I actually kind of like the notion of ‘folk Marxism’ but still…

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Koz
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    says:

    First of all, the folk Marxism business is important, and I’m sure I’ll write about that more. But I’ve written about that once or twice before in comments. In the post I wanted to make explicit a couple of other points, which aren’t of themselves political, and which I hope won’t get lost in a chorus of liberal-Left complaints and distortions.

    1. Our hopes are important, but at some point they must be reducible to a course of action.
    2. The course of action has to be plausible.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Koz
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      says:

      Koz:

      No course of action has to be plausible if it is “for the children” or for “social justice” or for the “greater good.”Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Scott
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        says:

        Funny, I seem to recall both sides making arguments about actions being “for the children” and “the greater good,” and even some version of “social justice.”Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Scott
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        says:

        I realize that if I said “conservatives do it, too,” my saying so doesn’t mean it’s not applicable to what liberals do. But yes, conservatives do it, too. The question is to try to demonstrate how or whether liberalism (however you (Koz) is defining it), is more prone to failing to reduce things to a course of action or more prone to adopt courses of action that are implausible.

        To my mind your (Koz’s) original post did not do that, and I think that is what Mr. Kain is objecting to and mocking, if I read it correctly.

        As for “folk marxism,” if I knew what you meant, I might be inclined to say it’s an interesting idea. But as I don’t, I can only impose my own view.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille
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          says:

          Every prophet responds to the situation he sees at the time. He gathers disciples around him, all of whom variously miss the points the prophet tried to make. Their disciples further transmogrify the original points, add an -ism to the prophet’s name and call it Doctrine.

          It’s always best to go back and read the prophet in the original. He who actually reads Marx will never adhere to what passes for Marxism.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            Eh, there’s a little too much “no true Christian” in here for my taste.

            I do not share your confidence in my own ability to distinguish between a guy who calls himself a marxist who actually is one and a guy who calls himself a marxist who is obviously lying (or is obviously misguided or whatever).

            Mormons *ARE* Christians in a very important sense of the term. Heck, Baptists are.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              How very right you are, for once. We may all read Marx and discuss what he actually wrote, for much of what he said was true. Many of his prophecies failed: he got it all wrong on the Workers and the Owners: they came to terms in the West. The only folks who took him seriously were the Peasants and the Landowners. They still do, by the way, which might give rise to a productive discussion from many angles.

              In the same way, I would urge everyone to read the Gospels for themselves, not listen to some jackass preacher making all sorts of dubious Truth Claims ’bout what Jeezus Wants Us to Do. Ultimately, we are what we do and your lack of confidence is completely validated.Report

          • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            Blaise P.,

            I thought the idea behind a term like “folk marxism” suggests that the folkloric marxists haven’t actually read Marx.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to Pierre Corneille
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          says:

          “As for “folk marxism,” if I knew what you meant, I might be inclined to say it’s an interesting idea. But as I don’t, I can only impose my own view.”

          Sorry, that has to do with older threads. Folk marxism is the generalized belief that economic policy is a distribution problem: economic output is whatever, we need to make sure it is correctly distributed to economically or politically correct ends.

          The implicit premise of that is that the distribution of wealth or whatever is closely controllable by the political process.

          Again, this refers to a generalized belief, not necessarily intellectually derived from Marx or some historical communists, differentiating folk Marxism from plain old Marxism.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to Pierre Corneille
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          says:

          “To my mind your (Koz’s) original post did not do that, and I think that is what Mr. Kain is objecting to and mocking, if I read it correctly.”

          This is worth noting, and responding to. In particular there is a real asymmetry between the Right and the Left here that usually flies under the radar.

          The Left tends to want to engage society through expansion and control of the public sphere. The Right tends to favor the autonomy of the private sphere. But control of the public sphere, precisely because it’s public, is haphazard and messy. The Left is therefore likely to have to deal with a disconnect between the their social goals and their concrete plans.

          The Right doesn’t have that problem as much because we are more likely to favor default actions.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Koz
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      says:

      And, related to that (and for the sake of completeness),

      3. The goal that we hope for is different than the policy that implements it.

      And probably most importantly,

      4. The hopes and the actions intended to accomplish it should be evaluated together and consistent with each other.

      Strictly speaking, these are forensic points, not partisan points, but in practice these have strong partisan undercurrents.

      Finally, if you can build an argument this way, it doesn’t mean you win, necessarily. It means you get to play.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Koz
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      says:

      This Plausibility thingummy will never work out in practice. Plaudere, to clap, to applaud. Perhaps you might want to choose another word: we cannot be guided by mere applause. At its broadest definition, believability is no guide: you may believe what you wish about Marx but he speaks for himself, in the context of his own times.

      Marx did not present a course of action, however much his simplistic enemies kept repeating the assertion. He said Communism was a spectre which haunted Europe, a spectre which took form and continues to take form wherever feudalism still holds power. Now here is what Marx did want: for the workers of the world to unite. They did, in the form of the trade union and the spectre of Communism never took form in the West.

      Marx’s enemies were very bad thinkers, the whole lot of them. A society where everyone owns everything is only plausible in a world where the feudal lords own everything. Communism won’t work because people want to own things. Capitalism won’t work either, because the government can be bought. All the folksy wisdom and hasty conclusions in the world won’t save either belief system.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        “This Plausibility thingummy will never work out in practice. “

        I take it this in response to me. I’m not quite sure what the context is here, but at one level at least this is the exact opposite of the truth. Ie, plausibility is practice.

        We have a public aspiration, therefore we create some policy to accomplish it. If we can’t implement the policy we’ve got nothin’.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Koz
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          says:

          It may be a matter of semantics. To me, a plausible outcome is one where I agree with your conclusion based on belief. A possible outcome is one where I cannot rule out anything but the impossible: belief is not a component of the possible.

          Furthermore, plausibility cannot be a guide to action. I might believe a given action is appropriate, you might not.Report

  2. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    And I’m glad you’ve deigned to teach those of us on the left this valuable lesson, Koz. Now we’ll surely drop our plans for global Marxist domination and instead start adopting watered-down health care plans that are to the right of what Republicans were proposing 15 years ago. Oh, and we’ll promtly set to work on getting rid of unions, which clearly only work in a perfect world (why else would company towns and conditions like you’ll find in this book still dominate in our country’s factories and other workplaces?).Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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      says:

      Chris, at the time, The Jungle inspired *NOT* support for unions but support for food safety laws. When I was taught about the book in Middle School, I was not taught the union angle *AT ALL* but “this is why we have the FDA!”Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Right. And in the larger context, there is nothing that says we can’t opportunistically do this or that to help the disadvantaged or promote social equality. The fallacy is taking such things as operational foundations of the economy.

        (This tends to come up in discussions of Hayek as well.)Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Koz
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          says:

          And who takes it as the operational foundational of the economy? No one I know. At least not in this country, or even in Europe these days (social Democrats are market people to the core, and you can’t be a market person and hold that belief).Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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            says:

            Chris, you can’t say stuff like that to Koz; it’s inhumane.
            Firstly, because near everything he’s written would implode in upon him with surely dangerous psychological effects were he to ever even consider accepting the reality that the vast majority of liberals embrace markets and have either consigned the ideas of communist economic theory to their mental garbage cans or never believed in it to begin with.

            Secondly, repeatedly highlighting the abandonment of communism by most of the left must twist the knife cruelly in true communist-lefties like Freddie and Freddie didn’t have any responsibility for Koz’s post so why should he have to suffer? (I kid because I love ya Freddie).Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to North
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              says:

              Freddie, I think, is a little depressed right now. Maybe this post and the comments of his pals will cheer him up?Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to North
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              says:

              Truth be told, I’m a bit of a lefty myself. I’m not a communist, but my distance from communism is no greater than my distance from American liberalism (or European market socialism, for that matter). American liberals bother me, but they bother me significantly less than American conservatives.

              I await my diagnosis from Bob, now, with bated breath. Or can one’s breath be bated in the throes of pneumatic consciousness?Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Chris writes: “Truth be told, I’m a bit of a lefty myself.”

                “a bit”?? Now THAT is funny! Compared to whom–Stalin? Pol Pot? Ho Chi Minh? Santa Claus? Danny Ortega?Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to Chris
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            says:

            No. Social democrats may believe abstractly in markets, or even concretely in certain circumstances but the are definitively not market people to the core. In fact that’s kinda the point.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Koz
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              says:

              Huh? Social democrats believe in markets. They also believe in social justice. The two are perfectly compatible. The only difference between Conservatives and Social Democrats resolves to this: the Conservative maunders on and endlessly weeps about the moribund state of Society and Pernicious Influences acting upon it. The Social Democrat actually does something about Society, something, that is, beyond cutting wages and benefits for the working man.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                “They also believe in social justice. The two are perfectly compatible.”

                Great. Then name that tune Blaise. The lack of context makes this an especially strong claim.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Blaise writes: “The Social Democrat actually does something about Society, something, that is, beyond cutting wages and benefits for the working man.”

                Ha, Ha! I’m glad you haven’t completely lost your sense of humor and mind.

                Yeah, those Social Democrats sure know how to right the wrongs caused by those evil, rapacious Conservatives. The profound lunacy of Liberals and Lefties is that they actually think spending other peoples money
                constitutes “charity”, “benevolence”, “kindness”, .”generosity” and on and on. Dammit, so what if we have a $14.7 trillion dollar deficit. To spend a penny less would bring us back Dickensian squalor, poverty, misery. Could you please explain how confiscating the fruits of ones labor and giving it away to underserving, chronic, layabouts equals a sense of righteous justice? Liberals are so amusing. They have actually talked themselves into believeing theft is “compassion”. Carry on, sir. You just may be appointed the new Court Jester with comments like these!Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I forgot, Blaise–when you get a free moment could you please send me your address–I have a little present for you–A Cuckoo Clock!
                You’ll love it. Whenever the clock senses you might be going off the deep end, it delivers a powerful shock. I have one myself. Being someone who frequently does go off the deep end, I now have enough electricity in my body that if I stick a couple of bulbs in both ears they light up! All the best, my friend….Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Blaise, I have a feeling that if you were to be, God forbid, stuck-up by one of those annoying begging, street urchins, you would, in all sincerity, ask if they took credit cards.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Koz
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              says:

              Koz, a.) you should read some socialist writings from the last 20 years. There’s not much non-market socialism anymore, and hasn’t really been since the 70s or early 80s b.) social Democrats, as they exist in Europe (at least in politically viable entities), are pro-market to the core pretty much by definition. They may not want markets to be as free as American liberals tend to want, but that doesnt’ mean that the basic structure on top of which they build their political and economic theories/policies isn’t the market, and capitalism.

              One of the straw men that you and others I’ve seen seem to draw is that the redistribution of some wealth, either to create a basic standard of living for the lowest socioeconomic rungs, or to strengthen the middle class, amounts to a complete redistributionist view. What’s more, part of the redistributionist view in social democracy, and to a lesser extent, among American liberals, goes towards strengthening the middle class to strengthen the market economy. You may disagree with that, and there are reasons to do so, but they aren’t the ones you’ve described, as the ones you’ve described don’t really have anything to do with the actual positions.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Chris
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      says:

      “And I’m glad you’ve deigned to teach those of us on the left this valuable lesson, Koz.”

      Me too, ‘cuz it’s one you needed to learn. So let’s recap: an aspiration needs to have an associated course of action to be meaningful. The aspirations and it’s actions need to be evaluated together and internally consistent.Report

  3. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    “We can dance on their ashes, kick them skyward, spin about surrounded by the empty cacophony of our own echoes hurtling back at us over and over and over again.”

    Bravo!Report

  4. Avatar Pat Cahalan
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    says:

    > Empathy is hard work.

    It’s made harder by the fact that so many people are not, truly, aware of their own internal contradictions. Being empathic towards people who are trying so hard not to know who they themselves are is a highly frustrating endeavor.Report

  5. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Very true, Pat.Report

  6. Avatar Koz
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    says:

    “Empathy is hard work.”

    Indeed. But in the big picture, empathy is a means not an end. And if you fail at the ends, what value are the means?Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    I’m still struggling to understand how Koz’s post adds anything of value here, or even states anything old in a new, more useful way.

    We already know — even liberals know — that legislation doesn’t usually create results directly. All it usually creates are incentives. Ordinary people have to fill in the rest, or not, and they won’t always do it in the ways legislators expect. The difference between libertarians and leftists, here, is that libertarians tend to see the gap between law and result as a lot bigger and more serious. We expect plans to fail rather than succeed, and whether we’re right or wrong, it’s probably for the best if at least someone is thinking along those lines.

    But calling it “folk Marxism” seems obscurantist rather than illuminating.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Well, for starters, let’s create a balance in public policy between our aspirations and proposed actions. That’s new and at least for the moment has nothing to do with folk Marxism.

      For example, let’s look at the context of public sector unions in Wisconsin, something that has drawn a lot of comment here recently. Erik has written that he wants to see a more equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class. That’s an aspiration. To that end, he opposes the loss of collective bargaining rights for public sector unions. That’s a course of action.

      Now, this is where it gets interesting. Let’s say Erik wins, what are the consequences? The restoration of public unions in Wisconsin is not intended to accomplish the equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class, it’s one of a hundred things to be done in the direction of it.

      So, let’s say we restore Wisconsin public sector unions and stop there. What does that accomplish? Well, it preserves some prerogatives for a few public employees at the expense of the state’s financial security. Unfortunately for Erik, that doesn’t get very far towards his big-picture motivations.

      So what does? What (combined with public sector unions in Wisconsin) does allow us to guarantee the equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class? If we have no answer, or if we have an answer but for some reasons cannot implement it, or if we have an answer that doesn’t make any sense, then we can’t expect to guarantee the equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class.

      Let’s deal with this for starters. We’ll deal with folk Marxism soon enough.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Koz
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        says:

        What do you make of Sean Duffy’s complaints?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Koz
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        says:

        You should put it like this more, instead of getting into the liberal mind and condescending to teach liberals obvious lessons (lessons that have pretty much defined liberal politics for the last 30 years, I might add). This makes more sense, though it still doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Public sector unions, private sector unions, safety nets, various forms of tax reform, health care reform, financial and corporate regulations, etc., combined are supposed to protect and promote the middle class. Since you haven’t argued against any of these, but have instead simply said, “public sector unions don’t get you there alone, if we don’t have anything else, or public sector unions plus anything else won’t get you there, we should abandon it all for something else,” even if you haven’t said what that “something else” is, or what it buys us. So in order to make an actual point, you’d need a.) to show that the things liberals want, from unions to regulation with everything in between, doesn’t help the middle class, and b.) that your alternative, whatever it is, provides an alternative, even if it’s a less favorable one from a liberal standpoint. I don’t predict you doing either of these things, because you’re clearly more interested in scoring broad points against liberals through caricature and condescension.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Chris
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          says:

          I’d argue the Progressives have moved beyond the old Liberal solutions to everything. I’m involved in a lengthy offline discussion with a rampant Tea Partier. We are both surprised to find the Progressives and Tea Partiers share more in common than either might have supposed.

          Moah Gummint was never the solution. The Middle Class was always an illusion: whenever a Middle Class appears in history, it was the result of some temporary labor shortage and it never lasted. Soon enough, the shortage was eliminated, the products made by that Middle Class became commodities and the Detroits of the world emptied out as surely as container ships made the docks of Liverpool and the export of looms made Blake’s Dark Satanic Mills irrelevant.

          Da Vinci tells us Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

          Different times bring forth different problems, often brought forth by the Law of Unintended Consequences. I don’t bash today’s Conservatives for the sins of their fathers, as long as they don’t sing the praises of the Founding Fathers too loudly. Their ideas about the equality of man was very bad math, trying to make one equal to three fifths.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            Yeah, I’m not sure what history you’re looking at, or what point you’re trying to make, but enjoyed it nonetheless.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            “Moah Gummint was never the solution. “

            I don’t know of any progressives with the credibility to represent this. This is especially topical now given Harry Reid’s and the Senate Democrats’ stance toward federal funding negotiations, which to my knowledge isn’t generating a peep of protest from progressives.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to Chris
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          says:

          “You should put it like this more, instead of getting into the liberal mind and condescending to teach liberals obvious lessons…”

          Then please accept my apologies. The only thing I’ll say in my defense is that I don’t know what people will find objectionable until I circulate it, and the results often surprise me.

          “Since you haven’t argued against any of these, but have instead simply said, “public sector unions don’t get you there alone, if we don’t have anything else, or public sector unions plus anything else won’t get you there, we should abandon it all for something else,” even if you haven’t said what that “something else” is, or what it buys us.”

          Ok, here’s the short story: our ability to create value, economically and otherwise, has to do our ability to work, engage, interact with each other. It is the essence of Left-liberalism, by design and in practice, to regulate or control this to supposedly socially valuable ends. By the time the Left is done with us, what’s left over has little if any possibility of creating value. Therefore we’re in the suck.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Koz
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            says:

            Yeah, except nothing in that last paragraph is true of left liberals today, or really ever, in America, and isn’t really true of left liberals in Europe, either.

            Outside of a real dictatorship of the proletariat, in general the left’s focus on labor, for example, hasn’t been about controlling all capital for “supposedly socially valuable ends,” but about insuring a fair share of the product of labor for the worker. Social safety nets, similarly, aren’t about redistributing all wealth for “supposedly socially valuable ends,” but about ensuring that the system that benefits us all doesn’t leave anyone out in the cold (literally and figuratively). These are prototypical left-liberal aims in this country, and nothing you’ve said, or implied, suggests that they’re unreasonable, much less impossible to acheive. And certainly nothing you’ve said implies that they can’t be approximated through the sorts of social and economic programs that left-liberals in this country and in Europe regularly propose.

            It might be better to call the people folk-Rawlsians than folk-Marxists, because these sorts of things certainly seem more Rawlsian. Or in the extreme, folk-Fichteans or something. Because there’s not a lot of Marx in it, since a.) class warfare isn’t much of an issue, and b.) there’s nothing resembling the view that the proletariat should hold the power, economically or politically, in most left-liberal views in America or Europe (most are folk-technocrats, in fact).Report

            • Avatar Koz in reply to Chris
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              says:

              “Yeah, except nothing in that last paragraph is true of left liberals today, or really ever, in America, and isn’t really true of left liberals in Europe, either.”

              Sure it is. This is working in a more concrete way than you may realize.

              In one way at least, collective assertion of control over the economy is defined by government expenditures.

              As things stand now, the federal debt represents roughly 1 year of GDP. The projected trajectory of this debt, mostly the implied liability for the major entitlements, represents several times that.

              The states are in a similar situation wrt their employee benefit obligations. The numbers aren’t as big, but then they have a smaller tax base to work from.

              These debts have to be repaid and take resources away from the private capital base, no matter whether the expenditures are financed by debt or by taxes. As the burden grows bigger, the risk/reward scenario for capital is very adverse. Therefore no one invests, therefore there is no money to pay anybody, therefore nobody can get a job.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Koz
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        says:

        So, let’s say we restore Wisconsin public sector unions and stop there. What does that accomplish? Well, it preserves some prerogatives for a few public employees at the expense of the state’s financial security. Unfortunately for Erik, that doesn’t get very far towards his big-picture motivations.

        So what does? What (combined with public sector unions in Wisconsin) does allow us to guarantee the equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class?

        But neither Erik nor any liberal does propose we stop there, Koz. Wisconsin is/was something of a signal battle in that effort, but in no way is the unique policy path being proposed. If we went down the road far enough, for example, we would, as BP points out in this sub-thread, find a number of conscious policies of the government over the last decade and a half or more, that have contributed to what is seen to be a maldistribution of wealth at this time that likely liberals and libertarians would agree were, for that reason and others. That confluence of analysis doesn’t discredit either group’s orientation; indeed it mutually credits both. (By all accounts, we should point out BTW, those policies, specifically around the governance of the finance sector and the government capture it wrought, were a bipartisan effort of the elite of both major political parties in the ’90s through the mid-Aughts, political parties one of which, if I am not mistaken, you remain an avid and unreconstructed defnder: let us know if I am wrong.)

        Moreover, it seem to me that if your critique is simply that a particular point of advocacy of Erik’s will be inadequate to bring about his stated aims (and, again, he nowhere claimed it would be adequate on its own), then that represents a significant retreat from the position that any view that economic power is distributed too unequally for the health of the society is an unacceptable form of proto- or neo-Marxism on its face (rather than, or as a result of being, standard-fare Liberalism), regardless of the means proposed to redress it.

        So which is it: that Liberals like Erik don’t propose means equal to their stated aims, or that their very critique of the state of things, and therefore any prescriptions made subsequent to them, have an illegitimate implicit premise of government control capacity that amounts to a kind of Marxism, which makes it on its face invalid?Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          “…that likely liberals and libertarians would agree were…”

          …wrongheaded and destructive, I meant to write.”Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          “But neither Erik nor any liberal does propose we stop there, Koz. Wisconsin is/was something of a signal battle in that effort, but in no way is the unique policy path being proposed.”

          Right. That’s a very important point part of my argument in fact.

          What, actually, is there that if implemented we could be confident would actually guarantee the equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class, which is the aspiration in this case? Does anybody know? If we did know, do we have the strength and means to implement the answers? And who’s going to be accountable for it.

          From what I’ve read (and it’s quite a bit), nobody talking about redistribution actually tries to answer these sorts of things. Therefore, until that happens I think it’s specious to talk about the social value of equitable distribution of wealth to the middle class.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Koz
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            says:

            If I may, I think Mr. Koz is saying that many proposed “solutions” are really just aesthetic “process,” and cannot achieve their desired effect of fairness or social justice or whatever the concept is.

            For instance, Financial Times sez “The US still has the world’s most billionaires, with 413 individuals with a total net worth of $1,500bn.”

            If we confiscate all their wealth, my back-of-the-envelope says every American would get a nice crisp $5000 bill, before taxes. [James Madison was on the $5K, in case you were wondering.]

            Nice, but in a couple of years, the lion’s share of that will be back in somebody else’s pocket. Mebbe if we’re lucky there’ll be 413 new billionaires by then, and we can do the whole thing all over again.

            [But I doubt it’ll be anywhere they can find it as easily.]

            The point being that “equitable ends” are probably only achievable by inequitable means, and that equitable means rarely have their theoretical equitable result.

            If I follow his point correctly.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          This++. I’m not sure how I can improve on it. I observe capitalism obeys the laws of astrophysics: larger bodies capture smaller bodies. Give a hundred people a hundred dollars each and in five years those dollars will gravitate into remarkably few piles.

          Forced redistribution is not the answer: insofar as the playing field is level, there will be winners and losers, else it would not be a field of play and no teams would make the journey to compete upon it. Nothing is served by equally dividing the shortages among the peasants.

          The power of ideas trumps all, but only where market distortions and other impediments to progress are crushed down. Only government can run that steamroller, government by and for all the people, accountable to all the people. If there is to be any “fairness” in all this, it’s when free markets are actually free, where government is a referee in a square game, with real winners and real losers, not some little Tee Ball game where everyone gets a prize and the Big Losers get bailed out.

          Platitudes aplenty, to be sure. But that’s what this Liberal believes, however obvious.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          “So which is it: that Liberals like Erik don’t propose means equal to their stated aims, or that their very critique of the state of things, and therefore any prescriptions made subsequent to them, have an illegitimate implicit premise of government control capacity that amounts to a kind of Marxism, which makes it on its face invalid?”

          Well both, but they’re mostly separate arguments. The folk Marxism thing is an illustration of overreach in centralization of society, ie a special case of the means/ends break.

          And, if I were to use the word “illegitimate” in a sentence to describe folk Marxism I would phrase it quite a bit differently. Among other things, the main problem with folk Marxism is that it fails on its own terms.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      Jason, perhaps he offers a window into the conservative imagination? I think it goes without saying that Koz’s viewpoints are representative of at least a portion of the rights understanding of all of those to the left of them on the political spectrum.

      I mean sure it’s not immensely coherent, probably will get my more excitable left winger compatriot’s blood pressure up (but what doesn’t) and really would make more sense if it was being dug out of a time capsule from the 60’s or 70’s; but it does entertain and provide, to moderates and the undecided’s, a window into part of the mind of the GOP.

      So there may be a kernel of value in that.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      We are all illuminated in the light of Koz’s blazing straw men.Report

  8. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    I do wonder, genuinely, how representative Koz’ view of the liberal mindset is among conservatives (the previous guest poster on unions had an equally wildly inaccurate view, so it’s not like Koz is completely alone). It’s hard to say from reading this blog, as the conservatives who regularly tell us what liberals think here range from the delusional rantings of Heidegger to the persecution complex of TvD, with Bob’s strange admixture of Voegelin and Sean Hannity in between. While I’ve seen these types before (well, at least Tom and Bob; Heidegger’s too parodical to exist in nature), I’ve never gotten the impression that they’re representative of conservatives at large. And I don’t really read any straight-up conservative blogs. But Koz and the other dude (I’m sorry, I really can’t be remember his name; the one who stated that the liberal justification for unions is to insure a minimal standard of living, and nothing more) strike me as much more reasonable candidates for representativeness, and I find that somewhat frightening. Not because they or their views are particularly harmful in and of themselves, but because their views are so divorced from reality that, if widely shared, they will make political discourse impossible. I fear that American liberals may also have equally inaccurate views of the conservative mindset, which would make the political discourse even more dysfunctional — sort of like it actually is at this point.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      Sure they do. Make an argument for the virtues of anything even vaguely “traditional” among a group of liberals and see if you don’t get accused of “really” wanting to revive the racial or gender bigotries of the past. My favorite example of this was watching Camille Paglia on a C-Span Book call-in show attempting to defend “traditional academic standards”. Within five minutes, a caller was accusing her of really wanting to “bring back lynching”.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        If we returned to traditional academic standards for intellectual discourse, Camille Paglia would be washing dishes for a living. And not because she’s female.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          Camille Paglia isn’t a scholar. She’s a theorist. She’s a lot like Michel Foucault in that way — neither of them is acclaimed for their attention to detail. They’re acclaimed for trying — even trying — to see the big picture. Most don’t. They do.Report

        • Avatar Mike Shilling in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          Mike, Comrade, Friend (?)I would be lying if I said my recent verbal altercation with Mr. BlaiseP was not upsetting-it was-but then again, what can one do? I’ve tried to help him–he is clearly in very deep distress–I thought maybe a little light-hearted banter might be of some help, but obviously, that’s not the case. I’m still quite certain he’ll be the main speaker at one of the Tea Party rallies coming up. He’d be a smash! And so would Chris, for that matter. I strongly sense that their inner, William F. Buckley, is soon to bust out–of course to make room for Mr. Buckley, they’re have rid themselves of Marx, Hegel, Pol Pot, Mao, Ho Chi Mingh, not at all good for one’s digestion Is it me or do you also not find it a little bit strange that there is such growing affection now for Marx and Lenin? Good God, do I have to buy everyone of these guys copies of the Black Book of Communism? Communism kills. Really. To the tune of, hmm how about 65 million in China; 3.5 million in Cambodia; 23 million in USSR. And you can add millions and millions in Africa, Europe, and Latin America. And now, somehow, Communism is cute again.
          Now, I’m more than aware that I’m the skunk at the proverbial garden party here at the League. But the feeling is not at all mutual. To use one of Roberto’s lines, I really do love all of yous/yins–you’re all quite intelligent, funny, interesting, some even crazy and I like that. I hardly need to say this, but should one of your readers, posters, commenters, tell you to get rid of me–as in , get rid of Heidegger or I’m or I’m outta here, do not for a second hesitate to pull the plug on me. I would actually imagine Mr. Blaise imploring you to do so. And that’s quite fine with me. He is a very valuable and important resource for this blog, as is Chris and many of the other folks at this cyber joint. You most certainly do NOT need some borderline psychotic mental misfit fouling up the works. By the way, do you know where I can purchase an American M1 Abrams tank? I’ve heard there’s a glut of them for sale in France–the only problem is they only go in reverse. Just kidding. I’m very serious though, about picking up a tank. Not sure if an amphibious Abrams would be up to the task of a cross-Atlantic Worth a try though. My ultralight would definitely have a problem with gas for a transatlantic journey.–check it out–
          Oh, am writing this to you because if I’m not mistaken, you are one of the administrators at the League.
          http://www.popularaviation.com/photoGallery/1360.jpg

          Thanks for your time, Mike!Report

          • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Mike Shilling
            Ignored
            says:

            Sorry Mike–how the hell did this happen? Your name as the poster instead of me??!!! And me, of all people to ruin your reputation. My sincere apologies–is it fixable? H

            And here is God–madly, madly in love with one of His greatest creations–Franz Schubert and the second movement of the String Quintet in C.

            Soli Deo Gloria! To God, all the Glory! Every page of every composition of Bach is adorned with these three words, “Soli Deo Gloria.” Rumor has it God said He’s not in his (Schubert’s) league. How’s that for a compliment!
            By the way, do Atheists have a problem that the greatest composer to ever have lived, inscribes his music with God, All The Glory? For that matter, do Atheists have a problem with the fact that by at least a margin of, 1000–1, Christian culture does some serious butt-whipping in ever form of Art? You name it, literature, poetry art/painting, sculpture, music, music, music–Every, every, every form of artistic expression, Christians simply knock it out of the park.Report

          • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Mike Shilling
            Ignored
            says:

            THE ABOVE IS NOT MIKE SCHILLING’S POST
            Sorry–made a mistake–it’s Heidegger’sReport

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Shilling
            Ignored
            says:

            That’s weird. Not me, of course — the style is unmistakable, and I do know how to spell my last name.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              Yes, Mr. Schilling, I didn’t quite get our resident jester’s joke either.

              To perhaps dispel that perplexity, one might postulate that some cleverish, clownish, devilish mischief was gestating in the womb of his mind but not carried to term, and we see the results of that self-induced abortion here.

              That would be the Straussian close-reading, anyway, if we can apply the method to tales told by admitted idiots, albeit told unintentionally.

              Every court needs a jester; every village needs an idiot. You can tell, because of how often people note that a village is missing theirs.

              I did find the quest to privately purchase an Abrams tank of some amusement, however. Matter of fact, the UK’s Ministry of Defence is selling an aircraft carrier.

              http://finance.yahoo.com/news/UK-aircraft-carrier-Ark-Royal-apf-4038352524.html?x=0&.v=3

              Unknown at this time is whether Mr. Heidegger/”Shilling” has bid on it yet.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Hey, hey, hey now. After 4 hard, grueling years at MIT, studying Alchemy and Court Jestering, it turns out I have NO future in either disciplines. Oh well, that’s life–plan B is to go back playing Ragtime music at ice cream parlors. That’s how I got through music school–New England Conservatory which is just a few blocks from Jonathan’s school–Berklee School of Music. Dammit, I hate being brought down to earth. Thus, my flying contraption.
                Thus, liberation.

                Tom, you are cordially invited to go for a ride in an Ultralight and Abrams tank. A warning though–I want to cross the Atlantic in an Abrams tank come hell or high water. Amphibious one, of course.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Heidegger
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, of course the MOST fun was playing Chopin for the ballerinas. Need I say more? Nocturnes, Waltzes, Polonaises….ah, the good ole days.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Heidegger
                Ignored
                says:

                Heidegger/Shilling/CourtJester, why din’t you say you can actually play an instrument?

                When you hit LA, not only can you sit in w/ my blues band, but enjoy the privilege of buying us all many many beers per yr previous offer.

                Dunno about going airborne w/you as pilot. Depends on how well you play your instrument. The skills are analogous, and transferable.

                But the “Shilling” was a junky riff from the start, dude. Just sayin’.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Tom, “Dunno about going airborne w/you as pilot. Depends on how well you play your instrument. The skills are analogous, and transferable.”

                Ha, ha–can’t help but think of Professor Hanley with a surface to air missile on his shoulder–imagine his joy at getting a clear shot at Tom Van Dyke and Heidegger. To say the least, we would have “made his day”! I’m thinking of getting some ballistic chutes–I already lost my finance over this thing. I told her there is nothing to worry about–if the worst possible thing were to happen, the chutes would gently guide me back to earth. God, now that I think of it, maybe she was hoping I would croak and crash. $$$ you know.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Well how do you like that–I’d be ecstatic to sit in with your blues band–or just sit on the side lines! Sounds great. Love Blues–I’m a bit entrenched in the classical world but truly love so many of the other genres. Sounds like great fun. And thanks for invitation. I just need to survive the 1300 miles to get there in the Ultralight.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Heidegger
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh my God, Tom—can’t believe I didn’t think of this—BlaiseP with his military background and a sniper at that–up in the air in a little ultralight–BOOM. We’re history. You STAY on the ground. I’ll take it for a test run to make sure everything is up to snuff. Maybe I can get a restraining order of, I don’t know–maybe a 1000 miles.
                Now this is serious–the Prof. and DARidgely rigged my car with plastic explosives a few months ago but I dodged a bullet. They both looked like that character from the Pink Panther movies–you know, the crazy police chief Dreyfus with all his exploding phones, cigars, cars, ah, such beautiful comic futility!Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              Sorry Mike–make that “Mike Schilling”. i hope that’s right–there were a few posts that have the spelling Shilling. Of course, the most grievous mistake was to have you connected to my comments. I certainly hope this doesn’t drop you down a few notches on the League’s totem pole.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          I agree and disagree about Paglia. If we’re talking about Sexual Personae, maybe two of the essays in her essay collections, or her study of The Birds- then, no, I disagree. If we’re talking about everything else in her essay collections and Break, Blow, Burn, as well as her writing in Salon, then yes I agree. At any rate, all I’m trying to say is that I assume that her idea of “traditional academic standards” wasn’t code for lynching blacks.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      “…equally inaccurate views of the conservative mindset….”

      How do you define the “conservative mindset” that liberals may misunderstand? Is it the mindset of the above mentioned Hannity, or or Rep. Bachmann, or Tea Party folk? I feel I have a pretty clear idea of their mindset, but perhaps not. Could you name some conservatives, I as a liberal, view inaccurately?

      I think the so called conservatives that dominate the Republican base are transparent to a fault.

      You seem dangerously close to the dreaded “both sides do it.”Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Bob
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t think there is one conservative mindset, any more than there’s one liberal one. Nor do I have any clue whom you may misrepresent, or not. However, if both sides do it, it’s dreaded only because it’s true.Report

        • Avatar Bob in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          But you said, “inaccurate views of *the* conservative mindset.

          What did you have in mind as being misunderstood or viewed inaccurately? Those are your words, lad.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          Chris, you MUST listen to this! Even Dr. Killjoy must have a place in his heart for Absolute Beauty! Even though you manifestly , painfully, do your very best to beat back any expression of genuine emotion or sense of beauty. You don’t believe in God?? THIS IS GOD!!! Schubert has delivered you to the mountain top, my friend. And if you look around, most certainly, God will be there, forever. What I’m trying to tell you is—you need to go nuts! Cross that edge, jump the cliff, remember that spiritual intoxication awaits you–an incomparable bliss without separateness–this heavenly, gorgeous music jumped into the dimension of timelessness–please enjoy.

          A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
          Its loveliness increases; it will never
          Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
          A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
          Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
          Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
          A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
          Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
          Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
          Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
          Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
          Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
          From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
          Trees old, and young, sprouting a shadyReport

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      Congratulations on another contentless, ad hom post, Mr. Chris. Your record remains unblemished. I reply only because I was named in your aimless slanders.

      Actually, sir, the one bit of content is that you admit you have no clue about conservatism.

      And I don’t really read any straight-up conservative blogs.

      And so remain willfully clueless.

      So lemme hep: First of all, conservatism is best understood as an opposition to radicalism. Not to liberality or progress per se. It is the radicalism of contemporary liberalism and the collectivist roots of modern progressivism that the conservative finds alarming, the radical impulse to take an imperfect but functional system/society/process/regime and tear it down for its imperfections, and put a [theoretically] better system/society/process/regime in its place.

      This is not a wholesale endorsement and defense of the status quo, as is often alleged. It is however a cautiousness [and often an overcaution] about the unintended consequences of theory when put into practice, and an appreciation of what got us out of caves and the slime in the first place.

      Hey, communism could have worked, nobody knew for sure. The Eurowelfare state seems a great idea, but may have hit a wall of unsustainability, FDRism too.

      To me, the problem of “social justice” and the like is that they start with a static premise, a pie of finite size that needs to be equitably divided, and by political [read coercive] means. But human life is messy but dynamic, and it is dynamism creates plenty. Better to be poor in America than well-off in Somalia. It is dynamism that is the golden goose, and modern leftism strangles it, by design and then by coercion, in the name of “justice.”

      As for social conservatism, it is indeed the other side of the coin, and ironic: it appears that both sides of the aisle are “collectivist” in their own way. But that would be another discussion.Report

      • Avatar stillwater in reply to tom van dyke
        Ignored
        says:

        It is dynamism that is the golden goose, and modern leftism strangles it, by design and then by coercion, in the name of “justice.”

        The greatest period of dynamism in American history was concurrent with the rise of unions, labor and health restrictions, welfare programs, medicare, social security, public education, civil rights, and on and on.

        You have no idea what your talking about.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          Concurrence isn’t cause, Mr. Stillwater. Surely you acknowledge that, and that you should acknowledge that your pantheon of progressivisms is an undifferentiated and undifferentiable soup.

          Your laundry list of progressivisms also fits well with the Soviet Union, which was an equitable poverty. Or Weimar Germany, with an inflation rate of a million percent or something. Your list of progressivisms didn’t create the wealth it redistributed, and probably helped kill it, and that was the argument above.

          If you read this blog, I recently did an apologetic for LBJ’s Great Society, so please sir, a bit of focus and fairness is all I ask.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to tom van dyke
            Ignored
            says:

            > Your laundry list of progressivisms also fits well…

            I’m not certain that labor and health restrictions (at all), welfare programs (okay, maybe this one), social security (only in the marginally loosest sense of the word), public education (ditto), and civil rights (whoa, boy howdy!) maps anywhere near “well” to either the Soviet Union or Weimar Germany.

            The rise of the worker, yeah, but unions!=proletariat

            Concurrence isn’t cause, granted.

            However, generally, when two phenomena that are (at least) loosely coupled follow a general pattern of coinciding behavior, it behooves one to show that they are in fact not coupled, or that there is another compounding catalyst that is involved that explains the coinciding behavior.Report

  9. Avatar Robert Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Following on Mr. Chris’s comments I find ‘progressivism’, and in defining that term, for the sake of expressing a common language, I mean the entire spectrum of what yous guys consider the ‘left,’ to be identifiable by an analysis that seeks to locate what aspect/element of reality that has been excluded. Voegelin tells us, and I think he is mostly right, that for ‘progressivists’ (my word, he might say ideologists) we must first understand that some deformation of man’s understanding of the experience of the divine ground has to be included. I do agree with him but I would add that it is possible that we must also consider those individuals, who for whatever reason, seek to incorporate a deformed, gnostic transcendent, in reality a demuirge, as in Marcionism or in Ptolomy’s system.
    The League presents us with numerous and interesting opportunities to examine the current ‘climate of opinion (see Whitehead)’ and to understand the ideas that dominate in the final days of the age of Pietism as it is subsumed by Progressivists-Marxists and to read such interesting differentiations and explications of the how and why.
    Progressivits have successfully captured and brilliantly utilized the symbols and the language of the republic (constitutional democracy) in their inexorable movement toward a utopian “New World Order”. It is apparent that the surviving elements of the “Puritan Revolution”, defined eschatologically speaking, as the ‘final’ Christian (American)society, are close upon a condition where they are reduced to either turning toward an apocalyptic reality, or participating in the familiar collapse of society into darkness/chaos.Report

  10. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    While I think Koz is right that liberals commonly have a big gap between aspiration and policy in their ideas, also think this is true of essentially everyone. You point out that Conservatives also do it. Hell, even libertarians do it (after all, deregulation can be as complex as regulating in the first place).

    I’m a policy analyst so I deal with this stuff every day – working out how to turn a high-minded goal into a series of practical actions. It’s hard work, involving mountains of picky detail, and policy is often rushed through without properly figuring out how it is supposed to accomplish the goal.

    In fact the whole sorry state of things ties in quite well with Tyler Cowen’s view of politics as driven by status competiton.

    Incidentally, there is a tool often used in policy circles that will help you if you’re worried about falling into this trap. It’s called Intervention Logic. The simple version of it is that you start with your end goal on one side of the page and your proposed policy on the other. The try to develop a causal chain linking policy to goal. Focus very carefully on actions (e.g. the government will do X which causes Group A to do Y which causes Group B to do Z which achieves our goal). If you can, also try to trace out what unintended effects might result from each action in the causal chain.Report

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