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Saturday, April 18, 2020


I have already voiced my belief that out of the present crisis there might emerge a dramatic progressive leap forward in American politics, like that which many of us recall nostalgically as Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Bored out of my skull on a lovely spring day in quarantine, and curious to see how that great transformation in our collective public life was launched, I Googled a bit and came up with the Platform of the Democratic Party adopted at the 1932 National Convention that nominated FDR.  It is an interesting document in many ways [one of which is the central position given to agricultural policy, a reminder of how fundamentally the American economy has changed in 88 years.]

At the very beginning of a long list of policies and proposals appear these sentences:

“We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.
We favor maintenance of the national credit by a federal budget annually balanced on the basis of accurate executive estimates within revenues, raised by a system of taxation levied on the principle of ability to pay.”

A 25% cut in government expenditures and a balanced budget.

I think perhaps we should not worry too much when Ole Joe issues a moving call for a Return to Normalcy [Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan in 1920.]


Michael Hobart said...

Some forty-odd years ago, a couple of colleagues and I drank some beer at a local pub with Michael Harrington. We were young, lefty Turks and peppered him with all sorts of questions designed to point out the flaws in democratic socialism. He answered every one with a calm, serious, and respectful demeanor. In discussing politics I have seldom encountered such an extraordinary, reasonable, committed, and inspiring individual. Afterward I joined DSOC, the predecessor to DSA, and have been a member ever since. Since that initial meeting too I have come to see progressive politics as a blend of the art of the possible with a vision of the desirable. (The words are not Harrington’s but the image is.) If Biden can give us the possible and Sanders et al. the desirable, there might be hope for some serious restructuring in the manner of the New Deal.

As RPW’s citing of the 1932 Democratic platform reminds us, much of what emerged from FDR’s administration came out of pragmatic adjustments in policies and programs as time passed, a long stretch of trial and error – the art of the possible. (FDR liked to point out that even a successful batter makes an out 70% of the time.) Not until his second administration were Keynesian strategies of fiscal intervention at the federal level explicitly even part of policy implementation. Perhaps something comparable might be in the offing next January, all the more so because of the availability of a host of desirable, progressive plans floating about.

Still, as with the 1930s any progressive restructuring will require serious rethinking and adjustments on the part of established, corporate Democrats, and perhaps eventually, kicking and screaming, corporate Republicans as well. Recall, FDR’s goal was to “save capitalism” even over the objections of many of its major players. Subsequently a sizable number fell into place. I am less sanguine about those prospects at the moment. said...

If we can't all agree that this latest "press conference" from Trump was wildly incoherent then we're all doomed.

s. wallerstein said...

The fact that FDR moved left to face the Great Depression after the election in no way indicates that Biden will do the same. I could point out just as many, maybe more, Democratic presidents who have moved to the right after the election. There is nothing in Biden's curriculum vitae that would lead us to believe that he is the new FDR.

The only reason to vote for Biden is that he is better than Trump and that Trump is a monster.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

We agree: Trump is a monster. I think, however, that there there are good reasons to believe that Biden will move left. In fact he already has in proposing Medicare at 60. He has gone out of his way to get Bernie's support because he can't win without a lot of votes from Bernie's supporters. I see Biden as a career politician. He'll go where he thinks the votes are. The country has moved significantly to the left since 2008--thanks in no small part to Bernie. Somewhere to Bernie's right, but left of center is where we're likely to find Biden. That will become the new center.

Anonymous said...

Biden is just as likely to be moved involuntarily into the nursing home in the next few years!

Anonymous said...

American politics is broken, and humans have displayed one of their worst flaws in they have trouble turning back from the freakish way they are going. It doesn't make any difference weather its Biden or Trump, there wont even be an undisputed or fair election thats how bad its gotten. Right now we need an extinction level event such as an asteroid, pandemic, or nuclear. Other than that, I'd rather stare at an orange haired product of the American vision up to this point than a man with dementia.

Enam el Brux said...

I order you to read Capitalism on Edge by Albena Azmanova. The legitimacy deal of capitalism, that investors should be well compensated for their risk taking, is a normative claim that capitalism's losers accept. They will have to reject this value judgment, along with their acceptance of the profit motive.

Enam el Brux said...

The last time I mentioned that the question of desert for effort is a value judgment and not a matter of fact, as propertarians seem to insist, I was instructed to "bite the bullet," which meant accepting the false dichotomy of no alternative to capitalism other than the Gulag. A bit of intellectual defense: whenever you see or hear the rhetorical phrase "bite the bullet," brace yourself for a false dichotomy ahead.

Perhaps ordering relative strangers to read books, especially without compensating them for their time, or at least giving the books away is rude. It is perhaps less rude than the Marxist (as opposed to Marxian--Marx famously said he wasn't a Marxist) tradition of sneering at one's opponent or otherwise directing animadversion to their amygdala, but one can't always rely on the discipline to separate intellectual from emotional content.

That was supposed to have been a transition from one topic to the next. I was reminded that the ideal job for a libertarian is tenured full professor, upon recalling the debate between Professor Brian Leiter and Professor Bryan Kaplan held at the University of Wisconsin, under the billing “Socialism, Social Democracy, & Capitalism: Which is Right for America?” I can provide extensive textual references. said...

Hey, I dig that phrase, "directing one's animadversion to another's amygdala". Hope you don't mind if I borrow it. If any profit accrues, I will compensate handsomely, as is the sage custom of capitalism.

Enam el Brux said...

By all means. By investing in this phrase or a recognizable derivative thereof, you assume a tremendous risk, which, according to the legitimacy deal of capitalism (Albena Azmanova's term), entitles you to the lion's share of the profit (to say nothing of undemocratic, authoritarian, unaccountable control of your employees, if any, not to mention paralipsis); or in case of loss, the right to be made whole and then some at taxpayer expense. Who in their right mind wants to pay the costs of production? I, of course, disclaim any liability for its use or nonuse.