The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Decline and Fall of Post-war Liberalism and the Rise of the Right

strikes-involving-more-than-1k-workersIn the Anglo-US world, post-war liberalism has been on the defensive since the 1970s. This is normally shown through various wage or wealth graphs, but I’m going to show two graphs of a different nature. The first, to the right, is the number of strikes involving more than 1K workers. Fascinating, eh?

The second, below and to your left, is the incarceration rate. It isn’t adjusted for population increases, but even if it was, the picture wouldn’t change significantly.

This is the change caused by the Reagan revolution in the US, which, as is the case with most revolutions, started before its flagship personality.

Graph of incarceration in the US over time

From Wikipedia


I was born in 1968. I remember the 70s, albeit from a child’s perspective. They were very different from today. My overwhelming impression is that people were more relaxed and having a lot more fun. They were also far more open. The omnipresent security personnel, the constant ID checks, and so forth, did not exist. Those came in to force, in Canada, in the early 1990s. As a bike courier in Ottawa, I would regularly walk around government offices to deliver packages. A few, like the Department of National Defense and Foreign Affairs, would make us call up or make us deliver to the mail room, but in most cases I’d just go up to the recipient’s office. Virtually all corporate offices were open, gated only by a receptionist. Even the higher security places were freer. I used to walk through Defense headquarters virtually every day, as they connected two bridges with a heated pedestrian walkway. That walkway closed in the Gulf War and has never, so far as I know, re-opened.

I also walked freely through Parliament Hill, un-escorted, with no ID check to get in.

This may seem like a sideline, but it isn’t. The post-war liberal state was fundamentally different from the one we have today. It was open. The bureaucrats and the politicians and even the important private citizens were not nearly as cut off from ordinary people as they are today. As a bike courier, I interrupted senior meetings of Assistant Deputy Ministers with deliveries. I walked right in. (They were very gracious — in every case.)

The post-war liberal state involved multiple sectors, in conflict, but in agreement about that conflict. Strikes were allowed, they were expected, and unions were considered to have their part to play. It was understood that workers had a right to fight for their part of the pie. Capitalism, liberal capitalism, meant collective action because only groups of ordinary workers can win their share of productivity increases.

productivity and wages

productivity and wages

Which leads us to our second chart. The moment you lock up everyone who causes trouble (usually for non-violent, non-compliance with drug laws), the moment you crack down on strikes, ordinary people don’t get their share of productivity increases. It’s really just that simple.

This is all of a piece. The closing off of politicians and bureaucrats from public contact, the soaring CEO and executive salaries which allow them to live without seeing anyone who isn’t part of their class or a servitor, the locking up of people who don’t obey laws that make no sense (and drug laws are almost always stupid laws), the crushing of unions, which are a way to give unfettered feedback to politicians and our corporate masters, are all about allowing them to take the lion’s share of the meat of economic gains and leave the scraps for everyone else.

But why did the liberal state fail? Why did this come about? Let’s highlight three reasons: (1) the rise of the disconnected technocrat; (2) the failure to handle the oil crisis, and; (3) the aging of the liberal generations.

The rise of the disconnected technocrat has been discussed often, generally with respect to the Vietnam war. The “best and the brightest” had all the numbers, managed the war, and lost it. They did so because they mistook the numbers for reality and lost control. The numbers they had were managed up, by the people on the ground. They were fake. The kill counts coming out of Vietnam, for example, were completely fake and inflated. Having never worked on the ground, having not “worked their way up from the mail room,” having not served in the military themselves, disconnected technocrats didn’t realize how badly they were being played. They could not call bullshit. This is a version of the same problem which saw the Soviet Politburo lose control over production in the USSR.

The second, specific failure was the inability to manage the oil shocks and the rise of OPEC. As a child in the 1970s, I saw the price of chocolate bars go from 25c to a dollar in a few years. The same thing happened to comic books. The same thing happened to everything. The post-war liberal state was built on cheap oil and the loss of it cascaded through the economy. This is related to the Vietnam war. As with the Iraq war in the 2000s, there was an opportunity cost to war. Attention was on an essentially meaningless war in SE Asia while the important events were occurring in the Middle East. The cost, the financial cost of the war, should have been spent instead on transitioning the economy to a more efficient one — to a “super-analog” world. All the techs were not in place, but enough were there, so that, with temporizing and research starting in the late 1960s, the transition could have been made.

Instead, the attempt was left too late, at which point the liberal state had lost most of its legitimacy. Carter tried, but was a bad politician and not trusted sufficiently. Nor did he truly believe in, or understand, liberalism, which is why Kennedy ran against him in 1980.

But Kennedy didn’t win and neither did Carter. Reagan did. And what Reagan bet was that new oil resources would come online soon enough to bail him out.  He was right. They did and the moment faded. Paul Volcker, as Fed Chairman, appointed by Carter, crushed inflation by crushing wages, but once inflation was crushed and he wanted to give workers their share of the new economy, he was purged and “the Maestro,” Alan Greenspan, was put in charge. Under Greenspan, the Fed treated so-called wage push inflation as the most important form of inflation.

Greenspan’s tenure as Fed chairman can be summed up as follows: Crush wage gains that are faster than inflation and make sure the stock market keeps rising no matter what (the Greenspan Put). Any time the market would falter, Greenspan would be there with cheap money. Any time workers looked like they might get their share of productivity gains, Greenspan would crush the economy. This wasn’t just so the rich could get richer, it was to keep commodity inflation under control, as workers would then spend their wages on activities and items which increased oil consumption.

The third reason for the failure of liberalism was the aging of the liberal generation. Last year, I read Chief Justice Robert Jackson’s brief biography of FDR (which you should read). At the end of the book are brief biographies of main New Deal figures other than Roosevelt. Reading them, I was struck by how many were dying in the 1970s. The great lions who created modern liberalism, who created the New Deal, who understood the moving parts were dead or old. They had not created successors who understood their system, who understood how the economy and the politics of the economy worked, or even who understood how to do rationing properly during a changeover to the new economy.

The hard-core of the liberal coalition, the people who were adults in the Great Depression, who felt in their bones that you had to be fair to the poor, because without the grace of God there go you, were old and dying.  The suburban part of the GI generation was willing to betray liberalism to keep suburbia; it was their version of the good life, for which everything else must be sacrificed. And sacrificed it was, and has been, because suburbia, as it is currently constituted, cannot survive high oil prices without draining the rest of society dry.

Reagan offered a way out, a way that didn’t involve obvious sacrifice. He attacked a liberal establishment which had not handled high oil prices, which had lost the Vietnam war, and which had alienated its core southern supporters by giving Blacks rights.

And he delivered, after a fashion. The economy did improve, many people did well, and inflation was brought under control (granted, it would have been if Carter had his second term, but people don’t think like that). The people who already had good jobs were generally okay, especially if they were older. If you were in your 40s or 50s when Reagan took charge in 1980, it was a good bet that you’d be dead before the bill really came due. You would win the death bet.

Liberalism failed because it couldn’t handle the war and crisis of the late 60s and 70s. The people who could have helped were dead or too old. They had not properly trained successors; those successors were paying attention to the wrong problem and had become disconnected from the reality on the ground. And the New Deal coalition was fracturing, more interested in hating blacks or keeping the “good” suburban lifestyle than in making sure that a rising tide lifted all boats (a prescriptive, not descriptive, statement).

There are those who say liberalism is dying now. That’s true, sort of, in Europe, ex-Britain. The social-democratic European state is being dismantled. The EU is turning, frankly, tyrannical, and the Euro is being used as a tool to extract value from peripheral nations by the core nations. But in the Anglo-American world, liberalism was already dead, with the few great spars like Glass-Steagall, defined benefit pensions, SS, Medicare, welfare, and so on, under constant assault.

Europe was cushioned from what happened to the US by high density and a different political culture. The oil shocks hit them hard, but as they were without significant suburbia, without sprawl, it hit them tolerably. They were able to maintain the social-democratic state. They are now losing it, not because they must, but because their elites want it. Every part of the social-democratic state is something which could be privatized to make money for your lords and masters, or it can be gotten rid of if no money can be made from it and the money once spent on it can be redirected towards elite priorities.

Liberalism died and is dying because liberals aren’t really liberal, and when they are, they can’t do anything about it.

None of this means that modern conservatism (which is far different from the conservatism of my childhood) is a success if one cares about mass well-being. It isn’t. But it is a success in the sense that it has done what its lords and masters wanted —- it has transferred wealth, income, and power to them. It is self-sustaining, in the sense that it transfers power to those who want it to continue. It builds and strengthens its own coalition.

Any political coalition, any ideology behind a political coalition, must do this: It must build and strengthen support. It must have people who know that, if it continues, they will do well, and that if it doesn’t, they won’t. Liberalism failed to make that case to Southerners, who doubled down on cheap factory jobs and racism, as well as to suburbanite GI Generation types, who wanted to keep the value of their homes and knew they couldn’t if oil prices and inflation weren’t controlled. Their perceived interests no longer aligned with liberalism and so they left the coalition.

We can have a new form of liberalism (or whatever we wish to call it) when we understand why the old form failed and can articulate the conditions for our new form’s success. Maybe more on that another time.

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Your Annual Reminder that if America Does It, It’s Not as Bad as if Russia Does It


A Clintonian Coronation?


  1. I also walked freely through Parliament Hill, unescorted, with no ID check to get in.

    I’m old enough to remember that my grandparents could meet us at the gate when we flew into LaGuardia Airport when we came to visit them.

  2. RJ

    I’m old enough to remember that my grandparents could meet us at the gate when we flew into LaGuardia Airport when we came to visit them.

    We could do that when I was a little kid in the US in the late-1980s. Hadn’t even thought of that until now. Crazy how fast things change. I remember relatives waiting outside the gate to hug and say “hi” to people. Now they wait on the other side of security, or continuously drive their car around the airport loop because they’re not allowed to stop and wait…

  3. I love the post, but the only place the word “Neo-Feudalism” appears is the headline. What do you mean by it?

  4. Ian Welsh

    Changed the title, I’ll deal with neo-feudalism another time. Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. The Tragically Flip

    I find nothing to disagree with, had long worried in particular about the death of the Silent and Greatest Gens being the electoral backbone of post WW2 liberalism.

    Krugman had a few essays along these lines too, I wonder if I can dig them up – probably one of his long form NY Review of Books pieces. I recall the part about the various Great Depression related controls being repealed out of a similar phenomena – the stupidity of the logic that says “what do we need this for, it’s supposed to stop disasters and we haven’t had one in decades, clearly this isn’t needed!”

    If we manage to win out again (a big if, how long did the Dark Ages last before the Enlightenment?), we have to make sure whatever we build is automatically self-sustaining. I suppose maybe our liberal predecessors who built this hoped that public education and a half decent news media would be enough – a literate population that read newspapers wouldn’t tolerate conservative crap. But we didn’t stop them gutting the effectiveness of the media soon enough and now they’re busy gutting whatever good public schooling still provides. In Canada they haven’t quite finished wrecking the media, the CBC is still reasonably potent so they’re setting up to destroy that too. The right wing peons have made it a major mission which clearly comes from the various signals from above.

  6. Oaktown Girl

    I was born at the tail end of 1963, and one of the things I think a lot about is how that makes me the last generation in this country (U.S.) who concretely remembers when “Peace” was considered (by most people) a good thing – something to be desired and treasured. It was a time before “Peace” became fully demonization and turned into a synonym for “weakness”, and then later redefined (without the slightest hint of Orwellian irony) to mean, “Peace = the strength of our military, and our willingness to use military force.”

    And that, of course, is simply another aspect of how the liberal coalition was deconstructed.

  7. Powerfully good stuff, Ian, thank you.

    A couple of randomly added thoughts. I remember hitchhiking. I remember my parents putting me on a bus from Ann Arbor to St. Paul at 10PM at age 13. I remember leaving doors unlocked. And I’m not all that old, or don’t think I am.

    There’s an interesting role of ideology in all this. We too often think that “ideology” means Marxism, or libertarianism, or some other -ism. But in the decades of which you speak, powerful ideologies were created around perversions of Adam Smith (shareholder capitalism), the saving grace of private equity (agency theory), the cleansing powers of markets, and the virtues of competition. All of these masked and contributed to the forces you describe.

    Ideology goes a long way toward explaining the conundrum of how so many people can be persuaded to vote against their own self-interest.

  8. I would also add the rise of mass marketing, something a lot of liberals/leftists miss and/or sniff at. Not only how to shape what people want, but how to understand why people’s wants can be shaped that way, what its limits are, etc.

    I consume a lot of European, particularly German-language news media, and I am struck by how Northern European public was convinced to sign on to the dismantling of continent-wide social democracy. It wasn’t only by negative appeals to the supposed laziness of the Eurosouth.

  9. Oaktown Girl

    Ugh – sorry for the typo. I changed the structure of the sentence and forgot to change “demonization” to “demonized”. I tried my best to proofread it, but I have some eye problems. It’d be nice if I had medical insurance, (or otherwise access to affordable health care – fuck “medical insurance”), but I’m told that would end freedom.

  10. subgenius

    I live in the “ghetto” in hell-A

    I frequently leave my door unlocked when I am in. I refuse to play to the rule of fear.

    Actually – I have met FAR more pleasant individuals in the ghetto than I run into in, say, Santa Monica. I have even received more than one cerveza as I walk the streets in the evening. I walked the streets in Santa Monica, and got hit by an over-privileged tosser in a brand new AMG. He didn’t stop, rightly assuming I had no chance to ID him as he had no plates on his car.

  11. Bernard

    wondcrful post. how one thing leads to another. glad you take time to write these posts. thanks again

  12. Celsius 233

    A particularly relevant piece today on Democracy Now, with Ralph Nader;

  13. jcapan

    Awesome post making some invaluable connections. I was born in ’70 and grew up observing the same downward trajectory, only in its more pronounced US turn. My father, a National Park Service bureaucrat, would come home venting about Jim Watt and that “motherfucking Reagan.”

    “I’m old enough to remember that my grandparents could meet us at the gate when we flew into LaGuardia Airport when we came to visit them.”

    Here in my adopted homeland, I can still board a domestic flight without ever showing ID. Not to mention that we’re still treated like guests as opposed to would-be criminals. When I visit the US, it’s stunning to see more security than airport staff.

    Regarding the rise of mass marketing, anyone who’s never seen Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self couldn’t spend a better 4 hours of his/her life:

    In addition, I’d second the condemnation of our corporate press, journalists who’d rather be courtiers than adversaries, as well as the absolute gutting of education for all save the children of elites.

    As for “those successors were paying attention to the wrong problem,” at first maybe it was just a problem of prioritizing or of simple complacency. But in short order it was obviously their intent, a means of reaping more of the profits in the vast business of politics, creating an alternative to the GOP that didn’t alienate high finance.

    Thomas Frank skewered all of this so wonderfully in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas, how sell out “liberals” chose to focus on cultural wars over class wars. B/C it distracted the masses from who the real culprits were and therefore served power, for which they’ve been rewarded for years now. Clinton sure didn’t get filthy rich fighting for the proles.

    As always, when I’m looking for reasons to hope, I read Howard Zinn. From The Coming Revolt of the Guards:

    There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were the nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn’t care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line. These are white workers, neither rich nor poor, but angry over economic insecurity, unhappy with their work, worried about their neighborhoods, hostile to government- combining elements of racism with elements of class consciousness, contempt for the lower classes along with distrust for the elite, and thus open to solutions from any direction, right or left.

    In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions-the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time-but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmers’ unions, socialist movements. We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle- class discontent.

    The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation’s history, perhaps, both the lower classes and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system.

  14. Jessica

    Such a broad sweep, and well done, triggers many responses.
    1) Liberalism in the US was even during the New Deal was aimed as much against the anti-capitalist left, so it worked to demobilize and depoliticize ordinary people. As such, it contained the seeds of its own destruction from very, very early on. Particularly once military Keynesianism replaced any other possibility.
    Even Labour Party style socialism in the UK had a broader base (long gone now of course).
    2) The prosperity of the working class, the willingness of the corporate owners to share some of the prosperity, was based on much cartelization. The Big 3 auto makers for example. The rise of international competition, particularly from Japan, undercut that. It also exposed how flabby and complacent the cartels had become. My memory is that the big shift to overseas production by American industries that had provided good paying jobs came in response to (then lower-wage) competition from Japan. Thus began the race to the bottom.
    3) As the deal with the working class (we work in the factories, but our children go to college and don’t) created a increasing middle class, it became large enough to go its own way politically. Before the 1960s or 70s, a left that was indifferent to labor was just not possible.
    4) Bigger picture: Sometime around the 1960s or so, industrial infrastructure had been built and a highly educated work force had been developed and the economy was ready to shift to knowledge production*. But to do this requires doing two things at the same time, pay those doing the work and turn the knowledge completely free. We can more or less do one or the other, but doing both will require some quite different form of social organization. In effect, we had the economic base for the next level of social evolution, but none of the other pieces.
    So this next-stage economic core was turned on its head and put in the service of the current stage. The result is that the core of the economy has been nearly strangled. This is why the bright technological future that people up until the 60s thought was coming was lost. It is why the optimism of American culture was replaced with cynicism and fear. This is why the elites no longer serve any historical role at all and is why 1st world society has been stagnating for decades and has now entered a phase of active decay.

    *To be absolutely clear, the knowledge economy, knowledge worker class/”creative class” that we have now is not an actual knowledge economy. To get an idea of what a real knowledge economy would look like, imagine a society in which we educate everyone as much as they want and can handle. Then give them jobs that actually their skills. Try to imagine how stunningly productive such an economy would be.

  15. The Dude

    Great essay–really sums up the history of the past 40 years–essentially my whole cognizant life as I was born in 1965.

    An interesting figure to note is former Republican Congressman John Anderson, who challenged Reagan in 1980 primaries and then ran as third party candidate, garnering 6% of the popular vote (the Reagan “landslide” was only so in the electoral college–he didn’t even clear 51% of the popular vote). Anderson happened to be the 20-year Representative from the Northern Illinois district that included my hometown, and I recall that one main centerpiece of his campaign was a 50-cent a gallon national gas tax, designed to cub consumption and which would have raised gas prices by about one-third at the time. Try to imagine a REPUBLICAN congressman, or heck even a Democrat for that matter, making such a proposal today–you just can’t. THAT is how far we’ve sunk in the past third of a century.

  16. S Brennan

    After working a 12 hr day yesterday, I left work early today to take in an unusually warm June evening to watch Duck Dodge from where my boat is moored on Lake Union. I stopped at my house to gather up my dog for the trip into town. Windows down, Goose’s tongue was hanging in the summer breeze as we drove down Highway 99. Along the way, I passed a an older woman with a rather large bumper sticker on a newer car…it read; KENNEDY/JOHNSON. I smiled, I knew what she meant, she saw me smiling and smiled back. On I drove. I spent a quiet couple of hours enjoying the kaleidoscope of sails dancing in the summer breeze.

    On my way back…the dozens of whores that work that stretch of road were out in force. I’m glad that woman reminded me that there was a time when Americans soundly rejected Pottersville for the sanity of Bedford Falls.

  17. Formerly T-Bear

    Cannot wait until the book is out if the teaser above is any measure.

    Ideological arrogation of the republic was accomplished in insidious and devious cunning, barely perceptible in contemporaneous notation. Who recalls when the physical infrastructure of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) was sold off to private capital whilst its administration was left holding long term contracts without the means to produce their required product. This scheme cunningly devised that the proceeds of the sale of the assets held on the books would be drained over time back into the private coffers that bought the assets. Those contracts have now matured and a small notice in recent news that TVA was to be terminated, the public investment securely in the accounts of private interests.

    Insidious too was the fracture of the body politic engendered by Vietnam, though seldom mentioned, the draft created two divergent populations; one not having recourse, submitted to draft laws in place since WW II; the other using whatever means available, were able to evade those laws. For these, most often, means was justified by ends; these were the simulacra of social and political success and have insinuated themselves in all positions of responsibility although demonstrating the absence of ethical responsibility in obtaining their fraudulently obtained positions. Those populating the first group were seldom able to compete successfully against the second group. The dictum: “You get what you pay for” is never truer.

    The attack and subversion of the legal system began with Nixon’s failed attempt to save his better political parts. In this, the law was not the only ass at play. The greatest damage lawyer Nixon did was to compromise the integrity and independence of the Justice Department in its administration of law. Partisans of Nixon’s position were later in Reagan administration able to politicize the office of Solicitor General, overturning more than a century of non-partisan tradition in favour of one of rigorous ideology. Concurrently, the recommendations of the Am. Bar Assoc. were discounted and replaced by the ideologue prone commendations of The Heritage Foundation to fill judicial vacancies. The country was Bork-ed.

    The ca. 1972 oil embargo was blowback from the adopted policies after Nixon abrogated Breton Woods and unilaterally took the dollar off the gold standard which was the basis of the dollar being the world’s reserve currency (all trade debts could be settled in dollars rather than gold). At the same time, both monetary and fiscal policies were instituted to depreciate the value of the dollar in order to promote exports, in theory to finance the ongoing Vietnam War without increasing the country’s tax burden. The combination of depreciated dollar and political decisions to secure Israel triggered the first oil embargo and quadrupling oil prices with the creation of the OPEC cartel. Two conditions were also contemporaneous: first, oil imports had reached a level that the increase in price drained the economy of monetary circulation needed to both consume and to invest that led to an employment crisis; second, was the condition of the industrial base, in full operation from WW II and was at the end of its productive life, that without substantial and sustained reinvestment would be incapable of economic competition with much newer industrial bases in other great economic powers (Japan and Germany). The oil embargo insured those investment funds were not available. The rest is history, if there is an ability to read it.

    Lastly there has been a sea change in acceptable public discourse in that the voice of the opposition has been effectively silenced through disregard and diversion; only those advocating the ideologic orthodoxy are permitted access to the halls of power, all others haven’t the SERIOUS to be heard. And the one winged creature wonders why it cannot fly.

  18. Theo

    Hello, I’m the person who complained about the video sound, doing so by internal email as I didn’t want to put a personal comment in the comments section. Thanks for this piece. I am American born in ’43 in Washington, D.C. As a student at grade school at 6th St.& East Capitol and later at a high school at North Capitol & K St., I was able to travel around Washington on foot or trollies in the fifties and early sixties. I lived on a farm ’til 10 and in those days had to wait until the evening to take an Atwood bus out to a then pastoral Prince George’s County. In high school I lived in the city and later a nearby suburb and I had the liberty of not having to go home immediately after school. My sister and I while in grade school and later my companions and I in high school and at college in the late sixties and early seventies would fill the hiatus by trips to the Capitol and other buildings. We would ride the trolly from the House to the Senate and back again. We peeked in at the Senate and House galleries and were allowed to watch the proceedings when in session unaccompanied by an adult. Once as grade schoolers we tried to get to the top of the dome of the Capitol and view the Statue of Freedom up close, but alas we were stopped. Otherwise, we had free rein to explore the amenities below stairs as well and ride the trolly w/o censure. Ditto, for the many public/private buildings in the larger Capitol area, museums, Folger Shakespearean Library, the Washington monument, the Archives, the Supreme Court, the Teamsters building, and more. During the early ’70s it was much the same. In ’75 I moved to New York City for school and a job. That too was a free and rewarding experience for those wishing to explore the city on foot. Such freedom of movement is essential in a liberal democracy, that freedom now disappeared or severely restricted for certain locales along with our civil liberties, and the roving eye and ear of the surveillance state make even the freedom we have left in name only.

    About liberalism, you’re right, liberals then, and now, don’t prepare their young to maintain liberalism as a philosophy of governance, something the conservatives do by plying their own with money and perks in the numerous conservative think tanks and other entities they maintain. Liberalism itself was a philosophy of the center and was deeply compromised by the devotion of its adherents to the national security state and war. So liberalism died in response to wars and corporatism and those who are vaguely on the left but not radical in the best sense call themselves progressives and most are not up to the fight and are weak. The lure of money from the rich and the corporations into conservatism and liberalism was perhaps too strong and hastened the flight of representatives of the latter into neoliberalism, a tragedy for us all. And we cannot forget the essential prods to the reactionary spirit, the gains of blacks, minorities, and women as a result of the civil rights movement and feminism. Then as now, those who value freedom must learn to plan for it instead of commenting as I do now. I see much on line leading us to believe that changes are happening and welling up from below. Oh gods, let it be true.

  19. LorenzoStDuBois


    Just wanted to say I’m thrilled you’re posting more often these days.

  20. The Tragically Flip

    Theo: “About liberalism, you’re right, liberals then, and now, don’t prepare their young to maintain liberalism as a philosophy of governance, something the conservatives do by plying their own with money and perks in the numerous conservative think tanks and other entities they maintain.”

    I don’t disagree conservatives do this, but I don’t think that’s what really maintains conservativism as a force. I think we have to consider the possibility that conservativism is more or less the “default” state of humanity left to its own devices. Most of human history, most governments/societies are largely conservative – authoritarian, hierarchical, patriarchical, inegalitarian. (At least settled, agricultural societies, leaving aside hunter-gatherers whom I understand are much more egalitarian). It took centuries of thought, protest, fighting and agitating to go from Dark Ages to not quite Enlightenment, but something half-way there where we could at least imagine getting there.

    For conservatives, all they have to do to promote conservative behaviour in the populace is stop the things that promote liberalism (like education) and leave people with the brutal choice of living dog-eat-dog or starving. The more precarious you feel your situation is, the less likely you’re willing to help your fellow or believe that any program is actually going to help you.

    Some say we’re just reverting to the mean – the last few centuries have merely been some kind of grand exception. That could be true but it doesn’t make a new Dark Age inevitable. We just have to grapple with the upward battle we’re always going to be fighting and understand that the reason it’s so easy for the right is that they’re fighting a downhill battle – they can always appeal to ignorance, hatred and fear to get their way or make it hard for us to get ours.

    One hopeful thing is that not all facets of human nature lend themselves to conservativism – empathy and compassion are natural too, and can be encouraged instead of fear and hate. (The protracted, bizarre right wing freak out over Obama’s remark about Justices needing empathy was probably one of the most revealing moments in the mass psychology of conservativism ever).

  21. someofparts

    “If we manage to win out again (a big if, how long did the Dark Ages last before the Enlightenment?), we have to make sure whatever we build is automatically self-sustaining.”

    At the end of her book March of Folly Barbara Tuchman concludes with an overview of times when various cultures tried to solve this problem. According to Tuchman, so far no one has figured out how to arrange a system that doesn’t break down eventually.

  22. Joe S

    A small silver lining is usually we can’t (or don’t) see the forest for the trees until the penultimate event of change is upon us. In other words, large movements and events that seem glaringly obvious in the past were not so easily writ large at the time. King Louis XVI thought they were just putting down another peasant revolt, as they had for at least the last hundred years. Afterward, obviously this time was different.

    Conservatism is definitely on the decline, in the US and abroad. The old levers meant to keep cultures separate and at each other’s throats are failing to gain the leverage needed to be effective. The easiest example is gay bashing. It worked like a charm for a long, long time but the millennials simply decided they wouldn’t believe it. Once the young check out of your meme, it is just a matter of time before it collapses. Think of NOM and the resistance to gay marriage in 2008, then look at today. It’s over, finished except for the fundies’ tears; the Boy Scouts just voted to allow gay scouts. Think about that for a minute.

    Elizabeth Warren came back from the dead on a platform of going to war with the banks. So has Alan Grayson on a very fiery progressive populist platform (to be fair, Sanborn is back too.) But as you look at the (political) bodies of ex-politicians mounting up in the rear view mirror of American history, there are a lot more Bachmanns lately than Graysons. Even Obama, who is more Reagan than Reagan ever dared to be, has to give major lip service to the progressive base to keep his power intact. It is similar to what GWB did with the tea baggers on the right; deliver the passion of the fringe to the policies of the elites and then sell that base out. The major difference is GWB had a coalition whose core was of 50+ yr olds. For Obama, his initial base was certainly comprised of those 18-35 (and of course blacks), transitioning to a melange of women, minorities, gay support, and a wavering youth vote in 2012. One of these support groups is dying off, the other is just coming into its own. For the “Next Obama” to come in and tap these new base reserves the rhetoric will need to be escalated, and sooner or later that base will demand results. The LBGT coalition just did it to Obama, worked out quite well of them too. What happens when hispanic workers refuse en masse to pick a season of crops, or women refuse to go to work until their reproductive rights are enshrined (again?) Is there a way that Next Dem Pres can not fold to that pressure without destroying the party?

    It’s not all peaches and cream, but the worm for conservatism has already turned IMHO. Demographics and the tide of public thought is not on their side and well, you can make up for enthusiasm with spent treasure for only so long. The part we should be focused on is what tools are we laying out now for that next generation to pick up and use? It doesn’t matter if the efforts seem like failures, if you can lay a blueprint you never know who might pick it up later.

    Great post Ian, much food for thought.

  23. kgasmart

    I agree with most of your analysis, Ian, but would argue that we are seeing a resurgence of a Progressivism that doesn’t quite know what it believes, doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.

    The American Prospect here in the U.S. has been running a series this week of stories about how Democrats, or rather the young progressive movement that got Obama elected, is looking to make inroads into the “solid South” – and, as a result of demographic changes, has a real chance. The Republican Party in the cultural sense – dominated by Southern cultural sensibilities, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-immigrant – is in its twilight. But what replaces it? A kinder, gentler corporatism, perhaps; for what is it exactly that this new progressive movement wants?

  24. Ian Welsh

    No system doesn’t break down eventually, the question is how to make it last longer. We’re going to need a longer cycle next time, as we’ll have some big problems to fix, so I’m hoping we can get a few generations out of a system. Sixty to eighty years is very ambitous, but not undoable.

    Ideally we need to solve two problems: the climate/sustainability issue, and getting off the rock, so if we fuck up catastrophically, we can’t kill ourselves all off.

  25. The Dude

    @kgasmart – “…or rather the young progressive movement that got Obama elected…”

    There is your problem right there. If they worked to get Obama elected, or especially RE-elected, then they are not true liberals or progressives, but instead the kind of people like many around me who get all excited about the advance of gay marriage, that our unaccountable warrior in chief is now a black guy (and may be a woman next time around) or that American women and now have the right to directly slaughter innocents abroad instead or just serving in military support roles and think that stuff is actually important compared to unjust wars, torture, rendition, an offshore concentration camp, domestic spying, drones, unpunished Wall Street predatory capitalism, continued offshoring of good paying jobs, etc, etc.

    As long as this “young progressive movement” continues to hide its head in the sand about Obama (or Hillary, or whichever Democratic “savior” appears next), it will continue to remain unable to effect any real social change and will in fact be doing its part to uphold the status quo.

  26. kgasmart

    @The Dude: “As long as this “young progressive movement” continues to hide its head in the sand about Obama (or Hillary, or whichever Democratic “savior” appears next), it will continue to remain unable to effect any real social change and will in fact be doing its part to uphold the status quo.”

    I think the agitation is ultimately likely to come. Now, they’re content with politics as usual – i.e. gays can get married, what a victory… and it obscures the fact that on the economic justice front, in terms of our perpetual war for perpetual peace, nothing has changed (and in fact much has gotten worse). But since the “other side” is so heinous, I think a lot of people think this feels like a step in the right direction.

    I’d argue that it is, that this new coalition ultimately won’t agree to settle for corporate fascism with a tolerant, “progressive” face. Or maybe this counter-Reagan revolution is split by those who will and those who demand more.

  27. Ian Welsh

    Cultural conservatism is on its back foot in various places, to be sure, but that’s not what concerns me. The oligarchs don’t care about cultural conservatism. They’ll pander to it when it’s useful to them, but they don’t personally hate gays or blacks.

    Economic conservatism is what concerns me. And that is not on its back foot, indeed, it is ascendent. Also some nasty brands of fascist conservatism are rising in Europe, fed by the oligarchs and their policies. While right now cultural conservatism may be losing, it isn’t clear to me that it will continue to do so. Indeed, cultural conservatism in Europe might even wind up embracing gays and full-on immigrant bashing. “See, they’re intolerant, so we should get rid of them.”

    We’ll see.

  28. Ian Welsh

    I am reliably informed that there is no young progressive movement behind Obama any more. In 2008 there were huge Dem campus clubs. No longer. They know they were betrayed, they just don’t see any other option. But they aren’t working for him in large #s or passionate for him.

  29. kgasmart

    @Ian: “The oligarchs don’t care about cultural conservatism. They’ll pander to it when it’s useful to them, but they don’t personally hate gays or blacks.”

    Quite the opposite, at least in the U.S. Lloyd Blankfein is big supporter of gay marriage, after all.

    It’s the populist sentiment they seek to use. And in the U.S. since Reagan, that has been culturally conservative. It’s changing now; and the oligarchs would be cunning (and always are) to switch allegiances. For – in the public mind – if the Barons of Wall Street all support tolerance and justice for the LGBT community, if they show “compassion” in terms of immigration and ethnic diversity, etc. – why, what model citizens they will appear. In absolute lockstep with the young and culturally liberal. Who will then continue to hand them the keys to the kingdom.

  30. alyosha

    I echo FT-B: Cannot wait until the book is out if the teaser above is any measure. This posting is brilliant in terms of the connections made between disparate datapoints and ideas.

    I haven’t read Chris Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class”, and so I wonder how your focus meshes with his.

    Somewhat OT, I recommend seeing We Steal Secrets, a just-released documentary about Wiki-Leaks, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning. Two hours+ of detailed information, that gave me some needed background about all of the above, and a well-told tale.

  31. The Tragically Flip

    Ian:”Cultural conservatism is on its back foot in various places, to be sure, but that’s not what concerns me. The oligarchs don’t care about cultural conservatism. They’ll pander to it when it’s useful to them, but they don’t personally hate gays or blacks. ”

    Yeah me too. They’re recreating Rome but with air travel. They don’t care if we drink and fuck and gamble so long as we serve them, fight in their games & wars and don’t rise up.

    If you read libertarians, you’ll often find them referring to Rome for various (stupid) arguments. Ron Paul citing Diocletian in his debate with Krugman was not an aberration.

  32. Ian Welsh


    haven’t seen “We Steal Secrets”, but Wikileaks themselves have stated they view it as inaccurate and a hit job. Among other things, they claim they don’t steal secrets, but act as publishers of secrets.

  33. Ian Welsh

    Death of the liberal class is actually rather weak. If you want a version of it with more heft (not entirely correct, but also far better written) read Voltaire’s Bastards.

  34. alyosha

    re “We Steal Secrets” – it’s very evident from the film that WikiLeaks is a publisher and doesn’t steal secrets. The title is misleading in that sense, and not a great choice. For some reason they chose to quote one of the US military leaders shown in the film, and use that as the title.

    I tend to view WikiLeaks’ claim that the film is inaccurate as a commendation for the film, given the massive amount of information presented, which struck me as pretty well balanced and researched. You get to see Assange in all his good points and bad, and how his personal life has both helped the cause of WikiLeaks and has damaged it. Each character is quite complex that way, and is a needed departure from those who would either vilify Assange or naively put him on a pedestal. It’s important to see the warts.

    At the end of the day, it’s no longer about Assange, who is trapped in a legal battle, but is about the thing he helped create: WikiLeaks.

    Thanks for the pointer to Voltaire.

  35. matt carmody

    This mess we’re in wasn’t a mistake. Postwar Americans were encouraged to consume everything they could get their hands on, if they couldn’t afford to buy everything all at once they were given credit. Buy homes, get mortgages and become docile little workers afraid to raise a ruckus for fear of losing the job and the house. Keep being bombarded with messages that you can have everything you want because you’re an American and you deserve it. Here, take another credit card.
    Saint Ronnie gets elected and things subtly change. For years we were used to deducting sales taxes from our taxes in addition to being able to deduct the interest paid on credit cards. When Ronnie gave the rich those tax breaks in the 80s those deductions disappeared. Not only did the deductions disappear, but the interest rates on those credit cards skyrocketed. Still we didn’t stop buying only now both parents were in the workforce to keep up with the bills and, after the 1985 Paris Accords, everything had doubled: food, gas, clothes, everything. Still we kept shopping and going into debt.
    Ah, but we were able to take home equity loans out against our homes so we could keep on buying new cars, and CD players, and lawn tractors, and anything else our greedy little hearts desired. That included stocks and nifty little financial instruments most of us didn’t understand. Hell, some of us even thought we could trade commodities. I mean there were programs sold on TV that showed how you could use leverage, margin, to jump into the FOREX market and play with the big boys.
    Then the internet bubble burst and a cloud moved across the sky. Until Uncle Alan made everything better by lowering interest rates so everybody could start playing again. And play we did. Even the attack on the World Trade Center couldn’t stop our acquisitiveness. Good old Dubya told everyone to defeat the terrorists by going shopping. And so we did. Meanwhile a giant trap was being set. Money was being moved out of the country on pallets only to disappear half a world away. Literally disappear. Poof! Gone in thin air. An orgy of theft ensued while everyone was screaming USA! USA!
    I think the plan was for the economy to keep up its Potemkin surge until a new president came into office in 2009. The GOP knew it wasn’t going to be a Republican because…. Well let’s just say the Owners had other plans. A Democrat would get elected, the economy would crash, and everyone would want a Republican elected to rescue us.
    Except nobody counted on the greed of the hedge fund managers and derivatives traders who went hog wild and blew up the economy. Plus, of course, a black Democrat was needed by the bosses to destroy Social Security and Medicare. Sure, a black Democrat could get away with any fucking thing. Anyone who was paying attention in the 90s knew that Wall Street was salivating over the money that went into Social Security. Hell, instead of a three percent overhead the Owners could raise it to 35%, keep 32% for themselves and keep their own party going.
    And fuck the rest of us. Basically, that’s American economic history since 1981.
    What a country! USA! USA! USA!

  36. Ian Welsh

    My friend Stirling and I had a disagreement about the crash of 2007/8. He thought they could and would hold it off until after the election, to get a Republican elected. I bet that they were too incompetent to manage it.

    Incompetence won.

    One thing to remember about our Lords and Masters is that they are, as a class, horribly incompetent. It’s just that the nominal opposition is even more incompetent, as a group.

    This ain’t a competent Age.

  37. The Dude

    @Ian: “The oligarchs don’t care about cultural conservatism. They’ll pander to it when it’s useful to them, but they don’t personally hate gays or blacks.”

    Bingo–that sums it up in a nutshell. Both the Dems and the Reps use the BS culture wars to create the illusion that there is any real difference between the two parties on economic issues and maintaining the global empire.

    I think back to this last campaign when Romney took some hits over the closing of a factory in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois, by Bain Capital and the shipping of the jobs to China (AND, to top it all off, requiring the Freeport workers to train their Chinese replacements). A few “liberal” commentator types got all indignant that Romney refused to go to Freeport and address the closure. All well and good, but you know who else never went there? Obama. Nor did Illinois’ Democratic governor or its Democratic senator. They know how NOT to alienate their Wall Street campaign contributors.

    It’s really very simple (and what modern “liberals” and even libertarians do not or refuse to understand), without economic freedom such as that which comes from relatively secure, decent paying employment, there is no real personal freedom. All you are instead is a serf by another name.

  38. Matt Stoller

    My nickname for this era is the Age of Stupid.

  39. Everythings Jake

    Not a call for pessimism or apathy, just a realistic evaluation of the challenges – the state is plenty competent and sufficiently well armed to do serious harm on behalf of our lords and masters.

  40. Tim Fong

    Re: cultural liberalism
    What I see among the elite of the SF Bay Area is a longing for something like Singapore but with gay marriage and weed.

  41. Jessica

    “One thing to remember about our Lords and Masters is that they are, as a class, horribly incompetent. It’s just that the nominal opposition is even more incompetent, as a group.”

    Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I do not think we are in an age of elite incompetence, but rather systemic decay. For decades, the 1st world has already had the core of the next-stage economy (knowledge-driven) but not the social organization or the mass individual development either. So the leading economies stagnate, the BRICs catch up, and our elite have no historical role left. Meanwhile much of the knowledge worker class (in the broad sense from rocket scientists and IT folks to Madonna and J.K. Rowling with spin meisters and therapists in between) is paid to fulfill a mission critical to maintaining the rule of our obsolete Lords and Masters: creating and spreading artificial scarcity of knowledge.

  42. Celsius 233

    June 5, 2013
    Meanwhile much of the knowledge worker class (in the broad sense from rocket scientists and IT folks to Madonna and J.K. Rowling with spin meisters and therapists in between) is paid to fulfill a mission critical to maintaining the rule of our obsolete Lords and Masters: creating and spreading artificial scarcity of knowledge.
    But aren’t the majority doing that, unbidden?
    A profound lack of curiosity has that result. Unbidden, unprompted, apathetic…

  43. jcapan

    “Even Obama, who is more Reagan than Reagan ever dared to be, has to give major lip service to the progressive base to keep his power intact.”

    Absolute rot. Obama and his minions have delighted in hippy punching from day one. Does the name Rahm Emanuel mean anything to you? The empty campaign rhetoric, vacuous nonsense and sleight of hand meant to distract from his actual record, would only inspire the dullest or most self-seeking of liberals. Ultimately, the only lip service he’s been giving has been to the lords of finance—after Obama talks, they light a collective cigarette and watch their stock rock.

    And 2012 shows us only that the Clinton-Obama stranglehold on the party continues to paralyze the liberal-left—they can spit on us for 4 years, preach the gospel of austerity and shut down OWS, and still get elected comfortably, with high ratings from Netroots Nation to boot. I’d like to share your optimism, but mistaking token Kucinich-ism (i.e. Warren and Grayson) or base grumbling after the election ain’t going to inspire it.

  44. Tony Wikrent

    While all the Ian writes is truthful, frankly, I believe he leaves out the two most important events and factors in causing the collapse of liberalism. And I hope what I have to write here really shakes some people to their cores.

    Liberalism was killed. Murdered. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, and others, should have been met with a ruthless and unrelenting investigation and hounding of the conservative movement.

    You can reach frantically for your tin foil hat, but in all honesty can you tell me that the elites of the world do not use assassination as a tool for moving events in the direction they want? Either you think John Perkins was just spinning a fable in his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to sell more books, or you think there really are jackels deployed to assassinate heads of state and heads of government. Sorry, there is no in between.

    In the case of President Kennedy, I sense that very few people alive today have any inkling of how much certain business interests hated and detested him, especially after Kennedy engaged in full out political warfare against the largest steel companies, and in particular U.S. Steel chairman Roger Blough, for a major price increase in steel products in April 1962.

    Here are two long excerpts from Donald Gibson’s 1994 book, Battling Wall Street: The Kennedy Presidency. Take the time to read them, if you want a vivid example of how a President can fight, and I mean really fight, for the general welfare, against entrenched special interests. It makes for a stark contrast to the Obama presidency.

    The second set of events and factors have to do with the rise of organized crime to “legitimacy” in the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s a few excerpts from my recent DailyKos Diary on Penny Pritzker and her family (

    Many of you already know that I used to be an economics correspondent, and that I burned out and became depressed watching Wall Street have its way in the early 1990s in what was called, back then, “off balance sheet liabilities” (what we today call “financial derivatives” – the stuff, like credit default swaps, that blew up in 2007 through 2008, and left a dismaying amount of the world’s economy in ashes). Well, that’s not really the whole truth. About what got me depressed, that is. So, tonight, you’re going to learn a bit more of the truth. You’re going to learn some of the dark, frightful secrets hidden away in my memory; stuff I usually don’t mention, because it makes a lot of people very uncomfortable.  

    In a word, the mob. Organized crime. The syndicate. In Chicago, it was called the Outfit. But every major city had its own crime family, or branch thereof. You see, part of what I researched and wrote about in that depressing period of nearly a quarter century ago was how the billions of dollars, nay, hundreds of billions of dollars that were fueling what was politely called mergers and acquisitions, most especially including leveraged buy outs, came from, not entirely, but in large part, organized crime. That included hundreds of billions of dollars that the Wall Street banks laundered from illegal narcotics trafficking, including heroin and cocaine.  The beginnings of financial derivatives were closely tied to the mob going legit.

    So, the Reagan regime of deregulation was really a double whammy. It basically decriminalized the worst behavior of banks and corporations, at the very time that some of the most immoral, ruthless, indeed murderous, people in America were buying legitimacy for themselves and their heirs by seizing control, through brazen manipulation of debt and stock markets, of America’s industrial companies.

    In the case of the Pritzker family, you get what may the most egregious example of organized crime becoming politically untouchable.

    A few voices the past few weeks have raised the issue of Hyatt Hotels and Superior Bank, but this past week, Rick Perlstein’s two-part article in The Nation, raised an even more troubling chapter of Pritzker history:  the family’s connection to Castle Bank of the Bahamas. According to  Russo (pages 439 ff.) Castle Bank was the granddaddy of offshore money laundering and tax evasion. Castle Bank was set up in 1964 by former senior Office of Strategic Services officer Paul Helliwell, who had become an important cutout for hiding CIA funds; Morris Kleinman of the Cleveland organized crime family headed by Moe Dalitz; Burton Kanter, a tax attorney for the Pritzkers, and a board member of Hyatt; and Stanford Clinton, a partner in grandpa Pritzker’s law firm, and a trustee of the Teamsters Pension Fund, which was an important center of mob finances in the 1950s through 1960s. (Much of the financing for organized crime’s invasion of Las Vegas came from the Teamsters Pension Fund, usually at absurdly low interest rates. Russo, p. 438, notes that Hyatt’s 1972 acquisition of the Four Queens casino was financed by a loan from the Teamsters Pension Fund loan at just four percent, saving Hyatt $8 million.)

    Essentially, Castle Bank pioneered the development of offshore money laundering and hiding, and served not only to launder illegally obtained money for US organized crime families, but to launder money for the CIA to fund various covert operations around the world, particularly in South America.

    Chris Hedges is not exaggerating when he writes that the criminal class has seized power.

    The liberal class was too naive, too innocent, too averse to real politick, to ever pose a real threat to the outright murderous criminals who rose to political power in the 1970s and 1980s. The favorite pol for the mafia group that ran Hollywood was a former leader of the screen actors guild by the name of Ronald Reagan.

    If it weren’t so deadly serious, it would almost be hilarious to contrast Ian writing about Paul Volcker wanting to “give workers their share of the new economy,” (and I think Ian is dead wrong about Volcker being sympathetic to workers. I met the man once, and he is as elitist and arrogant as they come) with what I write about organized crime’s labor racketeering in the 1950s and 1960s in my piece about the Pritzker family. The people who rose to power not only had no lover for labor, they had become highly skilled in squeezing, manipulating, and exploiting labor. It’s how they got rich.

    Non-violence is the sanctum sanctorum of the left, but I believe Frederick Douglas was more in tune with reality when he asserted

    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

  45. Ian Welsh

    I have the comment about Volcker from someone who knew him as well, actually. Maybe Volcker was shining himself post-facto, but it was believed by my friend, who is a pretty cynical bastard.

    The Liberals and Union guys of the 20s, 30s and 40s were no shrinking violets. They took it to monied interests, if necessary in the streets. Liberalism, and unionism, can be muscular.

    I have written extensively on violence and non-violence, and my opinion is well known.

  46. If the United States had retained a strong labor movement, much of the horrific fallout from the death of liberalism — the rise in poverty, the collapse of hourly wages, etc. — would not have happened. But labor voluntarily disarmed in 1947 rather than challenge Taft-Hartley boldly and vigorously with a nationwide strike and blockades until that blatently illegal restraint upon right of association was repealed. They allowed themselves to be bought with cushy union contracts and salaries and promises of “just play by the rules and we’ll take care of you”, and gave up the atom bomb in exchange for fool’s gold, for the generation *afterwards* had not made those promises and saw no reason to keep them. The PATCO strike made it clear that the labor movement was dead, and it was all over after that.

    It is all about power, in the end. Capital possesses power by the simple fact that all the money passes through their hands between the labor that produces wealth and the consumers who consume that wealth, making it easy for them to keep an unwarranted percentage of that wealth for themselves unless there is some power to force them to do otherwise. But without an effective labor movement, what power is there to force such an equitable distribution of wealth? An easily bought government? Puh-LEEZE….

  47. Jessica

    @ Celsius 233 permalink
    “But aren’t the majority doing that, unbidden?”
    We may be saying the same thing. Doing and spreading unknowing is a condition of employment in the knowledge worker class. In that sense, we are paid for it as part of our salaries. But this is so woven in the fabric of ordinary life that it is not noticed and thus seems unbidden.
    But this does mean that it is simply the way people inherently are and must always be. It is the way most of us are now under current conditions.
    Also, I think there is a difference between unknowing 100 years ago and now. Unknowing 100 years was the natural state, the default, so to speak. It took effort and cleverness to get one’s hand on information. Nowadays with the communication tools available to us [forced on us whether we want to use them or not actually], a great deal of effort must be expended to sustain the general state of not-knowing. Shepherding that effort while remaining unaware of its existence is a key crazy-making element of life in the knowledge producing class nowadays. It is what can give life that Phillip K. Dick kind of feel. And it is ultimately a point of great vulnerability for the current system.

  48. Tony Wikrent

    Yes, Ian, your explanations of how the elites are impervious to moral suasion because they are steeped in the cold calculus of costs and benefits, have been brilliant. I confess to harboring a special personal enmity for Volcker because many of the demonstrations I participated in back in the 1980s specifically targetted him and tried to explain to people how disastrous a future his policies were creating.

    What the American people don’t accept yet is the stark criminality of the elites. Saw this morning libbyliberal on Corrente pointing to Paul Haeder’s Top 71 People on Earth are Killing Us Softly. libbyliberal lead off with a more interesting hook:
    Goldman Sachs is Bitchin’ — Welcome to the Cattle Call

    “We live in a world where 17,000 young folk applied for Goldman Sachs internships. Can you believe it? Goldman Sachs, which should be in we the people’s receivership, controlled by us, now and forever, having that sort of draw?

    “Goldman Sachs has received more than 17,000 applications for its investment banking summer internship programme.”

    And follows with good jab by Taibbi:

    “They weren’t murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

    “Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn’t leave much doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.”

    I presume that the 17,000 aspiring Goldman interns are from our nation’s “best and brightest.” I really do not have any hope that the elites in USA can be redeemed. The sooner the American people realize that, the sooner we can get on with real change.

  49. The Dude:

    It’s really very simple (and what modern “liberals” and even libertarians do not or refuse to understand), without economic freedom such as that which comes from relatively secure, decent paying employment, there is no real personal freedom. All you are instead is a serf by another name.

    Not personal freedom – sustainable serfdom. This goes to Ian’s argument about incompetence.

  50. Jessica

    @Tony Wikrent
    Thank you for the links.

    Reading the JFK material, it seemed that it wasn’t money that was the business leader’s problem with JFK, but power. It was not enough for them to be the leaders of a prosperous nation. They demanded the power to dominate, to lord over others, even if that meant that their own wealth did not expand as rapidly.
    I also had the sense that JFK was the only president who really tried to fully continue FDR’s work. However the balance of power within society had changed with the crushing of radical leftists and their replacement with quislings and with the rise of the military-industrial-siloviki* complex. So the elite did to JFK what they would have loved to do to FDR but did not dare.
    By the way, this does partially undercut your claim that our elite have become more criminal than previously and suggests that they have been pretty sick f*cks all along.

    military-industrial-siloviki* complex: To acknowledge the importance of criminal security forces such as the CIA outside the military in the narrow sense.

  51. What Jessica said. Excellent.

  52. Ian Welsh

    Taft-Hartley was one of the costs of the Korean War. They were reluctant to general strike in a time of war.

    Truman was a very sad case, as someone else said, a good man who oversaw the institutionalization of the military-industrial complex and the permanent use of military-Keynesian stimulus.

  53. nihil obstet

    I don’t see Truman as a good man. He had all the virtues of ignorance. He was chosen by the conservatives in the Democratic Party first for Congress and then to replace Henry Wallace, because he could be manipulated. He had a responsibility to think about why he was getting the perks that he hadn’t earned and to resist being a tool. He didn’t. His intent was not evil, but his promotion of the cold war, the militarism, and the interests of capital over labor was. He was the right wing answer to liberalism.

  54. Ian Welsh

    He vetoed Taft-Hartley and was overridden.

  55. Canned Mandarin

    I bet that they were too incompenet to manage it.

    Incompetence won.

    My reading of the situation was very different–it seemed to me that they could indeed have kept the bubble going long enough to stretch into Obama’s term, but had they done so it would have grown so impossibly large that its collapse would have resulted in anarchy and civil war rather than a mere Great Depression II.

    Obviously an electoral edge for the Republicans wouldn’t have mattered much if the country were a smouldering ruin, so the plug was pulled on Lehman Brothers while it was still possible to weather the resulting storm. It seems to me that the real miscalculation was in drastically underestimating just how fast the bubble would grow in the new regime of computerized finance.

  56. Ian, the Korean War did not start until 1950, three years after Taft-Hartley was passed. I don’t happen to recall a three-year-long general strike against the law…

    And yes, Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley in a symbolic veto, since it originally passed with enough votes to override his veto. He also invoked it twelve times, mostly *before* the Korean War. I have never understood the veneration for Truman, he was a mediocre President who won his one and only Presidential race only because his opponent was even worse, and managed to accomplish little of worth other than managing to bumble through the post-war recession well enough to prevent Great Depression II — and he had help from the Soviets on that one, since Soviet saber-rattling gave him an excuse to ratchet up the military-industrial complex and put some of those slack resources back to work building weapons and marching in ranks again. Other than that, his Presidency is a long litany of failure for working people and for the world at large, mitigated somewhat only because he retained some of FDR’s brain trust who managed to get some important things done with little help from Truman.

  57. Ian Welsh

    I am properly schooled.

  58. Formerly T-Bear

    So now we’re rewriting history in light of self-held opinion. Have at it, you’ll never find the exit in the moral dusts and self-righteous smokes you raise. Echos of Shakespeare’s “What fools these …” ring out anew, refreshed “What fools these fools make of themselves”. It is no longer the worth of the candle.

  59. Ian Welsh

    Hmmm? I made a mistake, I admitted it.

  60. Formerly T-Bear

    No, No, No. Not you Ian. More up-thread. The opinions of a time period two decades before you saw the glimmer of light and could have known by, at best, second hand information. Education in the land of the Exceptional had at that time been so compromised as to be deficient and well on its way to the present disaster. It’s the observers giving verdict first, judgmentalistic conclusions after who were the objects being derided and shall remain nameless.

  61. Celsius 233

    @ Formerly T-Bear

    Appreciate the clarification; I was confused as well.

  62. Regarding the rise of mass marketing, anyone who’s never seen Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self couldn’t spend a better 4 hours of his/her life:

    So this is not really what I meant by my reference to mass marketing. Yes, it’s a staple of leftazoids to critique/criticize mass marketing as though it were the hideous alien child of capitalism and psychology. Those critiques are a dime a dozen. (I haven’t seen that particular video of Adam Curtis’, but I did see most of “All Watched Over”.)

    But it’s really rare to see anyone trying to understand marketing qua marketing—and to understand what it is about the world as constructed that people like, how they enjoy living in this world, and so on. That is what Our Incompetent Overlords are actually good at, I’m convinced, and what people who see the world as only in a state of Hedges-istic decline, right as I think they mostly are, are unable to get a handle on the positive.

    Hallmark greeting cards are written the way they are for a reason.

  63. jcapan

    “So this is not really what I meant by my reference to mass marketing.”

    Got you, and I agree with your 2nd paragraph too.

    Otherwise, “leftazoids”!? Where exactly do you think you’re commenting, Mandos, the NYT? Is anyone here espousing centrist talking points? And Curtis’ work is hardly fucking dime a dozen. That’s a brilliant documentary.

  64. I’ve used “leftazoid” for a little while now to refer to the peculiar band of the spectrum from left-liberal to just short of communist, esp. because “progressive” has become loaded. But yes, I use the word as a sort of light ironic disparagement too.

    Adam Curtis is a celebrated documentarian, and I enjoyed “All watched over by machines of loving grace”, but I didn’t think it was *that* original in terms of ideas, and I wasn’t sure I agreed.

  65. dvw

    Mandos, I would like to think that marketing is a reflection of what people like and could be a positive force, but I think it is based more on what people fear.

  66. Jessica

    A lot of marketing (and propaganda) is about tapping into the feelings people aren’t owning up to, the denied shadow side. But tapping into them in a denied, shadowy way. So double unhealthy.

  67. Along with some others here, I think a restoration of ‘liberalism’ (meaning the Bismarckian Welfare state, or social democracy) is extremely unlikely in the U.S., because it requires successful aggression at its periphery to meet the expense of keeping the working class paid off and reasonably quiet at home. The U.S., as an imperial-capitalist concern, has been mismanaged (as most have been) and the home country is going bankrupt. We observe not only increasing financial and environmental troubles but the rapid expansion of fear and the surveillance which exploits it. The ruling class has no one to exploit but its own people. There is no easy or obvious way out of this predicament, and in any case the political system seems to be paralyzed by the necessity of hiding and obfuscating the problems.

  68. Looking forward to the book Ian. Great post, great discussion.

  69. nihil obstet

    I’m a huge fan of Century of the Self, and its sequel The Trap. (Of the Curtis documentaries I’ve seen, All Watched Over is the weakest, so I can understand Mandos’ not rushing out to view another one. On the other hand, I’m not sure originality and lack of agreement with my ideas are the best yardsticks for judging a documentary)

    I’m what you’d call a leftazoid. The negative view of marketing comes from lack of commitment to markets as the means of fulfilling human potential. I think that’s a position taken by neoliberals and I haven’t liked the results.

  70. Jessica

    ” The negative view of marketing comes from lack of commitment to markets as the means of fulfilling human potential. I think that’s a position taken by neoliberals and I haven’t liked the results.”
    I didn’t understand this sentence but I want to. Maybe it is the semi-double negative that left me unsure what you meant to say.

  71. nihil obstet

    It’s basically a response to this:

    Yes, it’s a staple of leftazoids to critique/criticize mass marketing as though it were the hideous alien child of capitalism and psychology. . . .But it’s really rare to see anyone trying to understand marketing qua marketing—and to understand what it is about the world as constructed that people like, how they enjoy living in this world.

    Put most simply, I think consumer culture is very limited, and frequently destructive. Marketing is how you figure out how to choose and present goods or services on an exchange so that others will purchase them. The neoliberal theory is that markets enable people to choose what makes them happy, and this choice enables them to fulfill whatever dreams or potential they have, much better than common endeavors. I don’t agree. One example — financial firms have marketed 401(k) plans complete with happy seniors romping around the golf course and tourist attractions, but I think Social Security has produced better results. I have lots of other issues with the promotion of consumer culture through mass marketing, but I hope that’s enough to explain the comment.

  72. Jessica

    Thank you. Now I understand what you mean.
    I basically agree. I would add that marketing is also one aspect of something larger. A new hypothesis is that the entire knowledge worker class functions now as a Performance Art Piece whose theme is There Is No Alternative. (Because when knowledge production is contained within the current obsolete rules, much of the knowledge worker class is paid in part for creating and modeling artificial unknowing.
    Within that marketing as a whole has the function of exaggerating the value of what can be bought and sold and implicitly undervaluing what can not be bought and sold.

  73. Didn’t, of course, mean to imply that I was engaging in some kind of supercilious boycott of Curtis. He is just another item on a neverending list of things to read/see/do…

    Oh, and now that you mention it, it was probably The Trap that I saw. My problem—if I am remembering it correctly, it has been a while—is that I didn’t think he really engaged properly with the underlying motivations for the promulgation of negative liberty at the expensive of more “positive” liberties.

  74. Exploderator

    To Ian Welsh:

    Excellent article. Truly. It’s a rare pleasure to read someone who understands what I understand in such an uncommonly natural way; as basic groundwork, a starting point for further thinking, not some difficult and contentious conclusion, barely acceptable let alone something to run with.

    I’m a 69’er who has spent much of my privileged life pondering humanity and our follies, a kindered spirit to you I reckon. I would like to mention a couple of factors that I think cannot be understated:

    – TV. It is easy to cow people who have been lulled very deeply to sleep, their minds full of fantasy and pap. Those with the big money gained control of the most powerful tool of mass hypnosis ever witnessed in human history.

    – Lack of adversity. With a middle class thriving so vibrantly, and yet still reeling from the pain of WW2, I detect there was a great desire to finally fall into a luxurious, peaceful slumber, for them and their children (us). People resented being disturbed with ugly issues when they felt they had “made it”. They wanted to be hypnotized into a happy fantasy, Disney Land writ large. And those that oversaw the gears of industry to feed that fantasy rightly saw themselves as the authoritative keepers with grave duty, and decided they deserved the privilege they obtained when we said “take care of us”. It all went too far.

    – Instincts. Conservatism plays on base instincts that are very powerful motivators for many people. The use of punishment. Leadership advancing by strength / force rather than refinement. Use of fear for group control. Promoting obedience for its own sake. Neurotic obsession with sexuality and reproduction. Promotion of territorialism and xenophobia. Promotion of absolutism in answering / explaining any issue, which is often more instinctively appealing to us than an honest “I don’t know, that’s a complicated subject.” Overall, conservatism amounts in many ways to a satisfying abandonment to those instincts, there is no second thought to following those instinctive impulses. I suggest that enlightenment is in large measure about being aware of those impulses, a meta-awareness of one’s own states of consciousness and motivations. That awareness itself is derided as a weakness and distraction in conservative circles. The conservative movement is substantially strengthened (sadly) by having found a formula of information that achieves an instinctively satisfying state of fervor. I call us reckless endangerment apes, for we have too little logic and awareness in us.

  75. May

    I read this last night and I think what you mention has deeper roots.
    The epiphany is that colonization, the decline of the middle class, privatization, “free trade” that benefits stronger economies over weaker ones (right to work etc including rise of the poorly paid jobs of today) are two sides of the same coin. Essentially what transpired in colonization was that the extractive elites extracted from foreign countries. Now extractive elites are doing the same within their own countries. [ While the Washington Consensus is the international face of the same dynamic.] I do not think this dynamic will change until western populations are dispossessed enough. In the 19th century this gave rise to the hard left and communism which gave rise to social democracy (led by enlightened elites) -an agreement between the state, employers and workers- as a reaction. This was essentially a comprise to stave off a feared worse outcome (communism).

    Keep in mind, workers in early days of industrialization were worse off in West than the peasants before them. The closest equivalent to these workers are the landless peasants. In places like India and Pakistan where extractive elites remain these are the poor people subject to “bonded labor”-really slave labor and private jails to keep them restrained. In England the key event was the Enclosure Movement that dispossessed the peasants. In the Indian colony, the peasants were worse off when the British imposed the fuedal landlords who were the worst kind of “extractive elites”. The grip of the extractive elites was what land reforms in South East Asia removed-and little wonder it was a pre-requisite to development (you may want to read up on this). Hence despite growing fast, India has more hunger now than it did 40 years ago, because the grip of the extractive elites remains. [I think there is something very strange about India’s growth story. I have a feeling it is a measure of essentially the limited sector that has risen and the black market. Hence it cannot really be discussed in the same context of what transpired with the so-called Asia Tigers.]

    Social Democracy was really a Cold War relic. With its end the need for the compromise had outlived its usefulness for the elites. Its limited purpose was due to come to an end and as you see it is unravelling. Not surprisingly it unravelled first where FIRE sector was more dominant (US and UK). Problems caused by the FIRE sector are leading to unravelling in Europe. Do consider when Bilderberg Group meetings started and who attends. Check out how many from FIRE sector-including most recent meeting.
    The Full List Of Incredibly Powerful People Who Will Attend This Year’s Bilderberg Meeting
    Bilderberg Group? No conspiracy, just the most influential group in the world

    At the moment the decline of the middle class and the rise of the poorly paid job is part of this transcript. What will happen in future has still to reveal itself. I doubt it will be similar to what happened in the 20th century with the rise of communism. It could be that alternatively enlightened elites will realize they are cutting ground from under own feet and will change their ways (hints of this already seen in the philanthropy of Gates etc).After all this is the age of the consumer dominated economy. But at the moment the present dynamic has not run its course.

  76. Curtis

    The problem with this analysis is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s too limited. Left out are how liberals and the left increasingly relied on the courts to effect change and how the rise of identity politics both addressed real needs and further fractured the left. It is rarely the strength of the enemy alone but the mistakes the other side makes, which calls for
    self-reflection and self-criticism.

  77. Ian Welsh


    don’t disagree, aye. Note that it /is/ a 2K word article already, however. 🙂

  78. Formerly T-Bear

    The Guardian to the rescue! This report on a recently published book may have some of the length and detail desired:

    Judging the book by its review may be a danger fraught idea, but the mirror through which the history of the period is viewed, is made of float-glass and is without distortion; a rare accomplishment for either those having lived through the period or those who have studied and learned of an earlier period.

    Off Topic: An interesting item; an outline of US history from Civil War through to just prior WW II. Pointing out events effecting the nation and economic mile-marks.

    Enough facts to drown a neo-liberal in his bath.

  79. someofparts

    Amazon won’t ship that book about Roosevelt to me in Atlanta. What’s up with that?

  80. Celsius 233

    Shame on me, I was not familiar with Adam Curtis. I spent the day watching The Century of the Self and 1-1/2 of 3 hours of The Trap (I’ll finish tomorrow).
    They are a dream come true for conspiracy freaks and paranoids. But the reality is damning and self evident.
    Nothing shocking; I grew up with Pearls, Laing, Freud (fraud?), Jung, Gestalt, Reich, et al. But Curtis does a nice job of tying it all together in a flowing narrative.
    But I fear Curtis also highlights the hopelessness of people escaping the indoctrination under which they live, their blindness to the realities of everything they think is real and important.
    I don’t know what else to say. It seems there should be more…

  81. Douglas Smith

    Greetings ~

    Being advanced in years (if nothing else) I identify all too easily with the regretful nostalgia expressed in Ian’s current post, even though a more incisive analysis would allow for shaky interludes of labour peace (such as Welsh describes) within a system of monopoly capitalism that tends to foment ever-deepening and more frequent crises in its relentless extraction of profit. The mood of nostalgia can be dangerous, moreover, because it yearns for a restoration of golden-age conditions which can never be reclaimed. At this critical juncture we need to turn our back on the idyllic past, having learned whatever lessons it has to teach, and grapple instead with the dilemma that looms before us: Either we submit to barbarism as desolate individuals, or as a resolute collective we build a splendid socialist world.

    One love

  82. Pelham

    Nice post, and I particularly liked the way you pulled together the three charts. This is what mass media would do if they had any interest in providing useful information.

    I’d just like to add a bit in relation to the productivity/wages chart. While it’s true wages have leveled off over the past 40 years, this understates the gravity of the situation. A more pertinent measure than wages is disposable income after necessities — including housing, health care and education. That’s now down to about a third of what it was 50 years ago.

    So, in sum, the lower 90% aren’t holding even, as the wage line suggests. We’re actually losing ground, rapidly and enormously.

  83. Celsius 233,

    You might want to add “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” to your Adam Curtis queue. Cold chills and maybe a rueful laugh or two guaranteed.

    Whether it’s hopeless or not remains to be seen.

  84. Nupur

    What I do not understand is how you have comments from June when the article is December 24. Some mess up there.

  85. Formerly T-Bear

    The decline and fall of post war liberalism paralleled the decline and fall of post war education. By the 80’s it was apparent to some in academia that something was amiss with the educational system, Alan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” tracks this phenomena. Academia’s response to furthering involvement in the Vietnam war was to support those benefiting from educational deferments allowing the ‘best and brightest’ to avoid the draft, mostly by lowering standards considerably (in comparison to prior educational standards, massive cheating was de rigor, exam responses were widely available and widely used), anything to remove those students from the reach of their draft boards became allowable. Today the country (and the world) are living the consequences of these activities, academic fraud was and is rife, the generation generated have now completely replacing the generation of their teachers, their standards are now the measure the students are held to.

    Historical liberalism is a product of education, its advent coincided with the availability of the printed book, liberalism is learned, it does not appear without being specifically taught and only rarely learned without example, and depends on excellence and broad exposure to the humanities as a foundation. But beyond education, historical liberalism requires knowing, understanding and accounting for human nature, its strengths and weaknesses, and despite the faults, putting trust in human capabilities to achieve some purpose. Historical liberalism takes up where authoritarianism falters and carries beyond the point power of princes and aristocrats becomes insufficient to provide the public good. Historical liberalism is the antithesis of the normal by-product of privilege but requires an excellence of mind and judgment to succeed, and is undone through the corrosive effects of blind and thoughtless belief, a condition most ephemeral and fleeting.

    These opinions as to the characteristics of liberalism barely start to define, rather to show the historical relationships that have been present concurrently and give nurture to liberalism.

  86. Ian Welsh

    As it says in the title, this is a reprint. It was first published in June, but I felt it was worth putting back to the top again.

  87. Tony Wikrent

    Not sure how this helps promote Teh Revalootion, but I remember when I was a kid my next younger brother and I would pedal our bikes about three miles to Chicago O’Hare, enter by the National Guard gate, and pedal over to the Butler General Aviation terminal. Then we’d walk into a hanger, climb into a Learjet or Gulfstream or whatever was in the shop, and oooh and aaah over all the instruments and play pilot. This was after 5 pm, of course, and nothing, absolutely nothing, was locked. We did it about four or five times, and nobody ever saw us — or if they did, just let a couple pimple-faced kids have some fun.

    I did get caught once stealing golf balls. There was a driving range in Rosemont, about halfway between O’hare and where we lived. We would go back along the big net, and reach through and grab whatever golf balls were within reach. I don’t remember what we did with them – I certainly didn’t go golfing, but I think my brother probably did: he worked as a caddy for a couple summers during high school. Anyway, one day, I’m flat on my stomach, reaching through the netting and grabbing some golf balls. The second I drew my arm back through the netting, I was suddenly lifted three feet into the air by the back of my pants. And I was a hefty kid, even back then. I remember the guy who picked me up was not that angry; he actually seemed bemused. But what terrified me was that it was the owner of the driving range: Bears tight end Mike Ditka.

    There’s not a lot I remember from my childhood, but that’s one of the few things I remember!

  88. Celsius 233

    @ Formerly T-Bear
    December 24, 2013
    The decline and fall of post war liberalism paralleled the decline and fall of post war education. By the 80′s it was apparent to some in academia that something was amiss with the educational system, Alan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” tracks this phenomena.
    I remember watching Johnny Carson one night (early 1960’s) and his guest Ralph Nader. The subject of education came up. I remember to this day what Nader said was the future of education; it would be the handmaiden of corporations. Curriculum’s geared to whatever the corporations wanted/needed for their operation.
    I have watched it unfold since that time.
    Liberal arts were the first things to go. Nobody today seems to understand the importance of a liberal arts education and they way it opens one to the world and its wonders. Other cultures and languages which make our existence such an amazing and varied experience has been reduced to:
    USA!, USA!, USA!; America is Exceptional; & America, Fuck Yeah!


  89. Formerly T-Bear

    @ Celsius 233

    I recall that as reference to the emergence of the MBA as the career path most rewarding economically provided by university. These were the days IIRC of the leveraged buyout, hostile takeover and junk bonds; supposedly the domain of education of these newly minted MBAs. Education was in a state of collapse at that time, public funding took a direct hit as a result of the two oil crises of the 1970’s, Governor Reagan had by then made his attack on higher education in California through the manipulation of the tax system supporting effective governance, which the nation eagerly emulated. ‘Tragic!’ isn’t even the beginning of this path to failure, but is a gateway to an orchard that will bear black and bitter fruit for generations to come.

    The Independent has produced a retrospective of the times preceding the Great War that is well worth the reading;
    as it poignantly paints the passing of an era of remarkable achievements and the costs exacted upon the inheritors as the price of that world’s passing. This window upon the past puts succinct emphasis on the observation: If you don’t know where you’ve been, you cannot know where you are now and haven’t a hope of knowing where you’re going. That may be the real tragedy of it all.

  90. Jerome Armstrong

    Yea, it’s all gone to shit, but since when hasn’t it? Ever since the late 40’s kicked the progressives to the curb, it’s been a cup half full that keeps pouring it’s half into ever smaller cups.

    I’ve been reading Sixties by Todd Gitlin’s, and he has a part in there about how the liberals after WWII thought they knew the way to social justice– to buffer the people from the abusive power of a capitalist system, in favor of public systems, but the economic boom thereafter convinced the leading liberals that they didn’t need to go out on a political limb for socialism, so instead, they hitched liberalism to Keynesian growth. And, more importantly for the coming break-up of the Democrats by ’68, a party leadership completely wedded to being anti-Communistic in their political identity, thus permanent Cold War mobilization. Thus the progressive bolt from Roosevelt’s coalition in the late 40’s, and the 60’s revolt by the youth of the New Left joining the Old Guard lefties.

    Anyway, it’s this half-full cup that liberalism passed on in the US– good enough to launch the next generation, but not enough to keep them on board.

    I don’t know why I never got around to reading this earlier, also have Terry Anderson’s Movement and the Sixties to read here next.

  91. Jerome Armstrong

    I do agree about the fall of educational — think Bloom was right on with that part T-Bear. I got through CA’s schools just before the Prop 13 axe fell. I don’t think they make HS’s like that anymore.

  92. David Kowalski

    During the 1970’s I was working my first real job and going to grad school. Two things I remember about the time and the lack of social barriers were:

    Being asked to invite someone three levels up making ten times my money to a party I was giving in my apartment. No problem.

    Being invited to a barbecue at the home of the CEO of United Airlines where the CEO, his wife and children actually seemed to be trying to impress me (pretty much of a nobody but headed to an elite grad school).

    Also in the 1970’s I walked around in both the US Capitol (US House and US Senate chambers) with no hassles and even walked around in the Supreme Court building including the basement where unreleased decisions were being printed up.

    By the 1980’s, I was unwelcome when driving around on the grounds of West Point. I was rather upset at that, as it was paid for in part with my taxes and the taxes paid by the other passenger. We met a similar reaction at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

    As Jerome said, the education I got at public schools (in my case in New Jersey) was superior to what the same schools offer today. There was actual free speech protesting the Vietnam War on Moratorium Day in October,1969 and I actually spoke against the war personally to hundreds and maybe as many as a thousand people.

    Today we have reached the sad point where one liberal activist describes Richard Nixon as “the last liberal President.” Nixon, of course, brought home the troops from Vietnam and presided over the birth of both the Environmental Protection Agency (clean air and water) and the SSI program for the disabled and elderly.

    He covered it up with bogus conservative rhetoric and actual conservative political theory/accomplishments (putting conservatives, at least for the time, on the Supreme Court; following a “southern strategy” where he talked against integration in code words (busing of school targets was a frequent target); claiming frequently that Democrats “stole” the 1960 election despite paying for recounts that proved that was not the case; frequently condemning the “elitism” of rich liberals like the Kennedy family.

    Nixon was the last “liberal President” because his politics made pursuing a liberal agenda an uphill battle .

  93. CambridgeKnitter

    I was born in the biggest year of the Baby Boom, 1957, so I remember well the freedom described in this post. But what I remember the most was the reaction to what would now elicit paroxysms of paranoia and new heights of security theater at airports. I grew up in Florida when planes were regularly hijacked to Cuba. The reaction was minimal. We still went to the gate with departing passengers and met arriving passengers there. We didn’t have metal detectors or X-ray machines or hand searches of our carry-ons. We just prosecuted the hijackers and went on with our lives. I miss that common sense approach and wish we could get it back.

  94. Consider the distinction between “freedom” and “liberation.”

    Some Americans had a sense of freedom in days of yore (say from the late 1940’s until the late 1960’s) that is almost mystifying to contemplate now. Our governments at every level now surround themselves with barricades to access which simply didn’t exist in those days — the very idea was practically absurd. The “security theatre” at airports and ports of entry that we endure today was unheard of and almost unimaginable. “We” simply didn’t behave that way, despite the fact that “we” were engaged in warfighting in Vietnam and elsewhere and were subject to the occasional hijacking or terrorist attack.

    Some of us were freer then. Why?

    The more conformist a society is, the “freer” its citizens tend to believe themselves to be. The more liberated from social and political conformity (and oppression) they are, the less “free” they tend to see themselves.

    Social and political liberation in the United States has gone hand in hand with the increasingly authoritarian impositions of the Security State. Economic prospects for the majority of Americans may be terrible, but look how socially “liberated” they are.

    That’s been the trade off. The trade off for the end of de jure segregation became a template.

    We’re living with the consequences.

    The question is whether it is possible for Americans to live in freedom with liberation. Or must there be political, social and economic suppression/oppression of some groups in order for others to believe they are free?

  95. Jerome Armstrong

    Reading Anderson’s Movement, what he says, for the reason’s that the large protests (and probably large strikes), is that people just got tired of getting beat up by the cops. Afterall, that’s how the establishment ended Occupy too.

  96. Neptune

    Che: Not buying. It fits the timeline for the U.S.A. but Canada got ‘liberation’ decades earlier and lost ‘freedom’ decades later. There was a period of 30-some years where the two coexisted without obvious tension, and one political party (NDP) championed both in its platform.

    I think the American experience is a case of a powerful and determined reactionary faction being willing to chuck ‘freedom’ overboard in the service of a rear-guard action against ‘liberation’.

  97. Neptune,

    Many things are possible in Canada which are not possible in the USofA — and vice versa.

    The case can be made that the United States, even during its most “progressive” periods, has always been ruled by a powerful, determined, reactionary faction, one that will only yield on any important matter in exchange for a trade off, typically one that strongly disadvantages whatever faction or interest — or as is so often the case, minority — has ostensibly won or been liberated.

    It seems to be hard wired into the American system.

  98. Christina Marlowe

    Mission Accomplished: The Reagan Occupation and the Destruction of the American Middle Class

    David Michael Green

    by David Michael Green | June 25, 2010 – 10:38am

    Eighty years ago, something occurred in America that was never supposed to happen. An aristocrat came to the presidency and engineered a policy revolution that created a broad and prosperous middle class where it had not existed as such before.

    To do this, Franklin Roosevelt and his party had to rewrite the existing rules of wealth redistribution in the United States such that the traditionally fantastically wealthy overclass (which had grown even fatter as the industrialism of the prior century concentrated wealth yet further) would become merely tremendously wealthy from that point forward, in order to leave enough for others to live a decent life.

    Needless to say, this rankled the country club set, but, remarkably, they more or less made peace with this development during the early decades of the post-war era, and largely cooperated with the new economic order. So did their political representatives. The Eisenhower administration was the first chance after twenty years of the New Deal to dismantle the newly created American welfare state, and Ike not only refused to take that opportunity, but famously labeled those in his party who wanted to as “stupid”.

    If Eisenhower, in his gray suit, black-and-white photos and de rigueur businessman’s hat from the era seems quaint today, so does his political restraint. By the 1980s that was ancient history, and remains so to this day, including through (and via) two Democratic presidencies now.

    If Americans understood the real ambitions of Ronald Reagan and his puppeteers, and if they knew the degree to which the supposed patriotism of those folks extended beyond falsity and into the far darker waters of being an irritating irrelevance put on purely for show, then they would not only stop seeing Reagan as some sort of national hero, but would also understand that he instead launched a process far more equivalent to an invasion and occupation of this country.

    The goal of the right – which cares about America about as much as it does about Burkina Faso – has been to restore the economic order last seen under Herbert Hoover, in which a tiny minority possess vast sums of wealth and there is (therefore) essentially no remaining middle class. It is nothing short of a breathtaking display of a world class greed, worthy of the ages.

    It has also been a work of strategic genius (in much the same way one might appreciate the Germans’ engineering prowess in figuring out the logistics of how to mass murder ten or twelve million civilians in a year or two), one which has drawn upon deep psychological insights, absolutely sociopathic amoralism, and clever tactics that have all simultaneously pushed in the same direction. In plain English, they hired some politicians of hit-man level moral integrity, who then marshaled fear, insecurity, hate and deceit into a witch’s brew of self-destruction that would prove highly attractive to a large segment of the population already sinking from the effects of a global economic order rebalancing after decades of post-war American dominance.

    Of course, you couldn’t just come right out and say, “Vote for me and I’ll give your money to people so rich they can’t even imagine what they’ll do with it (but they still demand to have it anyhow)”, so slightly more subtle tactics had to be employed. It is telling that the most honest thing Barack Obama ever said was when he thought there were no microphones in the room. But he was right when, at a presidential fundraiser in San Francisco he told the wine and cheese set that the right uses guns, god and gays (I would add Gaddafis) to scare people out of their money. I’ll believe that Republicans are serious about protecting heterosexual marriage on the day that you can’t find half of them prowling the gay bars of DC every night (and you don’t even want to know what the other half are into).

    This bait-and-switch tactic worked perfectly well whenever it was applied. It didn’t hurt that the regressive Billy-Bobs who vote for these folks are as dumb as a tree. With bags of hammers for leaves. But stupid is really only the facilitating quality, and often one that is neither present nor required. What really drives this stuff is fear. If you can turn that into a loathing of fur’ners, fags, bitches, blackies and brownies, you got their vote. Then you can do what you really set out to accomplish in the first place. George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign was the paradigmatic example. All year he talked about jamming through a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Big priority. Urgent national issue. The religitarded across America just about peed themselves, they were so excited. Then he gets elected and is brazen enough to announce that there’ll be no such effort, after all, and that his signature legislative initiative will be an attempt to hand over the fat Social Security pot of money to Goldman Sachs. The redneck dolts with their Bush/Cheney ’04 bumper-stickers didn’t know what to think. So, of course, they just didn’t.

    Meanwhile, to say that this kleptocratic revolution worked really well is only untrue by means of the verb tense employed. It is still working really well. And the final leg of Reagan’s March to the Sea is now upon us. Chunks of middle class body parts have been hacked off, bit by bit, over the decades, ’til there’s little remaining anymore. Remember how they told us that ‘free trade’ wouldn’t decimate our jobs, our unions and our bargaining power? Is that why little old ladies serve Happy Meals at McDonald’s all across the country, assuming they’re lucky enough to get that job? Remember how they said that massive tax cuts for the wealthy would be ‘revenue neutral’ and would jump-start the economy? Which is confusing since the national debt doubled under George W. Bush, and then he proceeded to hand us the worst economy since the Great Depression. Remember how they told us that we needed to slash wasteful government spending on benefits? Now that we’ve become the ones who need those, they’re gone. Remember when they said that government is our enemy and corporations should be free to do whatever they want? You know, like spill oil or trade derivatives?

    There’s another little trick that is about to become especially prominent in the coming years. When Reagan came to office and began his “voodoo economics” project of nearly quadrupling the national debt, after having promised to cut it instead, many people were puzzled by this. Personally, I figured that they just did the math and realized that in the real world (where governments sometimes live but campaigns rarely do) something simply had to give. If you slash tax revenues and massively increase military spending, guess what’s gonna happen to your budget? Others, however, saw a more nefarious game being played, and perhaps they were right. This is the idea that they intentionally ran up deficits so large that the national government would be forced to do what it otherwise would not, which is to slash spending on popular entitlements and other social programs.

    Whether or not the conspiracy was real, it is the case that the federal government is running humongous deficits every year, which pile up further on the massive national debt. And it is also the case that we are now hearing a rising chorus on the right – especially from the tea party know-nothings – about slashing government spending as the top priority for Washington. Even though, according to the principles of Keynesian economics, this is the last thing we should be doing during a recession.

    And, of course, something tells me that as the pinch is increasingly felt, the call for cuts won’t be in the domain of military spending, even though our allocation there is obscenely out of proportion to any imaginable threat in the world, and is roughly equal to what almost the entire rest of the world spends on defense – that’s one country equal to almost two hundred others, combined. I’m also guessing that we won’t be raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans either, even though they pay far less than they did in the pre-Reagan era, when the country was generally very prosperous, and even though they often pay a lower percentage in taxes than the secretaries and janitors who work for them. No, we can’t touch those folks.

    Instead, the intense pressure now will be to finish the job of eviscerating the middle class and transferring every last nickel of their wealth to the oligarchs who fancy themselves masters of the universe. Unemployment insurance, for example. Never mind that we have ten percent official unemployment and closer to twenty percent in reality, or that whole cities like Detroit are being wiped out. The Republican minority in the Senate, along with the Democratic “moderates” there, are now refusing to extend expiring unemployment benefits (which are already a pittance when they exist). Nine hundred thousand laid-off workers have thus lost their meager sub-subsistence benefits, and that number will grow to more than a million-and-a-half in a few days now. Guess why. Because regressive senators – including John Kerry and Maria Cantwell – are holding unemployment insurance extensions hostage to protecting a loophole that allows wealthy fund managers to be taxed on their profits at an obscenely low percentage rate. How’s that for national priorities? How’s that for compassionate conservatism?

    Next, inevitably, will come entitlements. Indeed, most of the states in the union are already heading that way, cutting pensions for employees. Not to mention certain low priority areas like education, which is getting slashed from California to New York. How long can it be before Medicare and Social Security are put on the chopping block? And why? Because we have our priorities good and straight, pal: a morbidly bloated military and pathetically low tax rates for the wealthiest among us comes first. Then, if we could somehow do it for free I suppose we could allow decent education, or health care, or retirement with dignity for our elders. But, of course, since that can’t be done without cost, those things must go.

    The other strategic initiative now reaching fruition during the right’s three decade-long campaign to massively redistribute wealth in this country – literally, the crime of the century – is the evisceration of the state. This must be done (or, more accurately, it must be done in some respects but absolutely not in others) because the state is the only force capable of standing up to the power of concentrated wealth, and because the state sets the very rules by which such wealth either is or isn’t concentrated. It also must be done because the state nominally speaks for the public and the public interest, as against the private interest.

    Since Reagan, regressive puppet politicians have been spouting anti-state rhetoric and sarcastic venom with increasing intensity. Saint Ron of Hypocrisy told us that government was the problem, not the solution, seemingly without noticing the irony of his massive military build-up or the government-enforced restrictions the right favors on everything from abortion to gay marriage to euthanasia. Now, as gutted and corrupted regulatory institutions have permitted massively harmful meltdowns ranging from Wall Street to coal mines to oil wells, we are forced to listen to sermons from those on the right about the incompetence of government. Well, yeah. If in fact you staff government regulatory bodies with industry shills who are explicitly ordered not to actually, er, regulate, and if you legislate away their power to effectively do so anyhow, and if you pulverize conscientious whistleblowers to within an inch of their lives, then guess what? That little bit of government will in fact be incompetent. In fact, it will be nearly as bad at the competence thing as, say, all the big banks on Wall Street (which had to be rescued by the, uh, government), or all the big auto companies in Detroit (ditto), or British Petroleum, or Enron, or the savings-and-loan industry, or…

    And so, despite the astonishing illogic of it all, the American people now clamor for more harm to be brought upon themselves and more of their money to be looted for the further enrichment of the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population. It certainly doesn’t help that the supposed “party of the people” is every bit as much a part of the problem as anyone else, and arguably far more so given the extra measure of disingenuousness involved. From NAFTA to WTO to welfare ‘reform’ to the Telecommunications Bill, Wall Street never had better friend in the White House than Bill Clinton. That is, until Barack Obama simply outright changed the address of Goldman Sachs’ headquarters to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As we speak, the president and his party in Congress are busy gutting meaningful ‘reform’ of the shamelessly gluttonous finance industry, just as their masters have ordered them to do. And if you think Obama’s bad now, wait until after November. Like Clinton in 1994, he will take the trouncing he’s about to receive in the election as a signal to move even further to the right.

    And thus the Reagan Occupation inches closer yet to a full-blown “mission accomplished”. The middle class is on its knees and shrinking fast. Unions have been broken into irrelevance. Government, supposedly an agent of the public interest, has become a complete tool of those it is meant to monitor. Both political parties are fully owned by the oligarchy. The public has been brainwashed into seeing its allies as enemies and its enemies as allies. We have been drained of hope that any actor on the horizon can come to our rescue.

    Bad policy choices by self-serving politicians? Would that ’twere only thus.

    We are occupied.

  99. Ian Welsh

    Brought back to the top as many current readers won’t have had a chance to read it when it was originally published.

  100. neoconned

    “I was born in 1968. I remember the 70s, albeit from a child’s perspective. They were very different than today. My overwhelming impression is that people were more relaxed, and having a lot more fun. ”

    As the 1970s began, marijuana was to popular and readily available drug of choice. In smoking weed, one became very relaxed and peaceful.

    But Nixon ended these halcyon days, forcing the drug cartels to shift to meth and coke, drugs which heighten anxiety and foment paranoia and violence.

    While a small part of the changes our society went through during those years, there had to have been an effect on the larger population and how they dealt with life’s changes. It also tended to make people susceptible to GOP blandishments delivered through fear.

  101. guest

    Classic old post. I don’t disagree at all, but I would add that from my perspective, from the view of the ordinary citizen observing and participating in democracy from the margins, one thing that has change (aside from the media and all the power structures) is the mentality of voters.
    People used to be much more pragmatic in the 70s, when I was a teen, and logical, and policy mattered.
    Anymore, politics reminds me of one of those late night infomercials where the most desired trait of any product (or political ideology in this analogy) is one that you can “set it, and forget it!”.
    Stoopid in the extreme, but the faith in what passes for “free markets” (don’t get me started), and “small government” (nevermind the huge military), are almost cult like.
    The left has a few of its own feeble anodyne versions, which mostly suck because they are almost intentionally designed to be ineffective. But for the most part all debate is framed around neoconservative and neoliberal articles of faith.
    Policy doesn’t really enter into discussion anymore, except tangentially as it fits in with ideology. You can’t make an argument that something should be done because it would work (like high taxes on the rich, or re-regulating industries), or if you do, it will fall on deaf ears if someone counters that it somehow is “socialist” or “fascist” and will therefore lead to gulags or hurt feelings at David Brooks’s cocktail parties (practically the same thing).

  102. john doe

    Classical liberalism emphasized liberty, while the failing social liberalism after WW2 emphasized more equality.

    A quick study on the subject suggests – perhaps the new idealogy would be best at emphasizing liberty and forgetting about equality. Economic liberty idealogies works great, no matter the social side (look at China’s rise). As shocking and perhaps inhumane as it is – perhaps removal of social ‘equality’ and emphasizing social ‘liberty’ – i.e. no social nets what so ever, no consumer protection – a dog eat dog world, would bring out the best in people’s game. Or some balance of that, more on the liberal side? It would definitely leave the winners lean, ruthless, cunning, and very fit – evolutionarily speaking. While many more would die… perhaps with our capability of mass killing via nuclear weapons is a pretty bad risk. Perhaps that’s why social liberalism emphasizing equality came into effect more after WW2. But forcing equality leaves people weak, and no longer evolutionarily fit.. What do you think?

  103. Tom

    Yeah failure to train successors is always the main fuckup for otherwise good leaders.

    People fail to realize an organization can only survive if it consistently trains its next generation to replace it and trains enough of them that it can absorb massive losses.

    Organizations that don’t burn out, organizations that do such as IS and Taliban can bounce back even from near death and go on to take back substantial ground.

    FDR was a great president, but his successor Truman lacked his skills and was too honest. Compounding it was his failure to go all in Korea. Once he started that war, he should have shown the resolve to win it by granting MacArthur the nuclear release to finish it.

    Eisenhower created an excellent military deterrent that would ensure America’s net war could not be another Korea because it would go nuclear from the get go which would discourage US Presidents from adventurism or so he thought. But Ike stained himself with overthrowing democratic regimes and letting the CIA get out of control.

    Kennedy, idealistic, vain, decided to get involved with Vietnam instead of leaving it to its fate. If he weren’t assassinated, he would have pulled out as he was realizing that the South was unsaveably corrupt.

    Johnson comes in a decides to fight the North. He didn’t go all in, he let Generals pull the wool over his eyes, and failed to raise enough money to support it and his Social programs, thus wrecking the economy. The NVA thus was able to win operational and strategic victories as ARVN was unable to capitalize on US tactical victories. We are seeing this problem today in Afghanistan and against IS. US soldiers can win tactical victories but they are operationally and strategic defeats as the Taliban still holds the ground and villagers know the Taliban will always be around to punish them if they cooperate.

    End result was a wrecked US economy susceptible to oil shock both then and now.

  104. Gordon Pratt

    Concentration of ownership in the media is a big topic. Canada has studied the question twice, the Davey Commission (1970) and the Kent Commission (1981), but done nothing.

  105. someofparts

    Well, was going to leave a comment, but looks like I already did nine years ago. I miss Bad Tux.

  106. someofparts

    Guess it would be good to add that I was in my 20s in the 70s, so I have very strong memories of those days. If there were one thing I wish I could figure out how to share with people these days, it would be the sense of hope that was so reasonable to have back then.

    In the 70s I thought that prosperity would continue and that the only change would be that it would include women and minorities going forward. Starting out poor wasn’t a problem back then because good jobs were plentiful and the basic costs for education, housing and healthcare were reasonable.

    These days, the people I grew up with are prosperous and oblivious. It baffles me that they can’t just use their eyes and see that the people who work at Kroger are miserable. If I presume to mention it, they give me blank baffled looks. Meanwhile, last week in the supermarket checkout line, I made a crack about how all of us are fighting to make enough money to feed our kids while the rich are flying around in private spaceships. As I walked off I heard the cashier and the bagging clerk laughing and laughing.

  107. someofparts

    Speaking of the decline of post war liberalism in Canada, check out this link from NC.

    When you said things were going to get MUCH worse, you weren’t kidding.

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