found the perfect excuse to invent their own ideology, one that centered on what have always been the principal concern of the bourgeois middle classes; status and moral enforcement.

    1. Mark Gisleson

      So basically, the entire “left” wing of the Democratic party is synonymous with the Black Misleadership Caucus in Congress?

      Sounds about right but I think there’s a way out of this mess. Blow up the national party. There’s no reason for Iowa or New Hampshire to change their first in the nation status. Just go ahead as scheduled and then dare the DNC to refuse to seat their delegates. Win/win for Iowa or NH (small states, their impact is that first in the nation vote and then no one ever cares about their delegates ever again).

      Every election, everything is up for grabs. This should have been the election when angry voters smashed voting machines and tabulators nationwide, but it wasn’t and so 2024 will also be a Potemkin election…assuming Republicans Benghazi up the Biden laptop investigation.

      We can do much better than Biden or Trump, but it does require an effort. Absent that effort I elect not to vote. If everyone stopped voting, no one could keep pretending that we have a functioning democracy.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        To each their own but I don’t get your rationale for not voting. If they can’t trust your vote, those in power are more than happy to have you not vote. Indeed, they are going to some effort to make it harder for people they don’t trust to cast a ballot. “No one could keep pretending that we have a functioning democracy.” Why not? They pretended all through Jim Crow. They pretend now when primary turnout is often 10-20% and general election turnout is 50%, I don’t see why the charade would end if those percentages continued to fall. Do you really think people who want power care about legitimacy?

        1. Librarian Guy

          I mean, if whomever you vote for you get more Health care cost hikes, more brutal policing, more billionaire $$$ funneled to Elite politicians who tell you to pound sand (like AOC’s constituents who dare to wonder why she sends billions to a pointless proxy war in Ukraine while nothing is done for them), why go thru the farce? Even a lab rat would stop pressing the lever if it gets no pill, or a poison pill (which will sicken or kill them in a short period of time)? People used to laugh at Cargo Cults (if we do this ritual, God will drop advanced products from the Heavens), but you’ll vote for the Dems that Frank explicitly spells out (I am 37 minutes in and Frank is describing the Obama sleaze who go to work busting unions for Amazon, etc.) The political process WILL NOT make ordinary people’s lives better, & the pros who run both parties (consider what words “pro” expands to) know exactly what they are doing. . . Don’t be like the stupid Russian peasants who ran to their “father” the Czar begging for relief & got mowed down by police gunfire. Don’t vote! Don’t pretend that these SOBs give a flying fig about you– they don’t and everyone with an IQ above room temperature knows who both parties work for, & what the results will be.

          1. Left in Wisconsin

            But they don’t want me to vote. How does doing what they want help me or people like me? How does not voting help bring about the change we need? I’m missing how the tactic helps to achieve the goal. Perhaps in combination with other tactics?

            1. N

              I think the point is that whether you vote or not is irrelevant as far as what the ruling class is going to do.

              Sure they want to prevent some people from voting, but at the same time they wouldn’t like it if only 5% or some other low number voted.

              Every election cycle there are get out the vote type advertising promotions so they need at least some voters to keep the farce of a democracy believable.

              And sure, mass vote abstention probably isn’t going to change anything on its own, but then again what did voting change these last 50 years of neoliberalism?

              1. Alan

                I agree with you. Not voting shows one or more of two things: Apathy and unhappiness. Sure the lack of voting indicates unhappiness with the system, but the power holders spin it as satisfaction with the system and no change occurs. A big turnout can change the leadership. The problem is incumbent entrenchment and money from the wealthy donor system. The solution is referendum question elections where people can decide their laws themselves.

            2. Anthony Noel

              You are incorrect, they don’t want or not want you to vote. They do not care. Your vote changes nothing, affects nothing, is responded to by no one. All your vote does is perpetuate the illusion of some form of democracy occurring, and allows those in power to claim a legitimacy or representation that is a sham.

      2. agent ranger smith

        Here in Michigan, I was one of just-enough people to vote for state-legal marijuana that we got state-legal marijuana within Michigan. So we had a functioning democracy in that one state on that one issue, anyway.

        Also, here in Michigan, control of the legislative and executive branches was returned to Democrats. I was hoping that their very first order of legislative business would be to repeal the Right To Work law in Michigan. Now it looks like the Michigan Democrats will find creative ways to refuse to repeal Right To Work in Michigan. If they succeed in preserving Right to Work in Michigan, they may lose voting support from pro-union people who expected better. One could cite the upcoming Democrat-led preservation of Right To Work in Michigan as evidence that we don’t have a functioning democracy in Michigan in terms of getting legislative-executive results just by winning the vote for them in an election.

        Regardless, if I find regional and/or local persons or things worth voting about, I will continue to vote about them. It worked for the marijuana initiative.

  3. flora

    The populists and later the progressives – late 19th c through roughly mid 20th c – lived in a time of growing real national wealth created by extraordinary new inventions or refinements of existing inventions: the Bessemer steel process (1850’s), new railroads opening the country to wider trade, harnessing electricity for the Morse telegraph and electric lights and innumerable other inventions, expansion of mass production and the assembly line manufacturing process, the automobile and the tractor, the airplane (or aeroplane), rocketry, satellite communications, etc.

    The populists and progressives built on these things in their demands. The pie was larger, the country was richer, the few at the top shouldn’t keep all the gains to themselves. The few at the top shouldn’t monopolize business and manufacturing and agriculture commodities.

    What new inventions has the US produced in the last 40 years? Private Equity trading and financlizing the entire economy? Labor arbitrage? Interest rate arbitrage? Miniaturization in computer circuitry and the expansion of computer chips into all kinds of products. Meanwhile, the electrical grid creaks, the water systems of many once great cities degrade, manufacturing is done elsewhere. Monopolies – even in medicine are growing. It sometimes seems the US economy is no longer producing new real wealth that will increase the US’s future prosperity for the entire country. So what is a populist or a progressive to do at this point? The economic conditions are very different than 150-80 years ago. Even during the Great Depression the enormous infrastructure wealth previously build in rail, sail, communications, electrical power generation was waiting to be tapped again when the crisis passed. (There’s some idea I’m trying to get at here but not having much luck defining.)

    Thanks for this post.

    1. Lexx

      Franks says early in his lecture(s) that ‘affluent society doesn’t make sense anymore’. You’re describing a time when we thought it did; when we thought that through our creativity and labor we could lift each other up, building a better society. He says this… ‘moral lift’.

      I was taking notes while he spoke and I kept writing down the word ‘pride’.

      1. flora

        Maybe I’m trying to describe a time in the late 1800s and early-ish 1900s when the rentier economy was dominant in politics and then lost it’s dominance in politics (the New Deal) thank to sustained and vigorous agitation by populists and progressives. (Remembering that the GOP was the progressive party in the early 1900s at the state level and is the reason many Midwestern states became GOP states.) Now, as Michael Hudson has written, the country’s politics have reverted to rentier dominance – including in the Dem party. This is a different topic than national real wealth building. Maybe reining in the rentier economy and the rentier dominance of politics is more important for democratic politics and society than national wealth building. Cart, horse, etc.

        1. Lexx

          My parents (born in 1936 and ’38) thought it quite an achievement to buy their own home; they had come from generations that had rented. Unlike their parents, they and all their siblings would own their houses*. That sense of achievement is why they stayed in them for more than 50 years and passed them to their children.

          This is house #3 for us and there will be a fourth. I don’t know anyone from my generation that if they were able to come up with the down payment hasn’t owned and lived in several. We’re climbing the real estate ladder.

          *except the two that divorced

    2. Jeff W

      “What new inventions has the US produced in the last 40 years?”

      The Internet, whose birth date is widely considered to be 1 January 1983, 40 years old this coming Sunday, was the last great US invention, I think.

      More than the Internet—and maybe “the automobile and the tractor, the airplane (or aeroplane), rocketry, satellite communications…”—economist Ha-joon Chang gives preeminence to the lowly washing machine (and other household goods), which he says, “[b]y liberating women from household work and helping to abolish professions such as domestic service…completely revolutionised the structure of society.”

      1. Karl

        The internet as we know it (including its mobile version) required an amazing suite of discoveries and inventions. The discoveries occurred mostly in the past 60 years (moving the historical goal post a bit), but the manufacturing and commercialization to scale required even more invention over the next decades to make it make it become what it is. This includes cheap lasers, fiber optics, packet switching, disk drives, memory chips, cellular telephony, GPS, etc. to name just a few. As we know the inventions in software that we use every day (operating systems, word processing, spreadsheet, database, search algorithms, mapping algorithms, digital payments, etc.) are all of 40-year vintage. I can remember 40 years ago doing very advanced financial analysis and energy modeling using clunky code and requiring the biggest mainframes that can now be done on an average laptop. These separate, often fortuitous inventions, had an amazing synergy that built on each other. The resulting explosion of innovation hasn’t stopped. The internet of 20 years from now will be as different as today’s is from 20 years ago.

        Looking forward, the basic premise that we can’t maintain this pace of invention seems quite plausible to me.The idea that we’re running out of inventions was fairly convincingly advocated by a number of economists recently, notably Robert Gordon. But we should consider that much of this innovation is driven by the pressure to push the boundaries of the possible in military, space, medicine and related R&D around the world. Much innovation historically had military competition between nation states as a root cause, and these pressures are only intensifying.

        We are becoming so inventive with AI and robotics that machines may render many human jobs obsolete, so we may see considerable job destruction in excess of job creation in the future. Economists focus on the productivity benefits of innovation, but sustained and rapid innovation also brings about tremendous dislocation. I’ve often thought that much of the political instability in the world may be due to the fact that the pace of technological change — particularly the ubiquity of the internet, social media, and mobile phones — has been faster than societies can adapt. So, maybe less inventiveness has its positive side, if we can solve the problem of chronic unemployment.

        We’ll need to invent new ways to work. Or, we’ll just have to kill each other.

        1. flora

          “Looking forward, the basic premise that we can’t maintain this pace of invention seems quite plausible to me.”


          “The idea that we’re running out of inventions was fairly convincingly advocated by a number of economists recently, ….”

          Economists are not engineers, chemists, physicists, or even backyard tinkerers. / ;)

          1. Mr Robert Christopher

            The UK’s Ministry of Energy is full of Arts and Humanities graduates, and they can’t even appoint credible advisors, to advise on Energy.

            In fact, Parliament is full of them: graduates of PPE(Philosophy, Politics and Economics), History, Classics, Politics, Political Science, Economics, Sociology, and Law:

            OK! It’s not quite ‘full’, but there is a distinct lack of Natural Scientists and Engineers: the sort of people who are likely to understand why projects need a plan, with a time line, an accumulating table of assumptions and risks, and a competent project leader. It’s the same in the Civil Service. And I expect any STEM graduate is keeping quiet about it. :)

            Generalists need to let specialists contribute, at least, not as advisors, but being part of the deciders.

            And since governments want to be in charge of infrastructure projects, responsible even :) , they do need to have the relevant knowledge and experience to aid recruiting competent leaders, advisors and make decisions. No wonder the West appears to be not at the leading edge of technology any more.

            These are the people that should help to promote technical developments, encouraging hope, not scare children about the sea level rise flooding London, and adults about 15 minute neighborhoods, and compulsory heat pumps.

            The Legacy Media is so much about Celebrity, and it is rare to see any appreciation of rigour*. And that is what is needed to understand so much technical stuff today. And to be not so ‘enthusiastic, without substance’: it’s not inspirational at all.

            Discoveries and developments are becoming harder to understand. For example, the Cathode Ray Tube wasn’t that difficult, but the different types of TV and Smartphone screen are not only degree level in complexity (to not be over simplified :) ), they keep advancing!

            The cubic law of fluid flow forecasts the poor performance of windmills supplying a National Power Grid. The difficulty of Battery Technology in storing Electricity for months at a time: they don’t appear within the reach of most of the public, yet.

            The combination of these facts hints at why Science and new inventions aren’t flavour of the month. At school, I had the Moon Walks and Nuclear Power to inspire me, on the BBC, not Lockdowns, again on the BBC?

            *Andrew Lloyd Webber, as a judge, told a good competitor (who came 3rd, IIRC) to learn to read music, as it would help her chances of a good career. It was from the heart! :)

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          They may have paid for it, but Donella Meadows led it. She was just trying to tell a hard truth and generate discussion of a way out. Whatever the Club of Rome’s original intent, the intent of the team that produced it was to warn humans of a danger few had comprehended before. We had succeeded so well that we could destroy ourselves. And not just with bombs.

          And more generally, her work taught me to throw aside simplistic cause-and-effect and devote more time to observation to better understand the complexity I was witnessing. That kind of thinking is neither evil nor bad. It’s just a way of reminding us that the universe’s complexity greatly exceeds the ability of our meager minds to fully understand. So far, we’ve done real well at learning how to destroy ourselves and much of life around us. Now, maybe we can relearn that truth that we are not magically immune from how the universe works.

          There is such a thing as “too much.” Even the WEF’s hated “own nothing” conception should remind us that “ownership” in its present incarnation is enforced at the point of a gun for the significant benefit of only a few.

    3. TimD

      When countries are producing domestically and reinvesting profits domestically at a similar level of technology, there will still be economic growth. When there is rapid technological change that results in more efficient production then a number of things can happen. One is that there is a price drop and this increases real income for the average person. Another is that wages can go up, or hours of work can go down for the same time – both of these have the same result as the first instance. A third situation is that the owners of the technology get all of the gains – this means an increase in inequality without people being better off.

      When we look at the above in respect to changes in the economy during the last 40 years, two items stand out for me. One is the offshoring of production to low-wage countries. This took away bargaining power from the average person and taxing power from governments. It is hard to have a sit-down strike when the factory is in another country. The second big change is automation and computerization. The staple of universities was training middle-level manager to process information in bureaucracies. Computers changed that, they changed how work was done and how many people were needed to do it. There would be no 40 years ago unless it was a newsletter but it would be practically impossible for us to comment on someone’s story.

      What we have in our modern economy is a situation where people have less and less bargaining power, combined with a belief that rich people are there to make our lives better. All it has led to is slower economic growth, higher debt levels and more inequality. I would say that there would be ways to have completed the last 40 years differently where there we would make more, work less and have a healthier planet. We can’t get the time back, but that doesn’t change the need to make changes.

      1. Martin Oline

        Thanks for the link. I used to live in Inverness, Ca and there was a small village down the coast named Bolinas. It was commonly called Bobo. A visiting friend from Iowa told me the word was slang for a bull’s nether regions. I could not imagine that was the reason even though there was some amount of ranching on the peninsula. This gives a much better definition (Bobo = Bohemian + Bourgeois). I heard many of the newer arrivals who lived there had originally been drawn by the work of cleaning up an oil spill and stayed.

    4. spud

      remember flora, america was still quite rural, and native american lands were the growth opportunity, and a safety valve for those fleeing capitalism.

      i bet you read hedges latest,

      “The Democratic Party, which, under the Clinton administration aggressively courted corporate donors, has surrendered its willingness to challenge, however tepidly, the war industry.

      “As soon as the Democratic Party made a determination, it could have been 35 or 40 years ago, that they were going to take corporate contributions, that wiped out any distinction between the two parties,” Dennis Kucinich said when I interviewed him on my show for The Real News Network. “Because in Washington, he or she who pays the piper plays the tune. That’s what’s happened. There isn’t that much of a difference in terms of the two parties when it comes to war.”

      “Bridges, roads, levees, rail, ports, electric grids, sewage treatment plants and drinking water infrastructures are structurally deficient and antiquated. Schools are in disrepair and lack sufficient teachers and staff. Unable to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, the for-profit health care industry forces families, including those with insurance, into bankruptcy. Domestic manufacturing, especially with the offshoring of jobs to China, Vietnam, Mexico and other nations, collapses. Families are drowning in personal debt, with 63 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned.”

      everyone of those policies came out of the clinton administration. a few days ago one of the posters said bill clinton was just a salesman, he was not. he was and still is a far right extremist ideologue who knew how to weld power, more than willing to use murder, rape, pedeophilia, blackmail, mass murder, war, forced labor, torture etc., he took a meat ax to americas civil society, and its ran so deep you even find clintonites in your local government.

      i know i did. what i saw for a few years in my local small suburb of minneapolis/st.paul was astounding. i argued against it repeatedly, only to finally give up under a onslaught of violent spewing of hate.

      where i lived, the market people who got a hold of local government, this happened in the 1990’s. decided that the skilled labor running snow plows was to expensive, if you ever ran one, or road along, you know they are skilled to drive them during storms, or even after a storm.

      the dim wit market people said we can hire locals and their 4wd’s.

      well in minnesota, 4-6 feet of snow is not out of the question. we did not even make it out of january, we were down to one lane wide, and that was iffy.

      the county plowed the main roads going through the town, if not that. we most likely would have been snowed in.

      the next year they said we were not being self responsible enough. we had good snow plowing equipment, and a good labor force. took a few years to rebuild. but that type of thinking still runs deep everywhere i look.

      so frank does not say it out loud, but he knows what the real problem is. clintonism is so embedded in our country, it can’t be routed out, what clinton did and he knew it, is most likely irreversible under normal circumstances.

      it will require a completely new system.

      frank does not say it out loud because anyone can see where this is going. the show trails, the gulags, the demonization of others, soon live ammo will be used all of the time, like its a normal thing to do.

      the democracy the free traders have now is fine and dandy, its working for them, see argentina, brazil, peru, the netherlands, germany.

      the worlds economy is their Achilles heel.

      1. flora

        I haven’t read Hedges’s latest. I’ve given up on Hedges. His book “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” was very good. I thought he was on to something important at the national political level in that book. Now I fear he simply misses war as a personally invigorating sensation and projects his missing onto the wider polity. My 2 cents.

  4. John R Moffett

    The main issue is that all those in any position of power in the US are very conservative in their corporate-friendly, military-friendly attitudes and policies. On the major issues (as opposed to wedge issues) the Red and Blue teams are in complete agreement. More military spending, more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, no breaks for working people. You can’t get to a position of power in the US (ask Bernie) by going against the tide, because the corporate owned news will first ignore you (like Bernie) or viciously attack you (like Corbin). Getting around that power structure is nearly impossible.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>The main issue is that all those in any position of power in the US are very conservative in their corporate-friendly, military-friendly attitudes and policies.

      Yes, it’s their version of the iron rice bowl, which includes everyone working for the security state like the police. It is telling that most Americans outside of the top ten percent are for everything that the ruling class and its functionaries are against.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    Yves analysis is very much correct. Unfortunately, discourse on the left these days is little more than occasional outbreaks of anger interspersed with moral grandstanding. The right (including liberals of most colours) have long understood that the only thing that matters is having power and knowing what to do with that power. The only leftists who understand this are in smaller post-colonial countries who understand power relations on a very specific and personal level. Plus, small countries can’t afford to screw up economically or geopolitically or they can cease to exist.

    This website is one of the very few left leaning sources of information in the English speaking world actually willing to get deep into the mud of complex social, economic and political technical arguments. If you can’t offer intellectually coherent, sensible and politically feasible alternatives to the crappy systems we have, then you have very little to offer.

    1. Karl

      Agreed. Yves also raises this big unanswered question when she says:

      oddly, he [Frank] fails to mention Bernie Sanders

      Have we already forgotten Bernie? Well, where has he been lately? He and other members of the “economic Left” seem to have lost their voices presumably for the sake of “keeping the Party together.” Increasingly, the Right is the place where you hear the most outrage about excessive Corporate power, MIC profits driving war, and “the power of elites” to corrupt “the swamp”. The silence of the “anti-war Left” has created a vacuum filled by the anti-war Right. Indeed, I think the Right is radicalizing to the point where it may become ripe for alliance with progressives and radicals traditionally considered “Left.”

      Kline emphasizes the importance of “progressives” and “radicals” joining forces. I don’t disagree, but I wonder if this statement from his 2011 post may miss an opportunity:

      they have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible

      The “lunatic Right” is still with us, but the secular right still has some areas of overlap with the Left in 2022, it seems to me. Looking at the lists (above) of what radicals and progressives can rally behind, I see some areas of unity with the secular (even “America First”) Right:

      Progressive Priorities the radicalizing secular Right might agree to:

      Universal, secular education
      Female legal equality
      Consumer protections

      Radical Priorities the secular “America First” Right might agree to:

      Eight hour day and work place safety
      Unemployment benefits
      Tax the rich
      Anti-trust and anti-corporate

      To join forces with the “America First” Right, the Left would have to concede some ground in areas considered sacrosanct for the Democratic Party. These would include:

      Strict border enforcement (immigration, drugs etc.).
      More protectionism in trade policy to onshore jobs (maybe scrap the WTO and NAFTA altogether).

      What I’m proposing is a fusion of “anti war” “America First” and “Pro-Jobs” values. Couldn’t this be a winning combination? And most of all, could it work?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        As a non-American outsider to your politics, the one thing I find striking is the clear overlap between a lot of populist right wingers with the old style left. It seems to me that a lot of regular people agree more with a Joe Rogan or Tulsi Gabbard than the conventional left or rights. I do think that a political movement based on a mix of nativism, anti-war, ‘light’ social conservativism along with anti corporatism and a firm commitment to social spending would have some baseline support.

        Incidentally, this is something I regularly bring up, but if anyone wants to see what a successful left wing party in a developed neo liberal state looks like, all leftists should look closely at Sinn Fein in Ireland. They are now the biggest party in terms of support and will almost certainly be voted in at the next election. Their stance is a mix of nationalism and economic interventionism with its roots in their history which has broad appeal in rural areas, working class urban areas and small businesses. They are also very ruthless politically, never allowing ideology (or intellectual consistency) getting in the way of grabbing some votes. They are equally loathed by the mainstream centre and right and conventional leftists, but they have ploughed on regardless.

      2. Roland

        The simplest winning formula would combine Medicare for All with a scrupulous respect for the Second Amendment.

        “If you like your guns, you can keep your guns. As for your health insurance, we know all you hate it anyway!”

        M4A + 2A = electoral juggernaut

      3. agent ranger smith

        It deserves to be tried. Those who would try it should understand going in that it could take several decades to work, and that the 2-Party system-lords would oppose and obstruct the effort every day in every way for all those several decades, unless and until the 2-Party system-lords could be defeated and stripped of their wealth, power and social/cultural influence.

        The first couple of decades of that effort might involve various little groups forming experimental little political parties and social movements and political-social hybrid movements each respecting eachothers’ separate efforts and all watching to see which of them appeared to be succeeding.

        I think the reason that Bernie and other such have been saying little or nothing against the Democrats is that they feel that the Republicans want to destroy what is left of American civilization in the same way that the Spaniards wanted to destroy Aztec and Inca civilizations. Bernie and the other such may be right or wrong to see America versus Republicans in that way, but that is the way that Bernie and the other such see America versus Republicans.

        So when Bernie campaigns his heart out for the upcoming DemParty ticket of Kamalabama/ Mayo Pete ( or whatever equivalent the DemParty nominates ), I will not ascribe sheepdogging motives to Bernie. I will assume he is doing it to ” save Inca civilization from Pizarro and the Spaniards” . . . so to speak.

        And those who decide to start on the decades-long effort to create some more effective class-combat politics should be ready to accept several decades of “Cuzco under Pizarro” suffering in the meantime without regret or recrimination.

      4. Elizabeth Burton

        It’s my observation what the current “leftists” in Congress are doing has nothing to do with “keeping the party together” but rather to provide time for those who understand the situation to educate more of the public and oust the Clintonites from the Democratic Party. It’s already been done in Nevada and West Virginia, where they took over Joe Manchin’s machine. Not that said takeover received not a second of recognition by the establishment media. #QuelleSurprise 🙄

        Despite their noble intentions, the Green Party has never been anywhere close to being a viable alternative, and as the various deadlines to saving civilization draw closer we don’t have time for them to finally get their act together. Wolin pointed out that the established parties rely on low voter turnout, especially in primaries, runoffs, special elections, and midterms, to maintain their grip. I’ve seen nothing to date to challenge that conclusion.

        What I have seen, especially just before elections, is a sudden barrage of alleged “activists” screaming that voting is useless, especially targeting the awakening younger generations. Then there’s the pearl-clutching over gerrymandering, relying on the public’s ignorance of what it’s based on to excuse Democrat malfeasance in refusing to do the groundwork necessary to enroll and get voters to the polls. The fallacy of which was proved in November when a young progressive won in a heavily gerrymandered district by doing just that.

        The Constitution has, in fact, never been implemented as intended. Now ALEC has already gathered 21 votes to get it thrown out altogether and, likely, return the country to the GOP preference: the Articles of Confederation (on which the Confederate Constitution was based). We can sit around and debate how much the left and right need to concede to each other forever, and it won’t change the simple fact that if we want a real “democracy” we have to stop talking and start fighting for it.

        1. JBird4049

          Now ALEC has already gathered 21 votes to get it thrown out altogether and, likely, return the country to the GOP preference: the Articles of Confederation (on which the Confederate Constitution was based).

          This is one of my greatest fears; imposing such radical changes in the Constitution by fiat would probably lead to some kind of civil war. The shooting kind. Our elites believe in the foolish idea they can dictate what the Mandate of Heaven is without any input from the general population. The Constitution is more of a religious document than a legal one and people do not like having others say what their religion is do they?

          More, the Articles of Confederation was replaced by the Constitution because the Confederation did not work. If it did not work over two centuries ago, it certainly will not work now.

          1. agent ranger smith

            Has anyone studied the Articles of Confederation period in exhaustive excruciating detail? To really see if they really did or did not work? And if so, for whom and against whom?

            The tiny little bit I have heard here and there is that the Articles of Confederation system was beginning to work quite well for non-upper-class popular-democracy types of people who were learning to make it work for them. One of the things Madison was afraid of was an “agrarian law” stripping the landed upper class of much of “its” land and dividing that land among the landless lower classes.

            That sort of fear was part of what drove the Framers to engineer their Constitution.

            But that is just my feeling based on a few things read and heard here and there.

            As to ALEC and the Koch-heads, I suspect their new Libertarian constitution won’t be a rerun of Articles of Confederation. I suspect it will be a carefully designed set of fortresses, minefields, plowed strips, electrified triple strand razor wire fencelines, etc.; to protect and entrench the New Golden Kakistocracy which the Kochies and the smartALECs want to create for all eternity.

  6. Carla

    “Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World” by Jason Hickel is my bet for something young people could really rally around, if we want to talk about economic and ecological justice. It’s currently available in paperback, and shipped free from:

    (I don’t do Amazon. Ever.) At my suggestion, a couple of our local, independent bookstores are looking into stocking it.

    Yves, I so appreciate your inclusion of much of the Richard Kline post. Very helpful.

    1. Carla

      *if we want to talk about economic and ecological justice — and, oh, just by the way, “saving the world.”

  7. zagonostra

    [Progressives] need a compact reform agenda…If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

    I wish I could believe this, but I can’t. The moment signs of a “breakthrough” breakthrough it will be tamped down. As Carroll Quigley detailed in Tragedy and Hope the political elite, and it doesn’t matter if they are Democrats or Republican, believe they are ordained to guide society and dictate public policy. Framing, as Frank does, the battle as between two parties is a false framing. It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve learned about Anthony Sutton, Smedley Butler, and a whole substratum of U.S. history. Who was taught about the assassination attempt on FDR in 1933 in Miami that killed 1 and injured 4. Or how Smedley Butler turned down an offer to lead a coupe to overthrow FDR, maybe they saw Oliver Stone’s American History series and, though I doubt it, reflect on whether those dark forces behind it, whether the lone gun man or a cabal that supports assassination, are still in play.

    The point is, as much as I like Frank, and Chris Hedges for that matter, they don’t go deep enough into the muck that supports the edifice of the U.S. as a democratically governed country. A breakthrough, yes one is definitely needed, but whether an organizational structure can develop that believes in a gov’t that governs for the benefit of the majority rather than or the few, is highly unlikely.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      “don’t go deep enough”

      I’d agree that’s the problem, but my suggestion for where to “descend” is somewhat different from yours. Frank only takes it to the political level. His real argument for hope is that the Populists and New Dealers managed to succeed to some extent, the former across much of a region, that latter nationally. But from our current bleak perspective, that’s not enough. I think we recognize instinctively that we are in dangerous times, and after years of hearing that the current, collapsing system is TINA, we’re desperate to hear about some alternative way of living that strikes us as realistic and possible.

      You can find people out there who are engaged in the process of imagining a new future that fits into the universe a little more harmoniously than our current Compete and Consume paradigm. Carla mentioned Jason Hickel above, and he’s a good example along with people like Chris Smaje and his Small Farm Future and Kate Raworth and her Doughnut Economics.

      This level of change requires more than moving people’s political views a few degrees to the left on a scale created over a century ago. It’s hard to even imagine how much money has been spent over the past 100 years on convincing us that humans are happiest when drawing a corporate paycheck quickly devoured by keeping up with the Joneses. Sadly, it’s been money well spent in the sense that it has been effective at robbing so many of us of the ability to imagine a life not built around wage slavery and chomping on Whoppers (with your new dental implants!). It’s so bad that when a leading moviemaker attempts a film portraying a radically different world, he ends up having the aboriginals fly around on dragons. Wow, man, that’s even cooler than flying cars! Humans must dominate. Humans must “soar” physically and technologically. This indoctrination has been taking place for decades on ever more persuasive media.

      The understanding that humans are one part of a world full of living things has been lost. It has become so extreme that well-meaning people–I’m hoping not all of them are WEF ghouls–have been pushing with some success for nations to set aside 30% of their territory to be left “natural.” By that, they mean excluding humans, at least the vast majority of us. Such a policy will be an easy tool to expel aboriginal people from ancestral lands along with agriculturists and herders who still live more traditional lives. Yet humans have been part of Nature since there have been humans. In some places, we’ve been tenders and gardeners, light of touch. Wuk’s stories about how the aboriginal people tended the forest taught us that our culture’s concept of “natural” has become quite skewed. It’s “natural” to have humans as part of Nature. We just need to behave a lot better.

      And behaving better will have to arise out of our understanding ourselves differently. Humans don’t have to play “one who dies with the most toys wins” forever. We don’t have to believe that driving a huge pick-up truck into a rarely traveled space regarded as sacred by some is some kind of in-born human compulsion rather than the product of watching too many truck ads on Sunday Night Football.

      And we’ll have to tell different kinds of stories about ourselves. Less of the conquering hero and more of the visitor who learns to fit in. Less of Hobbes vs. Rousseau and more of Graeber and Wengrow. Less huimans-meet-aliens and more humans and butterflies discuss how to live together.

      Whoever is trying to tell us what is “natural” is either badly misinformed or trying to scam us. It’s our choice as humans how to interact with Nature and each other.

      1. Mangelwurtzel

        Thanks for your comments, Henry. I heartily agree. I wish that we could co-exist with all of this world’s beings.

        In fact, I fear that humanity is now enacting a version of The Fisherman and His Wife, all implicit misogyny aside. It could easily also be called The Fisherperson and Their Partner.

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          A very merciful flounder.

          So was the wife’s heart hardened by the receiving as Pharaoh’s was by the asking? It’s interesting that the fisherman never even thought of taking advantage while his wife was plotting from the beginning. Was there an initial difference in character between the two? Or does it work like Christian doctrine which applies Eve’s sin to all humanity?

          I think it’s a time for the old to dream dreams and the young to see visions, anything that liberates our imaginations. And there’s nothing better to spark the imagination, especially about social values, than stories.

  8. .Tom

    Thomas Frank is a historian and a writer. He has a sharp historically-informed critique and a gift for delivering it in language. He’s probably my favorite writer on American politics. But I agree with Yves that his notion of what we should do next is vague and backward looking (FDR, the Populists). This is a widespread problem and its understandable and forgivable given how hard it is in the current environment to accomplish anything.

    When I came to the USA from Europe in 1995 I was quite disoriented by bizarre, almost unbelievable generic reality people seemed to live in. Two things helped me through this culture shock: Zippy the Pinhead taught me to enjoy the absurdity of American surface reality, and The Baffler, which I found at Tower Records on Newbury Street, provided deeper analysis of why things are so strange. I also found my way into some subcultures, one of which was the then rather Chomsky-oriented progressives. I got the sense they were perfectly happy being completely marginal and ineffectual. Theirs was an intellectual endeavor to be shared by each other. Relative to this I think Thomas Frank has accomplished much more. He has managed to bring his message to a bigger audience and it is spreading.

    History and criticism are important but not enough to achieve political, social and economic change. As Kline explains in Yves’ quotes, we need also vision, an agenda, a practical plan, and organization. We shouldn’t expect Frank to provide those. I can’t provide them either. But he’s a terrific writer, he does a great job of making history accessible to general audiences, keeps it relevant, and even manages to be entertaining at the same time and even sometimes encouraging and motivating.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > we need also vision, an agenda, a practical plan, and organization. We shouldn’t expect Frank to provide those

      I don’t think it’s fair to imply that the book Frank will write based on these lectures will be some sort of straight readout of the lectures. That said, it had better not be. I’d like to see something as tough-minded and brutal — clarifying — as Listen Liberal.

      1. .Tom

        I just wanted to break a lance for Frank. There’s only so much one writer can do and he’s already done a great deal that I’m thankful for.

  9. Michael

    Reply to .Tom above.

    “””I got the sense they were perfectly happy being completely marginal and ineffectual. Theirs was an intellectual endeavor to be shared by each other.”””

    This seems to have become a majority position in much of the western world.

    I like the idea of ___________.
    Me too, it’s so cool.

  10. GlassHammer

    “Democrats abandoned the working class and went all in for “smart”: if you hadn’t at least gone to college, you weren’t deserving”

    The Democrats (i.e. those who are currently in and govern leadership positions) are only interested in those who climb certain societal ladders and ascend them in a certain way.

    Work your way from the bottom to the top of a blue collar profession, …not interested. (Wrong ladder for team Dem)

    Work your way from the bottom to the top of a white collar profession through on the job training and certifications but no degree, ….not interested. (Right ladder but wrong method of climbing for team Dem)

  11. Lexx

    The academic are a prideful lot, not just for themselves but for their families. Their achievements add to their tribes as a whole. Clinton and Obama too came from the lower classes, telling their ‘bootstrap’ stories on the path to the White House. ‘If we can do it, so can you’. But of course, it isn’t true for most of America. They represented another version, an intellectual one, of the 1%. What’s valuable to society is rare and exclusive. Social supply and demand, there can be only a few to share in glory and “riches”. If everyone were included, how would one prove they were better than others – more worthy, more deserving, more special?

    I’m reading ‘The Myth of Normal’ by Gabor Mate and that’s a very interesting lens to gaze through watching and listening to Frank’s lecture. Trauma doesn’t recognize class lines but you’ll find a lot more of it at the poverty level. Human beings will do anything to escape, even temporarily. Pathology, Mate would say, isn’t the exception… it’s the rule. If trauma is everywhere and pathology follows, what use then do we make of the word ‘normal’?

    1. Tom Doak

      But Clinton and Obama started their ascent with scholarships, and went through the Ivy League, so they were very much indoctrinated into the Democratic myth and culture. Indeed, one could argue the reason they were the nominees is because they were examples of the ideal . . . who showed proper deference to the elite.

      1. Adams

        “Proper deference” seems to me a gift, and almost an obfuscation. “Covert abject subservience” serves my perception of them much better. As perhaps is demonstrated by their post-presidency, very lucrative careers. They don’t even have to build houses to maintain their legitimacy. They have exceeded escape velocity.

    2. Heraclitus

      Clinton clearly came from the lower classes, but Obama? I think we know little about his background. I had always thought his grandparents were in the CIA. I’m still waiting to hear that someone actually saw him at Columbia University.

      I know of at least one of Clinton’s cousins who went to grad school, so even Clinton’s background may be more diverse than we think.

  12. carolina concerned

    1. Flora made some good points in her comparison of the original progressive movement and the current need for one. To begin with, she described the earlier movement as occurring during the late 19th century through the mid 20th century, a period of decades. She described situations that existed during that time that do not exist today. However, it appears to me that the original movement was motivated and driven primarily by a recognition that the American culture was reverting to a medieval/class-based type society by the power grab of the 1%. That seems very similar to today.
    2. The structure of our dilemma is heavily influenced by economics. As long as the two-party system must raise hundreds of millions of dollars for each election cycle, they will continue to be owned by the 1%. This is not the root of all of our problems, but the situation is not going to be saved if this issue is not addressed strongly and successfully. This will require some form of public financing.
    3. We must realize the natural power of the cultural forces involved. To state very briefly, government by predatory, militaristic elites has been the hegemonic governing real-world system for tens of thousands of years. The revolutionary American system we should hope to save is government for the people, by the people, and of the people. Additionally, to state very briefly, we are engaging a male dominated cultural system that has been dominant of tens of thousands of years.
    4. I want to compliment Yves for his introduction. I especially liked to comparative progressive and radical lists.

    1. Paleobotanist

      Actually Yves is a woman. I like to think of her as a marquise keeping a particularly dazzling and radical salon near the end of Ancien Regime where ideas of a different world were kicked around when things seemed very corrupt, and hopeless…;^) I hope that I don’t offend her as this is how this francophone sees her.

  13. chuck roast

    Frank is standing at a Commonwealth of Kentucky podium while telling everybody in the audience that they are in Manhattan, Kansas. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Todo.”

  14. Lambert Strether

    Very briefly, my two major reactions to Frank’s speech are:

    1) I don’t accept “middle class” as a valid concept or premise, any more than I accept phlogiston. (Yes, many people believe in it; the role of delusion in contemporary political discourse is not well understood.)

    2) I find it very hard to believe that the Democrats can come up with any candidate, any candidate at all, to whom I would contribute $27 a month. I would bet there are many Sanders voters who would say the same.

    1. Tom Pfotzer


      Whoa! this statement shocked me, and maybe in a good way – certainly got my curiosity going. Plz elaborate on:

      I don’t accept “middle class” as a valid concept or premise

      So, if there’s no “middle” class, what term would you use to encompass the bulk of the U.S. citizenry that works for wages, makes roughly $50K – $100K household income.

      What about the term “middle class” do you find objectionable?

      1. JohnnyGL

        I think ‘middle-class’ is just short-hand for roughly the bottom 90-95% of people. I sort of get his point, in that the concept seems superficially appealing, but gets increasingly fuzzy as you get more granular.

        For instance, there are often big differences in wealth across the income spectrum. Going with your numbers…

        $50K a year in household income for a family of four is pretty stingy. But, maybe that family inherited a home from their parents? That changes things a bit.

        What about a $100K for two people with no kids who rent in a big city? The last 10 years of urban real estate price increases have made urban-rural income/price gaps feel much bigger.

        1. Karl

          What is the goal of a class category? I think it should have descriptive or predictive power. So it depends on what you want to describe or predict.

          Politically, many in the top 5% might actually fit the progressive and even radical segments, particularly 2nd-3rd generation wealth holders. Urban/rural, White/non-white, College Degree/Non-CD all provide better predictive granularity, as pollsters understand.

          In some contexts “middle class” can have descriptive uses even if it communicates little (except perhaps subliminally). It can connote, inoffensively and vaguely, a group of “good decent people” with the corollary “please vote for me” or “buy my product.” Of course, that’s everybody, and that’s the point.

          Therefore, I predict that “Middle Class” will never be abandoned, simply because vagueness is often superior to clarity in our society. Such is the nature of language in the service of persuasion/propaganda.

          1. Tom Pfotzer

            Karl: thks for taking the time. I have to say, yet again – and I know it’s tedious, but how does one express appreciation lest it be tedious – thank you to the NC commentariat.

            What is the goal of a class category? I think it should have descriptive or predictive power. So it depends on what you want to describe or predict.

            And now the light sorta glimmers on.

            So, addressing your point: what is the goal of a class (or more generically, a “type”)?

            What I want to predict is motivation, alignment, and values. I’m about getting out of first gear (dispersed grumblers noticing that the water’s a bit warm) and further toward the jumping-out of the pot.

            I want a category of folks with whom I can identify, co-act, and love N respect, so I don’t feel so freakin’ isolated and nullified all the time.

            So, I agree that “middle class” isn’t terribly helpful.

            Can we begin work on some labels that deliver us coherence and commitment to one another?

            1. lambert strether

              > So it depends on what you want to describe or predict

              Especially if one is, say, an aspiring professional, and what one wishes to “describe or predict” is the shape of one’s own career (cf. the difficulties of paradigmatic change. This is also very clear in official Washington, where as Stoller says somewhere, ideas are identified with persons).

              I’m actually not being cynical, so much as saying that it’s social relations all the way down, which is why throwing people into buckets by income (or “education level”) annoys me so much, because thar classification system obscures that reality).

            2. lambert strether

              > I want a category of folks with whom I can identify, co-act, and love N respect, so I don’t feel so freakin’ isolated and nullified all the time

              I understand the desire completely, but I think it’s a category error.

              People are members of classes because of the economic relations in which they participate). A class cannot love you back, and therefore it’s impossible to have a relationship of “love and respect” with one.*

              I think what you seek can only be found in individuals, who can love you back, or possibly groups (for which I would think there’s an upper limit for size, possibly that of an AA meeting, certainly not that of a megachurch or a celebrity’s fandom).

              Now, you could regard the political commitments of individuals or groups with respect to classes as a sort of litmus test for those from whom you seek mutual approbation. You probably would not, for example, seek to form relationships with open advocates of socisl murder, the possible reading of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

              NOTE * Also, one does not “identify as” a member of the working class, say. One cannot take one’s identity/self-identification to the bank (although one can indeed accumulate forms of social capital with it). One takes one’s wage to the bank, and it’s that actual, material, economic relation that makes you a member of the working class.

          2. lambert strether

            > a group of “good decent people” with the corollary “please vote for me” or “buy my product.” Of course, that’s everybody, and that’s the point

            Like “good Germans”? Heh heh.

            Like all tropes, “middle class” has its uses (like “family values”). It would not have survived so long if it did not! But if Frank wants to write a serious book*, he can’t be using it. If Frank wants to write a book whose object is to start another round of Democrat entryism, then have at it! Appealing to people’s nostalgia/aspirations can be effective, even if delusional.

          3. lambert strether

            > What is the goal of a class category? I think it should have descriptive or predictive power. So it depends on what you want to describe or predict

            The goal, if you want to do politics, is “know your enemy.”

            Ask yourself, leaving personalities out of it, and thinking only of “political economy,” Who is the enemy of the wage worker? Some [1] race? This or that [2] gender? [3] The worker themselves, e.g. by their failure to “learn to code”? [4] Other workers? (You will observe that Republicans tend to answer [1] and [2], Democrats [3], and both Democrats and Republicans [4].)

            My answer, qualified as above, is that the enemy of the worker is “the boss” (shorthand for capital, today mostly finance capital). And I think the history of the last 50 years or some makes that answer very, very obvious (which is why there are entire professions, indeed classes, designed to obscure it).

            So, know your enemy. That’s what class analysis is for. (There’s also “know yourself.” I don’t think the left is good at that, but who is? The bullshit — concepts like “middle class” — is very deep and highly impacted.)

      2. lambert strether

        Class is about economic relations. Income-based measures obscure this, by definition, as indeed they are designed to do.

        As a sidebar, I also reject linear, scalar paradigms, “middle” being one such, left and right another, the Overton Window and its child, horseshoe theory another. The world is a lot more like a field than a line.

        Wages v. salaries v. gigs, position in the workplace, occupation, the PMC, local gentry v. business owner (full-time, not self-exploiting) v. oligarchs, rentiers v. industrialists, etc., and the dynamic relations between all these are matters to consider (“follow the money”) if you want to do useful analytical work, not a big bowl of sentimental/aspirational/nostalgic glop like “middle class,” which is an enormous tell for at best carelessness and at worst deception and delusion. I mean, why do you think both parties shovel this glop out all the time? To improve the state of the discourse?

        1. Redlife2017

          This video just came out from the great Prolekult group – they are making a series of videos on understanding Marxist basics, one of which is class:
          Approaching Marxism: Class

          Quite illuminating. They also note that PMC isn’t a real class…you’re mileage may very on that point, but it’s argued pretty well from the Marxist perspective…

          Prolekult does great in depth videos in general. Their one on decay in the Capitalist system is quite amazing. Decay: on fascism and breakdown

          1. Lambert Strether

            > They also note that PMC isn’t a real class

            Yes, it is (at least in shorthand). Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 52:

            The owners merely of labour-power, owners of capital, and land-owners, whose respective sources of income are wages, profit and ground-rent, in other words, wage-labourers, capitalists and land-owners, constitute then three big classes of modern society based upon the capitalist mode of production.

            In England, modern society is indisputably most highly and classically developed in economic structure. Nevertheless, even here the stratification of classes does not appear in its pure form. Middle and intermediate strata even here obliterate lines of demarcation everywhere (although incomparably less in rural districts than in the cities). However, this is immaterial for our analysis….

            The first question to he answered is this: What constitutes a class? — and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to another question, namely: What makes wage-labourers, capitalists and landlords constitute the three great social classes?

            At first glance — the identity of revenues and sources of revenue. There are three great social groups whose members, the individuals forming them, live on wages, profit and ground-rent respectively, on the realisation of their labour-power, their capital, and their landed property.

            However, from this standpoint, physicians and officials, e.g., would also constitute two classes, for they belong to two distinct social groups, the members of each of these groups receiving their revenue from one and the same source. The same would also be true of the infinite fragmentation of interest and rank into which the division of social labour splits labourers as well as capitalists and landlords-the latter, e.g., into owners of vineyards, farm owners, owners of forests, mine owners and owners of fisheries.

            Note the first sentence of the final paragraph is in the subjunctive, i.e. indicates a condition contrary to fact: Under the “identity of revenue and sources of revenue” “first cut,” as it were, these “social groups” of “physicians and officials” — PMC, surely? — would constitute two classes. To Marx they must, therefore, constitute one class: hence, the subjunctive. Of course, all this is dynamic, Capital is not inerrant, and Victorian Britain is not Biden’s United States, and Proletkult might be wrong then, and right today.

            That said, I see the “infinite fragmentation” Marx proposing that the “the division of social labour” can be brought under the sway of simplifying principles, just as doctors and officials (not two, but one) can be. Perhaps one such principle could be sought in their social function (as opposed to source of revenue) of reproducing capitalist social relations; another place to look would be symbolic capital (e.g., in the form of credentials, authority, etc.). Unfortunately–

            Then comes perhaps the most frustrating sentence in the history of the left:

            [Here the manuscript breaks off.]

            It’s frustrating because from that day to this, “the PMC question” has never been successfully addressed by the left.

            Do I really have to listen to a video? They’re so inefficient. Probably not, if they’re a film production house.

            1. Redlife2017

              On their patreon they do written study guides as well, so deffo not just videos…but their videos are gorgeous.

              And thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ll need to chew on that one for a while!

        2. Karl

          Class is about economic relations.

          Class can be confused with “what bin of the human population do I want to study?” and call this “Class”. For example, sociologists might call “Blacks” a class, when it should more strictly be called a co-hort. Using “class” in this way muddies a term that has great uses if kept narrow.

          I agree with Lambert that understanding class as “economic relations” is incredibly important for untangling root causes of social phenomena from symptoms. For example, consider the “bin” of race, gender, regular church/mosque-goer, etc. We know that historically, these “bins” have correlated with certain phenomena, particularly social power (or lack thereof). And who posseses social power? Those who have economic power. Aren’t root causes of social relations among these “bins” economic power? In the economy, sorting for status and wages in the US for much of its history seemed to follow the plantation model: white over black, Protestants over Catholics, male over female, citizen vs. alien were convenient “bins” (i.e. heuristics) that were very simple, convenient and profitable to the plantation owner, capitalist, urban planner, etc. Such categories help answer basic questions like: in which neighborhood do you belong, and where do we put the next freeway or garbage incinerator? But the root cause of this clear inequality in a “free” society needed to be obscured for the profits to be sustained.

          By this reasoning, identity politics by definition obscures the root causes–economic relations — to keep the system going for maximum convenience and profit.

          Sometimes such obscuration can be helpful in a democratic society. Exposing and confronting root causes directly could provoke overt class war, yes?

          Or maybe, the “lunatic right” is a symptom that we are already in a class war?

          1. Karl

            One more thought. If we define class by economic relations, then “Left” and “Right” are not classes. This means (as I suggested in another post above) that many members of both “Left” and “Right” will have similar economic relations and therefore belong to the same economic class. This means they will have similar fundamental economic–therefore political–interests. Yet they vote very differently because they perceive (or prioritize) those interests differently.

            This suggests a latent opportunity exists in US politics to unify “Left” and “Right” around their common class interests. This, historically, has always been a problem, though e.g. uniting the urban proletariat “Left” and the rural peasant “Right”, both of whom were exploited and utterly destitute, yet trapped by mutual antagonism. The logic of class suggests this antagonism can be overcome–with sufficient transparency about how the system works to open the eyes of the oppressed to their oppression and their oppressors….?

          2. Lambert Strether

            > identity politics by definition obscures the root causes-

            By definition and design. I would need to research this accusation, but I have heard it said that all the identity politics Bigfoots — Crenshaw et al. — opposed Sanders. Nothing to do with Sanders being a Jew, naturellement; rather he put class first (even if, for many, the tea was weaker than they would have liked).

    2. JohnnyGL

      Regarding point #2, I have to say, there has been a staggering amount of deception that’s been perpetrated upon the public, and especially on ordinary people who’ve volunteered time/money to the effort of trying to create a viable left with power.

      It has been so destructive that I think it’s left a lot of people who wanted to wrest control of the Democratic Party confused, listless, and sounding out of touch and tone-deaf. I think Frank may find himself stuck in this spot.

      I can’t fathom how Bernie Sanders himself thinks it’s just fine that after two strong contests for the presidency, he can just go back to resuming his 2012-ish role as Democratic Party gadfly with no power and no influence, content to just grab a headline here and there before withdrawing whatever half-baked demand he asserts. He claimed to be building a ‘political revolution’ and then immediately cancelled the whole thing after losing the primary to Biden, dropped all demands and pledged endless loyalty. To me, that’s an unforgiveable lie.

      But, we can’t lay it all at Bernie’s feet. Major assistance in creating disillusionment goes to the newly elected squad members from 2018, and 2020, who seem completely confused by the idea that they should not do exactly as Nancy Pelosi tells them. AOC, in particular, made very specific statements about what she planned to do if/when she got elected and started out strongly, but she quickly got rid of all demands.

      Also, special mention should go to the deception wrought by Jayapal during several moments of high stakes negotiations. She can’t always be counted on to fold at the crucial moments!

      The only way I can think of to convey trust to angry voters is to campaign by constantly criticizing party leadership and call for their immediate resignation (as a signal that you’re SERIOUS about change). But I have strong doubts that a campaign like that is something that would interest voters. The distrust is too deep. Doubtless, it would arouse intense party opposition from deep-pocketed donors and the very powerful leadership class. We’ve seen it happen before. Numerous elections have made clear that there’s still a solid block of ‘true believers’ among voters in Democratic primaries that still believe the party is trying its best against stalwart opposition from Republicans and should receive deferential treatment.

      Beyond the specific politicians themselves, lots of organizations, activist groups, online media personalities, journalists, etc. have proven they’re completely unworthy of our trust. They’ve either become completely deranged either over Trump, or Russia-gate (and now the war in Ukraine), or COVID (along with vaccine censorship)

      This is probably the lowest point for lefty politics I’ve seen in awhile. Democratic Party leadership has coerced, compromised or discredited anyone with potential influence, and thoroughly and successfully salted the earth to sow distrust to prevent future uprisings.

      Biden and the broader Democratic Party leadership is widely seen as having gotten a stamp of approval in midterms. They don’t need us and they’re doing just fine.

      For thinkers like Frank, these are tough times. He’s out of favor and has nothing to offer (democrats have successfully realized their vision and thrown social class into the garbage) and he can’t threaten those in power that if they don’t listen to him, they’ll lose elections.

      Of course, nothing in permanent in politics, and opportunities may soon arise!

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You are abjectly misrepresenting what Sanders said and what happened to him.

        He NEVER NEVER NEVER promised revolution. He said it would take a revolution to get him elected and to get his agenda implemented.

        As for the weekend of long knives, over half his staff told him to quit. That meant they’d quit or dial in what they were doing until they got a new job. You can’t continue campaigning under those circumstances. His staffers shot his campaign in the head.

        Oh, and Jayapal told him to quit.

        And please tell me, what groundswell of support was there for Bernie to Do Something Else? Editorials from progressive outlets? Letters from his donors? Did YOU write or call his campaign or Senate office with concrete ideas? If not, you have no standing to beef. And I can tell it’s highly probable you didn’t because you offer no suggestions as to what Sanders could possibly have done instead. Set up another NGO???? Please.

        You just self-identified as somebody who wants others to conduct a revolution on his behalf. No revolution ever came about merely via a whole lotta $27 donations.

        And as for Sanders now, an independent Senator from a small state has limited power. But you want him to grow wings and fly.

        1. Acacia

          This is a bit OT, but I would really like to see a good, detailed account of “the weekend of long knives”. I know there’s a been some discussion of it here amongst the NC commentariat, but it could be raised into part of an article. It was an important event for understanding the Democrat party, its leadership, how “change” gets managed, and thus especially useful for talking with others who haven’t come to terms with the current state of the party.

        2. Hepativore

          Honestly, even if Sanders tried to get some concessions out of Biden as a condition of dropping out in 2020, what would have stopped Biden from just breaking any and all promises that he made to Sanders, and then flipping Bernie the bird when called out about it? Biden had the whole weight of the DNC behind him, and would probably have felt that betraying somebody like Sanders would have had few, if any political consequences. After all, Biden is certainly no stranger to lying as we have seen in both the past and present, so any promises he makes are probably worthless.

          Anyway, the thing about the New Deal era is that it was basically a fluke of history, a one-off mixture of improbable events that is unlikely to ever happen again in the history of the US. Part of it was that it was unusual for a figure like FDR who was willing to betray his own class of moneyed elites, which is something that very few politicians of any stripe could conceive of doing, and secondly, the financial elites have more tech and legal power than they ever did to maintain their stranglehold for the forseeable future.

          The rise of surveillance at at the workplace and various data brokers have made it to where the managerial class and corporations can learn who potential agitators are and snuff out any real sort of general strike or national labor movement before it ever gets off the ground. Debit and credit card payment processors are also increasingly refusing to handle the transactions of people who have certain political stances, and could easily decide to punish people who challenge the status quo. Finally, the media sources most watched or paid attention to, have largely become corporatized, neoliberal, propaganda sources, and will blackout or heavily distort anything that goes against this narrative. The average person does not have the time or patience to try and sort through all of this pablum to find a kernel of truth. The people that we see here on places like Naked Capitalism are the outliers, and we are largely the Cassandras in the political sphere.

          Soon, with the passing of both the Silent Generation and the Boomers, nobody will be left to remember a time when we were not knee deep in austerity and neoliberalism because that is all later generations like me have ever known. As a result, people will be even less willing to challenge the elites in the future as we will have accepted precarity as a fact of life by then, much like how fish do not notice that water is wet.

          1. lambert strether

            > much like how fish do not notice that water is wet

            They’ll notice it when the tide goes out and they end up gasping on the beach. Which is what’s happening, even before we get to the Jackpot.

            I understand the reasons for being disheartened, let’s say. Against them I’d put the union movement among young people — it’s in Teen Vogue (!!) — and the pro-social work done by “Good Do-Bees” around aerosols, Corsi boxes, etc. Which nobody has noticed, something I think is all to the good.

            Also, don’t think Cassandras. Think shorts. Early and right. Of course, for shorts, timing is always an issue….

        3. Brian Wilder

          I would like him to tell the truth.

          My fantasy (and I own that it is the fantasy of just another politically passive former and recovering Democrat with no where to go) is Sanders telling the truth about who and what Biden is politically and walking away in disgust.

          Sanders joining the gaslighting about “the most progressive President since FDR” is an instance of a general phenomenon that quelches any possibility of an organized Left across multiple dimensions.

        4. JohnnyGL

          Yves, with all due respect, i’m mystified at the idea that you’ve read my comment above and understood me to have advocated that bernie should have continued campaigning after he pretty clearly lost after the ‘night of the long knives’ and the next couple of rounds of primaries.

          He was clearly beaten.

          On the other hand, once biden was elected, i do strongly feel that bernie and all other progressive electeds have been utterly useless. They should have refused to confirm pelosi as speaker.

          They should be organizing rallies, marches, pressure campaigns to push legislation in a progressive direction. They should threaten to sink bills that don’t give any concessions. The initial stimulus bill from biden should have had a 15/hr min wage bill or they should have held it up.

          In short, they’ve should have acted like manchin and sinema. They’ve done none of these things.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      The concept of a “middle class” — indeed the old political concepts of classes — seem dated to me. I believe the current political-economics requires a more complex basis for its analysis.

      I supported, sent money to, and voted for Sanders when I could vote for Sanders. After all that happened then and since … I definitely feel ‘Berned’.

      1. juliania

        I would say the separation truly lies between the people who think it is okay to have money in politics and those who do not.

    4. c kimball

      I have thought that because the ‘middle class’ has the opportunity to remember or experience the life
      conditions met by those who have less, sometimes much less than themselves a form of education
      occurs to increase understanding and appreciation of what it takes to create and organize a living in
      our country. The way I learned this was when I moved to a new area and worked as a day care worker for some years. Before that I worked with architects doing commercial interior design. As a ‘decorator’
      I was given immediate respect whether I deserved it or not. As a day care worker not so much. I learned that the day care job took all my energy and creativity on many levels. It was most valuable and I learned that most work, maybe all, contains much more intelligence, skill and practice than can be seen from the outside. I learned respect. That is why I have thought we need some real middle class and lower class people in congress, the senate and the administration. (We thought we were a classless society. It was a value so we thought.

      1. lambert strether

        “Middle” and “lower” with respect to what?! I respect your sentiment, but let’s have some critical thinking here.

        Also, your comment makes crystal clear the moralizing built into “high” (good, superior) “low” (bad, inferior), and middle (supposedly standing apart from either).

        Confucius thought peasants the morally superior class. I bow to the China mavens in the commentariat, but that Confucian class analysis, with its five building blocks, looks fascinating to me, as a method.

        1. ckimball

          I am not a daycare worker
          you imagine can do nothing else
          who you can relegate to the
          bottom of a pay scale

          From this place
          you cannot know me
          or know you want to

          The adjustment
          of your perceptions
          to suit your pretensions builds
          walls difficult to breech even
          for the sake of your children

          I have been fortunate to have worked in areas for which I had interest and some aptitude
          though little ‘formal’ education. I came through a back door which is much more difficult to
          do during these times. So on occasion I have noticed first hand the arrogance of someone
          who identifies as having graduated or achieved an ambition. Identities being locked in to a cultural construct serve the culture first which at this time is not a good thing because our culture has become poor, impoverished by higher management. I’ve probably gone on too long. Thank you for your response to my
          comment and the link to the Confusion organization of thought about the organics of class. It was, shall I say, arresting and brought me here. I very much value your analysis but I have to think about it some more before I could critically speak to it. So I guess I have tried to explain myself. I just hope I didn’t aggravate you more.

  15. Carolinian

    Perhaps much more needs to be said about demographics–much more than the above. And in that way modern America is completely different from late 19th century Progressive Era America. Back then the majority of the population was still rural and agricultural. Small farmers were independent businesses who were dependent on and adversarial toward Big Capital that owned the railroads that shipped their produce and made the crop loans and land loans that they needed. The service job PMCs who make up most of the modern “left” have nothing in common with those long ago rural progressives. William Jennings Bryan is now regarded as a crank with his religiosity taken as the proof (see the way he is portrayed in Inherit the Wind). We do still have a rural America of course but it’s more likely to consist of wealthy reactionaries (TV’s Yellowstone) or huge landowners like Bill Gates or Ted Turner. Poor people: not so much. They are living in tents in downtown Los Angeles.

    To some of us there seems to be no available solution other than for the bubble to burst. So if Frank is grasping at straws like the Dems and Biden it’s the depressing reality of our current TINA.

    1. flora

      The Populist Party grew out of those small independent business owners in the Midwest, for the most part. Several states’ Populist Party candidates began winning statehouse seats and sometimes winning control of state leges against the GOP/Dem duopoly of the day. They even won seats in Congress.

      You can bet that scared both GOP/Dem parties enough to try to co-opt the Populist issues and run on those, and eventually the GOP and Dem parties absorbed the Populist Parties in their states in a me-too-ism that lasted in policy terms until roughly the 1940s.

      By that time both Dem and GOP parties had passed election laws in their various states’ leges to make it virtually impossible for a 3rd party candidate to seriously challenge the GOP/Dem duopoly. Then the purging of economic reformers began in earnest starting with the McCarthy trials. By 1970 you had Dem pres Carter throwing unions under the bus. Next up was B. Clinton who wanted to privatize Social Security. (Thank you, Monica, for saving us from that step.)

      As far as the bubble bursting, there hasn’t been real price discovery on Wall St. since Greenspan.

      1. JBird4049

        There is also the destruction of the economic system that enabled a large number of family farms and small businesses as well as the factories and shops that employed the thirty percent of workers who were unionized.

        Really, all the mechanisms that connected people including political parties, clubs, leagues, and churches have been destroyed; one can debate just how, but it happened. There are no more Democratic block captains, the Masons and the Shriners are mostly gone and the farmers granges have no farmers, the bowling leagues are vanishing, and the local church seem more like performative kabuki.

        Where are the social institutions that use to exist? Rather, where are the functional versions of them?

        It seems like we, as a nation, are in far worse shape now than a century ago. The Progressives as well as all the other movements and political parties used the various connections. Now, it is the interwebs.

  16. Cetra Ess

    The activist left discourse seems nearly exclusively focused on the weathy becoming such via exploitation of the working class or inheritance, just these two.

    Whereas Piketty has effectively shown that yes, inheritance is significant factor but for the wealthy there are greater returns from financial instruments, as well. Yet, nobody is talking about dismantling financial instruments, the demonstrably greater source of wealth inequity and arguably also the greater danger to society.

    It comes down to would the activist left be willing to give up their own paths to wealth as such by targeting inheritance and financial instruments? This is what they need to do, but the temptations of capitalism, of wealth, would need to be overcome.

  17. Telee

    Here is a specific way that Biden is screwing seniors. It is the privatization of traditional Medicare. I’ve written comments with the intent to inform but none seem to have generated any interest. It is amazing that such a radical change can happen and there is little or no pushback. Of course, the mainstream press completely ignores this atrocity. I believe NC has had one article on this quite some time ago. To my knowledge, even Bernie Sanders hasn’t mentioned it. Senator Warren led a committee on Medicare funding and demanded that Biden change his decision but that has been forgotten. Please inform yourselves and resist. Let’s pushback!

    Visit the site of the Physicians for a National Health Policy (PNHP) for information.

    Not sure if everyone can access this but it is a great summary.

    1. Rolf

      Thank you Telee, I too was shocked when I first read of this (in NC), and this takeover has been happening with nary a peep from any mainstream media outlets (big surprise, there).

    2. Carla

      Thanks, Telee, for leading readers to PNHP — Physicians for a National Health Program. I’ve been pointing that way in my comments for at least a decade now. The privatization of Medicare began under Clinton and has continued ever since, but with Trump and Biden, it has accelerated BIG TIME.

      Any of us who talk about M4A must ALWAYS say “Expanded, Improved Medicare for All.”

      BTW, anyone can join Physicians for a National Health Program here:

      I have been a dues-paying member since 1999. Please join me!

      For a non-physician “ally” membership, it’s $50 per year. Please give more if you can.

  18. Mikel

    Universal, secular education
    End to child labor
    Universal suffrage
    Female legal equality
    Consumer protections
    Civil rights

    “… the most relevant point is that these are value-driven policies. Notably absent are economic policies…”

    I think the bigger issue is accepting progressive-lite defintions and interpretations of issues.
    Ex: The problem is not understanding the connections of slavery, colonialism, and militarism to power and the economy. Recognizing all as economic projects of the elite is what makes abolition, anti-colonialism and anti-militarism radical. Stripped of that and they “progressive lite” policies/platforms.
    And I doubt thoughts about ” universal education,” “comsumer protections”, and the rest are the same for radicals as they are for NGOs, think tanks, or members of the duopoly.

    There is more to consider than employment bargaining status. There is more to deal with than a relationship to an employer.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > There is more to consider than employment bargaining status. There is more to deal with than a relationship to an employer.

      The worker’s relationship to the employer is a central fact in their lives, and determines much of the rest of their lives (especially bringing up children, which takes both money and time). The average person has 15 waking hours, or 105 hours a week. The average time spent at work is a ~39 hours. 39 / 105 = 37%. Time spent at the workplace is a, and perhaps the, central fact of a worker’s existence (not surprising when you sell your labor power to survive).

      It’s absurdly obfuscatory to think that work is anything other than central. It’s also disempowering, since a avenue to worker empowerment is ability to withhold their labor.

  19. anon in so cal

    “he effectively admits the Democrats are hardly better, while trying not to do so (see his painful defense of Biden). He seems not to comprehend the desire for punishment, particularly when the Democrats sneer that the lower orders should be grateful for the crumbs they receive.”

    This saves me the time and bother of viewing Frank’s video. At this juncture, the DNC is a hopelessly corrupt, authoritarian, power-mad blight on the nation. Its hypocrisy and gaslighting are added layers of insult and injury. The GOP is not much better, except maybe less hypocritical.

  20. JEHR

    I have been watching Netflix’s “The Crown.” If you draw lines from the original ancestors of Diana, Charles and Camilla down about 15-16 generations, you will see how the elites manage to keep their influence and their wealth forever. Here is an ancestral timeline for these three individuals that show how the wealth is kept very tightly in the elite class. Perhaps, if you trace the wealth in the United States (or any other country) you can see the beginnings of a similar method of keeping wealth in certain families.

    1. LifelongLib

      In the U.S. by the 1870s or so, the new industrial fortunes dwarfed those of the previous top tier, the descendants of the colonial gentry. The response was intermarriage. The industrial magnates acquired the cachet of old wealth and the old wealthy got even wealthier. I wonder if something similar is happening with today’s tech billionaires…

  21. juno mas

    Unfortunately, not enough people in the US read Naked Capitalism. When your info comes from MSM it’s unlikely you’re motivated for economic change.

    Hell, even those radical strikers in the UC System settled for a “tiered” salary system where the big campuses, UCLA and Berkeley got greater pay increases when, in fact, housing costs (and costs in general) can be higher at UCSB and Santa Cruz.

    When you’re far behind in pay, incremental increase seems like success?

  22. Tom Pfotzer

    I think what Progressives and any other advocate-for-change group needs to do is “DO”.

    Republicans do the wrong things well.
    Democrats do the right things poorly.

    That’s why Repubs own the Supreme Court, for ex.

    Note: I agree that neither Dems nor Repubs are of any value.

    I do think that individuals working as a team in a local setting can get a lot done, and that there’s just about nothing Big Capital can do to stop them.

    If the little people depend on “leaders”, they’re vulnerable. If they depend upon themselves, they’re virtually unstoppable.

    There’s a few other aspects of the current situation that mitigate against action:

    1. Not enough pain yet. There’s still plenty of money sloshing around
    2. Memory of what it took to unite and act as a group is forgotten, and needs to be re-learned.
    3. The most progressive of us tend to be well-off. We want to be cool and hip, not militant and bloody

    1. Charger01

      most progressive of us tend to be well-off. We want to be cool and hip, not militant and bloody

      I’ll paraphrase this: they have more materials to lose….
      I like T. Frank quite a lot. His interviews after “Listen, Liberal” and the 2016 campaign was illuminating for me and others I shared his ideas with. I understand that he is exhausted with politics and has said so on numerous occasions in ’21-’22. His last book, “The People, No” Is quite good. But as others has commented, he does not have a fresh perspective but rather a historic analysis with tons of credit given to the populists and their triumph with bending policies towards common people during the 1930s-1940s.

    2. Carla

      Tom — please read “Less Is More: How DeGrowth Will Save the World” by Jason Hickel and report back what you think of it!

  23. David in Santa Cruz

    Is there a transcript of Frank’s talk out there? My Google-machine can’t find one.

    I don’t watch television. I had the good fortune to live without access to a television set between the ages of 18 and 25 and my brain isn’t wired that way. I just can’t sit and stare while someone drones-on for hours on end. I’m grateful for this Comments section because at least I can form a response to the content while I read it.

    I do agree with Yves that “progressivism” is a personal world-view and way of living for those of us who are materially comfortable that does not equate to a political movement. War and revolution can change things but at my fairly advanced age I doubt that I could survive either. “Democracy” is a fairy-tale.

    1. elkern

      Yeah, me too, I won’t watch anything serious on YouTube with more than one colon (in the time stamp).

      And like you, I’m too old (and hopefully too wise) to think that “Revolution!” in the USA would be a Good Thing, rather than a bloody mess ending in victory for the worst people (right-wing gun nuts in the pay of Oil/Gas industry Zillionaires).

      1. Lambert Strether

        > victory for the worst people

        It is true that if there is revolutionary energy, it’s on the right (and I don’t think that’s a good thing). I’m so old I remember that the summer before Occupy (September 2011) there were State Capitol occupations, plural, in Wisconsin (and I forget the other states now; I think one was Ohio).

        It would have been nice to have seen the railroad workers take over the Capitol, instead of petty bourgeoisie. I’d like see one of those giant inflatable rats on the Capitol steps.

        But that’s very far from happening. What changed between 2011 and 2021?

        1. elkern

          The success of the New Deal – ie, unprecedented levels of home ownership by hourly workers – neutered leftish “revolutionary energy” in the USA. Idealistic/horny college kids bring a wonderful creativity to the scene, but then they grow up, have kids, and get jobs. In the longer run, the theatre they create is more useful to the right-wingers who use it to stoke resentment (American history is full of “movements” of people annoyed that someone else is having too much fun).

          I recall visiting Occupy Wall Street; they were having plenty of fun, but they never came close to threatening Business As Usual on the real Wall Street (a few blocks away). They reminded of me & my friends in 1970, enjoying Earth Day & subsequent “Teach-Ins” about the Vietnam war, enjoying Spring… until Kent State made it clear that our government was quite willing to shoot people like us.

          (Note: “leftish revolutionary energy” remained a powerful force among Black Americans, but Jackson State made it clear that it was far more suicidal than the “vanilla” version I experienced)

          “What changed between 2011 and 2021”? The right-wing noise machine had to invent ever more outrageous BS to keep the interest of the mob it had created with decades of Limbaugh & FOX. The GOP lost control of the monster it built; Trump – unconstrained by scruples or “truth” – fed them what they wanted (MORE!!!), and the whole mess just ran off the rails.

  24. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

    I love hearing Frank speak as he captures the absurdities of the US ‘liberal’ scene so well. What I believe he’s missing is captured in British writer Neema Parvini’s The Populist Delusion. There’s an oligarchy which has captured both the official parties and has no trouble using them as a tool to keep the population in confusion about who’s really in charge. Readers of NC can see it. Chris Hedges seems to see it but Frank still believes the Democratic party machinery can be recaptured like the ‘Tea Party’ people supposedly took over the Republicans from the grassroots up. Got news for him- The Tea Party was co opted way before Newt Gingrich got elected. Anytime a group of populists gain enough traction to attract media notice, a fraud like AOC or Gingrich is constructed to take charge of the movement. Recall how Doug Henwood reported on the attempt during the Obama years by the Black Misleadership Class to co opt “Black Lives Matter”? Well job well done there bcause in the interim, BLM became a fundraising arm of the DNC. So thoroughly so that its Misleadership was found to be living in rather posh digs indeed.
    Nonetheless, the thing had its moment in the sun, operating like a cult from 2017 or so till Biden got in. Now- crickets. Have black people stopped getting hassled by ‘#ACAB’ cops?

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The question Frank asks toward to end of his talk: “For whom does America exist?” falls strangely upon my ears after a talk describing the democrat party morphing into the party of college+ educated right-thinking liberals. “For whom” — though schoolhouse correct is a peculiarly well-educated construct adhering to the rules of grammar promoting the Latin accusative in opposition to its growing obsolescence in the mills of common usage. For me, both Populism and Progressivism have acquired qualities of nostalgic reminiscences of an antique past of historical interest but skew of much of the kind of politics the present requires or could broadly support. Much as I hate to think it, I am slowly reaching the conclusion that two-party politics as it has devolved in the u.s. is beyond repair. The american empire is crumbling as the world crumbles around it and rather than wrestling for a bigger piece of the pie I believe we face much bigger worries. But like Frank, I lack ideas for viable solutions. I have no idea for how to address these bigger concerns. I feel a Storm coming and the best I can think of to do is try to find somewhere to hide and hunker down before the shit starts flying.

  25. Rolf

    In the US our natural wealth has been squandered, our industries sold, the financial sector dominates, broad prosperity traded for the obscene enrichment of a handful, with no plan for the future. And we (as well as the rest of the globe) are fast approaching, if not already in, existential crises on many fronts — energy, food, water, environment, preparations for which are essentially non-existent on a national scale. I think the lesson from these observations is that the leadership necessary for requisite action will not appear at the national level. The MICIMATT will work to prevent precisely that, and distract our attentions elsewhere instead.

    I did enjoy Frank’s “Listen, Liberal” (as well as his earlier stuff), but I honestly think his role is more proscriptive than prescriptive. He can identify historically where the locomotive went off the rails, but has much less to say about getting it back on track. Michael Hudson has predicted that nothing will happen until you remove the Democratic party as it currently exists. I’ve come to agree with this latter view: the Democrats have become the truly conservative party, weakening reforms, preserving our deteriorating status quo. But I think hoping for change from either party in DC is a waste of time at this point. Any change must come first at the very local level, under the radar. On a broader scale, widespread political integration and action of the sort and direction necessary won’t occur until the pain is more widespread than it is now, essentially a national catastrophe that demands local cooperation and shared sacrifice of the sort ordinary Americans have practiced in the past. This sounds terrible, I know, but if more than a million dead from COVID wasn’t enough to make Americans aware of what a precarious existence they lead in this country, what exactly is required? Evidently, it hasn’t been enough yet.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > weakening reforms, preserving our deteriorating status quo

      I think they are actively assisting deterioration; see Biden’s Covid response, and how the spooks infested the platforms.

  26. Gulag

    It just might be worthwhile to raise some heretical questions/issues.

    In 2023 aren’t all of us, to one degree or another, capitalist calculating machines. The advent or Rumble and Substack seems to have encased even our most independent thinkers in a petty-bourgeoise environment.

    Don’t we have to start from that economic reality?

    Aren’t we also all now living under a historically unprecedented system of public/private monitoring and control? Don’t we have to start from that technological reality?

    Hasn’t the global left, particularly in the U.S., also become essentially a cultural cheer-leader for the end of all so-called limiting traditions of any type– maybe even embracing a kind of self-willed liberation from matter and biology itself.

    Are economic relations still to be considered the fundamental basis of all societies? If we eliminate capitalism and private property would a new fundamentally equal superstructure emerge in 2023 or would we continue on in our attempt to apparently deify ourselves?

  27. Pelham

    Note that the progressive agenda has evolved from abolition, equal rights for women, consumer protections and their admirable like to what now appears to be a focus on trans rights to groom schoolkids, language policing (including by our spook agencies) and various kinds of cancellation of various alleged wrong-thinkers.

    As long as this is the case, no pairing of a robust and urgently needed economic agenda with these forms of “moral uplift” stands a chance, IMO.

    1. Adam Eran

      JFYI, my experience with local political clubs (mostly Democratic, but a little Republican) is that their members are almost completely uninformed, and are more interested in virtue signaling and punishing anyone who says something politically incorrect than in addressing even local issues (incredible, very open corruption!). They don’t talk about policy, avoiding it, and anything resembling dissent at all costs. The are “gentlemen’s clubs” that admit women. Not exactly confidence-inspiring (except one D club: Wellstone Democrats…so there’s hope yet.)

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I joined only one local political club — democrat, but your description of club ethos and purpose fit my experiences exactly.

  28. elkern

    I apologize in advance for perhaps rehashing stuff that Thomas Frank may have said (I don’t watch long Vids).

    Most US politics nowadays is pure Culture War. That’s not exactly a New Thing (see: Thomas Nast’s portrayal of Irish immigrants), but IMO it has completely taken over since the 1960’s. The Cultural “Revolution” of the 1960’s led lotsa young WASPy college students to leave the “square” GOP and join their cool Jewish friends in the Democratic Party (now that it had finally/mostly embraced Civil Rights). The GOP didn’t provide an option for criticism of the Vietnam War (or more importantly, the Draft), so that powerful energy was applied inside the Democratic Party, even though it was “their war”.

    Nixon – as shrewd (and twisted) as his Shakespearean analog, Richard III – recognized this as an opportunity to crack the Democratic Party’s lock on (pre-) Rust Belt working class voters. Union factory jobs had elevated these workers to true Middle Class economic status – home ownership, stability, college for their children – and it was easy to set them against the Hippies who flaunted their distain for those “bourgeois” comforts.

    The Democratic Party didn’t exactly welcome the Hippies (see: Chicago Convention, 1968), but they got stuck with them.

    Through this same time, the Unions – and the huge manufacturing companies they worked for – succumbed to the institutional sclerosis that follows success. By the late 1970’s, the post-WWII economic miracle was slowing; Unions still had electoral power, but were losing economic power.

    After Goldwater’s loss in 1964, Western industrialists in the GOP began a new network of Think Tanks, and slowly took over the Party from the New England WASPs who had run it for most of the prior century. This culminated in the Reagan presidency and a decade of spectacular decline for the Democratic Party, which had seemed primed to dominate US politics for a generation after Nixon’s implosion.

    By 1990, the Democratic Party was broken, and broke. It had depended on Union money for decades, but that evaporated as the GOP smashed the remaining private-sector Unions (eliminating the US industrial base was a small price to pay for the power they gained).

    The Clintons “saved” the Democratic Party in 1992, by cutting deals with a bunch of rich guys annoyed by the growing power of the Religious Right in the GOP. Those millionaires (Silicon Valley, Hollywood, some Wall Street) extracted a heavy price: the Democratic Party had to de-emphasize redistributive economic policies.

    Like the GOP in the 1960’s, they built a new network of Think Tanks (DLCC + various NGOs) to set policy (and employ apparatchiks). Like the GOP Think Tanks, they settled on Culture Wars as a substitute for redistributive economic policies.

    I don’t see a decent way for the USA to get past this trap. Sorry for the pessimism. Our time is done, as a World Power, and as a positive influence on The World. I just hope the Chinese can thread the needle, slowly taking power without triggering a genocidal response from the USA.

    Perhaps the best thing we – “Progressives”, Naked Capitalists, whoever we are – is to encourage other Americans to accept our fate as (gently?) boiled frogs.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>Perhaps the best thing we – “Progressives”, Naked Capitalists, whoever we are – is to encourage other Americans to accept our fate as (gently?) boiled frogs.

      Good analysis, but no, I refuse to just roll over and let those… people win. Like you, I don’t see a way, but surrender is not it.

    2. spud

      the clintons did not save the democratic party, they trashed it. bill lost at least 900 seats nation wide, and blew the hold on the house they had for many decades.

      obama lost over 1000, and the democratic party went from about 55% of the voters supporting them, down to under 30% as of today.

      it would be better just to abandon and destroy the democratic party.

    3. hunkerdown

      I hope you’ll forgive me for not reading your comment in full. I don’t read comments longer than two paragraphs, especially when the commenter has a history of rhetorical dissimulation and political quietism. ;p

      Anyway, the events you recount happened inside of a game that doesn’t need to be played, to be respected, or even to exist. And you should spare us that rhetoric of mass formation because NC is not a movement or a church.

      1. spud

        then why all the fuss about the abandonment of the working class then? it seems to be discussed almost every day by NC, let alone in the commentary.

        i just posted the other day about what robert reich said about workers, and it got responses. i am betting the responder never knew about what was said in the clinton administration about workers.

        its why obama got away with guns and god, hillary called us deplorable, and biden calls us maga people.

        history shows us how these destructive movements to a country occur. either you know about it, or you flounder wondering why things turned out the way they did.

        trends start somewhere. and anyone who wants to find out where the trend began, studies history. just ask Michael Hudson.

        if NC is not a movement or a organization dedicated to history, then what is it?

  29. Rip Van Winkle

    Thomas Frank needs to revisit the 1992 Democratic primaries and debates.

    Brown, Harkin, Kerrey, Tsongas.

    And Guess Who was shaking his fist and pointing fingers at all of them? Sickening to watch, even 30 years later.

  30. JBird4049

    I have been thinking about just how to get effective organizing without it being subverted as with Sanders’ and Corbyn’s campaign staff, consumed wholesale and then transmogrified into grifts as with Black Lives Matter and the Tea Party. The various intelligence agencies, police forces, political parties, and the NGOs especially of a political bent have been subverted; they are used to subvert or destroy any kind of organization that could threaten the current order.

    There is extreme corruption with illegal surveillance, bribery, blackmail, framing (false convictions), the “news” and social media used for propaganda. As in most of the past two centuries, I have no doubt that political assassinations will be used, if the milder means don’t work.

    Black activists seem to become dead or in prison most often than other blacks. (White activists as well, but they seem to mostly get plea deals with threats of multi decades prison sentences.)

    Just how do reformers set up movements quickly enough to become self sustaining before they can become completely subverted or the leadership killed off? Gruesome, yes, but I guarantee that there will be surprising cases of child porn found on computers, people dying unexpectedly, tax audits, false arrests, and spies in large numbers. All you need to do is read some American history and then think about today.

    In the past, despite the aggressive efforts of the establishment, reform movements often grew too large to easily destroy. The Civil Rights Movement is one example even though it was eventually subverted by the Black Misleadership Class and rendered impotent after MLK has started to combine the fight against poverty and racism. A similar story with the Women’s Movement; some success with civil rights, but with the original leadership that had been concerned about poverty and issues like childcare pushed aside with their own misleadership class. Just look at Gloria Steinem, CIA operative.

    So, I ask what steps can be taken from the start to harden any organizations or movements? One step cKyle be recruiting from the bottom half of society as well as getting graduates of very non Ivy League universities. An organization reflecting the country, not DC or Wall Street Bubbles. A second step could be having widely disseminated, agreed with, clear, understandable goals for the organization. Not poverty bad or racism evil, but concrete goals.

    Just some worries and suggestions, here.

    1. PaulArt

      One of the problems with organizing ironically are the gifts that came out of the New Deal, Social Security in particular. It is tempting to conclude that a person will not have fire in his/her belly (to put it in Nader’s words) unless he or she is very personally affected in some way. Being hit financially is the biggest motivator. If you are on Social Security, for most part you are not being affected by economic policy making in Washington or at the state level unless the issue is SS or Medicare. Why would you care about loss of manufacturing, trade treaties etc? Sometimes I wonder at the Machiavellian cleverness of the American Medical Association in blocking Truman from pushing for Universal Medical Care but allowing it only for older people. Was this a classic “divide and rule” strategy? If it was then it has been tremendously effective and is still standing after all these years. It seems we have all been corralled into separate pens and our neighing and whinnying is not quite in harmony.

  31. Paul Art

    Regarding our hopeless situation where “..the best lack all conviction..” I always keep remembering the lines from Stalin’s answer to a journalist about why the Revolution succeeded in Russia and not elsewhere – I am paraphrasing here, he is reported to have said, “the revolution succeeded here because we had the most savage form of Capitalism in Russia”. At least one commenter remarked here on how we still have a lot of prosperity and hence no one seems motivated to do anything and I agree with that. We don’t yet have a ‘savage capitalism’. Our current monopolies and oligopolies are too clever and do not do things to draw attention to themselves (except a few idiots like Shkreli). Companies consolidate but do not change the names of the products, shelves still contain products with many names giving the illusion of competition. They increase prices slowly and under the cover of “inflation” and labor shortages. They have all become very sophisticated. Most of all, the rich have managed to completely neuter the media. I read the NY Times everyday and during all of the Railroad strike and negotiations I did not see the name of “Warren Buffet” or Bill Ackman in its columns much. I had to go to jacobin to learn who the 0.001% were behind this “Precision Scheduled Railroading” travesty. The young who are the most affected by the last 30 years of Neoliberal war still have the homes of their parents to huddle in, we still have Unemployment Insurance, Social Security and Medicare, tattered though they might be. I reckon we still have a long way to go before some cobbler’s son who went to Seminary will join hands with an upper class intellectual with a goatee to lead another revolution.

  32. Gulag

    “The enemy of the worker is the boss.”

    Is the intelligence community the enemy of the worker?

    Is the Federal Reserve the enemy of the worker?

    Is a virtual gig platform the enemy of the worker?

    Is the increasingly centralized State the enemy of the worker?

    ls Marx’s account of the Boss/worker relation roughly adequate for only the 19th Century?

    1. JBird4049

      To oversimplify, the difference between now and the 19th century is mainly of degree and not of kind; corporations, the wealthy, the law, and government are all working together, as they did before, to control and exploit workers.

  33. Gulag

    I think it is possible to argue that as early as the end of the 19th century social democracy and Bismark’s policies had already successfully integrated the labor movement within the logic of corporate capitalism.

    I would submit that the historical emergence of monopoly capitalism, transcending entrepreneurial capitalism (in the late 19th century) along with “..the wealthy, the law and the government all now working together” initiated the emergence of a new logic of domination based on politics and culture, not simply economics.

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