Friday, December 21, 2007

Yet more notes on populism

"A zero-sum economy leads, inevitably, to repression at home and plunder abroad. In traditional agrarian societies the surpluses extracted from the vast majority of peasants supported the relatively luxurious lifestyles of military, bureaucratic and noble elites. The only way to increase the prosperity of an entire people was to steal from another one. (...) Democratic politics became increasingly workable because it was feasible for everybody to become steadily better off.(...) in the new positive-sum world, elites were willing to tolerate the enfranchisement of the masses. The fact that they no longer depended on forced labour made this shift easier still. Consensual politics, and so democracy, became the political norm.(...) The biggest point about debates on climate change and energy supply is that they bring back the question of limits. If, for example, the entire planet emitted CO2 at the rate the US does today, global emissions would be almost five times greater. The same, roughly speaking, is true of energy use per head. This is why climate change and energy security are such geopolitically significant issues. For if there are limits to emissions, there may also be limits to growth. But if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart. Intense distributional conflicts must then re-emerge – indeed, they are already emerging – within and among countries."
Martin Wolf - Financial Times

"In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals--which is to say the Bush second term agenda." This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club." Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam - Weekly Standard
David Seaton's News Links
The bottom line that ties together all the above quotes are the taboo words, "class struggle" or what Martin Wolf artfully calls, "intense distributional conflicts."
"if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart"
What does Martin Wolf mean by the "underpinnings of our world"? The great (huge understatement) British historian, Eric Hobsbawm, puts it this way in "The Age of Revolution":
"... some time in the 1780s, and for the first time in human history, the shackles were taken off the productive power of human societies, which henceforth became capable of the constant, rapid and up to the present llimitless multiplication of men, goods and services."
This is the world we have lived in since the end of the 18th century, we know no other and it is predicated on limitless growth. Limitlessness is an article of faith, so is optimism. In the article from the Weekly Standard quoted above there is a relevant paragraph on this optimism:
"...the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike."
I'm sure my readers will have noticed that when ever they talk to one of these "Enterprisers", they invariably pooh pooh any doubts about the sustainability of our system. These people have a taliban-like faith that there will always be a technological solution to any "limit" that might ever pop up.

Until recently this optimism was not confined to the Rotarian, Republican, booster crowd, it was also an article of faith of the left. Every Soviet five year plan that ever was, was filled with this very same optimism. Up till recently the only argument between the left and the right on the question of growth was to whom would fall the privilege of fulfilling mankind's destiny to soar ever upward on the wings of growing productivity... and the right is the last man standing.

At this point, as the evidence of the reality of global warming piles up, most of these optimists are whistling past the graveyard or in denial. Some of them, however, may be prudently planning for the future.

Martin Wolf is the chief economist of the Financial Times and a wonderful journalist. In his work: at international conferences, and over a thousand dinner tables and at countless coffee sessions, he comes into daily contact with some of the most wealthy and powerful men and women in the world and those that serve them. Wolf hears them speak and most of all picks up their body language, their silences and vibrations. His article on "limits", which I am quoting abundantly is the cri de coeur of a man who, though not wealthy and powerful himself, knows the ways of the wealthy and powerful as no other does... with the possible exception of Rupert Murdoch's butler. For the language of a financial newspaper, Wolf practically weeps:
"The response of many, notably environmentalists and people with socialist leanings, is to welcome such conflicts. These, they believe, are the birth-pangs of a just global society. I strongly disagree. It is far more likely to be a step towards a world characterised by catastrophic conflict and brutal repression. This is why I sympathise with the hostile response of classical liberals and libertarians to the very notion of such limits, since they view them as the death-knell of any hopes for domestic freedom and peaceful foreign relations."
If we examine what Martin Wolf is saying logically, not even really reading between the lines,
this supremely informed man is declaring that he knows that, before they ever pay Scandinavian like income taxes, drive small cars and wear sweaters around the house on cold winter days, the elites of the United States will create a police state and go to war endlessly to dominate the resource rich areas of the world. Hyperbole? Examine George W. Bush's presidency in that light and perhaps Dubya may not really be as dumb as he looks.. Or maybe he is more like what May West said about Ronald Reagan, "dumb but willing."

At this juncture, the elites of the Republican Party begin to separate from the middle class and working class base and the only way to keep them on board would be endless war and endless fear. Terror and paranoia may be the key to 2008 election. What moldy old Marxists used to call, "false consciousness". The Republican Party, to use another worn but useful Marxist term, has entered into contradiction with itself and using Wolf's analysis as our text, is
clearly going to tear itself apart.

Who knows, Huckabee may only be a straw in the breeze, but that is the way the wind is blowing. DS

The secret to Mike Huckabee's success - Salon
Abstract: The miracle birth of the Republican candidate with the four-word name -- Mike Huckabee Iowa Front-runner -- has as much to do with social class as religion. There is nothing subtle about Huckabee's celebration of his humble roots: He gleefully told 150 supporters (some more accurately described as acolytes) in Marshalltown Thursday morning that a "Republican muckety-muck" had recently declared that Huckabee was unelectable because he had a "hick last name." Then, a few minutes later, Huckabee returned to his obsession with the name game. "I didn't grow up with a name that opened a lot of doors or had a Rolodex," he boasted, harking back to his childhood in Hope, Ark. Then, the candidate suddenly switched to a twangy version of an upper-class lockjaw accent as he recalled, "Nobody said, 'Oh, he's a Huckabee, let him in.'" After the laughter died down, Huckabee added, "I often say that for my family, summer was never a verb. We summered in hay fields and chicken yards and all kinds of stuff." Of course, Huckabee is laying it on thick, but the candidate is peddling his common-man persona more than any specific set of policies. This time around, Romney (the governor's son) and McCain (the son of an admiral) lack convincing hard-scrabble stories from their early years. And the Bush family is not exactly the embodiment of portraits in populism. Huckabee, in fact, stole a joke that Jim Hightower famously used to ridicule the elder George Bush at the 1988 Democratic Convention. "Many of you work hard," Huckabee said, as he looked out at the breakfast crowd (not a tie or a dress-for-success outfit in view) at the Best Western in Marshalltown. "That's what America's always been about. It's not about folks who were born on third base and think they hit a triple."(....) But the Democrat whom Huckabee appears to be channeling is John Edwards, who never missed an opportunity to remind voters back in 2004 that he was "the son of a mill worker." At a chaotic rally in a cramped room in a West Des Moines shopping mall Wednesday night, Huckabee lifted a signature Edwards phrase, promising that when he triumphs in Iowa on Jan. 3, "America can say thank you for restoring faith in a political system that's not just run by corporate greed but is run by ordinary citizens." Huckabee followed up in Marshalltown by uttering a line of such naked populism that the Baccarat crystal probably rattled in corporate dining rooms around the country: "Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who doesn't find himself wholly owned and completely tied to the biggest corporations in the country?"(...) In contrast, Romney, on the stump in Iowa in late November, told a joke that literally began, "A man walks into a country club." There may be a social-class barrier that explains why, despite Iowa spending that will undoubtedly top $10 million, Romney risks being upended by Huckabee -- an underfunded candidate whose campaign seems modeled on Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney putting on a "backyard musical." Gail Stecker, who works for a food-safety institute at Iowa State University in Ames, captured the Romney-the-robot problem when I spoke to her before the Huckabee speech. "I went to a Romney rally in July and decided that he's not the man for me," Stecker, who was wearing a festive garland of Christmas lights around her neck, recalled. "When Romney looks at you, he looks right through you like he doesn't care." If Romney falls short in Iowa, that sentence -- "He looks right through you" -- could serve as his epitaph. READ IT ALL


Forensic econ said...

Huckabee: "Gitmo is too nice ... it's better than Arkansas prisons"

If he gets the nomination he will lose big time. There may be a lot of evangelicals in the Republican base -- but there are a lot of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Mormons, etc outside it. There are also a lot of Evangelicals who think that the antigay, anti abortion political rhetoric is missing the point of Chrisianity.

And his raising taxes to fund Arkansas schools? He raised sales taxes, not income taxes -- making the poorest pay.

I don't think he is a populist if by that you mean someone for the masses against the elite.

anansi said...

Good collection of references - terror and paranoia sound about right to me but confusion and inertia might work too.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...
READ this from the Weekly Standard

There are a lot of very unsatisfied and naturally resentful people out there. Many social issues such as gay rights are considered, rightly or wrongly as upper middle class concerns. In general polls show African-Americans as rather homophobic. I agree that his views on income tax are curious for a populist.
But as I closed my post, "Who knows, Huckabee may only be a straw in the breeze, but that is the way the wind is blowing."

Anansi said...

I would say that it all depends on whether or not a "populist" exploits the concerns of what used to be called the working class or actually adresses those concerns. My guess is that Huckabee is an exploiter but he has to be seen as helping them so who knows where that might lead.

Anonymous said...

I came across this post by accident, while looking for a photo to use at my site as reference, re esoschronicles. There may be a populist situation in Latvia. Trying to stir a few things at LatviansOnline where the needle is stuck....