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In the foppish, sweaty, desperately condescending tone of an Oxford Don dressing down an undergraduate in lecture who resisted his leering advances at the pub the night previous, this Financial Times book review tries to defend US political economic policy as “pragmatism”.
If centrist tropes were oil this review would break OPEC’s pricing power.
The tropes are used to oppose a characterization of the US political economy as “neoliberal”, something neither the reviewer or book author being reviewed seem to understand.
Neoliberalism is a contentious term. As a deer hunter in the Michael Cimino style I care about aesthetics, and by far the most aesthetically pleasing definition of neoliberalism is the anthropological one: a set of rhetoric, practices and institutions which trains the self to use metaphors of competition and the market to frame experience.
But whatever. That might not be the right way to analyze neoliberalism or political economy. But definitely one of the wrong ways is the centrist claptrap the Financial Times recites.
Size of the state matters, and “government spending compared to GDP” is an accurate way of measuring it
Size *always* matters (ask an Irish person who lives abroad if you don’t believe me) but spending / GDP is a red herring. The consequences of policy decisions by the state have nothing to do with *amount of spending* and everything to do with *amount of control*. A SNAP program that allows Hormel products and not kale exerts much more control than mailing strings-free checks.
The amount of economic regulation means the state is “interventionist” as opposed to “letting the market take its own course”
Oh god this is the dumbest shit ever.
Exhibit A: The market can’t exist without state regulation on the tiniest, granular level. The Illusion of Free Markets is my favorite explication of this (mainly because of aesthetics again, though Bernard Harcourt can’t really be characterized as a “one deer, one shot” thinker). There is no line past which “regulation” “distorts” “the market”. It’s regulation now, regulation tomorrow, regulation forever.
Exhibit B: The flurry of economic regulatory activity in the last few decades hasn’t even been oriented around containing markets, it’s been about shifting resources and risk.
Exhibit C: the FT review scores an own goal by stating outright “the [economic regulatory] changes are more accurately described as a re-regulation – a change in the forms of regulation and intervention – rather than de-regulation.”
Finally, the big one:
“Even on the level of rhetoric, the ideas of neoliberalism have little purchase. Outside of a few university seminar rooms and think-tanks it is, for better or worse, pragmatism that reigns.”
The greatest trick the Devil tries to continuously pull is that one is acting “without ideology” in a “pragmatic” manner.
The past few decades of US political economic activity – in which public decisions and resources have steadily been shifted to places where no-one in the middle-, working- and precariate classes can benefit from them; risk has increasingly been shifted from the elite to the poor and from private to public; and trillions of dollars in cheap and nigh risk-free money have been transferred directly from the government to the financial sector – is a strange kind of pragmatism.
One which looks exactly as if it’s using the state to de-democratize decisions and put resources in the hands of elite control while shifting risk into everyone and everything that is not a part of that elite.
Part 1: The Set-Up
– One consequence of inhaling the fetid gases arising out of the DC centrist swamp is the uncontrollable urge to express support for the “Grand Bargain”, a wide-ranging budget deal that would fiddle with tax rates and cut social spending programs in order to lower the long-term deficit. Here’s the mad cow pen at Kaplan Test Prep lowing at it’s necessity. A failure to come to a “Grand Bargain” was in part what led to the stalled negotiations to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
– A result of the debt ceiling fever-dream was that spending cuts to programs awkward to cut (ie, the military and social spending whose rescission is most likely to cause blood to flow in the street) are to be enacted at the start of 2013. Ben Bernanke (hereafter: The Lorax) warned last February that the combination of those cuts and the expiration of the Frank Booth* Tax Cuts would create a “fiscal cliff”. His point in invoking the metaphor was to emphasize that we shouldn’t be enacting these austerity policies, because they would kill the economy. He said this forcefully. When the Treasury Secretary says something like “I think you also have to protect the recovery in the near term,” it’s measured policy speak for “you fucking twats, don’t cause another recession by cutting spending.”
* ‘cuz he fucked everything that moves, get it?
Part 2: The Sting
Everybody say it with me: THAT DON’T MAKE NO FUCKING SENSE.
The economy will be destroyed if we don’t avoid spending cuts and tax increases, but we need to enact spending cuts and tax increases right away in order to save the economy.
You can’t possibly believe that statement, and worse, you can’t manipulate it somehow to get it to make sense without running into another moat of centrist bullshit. It doesn’t make sense to consider both dismantling the “fiscal cliff” and reaching a “Grand Bargain” together, but ok, first we avoid catastrophe and then we phase in long-term deficit reduction over time, right? WRONG says Erskine Bowles in his best McLaughlin voice, doing so would “show markets we can’t put our house in order”, both have to be done nownownow. Why the prescription for saving the economy is the same as what we have to stop in order to avoid tanking it, or why interest rates in 2020 will give a shit whether a deal was hammered out in January or October of 2012, are left as exercises to the reader.
Well ok but at least then there will be deficit reduction, right, that’s the whole point of this exercise? WRONG says Peter Orszag, in his virile high-pitched voice, “the most promising approach may be to compromise on Social Security — even though it is not a significant driver of our long-term deficits.” The “fiscal cliff” needs to be used as an opportunity for a “Grand Bargain” of deficit reduction, even if there’s no deficit reduction.
Part 3: The Highest Form of Patriotism is to Punch Veterans in the Mouth
“Austerity will harm the economy, so we need to avoid it, but in the process of avoiding it we need to do it in order save the economy. And even if it won’t save the economy, we have to do it.” How much clearer could it possibly be that the centrist braying for dealing with the “fiscal cliff” and in the process instituting a “Grand Bargain” does not come from sober or reasoned economic analysis, and that looking for a through-line of logic from centrists in their incessant neighing for austerity is like trying to follow a single trail of slime in a slug orgy.
The purpose is not deficit reduction, or economic stability. It’s what it always is: the transfer of wealth and security from the public to the private, from the masses to the few, from the base to the top.
How these broken-down jackasses are able to whine so incessantly for their plutocratic nightmare while holding up as paragons of virtue and civic responsibility the very people that will be destroyed by their policies is beyond me. Two things are certain, this Veterans Day: David Gregory will blither staggeringly through his list of talking points to obscure the above analysis as much as possible, and he will praise veterans as the highest form of humanity yet attained, and I will vomit. Three things.
All my circuits are blown on this one I can’t even swear at it. It is proof that God has abandoned the up-keep of his creation.
The AP “fact checks” Clinton’s convention speech. I’ll ruin the surprise: no actual facts are checked.
Before the Fisking it’s important to just count the number of claims about politics that are presented as obvious truths without any repeat any evidence or argument to back them up. 1. “The inflexibility of both parties is to blame for much of the gridlock.” 2. “The problem with compromising in Washington is that there are few true moderates left in either party.” 3. is a little more abstract, but the piece faults Obama for “ensur[ing] the tough compromises would not get made” on Social Security and the debt. Why are “tough compromises” necessary on these things at this time? I dunno. Neither does the AP.
As always, the centrist scam is to hide a very particular political agenda behind “objective” analysis. If the parties aren’t working to enact the corporate consensus, they are inflexible partisans. Amazingly, this consensus can be found on every corporate media entity. What an astounding coincidence.
Enough sarcasm. ThinkProgress did its best on this turd but only got to about 15% of what’s wrong with it. Not good enough. Prepare to Fisk.
Clinton Claim: Obama be compromisin’ Republicans be obstructin’.
AP Fact Check: 1. The first “fact” is that Rahm Emanuel exists. No mention of anything he did. Just that he exists.
2. The “grand bargain” didn’t happen because Boehner couldn’t get Republicans to vote for it and Obama was criticized by some Democrats. CRITICIZED. BY SOME DEMOCRATS. Clearly a party is holding up legislation if some of its members are criticizing it.
3. Simpson-Bowles wasn’t enacted in legislation, even though the Republicans torpedoed the actual commission, and even though Obama adopted most of it for his own proposal. The AP acknowledges these things.
Good job, AP. Your fact check of the claim that Democrats compromise and Republicans are obstructing the machinery of government only ignores all the instances in which Republicans have been doing so to an historic extent. Recite it with me: record Senate filibusters debt ceiling ransoming record number of executive agency confirmations denied.
Now I’m just a simple country lawyer, but it seems to me that evaluating a claim that a party has been obstructionist needs to grapple with the objective ways in which that party has been historically obstructionist.
Clinton Claim: Health care spending has increased at a lower rate since Obamacare has been enacted.
AP Fact Check: 1. It’s mainly the economy
2. The two main cost-saving measures have yet to kick in
3. Anyway who gives a shit people still pay a lot for health care amirite
The only “fact check” here that has any logical connection at all to Clinton’s statement is the point about the economy. Interesting that the article can’t even keep it’s claims straight across paragraphs; first it’s due to “uncertainty”, then it’s about the economy being “lackluster”, which suggest two completely different mechanisms in how health care spending is affected. Either way though both should have been even more prevalent in 2009, when the rate of spending increased, than in 2010 and 2011, when it decreased.
Goddammit is there one fucking thing in here that isn’t undone with elementary logic.
Clinton Claim: Romney’s campaign said “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” Remember that, America.
AP Fact Check: We remember when Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky so it’s hypocritical for him to call out a campaign basically stating it will lie as much as it possible can.
Guess not. As logically insane it is for a “fact check” operation to be running political smears, THIS ISN’T EVEN A FUCKING CLAIM TO FACT CHECK IT’S JUST A FUCKING TRANSCRIPT OF-
Y’know let’s just move on to the last one. Because there is no larger order to which we are beholden and we all die alone, let’s just do it for kicks. Just to see if there’s one goddamn thing of value in this fucking thing.
Clinton Claim: Voter’s anger at the economy is understandable, but a political reaction to them wouldn’t be prudent. Voters were angry about the economy in ’94 and ’95, right before a huge economic expansion.
AP Fact Check: Clinton’s comments ignore the role his policies had in later economic troubles. The tech bubble eventually popped, and Glass-Steagall repeal set the stage for the ’08 collapse.
Those things did happen, AP, which have what to do with anything? Clinton makes a point about the political timetable moving too quickly to adequately judge economic progress and you bring up the bad parts of Clinton’s economic record? Is your point that voters should look five to ten years into the future to look at the economic effects of who gets elected, and then compare that to what they think would have happened under the other guy? But wait: if they’re looking into the future, then how can they change what’s going to happen? Unless it’s only a possible future . . .
That’s right. The only way to read the AP fact check article in a way that doesn’t make it out to be completely mendacious is to imagine the intended audience is a nation of Kwisatz Haderachs. Centrism at its finest.
Of all the cheap little tropes these centrists use to obscure their moral and intellectual vapidity the absolute fucking worst (well maybe a tie with the self-absorbed circle-jerk that is the concern about “tone” and “civility”) is humor. Not quite humor, I think we can all agree; maybe parody. Hell it’s not even that. It’s just mean-spirited empty sarcasm. Tina Fey Mean Girls style. Always.
And lo how the examples stack up when reality presents them with a situation that no amount of quibbling and hair-splitting can keep them from claiming that “both sides do it” and to plead for “civility”.
Like now. For instance, dafuq is Brooks doing in this column? It’s a series of exaggerations of Romney’s biography, hitting the main points of Romney’s narrative: his childhood, teenage boarding school years, the dog on the car, the Olympics, the governorship. Bain is given short shrift, comparatively. The details are so outlandish (Mitt converted to being Amish but left after he found out about the ban on hair cream, nyuk nyuk nyuk) that such venerable writers as Susan and Doug mistook it at first as satire about Romney, or didn’t understand the fuck it was trying to do. Letters to the editor also share that interpretation.
You need eyes attuned to the absolute black pitch of centrist thought to be able to parse what’s going on here.
Because Brooks thinks he’s making fun of the rest of the media and Democrats.
He’s saying, “Oh my goodness gosh, the insane things people are saying about Romney. Look at how insane they are. This insane!” But take two seconds to think about it. What is the actual content of the critique he is satirizing? “Romney doesn’t care about people who have little or no wealth. He doesn’t know how they live, he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t care if they get hurt. His immense family wealth bought him the ability to lead a different life than most anyone else, and to not care about what happens to most anyone else.”
Is there any doubt this is the case? At all? How many different senses do you need to lose before you start doubting those propositions? His preferred policies are an economic holocaust for people without stocks, capital or car garages. In every single instance they favor increasing the wealth of the wealthy instead of the economic, health, environmental, or any other concerns of any other group.
Brooks could be using his column to be shedding light on under-reported issues, or to rally support to address specific issues of injustice, or to brag about his shitty kids. Anything would be better than this too-confused-to-even-call-it “satire” whose targets are complaints that a nominee for president wants to dick over everyone without money.
So you see the basic format: there is a proposition or a practice that is as clearly against the sensibilities of the centrist pundit as it is true, which puts the centrist pundit in a quandary. What to do, what to do. Incoherent sarcasm is the answer. Especially when it’s being applied in defense of other centrist pundits.
Glenn Kessler, as discussed, is a gaping scumbag asshole who needs to be fired for incompetence at discussing politics in a national forum. Clive Crook disagrees with that statement, but cannot provide any reasons for disagreement, so he lapses into ohp you guessed it:
Of course I could criticize Kessler without calling him the filthy liar that he is. You know, exercise a little “restraint”. On the one hand, on the other hand, all that crap. But leading scholars have taught us that in politics things aren’t complicated, and when somebody builds a career on a lie, we need to say so . . .
Some of you may find that distinction hard to grasp. It’s Two Spocks difficult. Paul Krugman helped me see that people are divided into three groups: the ones who know I’m right (I call these “excellent”), fools and knaves. Possibly, you’re a fool, so let me spell it out for you. When a fact is wrong, it’s not some number of Pinocchios, it’s just wrong . . .
Angry? You bet I’m angry. I’m crying tears of rage right now. We don’t tolerate people who torture small children and we shouldn’t tolerate atrocities like this. I can’t think of a penalty too severe . . . And I know calling him a brazen liar and wishing him to be set upon by ravening dogs isn’t going to open any channels of communication between us. Good. That’s just how I want it. You can be “civil” and have your nice debates, and that’s all fine and dandy if you want to be a filthy traitor in the war of ideas. But when you engage with liars, you validate their lies–lies, lies, lies–and you’re no better than they are.
I guess there are “reasons” in there, that certain ages of child might accept. I don’t really see how claiming “politics is difficult” is a defense of Kessler’s refusal to condemn what he admits are lies. I don’t see the value in a type of nuance that says “this consistent series of political stances based on an incoherent budget plan may enrich every millionaire at the expense of every non-millionaire, but really, every politician fudges things a little.” And I don’t see why getting angry at people who refuse to acknowledge that the consistent actions and stated intent of a segment of elites are to enrich themselves as much as possible by making life as desperate for as many other people as possible is a vice.
The “channels of communication” thing is the biggest crock of shit. “Yeah, these guys want to take away your pension and medical support and basically force everyone to live paycheck to paycheck shackled to debt their entire lives, and are lying about it, but it’s not that important.”
“Hey, fuck you too, buddy, it is important.”
“HOW DARE YOU CLOSE THE CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION. I don’t see how I can discuss, IN THIS HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT, how fucking you and your kids and your parents over isn’t important.”
So fuck you, Clive Crook, with a rusty spoon, right in the eye. You’re defending someone who’s saying, “I acknowledge these politicians are lying about fucking people over for decades. It isn’t a big deal.” And your only defense is childish sarcasm and meaningless buzzwords. Who’s fucking blocking the lines of communication, here, dickwad?
Oh plus Clive Crook defends Mickey “I am literally the worst thinker Slate has ever published” Kaus. ‘Nuff said.
So we’re up to speed here, yes?
Cory Booker declared criticism of the industry where his campaign donors come from off-limits, released a youtube video where he doubled down on that declaration, and hit a few softballs that were walked up to a tee for him by asshole Rachel Maddow in an interview where he refused to address what he said re: declaring his campaign donors off-limits.
But the donors were mighty titans of the financial industry, so no serious media person gave a shit, of course. It’s all “process” and “tone” and “campaign positioning” and look a baby panda who convulsively sneezes in a funny way. None involved will ever be punished for polluting the public discourse, and we all die alone.
BUT. Centrists are unique among members of the class Insecta in that they run toward wherever the media is shining light at any particular time.
SO. It is time for that cherished ritual, a children’s treasury of lolCentrists which makes fun of all the asinine and terrible things centrists say whitewashing objectively awful comments by a centrist colleague.
There are a lot of them so they are off the main page. The last one is out of left field and is the funniest. The meat, as the samurai said to the courtesan, is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »
I am the Cameron Frye to Rebecca Elliott’s Ferris Bueller: she’s my hero.
She compiled a nice little list of pundits making grandiose claims about the centrist equivalent of seasteading, Americans Elect, which after delaying their schedule of implementation by several planting seasons features a front-runner who is a mere 9,700 votes shy of getting the 10,000 votes needed to become the Americans Elect candidate. Frye did little summarizing of the pundits’ views toward Americans Elect and just let the their words speak for themselves beneath tasteful photos.
Several of those characteristics will be kept in this post and several will not.
As the sailor said to the native girl, there’s much more below: Read the rest of this entry »