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‘Fallen! Fallen Is Babylon The Great!’

(For those keeping score, the title of this post is a quote from Rev. 18:2. [1])

Damon Linker is feeling prophetic [2] — and he’s damned correct to! Excerpts:

You can almost hear the sentiments echoing down the corridors of (political and economic) power on both sides of the Atlantic: “There’s nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine. No need for serious soul searching or changes of direction. Sure, populism’s a nuisance. But we’re keeping it at bay. We just need to stay the course, fiddle around the edges a little bit, and certainly not give an inch to the racists and xenophobes who keep making trouble. We know how the world works, and we can handle the necessary fine tuning of the meritocracy. We got this.”

And why wouldn’t they think this way? They are themselves the greatest beneficiaries of the global meritocracy — and that very fact serves to validate its worth. They live in or near urban centers that are booming with jobs in tech, finance, media, and other fields that draw on the expertise they acquired in their educations at the greatest universities in the world. They work hard and are rewarded with high salaries, frequent travel, nice cars, and cutting-edge gadgets. It’s fun, anxious, thrilling — an intoxicating mix of brutal asceticism and ecstatic hedonism.

The problem is that growing numbers of people — here in America, in the U.K., in France, and beyond — don’t see it like this at all. Or rather, they only see it from the outside, a position from which it looks very different. What they see is a system that is fundamentally unjust, rigged, and shot through with corruption and self-dealing.

To this point, if you are not following Chris Arnade on Twitter [3], now is the time to start. More Linker:

They see Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo, taking home a cool $186 million in stock (on top of many millions in additional salary and bonuses) for five years of “largely unsuccessful” work.

They see Henrique De Castro, who worked briefly for Meyer at Yahoo, pulling $109 million in compensation for a disastrous 15 months on the job.

They see Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly getting fired from Fox News for sexually harassing a parade of women over the years — and taking home tens of millions of dollars each in severance.

They see former Democratic President Barack Obama sharing a $65 million book advance with his wife, earning $400,000 for a single speech scheduled to be delivered in the fall at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, and gallivanting around the globe with David Geffen, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and Bono.

And then, as Linker avers, there’s Trump and the Washington Republicans, who don’t seem to have much of a clue about what the people who voted for them want. Whether or not you think the border wall is a good idea — I have my doubts — Ann Coulter is absolutely right here: [4]

No one voted for Trump because of the “Access Hollywood” tape. They voted for him because of his issues; most prominently, his promise to build “a big beautiful wall.” And who’s going to pay for it? MEXICO!

You can’t say that at every campaign rally for 18 months and then not build a wall.

Do not imagine that a Trump double-cross on the wall will not destroy the Republican Party. Oh, we’ll get them back. No, you won’t. Trump wasn’t a distraction: He was the last chance to save the GOP.

Millions of Americans who hadn’t voted in 30 years came out in 2016 to vote for Trump. If he betrays them, they’ll say, “You see? I told you. They’re all crooks.”

No excuses will work. No fiery denunciations of the courts, the Democrats or La Raza will win them back, even if Trump comes up with demeaning Twitter names for them.

It would be an epic betrayal — worse than Bush betraying voters on “no new taxes.” Worse than LBJ escalating the Vietnam War. There would be nothing like it in the history of politics.

He’s the commander in chief! He said he’d build a wall. If he can’t do that, Trump is finished, the Republican Party is finished, and the country is finished.

Trump was never going to get the wall built, but if there is nothing he promised more fervently. If Trump sells out his voters on this one, I don’t agree that the country is finished, but I do believe that the reaction when these voters realize that they’ve been had is going to be hellacious.

Anyway, back to the Linker column: Read the whole thing [2]and pass it along to everyone you know.

They say that Marine Le Pen can’t beat Emmanuel “Micro Macro” Macron. They’re probably right. Le Pen may not deserve to win, but empty-suit Macron, who stands for nothing more than the interests of the French and European establishments, deserves to lose. If Le Pen wins this thing on May 7, that will be the equivalent of pulling down the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad. And the globalist elites will have brought it on themselves.

Hard, hard times coming. None of us are going to escape it; the best we can do is to build our resilience. Prepare. [5]

UPDATE: A reader sends in this link to an Ian Welsh blogpost [6]. Excerpts:

Economic problems take time to ripple thru political system because after 30 most people don’t tend to change their views. They believe what they believe, they are who they are, and while age produces real changes, it doesn’t tend to change their politics, absent absolute catastrophe.

But we are now moving to the other side of that. For decades people put up with decline, but now the youngsters, some of whom are in their early 30s, have never known anything but a failed system and a bad economy. This political world has never worked for them, ever: they have no emotional investment in it, no habit of supporting it.

So, as we continue our economic decline; as inequality gets worse and worse, and as the coming generations move to the age where they are politically viable, the current time ends.

The next set of rulers and their supporters will try new things; new systems. They will be willing to revolt. The age of neoliberalism is all but over.

More:

It is quite hard to predict history in the short term, where the short term means years, or even a decade or two. It is very hard to predict history in the long term of centuries or millennia. But between that it is quite easy. Each ideology, each empire, each economic system has a best by date. Some last longer than others, but all end, and they do so in fairly standard order.

We are near the end of an ideological order: neoliberalism. We are near the end of war-making technological era, with the rise of robots. We are near the end of a production technological era, with the rise of AI and bots.

Combined with environmental catastrophe (and nukes), this makes what is coming down the line much worse than the normal cyclical change. Much, much worse. We can create a better world, or a few better societies, out of it, to be sure, but there is probably no avoiding the Age of War and Revolution which is soon to be upon us.

188 Comments (Open | Close)

188 Comments To "‘Fallen! Fallen Is Babylon The Great!’"

#1 Comment By Smith On April 29, 2017 @ 10:44 am

There was a time when in the smallest of towns the clerk behind the counter owned the shop. The shoppers came in picked out what they needed, received good service from the clerk and got to know the clerk. These days clerks in small towns are usually at the Gas station, from India or the Middle East, or is a middle aged woman who appears to barely be making ends meet and isn’t much for conversation. People still stop and talk to these clerks but not many. Most shoppers don’t treat these clerks with respect and they probably don’t earn as much respect as the clerks of old.

Look at the airlines. Flight attendants and pilots used to be greatly respected and now they are pilloried thanks to a video recorder in everyone’s pocket. What used to be someone’s bad day quickly becomes someone’s bad life. What used to prompt the question, “Gee, what got in to Dr. Dao, what got in to the flight attendant, what got in to those airport police” Now prompts the question, “how much will UA’s stock price go down, will Congress intervene, will Dr. Dao survive from his wounds, all flight attendants are terrible, right? people have a right to stay on a plane no matter what and bring on strollers if they want, right?

Entitlement is out of control to the point where the very word itself is becoming less and less used as if it is simply understood.

#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 29, 2017 @ 11:08 am

I strongly suggest you pick up Jefferson Cawe’s Staying Alive: Last Days of the Working Class in the 1970s.

Back then, in the last decade before deindustrialization struck, millions of production line workers struck because they felt they lacked any control over their lives, their jobs were meaningless, their every motion controlled by supervisor. In other words- those jobs were profoundly unsatisfying. ”

Kevin,

Others have made this same claim here before. It doesn’t prove the point you want it to prove, at all. All that shows is that working in the industrial sector is not sufficient for a job to be satisfying, it doesn’t demonstrate that it isn’t necessary.

Of course, working in the manufacturing sector can be miserable, and in the United States it often was, before modern unions and regulations came along. It still is in many other countries: I just read about a recent study where they looked at people in an African country who moved from farm work into factory work. Within a year, two thirds of them had left and gone home because they preferred life on the farm. That having been said, it’s my case that at their best those manufacturing jobs allowed people the sense of doing work that was not just reasonably remunerative but also worthwhile and of value, and that most of the jobs in a vastly expanded service sector will never do the same. This is why it’s important to me to to keep large manufacturing and agricultural sectors alive, even if it means restraints on automation and vastly expanded government intervention / control of the economy.

#3 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 29, 2017 @ 11:38 am

I basically agree with Linker’s overall point — which has been made many times by many others. These articles have one big flaw, though. They never offer any solutions. What should we do about Marissa Meyer and her millions? I believe that Melenchon proposed a 100% tax rate. Should she pay only because she was unsuccessful? What’s the income cutoff for the high tax rate?

In the long run, the “solution” I’d like to see involves replacing capitalism with collective ownership/control of most of the means of production. In the short run though, I’d support everything that Cka2nd mentions in his first paragraph above. Very high taxes on wealth as well as income would definitely ameliorate the problem. Restore the top marginal 85-90% tax rates in the Eisenhower era, and start going up from there. Institute higher inheritance taxes, heavy taxes on financial transactions (even the conservative Ron Unz has suggested that one) and, yea, taxes on wealth seem like a good idea too.

There’s another issue separate from economic inequality however (as big a problem as that is), and that’s the underemployment that results from deindustrialization. That’s a much more difficult problem to solve. But as partial solutions, I’d suggest having the government serve as employer of last resort (which would of course mean the government would get much more involved than it is now in running various parts of the economy). There’s no reason in principle that the government couldn’t hire large numbers of people to do construction work, or to (say) engage in large scale reforestation efforts to combat global warming. And I’d also suggest regulating automation through joint negotiations between the government, labour unions, and business owners.

#4 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 29, 2017 @ 11:46 am

Jay and cka2nd: I agree with some of your suggestions (I probably wouldn’t go to a 90% marginal rate, but I would support a rate higher than we have),

As for your question about where to start, how about more brackets in general, somewhat higher rates on incomes over 100k, and the really high rates can start over 500k.

The idea that working on the producing line is some kind of “craftwork as soulwork” activity, giving people pride in producing something real, is a backward projection. In real time, very few people liked those jobs- even if they loved the benefits and wages they provided

I can find you plenty of people who used to do those sorts of jobs and liked them fine. In any case, there are always going to be lots of people who dislike their jobs to some degree, the question is whether they like them more or less than the alternatives. I think most people would ultimately find factory jobs (at their best) to be more fulfilling than working as a hotel clerk.

#5 Comment By Jonathan Scinto On April 29, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

I don’t know, maybe Democrats actually DO like increasing income inequality and endless war. They certainly didn’t mind Obama’s 8 year contribution to both. (Or more more likely, just blamed Republicans for it.)

It’s almost as if you’re pretending Republicans didn’t put up enormous roadblocks against any kind of policies that would alleviate income inequality. Hey go ahead and blame Democrats for the poisoned fruit of Reganism (and by extension, Buckley and the National Review).

#6 Comment By Ted On April 29, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

The Death Drive is strong in this piece…

War nonetheless IS coming, and the proximate cause of it is populism. War has served in the past to reduce inequality; maybe it will again.

But let’s be clear: What has brought the world to this pass is not contemporary liberalism, but Neoclassical economic theory. In the U.S., fusionist conservatives reached for this theory in their efforts to roll back New Deal liberalism. While that particular aim has fallen short, conservatives were nonetheless able to promote their class interests – even as they devastated our national finances with their don’t-tax-but-spend-anyway fiscal policy.

They got away with it, because they learned that the siren Song of Culture War and white-identity politics was more than beguiling enough to get the white working class to vote against their core economic interests.

Amazingly, conservatives have managed to fail upward, have managed to blame Democrats and liberals for a suite of economic policies that supercharged economic equality, even while they ruthlessly shut down every effort Democrats have made over the years to mitigate the impact of globalization on our citizens.

And so, Trump is the ne plus ultra of the Southern Strategy. He also is the proof that working-class conservatives are never going to transcend identity-politics and vote on the basis of rational self-interest.

Coulter is wrong that Trump was the last chance for the GOP; in fact Trump is simply a lit fuse on The Bomb that is going to destroy the party; all that remains unknown, is how short that fuse is.

A genuine economic populism waits on the rise of the Sanders Democrats to control of the Democratic party. Only then will conservative populists get what they need (if yet still not what they want)- including the repudiation of the American War Party. But if Coulter’s Republicans, out of impotent fury at Trump, manage to blow up the GOP, then we come one giant step closer to a new Progressive future.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 29, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

because wage slave exploited labor without rights is useful to those who don’t care about ordinary Americans’ reduced economic circumstances.

True, but history shows that the working class gets nowhere by blaming slaves further down the ladder for their slavery. That just plays into the hands of the plutocrats Fran rightly loves to lampoon. Either bring the slaves into the union, or kiss your union wage scale good-bye.

#8 Comment By VikingLS On April 29, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

“So my question for you is really basic since the results of Democratic governance are so obviously superior, why are you bad mouthing democrats?”

Well that one is simple. Democrats deserve to be badmouthed.

Not necessarily the ones that run local governments competently, but the rank and file member that treat Republican wars and globalist policies as scandalous, but didn’t say ONE WORD in protest when Obama transferred people like Victoria Nuland into his administration.

The deal isn’t that you have to be marginally better than Republicans at governance. The deal is if you don’t stand on ALL your principles, then we can presume that you really don’t object to the ones you don’t stand on, namely a restrained foreign policy and taking any serious measures in regards to income inequality. (And no, the welfare state does not address the latter.)

See, here’s the thing. If I point out that from what I can tell the Democrats figured out that they could sell out labor so long as they took the right social stands, your response is probably going to be “well what? As opposed to the Republicans?”

Well that would be true if we didn’t have primaries. You get to choose who represents your party before they even go up against Republicans.

Look who your party chose to send up against Republicans, and who the alternative was.

So yes, I have no problem badmouthing that.

#9 Comment By Roger II On April 29, 2017 @ 1:25 pm

While some here have offered (pie-in-the-sky) solutions to the problems facing the white working class, no one has yet addressed the point that the white working class is vehemently opposed to those solutions. And making the government the employer of last resort is going to require far higher tax revenue. Again, I’m not opposed to these solutions and would probably be happy living in a Scandinavian-style social democracy. The white working class is opposed to them.

#10 Comment By VikingLS On April 29, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

“It’s almost as if you’re pretending Republicans didn’t put up enormous roadblocks against any kind of policies that would alleviate income inequality. Hey go ahead and blame Democrats for the poisoned fruit of Reganism (and by extension, Buckley and the National Review).”

See, again, this is the problem. This is all you know how to do, just blame the Republicans. Hold your own party accountable, no, no, let’s just blame the Republicans.

There WAS a time in this country when Democrats actually DID do a lot to deal with things like income inequality (they weren’t so great on war). There was a time when Union labor and manufacturing could rely on the Democrats. There were Republicans back then too.

#11 Comment By mrscracker On April 29, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

muad’dib,
You know, Louisiana has a Democrat governor now.

#12 Comment By Noah172 On April 29, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

Siarlys wrote:

Either bring the slaves into the union, or kiss your union wage scale good-bye

Organized labor’s time of peak power in the US (1940s through 70s, give or take) coincided with an era of low immigration — because, duh, a restricted labor supply benefits labor at capital’s expense. Organized labor and its political champions used to be staunchly restrictionist (Gompers, LaFollette).

Is Diversity that jealous and awesome a god that even you, avowedly further left than Uncle Karl himself, fear blaspheming her by offering even the teensiest criticism of mass immigration?

#13 Comment By collin On April 29, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

Viking,

These are two different issue here:

1) I do believe the BLM movement cost Democrats a lot of votes in the 2016 election (and the actual election) and it would be wise to stop calling Racism everywhere. One reason why some of the race issues Ds need to understand that economic opportunity of the WWC has diminished the last 15 years. However, Coulter, “Mexicans are worse than ISIS” or Bannon are not the average Republican here but if TAC and other Republicans move this direction it will not have good consequences. I remember W 2004 won ~44% of the Hispanic-American vote and it it interesting to contrast the 1994 Bush Jr. and Pete Wilson governor runs.

2) Well, in terms of Trump and Russia, I would like all the evidence of interaction. I wish Comey came out stated it all so we can understand the issues. Trump lost a lot of potential support calling Democrats Losers in the transition and has fought tooth and nail on the investigation. And secondly, Democrats experience numerous battles in the Obama years, such tactics were effective so why should they sit back and let Republicans walk over us.

#14 Comment By Jonathan Scinto On April 29, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

See, again, this is the problem. This is all you know how to do, just blame the Republicans. Hold your own party accountable, no, no, let’s just blame the Republicans.

I like how you don’t make any attempt to explain, how Republican obstruction since 2010, is all Democrats fault. It’s almost like you don’t have an answer beyond whine about liberals. It’s all you ever do on this comment section. Democrats have tried for years to reduce income inequality. Republicans don’t believe its a problem and/or the guys over National Review just spout FREE MARKETS/SUPPLY SIDE! You can draw a line from our economic woes, straight through conservative thought on domestic and economic policy, all the way back to Milton and his stupid 1970 essay.

There WAS a time in this country when Democrats actually DID do a lot to deal with things like income inequality (they weren’t so great on war). There was a time when Union labor and manufacturing could rely on the Democrats. There were Republicans back then too.

Unbelievable. Are you seriously comparing the Republicans of the 90s and earlier to today’s Republicans?

Populists are trying to bring about a Stalinist revision of history, where Democrats are to blame for “not doing enough.” Sure, Democrats could have done whatever they wanted. This is a dictatorship right? They’ve had complete supermajorities since the 90s right?

The modern Republican is an extremist supply side ideologue. He doesn’t believe in wellfare, he’s extremely against any new entitlements or aid programs, and he believes the national debt is a dire problem to be solved. He is not going to vote for any kind of program that would reduce income inequality.

Go read the National Review, the Washington Examiner, the Federalist, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, Redstate, the Resurgent. I read these magazines/websites on a regular basis. All of these places espouse extremist supply side nonsense. This is the intellectual backing of the Republican Party, including the insane Freedom/Tea Party caucus.

To be a liberal/democrat, is to engage in an endless battle to prevent conservatives from undoing the New Deal/Great Society achievements. If I blame Democrats for anything, it’s that they’ve allowed Republicans too much power to control the narrative. Clinton caved too easily on wellfare reform in the 90s.

At the end of the day, I blame Republicans because they’re the guilty party.

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 29, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

See, here’s the thing. If I point out that from what I can tell the Democrats figured out that they could sell out labor so long as they took the right social stands, your response is probably going to be “well what? As opposed to the Republicans?”

A pox on both their houses. This morning’s paper had a front page article that brings it all to a head. American Airlines announced that it had net first quarter earnings of $234 million, and that it was giving raises to flight attendants and pilots. Citibank analyst Kevin Crissey wrote “This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first… again. Shareholders get the leftovers. Morgan Stanley analyst Jamie Baker said the pay raise “establishes a worrying precedent, in our view, both for American and the industry.”

This is why, despite the manifest failures of Leninism, I remain a hard-left socialist. I don’t favor executing anyone — although this helps me to understand the sentiment — but people with this mentality should not be allowed the slightest influence or authority over anything. Give them a good union-scale job in a coal mine — its better than they deserve, but as a Christian, I must try to forgive them. In a sense, they know not what they do. It does make perfect sense from where they sit that of course they want maximum revenue for shareholders, and to hold down payments to labor. That is why the entire framework needs to be restructured. The protocols need to be, of course labor comes first. (As we’ve discussed, infrastructure maintenance also needs to be allocated — trying to burn up the revenue o bread and circuses leads to … Venezuela.)

This also highlights why Bernie Sanders did so well. It highlights why Hillary with all her highly-paid Wall Street appearances was a losing proposition. In a perverse way, it explains how Donald Trump won, although his pretense to be anything but an oligarch minus the table manners was a manipulative lie. And it highlights why Barack Obama was grievously in error to align with Geithner and Summers, and why his current associations are doing him no credit.

Further, this illustrates why I have little to no patience with the culture wars, not with the LGBTQWERTY agenda, not with our gracious host’s chicken little warnings, THESE ARE NOT THE ISSUES THAT REALLY MATTER. Not in politics. We need to get to a place where Crissey and Baker are NOT driving the economic priorities of the United States of America. And to achieve that, Bernie Sanders is kind of milquetoast. Too many of the Sanders Democrats with time to be “activists” still seem to believe that they can “sell out labor so long as they took the right social stands.”

#16 Comment By collin On April 29, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Jimmy Carter was a neo-liberal Shill? President Carter was many things but a neo-liberal shill is a new one. In reality, Jimmy Carter started the Reagan de-regulation movement but his moves tended to benefit consumers while Reagan was corporation. His two largest was hiring Judge Greene on the Ma Bell AT&T case and the airlines in 1978 both of which are considered long term successes. In the case of Ma Bell without the breakup would have AT&T pushed cell phone technology without the competition? (Answer NO!) Yes the airline industry has been somewhat dysfunctional since 1978 but long term air fares are still average $300 lower than the regulation days.

Anyway, if you don’t believe me about Deregulation, read about the Craft Beer movement in which Alan Cranstand promote a bill to allow beer making equipment to be sold across state lines. My guess Prez Carter spent 15 minutes signing the bill but with it a bunch beer nerds started home brewing their beers in the 1980s – 1990s. And some of these are became local beer successes and consumers no longer had to tolerate Budweiser as the King of Beers.

#17 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 29, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

While some here have offered (pie-in-the-sky) solutions to the problems facing the white working class,

We had super high tax rates under Eisenhower and were debating employer of last resort as a serious proposal in the 1970s, so I don’t think they’re as pie in the sky as all that. In any case, though, there is a big place in the world for pie in the sky theorizing. We are in a time of crisis now and tinkering around the margin isn’t going to work. It’s in a time of crisis that pie in the sky theoreizing is especially necessary. And after all, look what happened with gay marriage. Today’s pie in the sky dreams can often become tomorrow’s reality.

no one has yet addressed the point that the white working class is vehemently opposed to those solutions. And making the government the employer of last resort is going to require far higher tax revenue. Again, I’m not opposed to these solutions and would probably be happy living in a Scandinavian-style social democracy. The white working class is opposed to them

I’m not so sure that’s true. There are a lot of people who hold standard Democratic views on economics but voted for Trump because of the ‘cultural’ issues, specifically the ethnic identity politics.

#18 Comment By dave On April 29, 2017 @ 6:40 pm

Thing is, complex systems have a lot of points of failure – i.e., someone could drive a truck down a crowded sidewalk. And we live within a very complex system that tends to atomize individuals in part by delegitimizing or cannibalizing secondary institutions. Secondary institutions provide some necessary resiliency.

Which is to say, one way to look at it is that we have created a society of lone wolves. Many of which are then discarded, denigrated and used as scapegoats. If, to cite Dreher citing MacIntyre, enough people decide the imperium is no longer worth supporting, then I’d say we could have a problem.

#19 Comment By JonF On April 29, 2017 @ 9:01 pm

Re: no one has yet addressed the point that the white working class is vehemently opposed to those solutions

Which is a big part of their problem. So many of these people do not want solutions: they want it to be 1960 again. well, it won’t be because it can’t be. And even if it could be, how many of these people would support unions? One of the biggest problems I see in this country, and among this class of people in particular, is the total buy-in to hyper-individualism, and the rejection of group action. Their grandparents and great-grandparents risked everything, even life itself, to stand up to unjust and abusive bosses. These people can’t be bothered it seems. God forbid they might have to cancel the cable subscription, turn off the online games and porn, put down the cheap beer and “medical” pot and Vicodin and get off their fat butts and do something– together.

#20 Comment By Philly guy On April 30, 2017 @ 1:55 am

“There was a time when Union labor and manufacturing could rely on democrats”.The democrats relied on union members and they voted for Reagan by a wide margin.Then Reagan crushed the Air Traffic Controllers and they have been voting republican since.

#21 Comment By David J. White On April 30, 2017 @ 7:48 am

That having been said, it’s my case that at their best those manufacturing jobs allowed people the sense of doing work that was not just reasonably remunerative but also worthwhile and of value, and that most of the jobs in a vastly expanded service sector will never do the same.

But how much of that sense of satisfaction was due to the nature of the work itself, and how much was due to the wages and benefits those jobs provided, thanks in part to strong unions and in part to the historical anomaly of the mid-20th century, in which the US had much of the world’s manufacturing capacity to itself for a few decades, thanks to the destruction of much of the industrial infrastructure of other countries in WWII, which meant that American workers were needed — and valued — by their employers? If Wal-Mart employees today were paid and treated comparably to, say, GM employees in the 1950s, they might feel a similar sense of satisfaction and pride in their work.

#22 Comment By David J. White On April 30, 2017 @ 7:57 am

Very high taxes on wealth as well as income would definitely ameliorate the problem. Restore the top marginal 85-90% tax rates in the Eisenhower era, and start going up from there. Institute higher inheritance taxes, heavy taxes on financial transactions (even the conservative Ron Unz has suggested that one) and, yea, taxes on wealth seem like a good idea too.

This all sounds great, but wealth is more portable today than it was in the Eisenhower era, and national borders mean far less as far as business is concerned. Raise the tax rate too high and the wealthy will simply leave, taking their wealth with them. Look at the companies that are refusing to “repatriate” their overseas profits to avoid having to pay US taxes on it. And since the US economy is hardly the only game in town anymore, there are other countries in which one can profitably invest, and other countries where one can live comfortably, if one thinks US taxes are too high.

#23 Comment By David J. White On April 30, 2017 @ 8:40 am

“Fareed Zakaria put it pretty well in his column today: much of the reason our government has been dysfunctional for many years, is because the voters want contradictory things.”

I wonder which elite policy maker he plagiarized that from.
“Too much democracy,” says the elites’ propaganda apologist.

Well, American voters DO want contradictory things, which is why politicians promise contrary things. I don’t see how this is debatable. As my mother would say, the voters have champagne tastes on a beer budget. People in this country seem, on the whole, to want a lot more out of government than they are willing to pay for, and the quickest way for an elected official to end his career is by being honest with the voters about how much everything they want is going to cost.

#24 Comment By WEG On April 30, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

I have not been this reading this blog for a long time, but I’ve been reading it and enjoying for quite a while. I left a couple comments before, and think it a good idea to leave the odd comment or two here from time to time – it will be the same comment, basically….

Mostly I would suggest to RD that he consider how he looks at the Church, vs. how he looks at the Economy, and think about the idea of applying his “Church” worldview (highly knowledgeable, especially vis-à-vis bureaucratic issues) to the Economy.

161 comments, and nothing or almost nothing (I skimmed some) about monetary policy, or the bureaucratic structure of our economy’s high priests! Would you say that a discussion of religious issues that ignored all issues of church bureaucracy and the views of its priesthood was insightful?

Structural unemployment, being unemployed because your skills or location do not match the available jobs, is not a fun situation to be in. For quite some time a visit to the “rust belt” of the Midwest, or (where I live) a timber industry town, will tell you that. When we have excess *cyclical* unemployment (economy-wide job shortage) for extended periods, as we have just had, being structurally unemployed is especially painful.

Excess cyclical unemployment is generally a monetary phenomenon, like it or not. The reasons we have had so much cyclical unemployment have had to do not just with Central Bank policies but also the policies of and pressures on Central Bank officials. This is a very complex (bureaucratic) thing….

This belief that a major factor in our economic performance is “globalization” is simply false. “Globalization” has not at all been bad for the economy, overall. First and foremost the loss in manufacturing jobs is mostly due to automation, not globalization, and is occurring everywhere, even in export powerhouses like Germany.

The truth is that anti-globalization efforts (trade barriers) will simply not have the effect that you want or expect – it will not bring about a resurgence in manufacturing employment, which would keep on declining. They will just make everyone a little poorer, mainly. Anti-automation efforts would be even worse, simply making the US an economic loser. Read the comments by Hector St. Clare just above – he’s suggesting Stalinism! Wow! No, Stalinism would not be a good idea….

I see 161 comments, some very good, but essentially zero knowledge of how the economy works or what the current state of our (overall) economy is. To me overuse of the word “decline” is borderline sinful, because it is a term that promotes fear and is not truly *accurate*. The middle class is declining, yes, but mainly because the upper middle class has grown so much. For some large groups economic outcomes have been *stagnant*, perhaps, but not declining. The statistical picture here is obfuscated by immigration, changes in household size, the changing age distribution and many other things, but overall is quite clear.

Note: I can’t criticize the discussion of “inequality” here because as far as I can tell, economists are as generally clueless about this issue as everyone else. Why the big money for the top 1% or 0.1% or 0.01% is something of a mystery. (Okay, at least to me!).

But economists aren’t (really, and despite appearances at times) clueless about the importance of Central Bank policy. This idea and its consequences requires some effort to learn and become familiar with. You can now follow, on blogs, or perhaps by reading intelligent journalists like Ryan Avent, Greg Ip or Matt Yglesias (to name three), an ongoing conversation among the “priestly” class. I think everyone who cares enough about the economy to leave blog comments has a duty to at least become marginally familiar with this general area of knowledge.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On April 30, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

@Jonathan Scinto

This is getting really tedious.

I am not excusing the GOP. I can’t stand the GOP. Read some of the books written by some of the other contributers here in addition to Rod sometime, Pat Buchanan and Bill Kaufman in particular. I’m with them, not Paul Ryan.

My complaints about liberals here usually follow the same pattern. One of you comes in here and makes some obnoxious remark, like Prof Woland’s, about how stupid and clueless conservatives are, or tries to tell us that whatever it is Rod is complaining about is a non-issue. I respond. I don’t understand why some of you seem to think that you should be able to come to The American Conservative and not see criticism of liberals and Democrats.

It’s not revisionist, let alone Stalinist to say that Democrats didn’t do enough in regards to income inequality. For starters Democrats didn’t do enough to be electable in the first place.

Sorry but I’m from the south. There was a time when it was possible to be socially conservative, pro-life, and at least skeptical about LGBT issues, and still be a Democrat. I’m not talking about pre-southern strategy (speaking of revisionism) either. This was still true up until the 90s.

I don’t honestly think most Democrats like income inequality, endless war, and being unelectable in much of the country, but they seem to be willing to accept it so they can push their social agenda.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 30, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

Look at the companies that are refusing to “repatriate” their overseas profits to avoid having to pay US taxes on it. And since the US economy is hardly the only game in town anymore, there are other countries in which one can profitably invest, and other countries where one can live comfortably, if one thinks US taxes are too high.

Now you understand why the Berlin Wall was built. It was a clumsy failure in the long run, but the rationale was not all bad. And, you have documented why socialists aspire to international domination — let the rich have no place they can take their ill-gotten gains and escape just taxation.

Whatever Hector St. Clare is advocating, it is not Stalinism. He has more pithy things to say about what was wrong with Stalin than any conservative commenting here, or our gracious host.

#27 Comment By VikingLS On April 30, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

@Noah

Yes I think that’s another blind spot for liberal Democrats. If you want to reduce income inequality, you can’t flood the market with cheap unskilled labor.

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 30, 2017 @ 3:38 pm

WEG,

Employer of last resort is definitely not Stalinism, there are many think tanks here in the good old capitalist USA that suggest it. I was just reading an interesting paper about how employer of last resort was put into practice at a limited level in Argentina about 15 years ago. (Unfortunately it was ended because most of the people who signed up were women and social conservatives grew alarmed that it would undermine their child rearing responsibilities…..).

#29 Comment By WEG On April 30, 2017 @ 6:58 pm

Siarlys Jenkins: “Whatever Hector St. Clare is advocating, it is not Stalinism.”

Hector St. Clare: “That having been said, it’s my case that at their best those manufacturing jobs allowed people the sense of doing work that was not just reasonably remunerative but also worthwhile and of value, and that most of the jobs in a vastly expanded service sector will never do the same. This is why it’s important to me to to keep large manufacturing and agricultural sectors alive, even if it means restraints on automation and vastly expanded government intervention / control of the economy.”

That last sentence is to me the soul of Stalinist approach to the economy.

These policies were popular, not just in the USSR but among many in the West, 50 or 60 years ago. I am not trying to be insulting by using the word “Stalinist,” I think that’s actually the most apt term, but maybe it isn’t, in which case I apologize for not knowing the better one.

Siarlys Jenkins: “He has more pithy things to say about what was wrong with Stalin than any conservative commenting here, or our gracious host.”

Well, hopefully then he makes pithy comments about the destructiveness of “vastly expanded government/intervention and control of the economy,” since that covers a vast chunk of the “what was wrong with Stalin” territory.

#30 Comment By Gentillylace On April 30, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

David J. White:

This all sounds great, but wealth is more portable today than it was in the Eisenhower era, and national borders mean far less as far as business is concerned. Raise the tax rate too high and the wealthy will simply leave, taking their wealth with them. Look at the companies that are refusing to “repatriate” their overseas profits to avoid having to pay US taxes on it. And since the US economy is hardly the only game in town anymore, there are other countries in which one can profitably invest, and other countries where one can live comfortably, if one thinks US taxes are too high.

This is why every country and other jurisdiction in the world must have the same (high) tax rate, (high) standard of living and (high) salary rates, so that there are no more tax havens in the world. If only the UN could mandate such a thing!

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 30, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

That last sentence is to me the soul of Stalinist approach to the economy.

“When I use a word,” said Humpty-Dumpty, it means exactly what I choose it to mean.”

Thanks for clearing that up. I wasn’t aware that Stalinism had a soul.

I think Hector was speaking in terms of one of the finest statements Pope John Paul II ever made, “The market was made for man, not man for the market.”

If you back to primitive subsistence economies, everyone works, and everyone gets the benefit of their work, and nobody has to work any more than necessary to provide the necessities of life. Some studies have highlighted that even in desert environments, most people work 15-20 hours a week, and the rest is leisure.

Now, is it worth working 25 or 30 or even 40 hours a week, if it gets us clean, sturdy, sterile homes, sufficient food supply that gaining weight is a primary health concern, rapid communication? Up to a point, certainly. But, as the economy becomes more complex, work, production, remuneration, all become abstracted, or if one goes in for Marxist terminology, one might even say, alienated, from each other. So, something needs to be done to insure that the benefits of automation accrue more or less equally to all, not merely to a small group of “owners” of the machinery who no longer “need” half the human race to work for them anymore. And, as Hector has pointed out, a lotus-land life of leisure while machines do all the work can itself be destructive of both body and soul, if there are not real challenges to engage our muscles, intellect, and the sense of awe that Rod writes about getting at Chartres Cathedral.

I think we can deal with those things, without sending millions of people off to labor camps in Siberia — which is the most common avatar for Stalinism.

#32 Comment By Jerry Lindberg On April 30, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

If you’re going to quote Scripture, be willing to acknowledge the scriptural supremacy of God’s plan. Mr. Dreher, the end is in sight. All the signals have been sent and we – mankind – will not surrender to a Divine Plan, but insist, rather, on implementing a temporal plan which continues to put the political being at the center of the universe. God is about to remind us how faulty such thinking is. Hence, the phrase “Babylon is fallen.”

#33 Comment By WEG On May 1, 2017 @ 12:59 am

“I think Hector was speaking in terms of one of the finest statements Pope John Paul II ever made, ‘The market was made for man, not man for the market.'”

But Hector says things like: “In the long run, the “solution” I’d like to see involves replacing capitalism with collective ownership/control of most of the means of production.” If the Pope is really suggesting that, well, sheesh.

For younger people, going back and reading the (left-wing) economist Robert Heilbroner’s 1989 and 1990 New Yorker articles, “The Triumph of Capitalism” and “After Communism” would help, in terms of understanding why the idea of “replacing capitalism with collective ownership/control of most of the means of production” became, and remains, so unpopular, not just in the US but around the world, and even among people (like Bernie Sanders and many European politicians) who call themselves “Socialists.”

I started reading this blog because I thought my blog-reading was, in total, too much “blue” and “grey” tribe and not enough “red.” If lots of commenters here advocate insane economy policies, I will try to take it in stride (every blog comment section has its peculiarities) and refrain from commenting.

#34 Comment By Ben H On May 1, 2017 @ 11:03 am

Excellent column by Linker, though of course he does not get to the mechanism by which the elite will be destroyed. In fact the column is not about how they will be destroyed but why, and the why is “because they are evil.”

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 1, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

WEG, Hector and I are the Reds here. (So is cka2nd, let’s not cling to tired old factionalisms). I think we all know by now that the Great Triumph of Democracy in 1990 was no such thing, rather it turned out to be the triumph of grasping oligarchies. Sic semper Heilbroner.

Socialism can, and probably must, have a market. But it must be subordinated to higher criteria. Even the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages had a sense of that.

#36 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 2, 2017 @ 11:27 pm

These policies were popular, not just in the USSR but among many in the West, 50 or 60 years ago. I am not trying to be insulting by using the word “Stalinist,” I think that’s actually the most apt term, but maybe it isn’t, in which case I apologize for not knowing the better one.

I mean, I have a fairly thick skin when it comes to politics, so I’m not offended if you want to call me ‘Stalinist’. For clarity though, as I told someone awhile ago, in 1930s Soviet Union I would have favoured Bukharin’s approach to collective ownership, not Stalin’s. And among post-Stalinist socialist economies I would have favoured the Hungarian model (or something between the Hungarian and Yugoslav model) rather than the Soviet.

Robert Heilbroner may have said a great many things: a lot of people had some very mistaken ideas back in 1990, not least the former residents of the communist countries themselves. (Public opinion surveys over the last few years suggest that Russians, Belarussians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and depending on which survey you look at Ukrainians actually think they were better off under communism). I think the history of advanced capitalist economies since 1990 (both in the western countries and in the former Eastern European ones) suggests that, to put it charitably, the hopes that people like Heilbroner had were ill-placed.

As for the idea of collective ownership of the means of production being unpopular, depends on who you ask. It’s unpopular among Americans, for the most part, but it’s not that unpopular among people who actualy lived under communism. Public opinion surveys over the last few years suggest that Russians, Belarussians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and depending on which survey you look at Ukrainians actually think they were better off under communism (look at the Pew Research Center and Levada Center surveys respectively).

#37 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 2, 2017 @ 11:42 pm

Well, hopefully then he makes pithy comments about the destructiveness of “vastly expanded government/intervention and control of the economy,” since that covers a vast chunk of the “what was wrong with Stalin” territory.

I mean, no, the famines and mass murders were most of “what was wrong with Stalin.” Not every communist society had famines and mass murders, actually most of them didn’t, and the Soviet Union didn’t have any after Stalin’s death either.

In any case, whatever the faults of the socialist economies, mass unemployment wasn’t among them, which is why I made the point I did. If you have a case to the contrary I’d be glad to debate it with you, but I’d prefer you not outsource your argument to Heilbroner or anyone else.

#38 Comment By WEG On May 3, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

“Robert Heilbroner may have said a great many things: a lot of people had some very mistaken ideas back in 1990, not least the former residents of the communist countries themselves.”

Well, as far as I know essentially nobody (at least at the academic level) would dispute the basics of Heilbroner’s critique.
He wasn’t trying to predict what would happen next, he was simply explaining why so many people (including many economists) had over-estimated the economic performance of the USSR and not seen how far behind the West it really was.

If I recall correctly, East Germany was the most productive area, but it was so far behind West Germany that at reunification much of their industrial sector was pretty hopeless.

I think it’s true that many people have suffered since the USSR and Warsaw Pact fell apart and were better off under Communism, especially in Russia, but also elsewhere. However I think this is a point of limited value, for many reasons.

For example, was it possible for the USSR and WP to stay together, or was the dissolution inevitable? And even given the preference for the “good old days,” would going back to the Soviet model still “work,” in some meaningful sense? (Especially without re-WarsawPacting or re-USSRing some of the countries that don’t want to be re-WarsawPacted or re-USSRed). I (and most everyone else) am skeptical. If you want to believe in that, fine, but it is obviously a difficult point to argue or analyze, being an extremely complex counter-factual.

“I mean, no, the famines and mass murders were most of “what was wrong with Stalin.” Not every communist society had famines and mass murders, actually most of them didn’t, and the Soviet Union didn’t have any after Stalin’s death either.”

To be honest, I find almost every word of this paragraph weaselly and betraying indifference to a tremendous amount of suffering. That the USSR only engineered only one the one mass famine, great! Kudos! That only three of them have experienced mass famine (NK, China, USSR), great again! Kudos!

“In any case, whatever the faults of the socialist economies, mass unemployment wasn’t among them…”

This is highly misleading. “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” Mass *underemployment* was certainly a problem in the USSR and WP countries. And obviously NK was and is and China was a complete and utter economic disaster, so whether or not there was mass unemployment there is besides the point.

Obviously you can say there were some areas in which you can interpret the USSR’s economic performance as successful in at least some ways – less inequality, perhaps, for example. But again, there’s no real scope for “debate,” since sure, maybe an economy that is closer or close to the Soviet model could be devised that some would prefer. But again this is such a complex counter-factual, resting mainly on assumptions, not observations or theories, that belief in this possibility has to be more a matter of faith than knowledge or analysis.