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Left-neoliberalism: what is to be (not) done?

I had a post in the works on the debate over left-neoliberalism – a debate which is either long-overdue (my take) or “content-free gasbaggery,” depending on how you look at it – but Peter jumps ahead of me to make the crucial point: Policy and politics can’t be separated, yet left-neoliberalism is all about separating them.

Let me build on this with a couple observations. First, left-neoliberals have a habit of enthusiastically endorsing one policy after another guaranteed to increase inequality and insecurity and weaken the capacity for collective resistance – higher Medicare co-pays and deductibles, means-testing Social Security and adding on private investment accounts, “performance pay” in schools, etc. – and then wringing their hands about the rising inequality and insecurity that inevitably result.

Their enthusiasm for means-testing social insurance programs is especially perverse. Since only a miniscule fraction of Medicare and Social Security spending goes to recipients with truly high incomes, means-testing inherently must either directly attack the middle-income working class or function simply as a symbolic gesture with the sole purpose of undermining political support for the programs. I point to these examples because they’re gratuitous: they’re not politically good policies that unfortunately can’t pass; they’re politically bad policies that left-neoliberals actively endorse.

On a different point, Yglesias asks in exasperation: “Power inequality is bad. But, again, are there specific proposals to address it that I’m blocking?” And: “If people have ideas about how to ameliorate enormous power imbalances, I’m all ears.” I have two modest proposals. First, do no harm. (See above.) Second, if neoliberals and their organizations want to redress power imbalances, why don’t they use their modest influence to support people who are doing that?

Yglesias works for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a group whose calls to “action” sound like a caricature of the left-neoliberal non-theory of politics:

To be progressive is to be active. Get involved in campus or state and local issues shaping our collective future with the help of our online resources: do research; download policy papers; print talking points; make a difference.

“Print talking points; make a difference.” Surely we can do better than that.

How about this — and this goes not just for Yglesias’ outfit but for the whole online para-Democratic Party apparatus: for every ten blog posts snickering over Michele Bachmann; or online petitions supplicating Democrats to “stand up for” this or that; how about posting one bulletin about actual workers somewhere who are fighting and who could use some help.

For example, these Seattle hotel workers holding rallies to get a decent contract. Or these transit workers and local citizens in Massachusetts mobilizing for expanded bus service. Or these Ohio workers, who held a “people’s parade” to repeal the law stripping them of bargaining rights. And many more.

If a fraction of the time that’s spent endlessly rehearsing the reasons why Tea Partiers are dumb were instead devoted to showing solidarity with the masses of people whose actions ultimately decide which things are “politically viable” and which are not, we’d be in a lot better shape.


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