Why political correctness has disabled the Democrats

Interesting — and I think perceptive — column by Tyler Cowen:

Imagine the perfect political and intellectual weapon. It would disable your adversaries by preoccupying them with their own vanities and squabbles, a bit like a drug so good that users focus on the high and stop everything else they are doing.

Such a weapon exists: It is called political correctness. But it is not a weapon against white men or conservatives, as is frequently alleged; rather, it is a weapon against the American left. To put it simply, the American left has been hacked, and it is now running in a circle of its own choosing, rather than focusing on electoral victories or policy effectiveness. Too many segments of the Democratic Party are self-righteously talking about identity politics, and they are letting other priorities slip.

Piketty: our politics is now about Brahmin vs Merchant elites

Fascinating paper by Thomas Piketty. He constructs a long-run data series from post-election to document a striking long-run evolution in the multi-dimensional structure of political cleavages in the US, UK and France.

The nub of it is this:

In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for “left-wing” (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters. This corresponds to what one might label a “class-based” party system: lower class voters from the different dimensions (lower education voters, lower income voters, etc.) tend to vote for the same party or coalition, while upper and middle class voters from the different dimensions tend to vote for the other party or coalition.

Since the 1970s-1980s, “left-wing” vote has gradually become associated with higher education voters, giving rise to what I propose to label a “multiple-elite” party system in the 2000s-2010s: high- education elites now vote for the “left”, while high-income/high-wealth elites still vote for the “right” (though less and less so) — i.e. the “left” has become the party of the intellectual elite (Brahmin left), while the “right” can be viewed as the party of the business elite (Merchant right).

I show that the same transformation happened in France, the US and Britain, despite the many differences in party systems and political histories between these three countries.

This links to the observations of Daniel Rodgers summarised below.

The task facing liberals now

This from a very perceptive essay by Daniel Rodgers:

More realistically, liberals must find ways to win back some of those who swung to Donald Trump’s camp. Populists, the press routinely calls them. But aside from their distrust of distant experts and cosmopolitan elites, Trump’s core voters have little in common politically with the People’s Party of the American 1890s. The 1890s Populists, like today’s Trump supporters, sometimes fell for terribly oversimplified answers. But the Populists hurled their political fury at the forces of organized money: the bankers, the monopolists, the railroad magnates, and the politicians who wrote the back-room deals of the money-men into law. The conviction that powers Trump voters’ imaginations is just the reverse. Theirs is a world in which not capitalist institutions but the political establishment hogs the seats of power. In their minds, government rigs the game for its own advantages, tying up the potential expansive force of business with rules that only serve to keep the regulators in jobs and the poor as their clients. Only through this story is it possible to redirect anger at plant closings from the corporations who order them to the liberal establishment that is said to be covertly responsible.

In the long run…

Adam Tooze has an amazingly informative and thoughtful review in the LRB of Geoff Mann’s book on Keynes and Keynesianism.

If you were seeking an example of Keynesian government today you wouldn’t look first to the West, but to China, where a Communist Party that brooks no opposition presides over a technocratic regime par excellence. Not only are China’s economic managers hard-headedly pragmatic in their approach to the politics of the market, but the deeper impetus for the policy-makers in Beijing is, in Mann’s sense, truly Keynesian. What is at stake is the post-Tiananmen compromise: accept and support the regime in exchange for growth and social transformation. Much has been made of the role of neoliberal thinkers in launching Deng’s market revolution in the 1980s. But when the going gets rough, the Chinese turn Keynesian. Beijing’s response to the 2008 crisis was the most dramatic work-creation stimulus in history. When in 2009 the governor of the People’s Bank of China proposed a new global currency system, he explicitly invoked Keynes’s proposals at Bretton Woods. Beijing’s successful management of China’s growth involves exchange controls, guidance of the exchange rate and direct regulation of bank lending – techniques reminiscent of 1950s Keynesian fine-tuning. And President Xi’s current personal priority is the elimination of the final residuum of absolute poverty by means of large-scale resettlement and investment.

Tooze is very good on the intrinsic pragmatic ad-hocery of a Keynesian approach to policy. “It isn’t by accident”, he writes,

that ‘when liberal government comes face to face with necessity, it “goes Keynesian”’; in other words it ‘acknowledges uncertainty and disarticulation, recognises imperfection and indeterminacy, and turns away from the long run to the immediacy of the moment’. The crisis of 2008 was a classic demonstration of this. What central bankers like Bernanke were asking politicians to do in September and October 2008 had been unthinkable only weeks before.

But the Chinese regime isn’t in the business of ad-hocery. And they are — like all of us, but perhaps in a more extreme way — faced with the problem of climate change. “Xi’s ‘Chinese dream’”, says Tooze, “is the most spectacular Keynesian promise ever made”.

The underlying fear of domestic unrest is palpable, the scale of repression is astonishing, but so is the gamble on growth. There is no counterpart in Western experience to the astonishing transformation in the fortunes of a population of more than a billion people in a matter of thirty years. But like any instance of rapid capitalist growth, China’s boom is fraught with danger. The country’s finances are highly unstable. The boom generates deep inequality at home, while abroad it incurs the envy of the United States, a declining hegemon with erratic politics and a track record of aggression. Added to which few places on earth experience the environmental costs of growth more acutely than China. Large parts of the country are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. The promise of growth is more real and more life-altering than ever. But so too is the possibility of catastrophe. Keynesians insist that we resist the blandishment of future calm to focus on the turmoil of the present. But on a rapidly warming planet, the waters are calmer now than they will be later. Just decades from now, a large part of humanity may count itself lucky if it is only in the long run that we are all dead.

Fabulous essay, well worth reading in full.

The Trump circus

Michael Lewis has a new book about how the combustible cocktail of wilful ignorance and venality that is the Trump regime is fuelling the destruction of a country’s fabric. Here’s a sample from the chapter on the transition:

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble…

Trump is the resistance within his own Administration

I’ve thought this ever since finishing Bob Woodward’s book. But now Jack Shafer has reached the same conclusion.

I’ve figured it out: Donald Trump is the leader of the resistance inside his own administration.

The 45th president exudes more defiance from one of his short, little fingers than all the liberal yodelers of the Democratic Party and entire armies of pink pussy-hat-wearing protesters put together. When not contravening the libs, Trump opposes the traditional Republican establishment that he is supposed to command. They demand additional sanctions on the Russians; he schemes to lighten them. They want free trade; he imposes punitive tariffs. They dig NATO; he calls it obsolete and works to weaken it. They desire immigration “reform”; he insists on deportation, fewer refugees, no Muslims and the building of a wall. They want to stay in Afghanistan and Syria; he wants out. On almost a daily basis Trump fights to prove that he—and not his appointees—runs his administration.

This rings true to me. What Trump cannot bear is the idea that he is the tool of, or subordinate to, anyone else. Shafer brings up the celebrated ‘anonymous’ NYT OpEd which claimed that “There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.” Anonymous is right about the “quiet resistance,” says Shafer,

but he got it backward: He and his co-conspirators represent the Republican status quo and the foreign policy establishment that has gone largely unchallenged for more than a half-century. Meanwhile, Trump opposes the political status quo and establishment, compares U.S. intelligence agencies to “Nazis” and calls his own Department of Justice and FBI “completely out to lunch.” Working in the shadows against his staff to get his way, he is the genuine voice of resistance.

Kavanaugh: a lawyer writes…

From a startling piece by Benjamin Wittes, editor of Lawfare, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and someone who knows Kavanaugh:

If I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I would do it both because of Ford’s testimony and because of Kavanaugh’s. For reasons I will describe, I find her account more believable than his. I would also do it because whatever the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, Thursday’s hearing left Kavanaugh nonviable as a justice.

A few days before the hearing, I detailed on this site the advice I would give to Kavanaugh if he asked me. He should, I argued, withdraw from consideration for elevation unless able to defend himself to a high degree of factual certainty without attacking Ford. He should remain a nominee, I argued, only if his defense would be sufficiently convincing that it would meet what we might term the “no asterisks” standard—that is, that it would plausibly convince even people who vociferously disagree with his jurisprudential views that he could serve credibly as a justice. His defense needed to make it possible for a reasonable pro-choice woman to find it a legitimate and acceptable prospect, if not an attractive or appealing one, that he might sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh, needless to say, did not take my advice. He stayed in, and he delivered on Thursday, by way of defense, a howl of rage. He went on the attack not against Ford—for that we can be grateful—but against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beyond. His opening statement was an unprecedentedly partisan outburst of emotion from a would-be justice. I do not begrudge him the emotion, even the anger. He has been through a kind of hell that would leave any person gasping for air. But I cannot condone the partisanship—which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial—from someone who asks for public faith as a dispassionate and impartial judicial actor. His performance was wholly inconsistent with the conduct we should expect from a member of the judiciary.

ps See also “What Kavanaugh’s drinking tells us about his credibility”.

Ireland’s need for a new narrative

Last Friday’s Irish Times carried a piece by Charlie Taylor based on an an interview I gave in which I argued that a country that had built its identity (and prosperity) largely on a policy of being nice to big multi-national companies might need a new narrative now that some of its more welcome guests turn out to be toxic.

Tories in La-la-land

The current Tory Party conference is a surreal event. Robert Shrimsley is there for the Financial Times and he finds the collected faithful unable to talk about anything other than… Brexit. “Yet”, he writes,

the need to start talking about something else is obvious. Last week’s Labour gathering caught their attention. Suddenly, they see Jeremy Corbyn’s party developing a socialist economic agenda with potential popular appeal, which terrifies them. So now the talk is of getting back to “real” issues, of tackling society’s perceived injustices, of proving capitalism works for voters.

With six months until Brexit this talk as an air of unreality, as if the stewardess suddenly tasked with landing a plane because the flight crew have all coppapsed switches to discussing the dinner plans for the next night.

Yep.