Air Date 12/15/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the cracks and fissures appearing ever more frequently in the neoliberal order that was already widely criticized before the pandemic stripped it completely bare, exposing all of the inherent inequality and inhumanity baked right into the system.
Clips today are from Citations Needed, the Majority Report, the Ralph Nader Radio Hour, and Economic Update, with an additional members only clip from the New York Times.
How Economic Jargon and Cliches Make Cruel, Anti-Poor Policies Sound Sterile and Science-y (Part I) Part 1 - Citations Needed - Air Date 12-1-21
[00:00:32] NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So effectively, all of these popular discussions in our media and our politics about “the economy,” are, again, these abstractions untethered from the needs of working-class people, or really, most people except for, maybe CEOs, or hedge fund managers. So indeed, the Pew polling about what topics are most important that, what you referenced earlier, Adam, these are used in thousands of articles, Pew tells us this,’ ‘Pew tells us this,’ ‘Polling tells us this,’ ‘Popular opinion is this.’ This tells us what Americans supposedly care about. Never on that list is poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity. Those are never offered even as options of what might be important.
However, this catch-all term, “the economy,” standing in for employment, standing in for NASDAQ, standing in for growth, writ large, you’re never allowed to really say those other things, those things that materially affect people’s lives. The closest they get maybe is like this Davos friendly economic inequality term, which speaks to the relative well being of people, but still untethered to material impacts of poverty like lack of shelter, lack of food, lack of stable employment.
So meanwhile, “the economy” can just be a vague thing that one appeals to to sound smart and savvy while dumping on so-called woke politics. This is a different use of how “the economy” is used to actually divert conversations. People who hate anti-racist discourse, for instance, in all its forms, love to act like they only do so because of their deep concern with “the economy.” Everything else is a distraction from “the economy,” which you have to pay attention to, and if you care about something like trans bathrooms, you’re not focusing on “the economy.”
[00:02:24] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yeah, you’re focusing on identity politics and woke shit. So, Chris Cillizza, the absolute fucking biggest moron in media — and it’s a tough competition, but literally just I think someone who’s just a dope to end all dopage — he did another one of these tedious write ups of James Carville, which people write up every few weeks about James Carville goes on an epic rant against woke politics, and so he wrote this after the Democrats lost the Virginia gubernatorial election. Keep in mind that Terry McAuliffe, the person they ran is not woke at all, but it doesn’t matter if you’re “woke,” because if you’re anti-woke, like Biden or McAuliffe and you do badly, then it’s somehow still woke’s fault, and if you’re woke it’s also woke's fault, so it’s sort of a win-win for the anti-woke crowd.
He wrote, "Carville’s argument is that by focusing on removing statues or defunding the police or on proper pronouns for transgender students, Democrats are talking too much about issues that matter less to a broad swath of Americans than, say, the economy." You can’t talk about defunding the police or any sort of other... because these are sort of niche and fringe, and notice how it’s not transgender people, it’s transgender students, it’s just a college phase. But if we talk about "the economy", but really what they mean in this context and what James Carville means, again, this is someone who for over 20 years is paid $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 to do speeches from investment banks and hedge funds, someone who’s worked with corporate clients, someone whose wife is a Republican consultant, someone who’s consultancy firm, Gaslight Incorporated, helped try to get Fred Thompson elected in 2008. This is someone who was the architect of the Sister Souljah moment for President Clinton. This is someone who was part of the neoliberal New Democrat Coalition in the 1990s that was very friendly with Wall Street. So obviously, he’s going to want to talk about the quote unquote “economy,” he’s not going to talk about these, and by the way, to James Carville woke politics also includes universal healthcare and free college tuition or college tuition forgiveness. So that’s also woke and that’s also a distraction from “the economy.”
So you see here is that "economy", for a lot of people who are anti-woke, which is to say, don’t want to talk about racism or anything else that they wouldn’t like anyway, that you can throw out "the economy" as this vaguely populist thing. Clearly, average Joe sitting around his... there’s always this mental image they’re trying to evoke of some average, usually white, family sitting around a bunch of bills, they just punch the clock at the Average Joe factory, and they just got out of work, and they’ve come home, and none of these people are trans, none of them care about police violence. It’s this average Joe...
[00:04:39] NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: They just want to live their lives with their stable job.
[00:04:42] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yeah and they’re very concerned about them and that’s why they don’t want to talk about these things, which they don’t like anyway, for both financial and ideological reasons.
[00:04:49] NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yeah, Glenn Youngkin’s win in Virginia actually was like a lightning rod for this kind of argument. We’ve seen this argument, "It’s the economy, it’s not anything else, people just care about the economy," but Virginia really made this come alive in a new way. So in early November, Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources, a show usually about the media, had on commentator Batya Ungar-Sargon, who has written for Newsweek, but also is now right-wing darling, kind of dark web, Bari Weiss buddy. She wrote a book called Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracies, that kind of gives away, and in this interview with Stelter, she says that the media only cares about what she terms, “highly specialized, radical, academic ideas,”. So again, this links directly with what Chris Cillizza was saying, when quoting James Carville, this idea that it’s these boutique issues. It’s these niche issues. It’s not the big stuff, and she really talked about how Youngkin’s victory was a perfect example of this, and how the media reacts in a way that completely skews reality, and she said this:
[00:06:00] BATYA UNGAR-SARGON: When Glenn Youngkin managed to flip majority Black districts, when he managed to get between 40 and 50% of Latino voters, are all of those people white supremacist? Of course they’re not. They’re people who are worried about number one, the economy, and number two, schooling. And it seems to me it is such a self-own to tell people who are worried about the economy that that is white supremacy. You are essentially criminalizing the views of working-class Americans. And you saw the same thing with the conversation around Critical Race Theory. You saw all of these pundits being like, these people don’t know what Critical Race Theory is. That is not a political statement. That is a class statement. "They are not educated enough to be opposed to Critical Race Theory. How dare they oppose it?"
[00:06:44] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yeah, the idea that Youngkin flipped Black districts, I don’t know if that’s true, I had a hard time verifying that, I looked it up, or the idea that somehow his constituency was working-class is also not true. One of the counties he flipped was Loudoun County, which is the wealthiest county in the whole country out of 3,000 counties, it’s the wealthiest, average home income is $134,000. He also won Fairfax County, the third wealthiest county in the United States. So this is what we call the Bill Maher, we’ve talked about this before on the show, where "I don’t like something, I don’t like the woke teens," whatever, that’s fine, they annoy you, that’s your thing. So instead of saying, "I don’t agree with this," or "I think this is bad," or "I think this anti-critical race theory stuff is actually justified," which she clearly does and has been basically on that track now for a year, you have to launder your opinions through this supposed working-class who agrees with you.
And one of the ways you do that is you say, "I actually, I don’t care about these, no one cares about these other topics, which I didn’t like for other reasons, unrelated reasons, but I care about and they care about the economy." And it’s like, well, okay. But again, in many ways, this is something that is very important to understand is that in many ways, identity-based issues such as they are, “identity-based” issues, are economic issues. Anti-trans discrimination for trans people is an economic issue. If you’re discriminated against because you’re trans when you apply for jobs, it’s an economic issue. If the police are harassing and arresting you, and you have to fill out a box on every application for the rest of your life that says you spent time in jail or prison, that’s an economic issue. These things are economic issues. So again, what they mean is not an economic issue for people who look like me.
[00:08:14] NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Because “the economy” is simultaneously literally everything and totally nothing.
[00:08:20] ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: I think there’s a version of identity discourse which can be superficial, but when you talk about basic laws against discrimination, rules against or social norms against humiliating people, or reducing them to a mockery, these things do have downstream effects on people’s economic conditions. Discrimination is a major driver of poverty for Black people, trans people, et cetera. People being kicked out of their homes when they’re 15, 16 years old because they’re gay, queer, trans, that’s an economic issue. And so again, this idea that we can somehow bifurcate the economy from these “identity-based” issues is obviously meant to appeal to people for whom those issues are not important, by definition, e.g., again, people who look like Adam Johnson.
[00:08:57] NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Or, as was termed “highly specialized”, radical, academic ideas.
American Capitalism In 4 Different Ages w Jonathan Levy Part 1 - The Majority Report w Sam Seder - Air Date 12-8-21
[00:09:01] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Let's move a little bit forward maybe a little quicker than I'd want to, but for the sake of time and we get up. How does this era -- and lead us into what is essentially a new era -- of neo-liberalism, I guess, that has been waiting and growing since Mont Pelerin and just waiting for their opportunity, and guys from your school waiting for their opportunity.
[00:09:27] EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And can I ask, I have an addition to that question too. How did some of the cold war dynamics that you mentioned earlier, did they cement themselves during this era where everything became existential? It's either private investment, or it can't be public investment, and that heightened some of these neo-liberal rocket ship.
[00:09:44] JONATHAN LEVY: Yeah. So that's right. And I think there's one account of the more recent period, the period we're in ..Which which I think is wrong. It goes like this, which is, in 1980, Ronald Reagan's elected that then all neoliberal hell breaks loose. And here we are.
And I think now you have to look at the post-war period. Some of the continuities across the post-war period, and you have to understand why the New Deal order failed during the 1970s, that it failed most tangibly because there was an era of inflation during the 1970s.
But the fundamental weaknesses of the New Deal order, I think were two. One, which we talked about, is you're leaving investment in private hands. It was a crisis of profitability in the 1970s. And so there's capital flight, there's capital flight from the terms of de-industrialization and there's global capital flight which undermines the economic anchor of the New Deal order, which was the expectation that there'd be sufficient private, fixed, productive investment to anchor the economy.
And then second, we've also mentioned that the New Deal order privileged a particular individual, the white male breadwinner, and there's all kinds of politics coming out of the civil rights movement that's going to destabilize that as well.
So by the time you're in the 1970s, you have a liberal political order that's in crisis. And it should have been in crisis given its fault lines and its weaknesses. In the book, I argued that the central event that gets us into a new order is the Volcker shock. That's when the chairman of the Federal Reserve for Carter, and a lot of deregulation efforts too began under Carter, not under Reagan, which is important to note again, under the Democratic party, Paul Volcker is appointed the new chairman of the Federal Reserve by president Carter to try to tame the inflation crisis. And he jacks interest rates up to extraordinarily high degrees. It causes a very sharp recession from 1980 to 1982. And when you come out of the Volcker shock, that's when you're in a new age. It's a new age defined by the short-termism, by shifted investment towards finance, by dependence upon debt, and just the absence of wage growth for most Americans.
And that's defined this economic period from the 1980s until today. I think it's fair to say.
[00:12:05] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Was the response to that recession that was created by basically making money so expensive, how much of what Reagan did in that era? How predetermined was that outcome, I guess I should say, coming after that recession? Had it not been Reagan in some fashion -- but of course, maybe it inevitably had to be because of that -- but had -- I don't know, I'm trying to come up with somebody who could have been the hero in that moment -- but had there not been someone who said you know what, let's lower the taxation on capital. Let's allow for stock buybacks. Let's really promote all these things are going to create the financialization of our economy and maybe culminate ultimately, 20 years later. What would have happened or what could've happened?
[00:12:55] JONATHAN LEVY: So Reagan's an important politician because of how much he changed the terms of political debate about economic questions, with respect to taxation, with respect to how we should think about regulation. So he's a very important there. With that said, when Reagan came into office, he said we're going to cut taxes. We're going to liberate the market. There's going to be a national manufacturing revival. The trade deficit will end. The savings rate will go up. Everything Reagan promised economically the exact opposite happened. So he changes the tone and politics. He changes the rhetoric. And that's a very important.
But I think that the presidency that actually installs the new regime is the presidency of Bill Clinton.
When you look at the actual legislation with respect to finance and you actually get a coherent -- Reagan says it's going to be a manufacturing revival. The exact opposite happened. Clinton, especially after '94, after triangulation, after you lose the Congress where he shifts to the right, they came up with a very coherent vision of a center-left vision of globalization that's going to be finance-led, which says we have to liberate capital. We have to aid capital mobility. And that's going to lead to a kind of equality of opportunity. And it's going to work out to the benefit of all. Except it didn't.
[00:14:19] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah.
Noam Chomsky Part 1 - Ralph Nader Radio Hour - Air Date 11-20-21
[00:14:20] RALPH NADER - HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: How would you structure or restructure giant corporations which have created this corporate state, Wall Street merging with big government turned in and against the people and its impact on the world? Now we have the metaverse and we have just runaway corporate power, strategically planning almost everything in our political economy, including commercializing childhood. How would you deal with the structure, which starts with the chartering of corporations by states and the board of directors, shareholders -- what would you do with the giant corporate structure, which has a great resiliency to fight back even after [it] loses?
[00:15:00] NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this has to be done in steps. I mean the farthest step, the one that should be reached, is just to eliminate them. Okay. But go back to what classical liberals like John Stuart Mill, Abraham Lincoln, envisioned, namely working people owning and running their own enterprises. That's the long-term goal. You have to go step. First step would be to rescind the measures taken since Reagan, the neo liberal measures.
These were following rules laid down by their economic guru, Milton Friedman. His dictum was that corporations have no responsibility to the public. As you said, they are chartered. The chartering of a corporation is a gift from the public. You don't want the gift, it gives all sorts of advantages. You don't want the gift, just stay a partnership.
But according to Milton Friedman, corporations take the gift, but offer nothing in return. They have no responsibility other than to enrich themselves, and of course enrich the boards of directors and the CEO. Reagan also introduced other measures to ensure that corporations would be able to -- and the wealthy would be able to -- rob the general public. So he changed the rules of corporate governance so that CEOs can in effect, pick their own, the board that sets their remuneration. As a big surprise, CEO salaries skyrocketed way beyond anything else in the world or what they had ever been, bringing management up with them.
Goes on. Under Reagan, tax havens were legitimized; they weren't before. More robbery.
There have been attempts to estimate the robbery of the public during the 40 years of neoliberalism, Reaganite, Friedmanite neo-liberalism. Incidentally, another one was to deregulate. Deregulation sounds nice on paper, but it has the obvious consequences of leading to increasing monopolization, big fish eat the little fish.
So now sector after sector of the economy is virtually monopolized. More was done. Now we're going to Clinton who joined in the trade agreements. The so-called free trade agreements, which certainly are not free and have little do with trade, provide extraordinary protection; they provide essentially monopoly pricing rights to corporate structures, even when, as is often the case, their inventions and creations are largely subsidized by the public. They're given unprecedented patent rights for much longer than ever in the past. And also process as well as product patents. We're seeing that right now with COVID when, say, Moderna, which has created a number of billionaires in the last year or two, thanks to products that were largely created in the public domain and then they marketed. But they can maintain control over the process of production, which they're insisting on, and over the product, so that poor countries around the world can't get access to it.
Things like that are happening all the time. Well, one step would be to dismantle all of this and to go back to what was true during the pre-neoliberal period, not a wonderful period by any means, you had a lot to say about what was wrong with it and changing it.
But nevertheless, as compared with the neoliberal period, it would be quite a step forward.
How Economic Jargon and Cliches Make Cruel, Anti-Poor Policies Sound Sterile and Science-y Part 2 - Citations Needed - Air Date 12-1-21
[00:19:01] Nima: I think the mother of all of them right now, for this topic, is the “economy.” That term itself, we hear that polls show "the economy" is what is most important to perspective voters, or to people on the street, what’s the number one bread and butter issue, “the economy.” It’s a thing that is just assumed to exist rather than being created, defined, maintained, enforced by humans as a choice. It can mean stuff like gas prices or the stock market, or someone’s personal experience trying to get a job. Is the economy good or bad? Is it strong or weak?
We were just talking about news media, the idea that, does the economy just serve as a synonym for the NASDAQ numbers or Dow Jones, ticker? Can we talk about this idea, the popular notions of “the economy,” and how these concepts are used again and again by our pundit class, by reporters, and what this concept, “the economy,” deliberately omits, I think, from our analysis, and even our understanding of what we’re talking about when we use that term.
[00:20:18] HADAS THIER: So it goes back to this idea of separating out economics from politics, that these aren’t deliberate decisions, that the way that things are set up right now, that the fact that we have historic inequality, that these aren’t political decisions and the outcome of policy, the outcome of things like the minimum wage not being raised for umpteen years, or any number of other things, it divorces it from politics and says there’s just economics.
And yeah, usually the way that it’s talked about in the mainstream is a preoccupation with the surface level machinations of the economy, so prices, stocks, currencies, maybe monetary policy, and it really separates not only economics from politics, but also economics from regular people’s lives. There’s the stock market over there, technocratic arguments about the GDP, and then we have our lives over here, as though economics is not fundamental to every aspect of our lives. And I think that’s broken down somewhat recently, in part just stretching back a little bit further to the last 10 years, that just the last decade since the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street, putting ideas of class and economics back into regular language and discussions that we live in a world dominated by the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent, that we have record breaking inequality, all of these things has come back into a sort of more mainstream discussion, not necessarily in terms of what we hear from the pundit class, but in terms of the kinds of conversations that have, begun to take place.
And so I think there’s also more of a sense than there used to be that the stock market is unhinged from reality, that actually, we do need to concern ourselves with economic issues like minimum wage, talking about essential workers during the pandemic, that safety and compensation for essential workers, or investment in clean energy versus fossil fuels, these are not just economic issues, these are life or death questions for our planet.
But I think even with that beginning to break down, there is still this assumption that the experts know best, the experts have ideological biases that favor the status quo, and I think that really speaks to why it’s important also for the left to inhabit these spaces, and to actually analyze the economy, and to go further and be able to talk about not just investment and wages, but also to talk about, to bring back into the discussion something that both conservatives and liberal takes on the economy leave out, which is that the entire edifice of the economy is based on exploitation, that underpins all these questions.
So that when you look at, just as one example, the labor market, right now everyone’s talking about how there’s increased leverage for workers in a tight labor market, and that’s true, and that’s a good thing, and it’s relative, but it’s all very relative and the assumption of mainstream economics is we have two equal players meeting each other on a level playing field. Workers sell their ability to work to the highest bidder and so now you have a slightly tighter labor market, etcetera, but one of these players, the worker, is compelled through economic compulsion to work or starve, to accept whatever terms they can get in order to survive.
If you think about the debate around unemployment benefits, the Republicans were screaming bloody murder because having substantial unemployment benefits means that workers didn’t have as much of incentive to go back to work, but what that really means is that they weren’t compelled upon the threat of starvation to work at unsafe minimum wage jobs in the middle of a pandemic, and so the whole basis of the discussion assumes that you need these economic incentives to work, which is really another way of seeing economic coercion. I don’t know, those are some of the ways that I think questioning the framework of the discussion is really important.
[00:24:45] Adam: Yeah, that was a fascinating few months during the whole made up labor shortage panic and the Republicans, and then of course, eventually, Democrats supported the sunsetting of the UI extensions, because it was one of the rare examples where people were overtly saying, I think Lindsey Graham even said this explicitly, that people are not going to work if they are worried that they’re not going to have destitution and starvation as a result. All the veneer went away, and you had these lobbying groups — National Retail Association, National Restaurant Association, Chambers of Commerce, etcetera — explicitly saying, ‘Look, our industries can’t survive unless it’s bare bottom, low rung wages,’ which are literally the only alternative to complete destitution, Uber as well.
Because sometimes you’ll say okay, the economy needs a certain, the quote-unquote “economy,” the American economy, because so much of our industries require precarity, it needs to have a certain amount of poverty, really, basically as a threat, and then people say that’s a little paranoid or conspiratorial,’ and then you see that explicitly being advocated by these industry trade groups and politicians, and you say, okay, there it is.
If tomorrow Joe Biden, the totally fake, not the real version of Joe Biden said we’re going to give $500 billion to solve homelessness, that housing as of today is a right, I don’t think people can imagine how much of a meltdown there would be from not only the Chambers of Commerce, and the retail associations, and the restaurant associations, and all the trade groups for low wage jobs, the Silicon Valley lobbyists for gig workers, but imagine, the real estate industry, it would be a meltdown, because, again, the fear of homelessness is why people will permit sexual harassment and abuse from their manager at Subway. Otherwise, why would I?
[00:26:16] HADAS THIER: Exactly.
[00:26:17] Adam: I think the idea of coercion is such a fascinating topic, but again, it’s sanitized through this language of economics, "it’s better than the alternatives," is what they say. When Nick Kristof lobbies for sweatshops for 20 years, says it is better than the alternative.
Noam Chomsky Part 2 - Ralph Nader Radio Hour - Air Date 11-20-21
[00:26:30] RALPH NADER - HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: Noam Chomsky, what would you do, Noam, with the corporate charter? They're now state charters, largely Delaware, Nevada, make it easy for corporate executives to control shareholders, board of directors, as you point out. There's been a proposal by William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt to federally charter giant corporations, rewrite the constitution of the corporation, the birth certificate, and most recently, Senator Warren has picked that up. What do you think of you might call it an intermediate step, rewriting the whole compact between the society that gifts these immunities and privileges to artificial entities we call corporations? What interest would you have if you had Congress standing by poor by and all the people? What interests would you have in rewriting that at the federal level?
[00:27:24] NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, it depends on how it's rewritten. As you know, better than I do, there was a period, early American history going back to British law, when corporations were chartered for a particular purpose. So if a town in Connecticut wants to build a bridge over a river, they could incorporate, get a state charter to build that bridge. Period. That's what corporations were.
This began to change in the late 19th century with court cases which broadened the rights of corporations in many ways. Finally, by early 19th century, granting them the rights of persons, which has had an enormous impact. So if the federal charters went back to what corporations once were, namely a device to accumulate capital for a particular purpose, often by a community. Purposes accomplished, corporation goes out of existence. It is a useful device to accumulate, bring capital together. Maybe there's even some justification for the limited liability for some period. But all of this can be sharply cut back and should be moved in the direction of having people in the enterprise control it, own it and run it. That's the classical liberal ideal.
[00:29:01] RALPH NADER - HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: Would you do for a progressive Congress, total veto proof majority on the tax system? What kind of tax system: corporate tax, individual tax, income, sales, value added? What would you propose?
[00:29:15] NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, our tax system is called progressive. It's actually very regressive. Turns out over a long period, taxes, actual taxes, including state taxes, consumer taxes -- you take it all into account. It's pretty level across income scales. Now the neoliberal period has changed that. Recently, for the first time in over a century, the tax system has been structured so that billionaires pay lower taxes than a steel worker or the janitor who cleans their floor.
That's the restructuring of taxes that has been taken place under the massive highway robbery called neo-liberalism.
I should mention, which I didn't do before, that there is a kind of a measure of the scale of the highway robbery. The Rand Corporation, which is as respectable as you can get, tried to do an estimate of what the politely call "transfer of wealth" from the lower 90% of the population to the top 1%, actually fraction of 1% during the 40 neoliberal years. Their rough estimate is on the order of $50 trillion. That's not small change. And it leaves out a lot of the things we were just talking about.
Going back to the tax system, first step would be to return it to something like the pre-neoliberal period, which incidentally was the highest growth period in American history. Rather egalitarian growth -- the lower quintile did about as well as the upper quintile. As I said before, plenty of things, wrong with it. Your work as prominent and exposing and overcoming much of that back in the sixties and seventies. But compared with today, the tax system was moderately progressive. We could go back to that.
We could then move on to a much more progressive tax system. Our system now is very harmful to the poor and the working class. Take the rise in gas prices. Who pays that? Working people, poor people, not rich people. They don't care. For them, it's nothing. For others, it's a serious burden. That doesn't have to be that way.
And that is true across the whole tax system. There's a very good study of this switch. the Zucman study, which is called Justice Denied, which goes into the revisions of the tax system that were undertaken during the neoliberal period, with the design of ensuring that the rich and the corporate system would be protected with their lavish wealth, and that the poor and working people would pay for it. The final blow in this, the Trump tax cut, what Joseph Stiglitz called "the donor relief bill of 2017," massive gift to the very rich and the corporate sector, stab in the back to working people and the poor. And for the current Republican party, a red line that can't be crossed. Of course it punched a hole in the deficit, but nobody cared about that when it's for the benefit of the rich.
So all of this stuff can be revised. We can return to a much better system and we can move on to something far better.
Reagan on Employee Ownership
[00:32:54] PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: In the marketplace, our people benefit from direct and indirect business ownership. There are currently close to 10 million self-employed workers in the United States. That's nearly 9% of total civilian employment, and millions more hope to own a business someday. Furthermore, over 47 million individuals reap the rewards of free enterprise through stock ownership in the vast number of companies listed on the US stock exchanges.
I can't help but believe that in the future, we'll see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step: employee ownership. It's a path that benefits a free people.
Ecology, Co-ops, and Profit - Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff - Air Date 12-8-21
[00:33:39] PROFESSOR MELISSA SCANLAN: I wanted to identify who's taking the lead, and what kind of business structure supports sustainability. And my research led to discoveries that I've outlined in the book Prosperity in the Fossil-Free Economy, which dives into this alternative business model that can pursue the triple bottom line of sustainability, social goals and financial goals. And that is the cooperative business forum.
[00:34:08] PROFESSOR RICHARD WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE: You know, that's what I want really to tease out of you now, and to recommend your book, because it does that, because it answers, or at least offers part of an answer, about why co-ops and worker co-ops ought to be on the agenda for people to learn about, think about, debate and discuss.
They have their strengths and weaknesses, like everything else, but they are an alternative that hasn't gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves, or at least -- let me put that as a question. Do you have a sense of your own ending up intrigued by, interested in, co-ops, and how they might better address the problem? Is that something happening broadly in the social sciences? Do you encounter others in your field or allied fields that are coming to this? Is this an emerging -- is it fair to say it's an emerging consciousness or recognition?
[00:35:11] PROFESSOR MELISSA SCANLAN: Yes, you hear about it more and more, both in the popular press and in academia. But there isn't enough recognition yet.
And so when I went to write this book, there just wasn't that much out there on this. And there were no books that were bridging and critically looking at environmental sustainability and how that's tied to the cooperative business design, and how cooperatives can be leaders in that area.
So I want to frame this more about thinking about the democratic economy. And we often talk about the climate in terms of tragedy and avoiding suffering. And I want to tip that on its head and think about a redesigning how business produces broadly shared wealth that can allow us to prosper while we transform to a more democratic economy that doesn't rely on fossil fuels.
So we have this enormous opportunity for transformation in our economy as we shift off of fossil fuels. And it's an opportunity to kind of rethink how these businesses are designed so that we have enterprises that are more democratic. And what I mean by that is where we have more owners governed democratically, where each worker has one vote, and where sustainability and deep decarbonisation are built into the core purpose of business, and businesses are really improving communities and sharing prosperity as part of their core design.
[00:36:53] PROFESSOR RICHARD WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE: I've taught occasionally in business schools and I have a lot of friends who are graduates of, or teachers in business school. So in a way you are confronting, in the very words you just used, you are confronting all of those folks, many of whom are sympathetic in some general way with environmentalism and so forth. You are confronting them though with having to rethink whether the tried and true basic principle -- that business is about profit maximization and business is about profit as the bottom line -- maybe has to now be faced, not as a truism, but as a problem to be overcome or to be solved in some way. Are you finding resistance along those lines?
[00:37:48] PROFESSOR MELISSA SCANLAN: I think that I would reframe that from a confrontation to an invitation. And that we can see from looking at these major metrics of social progress and environmental progress that we are headed in the wrong direction. And so a serious interrogation of the business structure that's at the heart of that is overdue.
And I would say it's an invitation, because it's an invitation to lead a better life. To have less violence in society. To have more people who are living in ways that are enriching. And I also want to just emphasize that these cooperatives, they can be organized as not-for-profit, but they also can be organized as for-profit enterprises.
The distinction is that they're multipurposed, that they have a purpose based on ethics, values and principles that are shared internationally. And these business forms are a lot more common than most people think. They operate in most sectors of the economy and most countries in the world.
And, there are all different forms of them. Insurance cooperatives, energy cooperatives, mutual, water mutuals, ones that are organized around workers, organized around farmers, organized around consumers. I mean, there's so many different variations on this theme that your colleagues and business schools could be teaching about, to really harness that interest that people have in sustainability and in trying to rethink how we're interacting in our global economy.
[00:39:37] PROFESSOR RICHARD WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE: I couldn't agree more. But I guess I have a little bit different experience because my colleagues in economics, which is what I've taught most of my life, have wanted to teach a generation or several generations that somehow -- and it's always quite nebulous and magical -- maximizing profit is somehow automatically going to lead us to all the other good things in life that we are concerned about, so that we can kind of shortcut. We don't have to worry about sustainability and all the others, because the pursuit of profit is this magical thing that will get the best output for the biggest majority in some way which I have never sorted out why I should believe that. And we get into a little bit of tension with my colleagues when I say to them, wouldn't it be more sensible to recognize that we have multiple objectives, that they are different, and that we have to be concerned about our business activities in terms of all of these objectives, not take the kind of weird shortcut that by maximizing one thing, all the others are going to somehow take care of themselves? This is a kind of -- if you allow the philosophy "essentialism" -- that we ought to be skeptical about.
Let me move us toward the end because we have limited time. What do you think is the biggest resistance to getting people to think about cooperative organizations as at least part of a solution to the sustainability issue?
[00:41:19] PROFESSOR MELISSA SCANLAN: Well, I think you highlight that when you talk about the conflict with your business colleagues. I mean, some business schools are starting to teach sustainability. We have major shifts in the multinational and the investor owned world where this sustainability is a focus. Now the question is, is it a buzzword? And is it going to mean anything? How many business schools are actually teaching about cooperatives? Hardly any. How many law schools are teaching about social enterprise design? Hardly any. So without people educated in this business model, it will be somewhat underutilized. And one of the things I found in Spain too, where they do have a very robust worker-owner cooperative sector, they passed laws in 2011 to promote the social economy and set goals for its flourishing, that reflected their appreciation of all this adds to the economy beyond financial returns.
And so we can see that a serious effort to create an ecosystem of support involves legal reforms and education. You can get a lot more details about this in my book, Prosperity in the Fossil-Free Economy, where I have actual examples of leading businesses that have been able to balance multiple purposes, including pursuing financial, but not have that overshadow everything else.
American Capitalism In 4 Different Ages w Jonathan Levy Part 2 - The Majority Report w Sam Seder - Air Date 12-8-21
[00:42:53] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: As we start to wrap this up, an impossible question for you. Absent of a pandemic, is there some type of progression as you look back over the 200 years where there's a trajectory where you could perhaps, and I know as a historian, this is not your job, but where you could perhaps get a sense of what the trajectory was, to the extent that there was, has the pandemic changed the dynamic right now, at least as of now, in terms of labor, power in this country? And who knows if it's going to be durable, there's some who are arguing that it will. Is the pandemic going to fundamentally alter that trajectory?
[00:43:34] JONATHAN LEVY: Quite rightly, it's an impossible question. But I won't dodge it. I think the answer is yes. Of course we have to see. I argue -- and the book really stops in 2010, it stops with the turn to austerity in 2010 -- that actually, given the depths of the crisis in 2008, that it looked like it could be a turning point, a new age of American capitalism.
But instead, in terms of the economics, it didn't happen at all. Actually the Obama administration, very competently, put that capitalism that existed since the 1980s back together. And that's the economy we really still had going into the pandemic.
With that said, politics and the kind of sensibility around, is the economy doing well or not?
That's really shifted over the last 10 years. So I think that kind of neoliberal age as fractured. I think Trump especially contributed towards fracturing it by turning to economic policies, some that were right out of the Reagan playbook, like tax cuts, but others, trade, are very anathema to typical conservative, or even the kind of 1990s high tide of trade liberalization.
So I think even before the pandemic, you could, it's not clear what, but it's clear that things are breaking up. It's clear I think to most people who are even remotely wise about these issues, the levels of inequality in the economy are just not sustainable. They're not sustainable economically. They're not sustainable for our politics. They are not sustainable socially. So I think even before the pandemic, the mood was very much that something's got to give here. In the pandemic so far, we've seen both in terms of the fiscal side of realizing that the government has much more financing capacity to do the things that we need to be done than we had realized before, and then the labor side, too, where there's arguably a strike wave, right? A general strike, much like we saw coming out of World War II. I think a very similar episode. And we'll see how much leverage working people can get on the economy coming out of that. But I think things are changing and we'll see what happens, but very likely rending we're into an age of capitalism with very different qualities.
Liberal Hypocrisy is Fueling American Inequality. Heres How. NYT Opinion Part 1 - The New York Times - Air Date 11-9-21
[00:45:47] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: I think, you know, Americans tend to view politics as a competition of "us versus them," and they tend to think that "If they would just get out of the way, then we can do the things that we want to do."
There is no "Them" standing in the way. There's just the "We," of Democrats and their supporters, and they get to decide what policy should look like in those states, and that is an opportunity for them to implement their vision.
[00:46:09] JOHHNY HARRIS: For this story, I also delved into this giant document. It is the 2020 Democratic Party platform.
If you want to really understand what Democrats say they want, what their vision is for America, it's found inside of this document. This document serves as a guide.
As we zoom into these states to answer this question, "What do Democrats really do when they have all the power?"
[00:46:31] VOICE OVER: Nearly 554,000 homeless people...
From the 25 wealthiest Americans shows they're paying little in income taxes compared to their fortunes; sometimes nothing at all...
we cannot in good faith to blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority...
There's still very intense segregation happening, in all kinds of forms, all over this country...
[00:46:56] JOHHNY HARRIS: Okay. So let's start with California. To me, California is, like, the quintessential liberal state. From the state legislature, to the whole executive branch, to most of the big cities, Dems hold majority control. So what do they do with all this power?
[00:47:10] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: Looking at California you have to look at housing.
[00:47:13] JOHHNY HARRIS: Okay, now wait... Listen: when I hear the words "housing policy," I tend to, sort of, doze off. But Binya insists that housing policy, and what is happening in California, is definitely worth looking at.
[00:47:24] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: You cannot say that you are against inequality in America, unless you are willing to have affordable housing built in your neighbourhood.
[00:47:31] JOHHNY HARRIS: And Democrats completely agree. Here in this document, the word housing is mentioned over a hundred times.
[00:47:38] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: The neighborhood where you're born has a huge influence on the rest of your life. Children who are born in neighborhoods with degraded environmental conditions, with a lack of access to high quality public services, poor schools, poor public transit, are at a permanent disadvantage.
[00:47:55] JOHHNY HARRIS: And they even say, verbatim, "Housing in America should be stable, accessible, safe, healthy, energy efficient, and, above all, affordable.
[00:48:05] VOICE OVER: Housing is a human right...
Housing is a human right...
The rent is going through the roof! Housing is a human right!
[00:48:13] JOHHNY HARRIS: How does California do when it comes to housing?
[00:48:16] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: You know where those signs are, when you drive into a state, it says "Welcome to California?" They might as well replace them with signs that say "Keep Out," because in California, the cost of housing is so high, that for many people, it's simply unaffordable.
The state has simply, for the most part, stopped building housing. I mean, there are cranes; there's housing going up. But it has slowed down over time, really, really sharply. And it is nowhere near sufficient to keep pace with California's population.
And so what you have is, is not enough housing, and too many people trying to get it, and the inevitable result is that prices have gone up, up, and away.
[00:48:48] VOICE OVER: The median price of a home in San Diego County is now a staggering $830,000
[00:48:56] JOHHNY HARRIS: All around California, there are cities full of people who say that they are progressive, they are liberals, they believe in a more equal America, a more diverse America. They show up to the marches, they put in the lawn signs about everyone being equal; but at the same time, they're actively fighting to keep their neighborhoods looking like this.
Okay, wait, but... that doesn't look so bad. It's just a bunch of houses in a neighborhood, right?
No. It turns out that this is actually the result of specific policies, intentional policies, that keeps these neighborhoods spread out and full of "Single family Homes," as opposed to higher density buildings like duplexes or apartment.
This is a real serious fight, and you can get a glimpse into it by looking at a zoning map. Yes, we're looking at a municipal zoning map of Palo Alto, California. Don't leave yet. This Is really where it sinks in, so just stick around.
So, everything on this map that is yellow is zoned for single family homes, like this, and this. One family can live here. But here in Palo Alto, there are a lot of new jobs. This is a desirable place to live, for new opportunities.
Over the past eight years, the San Francisco area has added 676,000 jobs, but only 176,000 housing units.
So a few years ago, the city council voted to change the zoning of one section of the city. Right here, specifically this two acre plot of land. They wanted to change it from low density housing to higher density housing, so that they could build a 60 unit affordable housing complex for elderly members of the community.
Okay. So they changed the zoning. Start building the 60 unit complex.
No. The overwhelmingly liberal residents of Palo Alto decided to hold a vote to overturn the decision to revert it back to low density single family housing, back to yellow.
And it passed. And the zoning was overturned. So now when you go to this plot of land, instead of an affordable housing complex for the elderly, what you're going to see is this: a row of just a few houses, all of the massive, and worth around $5 million each.
[00:51:06] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: People aren't living their values. You go to these meetings in these neighborhoods, where they're talking about a new housing project, and it's always the same song. And it goes like this: "I am very in favor of affordable housing. We need more of it in this community. However, I have some concerns about this project.
[00:51:23] VOICE OVER: We have the hearts to do this, but we're doing it wrong. And we're dictating, and harm onto the neighborhoods.
[00:51:30] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: And then off we go with the concerns and then nothing ever gets built.
[00:51:34] JOHHNY HARRIS: This is happening all over California. And the result is that these neighborhoods are so expensive that they keep anyone out who isn't a part of this small group of super rich residents, many of whom bought their properties decades ago, and who spend their time fighting vigorously to keep the value of their real estate assets super high.
[00:51:53] VOICE OVER: If you want to keep Palo Alto the kind of neighborhood and community that we all treasure, low intensity, low density, safe for your kids to walk to school, you've got to vote against Measure D.
[00:52:03] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: There's an aspect of, sort of, of greed here, and end of, uh, you know, nervousness about actually sharing those opportunities.
Liberal Hypocrisy is Fueling American Inequality. Heres How. NYT Opinion Part 2 - The New York Times - Air Date 11-9-21
[00:52:11] JOHHNY HARRIS: Democrats believe in a progressive tax system where the rich pay a larger share of their income than the poor. This is, like, the most basic policy vision of, like, a progressive movement. It's front and center in Democrats policy platform.
[00:52:25] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: But if you go and look at Washington State, what you find is, that in Washington State, if you look at the state and local taxes that people pay there, less affluent families pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthiest residents of Washington State. So people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, two of the state's most famous and wealthy residents, are in this lovely situation of... of paying less in taxes as a share of their income than... than the poor people who live in that same state.
And this is a fundamental inversion of the values that the Democratic Party professes. There is no state with a more regressive system of taxation than Washington State.
[00:53:03] JOHHNY HARRIS: And I'm talking like "the" most regressive; meaning Texas, which is, like, the conservative bastion of, like, anti taxes, is more progressive than Washington State-- liberal Washington State! How is that real?
Oh, and guess what? Other states on our map also are in the top 10 of most regressive tax regimes. Like Nevada and Illinois,
[00:53:24] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: There have been some changes, particularly in recent years, but the overall situation remains resistant to change.
[00:53:30] VOICE OVER: So I'm very concerned that at this time, which is a very poor time to "disincent" people from creating jobs in Washington State that we're even considering it.
[00:53:38] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: From that paycheck that you earn more of that money is going to state government. And so the effect of that is basically to exacerbate inequality.
[00:53:46] JOHHNY HARRIS: Okay. So rich liberals don't show up when it comes to housing or taxes.
Another major theme in this policy document is education. And the wording in here, I find quite interesting. The Democrats say, quote, "We must provide world-class education in every zip code to every child because education is a critical public good."
They use this word "zip code" to represent the fact that, in America, schools get their funding based on the real estate taxes of the houses within that school district. The more expensive the neighborhood, the more funding goes to the school.
So over here in Illinois, which is, like, the quintessential liberal state, there's this one county that contains the City of Chicago. It's called Cook County. The residents here voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the presidential and senatorial elections last year.
Often, what would happen is that this would just be one big school district, and that all the taxes from all the towns in this county would be put into one bucket, and distributed equally throughout the county.
But the residents of this very blue Democratic county have actually decided to divide themselves into more than 140 school districts. So now, you have all these tiny school districts like this one, which are, like, gerrymandered around the richest part of town. And so all of the taxes from these rich homeowners go into one little bucket, and then only get distributed to the schools within this rich region of the county.
[00:55:13] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: It can be on the same block, that the town line runs through the middle of it, and if you live on one side of that line, you're consigned to an inferior education by virtue of the fact that you and your neighbors don't have as much money; and if you live on the other side, you're basically a member of a club that is sponsoring a private school, essentially, for the benefit of that small group of kids who are lucky enough to live in that affluent community.
And the result is, that poor communities have less money to educate their children, and rich communities have more money to educate their children.
This is crazy. It means, basically, that the kids who have the greatest needs have the fewest resources.
[00:55:49] JOHHNY HARRIS: The same thing is happening in wealthy, liberal Connecticut, where the inequality in education opportunities is shameful, with some schools having huge budgets for their libraries and facilities, and others. In the same state, having to use duct tape to keep wind and snow out of their windows. Like, this is a real thing.
[00:56:11] VOICES: We need your help in establishing guidelines, procedures, and funding, to address issues negatively impacting our students. Like extreme temperatures, mold, lead exposure, and poor water and air quality.
[00:56:26] JOHHNY HARRIS: So yeah, Binya tells me that the states could change this. They could, actually, just collect all the real estate taxes, and then equally distribute them.
But if you look at some of our liberal strong, that is exactly what they are not doing.
Let me be clear about something: in blue states, progress is being made, albeit slowly. For instance, a few weeks ago, California finally passed a law that gets rid of single family zoning. It's a small step in the right direction, and in many cases, blue states provide more and better public services, and historically have given better chances to low-income families to climb the economic ladder.
But for some of these foundational Democratic values of housing equality, progressive taxation, and education equality, Democrats don't actually embody their values very well.
[00:57:18] VOICE OVER: We're talking, once again, about a system that's been rigged...
Are to blame...
[00:57:23] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: What we're talking about here, is that blue states are the problem. Blue states are where the housing crisis is located. Blue states are aware the disparities in education funding are the most dramatic. Blue states are the places where tens of thousands of homeless people are living on the streets. Blue states are the places where economic inequality is increasing most quickly in this country.
This is not a problem of... of not doing well enough. It is a situation where the blue states *are* the problem.
[00:57:52] JOHHNY HARRIS: Affluent liberals tend to be really good at showing up to the marches, and talking about how they love equality. They're really good at putting signs in their lawn saying, that, "All Are Welcome Here." But by their actions, what they're actually saying is, "Yes, we believe in this ideals, just not in my back yard."
[00:58:08] BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: We are not living our values. People who live in blue states, people who profess liberal values, you need to look in the mirror, and need to understand that they are not taking the actions that are consistent with those values.
Not just incidentally, not just in small areas, but that some of the most important policy choices; we are denying people the opportunity to prosper, and to thrive. And to build better lives, and it is happening in places where Democrats control the leavers of policy.
[00:58:52] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Citations Needed looking at the framing of economics as a cold, hard science. The Majority Report looked at our current neo-liberal age through the lens of the new deal era it came out of. The Ralph Nader Radio Hour talked with Noam Chomsky about the funding of elections and the legacy of union busting. Citations Needed discussed economic coercion amid the pandemic. Ralph Nader continued his talk with Noam Chomsky about repealing neo-liberalism and moving toward cooperative ownership. Economic Update looked at the triple bottom line business model in conjunction with cooperative ownership. And The Majority Report examined the fracturing of neo-liberalism in the face of the pandemic.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from the New York Times, looking at the hypocrisy of wealthy liberals at the root of so many social ills in blue states. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you will receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.
And now, we'll hear from you.
Personal disability experience - Jade from Upstate New York
[01:00:09] VOICEDMAILER: JADE FROM UPSTATE NEW YORK: Hey Jay. This is Jade from Upstate New York.
I was so happy to hear such a good episode on disability issues. We had an email discussion about the needs for this kind of episode many years ago, but I didn’t know what sources to use since we are so often a forgotten demographic.
I’ve been wanting to share my situation on your show, and this seems like the perfect timing. I’ll try to be brief.
I am autistic. I used to make a passable living taking temporary work while also working as a musician. When I tore a wrist ligament on one of those jobs, I was sent for surgery and it was botched. I have 30% use of my dominant hand and severe chronic pain even after 5 more surgeries and more than a decade. It ended my music career and left me unable to find work. Because it happened in Oklahoma, an excess of tort reform meant I couldn’t sue the doctor.
It took me two years of fighting to get approved for disability payments. Another year after that to get Medicare, which means I just suffered without treatment for my wrist that entire time. I now live off of $775 a month plus food stamps. I want to get married, but they’d take away the very little I receive if I did, making me totally dependent on my other half.
I went to college after my injury. I had to fight tooth and nail for accommodations, but graduated with my first biology degree with a 3.7 gpa. When I transferred and moved across the country for graduate school, everything was great on the tour and correspondence, but they denied every accommodation when I arrived. I wasn’t given note takers. I was left in the woods on a hike because my legs gave out when I was supposed to be on bed rest after an abdominal surgery. I was punished for having panic attacks while on a field work trip for 3 weeks because they gave me no time to work by myself. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I got the Department of Justice to act against the school and while they said I was right about everything, the best they could do was have the school let me retake the inaccessible courses for free, which I tried, and they were still inaccessible. On top of that, the school retaliated against me for reporting them.
I got my $80,000 student loan bill discharged because the government considers me too disabled to work. If I’d been able to get the degree, there’s a chance I could have.
The world forgets disabled people in most cases. In others, it purposely tries to exclude us. At best, we are kept way, way below the poverty level. We absolutely need help.
Thank you for spreading the word.
Thoughts on human nature and systems - Quai from North Carolina
[01:02:23] VOICEMAILER: QUAI FROM NORTH CAROLINA: Hi, Jay!, this is Quai from Cary, North Carolina. And I just wanted to comment on the excellent job you did on presenting a logical evidence-based response to the conservative that called in on episode 1459. You demonstrated that progressives are more interested in scientifically investigating how human nature actually works. And then I just listened to your comment on 1460. You made another excellent point about the way in which the right condescends to the left regarding the left's supposed lack of understanding of human nature and how that's fallacious, an ad hominem attack used to avoid debating solutions to actual big systemic problems, and how this protects the status quo.
And so I was thinking about human nature and I think this is really at a central dividing line. It's the framing of human nature is a really major distinction between conservatives and progressives on almost every major issue.
And so a few examples I thought of back before gay marriage was legal, I think it's still today. Some conservatives have the false notion that sexuality is a choice. But if you examine human nature it's easy to test by asking yourself, how easy would it be for me to decide to have a different sexuality? You know, if you thought about that, assuming you're heterosexual and you try to imagine being gay or vice versa, that's not an easy choice to just arbitrarily make.
So if the answer is that there are people that can choose, and I can't, or it would be difficult for me to choose, then there would have to be two tiers of humans: those with a stable sexuality, presumably hetero in the case of conservatives, and those whose sexuality is less stable, and they can end up making a wrong choice with the wrong influences.
And if you think all about punitive systems, like over-policing and harsh economic consequences that are designed into our systems, the caller that talked about choosing to be homeless or not to work because artificially-imposed consequences. So again, just test it by asking yourself, is that why I'm not homeless? Is that why I choose to be employed or start a business? Is it because I'd rather live homeless? But yeah. Now I know that there are police out there harassing me. So I'm assuming the answer is no for that caller. So there again would have to be two tiers of humans: those who have a natural tendency to choose not to be homeless and those who would need to be forced not to want to be homeless.
And so then you think about power and identity politics, equity. So there's a thought on the conservative side that Black people gain political and economic power, they would harm white people or otherwise disadvantage them, or as women gain political and economic power, they will harm men or otherwise disadvantage men.
So testing that theory, I have to ask myself, is that how I would behave if the situation were reversed? If the answer is no, then there's again two tiers of humans: those who wouldn't seek revenge after being under oppression, and those who would.
So, I see this through line that if you're conservative, I think the core belief is there are at least two different tiers of humans, humans that are quote unquote, like me, and then there are others who are divergent, deviant, less intelligent, less moral, ethical, and just generally less worthy. And thinking this way blinds people to the inequities designed into systems. Their conclusion is unequal outcomes just demonstrate unequal worthiness.
The alternative to that point of view, if you're conservative, is that everyone's deviant ignorant, immoral, unethical, unworthy. Either way it's the systems and institutions that are not to blame, but the humans are.
And the progressive point of view is that there's one tier of human beings. Human nature is dynamic and complex, and we're all capable of decisions and behaviors that are more helpful or more often than not some arbitrary grouping. Progressives understand that systems are designed by humans to be more likely to encourage constructive decisions and behaviors versus destructive ones. And they can be, and often are designed to favor one arbitrary group over another. And we know that every system must be continually examined and, when necessary, redesigned to achieve more constructive and equitable outcomes.
And these two different basic framings of human nature, where capitalism, white supremacy and Christian nationalism converge. White supremacy started as a means to justify the enslavement of Africans by creating two tiers of humans, white and Black, superior and inferior, respectively. The central idea of Christian nationalism is there a two tiers of humans, Christians and non-Christians. The way they come together is with the proposition that systemic outcomes prove the inherent ranking of the tiers, obscuring the fact that systems were designed by certain humans to advantage those humans and those like them.
And progressives take the opposite point of view, that unequal outcomes prove that systems were designed inequitably.
So I think this is the core aspect of the dividing line, the boundary between a deeply divided nation. It can be looked at as left versus right. But if you really want to cut to what's at the root, we have to take ourselves and those we're in dialogue with, take a single question, which is: in terms of worthiness and intrinsic value, are there two or more tiers of humans or just one? The answer will funnel you into maintaining the status quo or working towards re-imagining and redesigning systems, wherever you find unequal outcomes between groups.
Thanks, Jay!. Stay awesome. Appreciate you.
Final comments on the nature of laws and morality
[01:08:31] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202 999 3991, or write me a message to [email protected]
So, thanks to Jade for sharing her story, and to Quai for all of his thoughts on human nature. I do have a little bit more to add. I thought I was done with this, but: first of all, all that talk over the last two episodes about human nature and policies, and I never thought to bring up the war on drugs once. It didn't even cross my mind, can you believe that? I mean, it's only the best example of what we're talking about here.
But I also have thoughts on policies to manage human nature and if that's really what policies should be for. So, for instance, if... if the rules we have in place, Backed by punitive measures when they're broken, are set to a standard that is higher than any group of humans has ever acted like in history, is that a good set of rules?
I suppose you could argue that we want to set rules that are something to strive for, but there might be another way, and there might be a dark side to that. Because, if you have rules set up that, you know, going into it, are going to be broken all the time, it, sort of, creates this set of lofty ideals that can then be used to perpetually prove the terribleness of humans in need of saving, in the case of Christianity, as discussed previously, and to, sort of, scapegoat the failures of systems onto the backs of those individual terrible humans as in neo-liberalism, which we heard a lot about today and Quai, sort of, touched on.
And to be upfront, this is not a very original idea I am describing. If you want to hear a little bit more on it, check out the book, "My Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. I just finished rereading it. I think the last time I read it was about 10 years ago, and I wanted a refresher. And a major point that is made in that book is that, rules designed to govern society shouldn't be such that sets people up for failure. Using the 10 commandments as an example, it's a list of "Thou Shalt Nots," meaning that they should literally never happen.
But as we know, they happen all the time. The argument being, that this is a bad way to make laws, and actually diminish the idea of law, or the respect for law itself. You know, we've been making millions of laws over thousands of years that we fully expect for people to break, and that means that we have no choice but to punish people for doing exactly what we expected them to.
And when we write all these laws that we know people are going to break, people lose respect for the whole idea of law.
The alternative vision put forward in the book is not to outlaw "mischief--" is the word chosen to describe like anything bad-- it's to not outlaw "mischief," but for the law to spell out how to undo mischief.
So, in modern terms, the closest thing I can think of that we have to this, is restorative justice, which is focused much more on undoing harm to whatever extent possible, and restoring society and the aggrieved parties, as opposed to setting rules and doling out punishment.
So, talk about building policies that take human nature into account.
Okay. Now, actually, one last thing on this: I realized today that I haven't talked about this conservative political cartoon in years, but it is way too relevant to this discussion to leave out. I saw this single frame political cartoon with a clear conservative perspective years ago, and I found it to be a great insight into conservative thinking.
And so I'm just going to have to describe it to you: a donkey wearing blue athletic clothes, and an elephant wearing red athletic clothes, are both doing the high jump. And the political implications couldn't be more obvious. The bar on the high jump for both is labeled "Moral Standards," but the bar in front of the donkey is set at ankle level while the bar in front of the elephant is set at head height.
The donkey is easily jumping over the low bar of moral standards in front of him, while the elephant is heroically leaping in an effort to clear the high bar of moral standards set before him. But alas, the elephant tips the bar and knocks it off. To which the donkey pronounces, "Hypocrite!"
And for reference, this was from nearly 10 years ago, around the time... not exactly the time when mega church Pastor, uh, Ted Haggard lost his job over his use of gay prostitutes and drugs, but it was, sort of, after that. It was in the wake of all of that.
And this was also before the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, and marijuana legalization was still pretty controversial. So you could read headlines like this one, about, uh, Pastor Kevin Swanson, of Generations Radio saying that Democrats want to ensure, "Everybody is committing homosexual acts and high on drugs." He also said that Democrats are "Deviously working to strip back" government control over marijuana and homosexuality. "In order to maximize the immorality of the people" and "increase the size of government."
(I mean, of course you always got to throw in a job about the size of government.)
All of these liberal laws, letting people do whatever they want with their own bodies and lives, they clearly don't understand anything about human nature, and the need for the church and government to squash it.
Which, which actually got me thinking, "Is that what conservatives have meant this whole time? That human nature is inherently evil and needs to be squashed, which is why liberal policies that cater to human nature are bad, while conservative policies that do nothing but harm people, and go against human nature, are actually good and righteous. Because it's human nature, which is wrong?"
We might actually be getting somewhere. I may have a clearer understanding of this discussion than ever before.
As always keep the comments coming in at 202 999 3991, or by emailing me to [email protected]
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