Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

No One Cares What We Think

with 8 comments

I long ago had to come to terms with a political era and a political machine that is not my own and never likely to please me. I do wonder what a critique like this one might accomplish, were it to penetrate the greater bloggy consciousness. It would take someone with publicity and access to bring it into the conversation, and as I’ve said, very, very few of genuinely left-wing socialist policy preferences are ever allowed into the Club. Even if it got there– even if, somehow, a critique like this one could puncture the carefully constructed bubble of blogospheric consciousness, the one which limits debate and sets the boundaries of “acceptable” discourse so narrowly– I can predict a sad response. Many would set out to deny the possibility that political blogs contain anything less than the full panoply of human political opinion, and would do so with exactly the mechanism I’m describing here: the existence of a nominal left-wing that represents merely a slightly different flavor of neoliberal doctrine would provide cover for those not even nominally left-wing. The Matt Yglesiases, the Ezra Kleins, the Jon Chaits, the Kevin Drums– they would likely support the neoliberal orthodoxy that has captured the debate by denying that any such dynamic could exist. That would give an out to the conservatives and libertarians to say “see, even the Liberal Ezra Klein says….” Every time there is agreement between, say, Yglesias, Ross Douthat, and Will Wilkinson, this is taken as a sign that of a lack of disagreement to their position, rather than as an indicator of the narrow confines of blogger opinion. Once again, the idea that there is some sort of genuine ideological disagreement within the space would paper over the fact that little such disagreement exists.

Freddie deBoer has a must-read post on neoliberalism and the progressive blogosphere. Of course, when people happily take up the criticism as a badge of honor, there’s just not much left to say…

UPDATE: Contrary to my own pronouncements, I had a little bit more to say about all this on HASTAC.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

8 Responses

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  1. It’s amazing how quickly and thoroughly people like Yglesias are confirming the truth of what Freddie said. The difference between liberals and neo-liberals so often comes down to the *means* of producing magic-happy-egalitarianism; liberals say things like “you’ve got to have labor unions to protect worker’s rights from their bosses and government support of the pro-labor laws that exist.” Neoliberals say — as Yglesias did in that post — that they share the same goals as liberals, but they believe that a more effective and efficient market will produce the desired effect. They’re wrong, even if they’re convincing themselves, but the point is that their critics aren’t talking about their stated goals but their means of getting to them. It doesn’t matter if your stated goal is “More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom”; if the way you go about it doesn’t directly address the dynamic that reproduces inequalities through capitalism, you’ll never actually get there.

    So, for example, the idea that he is for “Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment” is all well and good, but neoclassical economists have been merrily saying exactly that as well, talking about how the market will produce the ideal outcome of a job for every worker that wants one, for the past three decades of steady and increasing crushing of the working class. They will keep talking about how if we get rid of all this unions and regulation and social safety net nonsense, then the workers will thrive (even as every step in that direction produces the opposite effect). The fact that they claim their policies will produce higher wages for workers means nothing when the policies they propound demonstrably do not.

    Aaron Bady

    January 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm

  2. I wrote a little bit more about this for HASTAC, trying to feint away from the politics of it as that place is pretty aggressively a(nti-)political, which is part of what I am quietly trying to suggest in the cascade of rhetorical questions at the end of that post. Too quietly, I’m certain, but I know as well as anyone the things we’re not supposed to talk about. (I’ve just added a comment to make this particular suggestion clearer than I think it initially was.)

    As for the larger points Aaron raises, yes, it’s an incredibly effective strategy of disavowal that never seems to reach any moment of self-reflection or reconsideration. The endlessly prolonged temporal frame involved just keeps shifting the moment of Utopian fulfillment further and further into the future. Alas, if only the last restrictions on the market could be lifted, if only trade were really free…

    I don’t know if you dug far enough into the comments to see the lunacy of “break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled” exposed as not only counterproductive and wrongheaded but both pointless fiddling at the margins and a complete non-answer to the problem it is meant to address. Nearly every item on the list can be similarly deconstructed.

    It’s the worst Yglesias post since the last worst one declared the end of liberalism, and a reminder that your (perpetually broken?) vow to stop reading Yglesias altogether has some serious arguments in its favor.


    January 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm

  3. The word neoliberal is being used wrong.


    January 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    • By who? Yglesias, or deBoer?


      January 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    • Everyone who currently uses it among pundits. It never referred to “liberals but hawkish”. It originated in Latin America to refer to the disciples of Milton Friedman.


      January 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm

      • Is that in evidence in these posts, or are you just sayin’?


        January 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      • Sorry, you’re right. It seems that DeBoer has a basic understanding of neoliberalism from what he says about it. Yglesias, on the other hand, I don’t think grasps the concept.


        January 18, 2011 at 10:56 am

      • Definitely not. I told him to read David Harvey.


        January 18, 2011 at 11:00 am

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