Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Guns, Slavery, and America’s Permanent White Wingnuttery

[ 128 ] October 6, 2015 |


Conservatives, including the conservative I ended up across the table from last weekend who I told that I wanted the government to invade his home and take his guns, love to say that their ability to have 8000 high-powered guns was the direct intent of James Madison. To say the reality is a wee bit more complicated is a huge understatement. The supposed iron-clad judicial approval of unlimited gun control is only true if you take the decisions of pro-slavery southern judges as your guide. If you consider what is happening in the antebellum north, it’s a different story.

The slave South’s enthusiasm for public carry influenced its legal culture. During the antebellum years, many viewed carrying a concealed weapon as dastardly and dishonorable—a striking contrast with the values of the modern gun-rights movement. In an 1850 opinion, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained that carrying a concealed weapon gave men “secret advantages” and led to “unmanly assassinations,” while open carry “place[d] men upon an equality” and “incite[d] men to a manly and noble defence of themselves.” Some Southern legislatures, accordingly, passed laws permitting open carry but punishing concealment. Southern courts followed their lead, proclaiming a robust right to open carry, but opposing concealed carry, which they deemed unmanly and not constitutionally protected. It is this family of Southern cases that gun-rights advocates would like modern courts to rely on to strike down popularly enacted gun regulations today.

But no similar record of court cases exists for the pre-Civil War North. New research produced in response to Heller has revealed a history of gun regulation outside the South that has gone largely unexplored by judges and legal scholars writing about the Second Amendment during the last 30 years. This history reveals strong support for strict regulation of carrying arms in public.

In the North, publicly carrying concealable weapons was much less popular than in the South. In 1845, New York jurist William Jay contrasted “those portions of our country where it is supposed essential to personal safety to go armed with pistols and bowie-knives” with the “north and east, where we are unprovided with such facilities for taking life.” Indeed, public-carry restrictions were embraced across the region. In 1836, the respected Massachusetts jurist Peter Oxenbridge Thacher instructed a jury that in Massachusetts “no person may go armed with a dirk, dagger, sword, pistol, or other offensive and dangerous weapon, without reasonable cause to apprehend an assault or violence to his person, family, or property.” Judge Thacher’s charge was celebrated in the contemporary press as “sensible,” “practical,” and “sage.” Massachusetts was not unusual in broadly restricting public carry. Wisconsin, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania passed laws modeled on the public-carry restriction in Massachusetts.

But then having unlimited access to guns has always been the goal of conservative white men. And this brings us to Douglas County, Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, who has come under a lot of criticism for his own embrace of extremist gun culture now that his county was the site of a mass murder.

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands.

This comes across clearly in the letter that Hanlin wrote to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 where he asked that the administration “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment” and where he threatened ominously, “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the president offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”

Despite all the attempts at formal, legalistic language, Hanlin is clearly writing more in a mythical vein than he is actually addressing any real world policy concerns. His absolutist language about the 2nd amendment ignores the fact that there are already federal and state regulations on guns and who can buy them. More disturbingly, his posturing about open rebellion against the federal government evokes the conspiracy theory-mindset of the hard right, the kind of paranoid hysteria about federal power that led to so much violence during the Clinton administration, from shootouts at Waco and Ruby Ridge to the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. This is not a letter from someone soberly assessing the pros and cons of proposed regulations on firearms. This is the letter of someone wrapped up in childish fantasies of revolution.

But then this plays so well in Douglas County. The county just south of my hometown is still recovering from the end of the timber industry and the cultural changes that have transformed Oregon in the last 30 years. A place like Douglas County, rural, poor, and white, feels threatened by a secular America, one with a scary black man with a scary name from a scary city as president. With the gays marrying and the women running around, and the libtards in Eugene ruining their resource exploitation state, everything is threatening. Everything. The America they dreamed once existed is no more. And they don’t know what to do. So they arm themselves and kill each other. And this scenario is played out over and over again around the nation, such as Tennessee Attorney General Ron Ramsey urging Christians to arm themselves against the impending atheist-led apocalypse. With white male hegemony under supposed threat from so many places, even as white men still control most of the levers of society, only putting down the strange new people with guns will make them feel remotely safe. But of course they will just put down each other.


Oregon’s White History Uniforms

[ 80 ] October 6, 2015 |


Oregon loves its white heritage. As a native, I’ll be honest, Oregon history is really boring. It missed out on most of the interesting flash points of US West history. It lacked almost all of the Old West violence that people love. There were no major wars with Native Americans. There was almost no mining, especially compared to every other state. It experienced relatively little transformation during World War II, especially as its major World War II city was wiped out by a flood soon after the war. So what Oregon as its central mythology is logging, which is controversial enough in an environmentalist-oriented state with an embittered pro-logging minority that is too recent to embrace, and its pioneer history. That is pretty boring to tell you truth. It’s a bunch of conservative white people moving from Ohio and Indiana and starting farms in the Willamette Valley. And that’s pretty much it. But at the beginning of that is the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Oregon loves it some Lewis and Clark. It’s kind of unclear why. It’s an exciting story in a sense. But it’s also a story that is central to American conquest. Yes, the expedition was relatively nonviolent toward Native Americans. But there’s no question what this was about–Clark’s brother George Rogers Clark was an architect of the late 18th century Indian conquest and William came from the same cloth. And that this is so central to Oregon historical mythology makes sense in how the state is so white. Portland has become the nation’s white paradise, but it kind of always was, with the original Oregon constitution banning African-Americans from the state and with the state never developing a large African-American population.

And then there are the Oregon uniforms. Largely, I love them, even the ugly ones, because I want the Ducks to win, as challenging as that has been with the atrocious quarterbacks of the 2015 edition. They help Oregon win because the kids love crazy uniforms. So it really helps a team in a state with a big zero of high school talent to recruit quality players. They keep coming up with new ideas. And on Saturday, Oregon will be wearing Lewis and Clark uniforms. I have trouble with this because it’s another example of Oregonians embracing a white supremacist history as its core mythology. I can’t be comfortable with this. No, it’s probably not the equivalent of Mississippi fans bringing Confederate flags to games. But then we still downplay racism toward Native Americans in American culture, even on the left, as we often forget about them when thinking about racism in the present. Lewis and Clark uniforms are uniforms celebrating American conquest. That’s not cool. Not at all.

Maybe I’m taking this too seriously. But the politics of history matter and so much of American history is based upon exclusion and white supremacy. That includes the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Diapers and Poverty

[ 68 ] October 5, 2015 |

It’s great that San Francisco is developing the nation’s first government-run diaper bank for poor families. It’s totally ridiculous that this is not a national program or that we don’t see diapers as a human right for children.

Government benefits have extremely restrictive spending rules that can place challenging limitations on beneficiaries. Diapers are classified like cigarettes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”), one of the primary resources for low-income families in the United States. While cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can be used at the beneficiary’s discretion, most families sink those resources into housing and other critical needs — like menstruation supplies, which are also not covered by SNAP. That leaves them struggling to afford diapers, especially when paychecks have dwindled down at the end of the month.

5.3 million children in the United States live in poverty, and 33 percent of families report “diaper need,” a shortage of diapers at some point during the year. Toddlers typically need approximately eight diapers daily, while infants can require 12 or more. That’s a lot of diapers, and for many low-income people, predatory merchants overcharge them, knowing that diaper purchases are a critical life necessity. Corner stores and other establishments in low-income neighborhoods, already famous for inflated prices, charge $0.50 or more per diaper, in comparison with prices much lower than that at discount and warehouse stores which low-income families can’t access because they may be out of reach of public transit or inconvenient to get to — or it may be too hard to bring supplies back along a meandering assortment of public transit transfers. Affording an economy pack can also be a barrier, as it may not be possible to spend a large amount of money all at once even with a per-diaper cost savings.

Leaving children in wet diapers comes with health risks like rashes, inflammation and infection. A dry baby is a happy baby not just because wet diapers are uncomfortable, but because they’re dangerous, and many low-income parents are forced to watch their children suffer because they can’t change their diapers often enough. San Francisco’s diaper bank aims to change that, sinking nearly $500,000 annually into diaper assistance for parents who are already on CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program. Parents can show up to distribution centers to request diapers in a range of sizes for their children.

You’d think that anti-abortion activists would rally around this and promote this as a national policy. They care about babies, right? Oh yeah, actual human babies they don’t care about at all. Instead, it’s those heathen atheists in hippie California who are doing something for real life humans.

Kasich’s War on Ohio Minorities

[ 39 ] October 5, 2015 |


Much like voter ID laws have little to nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with stopping black people from voting, so is the anti-welfare movement about stopping black and brown people from receiving government monies, while preserving it for whites when possible. In 1996, John Kasich voted for a bill in Congress that limited food stamps for childless adults. But he also pushed for an amendment to it that would allow states flexibility to do with high unemployment areas. Today, as Ohio governor, Kasich is using that amendment to grant food stamps to whites while denying them to blacks.

In 2014, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) had the option to waive time limits on food stamps for the entire state. Due to a struggling economy and high unemployment, Ohio had qualified for and accepted this statewide waiver from the US Department of Agriculture every year since 2007, including during most of Kasich’s first term as governor. But this time, Kasich rejected the waiver for the next two years in most of the state’s 88 counties. His administration did accept them for 16 counties in 2014 and for 17 counties in 2015. Most of these were rural counties with small and predominantly white populations. Urban counties and cities, most of which had high minority populations, did not get waivers.

The decision would result in a drastic downsizing of food aid in the state, but the administration moved with surprising speed given the enormity of the impact. “It was really fast,” says Kate McGarvey, deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. In August 2013, she says, the legal services community had heard that Ohio qualified for a statewide waiver, and was setting up meetings with the ODJFS to discuss how the state might proceed. “Within a week or two, we were told, ‘It’s going to be a partial waiver, it’s already been submitted, it’s done,'” McGarvey says. “No advocates that I know of were given a chance to give feedback on the wisdom of the partial waiver.”

The policy went into effect in October 2013. By January—the three-month mark where those without waivers began losing their food stamps if they couldn’t meet the work requirement—it had become clear that the policy had spawned a stark racial disparity in food aid. Across the 16 counties the state had selected for waivers, about 94 percent of food stamp recipients were white. Overall in Ohio in December 2013—immediately before the new policy’s effects began to surface—food stamp recipients were 65 percent white.

By March 2014, six months into the new system, the six counties with the highest rate of terminating food stamps for able-bodied, childless adults were all counties populated mostly by minorities.

This of course will be seen as a positive by Republican primary voters. Whether or not Kasich and his people intended this to discriminate is not known. But they do know it currently discriminates and have done nothing to alleviate that.


[ 23 ] October 5, 2015 |


It took a bit longer than expected and there were a few more “oh, this issue over rice imports could blow up the whole thing” stories than I thought, but the 12 nations involved came to an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This deal is awful for American workers and gives a great deal more power to pharmaceutical companies to extend their monopolies on drugs. It greatly expands the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that give companies tremendous power to derail national law that would promote labor or environmental standards. It accedes to the Malaysian use of slave labor. Supposedly, the TPP was supposed to help leverage U.S. power in Asia against the Chinese, but this never made any sense on the face it and the Chinese themselves are interested in joining.

We still don’t know exactly what’s in the TPP and the full text won’t be available for at least a month. We know that Obama says there are protections for labor and environmental standards that were not in NAFTA and other trade agreements. But that there were no seats at the table for labor or environmentalists, I am extremely skeptical they will be meaningful except at providing cover for the agreement as a whole.

There is almost no way this does not pass Congress. It may however be delayed unless Obama can push it through quickly. Hopefully, Bernie Sanders will make a big deal of this in the primaries and force Hillary Clinton to say she opposes it, which she does not in her heart. But making her say it at least could delay its implementation.

Along with education policy, trade has been the biggest policy demerit of the Obama administration.

A sad day.


[ 2 ] October 4, 2015 |

One band I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Ibeyi. For fairly minimalist music, there’s a lot going on here. They have an interesting backstory too, daughters of a famous Cuban musician who sing in both English and Yoruba. Probably not for all tastes, but certainly for mine.

This is also a good place for a reminder that I will be speaking at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Tuesday at 7. I hope to meet many of you! Books will be for sale and I love signing random things as well.

Crisis of Masculinity, 1987 Edition

[ 81 ] October 4, 2015 |


I’m enjoying Deadspin’s new series analyzing different chapters of the 1987 crisis of masculinity book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life, seeing how this advice holds up after nearly 30 years. It’s a pretty gentle satire of masculinity, in the case linked above, how to prove your manhood through building your own sweat lodge, which is a very, very bad idea since they can kill you. I’d probably be less gentle if I was writing this. Since manhood is in a permanent state of crisis and thus has to constantly be proven, you can argue it has defined much of American history. That certainly includes the most famous crisis of masculinity, typified by Theodore Roosevelt, but also includes the sexual assaults on urban streets by the Bowery Boys and other young men of the antebellum period, the straight-laced restrained Victorian masculinity, the fears of not being able to grow a proper beard in the same era, the countercultural masculinity of the 60s and 70s, etc. And of course this is a big deal today too with the MRAs and others freaking out about women controlling their own bodies, deep and very serious concerns over men drinking almond milk, demanding REAL MEN who yell and scream and throw interceptions instead of soft-spoken Hawaiians to be the top quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, making sure men eat a proper manly breakfast, etc., a topic that is of course a common theme at this blog.

I probably should do more poking fun at the historical crises of masculinity that leads to absurdities like building your own sweat lodge.

Adjuncted to Death

[ 265 ] October 4, 2015 |


You may have heard about the Duquense University adjunct who died in dire poverty in 2013. Well it’s happened again, this time to a long-term adjunct at Seattle University.

When visitors walked into the dilapidated boardinghouse where Dave Heller lived, the smell alone could transport them back to their college days.

“It smelled like grad student,” jokes Charlie Fischer, a friend. “Like years of boiled noodles and rice.”

Except Heller was 61 years old and a philosophy instructor at Seattle University. Yet he lived in a room in a tenant group house in Seattle’s U District, with nothing but a bed, a fridge and his library of 3,000 books.

When he died earlier this year from an untreated thyroid condition, Heller was making only $18,000 a year teaching philosophy on a part-time, adjunct basis, his friends say. That’s about one-third the median income for a single person in Seattle, and barely above the federal poverty line.

“He had a beautiful life in that he lived exactly what he wanted, which was the life of the mind,” Fischer says. “But it had a cost. It was sad to see how little value society places on what he did.”

Fischer, who teaches English on a contract basis at Everett Community College, wrote an account of Heller’s life and death in Seattle Magazine earlier this month. Heller was described as being part of the nation’s “invisible faculty” — part-time or adjunct professors who increasingly do the teaching work at colleges but who often are paid little better than the cleaning help.

The pay adjuncts receive is deeply immoral, not allowing people to live lives of basic decency. And while I have stated before that people should not become long-term, full-time adjuncts because it puts you in a position to be exploited, the problem is not with the person who wants to live the life of the mind (if teaching freshmen writing 4 sections a semester for your whole life can be called that), but an exploitative academic system that relies on cheap labor to do the dirty work of teaching while creating ever larger and more well-compensated administrative positions that effectively recreate the university as a corporation, with all the economic inequality that implies. Unions for adjuncts is part of the solution, but only a part, as it’s not like unions of part-time faculty have the ability to raise wages to something someone can live on, at least not without a lot of outside help.

The Waitress Life

[ 70 ] October 4, 2015 |


Waitresses: combining low wages and sexual harassment with the gendered pay gap for a very, very long time.

The low wages compounded by the gender wage gap breeds a system of living paycheck to paycheck, which means women cannot do anything to jeopardize receiving their next one – not even report the discrimination or harassment they are experiencing. Unlike workers in other professions, tipped workers depend on the consumer directly for their wages. A tipped worker’s bottomline depends on soliciting and earning good tips from customers, but at what cost?

We need to value women’s work and put our money where our mouths are. There are many ways to do this. We can support federal legislation like the Healthy Families Act or the Raise the Wage Act. Alternatively, you can also vote with your wallet. Apps like the Roc National Diners’ Guide, developed by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, allow diners to find out if their favorite restaurants treat workers ethically. At a minimum, employers should pay their employees a livable wage for their area of residence, provide them with proper health insurance, offer them paid sick days, and give them opportunities for promotion. If you find out they don’t, why not speak up about it?

This is a group of workers that never receives enough attention, with the assumption by most that our tips are allowing them to live good lives. Meanwhile, waitresses struggle for basic survival, thanks to the absurd tipped minimum wage and structural sexism.

The Administrative State

[ 40 ] October 4, 2015 |


Mike Konczal has a really smart essay in the Boston Review about the history of the administrative state that you all should read. Basically, unlike modern conservative mythology that states that the rise of Big Government is something that comes out of the Progressive Era and New Deal that undermined traditional American small government, in fact the administrative state has existed in the United States since almost the beginning. The real question has been what that administrative state should do, who it should benefit, and what realms of society should be affected. But there is no pre-administrative state for us to return to. That would be uncharted territory and a complete disaster, if such an attempt was ever implemented. It wouldn’t be though, since even modern conservatives just want to eliminate the parts of the state they don’t like, such as programs that help black people or women. Just an excerpt here:

Take the settlement of the West. The surveying, sale, and settlement of the new public lands was the largest administrative challenge facing the early federal government. People moving westward, especially after the Louisiana Purchase, didn’t form the bargaining, enclosing paradise of libertarian lore. Settlements involved endless fighting in courts over who owned what under a mix of state, federal, and international law. Courts were ill equipped to handle these cases and quickly buckled under the endless, costly claims, some of which would take decades to negotiate. The time and energy absorbed by the legal process slowed the work of making new land available for settlement. Dysfunction fed back on dysfunction, with lawsuits provoking further lawsuits and uncertainty.

In order to deal with this chaotic situation, Congress created the General Land Office in 1812. It was not without controversy of the sort we might recognize today: during the republican era, Congress wanted to explicitly control every aspect of policy. But rules drafted in Washington D.C., no matter how meticulous, required expert implementation on the ground. The process of surveying, recording, and selling land had to be subject to uniform rules, but the land itself was not uniform, and the rules weren’t easy to apply. Congressional strictures originally prevented Land Office administrators from correcting record-keeping errors resulting from the disconnect between the law and facts on the ground. Eventually, though, Congress realized the need to tolerate some administrative discretion. So, for example, while the law required planting trees to demarcate townships, where trees could not be planted, administrators might fix stones. Land Office agents, newly empowered to make at least some decisions, filed reports with Congress to ensure accountability.

Mashaw extends a project of finding the state in the nineteenth century, which historians have undertaken since the 1990s. Books such as William J. Novak’s The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America (1996) have documented the extensive state regulation of behavior that characterized the time period. Mashaw shows that the government not only regulated through law, but also expanded its capacity to enforce those laws by means of the administrative state.

All of this helped to build the republic that we live in today. If we want a functional state, the principle of big government is something we should embrace, not apologize away.

Domestic Workers and the Legacy of Slavery

[ 22 ] October 3, 2015 |


Training future domestic workers, Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, Bordentown, New Jersey

Premilla Nadasen has an exciting new book out on the history of domestic worker organizing. I’m looking forward to reading it. Jake Blumgart has an interesting interview with Nadasen, where she explains the connection between domestic workers even today and the legacy of slavery:

What was the legacy of slavery in the domestic labor sector, especially in the first half of the 20th century?

After the end of slavery, African-American women increasingly became paid domestic workers. The image that came to dominate their labor in this occupation was the figure of the mammy, an African-American woman loyal to the family for whom she worked and happily served. The image of the mammy becomes essential in the early 20th century to justify an unequal racial order in the South and as an apology for slavery, with its assumption that African Americans were content to serve white families.

The reality is that their work was not treated as real work. They were very often framed by their employers as “one of the family.” That meant they would work longer hours and take hand-me-downs instead of payment because the assumption built into the “one of the family” phrase was that they were working out of love. But Carolyn Reed, an organizer in New York City, put it best when she said “I don’t need a family, I need a job.”

In the beginning of the book you talk about communists and other radical activists who tried to organize with domestic laborers. How successful were those 1930s efforts?

Considering that the occupation was so difficult to organize, I think they were enormously successful. They were isolated employees who often worked alone in a home and were invisible from the public eye and labor organizers. When communists, the Women’s Trade Union League, and the Urban League all decided to organize domestic workers, they actually brought these women together in a collective space. Sometimes they reached out to them in the “slave markets,” the name that Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke gave to these street corners in New York City where African-American women waited to be hired as day workers. The Bronx Slave markets became sites of organizing. Then domestic workers and their supporters developed hiring halls where domestic workers could be protected from exploitative employers.

Figured this would be of interest to many readers.

What Does Dylan Matthews Think The Worst New York Times Article Published in the Last Decade Is?

[ 196 ] October 3, 2015 |


Dylan Matthews tweeted a while ago:

So naturally, I clicked. It was Paul Theroux writing about the hypocrisy of corporate campaigns for charity when their own outsourcing policies caused the economic decline of the American working class in the first place. A selection:

Take a Delta town such as Hollandale, Miss. Two years ago, the entire tax base of this community of around 3,500 was (so the now-deceased and much-mourned mayor Melvin Willis told me) less than $300,000. What the town had on hand to spend for police officers, firefighters, public works, outreach, welfare and town hall salaries was roughly the amount of a Bill or Hillary one-night-stand lecture fee; what Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, earns in a couple of days.

When Hollandale’s citizens lost their jobs in the cotton fields to mechanization they found work nearby, in Greenville and elsewhere, in factories that made clothes, bikes, tools and much else — for big brands like Fruit of the Loom and Schwinn.

They are gone now. Across the Mississippi River, Monticello, Ark., and other towns made carpets and furniture while Forrest City produced high-quality TV sets. The people I spoke to in the town of Wynne, known for its footwear, said they’d be happy to make Nikes if they were paid a living wage.

I found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered. It’s globalization, people say. Everyone knows that, everyone moans about it. Big companies have always sought cheaper labor, moving from North to South in the United States, looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salaries.

To me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that, by outsourcing, it 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.

This is by and large true. Globalization has led to a global race to the bottom that has deeply undermined the American working class, led to the decline of unions (the only collective voice that American workers have ever had in politics) and their replacement in the political realm by untold amounts of corporate cash leading to equally untold influence over policy. It also also allowed for wealthy capitalists to make tremendous amounts of money by exploiting the poorest of the world’s people, dooming them to death on the job, massive pollution exposure, low wages, sexual assault on the job, violence when they try to organize unions, and the constant, never-ending threat of capital mobility if they organize to improve their lives. Globalization has also led to the creation of a global elite and smaller middle-class that has created real economic benefits for those lucky enough to rise into it, whether in India, China, or the United States. The question to whether we can have one without the other is what people who care about issues of global trade and inequality try to hash out. But the impact of capital mobility upon working-class American communities is pretty much not arguable. Whether the Mississippi communities Theroux describes, the Oregon logging communities without jobs, or old factory towns like Schenectady and Johnstown and Pawtucket and Flint, we can see the impact of globalization on the American landscape, or at least we can if we ever leave the Beltway.

So the basic point should be pretty well accepted. In any case, it’s hardly the abomination Matthews describes. Matthews’ objection is that Theroux wants to doom the poor around the world to poverty for nationalist reasons and thus he is a moral monster or something. First, that’s not true and any cursory reading of Theroux’s own work shows that. The chances that Matthews has ever read anything by Theroux, someone who knows far more about the developing world that Matthews sitting at his Vox desk could ever dream of, seems unlikely, although how I am to know. Second, Theroux makes no such claim. He points out that globalization has decimated working class communities and that the Chinese have benefited. Third, Theroux rightfully calls out the business community for being hypocrites, claiming they care about communities while taking all their jobs away. I guess that doesn’t mean you have reject corporate money to improve decimated communities, but it’s obvious that business, ranging from their strong anti-union positions to the Chamber of Commerce’s attack on the ACA, is opposed to any actual policy that would help working people outside of the dribbling of charity from their own beneficence.

But Matthews has the same kind of neoliberal centrist economic position staked out by his own Vox compadre Matt Yglesias when he talked about it being OK for Bangladeshis to have lower workplace standards and allow over 1100 workers to die at the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. This is a wholly abstract notion of the world economy developed in an atmosphere of Washington boardrooms, raw data analyzed without historical or anthropological context that ignores the messiness of what happens on the ground, and the elite confidence in their own rightness developed at Ivy League schools and continued through the networks that keeps these people on top. What it is totally disconnected to is how actual workers live, what they want, the real sufferings they deal with, and their own demands in the system of global capitalism. These are questions that receive indifference from Matthews, Yglesias, and the like, who are far more comfortable taking on the mantle of Official Explainer of Data to the American upper-middle class in ways that justify their readers’ current position on the economic scale than they are in articulating just how they see American communities recovering from globalization or how we should support the desires of Bangladeshi textile workers to live a better life.

As far as I can tell, Dylan Matthews is completely indifferent to the suffering of the American working class so long as he can justify it by data that shows that some other people’s lives are improving because of it. And of course, I want the lives of Bangladeshi workers and American workers to both improve. That’s why I wrote a book connecting the two nations and trying to think through ways that we can tame a global economy that decimates communities in both nations. Matthews, Yglesias, and others of their ilk are happy to support better health care policy and the like, and that’s good. But they really struggle to understand how important it is for people to have work and how much of what they don’t like about where this nation is right now–the fear of immigrants, the post-Citizens United political landscape, stagnating incomes, long-term unemployment, etc.–stems in parts larger or smaller from the decline of unions and the undermining of the American working class turned middle class. Without the jobs that Matthews is more than happy to send overseas if the workers unionize, (and really, have either Matthews or Yglesias ever actively written in support of a single labor struggle, even if they support unions in theory? Not that I have ever seen), none of this gets fixed. It certainly doesn’t happen if we just let all the smart people in DC decide what to do, a long-standing mythology held on to with great aplomb by those who could potentially be part of that conversation.

This doesn’t mean that one can’t criticize Theroux’s arguments. It’s really not the best piece one could write on the impact of globalization. He presents the global economy as more of a zero-sum game than it is. His own discussions of the impact of charity in Africa, while not entirely untrue, are certainly cranky and problematic. He’s been criticized before for his recent writings on Africa that blame foreign aid for a lot of the continent’s current problems. Theroux himself doesn’t seem to get or he doesn’t articulate the importance of worker power and unions in American work, not that one per se must address that in a relatively short op-ed. And if you frame all of this as a zero-sum game, then it does become problematic because you open yourself up to Matthews’ response that by bringing the jobs back to America you want the Chinese to be poor (although that’s not really any more morally problematic than Matthews’ own predilections.)

But in the end, Matthews called an article concerned about the poverty of the American working class the worst thing the New York Times has published in maybe a decade. This is the conclusion to Theroux’s supposed abomination.

Some companies have brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States, a move called “reshoring,” but so far this is little more than a gesture. It seems obvious that executives of American companies should invest in the Deep South as they did in China. If this modest proposal seems an outrageous suggestion, to make products for Nike, Apple, Microsoft and others in the South, it is only because the American workers would have to be paid fairly. Perhaps some chief executives won’t end up multibillionaires as a result, but neither will they have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty.

Wow, what a moral monster.

Matthews deserves a good bit of pushback on this. I’ll be curious to see if he writes more on it. But it’s not wrong to be concerned about the lack of good jobs in your homeland, nor to document how global trade policies have driven some people into poverty. If attacking such statements as being morally monstrous is by someone who is identified as a smart center-left commenter, we have real problems.

Page 1 of 34312345...102030...Last »