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On the “pity-charity liberalism” critique

[ 136 ] April 15, 2013 |

It’s a robust internet tradition that the a significant portion of the comments in every post that responds to Matthew Yglesias, or even mentions him in passing, must be dominated by arguments about the proper global assessment of Matthew Yglesias, and the comments on Scott’s post below are no exception. Is he an odious right-winger in drag, or just wrong about certain issues? Does his wrong position of the day stem from ignorance, privilege, limited intellectual capacity, or some combination thereof? And so on and so forth. As far as internet traditions go, this seems like a strong candidate for abandonment for a variety of reasons, one being that it’s boring, and nothing new ever gets said.  But within that tradition, we can occasionally discern some substance. From today’s comments:

The Yglesias position is what Freddie DeBoer has called “pity-charity liberalism”. It reduces the position of the middle class to that of petitioners begging crumbs from their new masters’ tables. And there is no guarantee that these crumbs will be granted. It’s morally appalling and politically unviable.

There’s something to this critique of Yglesias’s preferred model of liberal democracy, to be sure: there are good reasons to prefer various forms of direct empowerment to transfers of wealth. But this characterization of such a form of liberalism troubles me insofar as it devalues democratic accomplishments. If we were ever to get the kind of constellation of policies that Yglesias wants in his “pity-charity liberalism,” which includes generous and robust transfers of wealth, would require an impressive, committed, broad-based political movement to achieve–elites certainly won’t do it on their own. It would necessarily be the result of a lot of people working really hard to change our political system to improve the lives of poor and middle class people. That’s real, empowering work, and all that democratic agency disappears in this characterization of Yglesias’ model. Yglesias himself doesn’t talk much about that work, of course, but that’s neither here nor there in characterizing the model of liberalism he offers.

There’s also an implied presumption in this critique that there’s an alternative model that, if successful, would successfully short-circuit elites from eroding political and economics gains made by the poor and middle classes in the future. This belief, I think is a wise one to resist. There are all manner of ways in poor/middle class political and economic victories can be eroded, clawed back, and undermined; the institutions of “pity-charity liberalism” don’t stand out much in this regard. (The best defense against regression of this sort is, simply, to create programs so popular politicians are afraid to touch them. But even then, such programs can be undermined by policy drift). Such as assumption reveals a profoundly naive understanding of social and political power: the kind of guarantees implied to be available here simply aren’t.  To quote myself, from an academic paper (that I think is quite good but can’t seem to get journal editors to agree):

When considering a particular institutional arrangement, we must choose between two assumptions: Nozick’s view that “whatever arises from a just situation that follows just steps is therefore just” or Shapiro’s view that even just hierarchies and arrangements, when “left unchecked” are potentially in danger of “atrophy(ing) into systems of domination” (Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 151; Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory, p. 4). Nozick’s view is appropriate given his disinclination to view many forms of domination as normatively problematic. But Shapiro’s assumption seems much more fitting for a theorist concerned with opposing all forms of domination, regardless of origin and cause. If we choose Shapiro’s view, even if the rules and institutional structure of a legislative and contestatory democratic regime are constructed as well as they possibly could be, they might cause—or fail to prevent—some forms of domination.

The Nozickian assumption isn’t limited to libertarianism, it lurks all over the place; for example in the seemingly endless parade of “if only we’d abandon Roe and follow my 6 step plan, abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button political issue” nonsense Scott has to deal with, but it’s not something progressives should succumb to, in any form. Politics doesn’t end, elites are creative and sneaky SOBs, and there are no guarantees, in the long run.

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  1. I would think that the underlying premise here, that anyone who is in need of social services (including, obviously, Social Security and Medicaid!) is a loser to be “pitied,” would be enough to get it drummed out of respectable left-of-center discussions.

    • Scott P. says:

      Except that the term “pity-charity liberalism” was coined by its opponents precisely in order to drum it out of respectable left-of-center discussions.

    • Malaclypse says:

      I never read this as being the critique. The argument is not that, for example, anybody who needs food stamps is a loser, the argument is that it is really easy for the right wing to paint the recipients of any means-tested program as a loser. “Programs for the poor become poorly-funded programs,” and all that.

      Another example: there is a stigma to being a Section 8 recipient, yet there is no stigma to writing off mortgage interest on one’s taxes.

      Once a program benefits the middle class, it is a metric shit-ton more difficult to disrupt than one that benefits the poor. That is not a statement calling the poor losers to be pitied, it is a recognition that elites don’t care about the poor.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        That’s my understanding as well.

        I think it can be abused. It can be bent into a sort of argument against means-testing and for universal cuts. But, in general, I think universality by default is a good thing. I don’t mind the rich in the UK using the NHS. I don’t think the rich in the US should pay for public schooling. They, of course, can use private services, but I don’t see a lot of joy in filtering them out.

        (Obviously, for cash transfers we want to be less generous to the rich. But I’m ok with them getting the child benefit.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think the rich in the US should pay for public schooling.

          Surely you mean the opposite of that?

          In general, I agree with the point here. But: any welfare system is going to have some programs that target certain populations, and figuring out which ones and how much isn’t aided by the ‘pity-charity’ formulation as far as I can tell.

      • tt says:

        As I said in the last thread, I think this is a misreading of the original accusation implied in the term “pity-charity liberalism” (I think this is the first usage of the term to refer to Yglesias-style liberalism:http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/are-we-at-the-completion-of-the-liberal-project/). After all, it was used originally in the health care reform debate, and even the upper-middle class stands to benefit in direct and transparent ways from PPACA. The point isn’t that the programs Yglesias et al supports aren’t broad enough, but that they don’t do enough to empower workers.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Hmm. I’m trying to poke around a bit more and stumbled upon this which includes:

          I think it’s important not to do that. The important thing about public services is the provision of services, not the provision of jobs. The right question to ask about firefighters’ pensions isn’t a moralizing one, it’s a practical one—will reducing them imperil public safety in some important way? The answer is sometimes that, yes, you really do need to stand up for the public sector. Congressional efforts to “de-fund” various regulatory agencies and/or push for staffing reductions or salary freezes is a clear effort to do an end-run around enforcement of environmental, labor, civil rights, and financial regulation. But the point of our local transit agency is to provide transportation services, not to improve the living standards of bus drivers and it’s possible for public sector personnel expenditures to be wasteful even without it being the case that the janitors at the DMV are the real fat cats of our time or any such nonsense.

          Sigh.

          • tt says:

            Yes, exactly. That’s a great example of the difference between Yglesianism and the more mainstream progressive movement. Yglesias wants to pay firefighters exactly so much as to optimize some function of cost and public safety, then spend the savings on broad-based redistributionary social programs.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Repellent, really. In many ways, much worse than I liked to think of him.

              • tt says:

                How so? I’m not exactly a Yglesian, but I think it has an attractive egalitarianism to it. Why should a firefighter be given more than an unemployed person, or someone poorly-paid in the public sector? Well, as long as that wage can be justified by improving the provision of valuable public goods, great. But why should the state give the firefighter more than that, just for his or her own benefit, rather than distributing the wealth more broadly?

                • tt says:

                  That should be “private sector”

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Well, combine this one with the one about teacher unions and you have an argument that public sector employees should be exploited, i.e., a justification of anti-unionism as moral.

                  (He wiggles a bit about it, of course, but that’s the essence, esp. as you phrased it.)

                  I think government should treat its workers with exemplary respect and model good employer-employee relations. And that means dealing with, indeed nurturing, strong unions. Furthermore, it has good ripple effects, both directly (hey! these people have good jobs and thus can afford lots of things) and indirectly (hey! lookit at those great jobs! check the job security! those are things I can aspire to).

                  Plus, I would think that government-employee relations are exactly where the dramatic power imbalance even more requires a counterweight.

                  I don’t find your zero-summing persuasive. First off, the firefighter does deserve more because they are an employee. Second, I’m pretty sure that lavish public sector employment contracts are one of those totally uninteresting contributions to the budget. I don’t think we should even be thinking about nickel and diming there unless the circumstances were radically different.

                  Screwing public employees is a miserable policy.

                • More specifically, even if you don’t agree with it, “pay public sector employees the amount that maximizes the value of public services to everyone” is a far cry from “god damn mooching government employees,” and not really my idea of a “repellant” policy position.

                • You can, of course, “respect [public sector] unions” and simultaneously not accede to every demand they make when you’re on the other side of the bargaining table. Though, much like Yglesias’ bit on teachers’ unions, this seems very strawmanish to me.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  How so? I’m not exactly a Yglesian, but I think it has an attractive egalitarianism to it. Why should a firefighter be given more than an unemployed person, or someone poorly-paid in the public sector?

                  Because in the real world, cutting wages for firefighters leads to increased welfare for poor people exactly never.

                • An economy: useful for keeping people employed or inefficient elitist boondoggle?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Really Brien? Note the actual question MY poses:

                  The right question to ask about firefighters’ pensions isn’t a moralizing one, it’s a practical one—will reducing them imperil public safety in some important way?

                  This is precisely repellent because it treats the firefighters without dignity or worthy of respect (as well as being counterproductive in many ways! two for one!).

                  (I do love the “important” qualification. What exactly is an “unimportant” way of imperil public safety?)

                  Now, ok, he’s pushing back against “make-work liberalism”:

                  Somewhat in that spirit I want to complain that in response to overreaching rightwing attacks on public services, I feel like I’m seeing a lot of people come dangerously close to explicit advocacy for what I’d call “make-work liberalism,” where the goal of the liberal project is to offer direct public sector employment to as many people on as generous terms as possible rather than try to actually make the economy work.

                  And guess what! There’s another position which requires neither optimising the exploitation of government workers nor handing out sinceres to all and sundry. You can negotiate with a strong union and reach a reasonable, mutually acceptable balance of worker and employer interests.

                  Plus, c’mon. This is a con game even if MY doesn’t realize it. Under what scenario are we going to get a raising up of the social net if we just break the public unions? The real end game to this (in the current US) is more immiseration, weaker workers and middle class, and general crap.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You can, of course, “respect [public sector] unions” and simultaneously not accede to every demand they make when you’re on the other side of the bargaining table.

                  And? I’ve denied this where?

                  I have said that “Yglesias wants to pay firefighters exactly so much as to optimize some function of cost and public safety, then spend the savings on broad-based redistributionary social programs.” is repellent. I don’t see how that goal is compatible with respecting any union. I guess if you acknowledge that crappily treated workers tend to be less great workers and you work that into your function you can pretend that it’ll all come out right and tight.

                  But I think that’s a delusion. And I think that the government should care about all its citizens including its employees.

                  This is compatible with the idea that (some) public workers make some sacrifices relative to (some) private sector workers. E.g., teachers aren’t going to strike it rich working that high school English gig.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  More specifically, even if you don’t agree with it, “pay public sector employees the amount that maximizes the value of public services to everyone” is a far cry from “god damn mooching government employees,” and not really my idea of a “repellant” policy position.

                  Thinking about this some more, I want to push back on it even harder. How is the first a far cry from the second? I don’t think there’s a slippery slope between them, and the latter surely is more naked and contemptuous, but aren’t the outcome similar? I.e., squeeze the government employees more? How does this not, in practice, lead to the same sorts of maximally exploitative practices we see in the private sector?

                • Because, in theory, the purpose of the “savings” from not “overpaying” government employees is to leave more money to maximize public services, not return profit to shareholders? I mean, I agree with Mal that the problem with this theory is that it simply doesn’t actually work that way in practice, ever, but that makes it a problem of naivete/overly enthusiastic adherence to theory, not an evil desire to exploit workers to enrich the wealthy even further.

                • “I have said that “Yglesias wants to pay firefighters exactly so much as to optimize some function of cost and public safety, then spend the savings on broad-based redistributionary social programs.” is repellent. I don’t see how that goal is compatible with respecting any union.”

                  Wait, what? I don’t approve of the new rule in baseball’s CBA that prohibits signing draft picks to Major League contracts, nor of the NBA’s one year waiting period rule. This necessarily means that I want some additional number of union members to lose their jobs to lower paid workers every year. But I still respect their right to unionize and bargain.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Because, in theory, the purpose of the “savings” from not “overpaying” government employees is to leave more money to maximize public services, not return profit to shareholders?

                  And this prevents exploitation how? Doesn’t it sanitise the exploitation since it is “for the public good”?

                  I mean, I agree with Mal that the problem with this theory is that it simply doesn’t actually work that way in practice, ever, but that makes it a problem of naivete/overly enthusiastic adherence to theory, not an evil desire to exploit workers to enrich the wealthy even further.

                  But the theory is crap as well. Why not just conscript everyone for public services? That’s certainly cheaper than having employees, and while there might be some inefficiencies, I’m pretty sure we’ll come out cheaper overall.

                  There’s a reasonable position here, but the one tt attributes to MY is not it.

                  Indeed, the “use government jobs as a redistribution mechanism” is better than that!

                  (And really, I’m confused that you don’t see that the objective function approach inherently disrespects the government employees.)

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Wait, what? I don’t approve of the new rule in baseball’s CBA that prohibits signing draft picks to Major League contracts, nor of the NBA’s one year waiting period rule. This necessarily means that I want some additional number of union members to lose their jobs to lower paid workers every year. But I still respect their right to unionize and bargain.

                  But, afaict, inMY doesn’t:

                  why some people could be generally liberal but “hate” teachers unions.

                  The most salient difference, completely absent from his armchair psychologizing, is surely that public school teachers work for the government. If AT&T workers get a better deal for themselves, that may well mean a worse deal for people who bought AT&T stock in past years but I’m not going to cry on their behalf. By contrast, if Chicago public school teachers get a better deal for themselves that may well mean a worse deal for Chicago taxpayers.

                  The point is that by legitimising screwing the workers as not just permissible but nigh demanded because, y’know, the taxpayers, I don’t see how you can endorse union bargining. The union members themselves are bound by the moral imperative as much as anyone else.

                • Hogan says:

                  Why should a firefighter be given more than an unemployed person, or someone poorly-paid in the public sector?

                  I think I see the problem.

                • And this prevents exploitation how? Doesn’t it sanitise the exploitation since it is “for the public good”?

                  Doesn’t this just raise the question of why we don’t pay them literally whatever they ask for? I mean….shouldn’t the government lead by example and make all of their employees 1%ers?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  To be clear, I’m not saying that to be pro-union and union rights means you need to agree with every union move, private or public. I don’t agree with some union caving ins and I don’t agree with some union strikes. Unions are just human institutions among others.

                  But you do have to think that workers organizing for their interests is a good thing. MY doesn’t think that, afaict, in the public case because in the public case, the only things you are “allowed” to consider are cost and benefit to the employers (i.e., the public). The only way the workers fit in is as members of the public.

                  But this is nuts. The same argument can be run for private industry: the workers can benefit from lower prices!

                  Societally, however, we benefit from strong unions and from people having good jobs. The people benefit from these directly as well. We have interests in there being good jobs from good employers and one way government can help this is by enacting the good employer role. That may not optimise the firefighting cost/benefit narrowly construed. But that narrow construal is precisely what I find repellent both directly (because it requires disregard for the firefighters when they are citizens too!) and indirectly (because I don’t see how it’s going to do anything by destroy the public work force; the redistributive utopia is nowhere to be had on this path).

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Doesn’t this just raise the question of why we don’t pay them literally whatever they ask for?

                  No.

                  I mean….shouldn’t the government lead by example and make all of their employees 1%ers?

                  As this is not in the governments capability to do this, again, no.

                  And since that’s not something that would be emulatable by companies, then again, no.

                  These aren’t hard questions.

                • “The point is that by legitimising screwing the workers as not just permissible but nigh demanded because, y’know, the taxpayers, I don’t see how you can endorse union bargining. ”

                  This is, obviously, an example of the excluded middle. “You either support giving the union everything they want or you oppose their collective bargaining rights!”

                • jb says:

                  I agree with Bijan here that cutting public-sector pensions, or for that matter pensions in general, is quite bad.

                  However, the current trend towards cutting public sector pensions is not exclusively due to right-wing ideology. It also has larger factors behind it.

                  Los Angeles is a pretty good example of this. L.A. has reasonably strong public-sector unions, at least as compared to the very weak private sector ones. When the economy was better off, the city government held the wages of city workers down. In order to compensate for not raising wages, the city government increased the pensions and retirement benefits of city workers. These pensions were calculated on the assumption that the relatively strong economic growth California was experiencing in the 1990′s would continue. That obviously did not happen, with the result that the pensions and retirement benefits grew into a much larger share of the budget than anyone anticipated. Furthermore, the recession caused tax revenues to plunge, and thus caused a huge deficit.

                  I could be wrong, but I believe that LA is actually required to run a balanced budget. Thus, the deficit means that either city services need to be cut or taxes have to be raised. The city government has already made huge cuts in services, which has caused serious problems. However, raising taxes has been quite difficult for it, because of strong public opposition to tax hikes. Just this year, a sales tax increase meant to help solve the cities finances was rejected by the voters. Additionally, both mayoral candidates have said they want to cut the business tax. Thus,the obvious solution, an increase in revenue, is politically impossible.

                  Given that LA has already cut other services to the bone, and that raising revenue is politically impossible, how is L.A. supposed to balance it’s budget without cutting public pensions?

                  Look, I don’t blame the public-sector unions. They were defending the interests of their workers-which is their job. And it is beyond me why the politicians didn’t just raise their wages during the economic boom. But there is a serious problem here.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Hi JB,

                  Given that LA has already cut other services to the bone, and that raising revenue is politically impossible, how is L.A. supposed to balance it’s budget without cutting public pensions?

                  This is a different problem than the one MY is raising, afaict. MY is not talking about what do you do in a crises (even a crises manufactured by the people now fixing it by going back on prior deals), but the “normal” case.

                  Look, I don’t blame the public-sector unions. They were defending the interests of their workers-which is their job.

                  Well, and it’s not like the demands themselves were unsupportable. Mostly artifical constraints are trying things, e.g., the desire to screw the unions, the unwillingness of the feds to provide stimulus money, etc.

                  And it is beyond me why the politicians didn’t just raise their wages during the economic boom. But there is a serious problem here.

                  Or any of a number of other things. And it’s not even all LA, but really the austerity wankers in Congress.

                  But this is orthogonal to the current debate, I think.

                • jb says:

                  Actually, I think I see why they didn’t raise wages. Its because they might have had to raise taxes, and both the politicians and voters in California have an incredible aversion to taxes.

                  But many other cities in CA face the same situation as Los Angeles.

                  And again, given that tax hikes are politically impossible, what are they supposed to do?

                • jb says:

                  Well, and it’s not like the demands themselves were unsupportable. Mostly artifical constraints are trying things, e.g., the desire to screw the unions, the unwillingness of the feds to provide stimulus money, etc.

                  Well, yes and no.

                  My understanding is that the rates in the retirement benefits and pensions were set at high levels because it was assumed that the economy would keep on growing at high rates. When this didn’t happen, problems began.

                  So the demands were reasonable for the time, but failed to anticipate a possible recession.

                  And while I would like it if the Feds gave us assistance, that doesn’t seem likely.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                “The point is that by legitimising screwing the workers as not just permissible but nigh demanded because, y’know, the taxpayers, I don’t see how you can endorse union bargining. ”

                This is, obviously, an example of the excluded middle. “You either support giving the union everything they want or you oppose their collective bargaining rights!”

                Since I gave an example of a middle ground position, no, it’s not such an example. That is, I was not making that fallacy in this thread and you do not do well to accuse me of such.

                Even your paraphrase is wildly inaccurate. The point is that if unions are “evil” because benefiting their interests comes at the expense of someone interests which is ok if they come at the expense of the fat catas but not ok if they come at the expense of the taxpayers, well, yeah, I don’t see how you can (well, easily) endorse union bargining. They are, on this view, depriving taxpayers.

                Now, obviously, there’s going to be some moves about happy workers are better, and screwed workers compromise public safety, etc. But I’d like to see those moves before I attribute them to anyone.

                • I don’t really think that saying “acquiescing to union demands in bargaining is bad (in some certain case) because it doesn’t represent good value in procuring public services” is nearly the same thing as saying “public sector unions are evil.” Basically, the government in this situation is going to have to act as management and represent an actual opposition when it comes to bargaining. But you can, in fact, take an oppositional stance on the specifics of a negotiation while also respecting the workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain, and to ask for whatever they want to ask for.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I don’t think we disagree on this point. Though, again, I’d expect government qua management to take a broader view than private companies. They can advance other goals than just the narrow goal of a particular job (cf, integrating the army). They can take a less profit maximising view (and thus cut deals which aren’t ridiculous but aren’t cost/benefit optimal).

                  But I don’t see the parathentical in any MY post. It’s not that it’s bad in some certain case, but it’s bad period. MY seems to think in some cases that the only other view is “Unions, whatever! Take it all”. But as was argued extensively at the time, no one believes that.

                  So I agree that: “But you can, in fact, take an oppositional stance on the specifics of a negotiation while also respecting the workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain, and to ask for whatever they want to ask for”

                  I disagree that that is what MY’s view is, in so far as I can determine.

                  So, no problem with that view, lots of problem with MY’s.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Seriously, the teacher union article argues essentially that liberals should side with management against public unions. There’s no qualifications, there’s no discussion of the specifics, there’s no limitation to people on the government’s negotiating team.

                • Yeah, I don’t think I disagree past saying that I think Yglesias’ view here is much closer to naive than “repellant.”

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  (going to bed now, so won’t reply for a while)

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Yeah, I don’t think I disagree past saying that I think Yglesias’ view here is much closer to naive than “repellant.”

                  Fair enough.

                  I do wonder how much charity MY should get for being “naive” rather than evil per se. At some point, there’s not much difference and, as Erik and Paul pointed out MY was pushing this crap during the strike.

                  I find his naivete culpable. It’s not rocket science and this is multiple posts over multiple years include, IIRC, distortions of research in order to further the attack on teacher unions.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  And so I fulfill all the conditions for a DRAMATIC EXIT!!! WHO WOULD HAVE ANTICIPATED!

                • John says:

                  At what point does naivete become repellent? Matt’s been making the same arguments from first principles for years now without ever taking into account the real arguments of people who disagree with him.

                  I’m not sure I completely agree with Brien’s arguments here (I’m much more sympathetic to Bijan’s, certainly, and on comment threads about Yglesias, I certainly tend to find Brien much too sympathetic to Yglesias), but I don’t find him to be either repellent or naive – but that’s because he’s been slowly refining his argument in response to Bijan’s push back, to the point where both of you have found a fair amount of common ground.

                  The problem with Yglesias is that he pretty much never does this – and he certainly never does this on these kinds of issues. He knocks down straw man after straw man, always taking on the weakest arguments of his opponents rather than the strongest, and as a result his arguments on these subjects remain essentially identical to what they were when he first expressed them years ago.

                  If he were willing to read a criticism and say, “Okay, I see what this person is objecting to, and there’s a real point there, so I want to clarify my argument to explain why that objection is not actually germane,” that would be one thing. But he basically never does this – he just repeats the same well-worn arguments over and over, and pretends that the side of the argument doesn’t exist.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Let me distinguish the naivete of the view from the naivete of the holder.

                  The view that public sector unions should be regarded as distinct from private sector unions because in the former case they are negotiating with “the people” and the interests of the people are paramount whereas in the private sector case they are negotiating for private resource so, whatever, grab what you can is, I think, pernicious. I see no way to hold that in its basic form that is sensible (and tt seems to hold it in a particularly raw form).

                  You might argue that we should maximize the social safety net so that the only consideration that was reasonable for public employees was cost/benefit to the public in the form of the cost/benefit of the particular job, narrowly construed. If we had universal health care, basic income guarantee, and well funded social security (plus free education), then, well, I might well agree that public sector unions were otiose. But while ponies are raining down in all their majestic glory, I might success that a universal conscription/service program might be workable as well!

                  This is not merely naive, it’s utopianism. I’m happy to contemplate utopianism, but I find that someone who is making persistent arguments that only remotely make sense in utopian conditions in highly non-utopian conditions owns the dystopian results.

                  Combine this with the repeated suggestion that the opposition is a bunch of “whatever union wanters!” (e.g., Brien, your attempted reductio to 1% is an example of this move), then I think you have straight up anti-unionism, indeed, anti-worker anti-unionism.

                  This seems to be MY’s persistent position, which I find repellent as I find most anti-union moves, regardless of whether they are dressed up in nominally worker-friendly terminology (“right to work” comes to mind).

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Is he an odious right-winger in drag, or just wrong about certain issues? Does his wrong position of the day stem from ignorance, privilege, limited intellectual capacity, or some combination thereof? And so on and so forth. As far as internet traditions go, this seems like a strong candidate for abandonment for a variety of reasons, one being that it’s boring, and nothing new ever gets said.

    If we can apply this principle universally (e.g. to Glenn Greenwald), we’d really be getting somewhere.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Where would we be getting?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        At the very least, we’d be getting away from boring and empty fights over whether GG and/or LGM bloggers are so very, very wrong because they write from a place of white, male privilege.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Well, I would love it if we established first who was so very very wrong before trying to explain why.

          By and large, however, I find neither of these things hugely boring. If I did, I wouldn’t read or participate. (E.g., I generally find feed trolls pancakes very boring, so I skip those).

          There are, amidst the silly stuff, some important matters in dispute. I agree that, in some sense, it doesn’t matter if MY is 30% hack or 90% hack (one should, perhaps, attend to the arguments). But in many other senses it matters a fair bit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, I would love it if we established first who was so very very wrong before trying to explain why.

            +50

            • Pinko Punko says:

              I’d also note that the thread lower down has a lot of interesting stuff- some great comments from aimai, and a reasonable discussing, even under the veneer of us having the same old argument about MY. Maybe they are new arguments in the cloak of former arguments. 100 Years of Yearning for Solitude from MY

  3. Pinko Punko says:

    djw- looking forward to digesting your take on this.

    1) You have an immense amount of credit on issues because you have a track record of being thoughtful and of maintaining a dialog on issues (your ideas do not appear to be wholly fixed in light of new information, for example).

    2) Compare the above with ideas about a hypothetical individual who has amassed negative credit or a somewhat negative track record on issues of dialog or for example expertise.

    3) At some point, and this may be hyperbole, we consider individuals whose job is solely pundit and we ask what value their opinion has (even when it is not solely nil) and we ask do we want to advance such a person by maintaining them in the discourse or would we look elsewhere for expertise. Even if we keep this person in the discourse, what point do we start asking this person for direct answers relating to stances on troubling areas, or do we assess whether their are conflicts of interest that need be declared?

    4) Is there any accumulation of bad work, sloppy work, naiveté, lack of expertise that could ever render this individual of losing their position of respect?

    • rea says:

      Is there any accumulation of bad work, sloppy work, naiveté, lack of expertise that could ever render this individual of losing their position of respect?

      The obvious solution would be regular, standardized testing of MY’s readership.

    • Anna in PDX says:

      This is how I feel about most pundits. I don’t have to give them the benefit of the doubt if their daily columns are either trivial or wrong or hackery, and they are right once in a great while the same way as a stopped clock is. MY is not the worst by any means, but given that my list has Brooks and Friedman on it, it’s a pretty low bar not to be the worst.

    • djw says:

      Thanks for your kind words. My posting is sporadic and rare enough that I’m surprised anyone has opinions about me at all anymore.

      Is there any accumulation of bad work, sloppy work, naiveté, lack of expertise that could ever render this individual of losing their position of respect?

      I’m not sure I understand the question. If you mean losing their position of respect in general, obviously the bar is really, really, low: see NYT and Wapo op ed pages and Sunday morning shows. If you mean lose respect from me, I admit I don’t really think much about this. It seems like these concerns are more about trust than respect. So, for example: If Yglesias had a post that purported to characterize a new study on some aspect of ed reform, I’d be a lot more skeptical about ,it than I would the exact same post coming from, say, Ezra Klein–who is, I think, more positively disposed toward the “reform” movement than I am, but whom I also trust to get research and details right on this kind of topic. (But that doesn’t mean I trust Klein unreservedly; I wouldn’t give him much credibility on questions of political strategy for the left, for example.) But if MY followed that up with a smart observation about, say, Fed policy or intellectual property or whatever, the fact that I don’t entirely trust him on some other issues and kinds of analysis wouldn’t really influence my reading of it. All of this has little to do with the question of respect, which I honestly don’t think all that much about.

      I suspect MY generates so much of this sort of discussion is that, for whatever reason, he is the subject about more disagreement about how to characterize him with respect to your (3) than most other people not named Glenn Greenwald.

  4. shah8 says:

    It’s just the Yglesias variant of firebagging. Just drag the thread back on topic when people who care most about castigating Yglesias start spewing stuff everywhere. Or DNFT, for goodness sake!

  5. Brandon says:

    “Politics doesn’t end, elites are creative and sneaky SOBs, and there are no guarantees, in the long run.”

    Perfect.

  6. Peter Hovde says:

    “There are all manner of ways in poor/middle class political and economic victories can be eroded, clawed back, and undermined; the institutions of “pity-charity liberalism” don’t stand out much in this regard.”

    A fine example: the decline of organized labor, which is hardly “pity-charity.”

    • Peter Hovde says:

      Though of course organized labor is still a crucial political supporter of a range of income transfer policies, and, as Erik has noted, MY’s relative lack of interest in labor issues indicates a political naivete with respect to the stuff he does care about.

      • Josh G. says:

        If he merely had a “lack of interest” in labor issues, that would be an improvement. He actively dislikes unions, protectionism, and immigration restrictions.

        • I don’t see any evidence that he “actively dislikes” unions. As for the other two, good!

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            I think there is evidence tha the dislikes public worker unions.

            There was a dust up here over it ;)

            And like regulation, in this situation his sorta passive aggressive flirtation with anti public unionism is indistinguishable from certain flavours of anti unionism.

            • I don’t necessarily think that’s a critique of unions, so much as its a statement that you shouldn’t side with a public sector union on an issue just because its a union with no concern for the merits of the proposal. I’d say that’s definitely a strawman, but I’d also say that if you replaced “teachers” with “police” in the equation that you’d get very little disagreement from the vast majority of the left.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                I don’t really want to relitigate that but your rephrasing doesn’t do him any good. One should always consider the merits of a union deal, after all.

                (IIRC, this was during the strike!)

                I agree it’s not a full throated attack but I also think its akin to his cheating scandal post (well less nakedly awful).

                If the vast majority of the left would piss on a police union in the same way I surely hope I’d speak out against them.

                • Well, I did say he was beating up a strawman.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Yes but I’m still confused by your comment ie whether you think his comment was anti public union.

                  My impression is that that’s not atypical of his teacher union posts.

                  I don’t think this damns him entirely (definitely not solely on that) but it does seem to support MY as not a big friend of the unions.

                • I think his comment was a total strawman against supporting anything a public sector union proposes just because they’re a union. Given that teachers’ unions tend to propose very good policy, I think it’s a bit ignornat of the topic matter, to the point it could bridge on being anti-public sector unions from a practical standpoiint, but I don’t think he’s anti-union in the sense that a genreic Republican is by any means.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I don’t think he’s anti-union in the sense that a genreic Republican is by any means.

                  Oh, well, sure. I understand that there are some people vent otherwise, but it’s clear that MY is reasonably left leaning, esp. overall.

  7. John Glover says:

    “Politics doesn’t end, elites are creative and sneaky SOBs, and there are no guarantees, in the long run.”

    That’s why the whole idea of a “grand bargain” is so stupid. In a system where the government turns over regularly, and statutes can always be amended and repealed, there’s no such thing as permanence, and seeking it is, to put it mildly, very unwise….

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      A Grand Bargin can be a clever move if you bet right. The bet you generally need to make is that the stuff you get has legs and the stuff you gave can be fixed (or lived with).

      So, I find CCPI a bad, but not catastrophic, move because it’s one of those things that it is hard to repeal (hence bad) but doesn’t destroy the program (hence not catastrophic).

      • tucker says:

        It’s bad because it’s unnecessary and catastrophic for those who will suffer the consequences in the long and short run.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Well, it’s bad because it is unnecessary and it hurts a bunch of people and is unlikely to be repealed. The “not repealed” part is key.

          I don’t think CCPI will be have a catastrophic material effect on even the most vulnerable recipients, by which I mean that switching to CCPI doesn’t entirely destroy the beneficial effects of the program. (Compare with privatisation.)

          Of course, the non-catastrophic nature makes people more willing to flirt with bad policy.

  8. Greg says:

    Yglesias’ main prescription for improving the welfare of the working class is for the Fed to actually pay attention to the employment part of its dual mandate and be more aggressive in using monetary policy to keep the economy at full employment. That’s hardly pity-charity. And as far as I’m aware, he’s the only prominent writer on the left (or one of very few) who’s keeping attention focused on this.

    • spencer says:

      This is one of a few reasons why I’m not willing to write him off, even in light of his persistently idiotic education reform pieces.

      • Yeah, I don’t really see what’s terribly hard to get about this. Yglesias is very bad on some things (education reform), and very good on other things (beating the monetary policy horse, local government things, environmental policy, foreign policy and focusing on the actual POOR as opposed to just the middle/working class). Alas, he gets work as a generalist as opposed to just focusing on the things he’s good on, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s both entirely liberal and very good on a certain set of issues he likes to write about.

    • tonycpsu says:

      +1. As long as the rest of the leftosphere consistently pushes back against “eventheliberal Matt Yglesias thinks teacher unions suck” turning into “even liberals think teacher unions suck”, he’s squarely in the “asset to liberalism” column.

  9. Josh G. says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment.

    I agree that the process of expanding the social safety net can be empowering for ordinary citizens who participate in that process. And I’m certainly not opposed to it in any way – I want to see a significantly broader safety net and an end to means-testing whenever possible. (Imagine if food stamps were a universal entitlement, rather than something reserved for the poor. They’d be taken for granted as part of the average middle-class household budget, and would be as hard to cut back as Social Security. How do we get there from here?)

    And, yes, it is true that there is no way to ensure that progressive gains will endure forever. We will always have to be on the lookout for right-wing reaction, at least for the forseeable future. But some gains are more defensible than others. There’s a reason why Social Security endured while AFDC was abolished.

    The problem with Matthew Yglesias’s position is that (as far as I can tell) he pretty much wants to achieve progressive goals only through redistribution. Let employers screw over workers as hard as they want; the government can make up for it. Let American workers be exposed to competition from the poorest and most desperate people in the world; we can always tax the businesses to provide a social safety net so it’s all good, right?

    This is what is meant by “pity-charity liberalism”. It’s flawed for several reasons. It fails to take into account how easily wealth translates into political power, especially in the post-Citizens United U.S. If corporations become richer and workers become poorer, that makes redistribution simultaneously more necessary and more difficult to achieve. It makes it all too easy to create bipartisan “compromises” where the labor market “reforms” are enacted, but the social safety net improvements that were supposed to make the changes palatable are not. (This, as I pointed out before, is exactly what happened in the 1990s with NAFTA.) It clashes with American culture – the post-WWII solution of strong unions and Keynesian stimulus let American workers convince themselves that they were responsible for their own success, while pity-charity liberalism strips away the veil and forces them to confront their dependency head-on. And it also makes it easier for capitalists to believe (and in some cases, even convince their workers to believe) that the pre-tax distribution of income is the “natural” outcome of a “free market” rather than the deliberate choice of policy, and that all of the redistributional programs needed to make it work are unnatural distortions to be corrected.

    • J.W. Hamner says:

      I’ll agree that his plan of “just cutting checks to poor people” instead of paternalistic wealth transfers like food stamps, would be incredibly easy to demonize and generally unpopular (see T-bones and Cadillacs criticism of welfare)… but for the middle class wealth redistribution is largely invisible since it just works out to paying less taxes, having the government supply your health care, and/or better Social Security based retirement benefits.

      I guess I need to hear what opponents of this so called “pity charity” would do instead to really understand the alternative being advanced here.

    • sonamib says:

      It fails to take into account how easily wealth translates into political power

      This. How can we hope to achieve a more egalitarian society by increasing the pre-tax wealth disparity? The neoliberal policies advocated by MY would disempower (even more) the very people who’d have to fight for wealth redistribution, and empower the rich assholes who’d very much like to keep it all, thanks.

      Of course the elites will try to undermine the social safety net in whatever economic model we live in. The trick is to tip the balance of power away from the elites, so they won’t always win the fight against the 99%.

    • “Let American workers be exposed to competition from the poorest and most desperate people in the world…”

      Would you like a second to re-think the phrasing of this?

    • djw says:

      Josh, thanks for the reply. Insofar as we’re talking about a “do everything through redistribution” model, I think your last paragraph is a pretty good critique of such a model. (My intent was to critique the critique, not defend the model). I also think it’s a very different critique than the one quoted in the original post. In particular, it doesn’t rely at all, as far as I can tell, on the original presentation of the critique’s caricature of the state-individual in the redistributive state.

  10. silversterling says:

    I’ve never been able to figure out why the blogosphere or broader media are supposed to listen to the musings of Yglesias, or Reihan Salam, or Ross Douthat. In the latter case, Douthat managed to elevate himself to the NYT op-ed page (for a variety reasons, I imagine), but overall, what have any of these guys ever done to make them worth listening to on any subject requiring real expertise?

    What is it? They’re Smart^TM? They all went to Harvard? Is that really it? I look at their resumes, and I see they’re all in their early 30′s, were all relatively privileged in their upbringings, and have really done nothing else besides be pundits their entire adult lives. So why are they everywhere (Reihan and Douthat have been on Real Time w/BM frequently) and are being quoted in the blogosphere so regularly?

    I mean, the bloggers here mostly discuss things from the perspective of their academic pursuits. Elsewhere bloggers who are widely read have *some* professional accomplishments besides being reasonably smart and well-read bearing the Ultimate Mark of Educational Quality. These guys have no expertise developed outside being blogger/pundits whatsoever. Even Ezra Klein made himself into a sort of policy wonk before he became a WaPo writer and MSNBC head.

    Best I can tell they were all previously affiliated with Andrew Sullivan in one way or another. And, love him or hate him, even Sullivan was a professional academic, writer, and editor for the TNR pre-Internet. Is that all it takes to be a Serious Person these days? Can anyone clear this up for me?

    • rea says:

      How was MY affiliated in any way with Sullivan?

      • BFFs? says:

        But it’s been a real thrill to spend some time as an “Atlantic Voice” and get to know Andrew and Ambinder, to work with Ross and Reihan and Megan…

        They both worked at the Atlantic at the same time but the more meaningful connection is Sullivan using ‘even the liberal Matt Yglesias’ as a cudgel.

    • tonycpsu says:

      I wouldn’t necessarily put Yglesias in the same box as Salam or Douthat, and certainly not someone like McArdle.

      Before he became Big Media Matt, he worked his ass off, inasmuch as one can “work one’s ass off” while blogging. He posted a fuck ton of content, and there wasn’t a whole lot of filler. A lot of it was genuine advocacy for real, liberal positions, with supporting data that could help people in the mushy middle understand the justification for those policies. (This was before he started to focus more on his neoliberaltarian fetishes like easing zoning restrictions, some of which I agree with, but not with his Panglossian zeal.) He really wrote some good stuff, and a lot of it was entertaining to read.

      Part of why he succeeded certainly has to do with his connections, and part of it was being in the right place at the right time when political blogging became a thing you could make a living at, but I’d say better him than a lot of other assholes who got big time blogging gigs around that time.

    • rea says:

      And you know, what MY did that caused him to become prominent is, he was one of the inventors of blogging (although far from the only person in that catagory).

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        I cannot think of anyway that MY was an inventor or even populariser of blogging.

        MY started blogging in 2002. We’d seen several generations of blogging software by that point both homespun and professional. There had been rich debates on how blogging should work etc etc etc

  11. Marc says:

    I have a more fundamental reservation about Matt. On any individual issue he may be right, but he’s more interested in advocacy for his instincts than in honestly evaluating arguments to the contrary. This leads him badly astray, in places where I can detect it. And I’m therefore reluctant to accept his arguments in cases where I have to trust his judgment. (The same comment applies to Greenwald, for what it’s worth.)

    Today’s column is a good example. He attacks neighborhood public schools without ever addressing why anyone might like them (for example, that there is some virtue in letting kids walk to school, or encouraging parents to participate in the PTA, or not making kids spend a couple of hours a day on busses.) There are legitimate arguments against them too (ethnic and economic segregation tied to residential housing patterns.) But he doesn’t even bother to address the actual reasons that people have for wanting them, even to dismiss them.

    If you’re going to write about substantive disputes you at least have to understand the argument of the other side; if nothing else it lets you counter it more effectively. MY doesn’t do that, right or wrong. And he has entirely too much half-baked theorizing and relies far too much on dubious analogies, e.g. teaching is exactly like being in a rock band, so one teacher can serve 50 students or 50,000…

    • Dilan Esper says:

      Today’s column is a good example. He attacks neighborhood public schools without ever addressing why anyone might like them (for example, that there is some virtue in letting kids walk to school, or encouraging parents to participate in the PTA, or not making kids spend a couple of hours a day on busses.) There are legitimate arguments against them too (ethnic and economic segregation tied to residential housing patterns.) But he doesn’t even bother to address the actual reasons that people have for wanting them, even to dismiss them.

      I’m skeptical about what the “real” reasons for this sort of thing are. I think a lot of people don’t admit the extent of their exclusionary / classist / racist / snobbish impulses when it comes to these sorts of issues, and you can always talk about wanting children to walk to school as a cover story.

      • Marc says:

        You make a better argument when you acknowledge at least the stated reasons on the other side. Matt could have said what you did, but he didn’t even make the attempt.

        And, actually, there really is something to being able to have kids walk to school, and there really is something destructive in atomizing a community. There is also something destructive about segregation. The latter doesn’t make the former invalid.

        • Speaking as someone who did a lot of “volume blogging,” this is one of the most irritating criticisms you can get as such. Believe it or not, at some point you might actually begin to think its fair that your audience have some working familiarity with your past writings so that you don’t have to spell out Every. Fucking. Detail. every time you want to toss off a post about something.

          • John says:

            Yglesias’s body of work generally involves making the same arguments over and over again with no variation, and never addressing counter-arguments, so I don’t think this is an example of unfair criticism.

        • Dilan Esper says:

          Marc, I know this is impolitic, but nobody likes to be called a racist or a class snob, and there are certain arguments in politics that are just really convenient in that they exonerate people from having to confront their own prejudices.

          “Walking to school” is one of those arguments. Because the school the kids just happen to be walking to is the one where they go to class with their own kind. And the one the other kids happen to be walking to is one that they might actually desire to escape if they were able to go to your kids’ school instead.

          And of course, many, many kids don’t “walk” to school anyway. Go to any school in a middle class or wealthy neighborhood just before classes start and you will see a parade of gas guzzling SUV’s dropping kids off.

          I fundamentally do not think that suburban and wealthy parents’ antipathy to class-mixing in schools is about “walking to school”. But that’s a really convenient thing to hide behind to enforce class and racial privilege.

          • Yeah, I grew up in the Dayton metro area, and all of the middle/upper-middle class “neighborhood” schools were most certainly not located in anything resembling walkable neighborhoods.

          • Marc says:

            1) Have you ever had kids? Because having a neighborhood school is amazingly convenient, and most parents would know that.

            2) Did you notice that I made your point in my post?

            • Dilan Esper says:

              No, you didn’t make my point, because my point is that the “walking to school” excuse is phony. (Note: that doesn’t mean that having a neighborhood school isn’t convenient. Rather, it means that the “walking to school” argument is deployed by people to cover huge class and race prejudices and to justify them, and there’s little evidence that most of the kids in those neighborhoods are walking to school anyway.)

              • Pinko Punko says:

                But you ignore the attraction of the thought of the kids being able to walk to school. Now, of course there may be other motives, but why do rich people have their gated communities off on their own in new areas of suburbia? [for example, in the town where I live- there is a huge stratification of income on a North/South axis, all the new housing developments with giant houses are at the extreme South end of town. And that is where they are building the new schools- schools in or adjacent to those developments- and the parents of those kids of course think their kids should go to the schools that are right there and not be bused 5 miles to other schools, with the poorer kids].
                The fact that geography just happens to set up “neighborhood” schools that would prevent mixing is a bonus, and the dog-whistling about neighborhood schools probably doesn’t jump to the surface for a lot of people, because they think that it isn’t “common sense” for kids that live within a half mile of one school to go to another school 5 miles away.

                I think that one idea of neighborhood schools is of course to enforce stratification, but the stratification is already geographic. I know that when I was a kid, my parents moved into a house where the idea was that the kids could walk to elementary school, junior high, and high school. And that is what we did. It was a huge luxury never having to ride the bus. Parents of course think about paying those costs- one of the reasons houses near schools in good neighborhoods are more expensive than those further away. Clearly someone is paying to be one block from a school for their kids, rather than having to be on the bus. The argument isn’t solely deployed for various nefarious reasons, thought many of the times it is. It is effective because it is an attractive solution for rich people. Why punish all the kids when you can not punish some of them. And which kids are those?

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              A neighborhood anything tends to be amazingly convenient :)

              I’ve never had a really long commute (though, I’ve had up to 10 miles with nasty traffic possible), but I find being able to walk to school/work (which I’ve been able to do nearly my whole life) is just very convenient (for school/work, natch; not so much for frolicing on the moors).

            • My kids school is less than 3 miles from my house. There isn’t an inch of sidewalk between here and there.

      • chris says:

        I think a lot of people don’t admit the extent of their exclusionary / classist / racist / snobbish impulses when it comes to these sorts of issues, and you can always talk about wanting children to walk to school as a cover story.

        SES is such a strong influence on educational performance that if you define (or at least measure) the quality of a school by the educational outcomes of its students, excluding poor kids from a school is not only the easiest and most effective way to improve the school, it may even be the *only* way.

        When race isn’t let in the front door of this problem it still sneaks in the back via race/class correlation.

    • Greg says:

      He’s also been extremely vocal about reforming housing policy so that neighborhoods can be built densely enough that you don’t have to be rich to live in a neighborhood with good schools.

      • djw says:

        This is actually a damned important issue, and one that many avowed progressives are are on the wrong side of, for either really dumb or nakedly self-interested reasons. Few things enrage me more than Seattle’s faux-progressive anti-density politics. (All power to the incumbent property owners neighborhoods! Developers are greeeeedy capitalists!)

        • chris says:

          I’m sure some developers ARE greedy capitalists, but wouldn’t it be more effective to deal with that via taxes and/or rent control and/or higher wages for the working class?

          …come to think of it, that sounds almost exactly like what I’d expect Matt to say. Which goes back to the point that he’s only annoyingly boneheaded on *some* issues.

        • LeeEsq says:

          OTOH, as my brother pointed out, voters have to be allowed to make bad policy decisions. I think Yglesias is right on the density and housing issue. Being right doesn’t mean you get to implement your ideas though if you can’t convince others to vote for your ideas.

  12. gmack says:

    I like your argument, but I think your critique cuts both ways. On the one hand, your reflections here do undermine the critique that wealth transfers amount to “pity-charity liberalism.” But on the other hand, it also undercuts Yglesias’s tendencies toward technocratic analysis. I say this because it seems to me that one implication of your critique is that the question of whether this or that policy is justified is only one part of the story. Another crucial set of issues has to do with how the policy is enacted and how it is actually lived in the aftermath. In other words, your defense of Yglesias here seems to be that the achievement of his policies could only come about through significant democratic mobilization, and maintaining it so that it doesn’t itself become a site of domination would require continuous political struggle (and perhaps occasional further moblizations). But if that’s so, then the one of the crucial political questions is not just whether X policy is a good technocratic solution to problems of inequality, but its connection to the forms of activism and practice in which it is embedded. Once we start moving into these questions, we start to get to some of the issues Josh G. raises above: the kind of redistribution Yglesias might want isn’t going to be possible (or might simply become a new site for domination, to use your language) without organizing the kinds of power in the workplace and elsewhere that Yglesias either tends to ignore or to dismiss.

    • sonamib says:

      Yes, it’s important to understand how the policies we advocate tip the balance of power. We can’t just just change everything once and think we’re done. It’s a perpetual fight to keep it that way.

      I think our corporate overlords understand that, otherwise what would be the point of austerity? Austerity is nonsense economics and will drag this recession/slow growth period for years. You’d think businesses wouldn’t like it. But the whole point of austerity is to destroy the safety net and any worker protection laws/regulations still in the books. Corporations may make less money than they would in a booming economy but they stay on the top of the social ladder. And they want to be damn sure that they will stay a long time on top.

  13. William Burns says:

    This thread is clearly not going to be an exception to the “robust internet tradition.”

  14. Dan Kärreman says:

    You know, here in lefty Utopia (I live in Sweden and work in Denmark) MY:s position on pretty much everything is straight in the mainstream, with the possible exception of immigration, at least from the Danish perspective. Nobody here cares much about licensing (hey, anybody can cut your hair or massage your body, in Sweden you even have to haggle your taxi fare yourself) and zoning (Sweden is the size of California and has the population of NYC, Denmark is denser but Copenhagen seems to be able to cope alright with housing 1/3 of the Danes, with enormous biking lines to spare). Sweden has a strictly regulated voucher system for primary education, and don’t get me started on the Danish system (although I think MY prefers the Finnish system).

    I know he likes to provoke with the neo-liberal thing, but he is really a Nordic social democrat ideology-wise. Now, given the US context, this means that he, for practical purposes, is more or less forced to almost always discuss second or third best solutions. The big exception is monetary policy, which I think explains why he is so persistent, fervent and good on this issue (thanks, Matt).

    • LeeEsq says:

      When discussing the pratfalls of the Madisonian system, Yglesias uses the parliamentary system as practiced by the Nordic countries as a sort of utopian ideal. He used the Nordic countries as a utopian ideal in the first place.

      I remember once he was using school lunch as away to illustrate the short comings of the Madisonian system. Yglesias pointed that in Finland, experts presented parliament with a bunch of options and parliament on the expenses of implementing said options but never challenged the experts on what should be in a school lunch program. In the United States, lobbyists for big ag tend to get involved in the legislative battle and as a result the nutritional values of school lunch suffer.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        Sweden has a strictly regulated voucher system for primary education

        Unless I’m mistaken, Sweden doesn’t grant lawmakers the right to collect unlimited amounts of cash from corporate interests, and its government isn’t beholden to lobbying pressures on anything resembling the US scale. And this is what grates about people like MY: they just don’t want to grapple with the fundamental dysfunction of our political system.

        In the United States, lobbyists for big ag tend to get involved in the legislative battle and as a result the nutritional values of school lunch suffer.

        Case in point.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      If we turn into Sweden, I’d give you the haircut thing. Matt riding his anti-reg theme is likely to get us companies are allowed to pollute anywhere they want and when I get stabbed by a crazy street barber, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the justice system for recourse. He never seems to notice we have bigger fish to fry in this regulatory landscape. What do I know? I’m not qualified to teach yoga.

  15. Sly says:

    I believe “pity charity liberalism” was first coined by Mike Konczal at Rortybomb, and entailed the following analysis of Post-FDR Liberalism:

    … a two part description of the liberal state – #1 you would have the government maintaining full employment, empowering workers and giving them more bargaining power, and #2 you would have a safety net for those who fell through the cracks.

    I think it is safe to say that liberals have abandoned #1 and doubled-down on #2. The government can do things to make individual workers more productive, say investing in their education and health, but the government should not do things to explicitly give them more bargaining power.

    I don’t believe that those two can exist without each other. Without a strong middle and working class you don’t have natural constituencies ready to fight and defend the implementation and maintenance of a safety net and public goods. The welfare state is one part, complimenting full employment, of empowering people and balancing power in a financial capitalist society.

    To me, the end result of having a safety net without giving workers stronger bargaining power is that what you end up with is a kind of pity-charity liberal capitalism. That’s better than nothing, but at the end it can be a dead-end, if the government doesn’t step in to fight for full employment.

    I’d only add that part of why Yglesias seems to subscribe to this version of liberalism is because the power relationships that drive and necessitate the welfare state are, at best, not on his radar. Freddie deBoer, in this post, put it another way:

    It’s impolite to say, but I have to think that these well meaning young wonks (and they are well meaning) believe in the long-term viability of pity charity liberalism because of their own inexperience with material need. They are, for the most part, well-to-do, educated and upwardly mobile young white people. They can’t imagine the problem with the social safety net as the endpoint of the liberal project because they’ve never experienced the daily, grinding fear and degradation of living at the burden of the state. They also know that this is a condition they’ll never have to labor under themselves.

    I think that’s a start, but aside from my disagreeing with Freddie that the “liberal project” has, or is supposed to have, an endpoint (it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t), I don’t think the problem necessarily ends with pity-charity liberals being prisoners of their own (limited) experience. It may in fact be worse than that, for example if Yglesias’s stern refusal to examine the faults of the Ed Reform movement are part and parcel of pity-charity liberalism’s ideological structure (I think it is, for a variety of reasons).

    In other words, there’s a difference between being ignorant because you lack the requisite information, and being ignorant because you want to be.

    • djw says:

      Thanks for that. I think Konczal’s argument about the mutually re-enforcing nature of 1 and 2 is a very good one, although I’m not really convinced the name is a good characterization of the phenomenon.

      for example if Yglesias’s stern refusal to examine the faults of the Ed Reform movement are part and parcel of pity-charity liberalism’s ideological structure (I think it is, for a variety of reasons).

      Could you walk me through this? I’m not quite seeing it, and I feel like I should be able to. They’re both elitist/ technocratic, but is there more than that?

      • Sly says:

        Thanks for that. I think Konczal’s argument about the mutually re-enforcing nature of 1 and 2 is a very good one, although I’m not really convinced the name is a good characterization of the phenomenon.

        I don’t either. Nothing about “pity charity liberalism” has to do with pity or charity; it’s more about doing the least amount of macroeconomic support for the poor possible in the least restrictive way, so that we can “be done” with poverty without, you know, actually doing much about it.

        Though I suppose one could call it charity if one assumes that the main point of charity is to give the charitable a sense of moral worth and accomplishment, but that’s not the purpose of a safety net.

        Could you walk me through this? I’m not quite seeing it, and I feel like I should be able to. They’re both elitist/ technocratic, but is there more than that?

        It’s all part of an ideological framework that is inherently hostile to the continual process of democratic action that is both intrinsic and necessary to collective self-governance.

        PCL assumes that all you ever need is a strong social safety net and, once it is in place, a society is essentially “over” poverty. Not only does this seriously misunderstand the nature of poverty (as fluid and relative), but it ignores the nature of collective self-governance. Democracy is about protecting oneself from competing interests (a) without necessitating violence and (b) infringing on the agency of others in the least restrictive way. There is no such thing as “all we need to do is X and our problem is solved” in democracy. There are always competing interests to be guarded against.

        But the Ed Reform movement makes those same flawed assumptions when it comes to academic achievement. Just decentralize school districts, crush the unions, de-professionalize teaching, and… wait for the magic to happen. That’s all you need to do for every child in America to be maximally educated, and this will hold up in perpetuity.

        But the magic won’t happen because, like poverty, education is not fluid and relative. Its governed by the same manner of incentives and disincentives related to both status and material necessity as wealth. The movement blames their lack of success on an institution competing against them in the democratic framework (the unions, the parents, etc), and fails to recognize how its own interests have lead it to failure.

    • scott says:

      The PCL or loser liberalism question that Dean Baker addresses in his book is pretty simple, and you’ve captured it well. Do you accept the way the economy is currently structured? It privileges an assault on the incomes and job security of lower-income and middle-income workers, reserves massive gains for financial and professional elites, and allows vast concentrations of economic power to dictate to Congress and the White House how and/or whether they will be regulated. Sure, you can hope that (perhaps) the rest of us can accept scraps from this particular table. But hope in what, that out of pity or charity or the goodness of their hearts elites that have hoovered up the gains of the last 40 years will give us those scraps? At the moment, we’re discussing cuts to Social Security and Medicare despite the fact that vast majorities of the public don’t want them. How realistic is that hope? And, as the earlier post and comments addressed, those elites aren’t content with the existing assets they have but want to convert our public schools, through “reform,” into privatized revenue streams. That’s the playing field, and it isn’t a level one that’s likely to give us what we want. Until the imbalances in the economy are directly addressed, through political argument that challenges the elites rather than appease them and ask them for favors, that state of affairs won’t change. People like MY are spectacularly uninterested in making those challenges and will blithely nod along when their social betters, having fixed the casino finance game to their benefit and resisted any meaningful attempts at reform or breakup, are now turning their tender attentions to our schools.

      • Sly says:

        Until the imbalances in the economy are directly addressed, through political argument that challenges the elites rather than appease them and ask them for favors

        I’d only add that sometimes “challenging elites” entails appearing to give them what they want.

        I think the biggest problem of the left today is that it romanticizes democracy but deplores “playing politics,” when you can’t even have democracy without politics. And being good at politics often means being good at (a) identifying the structural weaknesses in opposing coalitions and (b) exploiting those weaknesses for both immediate and long-term gains.

        The way you beat powerful elites is by dividing them against themselves and then root for injuries.

        Powerful elites do it to non-elites and their institutions all the time. The right fundamentally undermined the power of organized labor, for example, by dividing it against itself. But there is a tendency on the left to view competing interests as monolith and not susceptible to “divide and conquer” tactics, especially when it comes to issues of economic justice, but those competing interests are not monolith and they have been defeated that way before.

  16. Hob says:

    Freddie De Boer isn’t the originator of the term “pity-charity liberalism,” nor has he explained it well at all IMO. He brought it up in reference to a piece by Mike Konczal— Google it if you want, it was fairly interesting, and it wasn’t so much arguing that this is an actual ideological position held by liberals, as saying that scraps are the best you can hope to achieve if you don’t support labor. But the phrase has an inescapable connotation of “liberals being condescending and self-righteous,” so it’s been popularized by everyone who likes that connotation, whether left or right.

  17. LeeEsq says:

    Uncle Kvetch, if you read Yglesias you know that he is very familiar with and critical of the pratfalls of Madisonian democracy. He favors the parliamentary system.

    • Barry says:

      “Uncle Kvetch, if you read Yglesias you know that he is very familiar with and critical of the pratfalls of Madisonian democracy. He favors the parliamentary system.”

      Which, please note, we do not have in the USA.

      When Matt is talking about ‘reforms’, he should ground it in the country we have. I know that he’s willing to go all Econ 101 and to discuss incentives when it suits him.

  18. I don’t think it’s been referenced yet: a couple years ago there was a crooked timber brou-ha-ha about why the policy proposals of left-leaning neoliberals (with Yglesias named specifically) were foolish because they ignored their political effects. Henry Farrell termed it as lacking a “theory of politics”. Part 1, part 2. They flesh out a bit the points made by Josh G. and gmack. And I won’t link it here but the post in part 1 links to Doug Henwood critiquing Yglesias’ promotion of monetary policy on this basis.

    The paper excerpted at the end of the post sounds interesting; if you make a copy available I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to appreciate it.

  19. djangermats says:

    If you don’t want shitty boring threads about yglesias don’t post threads about the staggeringly stoopidd shit he writes.

    Like wtf is there to say about matt yggles shitting out a post on how people should stop bwing mean to his waifu, michelle rhee, other than ‘wow how fucking stupid is this guy?’

  20. Quiddity says:

    Re: “There’s also an implied presumption in this critique [of Yglesias] that there’s an alternative model that, if successful, would successfully short-circuit elites from eroding political and economics gains made by the poor and middle classes in the future. This belief, I think is a wise one to resist.”

    I disagree. From my reading of Yglesias, he’s for 19th century economic liberalism, which has virtually no restraints on capitalism. Yglesias’ solution to the resulting inequality is for adjustments to be made at the end of the day (or year). But that never happens and it’s politically hard to determine what each constituent group “deserves” to get. Becomes messy and easy for the elites to create fissures between those at the bottom. That is a historical fact.

    I think a contemporary example of this debate can be found in free trade. I do not like free trade because it hurts domestic workers. But on the other hand consumer goods are cheap! – which is why Yglesias never met a Free Trade agreement he didn’t like. He is a consumerist first, and that significantly affects his analysis.

    My approach to the issue of rampant unregulated global capitalism is to give power positions to workers throughout the system. Enact tariffs to increase the value of domestic manufacturing labor, for example. That is (or was) politically palatable because it bestows economic power right withing the gears, so to speak. It may be clunky, but people see worker X doing something and the mere presence at work is seen as deserving support. Contrast that with paying an unemployed manufacturing worker a stipend to stay at home because his job is gone due to globalization. A similar argument could be made for minimum wage. Those workers are seen as deserving by most people, because they are at work. Putting in 40 hours. Getting up early and driving to work. Etc.

    Yglesias takes an all too idealized mathematical approach to how to make life good for everyone. He ignores the reality of how people and politics work when it comes to redistribution. Tinkering with the economic system “up front” with tariffs, minimum wage laws, and other policies that make domestic labor more valuable or better compensated is a hidden redistribution. It’s a redistribution that is achievable.

    I’m totally in agreement with Josh G. on this topic. Freddie DeBoer has written along similar lines, but isn’t as concise or as clear as I would like.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Yglesias takes an all too idealized mathematical approach to how to make life good for everyone.

      Except sans math and, well, ideals.

    • djw says:

      I don’t understand how any of this is at all responsive to the quoted passage, which isn’t a defense of Yglesias’s model in any way, but rather a statement about the possibility of a model of progressive governance that ‘guarantees’ and stabilizes gains against future elite clawback. It’s entirely consistent with the view that Yglesias’s preferred model is much, much worse than the alternatives, including this one.

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