Neoliberal Catastrophism

According to The Washington Post: Former president Barack Obama gently warned a group of freshman House Democrats Monday evening about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags, according to people in the room. Obama didn’t name specific policies. And to be sure, he encouraged the lawmakers — about half-dozen of whom worked in his own administration — to continue to pursue “bold” ideas as they shaped legislation during their first year in the House. But some people in the room took his words as a cautionary note about Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, two liberal ideas popularized by a few of the more famous House freshmen, including Rep. […]

On Neoliberalism. Again.

I’m a bit late to this article, but back in July, the Cornell historian Larry Glickman offered a fascinating periodization of the term of “neoliberalism.” Initially, Glickman argues, in the 1930s, the word was a term of abuse wielded by conservative free marketeers against New Deal liberals. The free markeeters accused the New Deal liberals of betraying the real meaning of the term “liberal” by embracing the state, constraining the market, and so on. So, said these free marketeers, the New Dealers were “neoliberal” while they, the free marketeers, were the true liberals. Phase 2, we move to Europe and the Mont Pelerin Society, where the term takes on a positive meaning among free market intellectuals like Hayek and, for […]

The Second Time Around: James Traub on Neoliberal Technocracy

James Traub—last seen in the 1990s (when it was fashionable to shit all over public institutions that helped advance the cause of black and brown people) attacking Open Admissions at CUNY, which had done so much to make higher ed accessible to students of color—is back, calling, in the wake of Trump and Brexit, for a global realignment of political forces. In a blog post at Foreign Policy titled, “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses,” Traub writes: One of the most brazen features of the Brexit vote was the utter repudiation of the bankers and economists and Western heads of state who warned voters against the dangers of a split with the European Union. … That is, chunks […]

Neoliberalism: A Quick Follow-up

My post on neoliberalism is getting a fair amount of attention on social media. Jonathan Chait, whose original tweet prompted the post, responded to it with a series of four tweets: The four tweets are even odder than the original tweet. First, Chait claims I confuse two different things: Charles Peters-style neoliberalism and “the Marxist epithet for open capitalist economies.” Well, no, I don’t confuse those things at all. I quite clearly state at the outset of my post that neoliberalism has a great many meanings—one of which is the epithet that leftists hurl against people like Chait—but that there was a moment in American history when a group of political and intellectual actors, under the aegis of Peters, took on […]

When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton

Yesterday, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait tweeted this: What if every use of “neoliberal” was replaced with, simply, “liberal”? Would any non-propagandistic meaning be lost? — Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) April 26, 2016 It was an odd tweet. On the one hand, Chait was probably just voicing his disgruntlement with an epithet that leftists and Sanders liberals often hurl against Clinton liberals like Chait. On the other hand, there was a time, not so long ago, when journalists like Chait would have proudly owned the term neoliberal as an apt description of their beliefs. It was The New Republic, after all, the magazine where Chait made his name, that, along with The Washington Monthly, first provided neoliberalism with a home and a face. Now, neoliberalism, of course, […]

Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions

1. At Vox, Dylan Matthews offers a sharp analysis of last night’s debate, which I didn’t watch or listen to. His verdict is that the three big losers of the night were Hillary Clinton, the New Democrats, and liberal technocrats. (The two winners were Bernie Sanders and Fight for $15 movement.) As Matthews writes: But just going through the issues at tonight’s debate, it’s striking to imagine a DLCer from the ’90s watching and wondering what his party had come to. Sanders was asked not if he was sufficiently tough on crime, but if his plans to let millions of convicted criminals out of prison would actually free as many felons as promised. Clinton was criticized not for being insufficiently pro-Israel, but […]

The arc of neoliberalism is long, but it bends toward the rich

Neoliberals pitted the deserving poor against the undeserving poor in order to abolish welfare. Neoliberals pitted third-world workers against American workers in order to pass NAFTA. Neoliberals pit black Democrats against white Democrats in order to elect Hillary Clinton. In each instance, neoliberals claim to be speaking on behalf of a group at the bottom or near bottom in order to pursue a politics that benefits those at the top.

What’s so Liberal about Neoliberalism? An homage to my sister’s father-in-law*

My apologies for the light posting over the past three weeks. I’ve been on vacation and am now at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in lovely Seattle. Next week will probably see some light posting as well: it’s the first week of preschool for my daughter, which involves a delicately orchestrated four days of “transition” in which I have to be either onsite or on call throughout the day. So much for school taking children off the hands of their parents… While I take up residence in toddlerville, here’s something to chew on. The National Labor Relations Board has issued a new rule stipulating that employers have to post notices in their workplaces informing workers of […]

One Less Bell to Answer: Further Thoughts on Neoliberalism By Way of Mike Konczal (and Burt Bachrach)

Mike Konczal has an excellent post on Mitt Romney’s proposal to replace unemployment benefits with unemployment savings accounts. The idea is: While you’re working, money would be automatically taken out of your paycheck and put into an individual account. When you’re unemployed, you could make withdrawals from it. As one of Konczal’s readers points out in the comments section, Romney’s proposal would merely add to the satchel of work-related accounts people already have—401k’s, IRA’s, education accounts, health care accounts, childcare accounts, and so on—and that weigh them down so much as it is. And that may be the point. But more on that in a minute. Konczal uses Romney’s proposal to compare left-liberal approaches to the economy with the dominant […]

The Great Neoliberalism Debate of 2011 Has Now Been Resolved ( I Think This is What They Call Beating a Dead Horse)

Though the Great Neoliberalism Debate of 2011 now seems like yesterday’s news—probably because it is—the second-quarter GDP estimates that were just released should bring us back to where that debate began: with a question about what is the “single best thing” the government could do to create jobs and stimulate the economy. In case you haven’t heard, things suck: almost no growth at all.  As all the commentary makes clear, the major problem is low consumer demand and falling government spending.  People aren’t spending the money they don’t have; businesses aren’t spending the money they do have; government is not spending the money it could have. As all the commentary makes equally clear, there is a solution: government action on […]

Why the Left Gets Neoliberalism Wrong: It’s the Feudalism, Stupid!

Left critics of neoliberalism—or just plain old unregulated capitalism—often cite Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration “There is no such thing as society” as evidence of neoliberalism’s hostility to all things collective. Neoliberalism, the story goes, unleashes the individual to fend for herself, denying her the supports of society (government, neighborhood solidarity, etc.) so that she can prove her mettle in the marketplace. But these critics often ignore the fine print of what Thatcher actually said in that famous 1987 interview with, of all things, Woman’s Own.  Here’s the buildup to that infamous quote: Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families… It’s that last phrase (“and there are families”) that’s crucial.  […]

2019 In Writing

I did a lot of writing this year. This is a brief list of some of my favorites. My book, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, came out. It got some pretty great reviews. You should buy it. I began writing for The New Yorker Online, which has been a joy. My first piece was on political converts, men and women who make the journey from one ideology to another, and why the move from left to right has mattered more, over the course of the last century, than the move from right to left. My second piece was on Eric Hobsbawm, a Communist and a historian, and how his failure at the first made possible his success at the second. […]

When Politics Becomes Professional: From the Obamanauts to the New Deal

The historian Josh Freeman has an excellent review of Michael Walzer’s Political Action, which came out in 1971 but has been reissued by NYRB Books. Freeman compares Walzer’s short pamphlet to the Manual of Practical Political Action, another how-to political guide, prepared in 1946 by the labor movement’s National Citizens Political Action Committee (NCPAC), one of the first modern PACs. Both texts were written at moments of political deceleration, when the velocities of change were about to alter dramatically or already had. But here’s what Josh says about that earlier moment that’s relevant for today: For NCPAC…organizing requires strategies that are not inherently progressive. Somewhat apologetically, the Manual suggests borrowing techniques from commercial advertising, presenting detailed guidance, much of it derived from standard business practices, […]

Do You Believe in Life After Hayek

Sorry about the title; advertisements for The Cher Show are all over New York these days, so the song is in my head. Anyway… In the Boston Review, the left economists Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrick, and Gabriel Zucman offer an excellent manifesto of sorts for a new progressive economic agenda. I was asked to respond, and in a move that surprised me, I wound up returning to Hayek to see what we on the left might learn from him and his achievement. Here’s a snippet: Far from resting neoliberalism on the authority of the natural sciences or mathematics (forms of inquiry Hayek and Mises sought to distance their work from) or on the technical knowledge of economists (as Naidu and […]

Love and Money: On Keith Gessen’s “A Terrible Country”

The title of Keith Gessen’s new novel is A Terrible Country, but the novel is less about a country than a city: Moscow. Not just Moscow as a city in its own right, though the city is very much a character in the novel, but the experience of Moscow by an American millennial, Andrei Kaplan, a 30-something academic in flight from his failures in Brooklyn, failures of love and work, family and friends. A Terrible Country, in other words, is the anti-Brooklyn novel. If the Brooklyn of the public imagination is the place where young intellectuals move to make their lives among writers, journalists, academics, and artists, public lives that happen out of doors, in parks and readings and rallies and talks […]

Why is the media—including the liberal media—supporting these teachers’ strikes?

I’ve been amazed—in a good way—at how positive is the media coverage of all these teacher wildcat strikes and actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Particularly from liberal media outlets. I say this because it was just six years ago that the teachers in Chicago struck. Even though their cause was just as righteous as that of the teachers in these southern states, featuring many of the same grievances you see in the current moment—the Chicago teachers’ final contract included a guarantee of textbooks for all students on the first day of class; a doubling of funds for class supplies; $1.5 million for new special education teachers; and so on—the hostility from media outlets, including liberal media outlets, […]

I’ll be on The Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow—and here are a bunch of reviews and interviews

I’m going to be on The Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow, Wednesday, November 22, talking about the new edition of The Reactionary Mind. The show starts at noon, at least in New York. So while you’re readying for the Thanksgiving holiday, have a listen! The book has begun to get reviews! The inimitable Sarah Jones, one of my favorite journalists, gave it a thoughtful endorsement in The New Republic: The book’s second edition, eagerly awaited, now swaps out Palin for the commander-in-chief. Palin and Trump both demand some sort of unifying theory. How can it be that the party of Senator Ben Sasse—who enjoys a mostly-unearned reputation as a moderate—is also the party of Trump? The answer is even less difficult […]

Forty Years of The Firm: Trump and the Coasian Grotesque

In his classic article “The Nature of the Firm“—which I wish would be put on the list of required reading for political theorists; it really should be in our canon—the economist R.H. Coase divides the economic world into two modes of action: deal-making, which happens between firms, and giving orders, which happens within firms. Coase doesn’t say this, but it’s a plausible extrapolation that making deals and giving orders are, basically, the two things businessmen know how to do. In the last year, it’s occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that Trump is a Coasian grotesque. Making deals and giving orders: that’s all he knows how to do. Except that he doesn’t. As we’re seeing, he’s really bad […]

In America, who’s more likely to win an election: a scam artist or a war hero?

This campaign commercial for Amy McGrath, who is running for Congress in Kentucky, has got the Twitterati excited.   The campaign of McGrath seems in line with a decision, leaked last June, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to field candidates who had seen combat, along with “job creators” and “business owners.” The question is: does it work? In the last ten presidential elections, only one candidate who actually fought in a war has won: George HW Bush. All the rest either served their country by shooting flicks (Reagan) or manipulating family connections or deferments to avoid combat (Clinton, George W. Bush, Trump) or simply weren’t eligible for a draft (Obama). Meanwhile, enlistees, soldiers, and war heroes, Republican and Democrat alike, […]

The Democrats: A party that wants to die but can’t pull the plug

Yesterday, I noted my exasperation, in the face of the economic desperation of the younger generation, with the Clintonites in the Democratic Party. Young men and women are drowning in massive debt, high rent, low pay, and precarious jobs, and what do the Democrats have to offer them? In today’s Times, Chuck Schumer, the highest elected official in the Democratic Party, gave an answer: Right now millions of unemployed or underemployed people, particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work. We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs. This will have particular resonance in smaller cities and rural areas, […]