Henry Farrell satte fart på den inom-amerikanska diskussionen här på ett mycket intressant sätt genom att i ett blogginlägg den 18 juli beskriva vänster-nyliberalerna som Demokrater som förkastar den traditionella intressegruppspolitik som Demokraterna sysslat med, och istället sätter sitt hopp till en renare teknokratisk politik. DeLong gjorde ett mycket intressant svar på detta genom att sätta in Farrells teori om politik i ett doktrinhistoriskt perspektiv: Adam Smith och Karl Marx trodde båda på att man kunde forma politik genom att en samhällsklass intressen skulle vara "den universella klassens" intressen och alltså allmänintressets bästa: jfr Reinfeldts strategi idag. DeLong är skeptisk till den typ av öronmärkta satsningar på att stärka de egna intressegrupperna som han menar att Farrells perspektiv implicerar, men jag tycker att Peter Frases inlägg på The Jacobin är ett briljant svar på detta. Frase tar upp Suzanne Mettlers fascinerande forskning om hur litet amerikaner egentligen vet om vilka förmåner de faktiskt får från staten, och de politiska implikationerna (större statsfientlighet - man tror ju att "någon annan" är den som drar nytta av välfärdsstaten) av denna ignorans, och hur den spelar roll också under Obama-administrationen. Och visar att just, det räcker inte med teknokratisk policy på kort sikt, utan man behöver också policies (och kommunikation) som stärker möjligheten att på mellanlång sikt följa upp dagens policies med än fler sådana, progressiva. Också fina Lane Kenworthy gav sig in i diskussionen, och som jämförande politisk ekonom vet han förstås mycket väl om de starka korrelationerna mellan fackföreningsstyrka och progressiva policies, och diskuterar just möjligheten till progressiva policies på kort sikt i ett land - USA - där fackföreningarna är svaga och knappast kommer att bli starkare heller.
På det hela taget, en lysande diskussion: fusion av realpolitik och samhällsteori på en sällan skådad nivå.
Klipp ur debatten.
Farrell, 18 juli:
"There is a real phenomenon that you might describe as left neo-liberalism in the US - liberals who came out of the experience of the 1980s convinced that the internal interest group dynamics of the Democratic party were a problem. These people came up with some interesting arguments (but also: Mickey Kaus), but seem to me to have always lacked a good theory of politics.
To be more precise – Neo-liberals tend to favor a combination of market mechanisms and technocratic solutions to solve social problems. But these kinds of solutions tend to discount politics – and in particular political collective action, which requires strong collective actors such as trade unions. This means that vaguely-leftish versions of neo-liberalism often have weak theories of politics, and in particular of the politics of collective action.
I see Doug [Henwood] and others as arguing that successful political change requires large scale organized collective action, and that this in turn requires the correction of major power imbalances (e.g. between labor and capital). They’re also arguing that neo-liberal policies at best tend not to help correct these imbalances, and they seem to me to have a pretty good case. Even if left-leaning neo-liberals are right to claim that technocratic solutions and market mechanisms can work to relieve disparities etc, it’s hard for me to see how left-leaning neo-liberalism can generate any self-sustaining politics. I’m sure that critics can point to political blind spots among lefties (e.g. the difficulties in figuring out what is a necessary compromise, and what is a blatant sell-out), but these don’t seem to me to be potentially crippling, in the way that the absence of a neo-liberal theory of politics (who are the organized interest groups and collective actors who will push consistently for technocratic efficiency?) is. Of course I may be wrong – and look forward to some pushback in comments..."
"Henry's theory of politics is that successful and beneficial long-run politics can only be accomplished by a political party that is the political arm of a universal class--a self-confident, organized group whose material interest is in fact the public interest. /.../
Karl Marx, of course, saw the industrial proletariat as the universal class in embryo. Henry Farrell doesn't say what his alternative proposed universal class is. Perhaps it is composed of, in rough order:
But the argument that the Democratic Party should adopt the strategy of pursuing policies to enrich those six groups and hope that it all adds up to (a) the public interest and (b) long-run political dominance seems to me to be relatively weak. Left neoliberal policies may well not produce. But it is not clear to me that Henry's alternative would produce either..."
Farrells tredelning, 19 juli:
- “policy proposals,”
- “theories of politics,”
- “actionable programs to rebuild the American left”
Arin Dube, 19 juli:
"Brad DeLong has consistently argued for a 'reality based' 'technocracy' as the way to address our current economic ailments. As far as I am concerned, if we could replace our current corps of politicians and policy intellectuals with clones of one J. Bradford DeLong today, we would be made better off. Our federal government would borrow money when there is a negative real interest rate, and not discuss the merits of different ways to implement drastic austerity.
However, it goes without saying—and I think Brad would agree—that we do not currently have in power people who can be characterized as 'reality based' 'technocrats.' This, then, begs the question: what are the foundations of a technocratic vision that has been described also as 'left neo-liberal' (LNL) ideology – one which Brad espouses while shunning political-economic explanations based on organized economic interests? What is one’s theory of political economy that explains such a disjuncture, especially at such a crucial time as this?"
Peter Frase, 19 juli:
"There has been a lot of discussion lately of Suzanne Mettler’s work on the submerged state: government policies and services that people benefit from but don’t realize that they benefit from. For example, the majority of people who benefit from the mortgage interest tax deduction don’t think they use government programs. This phenomenon is directly linked to one of the Left’s political problems: as J.P. Green points out, anti-government sentiment is still widespread among Americans even at a time when the need for regulation and intervention in the economy should be most obvious. That kind of attitude is very hard to combat if people aren’t aware that they benefit from government programs: 'get the government’s hands off my Medicare', and so on.
And I think you can directly connect this to the problem that Farrell addresses: neoliberal policy thinkers who lack a theory of politics, and hence don’t think carefully about whether they are promoting policies that will ultimately undermine the political basis for being able to win elections and enact progressive legislation. Specifically, they will often favor policies that grow the submerged state. This may make sense from a narrow policy perspective, since it does actually help people. But because it isn’t visible, it doesn’t do anything to increase the number of people who think that government programs make a positive difference in their lives.
This problem also arose in the adminstration’s attempt to stimulate the economy. To take one very specific example: consider the tax cut that the Obama administration passed. This was an income tax cut of $400 to $800 per year. But instead of sending people checks, the administration decided to quietly reduce the amount of withholding from paychecks. From a technical policy wonk standpoint, this was a perfectly defensible idea. The idea, based on Sunstein-Thaler 'nudge'-type theories of libertarian paternalism, was that if people didn’t notice their temporary windfall they would be more likely to spend rather than save it. The consequence is that doing the tax cut this way makes it more effective as stimulus in the short run.
But the downside is now clear: most people didn’t realize they got a tax cut at all. From the policy wonk perspective, of course, that was the point–but it meant that Obama didn’t gain anything politically from having cut taxes, and Republicans could still go around claiming that he had raised taxes.
As the old saying goes, you may not be interested in theories of politics, but theories of politics are interested in you."
Lane Kenworthy, 20 juli:
"Here’s what we know from the experiences of the world’s rich democracies: Relative to other nations, those in which labor is highly organized are more likely to have an influential social democratic and/or Catholic center-right (emphasis on center) political party, a proportional representation electoral system, well-organized employers, formal or informal-but-institutionalized participation by labor and business associations in the policy-making process, generous social insurance programs and complementary programs to help households that fall between the social insurance cracks, expansive public services, similar long-run economic growth, a fairly egalitarian distribution of individual wages and household incomes, reliable economic security, extensive economic mobility, and generous holiday and vacation time.DeLong, 2 september 2006:
Sorting out the causality is a bit tricky, but it seems probable that labor organization has contributed to most, if not all, of these outcomes. If you want progressive policies, the comparative historical evidence suggests it’s very helpful to have a strong labor movement. Indeed, after democracy, it might well be the single most valuable thing to have.
But what if you live in a country with labor unions that are weak, and getting weaker? What if your country is the United States?
You might choose to focus on strengthening the union movement. Or you might seek an alternative view (“theory of politics”) about conditions for feasible and sustainable progressive policy change. Is there any such view? I think so.
Forge whatever electoral coalition you can, including but not necessarily centered on unions. Organize sympathetic interest groups into single- or multi-issue movements and coalitions. Build up a network of think tanks, journalists, bloggers, and other organizations and individuals to identify and expose the strategies and plans of opposing forces. Offer worthy, workable policy ideas and try to get them (or some acceptable version of them) passed when possible. Aim for big policy advances in rare favorable moments and small ones the rest of the time. /.../"
"I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. /.../ The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition./.../---
Right now Paul Krugman and I seem to have two disagreements.
First, I think--being as I am here at Berkeley under the powerful (but benevolent) intellectual dictatorship and hegemony of David Card) on labor issues--that the benefits of using government policies to strengthen unions (while they are certainly there) are much smaller than Paul judges them to be.
Second, while I am profoundly, profoundly disappointed and disgusted by the surrender of the reality-based wing of the Republican policy community to the gang of Republican political spivs who currently hold the levers of power, I do think that there is hope that they will come to their senses and that building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward will be possible and is our best chance.
Paul, I think, believes otherwise: The events of the past decade and a half have convinced him, I think, that people like me are hopelessly naive, and that the Democratic coalition is the only place where reality-based discourse is possible. Thus, in his view, the best road forward to (a) make the Democratic coalition politically dominant through aggressive populism, and then (b) to argue for pragmatic reality-based technocratic rather than idealistic fantasy-based ideological policies within the Democratic coalition."
DeLong, "I Am a Reality-Based Center-Left Technocrat", 2 september 2006
Farrell, "The Limits of Left-Neoliberalism", Crooked Timber 18 juli 2011
DeLong, "Henry Farrell Argues Against Left Neoliberals Like Me", 18 juli 2011
Peter Frase, "Policy, Politics, and Strategy", Jacobin Magazine 19 juli 2011
Dube, "Where are My Liberal Neo-Liberal Technocrats?", Economists' View 19 juli 2011
Farrell, "Leftist Neoliberalism and Theories of Politics", Crooked Timber, 19 juli 2011
Kenworthy, "Is there a viable progressive politics that doesn't hinge on a strong labor movement?", 20 juli 2011
Uppdatering 25 januari 2013
John Cassidy, "What Can Obama Do for the Labor Movement?", 24 januari