To the Left!

I’ve always struggled with the words progressive and liberal.

In America at least, liberal seems to mean so many different things to different people that it doesn’t seem to mean anything at all. I have no idea what progressive  means at all.

Interfluidity has a handy-dandy chart that attempts to sort lefties into useful categories.
Progressives vs Liberals
While I am sympathetic to, for example, the goals of Black Lives Matter, and mindful of the fact that, in my friend’s memorable phrase, “It’s harder to move through the world” if you don’t have a particular genital configuration or skin colour, I’ve long believed that identity politics is poisonous to social discourse and is at least partially responsible for Trump, UKIP and worse.
Universalists want group identity to become less salient and consequential, and so resist tactics that highlight difference in order to promote intragroup solidarity and to sow open conflict with other groups. Identity-centered activists view solidarity and conflict as the best and perhaps only way to overcome identity-distributed oppression. To a universalist, tactics like “no platforming” sow precisely the sort of divisions we ought to be working to overcome. To an identity-centered activist, “no platforming” an apologist for racism or sexual violence is just winning..
Put me down firmly for universalist and allow me to claim Dr King for my side.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
The other axis is more difficult to place myself on.
“Classical liberals” and the people sometimes referred to as neoliberals don’t challenge the existence of large, consequential differences between rich and poor. They seek to remedy what is oppressive in economic stratification by putting a humane floor beneath the consequences of being sorted downwards, and by working to ensure that the sorting is “fair”. They tend to promote equality of opportunity and emphasize education as a solution.
I have long believed that runaway inequality is the biggest threat to American democracy. I believe that the game is rigged and that a handful of millionaires and billionaires have hijacked the apparatus of government and found a way to pretend that 47% of the population are moochers and parasites.
According to the chart’s economic axis, my fear of runaway inequality is incompatible with my deep-seated understanding that meritocracy and rewarding success are vital to a flourishing society. I don’t see them as in opposition to each other.
Strategically, I am a Classical Liberal but, practically, I think we need to reign in the power-grabbing plutocrats and find ways to ensure that Warren Buffet pays more tax than his secretary.
The author of interfluidity seems to struggle with this too.
The diagram above summarizes the differences as I see them among US liberal-to-left factions. Note that these are questions of more or less, not absolutes. I’d place myself in the “universalist left”, for example, but I do believe that some degree of economic stratification is legitimate and necessary, under economists’ usual rationale of preserving incentives to produce. I just think that the degree of economic stratification that currently prevails is way, way, way, way, way past the point where benefits of sharp incentives to produce are undone by even sharper incentives to cheat and outweighed by destructive social fragmentation.
As far as I can tell, the author’s self-diagnosis is the same as mine, but he wants put himself in the bottom left quadrant. I’m pretty sure I’m up in the top left.

It’s a Miracle!

Everytime I learn about some economic miracle that is taking place somewhere in the world, by the time I have internalized the lessons of that miracle, the miracle has turned into a disaster and I have new lessons to learn.

OMG! Japan! Economic Miracle!
OMG! Asian Tigers! Economic Miracle!
OMG! Celtic Tiger! Economic Miracle!

Greece, Spain, Ireland. The story seems drearily familar.

Good luck China and Brazil.

Plumbers as Everyman

Krugman is on form today

But what’s really happening to the plumbers of Ohio, and to working Americans in general?

First of all, they aren’t making a lot of money. You may recall that in one of the early Democratic debates Charles Gibson of ABC suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income. Tell that to Ohio plumbers: according to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of “plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters” in Ohio was $47,930.

Second, their real incomes have stagnated or fallen, even in supposedly good years. The Bush administration assured us that the economy was booming in 2007 — but the average Ohio plumber’s income in that 2007 report was only 15.5 percent higher than in the 2000 report, not enough to keep up with the 17.7 percent rise in consumer prices in the Midwest. As Ohio plumbers went, so went the nation: median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 2000.

Third, Ohio plumbers have been having growing trouble getting health insurance, especially if, like many craftsmen, they work for small firms. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2007 only 45 percent of companies with fewer than 10 employees offered health benefits, down from 57 percent in 2000.

And bear in mind that all these data pertain to 2007 — which was as good as it got in recent years. Now that the “Bush boom,” such as it was, is over, we can see that it achieved a dismal distinction: for the first time on record, an economic expansion failed to raise most Americans’ incomes above their previous peak.

Fairness is a tricky thing

Whimsley explores the poles of political thinking on economic issues.

Imagine a society where everyone gets the same income. Then the income of one quarter of the population suddenly increases by a factor of five while the income of the other three quarters stays the same. How would we compare the society before and after this jolt of riches? Here are some common reactions:

* The average income has doubled. The new world is better than the old.
* Most people in the society have seen no change. The new world is not really different from the old world.
* There is increased inequality. The new world will be marked by unequal access to power and by failing democratic institutions. The new world is worse than the old.
* … and on and on. You know the drill.

He quotes two Op-eds that take opposite views and concludes but they are both correct because they are addressing different aspects of the same idea – that regulation and the market are different ways to ration access to goods.

Some scarce, essential goods (health care, education, defense, crime- and fire-fighting) are provided most efficiently by governments; others (cellphones, clothing, cars) are provided most efficiently by the market.

No conflict.

The trick is knowing which is which.