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Monday, April 12, 2010


Here is a guest post by Professor Ann Davis, a frequent commentator on this blog, and, I am proud to say, a former student.

The Logic of the Left

My father had a phrase, "loud logic." This referred to a family argument in which the person in danger of losing would simply raise the volume. He was occasionally contrite, for this pattern was as true of his own behavior as much as anyone else.

Now the Tea Party is using "loud logic." Faced with no rational argument to defend the Reagan Revolution of tax cuts and shrinking government, they simply raise the volume.......along with vitriol and other devices aimed at intimidation and silencing rational discourse.

I think a way to understand this escalation of illogic is the "social structure of

accumulation" school (SSA) which was developed by David Gordon, Rick

Edwards, and Michael Reich (see Segmented Work, Divided Workers, 1982), and other left political economists (and more recently in a book co-edited by David M. Kotz, Michael Reich, and Terrence McDonough published by Cambridge University Press, 2010).

That is, there have been eras or regimes of policy in the Post-War U.S., oscillating between Hayek and Keynes. After the New Deal, there was the Cold War, the sixties activism, the 70s inflation, and the neo-liberal hegemony beginning in the 1980s (briefly interrupted by Clinton and Obama, who also adopted some of the same market-oriented terms for credibility). The neo-liberal strategy has been well described by David Harvey, as well as Kotz, Reich, and McDonough. The explanation is the falling rate of profit in the corporate sector in the 1970s, which led to a turn to financial profits and more forceful imposition of market discipline (called “coercion” by philosophers like C.B.MacPherson and anthropologists like Karl Polanyi). Harvey uses the term “expropriation by dispossession” to describe the process of privatization, where public sector assets are transferred to profit-making ventures. Outsourcing and the “Washington Consensus” have brought open capital markets and increasingly frequent international financial crises (see recent books by Joseph Stiglitz and Simon Johnson).

Now faced with the meltdown of the market model after the 2007 Great

Recession, the right is simply raising the volume, instead of considering more strict regulation of finance, greater investment in health and education, and expanding public access to the internet. Not content merely to allow the pendulum to swing back to Keynes, they are resisting every step of the way. Their “push back” policies are even closer to the Articles of Confederation than to classical liberalism.

The Tea Party rhetoric equates socialism with totalitarianism, as if Keynes were no different than Stalin. [To be fair, philosophers like Isiaih Berlin sound a similar note regarding the pitfalls of “positive freedom.”] And every additional penny of government spending is a sign of the inexorable slide to socialism, in their view.

The logic of the left needs to be reiterated: the true democrats are those who support conditions necessary for personal development, such as health, education, and welfare, as well as access to channels of public communication, like the internet.

In a time when the government has been captured by finance, the logic of “no government” has some appeal. But access to the conditions of life for all, that is better government, has positive effects on the economy as well as public morality.

These are the true voices of freedom and democracy, as well as community… Professor Wolff has himself written!


NotHobbes said...

As a frequent visitor to this blog, I feel that I should know so much more about this Tea Party movement.
Perception at moment is based upon what little media coverage there is here, and unfortunately that includes despicable scenes of protestors spitting, lunatic rants and profanities. I`m quite certain that such a large scale movement(it does rear it`s head here quite often, so must be significant) cannot possibly be solely comprised of every bedlam escapee in the States, so can somebody please enlighten me as to this groups aims objectives etc?
Many thanks

Ann said...

If you are asking for references, Frank Rich Op Eds on the dates 2/14/10 and 3/28/10 in the New York Times are insightful...Or are you the sort of person who prefers Google searches or the websites of the Tea Party itself?

Or interpretive comments might include advocates of a (further) right wing shift within Republican Party.

It would also be interesting to hear the ways in which it is visible there too. :-)

NotHobbes said...

Thank you Ann, I`ll endeavour to find those New York Times editorials and find links from UK press relating to Alice and friends(I prefer to think of tea parties in a joyous, Carroll-esque mode)
I`ll paste those in the UK although there will not be a great deal.

Jim said...

It appears that a key problem the Obama Administration (and the Democratic Party in general) has had is communicating the benefits of Health Care reform. I can’t believe that the bulk of the Tea Party membership are actively debating the pros and cons of Keynesian economic theory versus that of Hayek – and then siding with Hayek. They seem to be more preoccupied with perceived notions of freedom and liberty: they don’t want to be told what is in their best interest, they don’t want to be told what to do. Now, the pro-Hayek elites use this perceived limit on freedoms to whip up the Tea Partiers and thus press forward their own economic agenda (much of which serves to economically disenfranchise many Tea Party members). This leads us to the primary task of the Obama Administration and the Democrats in general: how to articulate in a simple way that health reform and business regulatory reform is in no way a limit on individual freedom. In fact, it will eventually lead to greater economic freedom.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jim, I agree completely. As I have said before, one of Obama's few weaknesses is that he is actually not a very good teacher. He seems not to understand how to see things from the point of view of those he is trying to enlighten, so that he can explain them in a way that will make sense to his audience. Bill Clinton, despite all his manifest faults, is actually rather good at that. It really ought to be easy to do.

Ann said...

As Jim said, "I can’t believe that the bulk of the Tea Party membership are actively debating the pros and cons of Keynesian economic theory versus that of Hayek – and then siding with Hayek."

Of course the Tea Partiers are not debating Hayek vs. Keynes...but they understand the market and they see "freedom" in those terms. If given a choice between better unemployment insurance and lower taxes, I believe they would choose the latter. The principles of individualism and competition have trumped social explicit terms.

And such market discipline could be more least in the short there is some truth to this logic (so called).

The left could make a counter argument: there is no profit without educated, healthy people...which we have long since forgotten.

Does "people before profits" still have a ring to it? Can we give Obama some sound bites that he can use?

Jim said...

Professor Davis, your call for effective sound bites that the Administration can use to convey their message is spot on. No doubt there are plenty of talented PR people with a willingness to undertake the effort. The key challenge is this: How do you communicate a message to people who don’t always use logic in forming their opinions? More importantly, how do you communicate the message and get it to stick when people who they like, respect, and admire (clergy, pundits, peers) are telling them otherwise? How many discussions have you personally had with seemingly sane, rational people who, no matter the amount of facts you marshal to your cause, hold fast to their view because something or someone (God, Palin, Limbaugh) has told them otherwise? Even if the message were to focus on the general populace and ignore the hard right as a segment of the population whose views will never change, the task still appears daunting amidst all the cacophony.

Ann said...

Jim, cacophony indeed! That's why I find the "loud logic" so terrifying.

Perhaps, with a little help from our friends, we can break out of our own silence and mobilize with a different message...more logical, more democratic, more humane.

Perhaps Glenn Beck leaves us an opening when he says things like "leave your church if the minister preaches social justice."

Here's hoping....!

And thanks for your reply. I find this blog helps too!