Remarks on Ian Fletcher’s “Why Is the American Left So Ineffective in Economics?”

Some reflections on the internal organizational weaknesses of the left are offered by Ian Fletcher to which I want to offer some critical remarks.

“The first reason is the gentrification of the left. If you compare who runs the Democratic party on a day-to-day basis with who ran it in 1932, or even 1962, there’s been nearly a clean sweep of old-school ethnics and working-class people and their replacement with yuppies. Even if the bosses who ran the Democratic party in 1932 were of middle-class or above incomes as a personal matter, their social origins usually were not. This fact usually gets ignored, not least because almost everyone with the wherewithal to comment on it (including yours truly) is themselves a yuppie.” The suggestion hereby is that the Democratic Party is an important engine for political change, and historically this could be verified but only under the qualification that the working class would get sufficiently organized and force the Democratic Party to accommodate to the will of the people. One also wonders whether the orientation of Democratic Party leaders is all that significant, since members of both political parties are subject to the same kind of all-encompassing political culture, in which money is defined as speech, meaning that if the rich elites are buying both political parties the personal background of the political leader becomes insignificant. So, for example, Barack Obama grew up with food stamps, but as current U.S. president is doing all sorts of things that only benefit the 1%. So there must have structually been something inbetween.

“A major part of the problem here is that 100 percent of the political power in the United States is monopolized by the top 10 percent of the population. I know this sounds odd, but the hard fact is that one can’t exert political power without organization, and all major organizations are run by people in the top 10 percent. So the top 10 percent exercise a veto power over political action by everyone else. At an absolute minimum, anything any group does will be filtered through the media, and all media types are 10 percenters.” I would reduce the discussion to the top 1%, because these are the people that really matter. The top 10% (professionals, doctors, teachers, engineers etc.) might be the willing consumers and carriers of the culture that is dictated by the top 1%. And this top 1%, as Marx would tell us, is not inspired by its own motive forces of domination and exploitation, but by the incessant need of capital to accumulate (and incidentally reap the benefits in the form of remunerations and bonuses). Also, it is quite notable that Fletcher spends no time on specifying who the “everyone else” is. Perhaps, workers? But he is hitting the right nail by indicating that the members of the policy-planning network (term borrowed from William Domhoff) have different interests from those from the rest of society, being with a working or lumpen class background.

“This points to the second problem with the contemporary American left: it has exchanged equality as its primary goal for diversity. Now one can argue this either way, and I don’t do culture-war issues, but the hard fact is that one can’t prefer diversity to equality and expect equality to be the outcome. They are simply not the same thing. One can claim to be in favor of both, but strategic choices have to be made, and either one or the other must come out on top.
The real problem with diversity, from a leftist point of view, is not that it’s a bad thing per se. The real problem is that diversity intrinsically tends to reduce human solidarity. Solidarity is the emotion people feel towards others that makes them care about the fate of people who would otherwise be strangers. It is thus an essential basis of any political tendency that would impose policies designed to reduce economic inequality. (It’s no accident this is a word unions talk about all the time.)
Without solidarity, people don’t hate each other. They just don’t care. Not really, whatever they may say. Solidarity comes from having something in common with other people, and the less people have in common with each other, the more American society devolves to a model of pure individual self-interest. Which may be a leftist model in cultural or social questions, but it’s a rightist model in economics.”
This is a very sensitive issue. Mixing social and cultural diversity with economic diversity becomes incompatible. As Hegel wrote, “When the civic community is untrammelled in its activity, it increases within itself in industry and population. By generalizing the relations of men by the way of their wants, and by generalizing the manner in which the means of meeting these wants are prepared and procured, large fortunes are amassed. On the other side, there occur repartition and limitation of the work of the individual labourer and, consequently, dependence and distress in the artisan class. With these drawbacks are associated callousness of feeling and inability to enjoy the larger possibilities of freedom, especially the mental advantages of the civic community.” In other words, the state of material poverty (economics) makes it virtually impossible to care about any social or cultural issues such as abortion or gay marriage and things like that. The concern for those issues hinges on a solid and comfortable material middle-class background. After the fulfillment of the basic conditions in life, when one does not worry about whether child care is affordable or not in a wealthy country, and when one knows that food is put on the table in a poor country, then can one easily pass judgment upon issues that would improve our society or culture or our morales. If the political culture is fueled by big money to completely move away to those cultural issues then it is to be seen as a strategy to distract the general population from the relevant economic issues, for the economics in this country is justifiably ugly. The class issue up until Occupy Wall Street was subdued, and to a degree still is. What I criticize in Fleming’s position is his emphasis on the upper class left not being friendly enough to the working class, to which I would respond that the working class should receive the support of the left upper class if possible, and in its absence act on its own with whatever means it has available.

“Worse, most leftists who delve into economics and dissent from the existing consensus (which is sound neither from a liberal nor a conservative point of view, but that’s another story) go overboard and drift into fantasy. There’s a very narrow sweet spot of disciplined radicalism that neither sells out nor indulges solutions that are non-starters. Staying in this sweet spot takes a lot of self-discipline, and since the 1960s, this has not exactly been a leftist virtue.” Would this gentlemen be so kind to define what those “fantasies” exactly entail? Narrowing ourselves to ‘realistic’ solutions is not radical at all. I do not hereby mean to suggest that realistic solutions like improving domestic manufacturing, investing in infrastructure and raising taxes on the rich should not be pursued. In terms of practically causing a very violent and unpredictable scenario, this is probably the most reasonable thing to do. All I am suggesting is that the inability to utter more radical alternatives like, say, socialism, where the ones that make decisions on the common welfare are the same people as those that produce the goods and services necessary to maintain a common welfare, is narrowing down the potential applicable solutions. The elites today are unwilling to embrace radical change, nor can it be expected that they could do so since the system seemes to be serving them well, even though that is also not true in many instances, where the elites are “flee[ing] to the shelter of the nanny state, clutching their copies of Hayek and Friedman and Ayn Rand” when it came to the collapse of Wall Street four years ago, according to Noam Chomsky. When the resistance against the status quo can not be generated by the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt or John Maynard Keynes, then it will have to come from the people one way or the other. America’s educational system so incompetent as it is corrupt in terms of aiding the students in basic reading and writing may be a hindrance to great transformation. The culture might also be trapped in embracing capital, but the resistance will have to come from the people, even though the consequences might be unpredictable.

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