Wednesday, July 3, 2013

No, Some Progressives Just Gave Up On Policy

Slate published an article by a legal reporter and a law professor arguing that the recent victory in the Supreme Court over DOMA only illustrates how limited the progressive agenda (in their view) has become in recent years. It's an interesting read, but it seems to me that these two  author seem to be ignoring the large number of progressives who are focusing on this issue.

The article follows a typical critique you find all over the internet these days. They cite the victory over DOMA as being a great triumph for progressives but then bemoan the fact that:
But did you notice that, on the way to this victory, the left, as a movement, seemed to abandon almost everything else for which it once stood?...But this win, however deserved, addresses no more than a small fraction of what the left once believed essential.
They then go on to give a usual-suspects list of issues on which they feel liberals have dropped the ball: abortion, gun control, the death penalty etc. Ironically they only seem to prove the point argued by William Deresiewicz that I've brought up before about how academics (and progressives) tend to talk, "“What we talk about is race and sexuality. (Or in the academy, race, gender, and sexuality, the great triumvirate. The humanities, despite their claim to transformative significance, have all but forgotten about class.)” Indeed their list only mentions other issues at the end, in one sentence where we are reminded about "Economic fairness; a war on poverty, meaningful education reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, racial justice, women’s rights, equal access to child care and health care."

Interestingly enough their are a lot of progressives out their who do focus on these issues. A classic example is Slate's own Matt Yglesias. Yglesias has been in the liberal blogosphere for a while now but he's never been that welcome, indeed not too long ago a certain person whose name we shall not mentioned fired off and angry screed denoucning/excommunicating him from being a progressive. As they put it:
But each [blogger i disagree with] represents, in his own, the corruption and capitulation that comes with prominence and success in this culture. I genuinely don’t know what the hell happened to Matt Yglesias...He is now one of the most vocal of the neoliberal scolds, forever ready to define the “neoliberal consensus” as the truth of man and to ignore left-wing criticism. Indeed, I’m not sure that you could even understand that he has critics from his left, judging by what he chooses to discuss on his blog. This is a particularly cruel way to erase the left-wing from the discourse: to pretend that it doesn’t exist. 
Matt gave one of the better responses to the old charge of not being progressive enough:
But one point that I agree with here, is that while I’ll cop to being a “neoliberal” I don’t acknowledge that I have critics to the “left” of me. On economic policy, here are the main things I’m trying to accomplish:
— More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
— A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.
— Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
— Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners.
— Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
— Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.
— Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.
— Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.
— Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are public services and not jobs programs.
— Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction.

Is this a “neoliberal” program? Well, this is one of these terms that was invented by its critics so I hesitate to embrace it though I recognize that the shoe fits to a considerable extent. I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest. I recognize that many people disagree with this agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own. I really and sincerely believe that liberalism is the best way to advance the interests of the underprivileged and to make the world a better place. I offer “further left” people the (unreturned) courtesy of not questioning the sincerity of their belief that they have some better solutions, but I think they’re mistaken.
The irony hear is that Yglesias has laid out a fairly extensive list of policy priorities he does think can address issues like, "Economic fairness; a war on poverty, meaningful education reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, racial justice, women’s rights, equal access to child care and health care."

I think this is an all too common reality in progressive thought, we bemoan that we as progressives don't focus on the correct issues anymore while in reality we are ignoring our friends and allies who are focusing on those issues because we feel squeamish about their policy solutions. Then we offer no other ideas in response and call people who don't necessarily feel that markets are inherently immiserating names like "neoliberals."

The problem here is that progressives that complain about how we have abandoned too many issues are just not coming up with policies to deal with the issues we supposedly abandoned. Ask far too many progressives how to fix a highly dysfunctional school system with declining enrollment, massive legacy costs, an aging work force and a billion dollar a year deficit and we are basically told "Rahm's a jerk!" Or hear some vague platitude about justice or something. The irony here is that folks like Yglesias shouldn't have a monopoly on policy solutions for problems like, "Economic fairness; a war on poverty, meaningful education reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, racial justice, women’s rights, equal access to child care and health care." But because too many progressives have given up on trying to find effective feasible policy, and instead focus on finding villains (Rahm, Obama, every bank ever) so they can be on "the right side" in some maximal way, he sort of does.

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