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More on Paul Theroux, The Greatest Monster in Known History For Caring About American Workers

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detroit19

As soon as Dylan Matthews flagged Paul Theroux’s editorial in the New York Times as a monstrosity for caring about the fate of the American working class, I knew it was inevitable that the Voxxers and associates would gang up on him. It started with Annie Lowrey. She made the very perceptive point that in fact Mississippi is not exactly like Zimbabwe. Wow, you mean Theroux might have made a rhetorical point? That’s what you want counter here? Obviously, Mississippi is not literally as awful as Zimbabwe.

But what’s far worse is her response to the poor of Mississippi:

Nevertheless, Theroux, in his travels, repeatedly asks people in low-income communities in the South whether the Clinton philanthropies have done anything to help them. “It really bothers me that Clinton does so little here,” one woman tells him. “I wish he’d help us. He’s in Africa and India, and other people are helping in the third world and those countries. We don’t see that money. Don’t they realize our people need help?” Not in the way that people in Zimbabwe do, lady. Not even close.

Really, that’s your response? Not, “you are poor and you have a legitimate claim that American policy has made you downwardly mobile. We should do something about that. Let’s think about how, starting with taking your concerns seriously.” No. The response is ideology hoisted upon this woman from 30,000 feet, as if Lowrey is outraged a worker would actually be concerned about her own poverty. And it’s “There’s someone far away who is poorer. Your only hope of having a job or attracting help is to become poorer than them. Let’s see how you do.” There are so many other ways to respond to the struggling American working class but the apostles of globalization in mainstream Washington media are blind to them all. And for solutions to this poverty, Lowrey is again unable to understand anything about the American working class:

Rather than stealing back a shoe manufacturing plant, in other words, train Americans in faster-growing sectors like nursing and information technology, and give better support for the laid-off and the long-term unemployed.

First, it’s amazing she uses the same language of jobs being “stolen” from China that Americans talk about when they lose their jobs overseas. This just reinforces the idea that globalization is a zero-sum game, with the American elite class openly rooting for poor Americans to lose. She then just falls back on the same cheap “solutions” that are always discussed and are totally disconnected from people’s lives. The idea of training Americans in fast-growing sectors runs up against at least one big problem–it assumes that everyone can and should go to college. And that’s just flat unrealistic for millions of high school graduates (and non-graduates) every year. Apostles of globalization always talk about education as the solution, but we already know from the struggles of recent college graduates that there aren’t massive number of jobs at the end of the rainbow, especially jobs that allow you to pay off the student debt. There are many, many Americans who are simply not cut out for college. Less than 50 percent of my cousins, nieces, and nephews have gone to college. What are they supposed to do? There’s also lots poor people in Mississippi who can’t simply just be retrained into a decent job. We have to have good-paying jobs for people who are not college graduates. If we want a stable society, working people have to be able to live decently whether or not they have a college education.

Yet this obvious point is simply dismissed out of hand. Moreover, a lot of those IT jobs are going to be outsourced themselves in future years, as will many other currently middle-class jobs. There’s little reason a lot of that can’t be done overseas. As for better assistance, how is that going to happen with this Congress? It’s not. The jobs are actually disappearing right now and the former employees are actually poor right now. Calling for slightly better benefits is not an acceptable response given that this simply is not going to happen. Meanwhile, it serves as a cheap cover for people actively rooting for American jobs to disappear.

Like Yglesias, Matthews, Klein, etc., Lowrey pushes an ideological point counter to the supposedly data-driven journalism these people are about–that capitalism as it is presently practiced is awesome for the world’s workers and thus it’s OK if Bangladeshi workers die on the job since that nation is rising a bit economically because of the apparel industry. Nothing is ever mentioned in any of these articles about the actual struggles of developing world workers. Nothing is ever mentioned about how Vietnamese and Bangladeshi and Honduran workers feel exploited and are fighting for a more equitable system, one that gives them a job and ensures that they don’t die from the factory collapsing upon them. Nothing is ever mentioned about how the Rana Plaza workers were scared to go inside their own factory because they could see the cracks in the walls or about how when they resisted going to work, they were told they would be docked a month’s salary if they refused. Lowrey could talk about the complexity of these issues and ground her ideology about globalization in the lived experience of workers to say “there are some good things here and there are some really bad things here and maybe we can do better on the latter.” No, that never comes up. It’s literally, “globalization is awesome for the developing world.” And the analysis from this group of Washington friends is never any deeper than that.

And of course Vox itself was not going to let this go. Charles Kenny was tasked with producing the ideological uniformity of that publication on this issue. There’s little more of interest here except for a bit more discussion about the long-term economic poverty of the South and for talking about wonderful Lowrey’s take was, without noting the obvious conflict of interest that she’s the editor’s spouse. But read it for more of the same if you want.

Meanwhile, one can actually talk about issues of global poverty and American poverty in complex ways that lay out ideas to help workers around the world. That was my goal in Out of Sight. Jeff Spross does the same in The Week. First, he dismisses Lowrey’s points as the ideology they are. Building off those awful dismissive lines she writes to the lady in Mississippi, he rebukes her:

I don’t know what the term is for the class-based equivalent of “mansplaining,” but those last two lines exemplify it. I am all for placing the least of these at the center of our moral calculus — but not to shrug when the not-quite-least-of-these wind up under the bus.

Lowrey points out that the $30,000 per person Mississippi’s economy generates every year is far higher than Zimbabwe’s $1,700, which is a fair point. But this is also why inequality is of much greater importance in the developed world: That $30,000 is an average, and thus can hide vast differences in distributions. Mississippi’s Gini coefficient — a measure of inequality — is one of the highest of any state in the country. Plenty of Mississippians get way less than $30,000 a year.

More importantly, these sorts of comparisons are part and parcel of the American preference for “absolute” poverty measures. But impoverishment is a social relation as much as an economic relation. As Adam Smith pointed out, a linen shirt is “strictly speaking, not a necessary of life.” But day-laborers in Smith’s day still couldn’t interact in public or seek work without one. There are plenty of present-day examples of this same dynamic.

It boils down to what economic spaces and resources you can access. Because everyone’s income is someone else’s costs, that access is inevitably determined by the relative gap between incomes. This is precisely why calculating “real” incomes is such a fraught and tricky business. So yes, the poor in Zimbabwe are worse off than the poor in America. But that comparison between two utterly different social contexts is not as illuminating as one might think. And it certainly doesn’t justify calling on Americans to ignore their own immediate experience in favor of viewing all economic matters from 30,000 feet.

Right. And that’s what Lowrey, Matthews, Yglesias, Klein, etc., do. They have no ability to talk about poverty in the United States or in Bangladesh with any tactile feel, nor do they see this as a problem. This is how you get column after column defending the current system of globalization by saying it’s OK for Bangladesh to have weaker workplace safety laws or calling Theroux a moral monster for caring about actual workers in the United States or Lowery telling off a woman who wants a job. Anything below 30,000 feet is just noise to them. And that positionality leads to people making terrible policy. Spross continues by stating that it’s not an either/or for workers in the US and the developing world:

What’s infuriating is there is a third way. The mid-century socioeconomic order in the U.S. was not the only way to ensure the gains of economic growth are broadly shared. Strong unions, a large welfare state, universal health care, progressive taxation, monetary and fiscal policy focused on full employment, criminal justice reform, smarter benefits policy, and smarter trade policy would all combine to keep the American economy egalitarian while we open up to trade with the rest of the world. The zero-sum trade-off between the U.S. and China is not a fait accompli.

The smart and respectful way to carry out this conversation would be to acknowledge Theroux’s anger (and the anger of his interview subjects) as justified, then move on to how their economic errors lead them to some morally queasy conclusions they don’t need to hold. To his credit, Vox’s Charles Kenny basically pulled this off, though even he couldn’t resist beating Theroux for failing to be a good universalist. Lowery merely waved at more education and moved on.

The point is to connect their anger and their mobilization to concrete ideas and proposals — in this case, to the third way of an egalitarian America helping to lift up the global poor. This will require respect and engaging people where they are, plus a recognition that we’re all flawed. And it will require making sure the not-quite-least-of-these know that we’re committed to their dignity and livelihoods, too.

Yet again, we already know from their many writings during American strikes that Matthews and Yglesias have never seen a labor struggle they would actually support. I don’t know about Klein and Lowerey but I can guess it’s mostly the same. Ultimately, this group of writers is really uninterested in helping workers gain power over their own lives, whether through American unions or protesting on the streets of Dhaka and Hanoi. They generally support good social policy emanating from Washington that will have a positive affect on most Americans, like the ACA, but it extends no further. And if these people rise up and go on strike or talk about the real poverty in their lives, they are told that it’s OK for their nation to have worse safety regulations (and presumably then for their employers to dragoon them to work) or that it’s worse for those people over there, so sit down and be happy with that.

And what kind of response is that?

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  • bobbyp

    By the same token, rich people here are generally richer than those in the 3rd world, yet they always demand MORE. Squashing their standard of living is simply not something that can be discussed.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Amen. Why isn’t anybody comparing _their_ standard of living to Medieval kings and telling them to shaddup?

  • Phil Perspective

    It’s literally, “globalization is awesome for the developing world.” And the analysis from this group of Washington friends is never any deeper than that.

    It’s worse than that. They’re not only friends but married couples too, as in the case of Klein/Lowery. Incestuous amplification, as Krgthulu called it.

    • Brett

      They’re pretty much your typical affluent liberal D.C. power couple, except that Klein actually didn’t come through the blue blood Harvard circuit like Lowery (and Yglesias).

      • Phil Perspective

        Klein came up in the West Coast blue blood circuit.

        • Brett

          Well, he was the son of a professor at a West Coast university. That makes him better off than most, but not really on par with Lowery and Yglesias being affluent kids who went through Harvard.

        • altofront

          Klein came up in the West Coast blue blood circuit.

          Please. He went to UCSC and UCLA, and his father is a UC professor. It’s hardly a hardscrabble background, but it’s worlds apart from Yglesias and his ilk.

          I’m not a big fan of Klein (and I cordially detest Vox most of the time), but he didn’t get handed his career on a silver platter. Ten years of hard work and schmoozing like a motherfucker carried him from Pandagon contributor to Vox czar. (Of course, being a cleancut white guy helped a great deal, too.)

          • I don’t know. From my Oregon logging town perspective, that’s basically pretty elite.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              where *any* kind of college was for the teachers’ and the lawyers’ and the doctors’ kids, right? and everybody else’s kids were going to pound nails, cut trees or carry babies? I know *that* kind of town

            • A guy whose MIT-grad dad is a full professor at a U of California, and whose mom is an artist, and who talks about starting college at UC Santa Cruz as if he started at community college, yeah, that counts as elite to me too.

              And check out all the characters in this:
              Matthews: Harvard
              Lowry: Residential prep school followed by Harvard
              Zac Beauchamp: Brown
              Kenny: Grew up in Britain, went to Cambridge

              Going to elite schools doesn’t condemn one to being tone-deaf on class. But considering that the vast majority of people who attend those schools are from the social and economic elite, it’s no surprise one might not become a big sensitive to class and privilege.

              My experience with folks with those kinds of backgrounds–not all, obviously, but most–is that they can tap tremendous and sincere concern for the very poor, but they’re usually ignorant about, baffled by, and sometimes even often hostile to the white working class. It’s tied together with their antipathy toward unions. For them, unions are hardhats beating up people like them (which of course was forever ago, represented a specific sector of the labor movement, and has almost no resemblance to today’s unions). They think most people in the WWC are just ignorant bigots, and while they kind of think they shouldn’t be dumped on by the 1%, they also think the WWC shouldn’t be entrusted with any real power, and that the world should be controlled by benevolent technocrats of some kind of liberal background. And when you point out anything like this to them, they get really defensive because they know they’re good people.

              • [BTW, that photo is of the Packard plant in Detroit. I think my grandfather worked there for a short while after he was fired from the Ford Rouge plant for missing work because he had his appendicitis.]

            • altofront

              I don’t know. From my Oregon logging town perspective, that’s basically pretty elite.

              Of course. And I definitely wasn’t arguing that Klein has any sense of working-class empathy or solidarity. I was just objecting to “West Coast blue blood circuit.” Actual west coast bluebloods send their kids to the Ivies, just lke elsewhere. And while UC is in some ways “elite,” it doesn’t provide the kind of privileged access to the media and entertainment world that Harvard does.

              • los

                Loyola? Stanford? Chapman? Pepperdine?

  • DrDick

    But, but, but…. Poor people here are not really poor because cellphones, TVs, and indoor plumbing! These folks have lost all shreds of humanity.

    • ajp

      I broke my leg in an accident a decade ago, but did I complain about it? No, of course not, because there was genocide in Darfur.

      When my wife got home on Friday after dealing with a nightmare of an opposing counsel and indifferent judge and proceeded to vent, I cut her off. “Shut up! Do you think you had the worst day of anyone on the entire planet? No? Then you have no right to complain.” She grew quiet and introspective for a second, and the scales fell from her eyes. “You’re right honey.”

      And when a female friend told me she thought she’d been sexually harassed, did I support her? Hell no! I put her in her place. “Janet, in some parts of the world women suffer genital mutilation and corrective rape. I’m pretty sure that’s worse than pinched buttcheeks. YOU don’t have a case.” She dropped her HR complaint and resigned in shame.

      • Brett

        And when a female friend told me she thought she’d been sexually harassed, did I support her? Hell no! I put her in her place. “Janet, in some parts of the world women suffer genital mutilation and corrective rape. I’m pretty sure that’s worse than pinched buttcheeks. YOU don’t have a case.” She dropped her HR complaint and resigned in shame.

        When I read Lowery’s bit, I immediately thought, “Oh joy, the economic equivalent of ‘Dear Muslima'”.

        • los

          also, “If you geys object to separate but equal civil rights, why don’t you move to saudi arabia!”

      • los

        All Pain is Local?
        but when I’ve been extended pain, I soon enough think about, “it could be worse. I wasn’t a toddler in that plane that was knocked out by a missile over Ukraine.”

        • los

          meant, “been in extended pain I have…” not, “been an extended pain.”

      • los

        I’m pretty sure that’s worse than pinched buttcheeks.
        That’s a sneaky way to “justify” your sexual agression. If it works, have you considered selling an ebook of pickup-artist techniques on Amazon?

        :-D

  • Phil Perspective

    Right. And that’s what Lowery, Matthews, Yglesias, Klein, etc., do. They have no ability to talk about poverty in the United States or in Bangladesh with any tactile feel, nor do they see this as a problem.

    Were Matthews and Lowery trust-funders growing up as well? Klein and Yglesias certainly never had to go with out as kids.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Could we please, please, start outsourcing “idiot pundits spouting RW talking points” jobs to 3rd world countries?

      Or failing that, A’I’ programs? Because the rest of us can never be happy until those jerks are starving in a gutter.

    • sparks

      Hell, neither did I, but I would and did give a kid half my lunch if/when he didn’t have any money. Somehow, I believe that wouldn’t even have occurred to K-Y.

    • Was Klein a trust-funder? Wikipedia says his parents were a math professor and an artist, and he went to public school and UCLA. Certainly not as privileged an upbringing as Yglesias.

      • sparks

        Perhaps this is why he is ever so slightly more tolerable.

    • Not The Onion [Actually, The Harvard Crimson]:

      Reforming the ‘Organization Kid’
      By ANNIE M. LOWREY June 5, 2007
      Before Harvard, I attended boarding school, which combines some of the best parts of college (stellar academics, interesting people) with some of the worst parts of prison (general imprisonment, terrible food).

      • creature

        Fucking clown- ‘some of the worst parts of prison’- like he would know what that is all about.

        • Origami Isopod

          “She.” That’s Annie Lowery.

  • UserGoogol

    I think you’re misrepresenting the point they’re making. Their problem with Theroux’s article is that he said we should care more about Americans and less about Zimabweans and they are responding that this is wildly unjust.

    • It’s entirely reasonable for one to respond to deepening poverty in your own country by saying that policymakers need to prioritize the people in their own country. Even if you disagree with that, it’s not “wildly unjust.”

      • ajp

        Not to mention it’s pretty gauche, the way the upper middle class white collar Vox people, completely insulated from the working class in the heartland, to have responded that way.

        • ajp

          I’m really sorry about that sentence. Would make my high school English teacher weep.

          • sparks

            C’mon, I’m still weeping over misusing it’s for its. I may not be over it until the new year.

            • That’s literally worse than the holocaust.

              • Lee Rudolph

                If only the Jews had refused to let Hitler confiscate their apostrophes!

                • los

                  I’ve heard that Goering once referred to Goebbels as a “schmuck”… while eating gefilte fish.

      • ColBatGuano

        Yeah, if you really want a xenophobic populist candidate like Perot or Trump to actually win, I can’t think of a better way than economic elites telling the poor to suck it up because the Chinese are doing great.

      • JS

        Also the fact that it’s totally a resurrected version of “white man’s burden” shit. I am always somewhere between annoyed and deeply worried when White Man suddenly takes a deep interest in trying to help people that look like me in faraway countries. Like, seriously, there’s a lot of poverty in your fucking country*, dude, and you can deal with that way more easily.

        *Which, speaking of the US, happens to be my country as well, thanks very much.

        • UserGoogol

          “Your country” is nationalistic, and nationalism is evil and has no place in a civilized society.

          • Origami Isopod

            God almighty. Join us in the real world and then talk to us.

          • JS

            Is this sarcasm?

        • los

          somewhere between annoyed and deeply worried when White Man suddenly takes a deep interest in trying to help people that look like me in faraway countries
          though such interest in helping, tends to be better than when colonialists look at people in faraway countries (or in southern states), which might be US southern states, with deep interest in helping themselves.

    • Jordan

      In addition to what Erik says (they say way more than that it is unjust to care more about Americans than about people from Zimbabwe and this very post demonstrates clearly):

      If any of those people donated, say, 75% of their income to the desperately poor in Zimbabwe, I could at least see that position.

      But they don’t. So they care more about (specific) Americans than they do Zimbabweans. And they clearly care more about those specific Americans than poor Americans.

      • ajp

        Yeah regardless of how they responded, it’s very easy for someone making a comfortable middle to upper middle class life sitting on their ass all day writing (which is what I do, when I’m not in court, which is about as thrilling as going to the DMV 99% of the time, including waiting around to be called for an hour or more). If I made this kind of argument a stevedore or factory worker would be perfectly justified in smacking the shit out of me.

        • Jordan

          Right, its just middle to upper class concern trolling and its hideously removed the people they are talking down to.

      • UserGoogol

        Hypocrisy is the tribute virtue pays to vice. You should promote what is good, regardless of whether you are capable of living up to that standard.

        • ajp

          That’s cute, but the point of the comment was not hypocrisy. So try again.

        • los

          Also known as “aspirations”?

      • JL

        Matthews is an Effective Altruism guy, and “Donate 10% of your income to the global poor” is a very popular charitable giving setup in EA circles, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his number. No idea about any of the others, though I remember from his ThinkProgress days that Yglesias loves the charity GiveDirectly (which, I like it too, for its philosophy that a great way to help poor people is by giving them more money and letting them make decisions about their own lives with it), so he probably donates something to it.

        I think the biggest problem here is the zero-sum analysis. The amount of economic production in the world is not static. Poor people in Zimbabwe or Kenya and poor people in Mississippi can both get improved situations at once.

        • xq

          Is anyone offering a zero-sum analysis? The Vox crowd certainty believe you can improve the lives of people in Zimbabwe and Mississippi simultaneously (the Vox article linked in the OP has a bunch of suggestions for doing that). Some of what Theroux wrote can be interpreted as zero-sum, but his arguments are not precise enough for me to be sure.

    • matt w

      Their problem with Theroux’s article is that he said we should care more about Americans and less about Zimabweans

      Where did he say that we should care less about Zimbabweans?

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Caring is zero sum game. Ask anyone with kids.

      • UserGoogol

        I suppose I phrased that too strong since it doesn’t explicitly make that comparison, but the article constantly attacks charity, and repeatedly implies that people have an obligation to help people “closer to home.”

        • matt w

          This is one of the things he says: “offering a sop to America’s poor with charity.”

          In this section, at least, it’s clear that he’s not saying that we should redirect charitable giving toward US poor.

          You can argue that doing what he wants would in fact hurt the global poor, but when the Voxxers say that he is actually in favor of caring less about Zimbabwe they are massively overplaying your hand, and it’s part of the reason they come off so badly. I read their description of the article, and I read what he said, and it just makes it seem as though they’re so offended at the idea that there should be decent jobs in the U.S. that they had to demonize the guy who said it as opposed to addressing what he actually did say.

  • Bill Murray

    There’s also lots poor people in Mississippi who can’t simply just be retrained into a decent job.

    If such jobs even exist outside the fevered imagination of these dead-end kids

    • Another problem with using job guarantee programs as a major plank of a redistribution platform.

    • ColBatGuano

      I was wondering home many hospitals and nursing homes the Delta could support?

      • There’s a huge market for IT in the Delta for sure.

        • A good web archive could help Ms. Dawn remember what flower she has on.

          • los

            An embedded Internet of Backseats helps Miss Daisy know that somebody is driving.

      • Brett

        Actually, I would bet that the Delta and Deep South in general has a population that is massively under-served by health care. It would all have to be heavily underwritten by the state and federal governments, but the need is there.

        • You’d be right.

          But to fix that you need more health care professionals such as doctors and nurse practitioners. More LPNs/RNs aren’t the solution. But I seriously doubt Lowery gave it more thought than “I need to list some jobs. Oh, here are a couple!”

          • Brett

            Maybe you could diversify who provides the work though, break some of it down so it could be done by workers with less training than a full nurse or doctor. The serious stuff would still need to go to them, but if you could get it down to the level where someone with a two-year degree or certificate could do it . . .

            • I don’t understand this. Who can do what is already broken down by the training they receive. So whether you have one RN or 100, they’re all only going to be able to do what RNs can do. (Which is quite a lot, but I don’t believe they can even diagnose patients.)

              What states can do is expand the scope of practice for non-physician practitioners like nurse practitioners and physician assistants so they can work independently because we also have a primary care physician shortage. I believe there are provisions in the ACA built on the premise that NPPs will fill the role of primary care physicians, as well as offering incentives for PCPs.

              • creature

                The VA is doing this already. I’ve haven’t had to see a ‘general practitioner’ doctor in quite a while. I’ve had specialists that handle my particular problems (lungs, liver, eyes) deal with those. So I really need to see a doctor to renew prescriptions I’ve been on for years? Efficient use of resources- it’s just not for fossil fuels anymore!

    • Brett

      You’d want to do it in tiers. Younger workers have more flexibility on this than older ones to move to find jobs and recover from losing one (unless they have young children). Older workers would probably need either direct employment/job placement or early retirement/severance.

      Existing seniority provisions (much as I don’t really care much for them) do recognize this, which is why the younger workers are usually laid off first in unionized plants.

      • DrDick

        Younger workers have more flexibility on this than older ones to move to find jobs and recover from losing one (unless they have young children).

        More privilege at work. Where do they get the resources to relocate? They have no money and likely do not know anyone in a place where there are jobs and nowhere to sta if they go there. Moving is really expensive and requires a lot of resources that are not available in poor areas.

        • Brett

          Sorry, I should have added that you ought to give them relocation assistance.

          As for knowing where to go, that would be true for the first group to go. But it would be like migration in general – people move along the networks created by friends and family, like with Mexican migration. The rest would follow those who went first and found jobs.

          • DrDick

            First off, that first wave is going to have to be huge to make any difference. Secondly, while it sounds good, but it is not really all that easy and there are still a lot of barriers, as I know from the experience of Native Americans moving to the cities after WWII.

            • los

              Also, despite the propaganda, not every “mexican” has climbed over a fence into the north.
              Most Mexicans still live in Mexico.

  • Beyond the fact that college is expensive and time-consuming, the insistence that the path forward involves retraining for college-based professions denigrates the real skills of factory and industrial laborers, as well as any job that involves manual labor. It’s simultaneously classist, economically moronic, and politically suicidal.

    • Scotius

      It’s simultaneously classist, economically moronic, and politically suicidal.

      The Beltway pundit trifecta.

    • Origami Isopod

      I’m reminded of the types of companies who insist that all applicants have an “entrepreneurial bent,” even if they’re going to do nothing but input data 40 hours a week. If nothing else, it’s harmful to the company’s long-term interests. But its executives care more about excluding the Not Like Us, Dear (or Not Like Us, Buddy) types than they do about creating a functional and profitable business.

  • Sly

    They generally support good social policy emanating from Washington that will have a positive affect on most Americans, like the ACA, but it extends no further.

    At the risk of invoking an insipid right-wing canard, perhaps the reason why so many liberal wonks come off as paternalistic snobs is because a lot of them are exactly that.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think there a lot of how we think about work goes through all sort of cultural and social filters and it becomes hard to separate these filters from reality at times.

      A few weeks ago there was an article on the Federalist about reclaiming the glory of being a maker. I actually think it was almost an article that many on the left could get behind. The problem was that the Federalist being the Federalist couldn’t resist making a swipe at liberals. The swipe something like “It is revealing that many or most Americans would rather have their boy decide he wants to be a girl than a deep sea welder even though being a deep sea welder pays X to Y.” X to Y being a range of good money.

      I don’t remember if we discussed that article on LGM but Drum brought it up on his blog. The Federalist claim is completely unsubstantiated and people at Drum’s blog talked about how being a deep sea welder was a relatively dangerous position by nature.

      There are questions here. Should the most dangerous jobs be the ones that get give to robots first? But what if those jobs are good pay for people not great at school? Is it morally and ethically wrong for parents to encourage their children to be good at school so they don’t end up in physically dangerous professions?

      FWIW, I have never really suffered from alienation effect because I do white-collar work. The whole “Shop Class is Soul Craft” and “On Bullshit Jobs” thing passes over my head. I don’t get why writing a brief is supposed to be less fulfilling and more intangible than making a chair or sofa. Nor do I get why I am supposed to do some sort of winky thing when I tell people I am lawyer like I know it is all BS.

      Yet I get the feeling that my reaction to being a lawyer is to say something like “I know it is all BS.” in a winky whisper and talk about how I would rather be doing Y.

      • Tyro

        How many jobs for deep sea welders are there available? And of those deep sea welders, how many of them have actually died or been crippled by the job?

        • NewishLawyer

          Consider the source but:

          http://floridamedicalmalpracticelaws.com/underwater-welding-death-rate/

          I should also add that even though I am a guy, I never quite got young guy adventurism for doing stupid things. I was never the guy who went pass the do not enter sign. I don’t even like standing on the roofs of buildings.

          • Tyro

            With an average death rate of 13-17%…

            Even if the “real” rate is half that, that is horrendous, particularly given that you could make just as much money with other sorts of skilled labor.

            I never quite got young guy adventurism for doing stupid things.

            Neither did I, outside of traveling to far-flung regions of the world. Then I started taking anti-anxiety medication, and suddenly I stopped obsessing about everything that could possibly go wrong, and I bought a motorcycle. It’s awesome.

            • los

              reduced lifetimes is the basis of the Texas “job magnet” utopia.

          • postmodulator

            I wasn’t like that as a young man, but now I sort of regret it. The more I see of old age, the more certain I am that it ain’t for me.

            • Ahuitzotl

              consider the alternative

              • los

                i think that was the joke.

      • My grandfather worked in a steel mill. He busted his ass to send my father to college so that my father wouldn’t have to work in a steel mill.

        While I have nothing against those kind of jobs, they will destroy your body over the long run.

        So will flying night freight, for that matter.

        • NewishLawyer

          Right. The problem is that not everyone can be a salaried professional and we need more jobs than salaried professional and low-paid service-worker.

          • Brett

            Then you basically have two options, not exclusive to each other. You can raise the conditions of service sector jobs through statute and unionization (and I think this would be a good thing), and you might eventually have the equivalent of industrialization on high-skilled service work – allowing for a lot of new jobs for lower-skilled workers, although the high-skilled workers won’t be so happy anymore.

            • DrDick

              Have you ever visited the real world or is it just too comfy inside that privileged bubble you occupy to bother with it?

              • Brett

                Are you actually arguing with either of those points? At least in your last response, you had a point.

                • Ronan

                  I have no idea what dr dicks objection could be with your comment (although I don’t know if the profit margins are substantial enough in most service jobs to make a meaningful difference even with unionisation, which is why we’re back to needing greater redistribution downwards)

                • DrDick

                  My point is pretty much in line with Ronan’s, with the additional caveat that the barriers to that actually happening are immense. Service sector jobs simply will not cut it. We need more skilled trades jobs and a much more robust safety net.

        • los

          where “long run” is often by the age of 40, in human years.

    • Origami Isopod

      Hell, yes.

      Northeastern liberal culture in general is deeply classist, and that’s where the wonks mostly come from.

    • los

      not as paternalistic as the Kochs’ “Plantation Owner’s Burden” hyper-paternalism.

  • Pingback: You’re Not Poor Enough Yet | The Local Crank()

  • Ransom Stoddard

    The reason Lowrey made the obvious point that Mississippi is not the same as Zimbabwe is because Theroux disputed that point. Theroux wrote: “[I]t is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.”

    I don’t really like the “opposing the worst injustice anywhere means you have to ignore every other injustice everywhere else” line that the Voxxers are pushing, and I think they’re sort of missing the fish in the barrel by not mentioning Kaldor-Hicks redistribution as an answer, but the Theroux article really was terrible. He casually dismisses the massive real gains in well being that capitalism has produced for nations mired in horrifying poverty, and he has an economically illiterate view of the global economy as zero sum game. He seems to support protectionism that would be the policy equivalent of taking a stack of money and lighting it on fire. Poverty in America is a real problem, and the Vox crowd sometimes misses that. But the big picture of capitalism (and small picture of trade and technology) doesn’t require that poverty, and Theroux types miss that with greater frequency.

    Defining “economic exchange” as “exploitation” is just stupid; trading our surpluses makes us all better off. You know who don’t get “exploited” by capitalists? Subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, who try to provide their families with the necessities of life on <$1 a day. The group of people they can trade their labor with is extraordinarily limited, which explains to a large degree why they're mired in poverty. As I've said before, life for a factory worker in Bangladesh or China is definitely nasty, poor, brutish and short…but it was NPBSer for their ancestors on the farm. The wages of "exploited" workers in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore eventually rose to ~first world levels as their productivity increased. I'm not particularly anti-union, but unions haven't lifted hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty, soulless profit-driven efficiency-minded corporations have.

    I mentioned a bunch of ways that government policy can attack American poverty in the comments on the previous post, but there's a somewhat heterodox one I'd like to mention here, a pro-density (i.e. pro market) shift in urban policy. Cities have always been places of greater economic opportunity and efficiency, but it was only recently that it became extraordinarily hard for people to afford to live in many American ones. Current zoning regimes in cities like NYC and SF are creating an artificial scarcity of housing, which is why prices have stayed at astronomical levels. Allowing a sufficient increase in housing stock to saturate the massive demand people have for urban living space would allow the people who live in American communities that have suffered from globalization to move to the ones that have benefited.

    Also, note that when talking about fighting poverty Loomis sees the desirable end state as "well paying jobs". But it's absurd to expect that the role of the state should be trying to solve inequality by somehow raising the return to a certain kind of labor instead of more equally distributing the returns to all economic activity. Instead of trying to use Rube Goldberg device policy to create a rent on [insert preferred kind of labor here], good progressive policy should aim to use simple taxes and transfers. It's much easier and efficient to give a very large amount of people "market paying jobs + a government check from people with better market paying jobs" than "above market paying jobs protected with a slew of inefficient, arbitrary and hard to enforce rules, tariffs and regulations".

    TLDR: The education policy Lowrey espouses isn't the answer to American poverty, but neither is the protectionism that Theroux does.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      TLDR: The education policy Lowrey espouses isn’t the answer to American poverty, but neither is the protectionism that Theroux does.

      SEEE! BOTH SIDES DO IT!!!! BIPARTIANSHIP FTW!!!!!

      • UserGoogol

        A basic income guarantee (which a lot of the above people support) is a far more left-wing idea than protectionism. You should be able to say “this left-wing thing is bad and also this right-wing thing is bad” without being called a Broderite.

        (I’m not saying I’d agree with Ransom Stoddard’s whole post either, to be fair.)

        • Honoré De Ballsack

          A basic income guarantee is simply not going to happen in the USA in the forseeable future. I think the Steven Attewell/xq/Ransom/tyro subthread below is probably expressing my thoughts on “idealism vs. practicality” much better than I can at this point.

      • sparks

        Whenever I read an RS post, I feel certain symptoms, to wit: [irritation eyes, nose, throat; dizziness; dermatitis.] Why, it’s like huffing a namesake chemical.

    • Peterr

      Theroux’ observation/comparison is not exactly without merit, though. Consider infant mortality rates (deaths per 1000 live births):

      Mississippi: 9.6 – highest state rate in the US.

      A few select international comparisons . . .
      Mexico: 12.3
      Argentina: 9.7
      Thailand: 9.6
      Botswana: 8.9
      Sri Lanka: 8.8
      Bulgaria: 8.7

      • Ransom Stoddard

        Those are generally middle income nations (don’t get me wrong, that still represents horrifying poverty) and this comparison is somewhat misleading in that it’s between a relatively poor region in the U.S. and the average of all regions in those nations. If we make the comparison Theroux was actually making, we find 9.6/1000…to 56/1000. (The same problems with aggregation exist, but the discrepancy is much greater.)

        • Peterr

          The line you quoted in you earlier comment was this (emphasis added): ““[I]t is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.””

          The nations I cited were chosen to see who the relative peers of Mississippi were, and the ones grouped around them seem to fit under the heading “third world” countries. The parallel with Thailand seems especially appropriate to note in the context of Erik’s post, given the outsourcing from the US to southeast Asia.

          ETA: One could also make the point that the Mississippi stat is a statewide average, and one could presumably find counties within the state where the rate is substantially higher.

          • Ransom Stoddard

            First, infant morality in Mississipi in 1970 was 28.5/1000, so Theroux’s claim is wrong in a more important sense.

            But addressing the earlier discussion, conflating a nation like Argentina (GDP per capita ~15k) or Bulgaria (~7.5k) with one like Zimbabwe (GDP per capita ~700) under the heading “third world” is misleading. Middle income Latin American and Eastern European nations should be distinguished from absolute poverty filled Sub-Saharan African ones in discussions of poverty.

            Update: re Miss stat, yeah I mentioned the same problems with aggregation apply. But the difference is much greater, which reduces the potential significance.

          • Right; while Lowery would no doubt support the outsourcing of jobs to Zimbabwe, she quickly pivots (as does Theroux) to Asia.

    • Bill Murray

      The wages of “exploited” workers in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore eventually rose to ~first world levels as their productivity increased.

      Those countries developed their industries under the cover of protectionism and so are rather against your point.

      the big picture of capitalism (and small picture of trade and technology) doesn’t require that poverty

      US-style capitalism requires considerable unemployment to meet the needs of the capitalists to have the kind of profit margins they want. This leads to long-term unemployment and poverty, so the way we do capitalism does rather require that poverty.

      But it’s absurd to expect that the role of the state should be trying to solve inequality by somehow raising the return to a certain kind of labor instead of more equally distributing the returns to all economic activity.

      Right everyone here is not for more equally distributing the returns to all economic activity. Also, considering something to be absurd without any justification is absurd.

    • los

      but unions haven’t lifted hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty, soulless profit-driven efficiency-minded corporations have
      neither have. the workers doing the work raised themselves out of (worse) poverty.

    • los

      Some zoning/use/variance battles are over tearings out three 1400 square foot three bed, two baths residences, then building one 12,000 square foot mansion for a well-heeled couple.

      • los

        “Let them eat humidity-controlled walk-in wine cellars”

  • It’s literally, “globalization is awesome for the developing world.” And the analysis from this group of Washington friends is never any deeper than that.

    Back when they were pitching these free trade deals, I don’t recall anyone saying:

    “Well sure, American workers are going to take it in the shorts but Bangladesh is going to come out smelling like a rose!”

    • Brett

      Seriously. Most of the trade agreements were originally predicated on the idea that they would create jobs at home (openly) and slow down immigration (unofficially in the case of NAFTA). You still see some of that, but it’s much more tepid and more “this will create economic growth!” generalities.

      The truth is just that the US is not a particularly trade dependent country. About 13-14% of the US’ GDP comes from the export of goods and services – enough so that losing much of it would bite, but it’s not as essentially vital to our economy that we expand further trade. Much of the further gains we could get from trade would actually be from immigration (i.e. allow skilled workers and professionals to immigrate to the US and work more easily, as Dean Baker has argued for).

      • los

        the usa is large enough to exist on ‘internal trade’.

        • los

          (subsist would be a better verb.)

  • I really think that increasingly we need to educate putative center leftists that poverty and inequality matter all the way up and all the way down, here and everywhere.

    I didn’t like third-world vanguardism when it was the Maoists pushing it, and the neoliberal version isn’t much better.

    • xq

      I don’t actually think anyone in this conversation rejects that “inequality matter all the way up and all the way down, here and everywhere”. The question is: precisely how much does it matter, compared to other important values? What do you do when there is a tradeoff, and you have to choose whether to support a policy that will increase inequality in a wealthy nation but reduce poverty in a poor nation?

    • Ransom Stoddard

      Sure, but isn’t it possible to have both Matthews’ recognition that protectionism is stupid and Theroux’s that American poverty is important? Loomis has sort of been treating anti-trade policies and concern for inequality/poverty in the U.S. as a package deal in these posts.

      • Tyro

        The threat of protectionism is the only leverage that the victims of globalization have. So until someone actually proposes a better solution that actually exists, that is the club they are going to threaten others with.

        • Right–“I need a job and I don’t want it to go away because I have nothing otherwise” is a pretty righteously moral argument for a worker to make.

          • los

            I need a job and I don’t want it to go away because
            because they’ll send my new “coding job” to Zimbabwe next. (Disney’s IT. Industrial engineers…)

        • xq

          Does the threat of protectionism actually exist? People make this argument all the time but I don’t get it. The prospects for UBI or job guarantee seem very dim to me, at least in the medium term, but so does the prospect of protectionism. What is the actual mechanism by which we reverse globalization? Is the first step to elect Trump?

          • Tyro

            UBI or job guarantee seem very dim to me, but so does the prospect of protectionism.

            It’s at least somewhat plausible that a trade treaty could fail to get ratified in the senate.

            • xq

              Agreed; it’s plausible, though unlikely. But trade barriers are already very low so preventing new trade treaties doesn’t accomplish much in that regard. You need to reverse the trend.

              • matt w

                Yeah, as has been pointed out many times, including by Krugman himself, voting down the TPP isn’t exactly protectionism.

                • Linnaeus

                  If anything, it seems to me that there’s a fair bit of protectionism in the TPP.

          • Brett

            Does the threat of protectionism actually exist? People make this argument all the time but I don’t get it.

            Of course it does. Why do you think the US is doing stuff like TPP and not another Doha Round? It’s because of protectionism in rich countries, particularly around their agriculture sectors.

            In fact, that’s how protectionism usually flows in the US. Sectors with clout keep their protection (agriculture, the high-end professional services, etc) while those without lose it.

            • xq

              My claim was not that there is zero protectionism remaining in the US, but rather that there is little ability to use the threat of protectionism to extract gains for workers who have lost out from globalization.

          • Ahuitzotl

            step one? a surcharge on foreign exchange activities, so that the movement of capital & its profits is not frictionless.

        • UserGoogol

          Politics isn’t about “leverage.” All we can do is argue academically for our positions among liberals and hope that eventually fundamentals bring enough liberals into Congress that they are able to enact such policies. For all I know I’ll be dead by the time that happens, but politics isn’t about me, it’s about selflessly advancing the general welfare.

          [Edit: On second thought this might be an overly deterministic view of politics, I dunno, I am completely frozen by existential angst.]

          • To the contrary: politics is only about leverage. And the fact that Loomis has no leverage makes him politically irrelevant.

            With less snark: the fact that the interests of millions of Americans have no leverage in Washington (and even less leverage in state houses) is a goddamn travesty, but the political reality. It’s a rare political moment that even one person who allows the interests of the working class to sway them has leverage in Washington (I speak here of Elizabeth Warren) and shows how thoroughly captured the institutions of governance are by the interests of management and capital.

          • Origami Isopod

            Politics isn’t about “leverage.”

            I can’t believe anyone actually typed this sentence straightfacedly.

            All we can do is argue academically for our positions among liberals and hope that eventually fundamentals bring enough liberals into Congress that they are able to enact such policies.

            Because being nice, polite, wonky liberals has always worked so well in the past. Also, we wouldn’t want to get our hands dirty or anything.

            • UserGoogol

              The idea that “getting our hands dirty” accomplishes anything is the epitome of Green Lantern thinking. It’s exactly the same reasoning that Karl Rove to say “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” It is not only wrong, it is intellectual suicide.

              If you believe that politics is driven by action, why not be a conservative? Their whole vision of society is based around conflict. An economy driven by competition, foreign policy driven by violence, nothing but blood and guts as far as the eye can see. It is only through milquetoast wonkishness that liberalism can even hope to survive.

              When I look at history, I don’t see “people getting their hands dirty,” I see fundamentals. Fundamentals elected a bunch of liberals to Congress, they passed liberal legislation, change happens. Even in the case of revolutions, it’s the same thing. Fundamentals cause the old government to collapse and previously dormant power structures fill the void and implement new policies.

              • Origami Isopod

                If you believe that politics is driven by action, why not be a conservative? Their whole vision of society is based around conflict.

                Right. Violence never solved anything. Politics is a self-improvement exercise, meant for the betterment of our souls. Let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya!

                When I look at history, I don’t see “people getting their hands dirty,” I see fundamentals.

                I suppose you’ve missed all of Loomis’ posts about labor actions, some of them quite violent.

                • UserGoogol

                  Of course there was violence, but you’ll note many of those violent labor actions failed. What made the difference between failures and successes wasn’t that sometimes the unions really got their hands dirty, but that factors external to mere violence had changed. Violence isn’t causal, it’s merely a side effect.

              • los

                I don’t see Winning by threatening with Protectionism (horse trading) as violent.
                Wielding political power is peaceful.

                “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy
                So if representation has been lost, then The French Revolution (as crappy as that may be) is recourse.

              • los

                To true milquetoasts, “fundamentals” of getting representatives in political power *is* getting hands dirty.
                Violence is beyond getting hands dirty.

        • los

          threat of protectionism is the only leverage that the victims of globalization have
          And only because more efficient defenses are thwarted by the parasitic class.
          Expecting people to defend their earnings by “nice gentle” (difficult) methods is like expecting police to apprehend armed terrorists with padded lassos.
          Consider that employees, despite temporarily losing income, must strike early and often to put the fear of profit loss into the parasitic clas.
          This is one of those apparently innate “tree of liberty”/”break some eggs” predicaments.

          • los

            I meant, “getting representatives into political power”

      • Steve LaBonne

        The standard Economics 101 argument that protectionism is stupid, which is pretty much the only argument we ever get, does not in fact hold even a microliter of water. So, facts not in evidence.

        • Theobald Schmidt

          [citation, as usual, totally fucking lacking]

          • Steve LaBonne

            So you’re totally unfamiliar with the arguments against standard free-trade theory, but your ideological commitments require you to show up and be an ass to demonstrate your commitment to orthodoxy. Got it. Knock yourself out.

          • Origami Isopod

            HAHAHAHA. Projecting more than an IMAX screen, as usual.

          • Linnaeus

            Here’s the thing: free trade as a model can be useful for understanding certain basic economic concepts, but it’s in actual practice where the picture gets much murkier. What we have now, and have had all along, isn’t so much free trade as managed trade.

            I think the TPP illustrates this. Trade barriers (for many industries) are already pretty low. The key provisions of the TPP, as I’m given to understand it, deal with IP rules and with respect to those, the US position is for protections more robust than some of the other parties to the agreement want. It’s this kind of thing that can get some people scratching their heads: free trade is a good thing, except when it’s not.

  • scott_theotherone

    I know this quote is from the original Theroux piece but it really jumped out at me:

    “It really bothers me that Clinton does so little here,” one woman tells him. “I wish he’d help us. He’s in Africa and India, and other people are helping in the third world and those countries. We don’t see that money. Don’t they realize our people need help?”

    I can understand that woman’s point of view, but it seems to me her disappointment should really be aimed at the current president and (even more so) the one before him, and yet more at the current and past few congresses, as well as her own governor, representative and senators, rather than someone who hasn’t even held office in 15+ years. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. Your state’s been forgotten? Left to rot? That’s horrible—no kidding, it really is. So get angry about it, and make damn sure your elected officials—almost all of whom are likely to be GOP—know about it and fear your anger.

    Unfortunately, of course, that’s unlikely to happen for several reasons. Not to mention the GOP knows about the state of poor workers in the south and don’t care: in fact, it’s a feature, not a bug.

    • It’s pretty unfair to expect a low-income worker to target her blame at the precisely correct place (although Clinton, signer of NAFTA deserves PLENTY) but the point she knows that something is wrong and rich people in this nation don’t care.

    • manual

      Wrong. Bill Clinton pushed TANF reform that blockgranted money to the states to turn welfare money into a slush fund predicated on “work requirements” that did not actually require a job, and allowed states to simply kick people off welfare and (after at maximum of 5 years) exclude them from income support entirely. In short, he got rid of a direct guarantee of support for the poorest Americans.

      Further, he pushed through a series of trade deals that sought to put working class Americans into wage competition with the worlds poorest while simultaneously protecting the wealthy among us.

      If anything, this persons anger is very well placed.

    • burritoboy

      I think it’s a lot fairer criticism than you make it out to be. Bill Clinton was a multi-term governor and attorney general of Arkansas, which directly borders Mississippi and has very similar economic problems as Mississippi. The people of Arkansas paid Bill Clinton for essentially all of his working life before he became US President – except for a couple of years at a private law firm, he had been a state employee since leaving graduate school (his first job was as a professor at the public University of Arkansas). If anything, Bill Clinton is a hell of a lot more expert at the economic problems of small Deep South states than he is at working in the third world.

      Also, it’s somewhat upsetting to me that the Clintons so quickly focused on doing rather standard and unimaginative neoliberal stuff in the third world rather than giving back to the region where Bill Clinton at least lived all his life until he assumed the Presidency. Of course, the Clinton Foundation can do whatever the Clintons and its donors want it to. But it’s perfectly fair for the poor people of Mississippi to criticize them for doing that.

      • los

        rather than giving back to the region where Bill Clinton at least lived all his life until he assumed the Presidency
        and from a politically mercenary perspective, gain some favor among voters.
        The Kochs do a little of that (fund New York Opera…), except when their “charity” is explicit arm-twisting. There’s no shortage of fresh soft targets for Koch Bribery – the targets don’t have to be as ripe as Scott Walker.

  • Davis X. Machina

    It’s entirely reasonable for one to respond to deepening poverty in your own country by saying that policymakers need to prioritize the people in their own country.

    It would appear les ouvrières ont de patrie after all…

  • manual

    So I had a very strong response to Lowery piece and wanted her to engage on the actual merits of what she is.

    You rightly take her to task forth being happy to excuse the rightful claims that a victim of American capitalism has with “someone has it worse.”

    But my biggest problem is she and Dylan Matthews have no solution and dont seem to apply their data driven objectivity to the poor American workers whom they do not give a shit.

    So two things

    (1) Lowery and Matthews discuss the much disheartening world poverty threshold of loving on $2 a day, but only in the context of the foreign poverty they like to exotify. if they were to treat the issue seriously, they’d note that $2 a day poverty has actually increased in America. In fact, it has grown maybe strongest in Mississippi! We know this because of the terrific academic work done on the failure of TANF/Welfare Reform.

    (2) Lowery has the most pathetic response for fixing this person’s plight. After castigating the woman for daring to think that an American president – Bill Clinton – who was uniquely responsible for her problems should spend money in America, Lowery’s response is on training.

    So it just so happens I know a bit about this topic, and this is so condescendingly terrible! If you believe in capitalism – and america has a mixed capitalist economy – you would know that there are only so many good paying jobs as there is demands for that type of jobs. Everyone could train to be an engineer but it wouldnt do much to improve peoples lives; there are only so many engineers that are needed and can commandeer a decent wage.

    So every 10 years or so, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts forth its Occupational Employment Projections for the future. It shows what jobs will be created and what the fastest growing sectors of the economy are. Most of the jobs are for low paying jobs that require very little skill. We are increasingly demanding home health aids, not engineers. And while nursing is growing it is somewhat anomalous; and more to my point, not everyone can be a fuckin nurse. There are market limits to jobs! So the simple fact is, no, you cant just offer job training to poor person so that they can live a charmed life. A labor union or direct financial transfers are much better. But is empirically false that training and education can just vanish away market poverty.

    Finally, I am so disgusted by this blithe attitude toward American poverty. I hang around people with the Voxxer mindset and I always remind them of a few things:
    1) you share a set of political and social commitments with the American poor, and you are often indirectly responsible for their problems (trade directly benefits me at the expense of displaced wokrer by redistribute income from them to me).

    2) Every time someone feigns interest in blacklivesmatter or the latest Coates essay or how bad our schools are, they are most often talking about people whose lives are directly harmed by the massive trade dislocations in the economy, distributive failures of American capitalism, and deliberate policy choices that cause their harm. You cannot claim to be outraged by Coates’ reparations essay and not tie-in the William Julius Wilson response that what these people need is not your pity but your money (or, really, a good paying job) without being intellectually incoherent. Excusing away American poverty by changing the subject is not brave. In fact, it is simply highbrow cowardice.

    • “not everyone can be a fuckin nurse. There are market limits to jobs!”

      Don’t tell this to my university president and provost. There’s an endless number of positions in nursing and pharmacy and we should give them all our school’s money!

      • Joshua

        The smug STEM people online are the worst with this. If you’re not studying STEM in college, you’re a worthless leech who deserves to eat delicious gruel forever. But what happens when everybody studies STEM and then flood the job market? Well, it’s their fault for not perfectly predicting the state of the job market four years ago!

    • xq

      Lowery and Matthews discuss the much disheartening world poverty threshold of loving on $2 a day, but only in the context of the foreign poverty they like to exotify.

      This is false. Here’s Matthews discussing $2/day in the context of America, with no discussion of foreigners:

      http://www.vox.com/2015/9/2/9248801/extreme-poverty-2-dollars

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        Yeah, that Vox piece is a pretty good factual report on people at the very bottom of the American food chain. It doesn’t, however, even begin to suggest any kind of policy solutions or attempt to address why those people are living in extreme poverty.

        The issue here is that when Lowery/Matthews et al. try to actually address the systemic imbalances that force people into $2/day poverty, they invariably end up offering the inane neoliberal status-quo crap that the commenters on this thread are castigating them for.

        • xq

          The main difference in terms of proposed solutions between the Voxxers and (say) Loomis is that they support direct cash transfers and Loomis supports job programs. And I actually think Loomis has the better argument there. But the recent UBI thread demonstrates, I think, that there are plenty of reasonable, good-faith arguments for the other side.

          Lowery’s argument that we can solve this through education is much worse.

        • los

          offering the inane neoliberal status-quo crap
          if considering why (or how), maybe
          1) consider that the symptoms (pretty good factual report on people at the very bottom of the American food chain) are obvious to a second instar cricket… so obvious, that even Ted Cruz is forced to publicly feign concern for the middle-class.
          2) consider the “liberal” media that hires the most acceptable “liberal” pundits – those most likely to suggest Conservative Beneficience as the cure.

      • manual

        Yes, and it was not part of his analysis of the Thereoux piece. At all.

        You would think that after interviewing the authors of the book you might apply there work to this subject (full disclosure the book is sitting in my lap). But no. Instead, he ignores the fact that $2 a day life has increased and focus of the book – the MI Delta – is the worst place for extreme poverty.

        • xq

          Yes, and it was not part of his analysis of the Thereoux piece. At all.

          His “analysis” of the Thereoux piece consisted of a tweet, so that’s not surprising. Charles Kenny’s article in Vox does indeed discuss rising poverty in the MI Delta and acknowledges that trade has played a role in that.

          • MDrew

            So this ends up being point in favor of Matthews’ critics. You’re not disputing that.

            It’s a pretty big one.

            • xq

              Not sure what you mean. No one in this conversation disputes that trade has been harmful for some poor people in rich nations. People differ on what we should do about that.

    • Jordan

      And while nursing is growing it is somewhat anomalous; and more to my point, not everyone can be a fuckin nurse. There are market limits to jobs!

      Nah, this is kind of bullshit. The medical field, and for nurses in particular, can respond to government programs much more than to “market limits”.

      You think we need to have a better, more comprehensive mental health care system in the US? Then we need more nurses.

      You think we need to get away from jailing drug offenders and offering more drug treatment? Then we need more nurses.

      We want to better assist end-of-life patients? Then we need more nurses.

      We want to better assist domeciled disabled people? Then we need more nurses.

      And so on and so on.

      If you want to look for a place where we actually need more jobs but currently don’t care to fund them, than ya, nursing is pretty high on that list. Of course not everyone can be a nurse, and there are other professions around nursing where we also need more people. But thats a silly place to plant your flag down on.

      /to be clear: its not a market limit. Like at all. Its a limit for how much we as a society want to deal with serious problems for which nurses are going to be an very necessary part of the solution.

      • manual

        I think you’re using the word nurse as a stand in for other much less well paid positions in the medical profession. Not everyone is a nurse.

        So the data from the BLS show nurses growing by about 14 percent over a decade while home health aides, orderlies, and personal care aides grow at 68, 20 and 70 percent, respectively.

        The pay gaps between these positions is pretty staggering, with home health aides makinf somewhere just shy of 20,000 a year. The point being that lots of healthcare jobs dont pay well and many of the jobs Annie Lowrey would have people train themselves out of poverty would not really do that.

        If anyone is interested in the worth of retraining, Id recommend Gordon Lafers the Job Training Charade. Having supervised and examined some TAA retraining programs, you dont magically turn a factory worker, or a long-term unemployed person, into an IT specialist, nurse or whatever. It’s just not that simple.

        So, yes. Healthcare is a growing field but its a mistake to assume all health care jobs are created equal or will pay well, or that everyone is a candidate for the high paying nursing jobs.

        • Jordan

          I think you’re using the word nurse as a stand in for other much less well paid positions in the medical profession. Not everyone is a nurse.

          Nope, I’m not (I’m not a nurse, so I’m not just rah-rahing my job, but I do work at an in-patient psych/dd/detox/committed facility atm so I do know *some* things).

          There are plenty of caregiving jobs that are should be more available of we decide as a society that we need them. Indeed, I mentioned them in my original comment. And you mention some of them too.

          But no, anyways, if we are to seriously tackle mental health and substance abuse problems, this means we need a massive increase in in-patient beds available, and a massive increase in intensive outpatient care, and a massive increase in follow-up home care/checks. And that means we need lots more nurses. Bottom line, sorry.

          So the data from the BLS show nurses growing by about 14 percent over a decade while home health aides, orderlies, and personal care aides grow at 68, 20 and 70 percent, respectively.

          Good?

          The pay gaps between these positions is pretty staggering, with home health aides makinf somewhere just shy of 20,000 a year.

          Thats true, absolutely. Not sure what it has to do with nurses, really.

          So, yes. Healthcare is a growing field but its a mistake to assume all health care jobs are created equal or will pay well, or that everyone is a candidate for the high paying nursing jobs.

          See, you say that, thats fine and probably true. Doesn’t mean we don’t need more nurses in good future scenarios; doesn’t mean “the market” is going to determine the optimal numbers we need in any scenario.

        • Ahuitzotl

          with home health aides makinf somewhere just shy of 20,000 a year

          Joke? about half of them are making minimum wage, i.e. $7.25 an hour, at least in the bits of the South I’ve lived in (AR, LA, FL): and mostly kept from working more than 30 hours a week, so maybe $12k – $15k if they get to the exalted heights of $10/hour. Of course they get charged out at anything up to $30/hour.

          Source? my wife & her CNA friends.

      • Ronan

        Of course there’s a “market limit.” How could you argue against that Completely uncontroversial point ? You might think there is a lot more space for creating jobs in the area (prob true) but there’s still a limit.

    • UserGoogol

      If people need money, then give them money, not jobs. That’s a policy “Voxxers” have very explicitly supported over and over again, in the US as well as elsewhere.

      • JL

        I’m not sure why it’s either/or. Give them money, and also make sure they and others have job opportunities.

  • Tyro

    There is an ongoing weird point that has repeatedly popped up in all of these discussions where it is assumed by the neoliberal/”moderate left-of-center” that the give assumption is that these deals should be considered with the overall good assumed. And further that concern for American workers in particular is provincial and harmful. For most “average” people, it sounds like a given that our policy decisions should be driven by how to help the American people and improve their lot in life rather than pursue policies that hollow out the middle class. But so many “liberal” writers on this topic think that making such an argument is, in and of itself, distasteful and/or immoral.

    I assume that this argument is coming from a similar source. Is there some writer/thinker that is commonly read among the Klein/Yglesias/Lowery crowd that pushes the idea, and they all picked it up, or what?

    • xq

      The idea that policies “should be considered with the overall good assumed” comes from utilitarianism.

      • Tyro

        Well, yes, in general. But is there someone who has make this argument explicit with regard to trade issues that the neoliberals have all picked up on, or did they, with an affection for utilitarian liberalism, simply all take it to its logical conclusion simultaneously?

        • Steve LaBonne

          It’s implicit in all of the standard utilitarian arguments for free trade, which carefully avoid any consideration of the distribution of the claimed benefits. There needn’t be one source.

        • Jordan

          Many, many economists operate with a very crude version of utilitarianism as their guiding ethical light. And thats too bad.

    • max

      And further that concern for American workers in particular is provincial and harmful.

      That’s just a constant trope in all discussions of the economy and has been since the mid-80’s. That’s where you get ‘we need to cut social security’, ‘lazy corrupt unions workers’, ‘bad school teachers’ and all the other tropes come from. Those People are invariably pitted against YOU Respectable Hardworking Upper-Middle Class Reader Who Went To A Good School AND Who Obviously Agrees With Me Unlike Like Those Goddamn Bleeding Heart Longhairs And Other Ignorant Populists.

      There is an ongoing weird point that has repeatedly popped up in all of these discussions where it is assumed by the neoliberal/”moderate left-of-center” that the give assumption is that these deals should be considered with the overall good assumed.

      The number officially spotted by the study says the US gets an additional 77 billion in GDP by 2025, which is a rounding error basically. However if the number incorporates say 350 billion in losses for the sub-90% income crowd and say, 427 billion in gains for the upper crust (netting out to 77 billion), then because poor people in Vietnam we must have it. (If the poor people in Vietnam come out worse off from the deal, then obviously that can be fixed with a NEW trade deal, see?) At any rate, it’ll boost jobs for the 90%+ crowd and they aren’t getting paid enough to Keep Up With the Koch Bros., so its all good.

      But so many “liberal” writers on this topic think that making such an argument is, in and of itself, distasteful and/or immoral.

      Well, of course it is. Otherwise one might wonder why the 1 or 5 or 10%ers are always talking about how terribly greedy the lower classes are, and why the punishment meted out for this greed never seems to fall on the upper crust.

      max
      [‘The subtext here is ‘Fuck you, Jack, we want ours’.’]

      • los

        poor people in Vietnam come out worse off from the deal, then obviously that can be fixed with a NEW trade deal
        “heads – we win; tails – you lose. And no, we cannot just stop flipping the coin.”

  • Such a shock that the international version of pitting the poor against one another and using them as props in one’s little snipe fests would be just as hideous as the domestic version.

    I’m sorry if I’m repeating someone else, but can we agree from the outset that the Voxers gives zero fucks about Zimbabweans, Indians, Malayans, El Salvadorans or any other people from whatever developing nation that they’re currently pretending to care about because it allows them to a)Be contrarian dipshits and b)Punch down?

    Also, is there room on that flight that will take all the Libertarians to Somalia? If not, we may need to cram a few people into the overhead compartments.

    • Theobald Schmidt

      Ever lived in a third world country?

      • I have.

        And I have spent significant time in others.

        And you are nothing more than a capitalist running dog.

        • Ahuitzotl

          running cockroach, please … they ate all the dogs.

      • Morse Code for J

        No, but I bet if I did and asked the residents of one to allow their working class to be impoverished because it might help the working class of a country even worse off than theirs, they would tell me to fuck off.

      • Susan of Texas

        When the Bangladeshis were crushed by their factory, Yglesias said that they would just have to put up with random death because they couldn’t afford safety. When the rich want to further enrich themselves by driving down wages, the Yglesiases cry over global poverty. When their poverty kills them, Yglesiases shrugs.

        Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States. Matthew Yglesias

        • los

          and to “compete” in the new world free trade economy of freedom, Brownsville must adopt Dhaka’s occupational/workplace safety standards.

  • sleepyirv

    Comparing the Great Recession to the Great Depression, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that while facing a slighter problem comparably that led to fascism in Europe and the New Deal in America, we’ve somehow found a way to be just as unresponsive. If Greece hasn’t fallen to fascism yet, it’s only because Europe hasn’t dropped the entire twenty tons on them yet (nevermind why Europe would put ANY weight on Greece). If America isn’t willing to elect a proto-fascist like Donald Trump (or, for that matter, a Social Democrat like Bernie Sanders) it’s mainly because the problem isn’t that bad yet. The current inequity and job market is still tolerable.

    But we’re stuck on this unnecessary road to oblivion because FDR’s “government by organized money” has won. They’ve won through a corporate Supreme Court and pliant Congress. They’ve won because of very old antagonisms that allows the extreme Right to have a seat at the table. And they have won because of the useful idiots at places like Vox, whom wish to ignore unpleasant problems. No one is going to half-starve to death because someone else is starving to death. That’s not how a human mind works nor should it be expected to.

    I remember complaints on some lefty blogs back in the day that people were overly-critical of Ezra Klein. That his stances were defensible on the basis of his rigorous analysis and his heart was obviously in the right place. At the time, I do think people were being overly-critical but for good reason. It was clear that Ezra Klein was going places in the world and one day he would face a choice: High Broderism or wonky liberalism. There might have been hope that a good amount of criticism could make him choose the latter. Though personally, I don’t think there was much anyone could do to stop him from going the direction he went.

    • Susan of Texas

      For most people it’s an easy choice: money and career over liberal obscurity.

      • Mr. Ziffel

        Hedges’ The Life and Death of the Liberal Class in a nutshell.

      • los

        reworded, the choice of assisting the machine ,versus ethical standards and grinding “obscurity”

    • Ahuitzotl

      actually even less responsive – 7 years after the crash of ’29, things were improving fairly rapidly

  • Brett

    EDIT: Never mind.

  • gusmpls

    Ah, the old “there are children starving in China, Africa, India, etc. argument, Didn’t work for me when I was 7, doesn’t work now.

    • Wait, “You can’t eat because other children don’t have food,” isn’t more convincing than on “Eat all of your food because other children don’t have any?”

      Tough crowd.

      • Tough crowd.

        Not if you soak them in brine before cooking them.

        • Ahuitzotl

          not EVERYTHING has to taste of seawater, dammit

        • los

          pink slime – not that polar bears care.

  • djanyreason

    1) Find writer who equates poverty in Mississippi with poverty in Zimbabwe
    2) Find center-left writer who correctly points out that this claim made by writer #1 is false
    3) Call writer #2 a neo-liberal sellout trust fund scumbag who is just trying to keep American poor impoverished by saying Zimbabwe is worse
    4) ???
    5) Profit!

    • Quite the useful comment there.

    • Jordan

      The underwear gnomes would be ashamed of you.

  • She’s not a poor worker, and it will come as no surprise that Patricia Atkinson – the woman Lowery takes to task in her imagination – is a vastly better human being than the combined staff of Vox.


    She’s the executive director of a non-profit
    :

    Universal Housing Development Corporation of Russellville, Arkansas, administers a self-help housing construction program that has assisted more than 1,000 low- and very-low income families since 1978 achieve the dream of home ownership.

    Universal Housing Development Corporation was founded as a nonprofit corporation in 1971 to help low-income families find safe and sanitary housing in its target area. Over the years, its target area has grown to encompass eight rural counties in northwest Arkansas. UHDC offers many programs, including home-ownership assistance, owner-occupied rehabilitation, multi-family housing, weatherization, voucher home-ownership assistance and self-help housing. UHDC has satellite offices in Yell and Franklin counties, which offer voucher home-ownership assistance. In fall 2003, UHDC planned to open a satellite office in Johnson County to offer self-help housing services.

    Not that I think knowing this would have changed Lowery’s tone.

    • los

      thanks for following the internet breadcrumbs.

  • altofront

    Spross’ excellent point about the social relations of impoverishment remind me of the story about Marx’s coat, which he repeatedly pawned to keep his family fed. Without a coat he couldn’t gain admittance to the British Library, and so had to suspend work on Capital until his finances improved enough that he could recover it from the pawnshop.

    • MDrew

      That sounds like the epitome of apocrypha to me.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Or, assuming it’s been written down somewhere (hey! it just has been!!), the pseudepitome of pseudepigrapha!!!

      • altofront

        Well, I encountered it via an essay by Peter Stallybrass (called “Marx’s Coat”), and Stallybrass cites Hal Draper’s The Marx-Engels Chronicle (Schocken Books, 1985). Why is it so hard to believe that the British Library had a dress code?

  • MDrew

    I’d like to reproduce, in full, a comment of Steven Attewell’s that was made in a thread under his own post, which he links to in comments to Erik’s first post on the subject of Matthews’ tweet.

    I think progressives underestimate the power of the former [that being the sense among rich-world citizens of being poor within that world, or, I might suggest, even significantly economically insecure], and to the detriment of any kind of politics aimed at “trying to abolish divisions in global society.”

    You want to undermine the political constituency for international aid or internationalist foreign policy aimed at reducing global inequality?

    Step 1: neglect your own poor while constructing a politics that says that “poverty is not that bad.”

    Step 2: watch as the neglected poor who aren’t getting any support at home, and the non-poor who’ve been primed to see the poor as “lucky duckies” who need to get off welfare and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, turn against international aid and diplomacy on the grounds that (respectively) “if I’m not getting any help, why should my tax dollars be going to help the poor overseas” and “starving people in the Global South need to get a job. Besides poverty isn’t that bad, because I see poor people who eat junk food and own cellphones.”

    Step 3: watch as less-than-scrupulous right wing politicians take advantage of liberal inconsistency to paint liberalism and the party of liberalism as the agent of wealthy dilettantes who want to spend your tax dollars on strangers but who wouldn’t lift a finger to help Americans in need (conveniently ignoring that they themselves are busily cutting off fingers trying to help the poor abroad and at home).

    In other words, the same political processes at work in domestic politics that mean that “programs for poor people become poor programs” are at work on the domestic level, whereas creating political norms that all Americans should be protected from poverty prime people to accept norms that all the people of the world should be protected from poverty. It’s not an accident that the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, the creation of the UN, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights happened around the same time that FDR was arguing for a “Second Bill of Rights” and Truman for a “Fair Deal” for the American worker.

    Even if a compelling ethical argument for being concerned about first-world poverty (or “poverty”) at a level on par with the appropriate level of concern for poverty in the developing world (do we actually like this euphemism, by the way?) can’t be constructed, nevertheless political tactical requirements necessitate that these be both-and concerns, not either/or, or even primary/secondary.

  • Yes. Thank you for this.

  • Susan of Texas

    This is where Megan McArdle comes in handy because she’s so emotionally dead inside that she says what everyone else in her Smart Set thinks:

    The remaining question is, of course, whether we should be rooting for profit-seeking global corporations to take manufacturing jobs to Africa if they will pay such pitifully low wages. You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that my unequivocal answer is “yes.” Just consider what the alternatives must be if people are willing to slave in a factory for $21 a month. So moving jobs to Ethiopia, or elsewhere in Africa, does good for dreadfully impoverished people.

    Yes, she actually said “slave.” Why should the poor-here or anywhere else- work for pennies? So wealthier people like her can pay less for dresses and taxis.

    • Origami Isopod

      I used to know someone who took writers like McArdle and David Brooks seriously and would actually say shit like that out loud. Not a super-wealthy person, but with more means than most. Also a tendency to come out with what I now recognize as sociopathic statements about anyone who wasn’t just like himself demographically, dressed up as intellectual musings and “unpopular truths.”

      • Brett

        What’s irritating is that they act as if people in countries like Bangladesh “chose” this, as if a popular government voted on laws basically saying, “Welp, we’re a poor country. If we can get jobs at the expense of a little workplace safety, let’s take them”.

        But they didn’t. Most of these countries have workplace safety laws that just get ignored.

        • los

          “Look! None of our good workers want unions! (Except for the workers whose bodies we buried in the mound of trash 2km south of city outskirts, last night.) Real patriots hate to reclaim any economic power from their benefactors.”

    • los

      profit-seeking global corporations to take manufacturing jobs to Africa… people are willing to slave
      as in, “the jobs that americans (blacks) won’t do!”

      also…
      “It’s a fact that 2 out of 13000 historians agree that blacks were better off under slavery. That’s a conservative fact. It’s a fact that all slaves had jobs. Blacks should be grateful to our job creators.”

  • Petey

    So maybe I wasn’t so crazy for repeatedly calling Yglesias a “trust-fund scumbag”?

    (The over-the-top-ness of that particular epithet came only after he attributed he the Clinton wins in the ’08 Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries purely to racism, when in actuality, it seemed to to stem in large part from downscale Dems in somewhat recently de-industrialized states voting their economic interests, since Obama had spent the entire ’08 consistently staking out economic positions a notch or two to the right of Clinton and clearly signalling such in rhetorical terms. That’s why Obama was amazingly able to outraise Clinton among big money donors even in ’07, despite the Clintons’ long-standing funding network. It’s also why Clinton was able to garner significantly more Democratic votes in the ’08 primaries, even despite the high percentage of AA’s among Democrats, who quite understandably voted Obama for ethnic pride reasons. Obama was only able to tie the popular vote in the primaries by racking up enormous margins among non-Dems.)

    I’d been commenting on Yglesias’ blog for years previous, and while I agreed with him on two-thirds of his posts, my more restrained standard epithet for him back then was “economic royalist” or “economic Tory”. If we want to more accurately analogize to UK politics, Yglesias has always been Liberal Dem, not Labour. He’s been remarkably consistent that way, dating all the way back to college.

    As the thread correctly notes, Ezra has had a different ideological/personal path. He’s far more of a Uriah Heep character. Push left in the early days to please his audience (except for the Iraq war support), push Obama in ’08 to again please his audience and to ensure his future viability, and now please Comcast and other corporate interests who will finance his enterprise. He has no ideological core; only his own ambition.

    They’re both kinda Michael Kinsley figures in their own special ways…

  • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

    Sorry, stopped reading at:

    Wow, you mean Theroux might have made a rhetorical point? That’s what you want counter here? Obviously, Mississippi is not literally as awful as Zimbabwe.

    because, despite your admission that “Mississippi is no literally as awful as Zimbabwe,” there’s nothing to indicate that Theroux was being figurative or rhetorical.

    • Well, I’m glad you stopped reading and then decided to make a comment. Real valuable addition.

  • IM

    whataboutism. That is simply good , old whataboutism offered by the Vox crowd.

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  • Yankee

    Missippi Statistics for Geeks. The median per-capita income was in the teens for various rural counties. That’s median, so half the people are less than that, even. Couldn’t find mode easily.

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