Even more on neoliberalism

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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20 Responses

  1. Robert Cheeks says:

    Is it possible that Barry is the first third world commie president and his policies have been rejected by the citizenry, even the commie citizenry. I’m beginning to think American commies are not third world commies?Report

  2. Art Deco says:

    And whether or not it’s quite as relevant to the future as E.D. seems to think, he’s absolutely right when he points out that the success unions had in the past in raising wages for the average worker — even those not unionized — was likely to some degree predicated upon American society’s having a smaller labor pool due to positively suffocating patriarcy and virulent white supremacism

    In 1957, about a third of the workforce was female. As late as 1960 (if I am not mistaken), the rate of participation in the workforce among men was about equal on both sides of the color bar.Report

  3. North says:

    What always puzzles me about my further lefty cohorts (and I am pretty much a neoliberal or liberaltarian what have you) is that on the front of economics I don’t quite get what it is they propose be done. We’ve explored and plumbed the limits of regulations and the like; I don’t see how we can realistically expect to regulate unions back into existence. We could clamp down on free trade but wouldn’t we merely be igniting a trade war with our former partners and inviting a more dangerous and violent world? I mean it’s not like the left is willing to try and seal the borders against immigrants or drive women and minorities out of the work force (and I don’t think that’s a cup the left would be wise to try and drink from) so again what is it that the further left advocates doing policy wise?Report

    • Elias Isquith in reply to North says:

      I would not be the best person to answer this question, but either circumventing or outright repealing Taft-Hartley would surely be a key component. In a significant sense this would be de-regulation.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to North says:

      As Elias said, repeal Taft-Hartley, or at least most of it. Basically, make it much, much easier to organize without the fear of immediately being fired. That’s one big thing.

      Also, there are certain ways that I don’t quite understand in European countries where only 30-40% of the country is unionized, but 75% of the country is basically covered by union contracts. I’d have to research it, but yeah, do that too.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        I’m 100% behind repeal of Taft-Hartley as well as all right-to-work laws (such an Orwellian term!). Collective bargaining and the right to organize are fine, they just shouldn’t be backed by a legal regime in such a way as to inhibit the rights of others.Report

        • Koz in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          This seems like pretty small beer for in terms of the things you’re arguing about. As I understand it, the main provisions of Taft-Hartley are banning secondary or wildcat strikes (basically any labor action against someone without a grievance) and the creation of multiemployer pension plans. Are you opposed to these as well, and if so what scale of things do you suppose this might help?

          Along these lines, let me back up a little bit to the beginning, the whole context of neo-liberalism vs the alternative, let’s call it mainstream leftism for lack of a better word. I understand the political complaints against so-called neoliberals. I also understand some of these complaints can be expressed as policy choices, eg, oppostition to NAFTA.

          What I haven’t seen anything of is any plausible argument of what ground-up mainstream left economic policy is supposed to be, and what it can accomplish. To put it another way, it seems that for mainstream leftists the thought process is that we’re going to have a typical capitalist bourgeois economy, selectively substituting our socially superior policies at the expense of the interest of capital or something else we’re willing to trade away. The expectation seems to be, that we’ll get the results of a bourgeois capitalist economy except for the policies we’ll change which will accomplish our social agenda.

          First of all, I should ask if that’s a fair characterization for you. If it is, how do you think this train of thought is plausible 1. given the ad-hoc nature of leftist economic policy and 2. the tremendous historical failure of leftist economies?Report

      • North in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        Personally I have no problem with repealing Taft-Hartley.Report

  4. James Cameron says:

    Thus my comment in the post here I said education and social work stuff would make sense as the defining issue, especially since the teacher’s unions are quite powerful and the racial/cultural minorities can band together under some “Educating America’s Future” sort of way. You know, because China will take over the world, or whatever xenophobia America is indulging in at the moment.Report

    • The notion of China taking over the world (I’m a China-skeptic) isn’t some limited right-wing xenophobia. Instead you get some on the right saying with great alarm “The Chinese are going to take over everything! This is outrageous! Do you want to be a Chinese client state?!” and some on the left saying “The Chinese are going to be the premier economy. We’d best get used to the idea that we’re just not so special after all.”

      I noticed it by way of this…

      I was in an old, kitschy book store several years back and saw two different (old) books about how Japanese ascendancy to domination was eminent. One suggesting that it would result in a military war, the other saying that it won’t be so bad, it’s important the transition go smoothly, and we should learn from them what we can. I do wish I remembered their titles.

      As it was, it is. Though there are a lot of folks on the right and left that are as skeptical as I.Report

      • Yes, we seem to, as a nation, always need something to be striving against/afraid of. China, Japan, USSR, Europe, Catholics, Monarchists, etc.Report

      • James Cameron in reply to Will Truman says:

        The fact that it isn’t just right-wing xenophobia is precisely my point, which is what makes it a great strategy as a way to push an issue/get elected. Especially one that has a global ranking system like education. Transitioning to education reform would serve as the unifying theme of the left, as deficit reduction has been on the right.Report

        • The left cannot reform education: it needs to keep the teachers unions as motivated footsoldiers, and gets more than it share of the votes of the poor anyway, the ones who need the reform most.

          There’s just no %age in it.Report

          • Art Deco in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Improving the quality of educaton would likely also require reviving a regime of fixed academic and behavioral standards which would in turn require that the apparat commit itself to teaching rather than to making use of the schools as loci for social work. Fat chance getting any stakeholders other than dismayed parents and a few faculty grouches to agree to that.Report

  5. Anderson says:

    I’m interested by the fact that so much of this debate comes down to just talking about unions. Either, how do we change the political/ regulatory environment to make it more hospitable to unions (with the subtext being that liberals cannot sustain their policy ambitions without them)? Or, how do we form strong coalitions for liberal causes without unions? Personally, I think the decline of unions has much more to do with market forces than any government policy, so the first question seems like a blind wish that it were still 1946…On a related note, anybody know of any countries out there now that has a lower gini coefficient than the U.S. (or generally re-distributional policies) without a sizable union presence?Report

  6. E.D. Kain says:

    Thanks for the response, Elias. I’ll have to chew on it a while longer.Report

  7. Member548 says:

    Sorry, the brutal truth is ten, or more, Chinese are lined up to do any particular job in the world that’s abundant and of some importance, pretty much meaning the manufacturing of durable goods. The manufacturing of durable goods is all that ultimately matters. In this nation making those durable goods was solidly the realm of Union labor, but over time it became clear that there was no need to pay John Average 40k a year with sweet benefits to screw on lug nuts when some Asian guy will do it for less then a tenth the total cost. American has lost it’s edge in manufacturing in a lot of areas, and the unions can do nothing but surrender ground, bankrupt, or drive out, the companies they work for, and all the talk of the information age is greatly over blow and it’s importance over exaggerated because at the root of any hipster doofus writing an app for an Iphone is a durable good, 100s of Chinese girls building it, and the infrastructure to sustain it.

    A service or information economy will slowly bleed it’s wealth, and even a simple though experiment shows that. Imagine four people who each have $1000.00 living in a house, each of their jobs is to do something for the other three, or figure something out. It’s all good and well, but every time they leave the house to buy food they lose a bit of wealth, and all it takes is a clerk over hearing your information to make it near, or totally worthless.

    Ultimately, for all the discussion of how great ancient Celtic literature is, or how awesome political science majors maybe, or even mundanely handing someone a hamburger, two of those jobs don’t mean jack squat in the real world, and one of them hardly does.

    Globalization was, is and will always be pushed by both parties for their own reasons as far as I can tell. Globalization is the ultimate form of both income redistribution, as it will destroy American exceptionalism over time, distributing our once amassed wealth globally, and also that of crony capitalism where those with money keep up pressure to make a system favorable to them investing their money globally, in any nation or situation that is most easily exploited with no regard to their nations’ welfare or future, because once you are wealthy, borders and the health of any given nation is pretty irrelevant to your standard of living.

    Baring a humanity changing event, like workable nuclear fusion, there will be nothing but decline for the USA for quite some time to come.Report

  8. Ben says:

    Both of these posts on neoliberalism and lefty politics are kind of frustrating because they kind of dance around but don’t outright state the dominant fact about the US economy for the last forty years: all the economic growth went to the top 10% of income earners. Incomes for the bottom 90% declined.

    Isn’t this something that is criminal and wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to happen?

    All this talk about “kids like unions cuz they don’t have to work with/in them” and “in Eden you wear work boots and a blue collar” I think just misses the point entirely. The top 10% sucked up all the growth of the past forty years because the groups engaging the political process on behalf of the economic interests of the middle class and the poor were anemic (I’m wearing Winner Take All Politics glasses, obviously). Additionally, economic groups working on behalf of the middle class and the poor were marginalized.

    Unions aren’t constantly invoked because people just loooooove themselves some unions. They’re constantly invoked because they’re ideally placed to help claw back some growth for the bottom 90%. Their very existence means that they’re working economically for the bottom 90%, and the political structure is already in place to take advantage of union contributions. There’s no other group you can create that can loom as large economically and politically in as short a time as a union can.

    Are there problems with unions? Oh hells yes. Depending on how they’re created and structured they may lead to job losses, firm closings, etc. It’d be a hard slog to figure out the most effective way to work things.

    But for forty years it’s been the doomsday scenario for 90% of the population. It’s “do everything that could conceivably work” time. And creating unions is the most obviously effective thing to do.

    I guess to sum up: 90% got no growth for 40 years, which is criminal. Unions are ideally placed to help reverse it. Even if you don’t end up advocating creating and strengthening unions, recognition of those facts would put you on firmer footing, I think.Report